Category Archives: resurrection

The Miraculous Birth and Resurrection of Isaac

parshat Vayera – genesis 18-22

A live recording of Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse October 22nd 2021as they ask: Was it the Binding of Isaac or the Sacrifice of Isaac and what difference does it make? We use the seminal story of the miraculous birth of Isaac and the hints at the sacrifice and subsequent resurrection of Isaac in the biblical and later Rabbinic texts to explore the meaning of these themes in Judaism and Christianity.

The Miraculous Birth and Resurrection of Isaac

A live recording of Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse with Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz as we ask: Was it the Binding of Isaac or the Sacrifice of Isaac and what difference does it make?

Link to Sefaria Source sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/356011

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:00

Welcome to Madlik disruptive Torah. I should say we’ve been doing this every week at four o’clock eastern on Friday. But because the nights are coming sooner, we are going to move to 8pm on Thursday. And I hope that all agrees with you. But if it doesn’t fit into your schedule, do remember, I’m going to try to publish the podcast now on Friday, so you will have it before Shabbat. So what we mean by disruptive Torah is that we hopefully look at the ancient texts through new lenses, new angles, and share those insights with you and invite you to introduce your own. But hopefully walk away thinking about these texts a little bit differently. Sometimes it’s a little unsettling, but that’s all good, because it means that the ancient texts remain live and vibrant with us. And today, my friends is no exception. We are in Vayera, it is, I believe, the fourth portion that we’ve read in the book of Genesis, and it contains some really repetitive themes that we’ll touch upon. And one theme that maybe it’s unique, and maybe it’s not. And that’s one of the things that we’re going to discuss. The repetitive theme is a miraculous birth. A barren mother may be in today’s portion, because we’re talking about Abraham and Sarah. maybe even an impotent Father, we don’t know he was 100 years old, and a miraculous birth of a child. And that is a theme that actually does appear over and over and over again, and we’re going to get to that. But there’s another…. I won’t call it a theme, because it might be a theme. But it also might be a unique incident. And that is what is called by the Jews, typically the Binding of Isaac, and what is many times called by Christians, the Sacrifice of Isaac, and we will actually get into the question of is it the sacrifice? Or is it the binding of Isaac? And does it make a difference? But in any case, let’s start with the biblical account in Genesis 22. And it says, “And it was after these things that God put Abraham to the test. He said to him, Abraham, and he answered, Hineni, here I am. And he said, Take your son, your favorite one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah Lech L’cha el Eretz haMoriah.   and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you. So early the next morning, Abraham saddled his ass and took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac, he split the word for the Burnt offering, and he set out for the place of which God had told him. And on the third day, Abraham looked up and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his servants, you stay here with the ass, and the boy and I will go up there, we will worship and we will return to you. Abraham took the wood for the burn to offering and put it on his son, Isaac.” And we’re going to look a little bit further into the story. I don’t think I need to read it all at this point, because so many of you know this iconic story, and possibly are troubled by it. But as you know, Abraham and Isaac walked silently up to the mountain together. And at certain point Isaac says to Abraham, Hey, Dad, I don’t see that you have a lamb with you. And Abraham says, enigmatically. God will provide the lamb. And then he binds Isaac, and has the knife raised above his throat, if you will. And an angel calls down from heaven, Abraham, Abraham, don’t touch the boy. And that is this story. So the question that I pose to all of you, and you’re all welcome to raise a hand and come up and discuss, I’m sure we all have opinions. But first to you rabbi, is this a unique incidence? Or is this part of a theme? This sense of sacrificing your child? Certainly, if you take it literally, Judaism is against in the Bible is against child sacrifice. Maloch is famous for that. But whether in the literal sense or in a larger sense, the sense of giving up to prove one’s faith or to prove something? Is this unique, or is this part of a general theme that I’m missing?

Adam Mintz  04:59

Good question. I mean, obviously, this is the most important question in the entire Bible. So the answer is it’s a unique story. And let me just back up a minute. You started by saying, Geoffrey, that the there’s a difference between the way the Jews refer to it and the way the Christians refer to it. The Christians refer to it as a sacrifice of Isaac, the Jews refer to it as the binding of Isaac. The Binding of Isaac is actually the translation of the biblical word Akeda, which is the word that we find in the Torah. “L’akod” means to bond. Now the first amazing thing Geoffrey is that that word to bind “L’akid” is a unique word in the Torah.  It only appears once in this context. So even in terms of the word, we know that this is an exceptional story. And the story is exceptional. There’s no other story like it. The question of course, is what’s the lesson of the story and again, we invite everybody to raise your hand that will bring you up to you can share. So very famously, there was a Danish philosopher by the name of Soren Kierkegaard. Most people don’t know Soren Kierkegaard except for his view about the Akeda. He says that the story of the Akeda is that God asked Abraham to sublimate the ethical which means to squash his ethical behavior of treating his son well, for the sake of listening to God. Recently, there was a book written by a professor at Yeshiva University, by the name of Aaron Kohler. And Aaron Kohler took issue with Kierkegaard. He said, You’re right. That’s what God says to Abraham, sublimate your ethical to listen to me. But then the angel comes, and the angel says, Don’t kill him. And what Professor Kohler says is that the lesson that the angel is trying to teach Abraham is that: Know, the ethical is the most important, what’s most important is how you treat your children, even at the expense of listening to God. And that’s the lesson we should walk away with. [Unbinding Isaac: The Significance of the Akedah for Modern Jewish Thought Hardcover – 2020 by Aaron Koller] But I think that’s an amazing dispute is the lesson of this story, that we need to listen to God above all else, even if he tells us to do something unethical, or no, is the punchline of the story that the ethical is the most important.

Geoffrey Stern  07:45

I think that’s a great insight. And of course, part of your resolution of the problem is how it ends. In other words, the story may or your explanation, or that of the rabbi would be different. If in fact, Isaac was sacrificed but as you say, the punchline is that he wasn’t sacrificed. And that teaches us something. And that teaches us that the ethical, is more important, but I want to I want to pick up on Kierkegaard, because Kierkegaard  believed that this was a test of faith, but the faith that Kierkegaard believes that the faith that God was testing in Abraham was Do you believe when I told you, that your children, you would have children and that they would be like the stars of the heaven and the sands and all that, do you believe that I will be able to fulfill that promise. And because Kierkegaard was Christian obviously, the way he tweaked that slightly was, Do you believe that even if I kill Isaac, I will resurrect him and you will still have him? Do you believe that I am capable of asking you to, in a sense, physically end my prophecy, and that I can still fulfill my prophecy? And I want to, to quote a verse that actually supports Kierkegaard a little bit, and this is Genesis 22. I read it during the introduction. And if you recall, it says, then Abraham said to his servants, you stay here with the ass, the boy and I will go up there, we will worship and we will return to you. We will return to you. So what the commentary would say that Abraham was a man of faith. He knew that God was asking him to sacrifice his son. But somehow, he knew in his heart of hearts, either that there was going to be an angel at the last moment, the deus ex machina, or that even if he killed him, he some how would rebuild, we birth, Isaac, and give it back to him? If you look at Rashi on that verse, Rashi says he prophesized that they would both return. So he understands the intent of this verse, and Rashi’s explanation is in the middle of being tested. He also knew that somehow it was going to work out. In a sense, you could say that Rashi and Kierkegaard are on the same page. Another Rabenu Bahia says and we will return to you. At that time Abraham intended to bring back Isaac’s bones for burial. And this is why he said we will come back. I mean, the commentary are very sensitive test to this. And you could also say clearly, that he was fooling them because he didn’t, as we discussed last week, he figured if he told these guys, he was going up to kill his son, they might stop him. But this notion that in fact number one, that the challenge here and I think Rabbi Avraham Bronstein mentioned it last week, Was this an ethical question that was confronting Abraham in the Akeda? Was it the emotional question of losing his son? You certainly don’t feel that in the text. There’s no angst here? Or was it this question of God promised he was going to give me progeny? Now he’s asking me to destroy the possibility of that promise? Do I still believe in the promise?

Adam Mintz  12:10

Yes, there’s so much there to build on. Let’s let’s talk about Rashi for a minute. I’m just trying to parse all the different things you talked about. Let’s talk about Rashi. You think that Kirkegaard and Rashi are saying the same thing. That what Rashi saying is that God asks Abraham to do it, even though it’s unethical. You think Rashi’s sensitive to that? That’s interesting.

Geoffrey Stern  12:41

I’m not sure that part of it, I what I was picking up on was another part of Kierkegaard that I discovered that Kierkegaard identifies the question of faith, and the question of faith has to do with this promise of future generations. And what Rashi is ultimately saying, and what Kierkegaard was saying is that that was the faith part that was being questioned.

