Category Archives: Torah

Why Blue and White?

parshat Tetzaveh (exodus 27-30)

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

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

Transcript:

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

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

 

Adam Mintz  05:34

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  06:00

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

 

Adam Mintz  07:35

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  08:31

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

 

Adam Mintz  10:58

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  11:45

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

 

Adam Mintz  13:49

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  14:07

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

 

Adam Mintz  15:00

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  15:07

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

 

Adam Mintz  16:35

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  17:13

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

 

Adam Mintz  18:13

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  18:32

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

 

Adam Mintz  19:29

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:00

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

 

Adam Mintz  23:58

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  24:46

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

 

Adam Mintz  25:35

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  25:45

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

 

Adam Mintz  26:09

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  26:18

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

 

Adam Mintz  27:01

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  27:18

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

 

Adam Mintz  28:43

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  29:14

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

 

Adam Mintz  31:17

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  31:28

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

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

Listen to last week’s episode: WHEN GOD gets small

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WHEN GOD gets small

parshat terumah (exodus 25:8)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on February 3rd 2022 as we explore a single verse: “Make Me a temple and I will dwell within them” This iconic verse, pregnant with meaning, enables us to visit classical Jewish commentaries and discover some surprising views of God’s relationship with His creation, not just with a tabernacle or temple.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/380865

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:02

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on the Jewish text or tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz we host Madlik disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern. Today we explore a single verse, “Make me a temple, and I will dwell within them.” Was that a typo? Did the toe mean to say I will dwell in it. Nah, there are no typos in the Torah. So put away your Wit-Out as we discover some surprising views of God’s relationship with our world. Join us as GOD gets small Well, welcome, welcome to Madlik. You know, it’s rare. I think that we spend the whole evening on just one pasuk (verse)  or maybe even one word within that pasuk. But tonight’s the big night, we are in parshat Terumah and we’ve gotten the Ten commandments, we’ve gotten a Code of Civil Law and, and here we are, and we’re going to build the tabernacle. And as I said in the intro… Teruma means collecting the tax. So there’s the, the the technical aspects of collecting the materials, and I know Rabbi Adam is going to speak about that in his synagogue on Shabbat. But at the end of the day, after God shows Moses or Betzalel the builder, a blueprint, he says, As I quoted before in Exodus 25: 8, “and let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.” “Veshachanti b’tocham” There are many times where we connive, we push, we massage a text, to give us meanings that are beyond the Pshat.. beyond the simple meaning of the text. But if you look at this, why does it say b’Tocham? Why does it say after God says to make a sanctuary, an edifice if you will, or that he will live amongst them? Before we get into a whole journey of what will the commentaries say? Rabbi, what do you think the simple interpretation is?

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Adam Mintz  02:30

I don't think there is a simple interpretation. I think this verse is begging for interpretation for a real interpretation. It's so blatant, that the Torah uses the word that you wouldn't expect it to use, right? It's just like, kinda of a WOW momewnt...

 

Geoffrey Stern  02:50

I've been thinking about it all week. And the only straightforward explanation I could come up with is if it envisioned many temples. And so it was looking into the future and saying, there's going to be a tabernacle, there's going to be a temple at Shilo and at Bethel, and maybe they were going to be synagogues and sanctuaries throughout the world.

 

Adam Mintz  03:13

But then it would say Say in them... Yeah, I mean, it sounds like "B'tocham" is human amongst them amongst the people.

 

Geoffrey Stern  03:24

I agree. I'm convinced. But it's very rare. And that's why I say it seems almost like a typo  and you don't even get a sense that the commentaries are looking for a straightforward explanation. Rashi, who always comes to help, he simply says, Make for Me a sanctuary, make a holy place for the sake of My name. "V'asu L'shmi Beit Kedusha", he's bothered by a whole other problem. He's bothered by the fact that God is going to be dwelling in an edifice in a in a material subject. So he says, it's not for God, it's for his name. But he totally ignores this whole issue of what does it mean that he's going to dwell and I agree with you, it sounds almost humanistic "within them".

 

Adam Mintz  04:19

That's the question. and maybe the midrashic explanation that make me a tabernacle, and I will dwell among them, means the tabernacle will allow me to dwell among the people. Maybe that's okay. Maybe that's that's the simple explanation that the tabernacle is just made of wood or fabric or whatever it is, but it allows him to dwell among the people.

 

Geoffrey Stern  04:54

So, you know, we're kind of dancing around what I think us 20 century Jews believe which is the obvious explanation is B'tocham, means inside of you people inside of you Jews. You know, my grandmother lived to 102. And she was a health affectionado way before her time. And she always said your body is a temple. And when I read this, I think of her. But we all assume that the knee jerk interpretation is that it clearly is very humanistic. And it means that you can build all the temples you want with all the stained glass, windows and all the bricks and stones. But at the end of the day, the goal is that God will live within you; humankind. And then I'm looking for the texts. And to be honest, and maybe I'm missing something. But I didn't find an ancient Midrash or in the Talmud, something that said that explicitly. Let me give you a sense of the types of things that I did found find in the Babylonian Talmud in Ketubot, it says earlier, or in Exodus 15. It says "vetiviamu" that I will bring you and then you will make a temple. And it says, but ultimately, as it is written, that I will build a sanctuary to dwell among you. And the takeaway there is God couldn't wait. He was in love with these people. These people were in love with him. They were engaged, if you will, and they wanted to rent already, they wanted to buy a house. So it has an element of the humanity of the humanistic side. It has an element of what we've discussed in past episodes, where we say why was the Torah given in the desert and not in the land of Israel. So it makes it a universal house, because again, God's first tabernacle was on neutral ground. But most of all, it has this love story and this affection in it. But again, it's not a straightforward. I'm gonna live within every human being.

 

Adam Mintz  07:11

That is interesting. And I wonder why? Why do they shy away from what seems to be the obvious explanation?

 

Geoffrey Stern  07:21

So in Shemot Rabba It quotes Shir Hashirim the Song of Songs, it says, Open for me, my sister, my friend, and then it goes on to say For how long must I travel without a home. So the Torah says, Make for Me a sanctuary so that I need not be on the outside. "Ad Matay ehiye mithalech b'lo bayit" So here too it is a love story. There's more of a sense of the passion. There's more of a sense of this marriage. And I know, there are many interpretations of the tabernacle, as a Huppah, or maybe I should say, of the Huppah as a tabernacle. And this is a beautiful kind of commentary on what it is. But it's again, not the straight forward, Living within every human being. The one that I love the most is one that says that we are partners. So this takes away the romantic part of it. And it's in Hagaoni Uziel. So I've never heard of this. I don't think it's that old. But it talks about when you make Kiddush on Friday night, that you should not read Vayechulu that God finished. But it should save Vayechalu that we finished. And it says that when you make Kiddush on Friday night, you become a partner with God in the creation. And it goes on to say And every judge who judges a judgment and gives a truthful, true judgment. He is a partner with God. And then it ends by saying, Man is a chariot to the divine presence in the world. As it says, I may dwell among them. The whole world was not created except for this directive." So that too, I love the partnership part about it. I love the the fact that there's a little bit of the kind of necessity for God to be in the world and a partner with us. But all of these explanations are so beautiful.

 

Adam Mintz  09:40

So let's take a step back. What does it mean that God's a partner with us? Or that we're a partner with God? How do you understand just simply what those words mean? In what way are we partners with God? And why does the tabernacle reflect that

 

Geoffrey Stern  10:01

Well, I mean, I think the easiest way to, to dance around it is the Shabbat. The kiddush thing. We somehow sanctify God, we say kiddush. On a Friday night in this world, we stop working. When we work there's sweat of the brow, when God creates the world, it's more of a metaphor. But it does seem and I think we're going to touch upon this as we survey other interpretations of these words, that there is some inexplicable need. And I think that's the real answer to your question, there is no good answer of why would God create a world that needs him or her? I mean, that at the end of the day, is the real question that we're asking. When you say a partner, a true partnership is one maybe doesn't have to be of equals. But at least there's a reciprocal relationship, a need for the two parties. And the most obvious question is, why did God need a world? Why does he need a creation? Why does he need us?

 

Adam Mintz  11:12

Yeah, I mean, what you just did is you took this question about the Mishkan, and you blew it up to be a question about everything?

 

Geoffrey Stern  11:22

Well, I mean, it is a big question. And I think this concept of building a tabernacle would, on the face of it be a good time to ask a question. But by writing the verse, the way the Torah writes it, it almost forces us to to to discuss God's presence in this world. And God's presence in this world, begs the question of God's need for a world. So let me quote one more or two of these traditional commentaries that have this sense of partnership, have this sense of romance. And I shouldn't mention rabbi, in past episodes, I believe you've brought up certain Midrashim and historic texts that say that when the Jewish people are in Tzarot, are in trouble, God comes down, God is with them. And that, you know, is is part of this in terms of God making a temple and that will play out a little bit here. But that is something that you have quoted, that is a thread in Jewish thought that I think also enters into this picture. So one of the most amazing stories that I read, and I didn't have time to translate them, but they're in the source sheets in Sefaria is it's it talks about God saying to Moses, look at the plans now I need you to build this and it compares it to somebody showing a simple person, the most glamorous dress, the most glamorous habitat, and saying, I want you to go ahead and make this and it says "Kach amar Hakodosh Barachu l'Moshe asey li miskan" . Similarly, God said to Moses, make this Mishkan. And he says, and if you make this Mishkan l'mala, that I've shown you from above, and you make it L'mata, then I will come down. And it uses a word that for any of those of us who have studied the Kabbalah or the mystical tradition, it's going to make us open up our eyes, because it says,"V;yared umetzamzem shechinati benechem"  , I will come down and I will be "mitzamztem" I will diminish, I will contract, I will make small, my holy presence, and I will be down with you." So here too, you have this sense of if you'll take this bold step, and you can't say it anything but a bold step of creating this beautiful abode as if, for God. God will take the diminishing step the the reciprocal step of coming down and contracting Himself inside of it. I think that's an amazing image.

