Category Archives: Religion

Pour out your Wrath on my Hametz

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

Listen to the madlik podcast:

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

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

 

notes

1. A Night of Watchings ליל שמרים

Exodus 12: 42

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

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

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

2.   The Four Cups – The Four stages of Redemption

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

                                                                                          וְהוֹצֵאתִ֣י אֶתְכֶ֗ם מִתַּ֙חַת֙ סִבְלֹ֣ת מִצְרַ֔יִם

  1.      and I will save you from enslavement

                                                                                                       וְהִצַּלְתִּ֥י אֶתְכֶ֖ם מֵעֲבֹדָתָ֑ם

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

     Exodus 6: 6                                                      וְגָאַלְתִּ֤י אֶתְכֶם֙ בִּזְר֣וֹעַ נְטוּיָ֔ה וּבִשְׁפָטִ֖ים גְּדֹלִֽים

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

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

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

Bless and drink the third cup of wine..

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

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

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

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

4.  Pour Out Your Love – Alternative reading

Pour out Your love on the nations that know You

And on the kingdoms that call upon Your Name

For the loving-kindness that they perform with Jacob

And their defense of the People of Israel

In the face of those that would devour them.

May they be privileged to see

The Succah of peace spread for Your chosen ones

And rejoice in the joy of Your nations.

שְׁפֹךְ אַהֲבָתְךָ עַל הַגּוֹיִים אֲשֶׁר יְדָעוּךָ

וְעַל מַמְלָכוֹת אֲשֶׁר בְּשִׁמְךָ קוֹרְאִים

בִּגְלַל חֲסָדִים שֶׁהֵם עוֹשִׂים עִם יַעֲקֹב

וּמְגִנִּים עַל עַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל מִפְּנֵי אוֹכְלֵיהֶם.

יִזְכּוּ לִרְאוֹת בְּסֻכַּת בְּחִירֶיךָ

וְלִשְׂמֹחַ בְּשִׂמְחַת גּוֹיֶיךָ.

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

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

אויל המתעה מרגיז ומחטיא        בלעהו קלעהו ועוד בל יסטיא

געול המגאל ומטנף טהורים        דחהו מחהו מלבות והרהורים

התל המהתל ומפתל ישרים        וכחהו שכחהו ולא יקומו אשרים

זבוב המארב במפתחי הלב         חנקהו נקהו ולב חדש תלבלב

טמא המזוהם ומסית להאשים    יעהו צעהו בלי ענוש בענשים 

כלי אשר כליו רעים                 לפתהו כפתהו מקום בית מרעים

מנון המפנק מנוער לאחרית       נדחהו קדחהו מהשאיר לו שארית

שאור המעפש ומבאיש העסה    עקרהו נקרהו חטא בלי לשא

פתלתל המנקש ומעקש דרכים    צרפהו ערפהו בלי היות סרוכים

קוץ המכאיב וסלון הממאיר      רעלהו העלהו כרם להפאר

שפוך מי טוהר דמים להדיח      תחטאנו באזוב תכבס ותריח

שני מתלבן עולם ונושע           ברחמים יצדיק חקר כבודם לשעשע

חוזק זרע יחשוף וישיב           וכשנים קדמוניות אותנו ישיב

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jewish

a.

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

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

b.

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

c.

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

Christian

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

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

8. You’re both right

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

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

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

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

Yossi Klein Halevi, CJN, March 11, 2013

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

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

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

[ii] Paytan

Born after c. 950

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gershom Scholem, The Messianic Idea in Judaism

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Where is God?

Parshat Terumah

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

וְעָשׂוּ לִי, מִקְדָּשׁ; וְשָׁכַנְתִּי, בְּתוֹכָם

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

שהוא מקומו של עולם ואין עולמו מקומו

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

נְקַדֵּשׁ אֶת שִׁמְךָ בָּעוֹלָם
כְּשֵׁם שֶׁמַּקְדִּישִׁים אוֹתוֹ בִּשְׁמֵי מָרוֹם

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

צמצם עצמו מעצמו אל עצמו

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—————————–

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

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

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

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

[2]

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

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

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

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

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

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The Choice Challenge

Every week I am reading Shai Held’s The Heart of Torah and in his second essay on parshat Va-’era’ Held once again demonstrates the depth of his scholarship and the breadth of his reading.  In discussing the age-old question of how the biblical God could harden Pharaoh’s heart yet maintain Judaism’s belief in our God-given right to freedom Held makes a suggestion.

Held suggests that freedom is not so much:

… a fact, but it is also—and perhaps primarily—an aspiration. Real freedom requires, R. Joseph Soloveitchik (1903–93) writes, “a continuous awareness of maximal responsibility by man without even a moment’s inattentiveness.” [Soleveitchik, On Repentance p. 143] Mindfulness and constant, exquisite attention are necessary for freedom to flourish. Freedom needs to be nurtured and attended to, not taken for granted.