Adam Mintz  13:05

Oh OK, good,  I like that.

Geoffrey Stern  13:09

 What Rashi is saying is that this man who is now being tested for his faith prophesizes is that everything is going to work its way out? That he prophesized that even if he listened to God, somehow, and you can conjecture that it was because there was going to be an angel to stop it. Or there was going to be something else like a resurrection. And I’m going to read a text now about the resurrection, …. because that is the critical difference, I believe, between the term the sacrifice of Isaac, and the binding of Isaac. So listen to Perkei d’Rabbi Eliezer. “Rabbi, Jehuda said, when the blade touched his neck, the soul of Isaac fled and departed. But when he heard his voice from between the two Chrubim, the two angels saying to Abraham lay not thine hand upon the lad, his soul returned to his body, and Abraham set him free. And Isaac stood upon his feet. And Isaac knew that in this manner, the dead in the future will be quickened, he opened his mouth, he said, blessed art thou our Lord our God Mechiyeh Hameytim, who brings back the dead. So here is a source that looks at this as part of a bigger theme. And the theme is that God who gives life God is capable of re giving life. And this kind of concept of resurrection of the dead, finds its first instance, in the story of the sacrifice of Isaac.

Adam Mintz  14:55

Good. I mean, that medrish is playing with an idea that Abraham actually killed Isaac, and that  Isaac was brought back to life. I didn’t know that Midrash, Thank you, Geoffrey. Because it says it pretty explicitly. I will tell you that the tradition in Judaism not in Christianity, in Judaism, the place where that tradition really evolves, that Abraham killed Isaac. And then he came back to life was actually something that Jews in Germany and France during the crusades, when Jews were given the choice, whether to die or to convert to Christianity, and they chose death, over conversion to Christianity. There were some people who saw that decision of death, rather than conversion to Christianity as an experience of th4e Akeda.  And there’s a professor in JTS by the name of shalom Spiegel, who wrote an entire book called The Last Trial, in which he collects all of the sources that suggests that Abraham actually killed Isaac. I didn’t know that Midrash but that Midrash says it’s so explicitly Baruch Ata Hashem Mechayeh Hameytim that Isaac is brought back to life. My problem, Geoffrey, with that Medrash is that it’s not explicit in the text. The text doesn’t seem to say that Abraham killed Isaac. Mechayei Hameytim doesn’t seem to be in the spirit of the text. I’ll tell you another text. On Rosh Hashannah in the Mussaf prayer, we also talk about the Binding of Isaac. And there we say to God, God, have compassion upon us. The same way that Abraham was willing to give up everything, in order to listen to you to sacrifice his son, as a reward for that mayyou God have compassion upon us. And that’s an interesting idea. What we say to God is just like Abraham, sublimated the ethical, he was willing to kill his son, because you said it, you should sublimate your desire to punish the people and be nice to us. But even that midrash even that, that quote, from the prayers doesn’t suggest that Abraham actually killed Isaac, that’s in the preliminary part of the story, that Abraham was willing to do it, not that he actually did it. And I think that’s an important point that Professor Kohler makes. And that is we need to distinguish between what the beginning of the story says, and what the punchline says.

Geoffrey Stern  18:13

So I just want to comment on Professor Spiegel, but also the fact that we are living right now in a golden age of Christian Jewish Studies. And by that I mean that the notion that many times that Christianity took ideas from Judaism. But now scholars like Daniel Boyarin  John Levinson and others are saying, Yes, but this gives us license to look into Christianity, and through looking at Christianity possibly understand some of our texts and traditions. And this is based on the assumption that Christianity was trying to convince the Jewish people to accept this new Messiah. And they argued from existing traditions. Making something up would not have gotten them very far. So scholars like Spiegel and Levinson are now looking through our texts, and they’re coming up with amazing material. So for instance, we read in Genesis 22, 6, Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering, and put it on his son Isaac. Here’s what Bereshit Rabbah said, Robert says, And Abraham took the word of the burnt offering, like one who carries his own tzlav, his own stake on his shoulder, he literally says, like carrying your own cross. So again, according to this way of looking at some of these texts, it’s not as though when the New Testament describes Jesus as carrying his own cross, it might have been very conscience to, in a sense, type. into and latch into these existing traditions. You mentioned the mussaf service of Rosh Hashanah there’s even a bigger parallel with Passover and the pascal lamb. With Rosh Hashanah we have the ram’s horn and that’s important, but with the pascal lamb listen to what the the Bible in Exodus 12 says. If you recall the Jews are leaving Egypt the firstborn sons are being killed. Everybody is an Abraham in Egypt killing their Isaac, and the blood on the houses where you shall be staying shall be a sign for you. When I see the blood I will pass over you so that no plague will destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. The Mechilta d’Rab Yishmael  says, What is the intent of this and I shall see the blood, I shall see the blood of the binding of isaac as it is written and Abraham came to the place, the Lord will see Hashem yiraeh.  But he was about to destroy the Lord said, and he repented himself of the evil. What did he see? He saw the blood of the binding of Isaac. So there are two issues that are fascinating here. One is that he makes the connection to a very powerful theme of the pascal lamb to the sacrifice…. sorry, I misspoke to the binding of Isaac. …And second, he talks about the blood of Isaac, so you can try to answer that Rabbi and say that maybe Isaac was nicked before the angel interrupted. But where does the blood of Isaac come all of a sudden. And so you have in this week’s parsha , at the end, it says Abraham then returned to his servants, and they departed for Beer Sheba. So the commentaries pick up on saying, why does it say Abraham then returned? Why doesn’t it say Abraham and Isaac returned. So the Ibn Ezra says, Isaac is not mentioned because he was under Abraham’s care. Those who say that Abraham slaughtered Isaac and left him on the altar. And following this, Isaac came to life are contradicting scripture. The point that I’m making is, Ibn Ezra would not say this, if there weren’t people arguing the case and you’re right, it might have been Christians. But again, we’re talking about levels of texture and tradition that are clearly part of this story. In the classical rabbinic texts, they certainly become more profound as history goes forward. This Levinson talks about the Maccabees, were the first to really begin this concept of the Techiyat Hameytim , the resurrection of the dead in Judaism. And if you read the book of the Maccabees time and time again, when they are sacrificing themselves to the Greeks, rather than break the law, they reference Akedat Yitzchak . So there is something there. And that’s why I raised my original question. Is it the binding of Isaac? Or was it the actual sacrifice of Isaac? And does it make a difference?

Adam Mintz  23:38

So I think all those points are amazing points. You took us on a journey through rabbinic literature. And the answer to your question, Geoffrey is yes, it makes a difference. The sacrifice of Isaac is one thing, the blood of Isaac as part of the sacrifice of Isaac. The Binding of Isaac suggests that there was a binding but they didn’t actually kill it. But Michael is up here. So Michael, why don’t you take it away?

Michael Stern  24:07

Thank you, Rabbi. Thank you, Geoffrey. I understand that sacrifice is giving up something for the sake of something else or giving up something you want to keep. They say no sacrifice is too great when it comes to children. So binding is for me like a straight jacket. And sacrificing is giving up something. And when it comes to children, I think in this golden age, there is a liberation from old belief systems from the shoulds  and shouldn’ts, and the young generation today and every young generation questions, the traditions and the ways of the forefathers. And so a father has to, as I understand fatherhood, bless his children, and sacrifice his own. My children, I don’t like that my children, I understand that children are there to raise as best you can, and then send them off and bless them and be wind under their wings. And then there is the prophecy of return. When you do come home alone, like Abraham came home alone, but he, like parents go home alone, empty nesting, and then maybe, and I bet the children come home. And they come home with their own stories, and their own new traditions and their own new ways that they’d fought hard to birth.

Geoffrey Stern  25:49

Thank you, Michael.

Adam Mintz  25:50

Michael, thank you so so much. I mean, I think that’s a whole different way of looking at children. And I think that is something that if you bring that out from the story, I think that’s beautiful.