 

Adam Mintz  14:48

That is an amazing image. Now that is a definition of what partnership means. If you do A then God will do B. Partners play off one another, right they respond to one another's needs. If you do this, then God will do that "v'asu li mikdash" if you make me a tabernacle, "v'shochani b'tocham"  I will be your partner, because I will dwell in your midst. And I think the dwell in the midst means, at least according to the kabalists, that God will be "mitzamzem" somehow that he will contract Himself. Contract Himself means that he will take God which is everywhere, and kind of focus God just on the Mishkan. So  I like that a lot.

 

Geoffrey Stern  15:37

Yeah, in a previous episode, I think we called it gaming the calendar or gaming the universe. We talked about the Leap Year, and how actually, you know, creating a leap year and we have about to do that in this in this particular year, of adding a month to make the whole calendar workout is kind of like almost admitting that the world isn't quite perfect. So there's another Midrash Vayikrah Rabba Robin, that says Rabbi Abuha explained the scripture to be about the five elders that convene to make the year a leap year. What does the Holy One blessed be he do, he leaves his court above and descends and contracts His divine presence among them below. So it uses the same language "umetzamem et shechinato benehem milematan" And so there is this sense of a partnership, there is this sense of being, I wouldn't say it's a partner in crime, but it's a partner in fixing something that is, beyond our control, is not perfect. It's material. It's, it's a fascinating use of, and of course, you know, traditionally, when we talk like this, we should say the words "kiviyachol" "as if you can say" that God contracts himself, "as if you can say" that God comes down, these are all metaphors. But the metaphors are beautiful. And the metaphors are definitely powerful.

 

Adam Mintz  17:12

I would agree with that, and on some level, the idea of Mishkan is the idea of visualizing these metaphors, making these metaphors real, because if we have a tabernacle, we should imagine that God comes down, you know, the ark was built with the two cherubs on top. And the idea was that God's presence comes down through the cherubs, to the ark, and then out to the people. Now, that's an amazing image, because like, this is about God and how God is "m'tzamtzem"  but yet the image is seen as being real. And I think that's very powerful.

 

Geoffrey Stern  17:57

So the one image I want to share before we go and see how the Kabbalah took this, and the direction that it went, is the Midrash Tanchuma. And what it says is that "Rabbi Joshua Yahshua, of seeking said in the name of Rabbi Levy, this may be compared to a cave situated at the edge of the sea, though the sea rushes forth and fills the cave, the sea lacks nothing. Similarly, with the Holy One, blessed it be he may his name be blessed for through it is written and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Nevertheless, his glory is above the heaven and the earth, you should not say that the Holy One bless it be he compressed his sheckinah only into the tabernacle", I love this image of the vast sea, that doesn't need to fill the cave. But as as the water laps onto the shore, and this is particularly strong wave, it goes into the cave, and it comes out of the cave, and it doesn't need to fill the cave. But of course, for the cave, this is a big event. And I love that image of all of these images. Are the rabbi's playing, struggling, enjoying maybe this concept of how does the Divine Presence come into the physical world? Frankly, what I did is I went onto Sephera. And I did a search with tzimzum, this contraction, and all of the texts are pretty late, and they're pretty Kabalistic and we're going to get to them in a second. But there were a few pearls like this, that use this concept of contraction in a different way. It was a way of God making himself small and leaving a mark, making himself small and being our partner. Making himself or herself small, and being our lover. And I just loved all of the metaphors. And they really give such a profound meaning to and I will dwell within them.

 

Adam Mintz  20:15

I think that's great. And I think, obviously, and I will dwell within them, it calls for a metaphor, because without a metaphor, you don't know what to do with it, right?

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:25

Yeah, absolutely. And and it would have been so easy to ignore the issue, though, because everybody has a temple, you know, how do you have a religion without a temple. And this kind of focuses a little bit on some of the things that we've been talking about, which is, you know, this was not a given, this was not a kind of a reflex action, that we had to have a temple, we had to have sacrifices, we had to have prayers. At the end of the day, this was a revolution, and how the revolution chose to take certain cultural behaviors and modify them and change them is the story of the Torah that we're entering right now, when the rubber hits the road.

 

Adam Mintz  21:13

Yes, so that's also interesting, that this is the beginning of a different, you know, a different section of the Torah. And what's the relationship of this section of the Torah to what came before? Why is the why does the tabernacle follow Mount Sinai? Is it a symbol to the fact that actually the tabernacle is trying to concretize the holiness, the experience of Mount Sinai? You know, Mount Sinai was, was fleeting, it left in a second, but maybe now what we need is, we need something that will stick and that's the tabernacle.

 

Geoffrey Stern  21:53

So I think I love what you just said. That and the story of the water lapping into the cave, is a wonderful segue to see how the Kabalists and specifically Isaac Loria, and what is known as Laurianic Kabbalah, took this concept, because the reason I say it's a wonderful segue is because the whole concept of tzimzum of this contraction, as we will see, is how the spiritual Divine Presence leaves a mark. So you have a revelation, and you have a exodus from Egypt. And those are all stories in time. But how do you leave that mark? So let's explore for a second, the way Isaa Loria took this message. And this is someone who was expelled from Spain, and went to live in Safed. This was at the Inquisition in 1492. And in Safed, they created or some people believe found these ancient texts, and they created what we now call Jewish mysticism, and what he did, and I will quote, Gershon Scholem. I will paraphrase Gershom Scholem is he took what we have been discussing where God contracts him or herself, and fits it into a temple or a narrow place. And he turned it on its head, and he says, "it is one of the most amazing and far reaching conceptions ever put forth in the whole history of Kabalism. Tzimzum originally means contraction, but if used in the Kabbalah, it means withdrawal, or retreat." Let me explain how tzimzum works. The theory of symptom is as follows. Prior to Isaac Lauria, those people who were concerned with the issue we're talking about, say, How could a spiritual God create a material finite world? And one of the theories that they came up with from Plotinus was one of emanation. And emanation means, well, you know, God didn't actually create material things. First, he created maybe the idea of a table and then there was another sphere and those of you who know Kabbalah understand spherot. Spherot  are degradations. So in a more crass way, the the head of the mob is never going to have his finger on the murder. It goes through many, many different levels until it happens. It's not philosophically that satisfying because ultimately you're kicking the can down the road, and you're saying it wasn't directly that he created or she created something physical, but it was through many different spheres of increasingly material fire light objects, angels and thoughts and so forth and so on. Comes along Isaac Loria. And he turns that on his head, he says, No, God did not emanate, he contracted. So what did he do? He pulled himself away from what was and gave space for matter to appear. From a from a humanistic point of view from a pedagogic point of view. It's an amazing concept. Philosophically, you could say it doesn't resolve it any more than emanation does. But what it does do is say that God pulled himself away. And then the theory goes on that just like that water lapping into the caves, there were klipot... there were little parts of the Divine, that were left everywhere. But there was something called Shevirat hakelim, the breaking of the vessel. So when God pulled himself in, maybe this is a little bit like the Big Bang Theory, there was an explosion. And there were parts of God that we're all over. And talking about the partnership that we started in the early part, it's man's duty to be m'taken to bring those sparks of God's divinity back together. And when that happens, there will be true salvation. But what he did was he took the same concept of God somehow contracting himself. But unlike the earlier texts where God contracted and put himself into the world, and gave man the ability to experience the holiness, in Lauria's tzimsum  he pulled away from himself, and gave man the opportunity to find and to be M'taken to cure the world. It's just an amazing, absolutely amazing vision. Do you find it as exciting as I do?

 

Adam Mintz  27:13

I find it amazing. I think that's an amazing passage as you just read .... that idea. And the question is, if I could just bring it back to where we started, how is that really just an explanation of what "b'tocham"? Right ... basically that image is explaining what B'tocham means, what God does to be amongst us? And I'm trying to figure out, how does that all work?

 

Geoffrey Stern  27:41

So Shai Held my Rebbi, from Hadar, writes about the contradiction that most people believe that what the Bible says in our Parsha, about God cantracting himself into the tabernacle is 180 degrees different than God contracting himself away from the world, and letting the world become. And the way he rounds that corner, is quoting Martin Buber and others he gets back to the relationships. He says, if we're going to take away from this beautiful statement that we started with, about God being inside of the temple, and we look at it from a partnership point of view, and we look at it from a love and romance point of view. You don't want to smother the person that you love, you don't want to overwhelm the person you partner with. And so what Held does, and this is wonderful, is he says they are two sides of the same coin, that what we're learning here is that they are both right, that a relationship whether it's love or partnership or with God has to contain both the aspect of knowing that that person is present in a very profound way. But also know that that person or object or force or spirit gives you space to develop on your own. And I just love that that variation on Tzimzum, which at the end of the day becomes a variation on B'tocham, on what it means for God's presence to be amongst us.

 

Adam Mintz  27:43

I think that's beautiful. And I would just you know, kind of add that I wonder whether Kabbalah,  the whole idea of tzimzum doesn't actually find its source in the word b'tocham. That maybe the whole principle of tzimzum is an attempt to explain the way we started about why b'tocham is the right word in this context.

 

Geoffrey Stern  29:58

Well certainly Scholem when he references, the Midrash that I started with that has the word tzimzum in it, he says that Luria picked out a Midrash that no one had really focused on or studied before. So if that's the case, we give him a lot of credit. And that's the beauty of the history of ideas that ideas evolve. And so yes, it can be both things, and mean both things to everybody. So I do think that it comes from b'tocham. And at the end of the day, you know, for God's presence to be in the world is the key question that we are thinking about today, when we read Terumah, and when we discuss a tabernacle, which I love more than the temple because it is so fleeting. Because on a sukkot, which we compare to a tabernacle, we always talk about the "sukkah hanofelet" that the tabernacles can be put together and they can be taken apart. And that too, is part of tzimzum. I think what Luria pointed out was that it's a process, maybe it's a breath, in and out, present and removed. But to me, that makes b'tocham and Terumah and the Mishkan such a living message to us all in any generation.