R. Shlomo Wolbe (1914–2005) adds that “freedom is not at all part of humanity’s daily spiritual bread. It is, rather, one of the noble virtues which one must labor to attain. It is not lesser than love, and fear, and cleaving to God, acquiring which clearly demands great effort. We can acquire freedom, and therefore we must acquire it.” [Wolbe, Alei Shur p 155]

Freedom is, in other words, a spiritual project. In order to thrive, it must be brought into awareness (Soloveitchik) and actively cultivated (Wolbe). Then, and only then, can we soften our hearts. Shai Held. The Heart of Torah, Volume 1: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion: Genesis and Exodus

Joseph Soloveitchik is widely known, especially within the modern-orthodox world as the head of Yeshiva University and scion of a famous Lithuanian Rabbinic Dynasty, but R. Shlomo Wolbe is hardly known outside of the haredi (ultra-orthodox) world which he joined at the tender age of 19.  Wolbe transferred from the University of Berlin and ended up at the Meir Yeshiva in Poland. Wolbe, who passed away in 2005 was considered the last of the great mussarniks, he was also my rebbe during the two years I studied at Yeshivat Beer Yaakov where he was the mashgiach ruchni (spiritual guide).

Rabbi Wolbe lectured and wrote extensively primarily for the “yeshiva world” on subjects such as a progressive approach to education for children and adolescents and intense introspection for adults. But there was one singular point of departure that ran through all of Wolbe’s teachings. Never take the easy road.

If he saw a yeshiva bachur (student) who had previously concealed his tzitzit, wearing them exposed, or a previously clean-shaven student, sporting a pious beard, he would call the student over and ask: “What happened to you… did you become a tzadik (saint)?” For Wolbe there were no shortcuts to piety, certainly not by a superficial change in outward appearance. The higher level of spiritual consciousness of the mussarnik could only be reached by the hard work of the heart (hovot halevavot) and the sweat of the soul.

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe once asked a pupil: “Did you ever say the Shema Yisrael?” “Of course!”, said the student. “Did you say it with kavana (intention and attention)?” The pupil replied, “Yes, of course, Rabbi.” Said Rabbi Wolbe, “Tell me, while you were saying the Shema did you follow the teaching of the sages and accept the “yoke of the kingdom of heaven?” “Of course” answered the exasperated student. “And did you feel a hint of rebellion against God?” “Chas v’shalom,” replied the pupil, “God forbid, of course not… never.” “Then you have never said the Shema” replied the Rabbi. [This is how I remember the story… for a more toned-down version see a Nice Patch of Grass by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair]

Such an unvarnished challenge to religious caution and timidity lies at the heart of Rabbi Wolbe’s concept of choice insightfully cited by Rabbi Held.

But the few pages allocated to his weekly essay  does not permit Held to expand on the depth of Wolbe’s challenge and his explicit critique of his coreligionists.

I have posted the complete text below from Wolbe’s book Alei Shur, and you can follow the Hebrew text and listen to Rabbi Yoram Bogacz read and translate here (start at minute 10:38) with a great South African accent!

Permit me to provide a further excerpt.

Wolbe writes:

“It is possible that an individual can live out his days and never make a choice! Imagine a person with a pleasant disposition, who has not moved from the upbringing that he received at his parents home, he fulfills the commandments … as he was taught, his predispositions strengthen him in his [rote] behavior (he is considered a tzadik – righteous person) and no trials occur [to shake him up]. Amazingly, he could live out his days, with  good name and without him having actually chosen a path through independent intellectual review!”

Wolbe continues:

“Its an extreme example, but if we are honest with ourselves, it is on rare occasion that we make choices in our lives.  “Everything is foreseen, and freewill is given” [Ethics of the Fathers 3:15] but in truth we are governed by our natural disposition, our education, habits and biases both in terms of the fateful decisions in life and also the small day-to-day decisions… and where is the choice?” ואיה הבחירה

Between Rav Wolbe and Rav Held, we are fortunate to have teachers who challenge us to choose… and now the choice to choose is all ours!


ale shor 3

aleih shor 2

aleih shor 1

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Two State Solution – Earliest Mention in the Bible

Parshat Lekh Lekha

Rav Shai Held has written a breathtaking commentary on the Five Books of Moses, two succinct commentaries for each weekly portion.

The Heart of Torah, Volume 1: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion Do yourself a favor, and run (don’t walk) and buy it.

I have been fortunate to have studied at Machon Hadar, where Held is President and Dean (aka Founder and Mashgiach Ruchni).  At the book launch, we were encouraged to study a single weekly entry, in detail, with a study partner and then as a group in a class (Shiur). In my opinion, each of the two weekly pieces justify such intensive learning, not only because of the message that Held wishes to convey, but because, hidden, and sometimes overtly exposed in the short 4-5 page treatments are insights worthy of a screeching halt and complete change in travel plans. The second article on Lech Lecha is a fine example.