Geoffrey Stern  26:01

So the question is, what now becomes the takeaway? One of the scholars, who I’ve read, who’s fascinating here, talks about this break of natural birth, meaning to say, and I started by talking about this week’s parsha, we have two themes. One is, we can now call it this potential sacrifice of Isaac, and his rebirth, and the other is miraculous birth. And by miraculous birth, I should say that every parent group from Abraham forward, it didn’t occur before. As far as I could tell Adam and Eve did not have a problem conceiving. But from Abraham and Sarah going forward, every patriarch and great prophet, is born out of miraculous situations. And in fact, Abraham and Sarah had to even change their name. They were a Abram and Sarai had to change their name in order to give birth, changing one’s name is being reborn. Yes, in the Bible, it means being reborn already in the Old Testament. And then they have at 90 for Sarah, and 100. For Abraham, they have this miraculous birth. And you can look at the language which is fascinating. It says, and God visited Sarah veHashem pakad et Sarah, like he said, Now, there’s a great movie with Woody Allen, and it’s called The Front and he’s being grilled to see if he knows any communists. And finally, he says, Do you mean in the biblical sense, and of course, what he’s talking about is something called carnal knowledge, which is that the word know, Adam knew Eve can mean carnal relations. Well, there’s also something called a conjugal visit. And the word pakad is used mostly in Rabbinic Judaism. And many times as a euphemism for a conjugal visit, meaning to say if someone is about to go on a trip, Hayav adam lipkod et ishto lifei nesiato.. a man has to visit his wife before he leaves. So what I’m trying to get at is not to necessarily say we have a story of a virgin birth here, or the alternative, which is a barren mother past menopause, and an impotent father in his hundreds have a baby. The point is that it’s miraculous, and that it is an absolute break with natural birth. And that’s how I’m kind of taking your comment, Michael, which is that there is a big theme in Judaism that you need that break, let’s not forget that when Abram began his journey from Haran, it says, you leave your father’s house, you’ve got to leave your parents to find yourself. And according to that interpretation, that’s what happens if Isaac gets sacrificed. He is being brought up to this mountain by a man newly reborn as Abraham who was given a child, a miraculous child. And now he himself is having to go through this miraculous transformation of of dying and being reborn. So you could argue that both themes that we’re seeing here Michael, are very along the lines that you are talking that redemption, liberation, full actualization can only come when you break possibly and it doesn’t have to be forever, it might be momentarily the umbilical cord of natural birth.

Michael Stern  30:06

And that is the pain in suffering and sacrifice and pain in the binding. Because wearing straitjackets I can attest is painful. So real unbinding and sacrificing is painful and sacrifice and releasing the pain in the  unbinding.

Adam Mintz  30:30

That’s nice. You’re taking the other side, not the binding, not the binding Geoffrey, but the unbinding …. an  interesting twist

Geoffrey Stern  30:37

But that’s what happens when you talk about the sacrifice of Isaac, you’re ultimately talking about the resuscitation and rebirth as a new person. You know, the takeaways are kind of fascinating. And the takeaways make this less of extra ordinary incident. And actually, something very apart of what a Judaism I turned out to be. This guy who I quote, says that it doesn’t stop here. He says, if you think about all of the patriarchs, whether Jacob going to sleep, and the angels coming down and going up, which could be a metaphor for dying and being reborn, whether it’s fighting with the angel to the last moment. So it seems to be a very basic theme. But as we started rabbi, and you talked about the key is how the story ends. I do believe that if we benefit a little bit from reading those rabbinic texts, through new lenses, with a little bit of help, from the way Christianity took this motif, it does become something that becomes both thematically important, but also, in a sense, edifying in the sense that we all need to be reborn. And the question is what we do with our life, and that more to the point that all of our births have to be miraculous. And that in a sense, God is the third partner in our in our births. And that is something that is a very famous rabbinic text. So maybe that is a little bit of the takeaway of what otherwise can be a very challenging, depressing and rattling story in the Bible.

Adam Mintz  32:43

Thank you so much, Geoffrey, amazing conversation today. We look forward Enjoy your Shabbat everybody. We look forward to seeing everybody this Thursday night 8pm Eastern Daylight Time and we will discuss the portion of Hayei Sarah. Geoffrey, have a great trip to Israel. And we will see you from Israel on Thursday night. Everybody Shabbat shalom.

Geoffrey Stern  33:04

Shabbat Shalom.

——————————–

Original announcement below:

Friday October 22nd at 4:00pm Eastern

https://www.clubhouse.com/join/Madlik/Lgs5Wmm1/M4WN7Z2K

Link to Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/356011

Listen below to last week’s Clubhouse meeting: Abraham’s Epic Journey and Our Own

Abraham’s Epic Journey and our Own

Recorded live on Clubhouse on Friday October 15th 2021 Parshat Lech Lecha – Geoffrey Stern, Rabbi Adam Mintz and Rabbi Abraham Bronstein explore various ways of viewing Abraham’s epic journey and how it reflects our own. Sefaria Source Sheet: http://www.sefaria.org/sheets/354270 Transcript (excerpt): You know, I could make the argument that Abraham was the first atheist.

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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

If you like the madlik podcast please subscribe (and LIKE us) at iTunes.  And for your Andoids, the podcast is now available on Google PlayMusic and Stitcher.  For easy links go to madlik.com

Listen to the madlik podcast:


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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in thy blood do not live

parshat shemini

Please feel free to visit previous Madlik posts:

keep it short where I argue that the sin of Strange Fire brought by Aaron’s sons was that they made the service too long!

be still where I argue that the sin of Nadab and Abihu was of being holier than Thou…

But who said that these two sons of Aaron sinned and that their death was a tragedy? The simple reading of the text, amplified by Rashi, is that they were sanctified; they were holy sacrifices, child sacrifices…

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר משֶׁ֜ה אֶל־אַֽהֲרֹ֗ן ה֩וּא אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֨ר הֹ | לֵאמֹר֙ בִּקְרֹבַ֣י אֶקָּדֵ֔שׁ וְעַל־פְּנֵ֥י כָל־הָעָ֖ם אֶכָּבֵ֑ד וַיִּדֹּ֖ם אַֽהֲרֹֽן

Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke, [when He said], ‘I will be sanctified through those near to Me, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ ” And Aaron was silent.

Rashi:

 אל תקרי בכבודי אלא במכובדי. אמר לו משה לאהרן אהרן אחי יודע הייתי שיתקדש הבית במיודעיו של מקום והייתי סבור או בי או בך, עכשיו

רואה אני שהם גדולים ממני וממך

Do not read בִּכְבוֹדִי, “through My glory,” but בִּמְכֻבָּדַי, “through My honorable ones.” Moses said to Aaron, “Aaron, my brother! I knew that this House was to be sanctified through the beloved ones of the Omnipresent, but I thought it would be either through me or through you. Now I see that they [Nadab and Abihu] were greater than I or you!”- [Vayikra Rabbah 12:2]

My friend and teacher Amichai Lau-Lavi has offered an alternative translation for Aaron’s Silence:

Never mind right now what Moses meant. I want to focus on Aaron’s reaction. ‘Silent’ is elsewhere translated as ‘speechless’, or ‘calmed’ or ‘held his peace’. These are very different descriptions – or suggestions – for handling grief. What does ‘holding one’s peace’ mean? Is it noble courage or emotional constipation? And does the (Orthodox) translator who used ‘calmed’ mean to say that Aaron was soothed by the theological explanation given to him by Moses – ‘only the good die young’? The Hebrew word argued here is ‘Va-yidom’ – a word that has in it both the allusion to great silence – ‘demama’ but also the word ‘da-am’ – Hebrew for ‘blood’.  It is one of those loud Hebrew words, loaded with many meanings. (here)

It is clear that human sacrifice, and child sacrifice in particular is something that our tradition and human-kind has, and continues to struggle with.  Whether it is Abraham and Isaac, Moloch, Baal and the cult of martyrdom in all Abrahamic religions.. Nadav and Abihu and the ambiguity of Aaron’s silence remind us that the struggle to rid ourselves of this cancer is ongoing.

We need to address our liturgy, especially in this holy month when we children of Abraham recall the drowning of the First Born, the passion of Jesus or the Day of Ashura and the assassination of Hussein.  Death can never be glorified… it does not bring a resurrection or a redemption.  When a child is born we ought not think it a blessing or predilection when we welcome him with the chant.. “In thy blood, live, in thy blood, live”  וָאֹמַר לָךְ בְּדָמַיִךְ חֲיִי, וָאֹמַר לָךְ בְּדָמַיִךְ חֲיִי.  When these words appear in Ezekiel 16:6 there is no ambiguity… they are not a blessing… They are a promise that even if in your primal past there is blood, sacrifice and martyrdom, I God will raise you up and wash you off and help you live. 16:9 Then washed I thee with water; yea, I cleansed away thy blood from thee, and I anointed thee with oil.” (see also)

For further reading on the struggle in Abrahamic religions with child sacrifice see: The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: The Transformation of Child Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity Revised Edition by Jon D. Levenson

child sacrifice

 

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the next aliyah

parshat Hayei Sarah

In a previous post (Divine Birthers II) I continue to explore the child of God in the Hebrew tradition, but since I am currently in Israel and spending most of my time meeting with Israelis and traveling the land… a welcome opportunity to revisit the notion of the “people of the Land”….  עַם הָאָרֶץ

And Abraham bowed down before the people of the land. And he spoke unto Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying: ‘But if thou wilt, I pray thee, hear me: I will give the price of the field; take it of me, and I will bury my dead there.’ (Genesis 23: 12-13)

וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ, אַבְרָהָם, לִפְנֵי, עַם הָאָרֶץ

וַיְדַבֵּר אֶל-עֶפְרוֹן בְּאָזְנֵי עַם-הָאָרֶץ, לֵאמֹר, אַךְ אִם-אַתָּה לוּ, שְׁמָעֵנִי:  נָתַתִּי כֶּסֶף הַשָּׂדֶה, קַח מִמֶּנִּי, וְאֶקְבְּרָה אֶת-מֵתִי, שָׁמָּה

I had dinner with a long-time friend of my family; a card-carrying member of the Labour Party who at 95 has participated, one way or the other, in every war and served his country in the ministry of defense for many years.  When discussing the current difficult situation, he said with a twinkle in his eye… the Problem with the Jewish State is the Jews..  I had heard the comment before and it follows a long tradition of blaming the problems in the Holy Land on those who come before or after the blamer…..