 

Adam Mintz  31:31

That's fantastic. What a wonderful way to start these portions of the Torah that talk about Mishkan. Shabbat Shalom, everybody, enjoy "b'tocham" enjoy the understanding of the Mishkan. And we look forward to seeing everybody, next Thursday night to talk about the clothing that the Cohen used to wear. Shabbat Shalom, Geoffrey

 

Geoffrey Stern  31:52

Shabbat shalom. So you heard it here first. Next week is the fashion episode of Madlik disruptive Torah. And as always, I opened up the mic on the bimah, anyone who wants to join the after-party and has any comments, you're welcome to join. Otherwise, remember that this is a podcast and it is recorded, and you can listen to it, you can look at the Sefira source sheet and explore some of the sources that maybe we didn't have a chance to cover, Michael, welcome to the Bima. And welcome back.

 

Michael Stern  32:28

Thanks, Geoffrey. Really beautiful evening. Remember when you sent me about what the Pope wrote about the little going into the little? And so I just wanted to ask you if you're still trying to get the message that God is within?

 

Geoffrey Stern  32:50

So thank you for reminding me. And what Michael is talking about is I have a custom, I  turn on high mass at the Vatican on Christmas night. And this year, the Pope was talking about why in Christianity, God chose a little baby. And it was that littleness. And I do think that there's no question about it. Whether every human being is a temple, or this temporary tabernacle, and even the dwelling itself, nothing is permanent, but it's also very small, the small voice, so I love that addition. And I think it it rings very true.

 

Michael Stern  33:38

Well, good. And I also love Geoffrey ... from now on when I made kiddish, I will be making kiddish with God. I thought it was like a nice L'Chaim ... we look at each other's eyes. But wow, it's like with God and me how the week was, what my lessons learned, and new commitments and to God and me. And that was so beautiful. Thank you.

 

Geoffrey Stern  34:05

I love that. I love that. And you know, there were those that say that the reason why we have two candles is because we have an extra soul on Shabbat Neshama Yetera and I think that also reflects, no pun intended, the partnership, it's about a partnership. It's about welcoming the angels when you start it's about the two loaves so much of it as you think about it is about the duality that becomes one or even if it doesn't become one, at least it goes down that path. So I do love that. I do love that Vayechulu story. Ok. Shabbat Shalom, everybody, and we'll see you all next week.

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Filed under Bible, Hebrew, Judaism, kabbalah, Martin Buber, Religion, social commentary, Torah, tzimtzum

Is Judaism Exclusive or Inclusive?

parshat yitro (exodus 18)

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

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

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:03

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

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Geoffrey Stern  00:55

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

Adam Mintz  06:02

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

Geoffrey Stern  07:58

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

Adam Mintz  11:53

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

Geoffrey Stern  13:32

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

Adam Mintz  18:01

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

Geoffrey Stern  19:15

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

Adam Mintz  19:28

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

Geoffrey Stern  19:32

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

Adam Mintz  25:01

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

Geoffrey Stern  26:05

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

Adam Mintz  29:00

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

Geoffrey Stern  30:30

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

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God’s Gracious Ruse

parshat beshalach (exodus 13-14)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on January 13th 2022. God leads the Jews on the scenic (long) route to the Promised Land and the classical commentators wonder why. All of them find a pedagogic approach but their conclusions are diverse and in some cases, perplexing!  We join the Israelites as they embark on this fateful trip into the desert and we learn a little something about long roads that are short and God’s Gracious Ruse.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/375388

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:03

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and that Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. We also host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern, and this week with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we join the Israelites as they embark on a trip into the desert. We are perplexed to see that God sets the GPS to wander mode and puts them on a circuitous route rather than the coastal expressway. So get into the backseat and be prepared to badger the driver and learn a little something about long loads that are short as we explore God’s Gracious Ruse.

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Well, welcome for our weekly trip. And this week, we are really on a trip because the Israelites are off to the great adventure of 40 years in the desert. We are in Exodus 13. And it starts when it says, "Now then Pharaoh let the people go. God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines. Although it was nearer. For God said the people may have a change of heart when they see war and return to Egypt. So God led the people round about by way of the wilderness at the sea of reeds. Now the Israelites went up armed out of the land of Egypt." And then it continues in Exodus 14. "The Lord said to Moses, tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, before Baal-zephon;  and you shall encamp facing it by the sea, feral will say of the Israelites, they are astray in the land, "Nevu heym b'Aretz" The wilderness is closed in on them, then I will stiffen Pharaoh's heart, and He will pursue them that I might gain glory through Pharaoh and all his host. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, and they did so." So we have a combination of two different travelogues if you will, that God prepares for the Jewish people one, even before he takes Pharaoh into consideration. He says, You know what, I'm not going to take you on the short path, I'm going to take you in a circuitous route. And he gives a reason because he's afraid they might have a change of heart. And then he looks at it from the perspective of Pharaoh and says, and there's going to be a real advantage here. Because he's going to think that the Jews are "nevuchim". They are confused. And he'll see this as an opportunity for him to have a change of heart. So Rabbi, what do you make of well, this changing of hearts and circuitous routes?

 

Adam Mintz  03:05

The Jews were clearly not quite ready to leave Egypt. They left because nobody wants to be a slave. You can take the Jews out of slavery, but their mind still thinks like a slave. And the way a slave thinks is that the first hint of any problem, I just want to go back. At least when I'm a slave, I'm taken care of, I may be persecuted, but at least I'm taken care of I get three meals, I have a place to sleep. And now we're going to get attacked on the way to Israel, and they're going to get afraid. Now, what's interesting is that God seems to be very much aware of this. God is like, like their psychologist. And he says, I can take them that way, I have to take them indirectly. Because only if I take them indirectly, will they kind of learn how to be free. That's also by the way, since we're talking about all this, that's why they don't get to Torah for seven weeks, they need a little bit of time, they can't get the Torah.

 

Geoffrey Stern  04:13

So I totally agree that there's almost a pedagogic aspect to all this. We are embarking on this great journey. And all of a sudden, by talking in terms of planning a trip and picking a route. We're almost given an opportunity to explore how does one move from one place to another, both physically but also spiritually and psychologically. And I think that's going to be a large part of the conversation. But before we even get there, this also seems to be a little bit of a prophecy or a prequel or a forecasting....  I think most of us who know the Torah believe that the Jews at a certain point were punished to die in the desert, the generation that left Egypt was punished whether it was at the golden calf, whether it was when the spies came back and they cried. And here we have, like we have many times. This this sense of it was predestined, or there are multiple reasons for the same event. Let me just read a little bit from the Mechilta d'Rabbi Yishmael... ""And Pharaoh will say about the children of Israel: They are nevuchim in the land": "nevuchim" is "confounded," as in (Joel 1:18) "How the beasts groan! The herds of cattle navochu!" Variantly: "nevuchim" — "bewildered," as in (Esther 3:15) "And the king and Haman sat down to feast, and the city of Shushan navochah." Variantly: "And Pharaoh said": He said and he did not know what he was saying. (i.e., unbeknownst to him he was prophesying. On the surface) he was saying that Moses was leading them without knowing where — but "nevuchim" (prophetically) intimates Moses, viz. (Devarim 32:49) "Ascend the Mount Avarim, Mount Nevo, (short for 'nevuchim')." Variantly: "And Pharaoh said," without knowing what he was saying, viz.: Israel are destined to cry ("livkoth" as in "nevochim") in the desert, viz. (Numbers 14:1) There's a play on words in the desert. "And the entire congregation lifted their voices and the people cried (vayivku)" Israel are destined to fall in the desert," So they're almost finding excuses to tie this premonition here, that God wanted the Jews to go in circles "listovev", not so much as a punishment, but as a prophecy. But it just seemed to be a rather profound message of this was necessary.

 

Adam Mintz  06:54

Yeah, I mean, you know, this was necessary. The question, Geoffrey really is, what's it necessary for?

 

Geoffrey Stern  07:05

So that that's the million-dollar question.

 

Adam Mintz  07:08

That's really what we need to talk about tonight, you're right, the Torah itself, even before you get to the Mechilta, the Torah itself says it was necessary. Had they done it the other way, it would have been bad. So, it was necessary. But nobody tells you exactly what it was necessary for. So, I gave this theory that they had to get the slave mentality out of their system. But really, I made that up. Why doesn't the Torah tell us why it's necessary?

 

Geoffrey Stern  07:39

So I think if you look at the actual verses that we just read, it says the people may have a change of heart when they see war. "Pen Yinachem hAm b're'otem milchama", maybe it's war, maybe it's trouble, maybe it's a tribulation, maybe it's hard work, and return to Egypt. And of course, returning to Egypt is something that we see throughout the book of Exodus, wherever things get tough. Their first response is nostalgically to say, let's go back to Egypt. So, I think even in the verses themselves, in terms of the mindset of the Jews, there is this sense that God changed the travelogue in order to ensure that the Jews would be protected from making that knee jerk reaction and heading home at the first sight of whether it was war, or some sort of turmoil, stress or challenge.

 

Adam Mintz  08:42

But it's really unbelievable, because can you imagine being a slave and going back to slavery? Now, I'm not an expert on the Civil War. But, you know, when the slaves were freed in the south, after the Civil War, you know, they had trouble. We know that trouble... took 100 years for there to be equal rights. For, you know, for black people. Did they go back today asked to be slaves again? Were there a group that said it's better to be slaves then to be free? Maybe there were, but that would be interesting.