The article is titled: Between Abram and Lot Wealth and Family Strife and is focused primarily on the potentially corrosive nature of wealth acquisition. But segued into the discussion is a clear and powerfully suggestive reference to the dialectic between sharing/splitting the Promised Land in two and fulfilling the divine promise of a complete and Greater Israel. Abram and Lot have returned from Egypt richer and estranged. Abram offers a solution. Held writes:

… in his offer to Lot, Abram is “magnanimous in the extreme”: “Is not the whole land before you? Kindly part from me: If you go north, I will go south; and if you go south, I will go north” (Genesis 13:9). Abram’s magnanimity is enormously important and instructive: “His trust [in God’s] promise makes him gracious and generous.” Abram believes what God has told him—the land will one day belong to him and his descendants—but he does not insist that the promise must be fulfilled in its entirety at the present moment. Some modern Jewish thinkers insist that the religious person “discerns in every divine pledge man’s obligation to bring about its fulfillment, in every promise a specific norm.” [ Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man, 100.] But Genesis 13 has other ideas, emphasizing instead that sometimes the appropriate religious posture is patience and a willingness to wait. Abram understands that, ultimately, the land is a gift, not an earthly possession—and so he refuses to grasp it too tightly. The land has been promised to Abram by God, and yet he is willing to let go of part of it in the interest of peace. Abram treasures the land, but he trusts in God so deeply and values family concord so highly that he lets go of precisely what is so precious to him. Strikingly, Bible scholar Victor Hamilton notes, Abram “is prepared to sacrifice what has been promised to him, as he will later willingly offer Isaac who has been promised to him.” Jon Levenson insightfully adds: “Since Abraham is finally again promised the lands he ceded to Lot, the chapter has a certain parallel with the Akedah, in which Abraham gets back him whom he gave up and receives anew the promises that depend on the would-be offering.” [Jon D. Levenson, personal communication {with Held}, October 12, 2014. Levenson’s comments are in some ways reminiscent of Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling.] Immediately after Abram and Lot part ways, God reiterates the promise of land and even intensifies it. Abram is to receive “the whole land . . . through its length and its breadth.” And now it is Abram himself, and not just his descendants, who will inherit the land (Gen. 13:14–17). Bible scholar Gordon Wenham observes that “the reiteration of the promises puts the divine seal of approval on Abraham’s treatment of Lot.”

Held, Shai. The Heart of Torah, Volume 1: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion: Genesis and Exodus (Kindle Locations 999-1019). The Jewish Publication Society. Kindle Edition.

Held’s profound insight and implied critique of those who practice Greater Israel activism in order to comply and fulfill a divine promise needs no embellishment, certainly not by me. “the enlightened will understand” המשכיל יבין


I should note that this vote for restraint by Held, could be  mistakenly construed to echo the Babylonian Talmud at the end of Ketubot (111a) which was and is used by the ultra-Orthodox to argue for quitism and against the entire Zionist project of actively repatriating the Land of Israel.

… it is written: “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles and by the hinds of the field, that you not awaken or stir up love, until it please” (Song of Songs 2:7). Rabbi Yehuda derived from here that no act of redemption should be performed until a time arrives when it pleases God to bring about the redemption. And Rabbi Zeira maintains that the oath mentioned in that verse means that the Jews should not ascend to Eretz Yisrael as a wall, i.e., en masse, whereas individuals may immigrate as they wish.

ורבי זירא ההוא שלא יעלו ישראל בחומה

While the reference to a wall is ironic, I think it safe to say that Held is not anti-activist in any sense of the word, certainly not when it comes to fulfilling the moral mission of the Hebrew Bible, nor the manifest destiny contained in God’s, and prophetic promises. It is only when nationalist activism conflicts with  “the interest of peace”, “family concord” or kavod habriut … respecting the human dignity of the other, that Held would argue for patience relating to God’s promises and activism towards God’s creations.

 

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Entitlement Reform – Chosen Children and People

The blessings and curses that come with choseness…

An exploration of the meaning and development of The Chosen People in Genesis and in Rabbinic and Christian texts and traditions.

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Life is with People – Immortality in the Hebrew Bible

An exploration of Death and Resurrection in the Hebrew Bible and Rabbinic Literature

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Intro

the Sefer ha-Chinuch was published anonymously in 13th century Spain and was written by a father to his son, upon reaching the age of Bar Mitzvah. See

27 The spirit of man is the lamp of the LORD (Proverbs 20: 27)

כז  נֵר ה’, נִשְׁמַת אָדָם

23 For the commandment is a lamp, and the teaching is light, and reproofs of instruction are the way of life;
(Proverbs 6: 23)

The only word that comes close to the netherworld is Shaol [Strongs H7585] which translates as “grave”, “pit”, or “abode of the dead”.  It first appears in with regard to Jacob in

And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said: ‘Nay, but I will go down to the grave to my son mourning.’ And his father wept for him. Genesis 37: 35

וַיָּקֻמוּ כָל-בָּנָיו וְכָל-בְּנֹתָיו לְנַחֲמוֹ, וַיְמָאֵן לְהִתְנַחֵם, וַיֹּאמֶר, כִּי-אֵרֵד אֶל-בְּנִי אָבֵל שְׁאֹלָה; וַיֵּבְךְּ אֹתוֹ, אָבִיו

And he said: ‘My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he only is left; if harm befall him by the way in which ye go, then will ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave. (Genesis 42: 38)

יֹּאמֶר, לֹא-יֵרֵד בְּנִי עִמָּכֶם:  כִּי-אָחִיו מֵת וְהוּא לְבַדּוֹ נִשְׁאָר, וּקְרָאָהוּ אָסוֹן בַּדֶּרֶךְ אֲשֶׁר תֵּלְכוּ-בָהּ, וְהוֹרַדְתֶּם אֶת-שֵׂיבָתִי בְּיָגוֹן, שְׁאוֹלָה

In the field of biblical studies, renowned for its deficit of basic agreement and the depth of its controversies, one cannot but be impressed by the longevity and breadth of the consensus about the early Israelite notion of life after death. The consensus, to be brief, is that there was none, that “everyone who dies goes to Sheol,” as Johannes Pedersen put it about eighty years ago,

 

 

Genesis 49: 33 And Jacob concluded commanding his sons, and he drew his legs [up] into the bed, and expired and was brought in to his people.