In Abraham’s case, the “people of the land” are the Hittites who preceded the Hebrew in the land of Canaan.  Abraham wants to buy his first plot of land and the Hittites would prefer that he just visit and bury his wife on land that is charitably provided to him with limited recourse. Somehow, the concept of the People of the Land always means the people that immigrated to the land before me.  Somehow these previous immigrants are always a thorn in the butt and the source of problems inherited by those that follow.

Many years latter, in Talmudic times, the term Am Ha-Aretz” was used to refer to an ignorant Jew, but the source of this pejorative which became popular with the rise of the Pharisees and Rabbinic Judaism was actually with the return of the exiled Jews from Babylonia.  Writes Aharon Oppenheimer in his classic: The Am Ha-Aretz: A Study in the Social History of the Jewish People in the Hellenistic-Roman Period, 1997 (note to page83):

AmHaaretz

The Jews in Babylonia, led by Ezra and Nechemia had changed the face of Judaism.  When the first temple was standing, washing and purification before eating food was relegated to the priests and Levites and to eating temple sanctified food.  The returning Babylonian Jews had extended this requirement to every Jew and for all foodstuff.  Similarly tithing was continued by the Babylonian Jews, even though the priests, who benefited from such tithing, no longer had a Temple to work in.  The Jews who had remained in Israel, known as the Amei Ha-aretz had not gotten this memo and probably thought that the Babylonian Jews were living in denial… there was no longer any reason to ritually wash nor tithe.  Similarly, the Jews in Babylonia had come up with this idea of the resurrection of the dead and possibly other such elements of eschatology such as belief in the world-to-come and a messianic age…. here too the Am Ha’aretz did not get the memo.  The Am Ha’aretz, were for the Pharasees an annoying reminder that they had, in fact, re-invented Judaism… not rediscovered it.

In current parlance, Am ha’aretz (or AMHA) refers to a movement arising from the early pioneers in Israel and their love of the land. Members of AMHA in Israel tend to be in elite military units and kibbutzim and reflect the traditional values of the secular Israeli pioneers. The leaders of AMHA are called Shoftim, and are elected by the membership. AMHA has also spread to the USA in recent years, where the first Shofet outside of Israel now resides. (see: Wikipedia: Am ha’aretz).

There is a profound irony about this too holy land that brings immigrants based on their love and connection to it’s history but who at the same time deride and blame the achievements of the immigrants who preceded them… the am ha’aretz.

The late Arik Einstein and Uri Zohar, in a wonderful comic skit, portray the common social phenomenon where every immigrant group is disparaged by the group that precedes it and likewise disparages the one to follow.  The skit, which I am happy to provide below,  pokes fun at the deep cultural rifts in Israel till today.  It would have been equally entertaining and relevant to make a skit about how, only in the land of Israel, each subsequent immigration disparages and undermines the contributions of those who preceded it… the am ha’aretz.

Maybe for the rifts to heal, we need a new aliya… a new immigration where we all accept our immigrant status at the same time as accepting our being people of the land… maybe we all need to live more in the moment of aliya and less in the various strata of the land.  Maybe that’s the message of the current seventh Shemita/Sabbatical year where we need to separate from the land, in order to live in it.  Shemita Shalom.

Arik

 

—————-

[1] For more recent scholarship on this subject see Daniel Boyarin , Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity p. 251 note 122

AmHaaretz boylerin

 

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Isaac’s smile

Parshat Vayera

In a previous post Divine Birthers I, I explore the concept of miraculous birth and resurrection in Judaism.  It’s ironic that such a heavy discussion is raised by the birth and life of a guy named Isaac … יִצְחָק which literally means to laugh and in context, means to laugh at God.

And Sarah laughed within herself, saying: ‘After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?’  And the LORD said unto Abraham: ‘Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying: Shall I of a surety bear a child, who am old?  Is any thing too hard for the LORD. At the set time I will return unto thee, when the season cometh round, and Sarah shall have a son.  Then Sarah denied, saying: ‘I laughed not’; for she was afraid. And He said: ‘Nay; but thou didst laugh.’ Genesis 18: 12-16

וַתִּצְחַק שָׂרָה, בְּקִרְבָּהּ לֵאמֹר:  אַחֲרֵי בְלֹתִי הָיְתָה-לִּי עֶדְנָה, וַאדֹנִי זָקֵן

וַיֹּאמֶר ה’, אֶל-אַבְרָהָם:  לָמָּה זֶּה צָחֲקָה שָׂרָה לֵאמֹר, הַאַף אֻמְנָם אֵלֵד–וַאֲנִי זָקַנְתִּי

הֲיִפָּלֵא ה’, דָּבָר; לַמּוֹעֵד אָשׁוּב אֵלֶיךָ, כָּעֵת חַיָּה–וּלְשָׂרָה בֵן

וַתְּכַחֵשׁ שָׂרָה לֵאמֹר לֹא צָחַקְתִּי, כִּי יָרֵאָה; וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא, כִּי צָחָקְתְּ

 

And Abraham was a hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him and Sarah said: ‘God hath made laughter for me; every one that heareth will laugh on account of me.’  Genesis 21: 6-7

וְאַבְרָהָם, בֶּן-מְאַת שָׁנָה, בְּהִוָּלֶד לוֹ, אֵת יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ

וַתֹּאמֶר שָׂרָה–צְחֹק, עָשָׂה לִי אֱלֹהִים:  כָּל-הַשֹּׁמֵעַ, יִצְחַק-לִי

This past Rosh HaShanah, my Rabbi, Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn asked why, Isaac, the “middle Father” of the three patriarchs was featured in the Torah readings of the High Holidays?  The first day of Rosh Hashanah we read the story of the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael after the birth of Isaac:  Genesis 21: 9.   Ironically, Ishmael is banished by Sarah because he exhibits the same trait as Isaac… he’s a jokester….

And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne unto Abraham, making sport.

וַתֵּרֶא שָׂרָה אֶת-בֶּן-הָגָר הַמִּצְרִית, אֲשֶׁר-יָלְדָה לְאַבְרָהָם–מְצַחֵק

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah we read of the Sacrifice of Isaac, which is admittedly not a laughing matter.

Even the Torah makes a connection between the Sacrifice of Isaac.. the Akeda and what lies before… the account of he Akeda begins with Genesis 22:1

And it came to pass after these things, that God did prove Abraham, and said unto him: ‘Abraham’; and he said: ‘Here am I.’

 וַיְהִי, אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה

Like any middle child, argued Wiederhorn, Isaac had a conflicted life and much to teach us…. ergo we read both of these troubling stories that revolve around him on the high holy days.

What connects Isaac and his jokester brother Ishmael is how these two brothers came to reconcile with each other, and forgive their father.

According to the the Talmudic sage Raba in Baba Batra 16b  quoted by Wiederhorn, these two feuding brothers reunited at their father’s funeral and shiva.

Ishmael repented in the lifetime of his father. [We know this] because it says, And Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him. (Genesis 25: 9) But perhaps the text arranges them in the order of their wisdom? — If that were so, then why in the verse, And Esau and Jacob his sons buried him (Genesis 35: 29) are they not arranged in the order of their wisdom? What we have to say is that the fact of the text placing Isaac first shows that Ishmael made way (‘made him lead’)  for him, and from the fact that he made way for him we infer that he repented in Abraham’s lifetime. [1]

According to a conversation imagined by Rabbi Wiederhorn…. Ishmael was bitter and complained to Isaac that that their father had cruelly rejected and exiled him…. said Isaac “Dad rejected you… but he tried to kill me!”.  It was this humor shared by these two victims of exile and persecution that brought them together.