 

Geoffrey Stern  09:22

I think what it does, is this points a little bit at how unique the Exodus story was an is in terms of disruption. How many times do you have a people that has this opportunity to make a total paradigm shift? And I think that maybe makes this whole question of this pedagogic question that much more interesting. So, let's start looking at how some of the classical commentaries look at this from a pedagogic point of view. The Mechilta d'Rabbi Yishmael in another place says "for it was near". They pick up on the verse that says he didn't want them to go through the Philistine route because it was too near "The holy one bless it be he did not bring them directly to Eretz Israel. But by way of the desert, saying if I bring them they are now immediately. "m'yad" is the Hebrew word. Each man will seize his field and each man his vineyard and they will neglect Torah study. Rather, I will keep them in the desert 40 years eating mana and drinking from the well and the Torah will be absorbed in their bodies. From here Rabbi Shimon would say the Torah was given to be expounded only by the eaters of Mana, and like them, the eaters of Terumah." So this is kind of fascinating. It's, it's really, I mean, there are two aspects of it. The first aspect I absolutely love, where he picks up on this thing about Karov about being near,  about being near and he moves it from something that is temporal, in terms of space, to something that is from a perspective of time, that there is an evolution that had to occur, you can get miracles in Egypt, you can get miracles at the Red Sea, you can't change a person's heart or a person's mind in the same miraculous fashion. Then, of course, he transitions into a yeshiva student to a teacher, and talks about the best way to study Torah is in the desert, away from distractions. But again, it's wonderful that from this perspective, and many that we'll see, they all saw these few verses, as the paradigm of how does one create change inside of a person and inside of a people.

 

Adam Mintz  12:00

Right? That's correct. That's really the story of 40 years in the desert. The reason for 40 years in the desert, was in order to create that that paradigm shift where the Jews go from being slaves in Egypt, to being free people, you know, there is work done. I'm not sure about what happened after the Civil War. But there is a lot of work done about countries that have revolutions. And it's interesting that very often, the one who leads the revolution is not the one who's a successful leader of the country going forward. It needs a transition phase. And that's really what you have in the Torah, you have a transition phase. And if you want to be honest, Moshe, who is the one who leads them out. He's the Liberator can't be the one who takes them into the land of Israel.

 

Geoffrey Stern  13:03

You know, I think that's a good point. But I'd also kind of argue that we're not yet there... these verses include a premonition, and they already have a premonition about wandering in the desert. I don't think the premonition is yet here, that after the wandering, you won't get into the land. I think that's another step.

 

Adam Mintz  13:25

But I'm just saying that it's interesting. This is the beginning of that process that will lead us there.

 

Geoffrey Stern  13:33

Absolutely. Absolutely.

 

Adam Mintz  13:35

By the way, you didn't talk about the fact that there's you know, there's a lot of complaining starts this week,

 

Geoffrey Stern  13:43

the complaining starts from day one, right?

 

Adam Mintz  13:46

That's right. Yeah. They cross the sea. They see the biggest miracle in the history. What do they do? They complain.

 

Geoffrey Stern  13:55

So let's get back to some of the lessons that the classical commentaries take. The next I'm going to quote is Rabeinu Bachya and and he says, that what we are just seeing "is characteristic of the way God dealt with the Israelites in the desert. They were to be raised gradually to a level of trust and the word in Hebrew is b'madregot ha'bitachon" "degrees". I think if there's one takeaway from tonight's discussion, is that faith doesn't come in a moment. Whether it's from the previous perspective of studying Torah, whether it's perspective of Rabeinu Bachya, where you're trying to get faith, there is no fast-food solution. There is no silver bullet. This question of a "milchama" could be a war, but it's also turmoil. You know, there's an expression we know it from the New Testament it says "seek and thou shall find" In the Talmud, it's "Yagat u'metzat, T'amin"  If somebody works hard at something, and they find it, believe them, but if they say "Lo Yagata umatzata al ta'amin", if they say now I just discovered this, I didn't work hard at all. Don't believe them if he said he found the answer. So I think it's clearly this sense of degrees. And you find this so much in religious thinking that one has to plod from one level to the next, that faith and understanding is cumulative. And Rabeinu Bachya brings a number of examples, which I think are kind of interesting, he says, "This is why God parted the waters of the Sea of Reeds only a little bit at a time. That is why even at Marah where God showed Moses how to make sweet water which had become bitter sweet again, God went to the trouble of first miraculously making that water bitter and then performing a second miracle. And Rabeinu Bachya goes on and on he writes for another three paragraphs, giving his I guess, exegesis on multiple miracles where he shows that the idea is not to stun, the idea is not to shock, the idea is to gradually, step after step, bring a person from where they are, to where they want to be. And he uses words like "davar Yom b'yomo" day after day "likvoa b'nafshotam midat habitachon"  to create in them this trait of faith. I think that's fascinating.

 

Adam Mintz  16:49

I would agree that that is fascinating. What do you think he has in mind? What do you think? What's the bigger issue that he's really addressing there?

 

Geoffrey Stern  17:01

Well, I think what he's saying is from these verses, we learn that going out on this journey is not simply about going to a destination, but it's how one gets there. And there's so much that needs to be learned from that journey. There's a Hebrew expression that comes from the Talmud that talks about short paths that are long and long paths that are short. And I think that is part of what he's saying that there are steps that need to be taken to to achieve the desired result. So the Gomorrah in Eruvin, said that there was an incident of a young boy, one time the great Yehuda HaNasi, was walking along the path. And he saw a young boy sitting at the crossroads. And I said to him, on which path Shall we walk in order to get to the city, he said, to me, this path is short and long. And that path is long and short. I walked on the path that was short and long. When I approached the city, I found that gardens and orchards surrounded it. And I did not know the trails leading through them to the city. I went back and met the young boy again and said to him, my son, didn't you tell me that this was short. He said to me, and didn't I tell you that it was also long, I kissed him on his head and said to him, happy are you Oh, Israel, for you are all exceedingly wise from your old to your young." So I think it's a beautiful expression, Ketzara varucha arucha v'kitzara" could the short path that is long, the quick fix that doesn't quite work, and the struggle that fixes everything? And I think ultimately, that's also a kind of a character lying in this discussion.

 

Adam Mintz  19:01

I think that's a great idea. That idea that the quick fix doesn't work is definitely a lesson that we have from this week's Parsha. From the very, very beginning, right? The Quick Fix was to go up the coast and to be in Israel in 11 days, "Achad asar yom meHorev derech har seir ad kadesh barnea"  11 days, but that would have been the quick fix. And that would have been disastrous. The amazing thing is that from the beginning, God's watching out for the people. It's not in God's best interest, either if we're allowed to say, to have the quick fix, and that the people get scared and want to run back.

 

Geoffrey Stern  19:42

Absolutely. Well, you know, God's part of the team.

 

Adam Mintz  19:45

Yeah, God says that the purpose of the of the plagues is to prove to the Egyptians and the Jews that God is God. Interesting. When Pharaoh ultimately throws the Jews out after the plague of the first born in last week's Parsha, he says to Moses and Aaron, get out of here. And then he adds three words, he says, And when you go and pray to your God, pray on my behalf to, I think those are the best three words in the whole Torah. Because right there, Pharaoh says, I finally believe in your God, pray for me too.

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:29

You reminded me about the 10 plagues. And as long as we're picking up on this sense of what Rabeinu Bachya was saying about Madregod about degrees, in a sense, there's a real powerful theme here, even for the Egyptians, who ultimately God was trying to teach a lesson to, he didn't just go to the 10th plague, there's this sense of an evolution, of a transition, small steps. And I think that has to be one of the powerful lessons of the Parsha. So now we're going to transition to the most absolutely radical explanation for going in circuitous routes, and, and going slowly, and it comes from a great rabbi and a great philosopher, who also happened to be a great doctor. And he starts the discussion by talking about biology. And he's almost prescient, in terms of if you listen to what I'm going to read. now, this almost sense of, of evolution, but his name is Rav Moshe Ben, Maimon, Maimonides himself. And he writes in Guide for the Perplexed..... and before I start, remember, the Jews are "Nevuchim", they are confused in the desert. That's the name of the book, we're going to be reading from the guide for the Nevuchim, he doesn't make the connection. This is only one of the radical ideas in his book, but maybe it's a seminal idea. So here we go. And he's talking about biology. He says, In considering the divine acts or the processes of nature, we get an insight into God's willy graciousness, the Hebrew. .... And of course, the Moreh Nevuchim was written in Arabic. So when you say the Hebrew, you have to say, who you're you're quoting, we're quoting   [Samuel ben Judah ibn] Tibon, who was the first translator of it, he goes, "Aramat Ha'elokut" L'arom is to lie...  so the Diety's willy graciousness as displayed in the creation of animals with the gradual development of the movements of their limbs and the relative position of the later. And we perceive also his willy graciousness. Now he uses a second word, "Tachluvot" , which is kind of subterfuge in the successive and gradual developments of the whole condition of each individual. And he goes through different animals. And he talks about how certain limbs are used at one time, and then stop being used, but they have their value. And the most powerful final example that he gives is mammals who wean their children. He says, Therefore, breasts were provided which yield milk. And the young can be fed with moist food, which corresponds to the condition of the limbs of the animal, until the later have gradually become dry, and hard. So the breasts are full of milk for a while, and then the child matures, and they dry up. It's an example of planned obsolescence, if you will. And he uses this discussion of biology, to segue into how God educated the children of Israel. And he starts by saying, "it is impossible to go suddenly from one extreme to the other. It is according to the nature of man impossible for him suddenly to discontinue everything which he has been accustomed. And he goes on to talk about how the ultimate goal of leaving Egypt, after all he was an Aristotelian was to contemplate the divine. And how do you get from living as a slave in a society where there are idols and there were sacrifices, how do you get from there to this sublime state, and he writes that it was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God, as disclosed in biology in the whole of creation, that he did not command us to give up and discontinue all these manners of service for to obey such a commandment would be contrary to the nature of men. So he says, Therefore God allowed these kinds of services to continue. He created a temple, he created sacrifices. And he goes, I'm not going to wean you from sacrifices, I'm not going to wean you from bowing down and from touching a holy stone, and looking in a particular direction to find God, I'm just going to change that. So you go to my temple, and you sacrifice to me, by this divine plan, it was affected that the traces of idolatry were blotted out. And the truly great principle of our faith, the existence of unity of God was firmly established. Does Maimonides know how radical an idea he's saying is that he's basically writing off all of the temple sacrificial cult, as a stepping stone as a necessary ruse a trick to get people from one place to another, he continues, "I know that you will at first reject this idea and find it strange. How can you suppose that all of these commandments were just employed, not for themselves, but to go to something else?" He goes, what would happen if somebody showed up today, and told us you don't have to wear tefillin, you don't have to pray three times a day, just contemplate God. He says we would also be upset. But he says it's written in the Torah. God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines flow that was near for God said ..... so he quotes our verse and he says, Here God led the people about away from the direct road, which he originally intended, because he feared they might meet on that way with hardships too great for their ordinary strength. He took them by another road in order to obtain thereby his original object. It was the result of God's wisdom that the Israelites were led out into the wilderness till they acquired courage. And he uses this same word of it was a divine ruse. It was trickery, if you will. And it was a very radical statement, I encourage you to go to the show notes and Safaria, and read the whole text that's built logically and forward. And that was his takeaway. And it's a radical takeaway, if you take it to its full meaning, which that he was basically saying even the tefillin, at fill in everything that we do is a trick or a ruse, or I would say it in a more nice term, a tool to get us to somewhere else.