 

וַיְכַ֤ל יַֽעֲקֹב֙ לְצַוֹּ֣ת אֶת־בָּנָ֔יו וַיֶּֽאֱסֹ֥ף רַגְלָ֖יו אֶל־הַמִּטָּ֑ה וַיִּגְוַ֖ע וַיֵּאָ֥סֶף אֶל־עַמָּֽיו:

and he drew his legs: Heb. וַיֶאֱסֹף רַגְלָיו, he drew in his legs.  

ויאסף רגליו: הכניס רגליו:

and expired and was brought in: But no mention is made of death in his regard, and our Rabbis of blessed memory said: Our father Jacob did not die. — [From Ta’anith 5b]  

ויגוע ויאסף: ומיתה לא נאמרה בו, ואמרו רבותינו ז”ל יעקב אבינו לא מת

 

Our forefather Jacob did not die. He said to him: Was it for not that he was eulogized, embalmed and buried? He said to him: I expound a verse as it is written (Jeremiah 30:10) “Do not fear, my servant Jacob, said Adonai, and do not be dismayed O Israel. For I will save you from afar and your seed from the land of captivity.  The verse likens him (Jacob) to his seed (Israel); as his seed will then be alive so he too will be alive.

 

הכי אמר רבי יוחנן: יעקב אבינו לא מת. – אמר ליה: וכי בכדי ספדו ספדניא וחנטו חנטייא וקברו קברייא? – אמר  ליה: מקרא אני דורש, שנאמר (ירמיהו ל‘) ואתה אל תירא עבדי יעקב נאם הואל תחת ישראל כי הנני מושיעך מרחוק ואת זרעך מארץ שבים, מקיש הוא לזרעו, מה זרעו בחיים אף הוא בחיים..

 

A major focus of that favor – especially important, as we are about to see, in the case of Abraham and job – is family, particularly the continuation of one’s lineage through descendants alive at one’s death. Many expressions, some of them idiomatic, communicate this essential mode of divine favor. The idiom “He was gathered to his kin” or “to his fathers” (wayye’asep ‘el-`ammayw / ‘abotayw),

 

Professor Jon D. Levenson. Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life

 

Eternal Life – Immortality

Daniel 12:2

And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to reproaches and everlasting abhorrence.

וְרַבִּים, מִיְּשֵׁנֵי אַדְמַת-עָפָר יָקִיצוּ; אֵלֶּה לְחַיֵּי עוֹלָם, וְאֵלֶּה לַחֲרָפוֹת לְדִרְאוֹן עוֹלָם

“One element that truly is novel in Dan 11z:11 -3 is, however, signaled by an expression that, for all its frequency in later Jewish literature, occurs nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible, hayye `olam, “eternal life””

Death, Children, draught

There are three things that are never satisfied… The grave; and the barren womb; the earth that is not satisfied with water Proverbs 30: 15-16

שְׁאוֹל, וְעֹצֶר-רָחַם:    אֶרֶץ, לֹא-שָׂבְעָה מַּיִם

Famine, miraculous birth, Heaven on earth … return to land

Slavery

To these must be added slavery, of course, which often appears in connection with them, especially with death. Thus, it is revealing, as we have observed,13 that Joseph’s brothers, seething with resentment over their father’s rank favoritism, resolve first to kill the boy and then, having given that nefarious plan up, sell him into slavery instead (Gen 37:118- z8). This parallels and adumbrates (in reverse order) Pharaoh’s efforts to control the rapid growth of Israel’s population, which begin with enslavement and graduate to genocide (Exod 11:8-22). It also parallels, and perhaps distantly reflects, the Canaanite tale of the god Baal, who miraculously overcomes comes the daunting challenges of enslavement to Yamm (Sea) and annihilation by Mot (Death).14 That Israel, fleeing Pharaoh’s enslavement, escapes death by a miraculous passage through the sea (Exod 114:11-115:211) is thus no coincidence and anything but an arbitrary concatenation of unrelated items.15 It is, rather, a manifestation in narrative of the deep inner connection between slavery and death that we have been exploring in another genre, the poetic oracles of prophets.”

Moses on the Mountain top – national redemption

Could it be clearer that the Mosaic promises center on the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that is, the whole Israelite nation, and not on Moses’ own progeny? Thus, when “the LORD showed him the whole land” (Dent 34:1) just before Moses died and the Israelites began to take possession of it, the scene is remarkably reminiscent of Jacob’s, Joseph’s, and job’s viewing several generations of descendants just before their own deaths. In the Deuteronomic theology, the fulfillment of Moses’ life continues and remains real, visible, and powerful after his death. It takes the form of Israel’s dwelling in the promised land and living in deliberate obedience to the Torah book he bequeathed them, for all their generations (e.g., Dent 31:9-z3; Josh z:6-8). In Deuteronomy, all Israel has become, in a sense, the progeny of Moses.