But there’s more joking going on in this narrative.  When in Genesis 26: 8 the Abimelech, king of the Philistines catches Isaac “sporting” with his wife Rebecca, many commentaries provide sexual innuendo…

And it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out at a window, and saw, and, behold, Isaac was sporting with Rebekah his wife.

וַיְהִי, כִּי אָרְכוּ-לוֹ שָׁם הַיָּמִים, וַיַּשְׁקֵף אֲבִימֶלֶךְ מֶלֶךְ פְּלִשְׁתִּים, בְּעַד הַחַלּוֹן; וַיַּרְא, וְהִנֵּה יִצְחָק מְצַחֵק, אֵת, רִבְקָה אִשְׁתּוֹ

I must say, I have always loved the Torah’s humor in “Isaac was sporting” “Yitchak Mitzahek”  יִצְחָק מְצַחֵק  but Wiederhorn makes the point that not only does the author of the Torah make us smile with this word play… but maybe, just maybe it was not gratuitous sex that was part of this screenplay …  maybe for once we should take the text literally and Isaac was making his wife smile in a way that only one who is intimately connected can.  Isaac, true to his name, used humor, charm and a gratuitous smile to navigate through the trials and tribulations of life.  that was what Isaac was doing too…. making Rebeca smile in a way that showed the closeness of the relationship.

According to Wiederhorn’s sometimes we need to look on the bright side of life…

Writing this post in Israel, after a difficult few weeks of conflict over the Temple Mount and terror attacks with cars mowing down innocent victims waiting for a light rail, the message of Isaac could never be more timely… we … all parties.. the children of Sarah and the children of Hagar, need to smile more and make each other smile more.  We share enough tragedy to smile in a way that only those sharing the same fate and suffering can.  If we can’t smile together, we may never get out of the rut we’re in.

———————

[1]

baba batra 16bWiederhorn was inspired by the commentary to Genesis 25:9 in the Etz Hayim Chumash: “Isaac and Ishmael are reunited at their father’s funeral, a sign that Ishmael changed his ways as he matured [BT BB 16b].  Although he could not have forgotten how his father had treated him and how his brother had supplanted him, he seems to have forgiven Abraham for having been a less-than-perfect father.  Isaac too seems to have come to terms with his father’s nearly killing him on Mount Moriah.

Might these reconciliations have occurred in Abraham’s lifetime and be the reason for the Torah’s describing him as “contented” in his old age (Gen. R. 38:12)? Can we see this as a model for family reconciliations, forgiving old hurts? And can it not be a model for the descendents of Ishmael and Isaac, contemporary Arabs and Israeli Jews, to find grounds for forgiveness and reconciliation?”

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the gospel geniza

getting ready for passover

In the category of Jewish-Christian Dialogue, the award for the best back-handed compliment goes to Pope John Paul II who in 1986 went to a Rome synagogue to pray with the city’s Jewish community. Noting Christianity’s unique bond with Judaism, he said, “You are our beloved brothers … you are our elder brothers” in the faith of Abraham. (see: Catholic News). More recently, Pope Francis described the Jewish people as the “big brothers” of his Roman Catholic flock in words of solidarity marking the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht.

Why a compliment? Because we Jews are raised with a conceit… that Christians cannot possibly understand their religion without understanding Judaism, the religion of Jesus. We may be a minority and have been oppressed, but when all is said and done, our religion preceded and gave birth to Christianity… the two popes exploited this conceit.

Why a backhanded compliment? For those familiar with the Hebrew Bible, you know that the God of the Jews favors the younger brother.. from Cain and Abel until King David and on….

and the elder shall serve the younger. (Genesis 25: 23)
וְרַב יַעֲבֹד צָעִיר

For a complete analysis of the history of this birth-order election tug-of-war see the brilliant: Two Nations in Your Womb: Perceptions of Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages by Isræl Jacob Yuval.

Why the Award and why now? Now that Christianity and Judaism are getting along so well, we can both agree that neither religion can achieve self-awareness without understanding the other. Both religions can lose their conceits and sense of election and need to admit that they both do not have a well thought out theology which includes the other. *

As Daniel Boyarin argues in his book Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity, both Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity were created in the chaos formed by the loss of the temple and the Jewish Commonwealth in the first centuries of the Common Era. And…. it turns out, both “religions” increasingly defined themselves in counter distinction to the other.

For the purposes of the present discussion, what this means is that both faiths jettisoned beliefs held by the other. So in his more popular book, The Jewish Gospels, Boyarin argues that if the early Christians were looking to convince Jews of their authenticity, it would hardly make sense to cite unheard of concepts and novel ideas to prove that they were the true heir to the throne. If they claimed that Jesus was divinely born and/or needed to be sacrificed, Boyarin argues, that must have been the expectation of the general Jewish population of the day. Similarly, if early Christian Jews claimed that the Godhead had multiple manifestations, then this belief must have been resident among fellow Jews. And in his writings, Boyarin proves that these beliefs were in fact, held by Jews of the time.

As the break between the two religions grew over time, the border lines became less porous. Previously common beliefs, rituals and traditions were divvied up as in a zero sum game.

So the two Popes have my appreciation for reminding me of a once important thread in my tradition, the election of the younger brother, which we jettisoned at the border and had forgotten about to the point where most of us smile with appreciation when we’re referred to by the leader of the Catholic Church as the older brother.

The two Popes get my appreciation, because in our new world where hostilities have ceased and Jewish Christian dialog is fashionable, we Jews are now free to roam around the Gospels (and the rest of Christian scripture, liturgy and literature) to reclaim customs, traditions, rituals, expressions, beliefs and even polemics that we discarded and buried long ago in what I call the Gospel Geniza.

In my next post we’ll explore this treasure trove, hiding in plain sight, for Jewish artifacts that impact the Passover celebration.

Here are some entrées to whet your appetite:

Shabbat Hagadol – see John 19:31 (megalē μεγάλη which means: large, great)
Hametz – See Mark 8:15 “the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod” and the connection between purging leaven and repentance.
Afikomen – broken and hidden, a symbol of the messiah and a lost polemic

fish

* i.e Christians, especially Catholics, have not fully worked out how their older brother need not be rejected and replaced by the younger brother for their new testament (covenant) to be valid, and Jews have not expanded their rudimentary category of natural religion (Noachide Religion) to include other eschatological monotheistic religions such as Christianity which have valid but alternative conceptions of the Godhead and end-of-days.

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kavanah – modeh ani

Madlik goes to shul …

My favorite prayer is the first prayer of the day.  The prayer goes as follows:

modeh-ani

Here’s a nice melody for Modeh Ani:


What’s not to like?
The prayer starts with gratitude.
It is  לפנך …. in the moment.
The prayer does not reference God.
It is a prayer of gratitude, in the abstract, without an address… just gratitude.
It is imminently personal, in the first person (unlike the prayers to follow).
And finally, the first reference to belief (emunah) every day, is not to our faith in…. , but rather in a higher being’s faith in us.

Here’s the source in Lamentations 3:22-23

Surely the LORD’S mercies are not consumed …… They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness.

….חַסְדֵי יְהוָה כִּי לֹא-תָמְנוּ

חֲדָשִׁים, לַבְּקָרִים, רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶךָ.

What’s the back story to this gem of a prayer that comes too early in the day for anyone to notice but sets the tone for the whole morning service?

It turns out that the modeh ani prayer was not written by a humanist. The simple reason that God’s name is not mentioned, is that the awakening individual has not yet washed his/her hands so God’s name cannot be spoken. Not surprisingly, the next prayer is the prayer on washing one’s hands. Which begs the question; why not wash one’s hands and then say a proper prayer?

Unlike the simple washing of one’s hands before prayer or study, this first morning wash is done with a blessing.
One is washing one’s hands after a night’s sleep and a night’s sleep was profoundly important to the Rabbis of the Talmud:

Five things are a sixtieth part of something else: namely, fire, honey, Sabbath, sleep and a dream. Fire is one-sixtieth part of Gehinnom. Honey is one-sixtieth part of manna. Sabbath is one-sixtieth part of the world to come. Sleep is one-sixtieth part of death. A dream is one-sixtieth part of prophecy. [Berachot 57b and See: On Prayer: I Thank You by Rabbi Avi Stewart ]

sleep 1 60th
I’ve always enjoyed thinking of Shabbat as a taste of Olam Haba’ah (the world to come), unfortunately, thinking of sleep as a taste of death doesn’t give me the same lift.

But the Rabbis are doing something quite remarkable here. Death lies at the heart of all impurity (tumah) טָמְאָה. Whether one comes into contact with a corpse, menstruates, gives birth to a child, has a nocturnal emission or is afflicted with leprosy, in one form or another one has been separated or deprived of life or exposed to decay. In biblical times, the opposite of tumah was access to the temple upon becoming clean.
The rabbis introduced a radical dogma to post temple Judaism.. the belief in the resurrection of the dead. And in the prayerbook they have an agenda to weave their belief in the ressurection of the dead (techyat Hametim) into our prayers. They start with Modeh Ani.