 

Adam Mintz  28:06

I like the word tool. It's a tool to get us where we need to go. It's not in itself a goal.

 

Geoffrey Stern  28:13

But it is a pretty radical idea?

 

Adam Mintz  28:16

Crazy, but fascinating. It's so good, that everything we do is just to get us to the goal. But each one of these actions is not in itself valuable. Now, I think that Rambam would probably say that once you're going through them, though, you have to do them properly. means let's take tefillin. So tefillin’s not important for itself. It's important where it takes us but to put on tefillin wrong to do the wrong act in the ritual, to perform the Seder incorrectly to observe Yom Kippur incorrectly, I don't think Rambabu like that, either.

 

Geoffrey Stern  29:01

Not like that! I mean, he is a man who dedicated his wife life to codifying Jewish law [laughs].

 

Adam Mintz  29:08

That's what I'm saying, the codification of the detail is important, because it leads us somewhere else. Don't think the ultimate is just putting on the tefillin. The tefillin are a tool to get us where we need to go.

 

Geoffrey Stern  29:26

So we're running out of time, but let me give you a little bit of the history of this idea. The Ramban, Nachmonidies in Leviticus absolutely goes ballistic against Maimonides for saying this. And he says How could you possibly say this? Your your belittling the sacrifices which actually Noah gave and he goes on and on. We have to remember that Ramban lived in a Christian world He actually had to go into debate with Christians. And this concept that the laws don't really matter, that it's the spirit that counts smacks a lot of Christianity. And my sense is that those are rabbis who defended Maimonides, like the Abarbanel and others, maybe they will less exposed to the Christian ideas. But but here's the amazing thing. In Christianity, they built a whole philosophy on this idea, and it's called Divine Condescendence. And it goes back to the church fathers. And we talked about classical commentators. Some of them use this to explain that education is like with children, that you have to start somewhere and you slowly grow... "St. A rainiest, I deserve special mention, as a rare instance of a church father who relates Divine Condescendence to an evolutionary concept of the Hebrew people in which they pass gradually as a collective, from an infantile to an adult state." They have more variations on this concept than we have. And my guess is for those scholars that like Shai Held, that are finding ideas that we had that were taken by Christians and taken in a father direction, this idea of Divine Condescendence is certainly one of them. But Maimonides either because of his biological background, or because he lived in a Muslim world, and wasn't part of replacement theology. He wasn't afraid of saying that Judaism could evolve, was able to say this. And again, it kind of reflects what we were talking about last week, and what I think what you were just saying, Rabbi, that you can believe that the understanding of the law can evolve, and still keep it. You can keep it the way it was originally observed. But as you grow, as you grow as a person, and as you grow as a nation, your understanding can evolve as far as you want. And I think that's really the theme here. And the theme of what God is telling the Jewish people as they embark on this amazing journey.

 

Adam Mintz  32:44

I think that's beautiful. Thank you so much for the topic. Shabbat Shalom to everybody enjoy crossing the sea. And next week we look forward to receiving the Torah, The Ten commandments with all of you well, Shabbat Shalom,

 

Geoffrey Stern  32:58

so soon amazing Shabbat Shalom to you all. Let's all cross the Red Sea, the Sea of Reeds and begin the journey. Thank you so much.

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Walk like an Egyptian

parshat bo (exodus 13)

A live recording of Disruptive Torah recorded on the Madlik Clubhouse with Geoffrey Stern, Rabbi Adam Mintz, Rabbi Abraham Bronstein and “The Haftorahman”, Reuben Ebrahimoff on January 6th 2022.

Can Biblical commandments evolve and have alternative meanings at different times and to different people? Mitzvot; for some an obligation, for others a political, cultural or fashion statement and for still others a magical charm. In Exodus 13 we are introduced to the first formal commandments given in the Torah; a book of Law. These laws relate exclusively to the celebration of the first and subsequent Passovers. Out of nowhere we discover the first reference to what was to become the commandment of Tefillin. We explore the classical commentators and modern scholarship to discover the multiple layers and nuances behind tefillin and possibly all mitzvot.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/373717

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:04 Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey stern and at Madlik we light a spark was shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. We also host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern. And this week with Rabbi Adam Mintz we learn of the first commandments the Jews were given as they left Egypt. They were instructed to mark their doorposts with blood and put a sign on their hands and between their eyes. We explore how a commandment like this can mean different things to different people and at different times. So get ready for our weekly journey and walk like an Egyptian. Well, welcome. It’s great to have you here. Very excited about this discussion. You know, we’ve been studying the Torah week in and week out those of you who remember when we studied Bereshit, we studied a very famous Rashi. Which said Why does the Torah begin from when God made the first commandment? It’s a book of law. It should be “HaHodesh Ha’zeh L’chem” (Exodus 12: 10), and here we are in Parshat  Bo, and we’re getting some commandments. Things are changing, we’re moving from stories, from narratives to actual commandments, the rubber is hitting the road.

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So today, we're going to focus on the beginning of one commandment, we're going to start with Exodus 13, where it kind of starts by talking about the stuff we'd expect it to talk about. It says: "Throughout the seven days, unleavened bread shall be eaten. No leavened bread shall be found with you, and no leaven shall be found in your territory. And you shall explain to your children on that day, it is because of what the Lord did for me, when I went free from Egypt. And this shall serve you as a sign on your hand. And as a reminder on your forehead, in order that the teaching of the Lord may be in your mouth, that with a mighty hand, the Lord freed you from Egypt, you shall keep this institution at its set time from year to year." So I like to read the posture of fresh every year. And when I read it this year, I was absolutely struck by this introduction of what many of us will recognize to be a law of Tefillin; these frontlets these phylacteries, these leather objects that traditional Jews put on their arms and put on their heads, and it's smack in the middle of what we absolutely expected to hear, which is the story of unleavened bread, how they had their first Seder, how they had their first Passover, and how that influenced further celebrations of the Passover. But right in the middle, is this law that resonates clearly the the law of Tefillin, but it doesn't really say anything about writing, it says "this shall serve to you as a sign". So the first question is, what is this? When we read it later into Devarim; in Deuteronomy, we kind of say, oh, okay, so it's this, this paragraph that we need to put inside of the Tefillin. But here there's a question of what is the this in the this, and then an Exodus 13" 16. Just a little bit later, it says, "and so it shall be a sign upon your hand and a symbol on your forehead, that with a mighty hand, the Lord freed you from Egypt." And here we have this strange word in the Hebrew that not only should it be a sign an "Ot", a word that we have come across before, but it should be "ul'totafot bein enecha" , this "Totefot" between your eyes? So am I the only guy who read the parsha this week, and said, What is Tefillin doing here? It's not something that we normally associate with either leaving Egypt, or with the first commandments that are given. And it's not quite talking about writing anything. And it just seems so strange to appear. And this was, frankly, the first year that I realized that here when we're listing the first mitzvot the first commandments, boom, we're hit by this non sequitur, I would say, of the law of what ultimately became Tefilin. Anybody share my surprise?

Adam Mintz  04:50

There's no question that that point is right. Let's just review for a minute that in the tefillin that you described, there are actually four selections from the Torah. Two of those selections are from this week. Actually, chapter 13 is divided in half, because there were two references, as you said to tefillin. So, there's the first portion, that's "Kadesh Li" and then the second portion "Vehaya Keviacha". And then there are two more portions, the first two paragraphs of the Shema, which are found in the Book of Devarim of Deuteronomy, also which have mentioned Tefillin. And they're also included. So there are four selections in the Torah, that talk about Tefillin, all those four are in the Tefillin that we wear. And the question I think, is, as you said, Why is it here? What does that have to do with the Exodus? So let me Geoffrey, make the question bigger. This is actually the first parsha that we have, in which we have a combination of law and narrative. Up to now the Torah has been completely narrative, and there've been a couple of little laws here and there. But basically, the Torah has been completely narrative. All of a sudden, in this week's portion, chapter 12, we switch. And we have a combination of law and narrative. That's the first important lesson. And that is that the Torah is a combination of law and narrative, Each one plays on the other to understand the laws, the rituals of Passover, you have to understand the narrative of the Exodus. So that's interesting. Now, why fill in here, the reason tefillin in this here is very simple. And that is because the remembering the exodus is primary in everything that we do. That seems to be the most basic, if not one of the most basic laws that we have, and therefore the villain in chapter 13, those paragraphs remind us of the Exodus, and we put them on our hands and on our head, because we need to remember the Exodus, we need to remember the slavery and then we need to remember how God took this out of out of Egypt.