Untimely death

Thus, Jacob, having (so far as he knows) lost to the jaws of a wild beast his beloved Joseph, the son of his old age, “refused to be comforted, saying, `No, I will go down mourning to my son in Sheol”‘ (Gen 3735)• It would be a capital error to interpret either Joseph’s or Jacob’s anticipated presence in Sheol as punitive. Joseph’s is owing to his having died a violent and premature death that is not followed by a proper burial or mitigated by the continuation that comes from having children. Each of these conditions alone could bring him to Sheol.

 
Just as a person is commanded to honor his father and hold him in awe, so, too, is he obligated to honor his teacher and hold him in awe. [Indeed, the measure of honor and awe] due one’s teacher exceeds that due one’s father. His father brings him into the life of this world, while his teacher, who teaches him wisdom, brings him into the life of the world to come.  Mishnah Torah, Talmud Torah – Chapter Four: 1

כשם שאדם מצווה בכבוד אביו ויראתו כך הוא חייב בכבוד רבו ויראתו יתר מאביו שאביו מביאו לחיי העולם הזה ורבו שלמדו חכמה מביאו לחיי העולם הבא

 

See: Bava Metzia 33a Keritot 28a states a different reason: “He and his father are both obligated to honor his teacher.” The Rambam quotes this in Sefer HaMitzvot (Positive Mitzvah 209).

 

When his teacher dies, he should rend all his garments until he reveals his heart. He should never mend them.  Mishnah Torah, Talmud Torah – Chapter Four: 9

וכשימות רבו קורע כל בגדיו עד שהוא מגלה את לבו ואינו מאחה לעולם

When his teacher dies, he should rend all his garments until he reveals his heart. – With regard to the rending of one’s garments until one’s heart is revealed, see Hilchot Eivel 8:3, 9:2 and Mo’ed Katan 22a.

He should never mend them. – Mo’ed Katan 26a equates garments torn over a teacher’s passing with those torn over a father’s passing, with regard to the latter law. On this basis, the Rambam concludes that the same principle applies regarding the extent one rends his garments.

Kadish DeRabanan

Magnified and sanctified — may God’s Great

Name fill the world God created. May God’s

splendor be seen in the world In your life, in your

days, in the life of all Israel, quickly and soon.

And let us say, Amen.

Forever may the Great Name be blessed.

Blessed and praised, splendid and supreme —

May the holy Name, bless God, be praised

beyond all the blessings and songs that can be

uttered in this world. And let us say, Amen.

 

For Israel and for our teachers, our students,

and generations of teachers and students to

come, for all who study Torah here and

everywhere, for them and for you, may there

be fullness of peace, grace, kindness and

compassion, long life, ample nourishment and

salvation from our Source who is in heaven

and on earth. And let us say, Amen.

עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל וְעַל רַבָּנָן. וְעַל תַּלְמִידֵיהוֹן וְעַל כָּל תַּלְמִידֵי תַלְמִידֵיהוֹן. וְעַל כָּל מַאן דְּעָסְקִין בְּאוֹרַיְתָא. דִּי בְאַתְרָא קַדִּישָׁא הָדֵין וְדִי בְכָל אֲתַר וַאֲתַר. יְהֵא לְהוֹן וּלְכוֹן שְׁלָמָא רַבָּא חִנָּא וְחִסְדָּא וְרַחֲמִין וְחַיִּין אֲרִיכִין וּמְזוֹנֵי רְוִיחֵי וּפֻרְקָנָא מִן קֳדָם אֲבוּהוֹן דְּבִשְׁמַיָּא וְאַרְעָא וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן

 

May there be great peace and good life from

heaven above for us and all Israel. And let us say,

Amen. May the One who makes peace in the

high heavens compassionately bring peace upon

us all and all Israel. And let us say, Amen.

 

יתגדל ויתקדש שמיה רבא דעתיר לחדתא עלמא ולאחייא מתייא ולמיפרק עמיה ולמיבני קרתא דירושלים ולשכללא היכלא קדישא ולמיעקר פולחנא נוכראה מן ארעא ולאתבא פולחנא דשמיא לאתריה בזיויה ויחודיה, וימליך מלכותיה… ונחמתא דאמירן בעלמא ואמרו אמן. על רבנן ועל תלמידיהון ועל תלמידי תלמידיהון דעסקין באורייתא די באתרא הדין ודי בכל אתר ואתר, יהא להון ולכון חינא וחסדא ורחמי וסייעתא ורווחא מקדם אבוהון דבשמיא ואמרו אמן. יהא שלמא… וכו’ (רמב”ם הלכות תפילה)

 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר נָתַן לָנוּ תּוֹרַת אֱמֶת וְחַיֵּי עוֹלָם נָטַע בְּתוֹכֵנוּ, בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי נוֹתֵן הַתּוֹרָה

 

 

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The Hanukah Dilemma – The Birth of Judaism

How the Rabbis stole Hanukah and gave Judaism a new life…….

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Notes

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They celebrated it for eight days with gladness like Sukkot and recalled how a little while before, during Sukkot they had been wandering in the mountains and caverns like wild animals. So carrying lulavs [palm branches waved on Sukkot]…they offered hymns of praise (perhaps, the Hallel prayer) to God who had brought to pass the purification of his own place. (II Maccabees 10:6-7)
Babylonian Talmud 21b What is the reason for Hanukkah? For our rabbis taught: On the twentyfifth of Kislev begin the days of Hanukkah [which are eight] on which a lamentation for the dead and fasting are forbidden. For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils therein, and when the Hasmonean dynasty prevailed against and defeated them, they searched and found only one jug of oil which lay with the seal of the kohen gadol, but which contained enough for one day’s lighting only; yet a miracle occurred and they lit the lamp for eight days. The following year these days were appointed a festival with the recitation of hallel and thanksgiving.