But here’s the punch line: If sleep is a taste of death, then waking up is a taste of resurrection!

…..or as R. Alexandri interpreted it: From the fact that You renew us every morning, we know that great is Your faithfulness to resurrect the dead.

I’m not a big believer in the resurrection of the dead, but even I consider resurrection of the dead, diluted to 1/60th (batel b’shishim) to be kosher! If when the Rabbis woke up they got a taste of resurrection, when I get up and read the same prayers, I am refreshed with a taste of the possibility of being re-born on a new day… every day!

With this resurrection-lite in hand, I can follow the rabbis through the morning prayers with new insight and gratitude.
If the Shabbat is a taste of a better world, the morning prayers, starting with Modeh Ani become a taste of being reborn…. radical renewal.

Washing our hands and face when we first wake up and again before prayers (something that has remained more within the ritual and sanctuary architecture of Christianity and Islam) should refresh us.

The next place we encounter rejuvenation is Elohie Neshama

elohaineshama2
The prayer is beautiful, but if you have said it before, you may not have noticed the ending.. “who restores souls to dead bodies”. Armed with our understanding of rising in the morning as an exercise in rising from the dead, not only does the prayer make sense, but, as only a taste of rising from the dead, it retains its beauty but with new empowerment.

The other morning blessings also take on new meaning. The whole list of blessings that thank God “who made me “in His image”, “a Jew”, “free” make more sense if we are newly created … each morning.

“Clothing the naked”, “releasing the bound” מתיר אסורים and “straightens the bent” זוקפ כפופים relate directly to the steps of rising in the morning… but also the steps of being born again, and tie directly into  the Ashrei (Psalm 145 and Psalm 146) and the second blessing of the Silent Prayer (amidah). We are beginning to see how central to the theme of the morning service, this thread of reviving the dead becomes.

The climax of the early morning blessings is the last one… Thank you God for giving strength to the weary…which is what I ask of my morning coffee, revival of the dead and which, it appears, is the goal of our morning prayers, if said properly.

As we move on, in the Psalm of Shabbat we pick up this theme again (Psalms 92: 3)

To declare Thy lovingkindness in the morning, and Thy faithfulness in the night,
לְהַגִּיד בַּבֹּקֶר חַסְדֶּךָ; וֶאֱמוּנָתְךָ, בַּלֵּילוֹת
Here again… the faithfulness that is referenced is God’s faith for man…

With Psalm 90 “A Prayer of Moses” we catch up again with earlier, Biblical themes of morning as rebirth and night as sin, decline and death.

For a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.
Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep; in the morning they are like grass which groweth up.
In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth.
For we are consumed in Thine anger, and by Thy wrath are we hurried away.
Thou hast set our iniquities before Thee, our secret sins in the light of Thy countenance.
For all our days are passed away in Thy wrath; we bring our years to an end as a tale that is told….

O satisfy us in the morning with Thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

כִּי אֶלֶף שָׁנִים, בְּעֵינֶיךָ– כְּיוֹם אֶתְמוֹל, כִּי יַעֲבֹר;
וְאַשְׁמוּרָה בַלָּיְלָה.
זְרַמְתָּם, שֵׁנָה יִהְיוּ; בַּבֹּקֶר, כֶּחָצִיר יַחֲלֹף.
בַּבֹּקֶר, יָצִיץ וְחָלָף; לָעֶרֶב, יְמוֹלֵל וְיָבֵשׁ.
כִּי-כָלִינוּ בְאַפֶּךָ; וּבַחֲמָתְךָ נִבְהָלְנוּ.
שת (שַׁתָּה) עֲו‍ֹנֹתֵינוּ לְנֶגְדֶּךָ; עֲלֻמֵנוּ, לִמְאוֹר פָּנֶיךָ.
כִּי כָל-יָמֵינוּ, פָּנוּ בְעֶבְרָתֶךָ; כִּלִּינוּ שָׁנֵינוּ כְמוֹ-הֶגֶה.

שַׂבְּעֵנוּ בַבֹּקֶר חַסְדֶּךָ; וּנְרַנְּנָה וְנִשְׂמְחָה, בְּכָל-יָמֵינוּ.

As mentioned above, we encounter the sources of the early morning blessings in Psalm 145 and Psalm 146

The LORD upholdeth all that fall, and raiseth up all those that are bowed down.

סוֹמֵךְ יְהוָה, לְכָל-הַנֹּפְלִים; וְזוֹקֵף, לְכָל-הַכְּפוּפִים.

Who executeth justice for the oppressed; who giveth bread to the hungry. The LORD looseth the prisoners;
The LORD openeth the eyes of the blind; the LORD raiseth up them that are bowed down; the LORD loveth the righteous;

עֹשֶׂה מִשְׁפָּט, לָעֲשׁוּקִים–נֹתֵן לֶחֶם, לָרְעֵבִים; יְהוָה, מַתִּיר אֲסוּרִים.
יְהוָה, פֹּקֵחַ עִוְרִים–יְהוָה, זֹקֵף כְּפוּפִים; יְהוָה, אֹהֵב צַדִּיקִים.

Clearly there are other themes besides waking in the morning and rebirth which the curator of the siddur is weaving into our prayers, but this radical renewal is certainly the first theme and one that is sustained until the Silent prayer; the Amidah.

Here’s the second blessing of the Amidah which recycles many of the terms we have been seeing and adds “those who sleep in the dust לישני עפר to our repertoire:

You are mighty forever, my Lord; You resurrect the dead; You are powerful to save.

He sustains the living with loving kindness, resurrects the dead with great mercy, supports the falling, heals the sick, releases the bound, and fulfills His trust to those who sleep in the dust. Who is like You, mighty One! And who can be compared to You, King, who brings death and restores life, and causes deliverance to spring forth!
You are trustworthy to revive the dead. Blessed are You Lord, who revives the dead.

2nd blessing of amidah

Our theme ends with Modim Anachnu מוֹדִים אֲנַֽחְנוּ, the public version of the very private Modeh Ani מודה אני which which we began our morning. It is not only in the plural, but since the Amidah is chanted morning, afternoon and night, it covers our whole waking day, and besides repeating the sense of dependency it introduces the wonder and awe we have for the miricle that is life.  It ends, as Modeh Ani began; with gratitude (Thanks – הוֹדוֹת).

We thankfully acknowledge that You are the Lord our God and God of our ancestors forever. You are the strength of our life, the shield of our salvation in every generation. We will give thanks to You and recount Your praise, evening, morning and noon, for our lives which are committed into Your hand, for our souls which are entrusted to You, for Your miracles which are with us daily, and for Your continual wonders and beneficences. You are the Beneficent One, for Your mercies never cease; the Merciful One, for Your kindnesses never end; for we always place our hope in You. And for all these, may Your Name, our King, be continually blessed, exalted and extolled forever and all time. And all living things shall forever thank You, and praise Your great Name eternally, for You are good. God, You are our everlasting salvation and help, O benevolent God. Blessed are You Lord, Beneficent is Your Name, and to You it is fitting to offer thanks.

מוֹדִים אֲנַֽחְנוּ לָךְ,
שָׁאַתָּה הוּא, ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵֽינוּ וֵא-לֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵֽינוּ, לְעוֹלָם
וָעֶד,
צוּר חַיֵּֽינוּ, מָגֵן יִשְׁעֵֽנוּ, אַתָּה הוּא לְדוֹר וָדוֹר,
נֽוֹדֶה לְּךָ וּנְסַפֵּר תְּהִלָּתֶֽךָ,
עַל חַיֵּֽינוּ הַמְּסוּרִים בְּיָדֶֽךָ,
וְעַל נִשְׁמוֹתֵֽינוּ הַפְּקוּדוֹת לָךְ,
וְעַל נִסֶּֽיךָ שֶׁבְּכָל יוֹם עִמָּֽנוּ,
וְעַל נִפְלְאוֹתֶֽיךָ וְטוֹבוֹתֶֽיךָ שֶׁבְּכָל עֵת, עֶֽרֶב וָבֹֽקֶר
וְצָהֳרָֽיִם,
הַטּוֹב, כִּי לֹא כָלוּ רַחֲמֶֽיךָ,
וְהַמְרַחֵם, כִּי לֹא תַֽמּוּ חֲסָדֶֽיךָ, מֵעוֹלָם קִוִּֽינוּ לָךְ.
וְעַל כֻּלָּם יִתְבָּרַךְ וְיִתְרוֹמַם שִׁמְךָ מַלְכֵּֽנוּ תָּמִיד
לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד.
וְכֹל הַחַיִּים יוֹדֽוּךָ סֶּֽלָה,
וִיהַלְלוּ אֶת שִׁמְךָ בֶּאֱמֶת,
הָאֵ-ל יְשׁוּעָתֵֽנוּ וְעֶזְרָתֵֽנוּ סֶֽלָה.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’, הַטּוֹב שִׁמְךָ וּלְךָ נָאֶה לְהוֹדוֹת.