Reuben Ebrahimoff  07:17

I just wanted to first say, every morning, we have this zoom Parshat HaShavua class. So I'm following along. You know, Yetziat Myzrayim, Pharaoh and all this and then I it just struck me this year, I didn't understand what was this text doing, like smack in the middle of your storyline? So just to say I resonated with your question. I did.

Geoffrey Stern  07:46

Reuben, there must have been something in the water this year. I don't know.

Reuben Ebrahimoff  07:49

Oh, so then the other thing Rabbi Mintz you taught me about the website, Al Hatorah (https://alhatorah.org/) And in the morning as they're reading, I try to find the Hapax legomenons (see:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hapax_legomenon ) in the parsha or words with very low frequency. And here 'l'totafott" is once in this parsha. And then when it comes around back in Devarim it mentions it two more times. So it's a very, very rare word in the Torah.

Geoffrey Stern  08:26

But, but let me just you know, add to the question a little bit, if you look at Rashi when Rashi says "VeHaya l'cha l'Ot", it should be to you a sign, he says "The Exodus from Egypt shall be to thee a sign" "Yetziat Miztrayim ti'hie l'cha l'Ot" There's already a sensitivity to what is this in the this? What is the sign? Now, we sometimes talk about this personalities that we're talking about. I think the Rashi family had a little bit of a monopoly on tefillin. First of all, it's pretty well known that the daughters of Rashi wore tefillin and the Rabbenu Tam was a grandson of Rashi and the very very observant Jews put on two pairs of tefillin every day, they put on Rashi tefillin and Rabbenu Tam tefillin.  because the the grandson argued with the grandpa about the order of the parshiot (scrolls). But there was another grandson; Rabbenu Tam had an older brother, and his name was Rashbam, and Rashbam says something amazing on this verse. He says, "According to the true meaning and exhortation that this memory should be with you permanently, "as if", "K'ilu". The matter is literally inscribed upon you hand. And he says we have similar metaphorical expressions about putting things on your body. He says in Song of Songs, it says place it on your heart, as if it had been engraved there." And take it. On my, my word. There are commentaries like the Ibn Ezra and others who understand exactly what the Rashbam is saying. He's saying, don't talk about the other instances of the mention of this law that ultimately became tefillin, these black boxes of leather that we put on our body parts. Here. It is a metaphor. Here it is in the tradition of a Jeremiah who says, "and you should write these words on your heart", he goes and quotes multiple verses, where this concept of wearing God on one's body is a metaphor. So there's clearly a fascinating aspect of how........ it's easy for us to say we're talking about tefillin. But it's not totally clear that we're talking about tefillin as we know it, we're talking about an aspect of tefilin. And that blew me away,

Avraham Bronstein  11:19

I want to say something to what you just said. And then something back to what Rabbi Mintz just said, I think that when the Rashbam is talking about the metaphor of you know, "on your heart", "between your eyes", in those ways, he's talking more about where you wear the tefillin, right, because he's telling you that you wear the tefillin on your arm corresponding to your heart. You don't wear literally on your chest. And likewise, you wear that go on your head, between your eyes on top of your head, not literally on your nose between your eyes. And I think he's trying to use the term metaphors that way. So that the practice of wearing tefillin corresponds with the verse But even so, even if you take them metaphorically, he's describing a very, very embodied experience. You're literally taking these reminders of the Exodus, and you're strapping them to your physical body and you're walking around with them, you're wearing them and feel them and you're touching them. And they're part of how you get around your day. And so much of what we do to remember the Exodus on a day-to-day basis are the mitzvot that are connected to it, are very embodied mitzvot, right. We eat things, we drink things, we say things, we hear things. And what I meant and was talking a little bit about before about the combination between law and narrative and how those two formats kind of play into each other and inform each other. I think what this is showing you also is that there's even a deeper level to it or a deeper connection, because even the remembering even the mitzvah itself is so physical, it's so embodied and still it really sums it up more than almost anything else

Adam Mintz  12:59

Rabbi Avraham. I think that's really such a good point. That actually the relationship between law and narrative is reflected in the in the selections that we use for the villain, and that actually when we put them on our arms, and on our head, we're thinking about that relationship, not just the law of putting on tefillin, but the narrative, the Exodus from Egypt. I just will add one thing, Geoffrey. And that you made reference to the fact that there are two traditions, Hasidim put on two pairs of tefillin, they put on Rashi tefillin at the beginning of davening (prayer) and at the end of davening, they take off their Rashi tefillin they put on the Rabbenu Tam and they look the same, but inside there's a difference. And the difference is what the order of the portions is. Rashi's tefillin which is the tefillin that are generally used by most people have the order of the portions in the order they appear in the Torah. So therefore, you have the two portions from Exodus chapter 13. Then you have the portion of Shema. And then you have the pope the portion of V'haya im Shemoha". And that's the order in which they appear in the Torah. Rabenu Tam has it different.  Rabenu Tam says you start with the two selections from this week's parsha "Kadesh" "VayaHi kiviyach"  but he switches the order of the two chapters in Devarim and he says first is "V'haya im Shemoa" and finally is Shema. He switches the order of "Shema" and "V'haya im Shemoa". The question is what difference does it make? It would make sense....  Rashi makes sense. You should have the port the selections in the order in which they appear in the Torah. And Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik gave an amazing explanation. He said actually the four selections are actually two different themes.... This is what Rabbi Avraham was referring to.... the selections from our portion are talking about the Exodus. The selections from the book of Deuteronomy, talk about tefillin as an expression of our acceptance of God's kingship over us. So actually, according to Rabbenu Tam, they are in order, but one you read from left to right, and one you read from right to left. So the two portions from our from our chapter, you read from left to right, "Kadesh" "VayaHi kiviyach" , but the portions from Devorim, you read from right to left "Shema" and "V'haya im Shemoa". And the reason we do it that way is because we want to separate the two, to show those are two different things. One is about remembering the Exodus, and one is about remembering that God is King over the world. And those are two very distinct themes in our Jewish lives. So I think that that's just interesting, at least for a moment to, you know, to pay respects to rabbenu Tam and his different villain than Rashi tefillin.

Geoffrey Stern  16:14

So I love this discussion, because we are discussing the first mitzvot that are commanded to the Jewish people, in a sense, and some of the commentaries make this distinction there pre-Sinai revelation as well. And here we are, and we're looking at all of the different perspectives that you can have on this one; I would say it's a seed of a mitzvah, because I am not willing to concede yet that the mitzvah of tefillin is fully played out yet. I want to get back to the rush bomb. One of the commentaries that I have in the source sheet says

רשב"ם אינו רואה בפסוקנו אזכור של מצוות תפילין, אלא מפרשו כמטפורה.

This commentary is saying is at this point in time, does the Rashbam believe that there's a commandment of tefillin? He does, he's not a Karite. He's not a Samaritan. There were fundamentalists who read not only these verses, but the later verses. And they said, you know, it says you should write these words on your door post, the Samaritans wrote them literally on their door post. They talked about writing these words on your arm and on your head, they took it as a metaphor, the Rashbam is "Lahavdeel", not in that camp. But what he is saying is at this point, it's a metaphor. And what I love when we discuss Rabbenu Tam and Rashi and their different views of what should be inside of the to fill in, is here we have the first commandment. Yes, the first commandment that piqued Reuben and my curiosity... because it was literally made as a commandment, it didn't fit into the narrative that much. And all of a sudden, we can parse it in so many ways. And I'd like to think that this is an example of all the mitzvot to that are to come. And yes, there is an aspect of this commandment that is totally physical. But the Rashbam is saying something very profound; that you can take a commandment as a metaphor. And that doesn't detract from taking it also, as a physical, tactile directive as to what to do in the first four hours of the morning. And that I think, is an amazing thought. And I'd like to use that as a segue to then get into the various interpretations and explanations that Reuben talked about which is; what does this "totafot" mean at this point in time? Where are we? What does this mean? It's clearly using a foreign term and making reference to something that the audience that it was written to understood but that we do not. What what do you all feel is going on here in terms of what is "totafot"?

Geoffrey Stern  16:57

Haftorahman what do you think?

Reuben Ebrahimoff  19:40

I'm gonna digress for a second, on purpose. These prayers are in two places. One on the Mezzuzot and two on the tefillin. And not that this adds credibility But the story was told to me by Mr. Shlomo Musayev. And Shlomo said, originally, they didn't have doorposts. They lived in tents. And that this, this scroll was a Kamia, and they would hang it like a lintel. And that when somebody would go into their tent, they would have to move their hand in front of them across to the side, and they would touch the mezzuza, thereby merging the heaven and earth by touching the Mezuzah, which was this go-between area. So, to me, that sounds beautiful on a thought level. Then the other thing I think about is the name of God. You only have two places .... Rabbi Mintz, correct me if I'm wrong, where you have the shin on the Mezuza bayit and the Shin on the tefillin boxes for the shin dalet Yud name of God. So I always found that interesting, too.

Adam Mintz  21:13

Okay, what is uh, how does that relate to the word "totafot"?