מאי חנוכה דתנו רבנן בכ”ה בכסליו יומי דחנוכה תמניא אינון דלא למספד בהון ודלא להתענות בהון שכשנכנסו יוונים להיכל טמאו כל השמנים שבהיכל וכשגברה מלכות בית חשמונאי ונצחום בדקו ולא מצאו אלא פך אחד של שמן שהיה מונח בחותמו של כהן גדול ולא היה בו אלא להדליק יום אחד נעשה בו נס והדליקו ממנו שמונה ימים לשנה אחרת קבעום ועשאום ימים טובים בהלל והודאה

Who were the Maccabees and/or the Hasmoneans?

  • The revolt begins, in fact, when the patriarch of the Maccabees (as the family that led the campaign came to be known) kills a fellow Jew who was in the act of obeying the king’s decree to perform a sacrifice forbidden in the Torah. The Maccabean hero also kills the king’s officer and tears down the illicit altar. These were blows struck for Jewish traditionalism, and arguably for Jewish survival and authenticity, but not for religious freedom.

The Meaning of Hanukkah – A celebration of religious freedom, the holiday fits well with the American political tradition. By JON D. LEVENSON December 16, 2011

  • In a fascinating book written by Harvard scholar Shaye J.D. CohenFrom the Maccabees to the Mishnah, the author follows the emergence of Jewish sects starting from the Maccabees and culminating with the emergence of the Pharisees (Rabbinic Judaism), Essenes, Samaritans, Christians, Sicarii and zealots .  He writes:

The Maccabean period lasted a century, from the victory of 164 B.C.E. to the entrance of the Romans into Jerusalem in 63 B.C.E. During their tenure, the Maccabees gradually increased their power and prestige, They began as rebels against the Seleucid empire, but less than ten years after Judah’s death his brother was appointed high priest by a relation of Antiochus Epiphanes!  By the 140s and 130s B.C.E. the Seleucids had little choice but to accept the independence of the Maccabean state. The rise of the Maccabees within the Jewish polity was just as phenomenal. They began as insignificant country priests and became high priests and kings, the rulers of an independent state. They pursued an aggressive foreign policy, seeking alliance with Rome against the Seleucids and carving out for themselves a kingdom larger than that of David and Solomon. Their fall from power was caused by both internal and external enemies….

Their fall from power was caused by both internal and external enemies. During the reigns of John Hyrcanus (135-104 B.C.E.) and Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 B.C.E.), many Jews opposed Maccabean rule. These opponents were not “Hellenizers” and “law- less” Jews who supported Antiochus’ attempt to destroy Judaism, but loyal Jews who had had enough of the Maccabees’ autocratic ways.  [p15]

The Hasmonean dynasty was not itself a sect; it was the corrupt ruling power under whose rule it became clear that the Jewish Commonwealth and Temple were doomed. The sects were a natural response… the emergence of a plan for a new age.  The Hasmoneans left little more than a trail of blood.  They took power, land and made treaties with foreigners when it served their purpose.  Their dynasty ended when the wicked Herod was appointed Governor.. they had prepared the way.

Of interest: “The opponents of Herod the Great called him a “half-Jew” because he was a decedent of the Idumeans, who had been forcibly converted to Judaism by the Maccabees.” [p.54]

  • In the Talmud (Kiddushin 66a) there is an account of a Hasmonean King named Yannai:

It happened that King Yannai went to Kochalis in the desert and conquered 60 cities.  Upon his return he was exceedingly happy and so he invited all the sages of Israel to a celebration…they served delicacies on gold tables and they feasted. ….  There was there a certain elder named Yehudah ben Gedidyah.  He said to Yannai: “King Yannai!  Be satisifed with the crown of kingship; leave the crown of Kehunah for the descendants of Aaron.”  Yannai removed the sages from the feast. Eliezer ben Poira said to King Yannai: “King Yannai! If an ordinary Jew were treated in this way it would be his lot, but you are a King AND Kohen Gadol, is this your lot?”   … immediately Yannai executed all the sages of Israel and the world was bereft of Torah knowledge until Shimon ben Shetach came and returned the Torah to its former standing.