Looking forward to exploring more themes in Jewish Prayer the future…..

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divine birthers II

parshat Hayei Sarah

Picking up where divine birthers I left off, the death of Sarah is the final separation of Isaac’s natural mother from the divinely born and re-born Isaac.  “The final denial of Sarah’s role in Isaac’s birth comes after the sacrifice of Isaac.  Prior to Isaac’s symbolic ‘divine birth’ [at the Akedah] Sarah dies, emphasizing that she had no part in the transformation which can be seen as a symbolic ‘divine birth’ (as Isaac is symbolically sacrificed).” [Kunin p 97]

We have explored in the previous post, the major elements in the structure of the divine birth of biblical leaders. While Isaac provides the clearest example of a miraculous/divine birth to a barren mother and impotent father, and re-birth/resurrection at the hand of God (the akedah/sacrifice of Isaac), Isaac is not an isolated case.  Once we recognize the structural elements of divine birth, it is easy to see how important it was for Isaac’s son; Jacob to be separated (exiled) from his parents and to die and be re-born (see story of angels going up to heaven = death, and coming down = re-birth Kunin p 119-20) and struggle and die and be reborn and re-named again (see story of death struggle with angel and new name ‘Israel” Kunin p 129).  Once one recognizes the pattern one comes to expect that biblical leaders are never the first born, are born to barren mothers, rejected and abused by their community, struggle and consigned to symbolic death and reborn.

What is key, is that divine birth in the bible is not an isolated or unique incident.  There is not one single divine birth.  In fact, it is not a stretch to say that, to a degree, every human has an element of divine birth.  Thus the rabbinic notion that everyone has three parents… Our Rabbis taught: there are three partners in every person, the Holy One Blessed be He, the father and the mother. (Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 30b)

It was only later, after the destruction of the First Temple and with the emergence of the idea of a single savior, that the structure of the ‘divine birth’ became identified with a single, unique individual and a unique eschatological moment in history.  It was only later that the emphasis on divine birth became the miraculous as opposed to the not-natural.

Daniel Boyarin, in his best seller; The Jewish Gospels; The Story of the Jewish Christ, shows how many concepts, previously thought to have been innovations of Christianity, actually have clear antecedents in Judaism.

According to Boyarin (who follows Leo Baeck), divine birth as a prerequisite for a redeemer of Israel appears first in the post exilic book of Daniel 7

13 I saw in the night visions, and, behold, there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a son of man, and he came even to the Ancient of days, and he was brought near before Him.
14 And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.

 

 
Boyarin writes: “At a certain point these traditions became merged in Jewish minds with the expectation of a return of a Davidic king, and the idea of a divine-human Messiah was born. This figure was then named “Son of Man,” alluding to his origins in the divine figure named “one like a Son of Man/a human being” in Daniel. In other words, a simile, a God who looks like a human being (literally Son of Man) has become the name for that God, who is now called “Son of Man,” a reference to his human-appearing divinity.

So just as the ‘Sacrifice of Isaac” actually refers to the survival and re-birth of Isaac… the ‘not-sacrifice of Isaac’, so too the reference to the awaited messiah as the son of man was actually a tag for he who was divine and only ‘like’ a son of man… the ‘not-son-of-man’.

Earlier references to God giving birth to a King did not originally have any hints of incarnation of the deity as king, but were taken as a sign of intimacy: “I will be to you as a father, and you will be to me as a son.” (Boyarin pp 28-29), but once the “one like a Son of Man” concept emerged, along with the messianic king, it changed the way these references were read by pre-Christian Jews.

For instance in Psalm 2: 6-7

6 ‘Truly it is I that have established My king upon Zion, My holy mountain.’
7 I will tell of the decree: the LORD said unto me: ‘Thou art My son, this day have I begotten thee.

The next element of this singular divine human was that his suffering would bring redemption.  Here Boyarin draws on the famous suffering servant of God found in Isaiah 53

3 He was despised, and forsaken of men, a man of pains, and acquainted with disease, and as one from whom men hide their face: he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely our diseases he did bear, and our pains he carried; whereas we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded because of our transgressions, he was crushed because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our welfare was upon him, and with his stripes we were healed.
10 Yet it pleased the LORD to crush him by disease; to see if his soul would offer itself an offering, that he might see his seed, prolong his days, and that the purpose of the LORD might prosper by his hand:

Boyarin writes: “I cannot overstate the extent to which the interpretation of this passage has anchored the conventional view of Judaism’s relationship to Messianism. It has been generally assumed by modern folks that Jews have always given the passage a metaphorical reading, understanding the suffering servant to refer to the People of Israel, and that it was the Christians who changed and distorted its meaning to make it refer to Jesus. Quite to the contrary, we now know that many Jewish authorities, maybe even most, until nearly the modern period have read Isaiah 53 as being about the Messiah; until the last few centuries, the allegorical reading was a minority position. (Boyarin p 152)

By showing that the concepts of a divine birth, suffering and sacrifice of a redeemer are found in Judaism prior to Jesus and before the advent of Christianity, Boyarin is out to make an important point about Christianity:

“the Christ was not invented to explain Jesus’ life and death. Versions of this narrative, the Son of Man story (the story that is later named Christology), were widespread among Jews before the advent of Jesus; Jesus entered into a role that existed prior to his birth, and this is why so many Jews were prepared to accept him as the Christ, as the Messiah, Son of Man. This way of looking at things is quite opposite to a scholarly tradition that assumes that Jesus came first and that Christology was created after the fact in order to explain his amazing career. The job description—Required: one Christ, will be divine, will be called Son of Man, will be sovereign and savior of the Jews and the world—was there already and Jesus fit (or did not according to other Jews) the bill. The job description was not a put-up job tailored to fit Jesus!” (Boyarin p 73)

“the New Testament is much more deeply embedded within Second Temple Jewish life and thought than many have imagined, even—and this I emphasize again—in the very moments that we take to be most characteristically Christian as opposed to Jewish: the notion of a dual godhead with a Father and a Son, the notion of a Redeemer who himself will be both God and man, and the notion that this Redeemer would suffer and die as part of the salvational process. At least some of these ideas, the Father/Son godhead and the suffering savior, have deep roots in the Hebrew Bible as well and may be among some of the most ancient ideas about God and the world that the Israelite people ever held.” Boyarin p 157-8)

I would add to Boyarin that not only does Christianity draw many of its core theological concepts from prior Biblical traditions, but in so doing, Christianity becomes a receptacle and valuable resource for Biblical students to uncover those concepts which may have been suppressed, repressed, fallen into misfavor, or just forgotten.

It seems to me that divine birth as it appears in Genesis is one such core concept that has been eclipsed.  The fact that latter Jewish messianists and Christians modified it to refer to a singular individual and put the emphasis on the redemptive and supernatural (magical) divine powers of this not-son-of-man, should not dissuade us from uncovering the original function and meaning of divine birth.

It seems to me, that the divine birth revealed in Genesis emphasizes, not so much the divine nature of the biblical leader, but rather a disruption with the constraints of his natural birth.

The divinely born breaks free from the ties to his place of birth and his parents.  The divinely born does not benefit from the natural birth order and primogeniture… he breaks down a culture of entitlement and ‘natural’ hierarchy of class.  The divinely born succeeds through the sweat of his brow, overcomes rejection and suffering, and finally, the divinely born believes that he can be re-born, that nothing is impossible and nothing, not even his persona (name), and least of all, his destiny, can not be changed.  The divine birth I find in Genesis introduces a covenant with God (cut between the pieces) which is a rejection of natural law (and natural birth) and embraces culture, learning, and other human/divine conventions where change, sanctioned by the divine is possible and blessed.  Divine birth presupposes a covenant with the divine which transcends any contract or deal with the powers that be.  Divine birth presupposes a divine covenant which breaks with the accepted political structure… it speaks truth to power.  Divine birth was and is a true gift of the Jews.

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divine birthers I

Parshat Vayera

In The Front, a movie about the McCarthy era, Woody Allen’s character is asked if he knows a suspected communist. Allen at his whiny – nebishy best tries to dodge the question …
“When you say “know,” can you ever really know a person?”
“Would you say I know him? Can you know…? “
and finishes with my favorite quote from the movie:

“In a biblical sense, know him?”