Reuben Ebrahimoff  21:17

Okay, so I'm just gonna read what they had Al Hatorah....  it says, bands, so they must have just tied these things. And I think also, Geoffrey, that the Samaritans, like put it like in between their eyes there to fill in, like right down on the forehead. If I'm not mistaken

Geoffrey Stern  21:41

Well, let's get to the band's the the most straightforward explanation is in the Gomorrah in Shabbat 57B. And it says, "The Mishna said that a woman may not go out with the ornament called a totefet. The Gemara asks: What is a totefet? Rav Yosef said: A packet of spices to ward off the evil eye. Abaye said to him: And let the legal status of this packet be like that of an effective amulet, whose effectiveness is proven, and it should be permitted, as an effective amulet may be moved on Shabbat. Rather, Rav Yehuda said in the name of Abaye: A totefet is an appuzainu, an ornament worn on the forehead. This opinion was also taught in a baraita: A woman may go out with a gilded hairnet worn to hold the hair in place, and with the totefet, and with the sarvitin that are fastened to the hairnet, since a woman would not remove her head covering to show her friend those ornaments. And they said: Which is a totefet and which is sarvitin? Rabbi Abbahu said: Totefet is that which goes around her forehead from ear to ear...." and I think that's the opinion that you quoted. But the point is even modern scholarship and if you look at the notes on Safera to this episode, it gets into great detail and basically says, you know, I think the rabbis of the Talmud had it right. Totafot, as you said, Reuben; a headband. And we come across for the first time, it's to ward off [evil]. It's an amulet. Again, the tefillin strikes us Western, Moderns, as very strange. But my guess would be that, whether you called it a Kamia or Oh, whatever. In the ancient world, people wore charms people wore amulets, and it was an accepted practice to wear an amulet as a headband and on one's arm. I'd like to point out that one of our faithful listeners, Bob, who's in the audience today, pointed out a few weeks ago, that they just discovered a pharaoh. They were able to do a scan of him without actually touching him. And they found that he was circumcised which is interesting. Yeah, but they also found a bunch of amulets, a bunch of jewelry on his arm and stuff. So I gave the subject matter of tonight's talk "Walk like an Egyptian". It seems to me that, number one, we can all assume that unlike us, when the Torah said "totafot", everybody understood what it was referring to. It wasn't speaking in riddles. And so it seems pretty clear that this was some sort of an amulet both on one's head and on one's arm. You know this question... and I'll just give two other references to trigger further discussion. It has this strange expression of "between the eyes" , "l'zicharon Beyn Eynecha". Those of us whose children ask us, are you allowed to have a tattoo? We always said, no, no, no, no, you can't have a tattoo. It says in in the Bible itself. In Deuteronomy 14, "You are children of the Lord your God, You shall not gash yourselves or shave the front of your heads because of the dead." Now I just read a translation. But the Hebrew says, "Lo Karocha beyn einechem l'Meit" You can't make a mark on yourself. You can't cut yourself "beyn einechem"  between your eyes. And it's fascinating that when the rabbi's discuss that Karocha means to make oneself bald. So they actually learn from here that tefillin is not to be actually between one's eyes, but it's to be above the hairline. So they actually learned from the law against gashing and pulling out one's hair, maybe making tattoos and signs that it is above the hairline. There's a real connection here. And these are not stuff that was made out of nowhere. Yesh, me'ayin these were amulets, these were signs that were made. The other word that's used is an "Ot". And of course, we find that with Cain, the sign of Cain. And in the Midrash, it says, What is the sign of Cain the "ot" of Cain? Well, God took one of the "otiyot", one of the letters of the 22 letters of the alphabet and wrote it on Cain. So we almost have tattooing here, which is kind of fascinating. So that kind of really opens up the discussion, in terms of what.... from a metaphor to a tattoo, to an amulet, what this could be referring to and what its antecedents are.

Adam Mintz  27:21

So I would add the following. And that is that maybe we don't know what the word totafot leads. And maybe that's the idea. Maybe tefillin is the perfect model of the integration of the Written Torah, and the oral tradition, that without the oral tradition, we can't know what tefillin in really are. The Gemara says and another Gemara, it says that Tat means two and pat means two. And totafot just means for that we have four selections from the Torah. And maybe that's what we need, maybe we have to be willing to admit that if all we have is the Written Torah that's not enough. We need an oral tradition; we need a living tradition. A bunch of years ago, there was an exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls have the things they found in Qumran. And one of the things they had in the exhibition was a pair of tefillin. And I was always struck.. Qumran is about 2,100 years ago. And the tefillin from 2,100 years ago, looks basically the same as the tefillin we put on today. That's an amazing statement about Jewish tradition. Jews have been thrown out of places Jews have been prosperous in places, a lot has happened to the Jews over 2,100 years. But the tefillin are still the same tefillin that we had. And probably 1,000 years before that they were the same tefillin. And that's part of our living tradition. It's similar, by the way, Geoffrey to the Etrog. You know, the Torah says you should take a fruit of from a tree. We don't even know what the fruit is "Pree Etz Hadar" and the way we know what an Etrog is, that's part of the living tradition. We need the living tradition without the living tradition, we have nothing. And I think that totafot the tefillin actually is a great model of that.

Geoffrey Stern  29:28

I totally agree with you. The only thing that I would add .... and we've talked about so many facets of one of the first commandments that we've come across, is .... you know, one of the questions and I'll save this for my Shabbat Hagadol drasha is the obvious question of why Mezuzah isn't mentioned here after they put the blood on the doorposts and maybe Rabbi you'll talk about that on Shabbat

Adam Mintz  29:59

That's good also

Geoffrey Stern  30:00

But it seems to me that there's another element here. And in the New Testament, when Jesus talks about the Jews wearing tefillin, he says in Matthew 23:5-7, "everything they do is done for people to see they make their phylacteries wide and tassels on their garments long." And what he captures is this sense of pride, their sense of who we are. And it seems to me and you were talking about this living tradition, I'm not a scholar, I thought of the Egyptians have every time you see an Egyptian pharaoh, you see that little snake [uraeus snake] that comes out, right on the forehead, as a sign, it was not one by a foreigner, it was not one by a layman. It was only worn by a king. And I'd like to think that another aspect of tefillin is that these Jews, they might have put on the blood on the doorposts, so that the God would pass by and spare them. But then when they were told to put these ornaments on, they were like kings, a "Mamlechet Cohanim v'goy kadosh". And I would like to think that, that is also part of the aspect of what we're talking about, that this tefillin and this commandment here is this sense of being like a pharaoh walking like an Egyptian so to speak. And the ultimate lesson and the ultimate takeaway is in half an hour, I think we've probably touched upon 13, or 14 different ways of looking at one of these first commandments of mitzvah. And I think what we can learn from this, and I'd like to extrapolate going forward, is that not only are there "shivim Panim L'Torah"  70 faces to every verse and every idea of Torah, but a mitzvah, whether it's Shabbat, whether it's tefillin, whether Pesach can be taken at a metaphorical level, it can be taken as an amulet and a little bit of superstition. It can be taken as a political statement; it can be taken as a fashion statement. It's all there. It's all acceptable. And all that we are asked to do is to study the texts and become a part of that tradition. And I'd like to think that's the element of living that you were describing in terms of what the Oral law is.

Adam Mintz  32:35

That's beautiful Geoffrey. What a way to end enjoy the parish everybody. Shabbat Shalom and look forward to taking the Jews out of Egypt and crossing the sea next week. Shabbat shalom,

Geoffrey Stern  32:49

Amen. Shabbat shalom. We will see you all next week and discover another hidden aspect of the Torah and hopefully find something that resonates with us. So, with that I bid you all Shabbat Shalom, and let's all leave Egypt together this week. Shabbat shalom.

—-

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holy crap

parshat vaera (exodus 7)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on December 30th 2021 as we use an innocuous reference in Rabbinic Literature to Pharaoh’s personal hygiene to explore the unique disposition of Judaism to the physical body and bodily functions and contrast it to other religions and cultures.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/372485

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark with shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. We also host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern. And this week with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we learn that old King Pharaoh not only had a hard heart, but he also had bowel issues. We use this discovery to explore the unique disposition of Judaism to bodily functions and contrast it with other religions and cultures. So join us as we follow Moses down to the Nile and record our episode entitled, holy crap.

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Geoffrey Stern  00:47

Well, welcome everybody, hope I didn't scare you away with a little bathroom humor and talk about something that we don't normally talk about, we do joke about a lot. We are going to focus on a very, esoteric comment that the rabbi's make about one verse in this week's parsha. But I do think that it will open up discussions not only regarding the subject matter, which is what is Judaism's approach to body and bodily functions, but also maybe focus on what Egypt represented. So I think it is, while small and trivial. It does relate to the bigger picture of Exodus and Egypt. So we begin on Exodus, chapter 7, verse 15. And it says, "Go to Pharaoh in the morning, as he is coming out to the water, and station yourself before him at the edge of the Nile, taking with you the rod that turned into a snake." So this is the beginning of the first of the plagues. And Moses is instructed to go down by the Nile because surely he will meet the Pharaoh bathing in the Nile. So Rashi, quoting the Midrash says as follows. "He went unto the water to ease himself, for he claimed to be a god and asserted that because of his divine power, he did not need to ease himself. And therefore he used to rise early and go to the Nile. And there eased himself in secret." So as we shall see there is not much in the Toba that relates to the bodily function, relieving oneself, even though it seems and if you google this, you'll find a lot of material. Jews love to joke about bodily functions and moving their bowels. So even that could be a good question to to begin our discussion today. But Rabbi, what is your impression of this? And before I let you speak, I do think that there's very little in Exodus that talks about the Egyptian religion. You know, we talk about them as taskmasters, as oppressors, in previous weeks, we've talked about their eating habits and their diet. But in terms of what Egypt is famous for the pyramids.... building these major edifices for a life to come and the Jews were they are building it, there's very little mention of what the belief was of the ancient Egyptians. And is this an opportunity to jump in?