מעשה בינאי המלך שהלך לכוחלית שבמדבר וכיבש שם ששים כרכים ובחזרתו היה שמח שמחה גדולה וקרא לכל חכמי ישראל אמר להם אבותינו היו אוכלים מלוחים בזמן שהיו עסוקים בבנין בית המקדש אף אנו נאכל מלוחים זכר לאבותינו והעלו מלוחים על שולחנות של זהב ואכלו והיה שם אחד איש לץ לב רע ובליעל ואלעזר בן פועירה שמו ויאמר אלעזר בן פועירה לינאי המלך ינאי המלך לבם של פרושים עליך ומה אעשה הקם להם בציץ שבין עיניך הקים להם בציץ שבין עיניו היה שם זקן אחד ויהודה בן גדידיה שמו ויאמר יהודה בן גדידיה לינאי המלך ינאי המלך רב לך כתר מלכות הנח כתר כהונה לזרעו של אהרן שהיו אומרים אמו נשבית במודיעים ויבוקש הדבר ולא נמצא ויבדלו חכמי ישראל בזעם ויאמר אלעזר בן פועירה לינאי המלך ינאי המלך הדיוט שבישראל כך הוא דינו ואתה מלך וכהן גדול כך הוא דינך ומה אעשה אם אתה שומע לעצתי רומסם ותורה מה תהא עליה הרי כרוכה ומונחת בקרן זוית כל הרוצה ללמוד יבוא וילמוד אמר רב נחמן בר יצחק מיד נזרקה בו אפיקורסות דהוה ליה למימר תינח תורה שבכתב תורה שבעל פה מאי מיד ותוצץ הרעה על ידי אלעזר בן פועירה ויהרגו כל חכמי ישראל והיה העולם משתומם עד שבא שמעון בן שטח והחזיר את התורה ליושנה

The Hasmanoim destroyed the historical division of power between the king and the priest, Temple and State.

King Yannai

Alexander Yannai was a son of Yochanan Hyrkanos, son of Simeon, a son of Mattathias (Matisyohu), the son of Yochanan the High Priest. Thus, Alexander Yannai was a great-grandson of the first Hasmonean, who, together with his heroic sons, fought against the Greek King Antiochus. Their self sacrifice for the Torah and for the Jewish people, resulted in the truly delightful and inspiring holiday of Chanukah.

Yannai inherited the royal crown at the age of 23, after the early death of his older brother Yehudah Aristobulus. Yehudah Aristabulus was the first of the Hasmoneans who was not satisfied merely with the title “Nasi” (Prince) and had himself crowned as “king.”

  • The Talmud (Babylonian Talmud Rosh Hashanah 18b) recounts:

Once in the city of Lod they decreed a fast on the holiday of Hanukah.  In response, Rabbi Eliezer went to a bathhouse and took a bath and Rabbi Yehoshua went to a barber in Lod and had his haircut.  These two rabbis said to the people of Lod who had fasted: “Go out and make another fast on account of the fact that you fasted on Chanukah.”

We learn from this that the Holiday of Hanukah was controversial, even then… clearly some Jews did not believe that the re-packaging of Hanukah as a festival of lights had done the job.  Their hatred for the Hasmanoim was so great that they actually fasted on Hanukah.

  • The Talmud in Rosh HaShana continues:

“On the Third of Tishrei, the superfluous mention of God’s name was removed from secular documents.  For the Greek kingdom had decreed that God’s name not be mentioned, and when the Hasmoneans took power they decreed that people should mention God’s name EVEN in secular documents.  And so they would write, ‘In the year so and so to Yochanan who is the Kohen Gadol to the Supreme God (kohen gadol le-el elyon).’  When the sages heard about this matter they were displeased, for they said: ‘Tomorrow this person will repay his debt and the unneeded document will be found lying in a garbage heap.’  And so they nullified the Hasmonean decree.  That day they made into a festival.”

What makes this story remarkable is that the Third of Tishrei is also a fast day… it is the Fast of Gedaliah… the first instance of Jew-on-Jew assassination that occurred in the time of Jeremiah where the governor that Jeremiah supported was killed as a Babylonian collaborator by a zeolot.

It would seem that even though the 3rd of Tishrei was a fast day (Tzom Gedlaiah) which is observed by Orthodox Jews till today on the day after Rosh HaShanah, the Rabbis saw no contradiction in celebrating the nullification of a Hasmonean decree.  It would appear that the Rabbis made a connection between the Jew-on-Jew violence of the zealots in Jeremiah’s generation with the similar action of the Hasmoneans in their own.  Nullifying a Hasmonean decree was an act in the spirit of the fast of Gedalya.

  • The Al HaNisim:And [we thank You] for the miracles, for the redemption, for the mighty deeds, for the saving acts, and for the wonders which You have wrought for our ancestors in those days, at this time—

In the days of Matityahu, the son of Yochanan the High Priest, the Hasmonean and his sons, when the wicked Hellenic government rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and violate the decrees of Your will. But You, in Your abounding mercies, stood by them in the time of their distress. You waged their battles, defended their rights, and avenged the wrong done to them. You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the wanton sinners into the hands of those who occupy themselves with Your Torah. You made a great and holy name for Yourself in Your world, and effected a great deliverance and redemption for Your people Israel to this very day. Then Your children entered the shrine of Your House, cleansed Your Temple, purified Your Sanctuary, kindled lights in Your holy courtyards, and instituted these eight days of Hanukah to give thanks and praise to Your great Name.

עַל הַנִּסִּים וְעַל הַפֻּרְקָן וְעַל הַגְּבוּרוֹת וְעַל הַתְּשׁוּעוֹת וְעַל הַנִּפְלָאוֹת וְעַל הַנֶּחָמוֹת שֶׁעָשִׂיתָ לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה.