Allen is of course referring to Carnal Knowledge.

With the conception of Isaac… I have a similar question.   Genesis 21: 1

1 And the LORD remembered Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as He had spoken.

The word for “remembered” (Hebrew “pakad”) is a euphemism for having marital connection with… (see Jastrow Dictionary p1206) and see Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 62b]:

Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said: Whosoever knows his wife to be a God-fearing woman and does not duly visit her (in a conjugal sense – pakad) is called a sinner; for it is said:

And thou shalt know that thy tent is in peace; and thou shalt visit thy habitation, and shalt miss nothing.  Thou shalt know also that thy seed shall be great, and thine offspring as the grass of the earth. (Job 5:24-25)

“Rabbi Joshua ben Levi further stated: “It is a man’s duty to pay a (conjugal) visit to his wife before he departs on a journey; for it is said: “And thou shalt know that thy tent is in peace; and thou shalt visit thy habitation, and shalt miss nothing.”

Admittedly, Pakad can also mean: to remember, to command, to record as well as refer to a neighborly visit, but even when used with a G-Rating, the Rabbis were not shy from interjecting a little sexual innuendo to the meaning of Pakad.

These are the accounts of the tabernacle, even the tabernacle of the testimony, as they were rendered according to the commandment of Moses, (Exodus 38:21)

These are the records (pikudei) of the Tabernacle: You find that when Israel was in harsh labor in Egypt, Pharaoh decreed that the men must not sleep in their homes, so that they would not engage in sexual relations with their wives. Rabbi Shimon bar Halafta said: What did the daughters of Israel do? They went down to draw water from the Nile and God would bring little fish into their buckets. They cooked some fish and sold the rest, buying wine with the proceeds. Then they went out to the fields and fed their husbands. After eating and drinking, the women would take bronze mirrors and look at them with their husbands. The wife would say “I’m prettier than you,” and the husband would reply, “I’m more beautiful than you.” Thus they would arouse themselves to desire and they would then “be fruitful and multiply,” and God took note of them (pakad) immediately. Some of our sages said, They bore two children at a time, others said, six and others said twelve, and still others said six hundred thousand…and all these numbers from those mirrors….And all these numbers from mirrors…In the merit of those mirrors which they showed their husbands to accustom them to desire, from the midst of the harsh labor, they raised up all the hosts, as it is said, “All the hosts of God went out of the land of Egypt” (Ex. 12:41) and it is said, “God brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt in their hosts” (12:51). –Midrash Tanchuma; Pikudei 9

So according to the Rabbis of the Midrash, that which God remembered (pakad) were the conjugal visits (pekudai) of the women of Israel.

So my question is: When God “visited” Sarah… was it in the biblical sense… was it a visit of the conjugal variety?  Or to put it slightly differently… what is the nature of Divine Birth in our tradition?

In a previous blog post (Prince William Chose Well) I explored incest in the Biblical tradition.  I’d like to continue that exploration, this time, with an emphasis on divine birth.

The belief in a divine child is the core of the Jesus myth and we Jews like to think that it is totally alien to Judaism, but the truth is that not only was the child of god fairly common in ancient lore as anyone familiar with the Bible will recognize, the barren matriarch is a common Biblical theme, followed by a miraculous birth. Since any miraculous birth is by definition a divine birth we have to admit that the notion of a son of God is hardly unique to Christianity.  My follow-up question is how divine birth as an idea, developed differently in Judaism.

In a book that I referenced in my previous blog, and subsequently purchased;  (The Logic of Incest: A Structuralist Analysis of Hebrew Mythology 1995 by Seth Daniel Kunin, the author defines “‘Divine birth’  to mean a transformation whereby the individual is changed from being a product of natural (human) descent to one of divine descent. Although in many of the cases of ‘divine birth’ no actual birth takes place, the term birth is used because the texts often highlight the transformation with a denial of human or natural birth, they also often include elements associated with birth, that is, renaming and words meaning birth.  These texts also often include rituals or events similar to rites of passage.”… “All of the ‘divine birth’ texts also include a denial of human fertility.” [Kunin notes 1 to page 63 and 64]

Isaac’s mother is a woman of 90 and barren. Her husband, Abraham at 99, is no youngster. Miraculously Sarah gives birth… Unlike similar stories of miraculous births in both the Old and New Testaments, in the case of the conception of Isaac, both natural father and mother are barren.  They are divinely re-born and given new names Abram to Abraham and Sarai to Sarah.  In addition, Abraham enters into a covenant ‘between the pieces’ where “Abraham is asked to make a bloody pathway consisting of progressively smaller animals… the passage through the bloody path can be interpreted as a symbolic birth or new beginning” [Kunin page 73] … a birth canal.

Even when Isaac is born, Abraham (his natural father) is asked to distance, disconnect himself from his natural son by sacrificing him where (according to at least one Midrashic account) he is actually slaughtered and then re-born (resurrected) by God.

In Pirke deRabbi Eliezer we find a clear reference to the death and (divine) re-birth of Isaac at the Akeda.  “Towards the end of the texts discussing Gen. 22 it states, ‘When the sword touched Isaac’s throat, terrified, his soul fled.  Immediately (God’s) his voice was heard from between the angels, and he said “do not lay your hand on the boy”, thereupon his soul was returned to his body… And Isaac knew of the resurrection of the dead from the Torah, that all the dead are destined to be resurrected’ [Kunin page 229]

The death of Isaac (or the symbolic death of Isaac) is necessary in order to enable him to be symbolically transformed.  The element of transformation or birth (the reverse of the sacrifice) is the structural center of the text, and, with the progressive denial of his physical parent, his spiritual parent comes to the fore.  In Gen. 21: 1 (quoted at the start) the text suggests that God played an important role in Isaac’s birth: ‘the Lord did to Sarah as he had spoken.  This creates the possibility that God was the parent rather than Abraham. [Kunin page 97]

But leaders born of Divine birth not only die and get re-born, they also suffer.  Similar to other prophets (e.g. Hannah to Samuel as in Samuel I 2: 21) and rulers/saviors (c.f. David as illegitimate), Isaac’s birth is ridiculed by the neighbors and his parentage is questioned and a subject of gossip.

Yalkut Shemone 93 tells that Abraham gave a feast to celebrate Isaac’s birth.  All the people were telling each other that Abraham and Sarah could not have been the parents, and that they must have picked Isaac up in the market.  God puts a stop to this by making Sarah’s breasts overflow with milk to feed all the children present, yet they still talked of Abraham and Sarah’s age.  So God made Isaac look exactly like Abraham so all could see that he was the father. [Kunin p.244]

As mentioned previously, the emphasis on both a barren mother and a impotent father make the Isaac story unique and worthy of Isaac’s paradigmatic position as the first JFB (Jew From Birth).

So Isaac and all subsequent leaders of the people of Israel has a divine birth that separates him from his natural parents, he is belittled, possibly persecuted, delegitemized and suffers and ultimately  is killed as a burnt offering/atonement sacrifice only to be re-born at the hand of God (or his angels).

Kunin is to be complimented for the way he connects the symbolic structure of Isaacs’s birth to that of Abram, Sarai, Jacob and Joseph as well as Cain and Abel.  (read the book…..)  In so doing he reveals other patterns such as a rejection of the natural order of primogeniture, in which the elder is greater as opposed to the divine concept of choseness and covenant.

Israel is descended from people chosen by God rather than entitled by nature.  This element is found throughout the text: Seth is Adam’s third son, Shem is Noah’s third son, Isaac is Abraham’s second son, and Moses is also a second son.  This aspect of chosen descent is part of the logic by which Israel is distinguished from the nations…. [Kunin p 106]

Similarly, the biblical narrative favors the farmer and nomadic gatherer (Jacob – dweller in tents) over the hunter (Ishamael and Esau) and the city-dweller (Lot and Sodom) .  Not that at the time the Bible was edited, or ever, were the Israelites really nomads, but from an aspirational perspective nature = entitlement = status and stasis – structure – natural law and divine = choseness = covenant = rebirth – reboot – artifice – culture.

In using divine as the opposite of ‘nature’ or, as discussed above, ‘natural birth’, there is also an association of divine with culture.  The opposition suggested here is that the myth creates a dichotomy in which the other nations and their cultures are associated with nature and natural birth, while Israel and its culture is associated with culture and divine.  Israelite myth, as a handmaiden of Israelite culture, validates Israelite culture as divine. [Kunin p. 117]

In my next post, we’ll explore how divine birth plays out in Christianity, how Christianity and Judaism exploited the same logical structure in different ways… and our debt to Christianity for preserving the structure of divine birth, sacrifice and resurrections so that we could rediscover in our earliest myths……

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