בִּימֵי מַתִּתְיָהו בֶן יוֹחָנָן כֹּהֵן גָּדוֹל חַשְׁמוֹנָאִי  וּבָנָיו כְּשֶׁעָמְדָה מַלְכוּת יָוָן הָרְשָׁעָה עַל עַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל לְהשַׁכִּיחָם תּוֹרָתָךְ  וּלְהַעֲבִירָם מֵחֻקֵּי רְצוֹנָךְ וְאַתָּה, בְּרַחֲמֶיךָ הָרַבִּים, עָמַדְתָּ לָהֶם בְּעֵת צָרָתָם: רַבְתָּ אֶת רִיבָם דַּנְתָּ אֶת דִּינָם נָקַמְתָּ אֶת נִקְמָתָם מָסַרְתָּ גִבּוֹרִים בְּיַד חַלָּשִׁים וְרַבִּים בְּיַד מְעַטִּים וּטְמֵאִים בְּיַד טְהוֹרִים וּרְשָׁעִים בְּיַד צַדִּיקִים וְזֵדִים בְּיַד עוֹסְקֵי תוֹרָתֶךָ וּלְךָ עָשִׂיתָ שֵׁם גָּדוֹל וְקָדוֹשׁ בְּעוֹלָמָךְ וּלְעַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל עָשִׂיתָ תְּשׁוּעָה גְדוֹלָה וּפֻרְקָן כְּהַיּוֹם הַזֶּה וְאַחַר כֵּן, בָּאוּ בָנֶיךָ לִדְבִיר בֵּיתֶךָ וּפִנּוּ אֶת הֵיכָלֶךָ וְטִהֲרוּ אֶת-מִקְדָּשֶׁךָ וְהִדְלִיקוּ נֵרוֹת בְּחַצְרוֹת קָדְשֶׁךָ וְקָבְעוּ שְׁמוֹנַת יְמֵי חֲנֻכָּה  אֵלּוּ לְהוֹדוֹת וּלְהַלֵּל לְשִׁמְךָ הַגָּדוֹל.

The schoolmen propounded a question: Should the ‘Hanukah incident be mentioned in the benediction after meals? Shall we assume that because it is rabbinical it is unnecessary? or, for the sake of the proclamation of the miracle, it should? Said Rabba in the name of R. S’haura, quoting R. Huna: “It is not necessary; however, if one wishes to do it, he should incorporate it in the thanksgiving part. R. Huna b. Judah chanced to visit Raba’s academy [and] thought to mention it [Hanukkah] in [the benediction] ‘he will rebuild Jerusalem.’ Said R. Shesheth to them [the scholars], It is as the Prayer: (the Amidah – 18 Benedictions]  just as [it is inserted in] the Prayer in the [benediction of] ‘Thanks,[Modi’im anachnu Lach and not Shma Kolaein – hear our prayer] so [is it inserted in] grace after meals in the [benediction of] ‘Thanks’ .” Babylonian Talmud Sabbath 24a

איבעיא להו מהו להזכיר של חנוכה בברכת המזון כיון דמדרבנן הוא לא מדכרינן או דילמא משום פרסומי ניסא מדכרינן אמר רבא אמר רב סחורה אמר רב הונא אינו מזכיר ואם בא להזכיר מזכיר בהודאה רב הונא בר יהודה איקלע לבי רבא סבר לאדכורי בבונה ירושלים אמר להו רב ששת כתפלה מה תפלה בהודאה אף ברכת המזון בהודאה

  • The purified temple – a failed model

But the newfound importance of the temple could not hide several difficult problems. Built by a Davidic king, authorized by a prophet, and authenticated through the miraculous manifestation of God (a cloud of smoke and, according to Chronicles, fire from heaven), the first temple was the splendid achievement of a splendid reign. The second temple, by contrast, although authorized by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, was built by a gentile king and was never authenticated by an overt sign of divine favor. Second Isaiah, in his prophecy announcing God’s selection of Cyrus the Great to be his “anointed one” to free the Jews from the Babylonian captivity and to build the temple, is aware that some Jews do not approve of God’s plan …. The old men who had seen the first temple in its glory cried at the dedication of the second (Ezra 3:12) – apparently tears of sadness, as they contemplated the puny temple that was before them. In the second century B.C.E., the temple’s problematic status was revealed to all. The high priests were corrupted and the temple was profaned by a gentile monarch. Even after it was regained and purified by pious Jews, there was no prophet to approve their work and no miracle to assure them that the temple was once again the abode of God. The Maccabees installed themselves as high priests although they were not of the high priestly line. When the Romans conquered Jerusalem in 63 B.C.E. they entered the sacred precincts, polluting them with their presence. Herod the Great rebuilt the temple magnificently, but his detractors Viewed him as a “half-Jew.” He completely debased the high priesthood, appointing men who had even less claim than the Maccabees to be the legitimate successors of Aaron. [pp131-2]

The desecration of the temple and the persecution of Judaism by Epiphanes, the overt corruption of the high priesthood, the Maccabean revolt and the reclamation of the temple through force of arms, and the usurpation of the high priesthood by jonathan the Hasmonean, all these highlighted the problematic status of the temple. Was it legitimate? Was it the real house of God? Even if the temple had been legitimate before, how could one be sure that its purification was efficacious in the eyes of God? The dissonance between the real and the perceived was greater now than before. Through vigorous propaganda the Maccabees sought to legitimate both themselves and the temple they had regained, but many Jews were not convinced. Those who were least convinced formed sects. [161]

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