 

Adam Mintz  03:46

It might be I mean, my question, Geoffrey, is what leads Rashi to say what he says, the Torah doesn't say it. Why does Rashi feel the need to kind of add that Midrashic twist to this?

 

Geoffrey Stern  04:01

Well, I think and as I was reading it, I was thinking this, he says, go to Pharaoh in the morning. And [laughs] I don't want to lower the level of the discussion to Jewish jokes, but the first thing you do in the morning is you move your bowels. But besides that, I think it's a very good question. And it's almost as though the commentary and it's not Rashi. As I said before, this same story is, is even mentioned in a little bit more detail in both the Midrash Tanchuma and Shemot Rabba. The Jewish sources saw it there. So I think the question can be reflexive as well, which is what did they see? Or what were they attempting to say? But I think it's a good question.

 

Adam Mintz  04:55

Yeah, no, it's a very, very good question. You know, but I'm just kind of I'm distinguishing between that which is explicit in the Torah, and that which, which is Midrashric. And there's a basic rule. And that is that the Midrash if it elaborates on something, that's not explicit in the Torah, there's a reason for it. It's trying to teach us something. And I wonder here, what it's trying to teach us. That's what I'm raising what they're trying to teach us. What is the Midrash, adding, that is important for us to know.

 

Geoffrey Stern  05:32

So let's parse it a little. First of all, it says that Pharaoh claimed to be a god in Russia, his version, it doesn't give any commentary in the Midrash, it says, Pharaoh Harasha, the evil one. So it's almost saying, putting him down, but he claimed to be a god. And that's one thing that the rabbis could want to point out. Another thing that they could want to point out is that gods don't defecate and that was an assumption that was made. And they don't seem to be arguing with that. So that raises the question of, well, what about we humans, who are spiritual beings created in the image of God... What does that say about us? So I don't think I'm answering your question. I do think that anyone who has studied the Talmud and the Jewish texts know that the rabbi's love to use any excuse to talk about what's on their mind, and this seems to be what was on their mind that morning.

 

Adam Mintz  06:43

So if you parse Geoffrey, there really are two things. One is the issue of Pharaoh thinking that he's a god. Now, that obviously is very important in the story. Because Moses and Aaron going before Pharaoh, it's a different story, if they go before, the king, who's just the king, or the King, who actually thinks that what he's doing is what is god doing? I mean, it gives a lot more, it adds, I think, something to the story, it also gives a lot more Chutzpa to Moses and Aaron, they're actually confronting a God, Hey, that's pretty impressive that they're willing to confront a god isn't it?

 

Geoffrey Stern  07:22

So I think that's a great point. And I think what that resonates with me is that we always think that if someone says they're a God, they're literally a god. But because the Egyptians are in a world of polytheism, and there are many levels of the Divine retinue, if you will, you know, there are points of that we've read in previous parshiot that says that Aaron will be the spokesman and Moses will be like a god. (Exodus 7:1) So even to the Egyptians speaking in their language, so to speak, it does imply that if one has certain divine powers, if one has certain levels of spirituality, one could be considered a god. And if that's the case, then that really raises the level of my question, which is where do the rabbis stand on this? So that can you be god-like, and maybe that's what I'm trying to say? That saying that Pharaoh was a god could also be intended to mean he was god-like, as Moses was god-like, and there are verses that say that. And so therefore, what is the rabbi's opinion? And how do they react to this contradiction between a God who has an anus so to speak,

 

Adam Mintz  08:54

Right.... So that already is very interesting. And that is that Pharaoh is godlike. But it's almost as if the Midrash is making fun of him. How can it be a god because he defecates and therefore he's not really a god? We would say he's a god in his own mind, right? But that doesn't really mean very much. And haha, Moses caught him when he went out to see him in the morning, because he saw him being not a god.

 

Geoffrey Stern  09:28

So so there's a book that I read. It was published in the 60s or 70s, by a guy named Ernest Becker, who was a psychologist, and it's called The Denial of Death. And we'll get back to it a little more. He spends a lot of time on focusing on. This, this this chasm, this really dialectic between being a spiritual being and being a physical creaturely being And he says "excreting is the curse that threatens madness, because it shows man his abject finitude, his physicalness, the likely unreality of his hopes and dreams." And I'm just wondering whether the rabbi's were at all touching upon this issue of can we be godlike? And at the same time, can we be as physical as we are creating... Every day, every morning, every time we go to the bathroom a physical sign of our decay and death, if you will, Elise, what can you say?

 

Elise Meyer  10:45

So, okay, what I wanted to say is, um, like, the presumption that Pharaoh thought he was god, he was God to the people and to him, I mean, the, the pharaohs were believed to be gods on Earth, as other civilizations have that human deity kind of connections. So,

 

Geoffrey Stern  11:10

So there are gradations is what you're saying that for us, when you say God, we automatically think about one absolute being, but for the other polytheistic and in other religions that including the Egyptians, there were gradations.

 

Elise Meyer  11:31

Right...  intercessive rulers.

 

Geoffrey Stern  11:34

Absolutely. And I think from that perspective, you could easily come away from this saying that the rabbi's were in, in basic agreement, that if you are truly a god, you can't crap. But I would love to explore how this plays out in In Jewish tradition a little bit, because I actually think that Judaism has a very unique approach to this. And one of the ways that we can find that approach is by studying other religions and other cultures, so I want to jump a little bit forward. You've probably all heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls. And you've probably heard that the people who are some of the people that might have written the Dead Sea Scrolls are called Essenes. And they lived in the Dead Sea. They were ascetics, they moved out of the urban areas they lived outside. Maybe John the Baptist was one they used to go into the mikvah into the purifying baths a lot. But Josephus has tells us something very strange about them. And Josephus us in the Jewish Wars says that they "not only do they abstain from seventh, day work more rigidly than any other Jews, for not only do they prepare their meals the previous day so as to avoid lighting a fire on the Sabbath. But they do not venture to remove any utensil or go and ease themselves." So he raises this thing that has really tantalized archaeologists for years looking for where the bathroom so to speak, where the Essenes are. Archaeologists have discovered that possibly the Essenes didn't eat on Friday so that they wouldn't have to ease themselves on Shabbat. When he refers to cooking on Shabbat. Our understanding today is they took the concept of a fire to the extreme, they sat in the darkness, they didn't believe you could even have light. So there's no question that they took what ultimately became Rabbinic Judaism and biblical structure. They took it way to the extreme. But the fascinating thing about what Josephus has says is that you had to go through a year-long orientation. And once you were accepted into the Essenes, they are gave you a loincloth, white garments, and a shovel to bury your feces. So this was something that was absolutely important to them. But important to the point where they had to defecate outside of the camp. There are scrolls in the Dead Sea scrolls that said that they believed you could not defecate within Jerusalem. They had a real problem with bodily function. And I think that as we transverse and move to what the Jewish position was on these things, you can't look at it from a vacuum. There were many ways that we could have gone. But this always seemed to be just so fascinating to me.

 

Adam Mintz  15:07

That is fascinating. What you make of that is the fact that defecating was something that was considered to be unholy. That actually is in line with the Midrash. That a god doesn't defecate, that works out well with the tradition we have in this week's parsha. It doesn't deal with Pharaoh. But it actually deals with defecation, which shows that we're human. And that's the piece that has to be done outside the camp. That's the unholy, part.

 

Geoffrey Stern  15:39

So I think you're absolutely right. And I think Rabbi, we have to be honest, the only reason why you and I are going down this road is we know of an amazing prayer. It's a prayer that the rabbi's created. That one says after one takes care of one's needs and leaves the bathroom. And I spent the last week while I was preparing for this, googling prayers, for bodily functions. And I couldn't find any from any cultures and I invite anybody...... There is an Islamic prayer that I found. It says "Praise be Allah Who relieved me of the filth and gave me relief." But other than that, I could not find any culture or religion that identifies moving one's bowels as a moment that required some sort of benediction, and by way of a benediction, some form of illumination. So I'm just going to read the prayer that we say it's called "Asher Yatzar" Who has created us, it's said, as I said, after one leaves out the bathroom, it is also said every morning, we get back to that morning trigger, that this is what one does when one wakes up in the morning. And it says "Blessed are you Adonai our God, King of the universe, who formed man with wisdom and created within him openings and hollows. It is obvious and known in the presence of your glorious throne, that if one of them were ruptured, or if one of them were blocked, it would be impossible to exist and stand in your presence, even for a short while. Blessed are you Adonai who heals all flesh and performs wonders." Now, before we discuss it, it's much more poetic in the Hebrew when it talks about openings and hollows. In the Hebrew it's Nikavim Nikavim, Halulim Halulim, those of you who know the Torah knows, when it is emphatic about something, if it wants you to follow justice, it says Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof, it says the word twice. If it wants you to heal somebody it says heal twice. And I have to think of Carl Sagan also. "Billions and billions and billions". These words are poetic, lyrical, but they are absolutely celebrating the myriad of valves and canals and vessels and veins in the human body. What is your thought of this prayer Rabbi Do you also think it's very unique?

 

Adam Mintz  18:45

It is absolutely unique and it shows the kind of the inside of the rabbis appreciating that we need to thank God for everything. And there's nothing that's out of the realm of what we need to thank God for. And anyone who's ever had trouble with, you know, the Nikavim Nikavim, Halulim Halulim... all of that understands and appreciates why we have to thank God for all of that.

 

Geoffrey Stern  19:12

And fascinatingly, it doesn't, it doesn't hide from the fact that we're doing all this so that we can stand in Your presence even for a short while. "L'amod Lifanecha afilu sha'a echat", in a sense, it's it's not ignoring our humanity, and the fact that we are born and we die, and all of that, and, and the other part of it is getting back to what Becker was saying about this dichotomy, this schism, this dialectic between the physical nature in our in our very human mortal animal created nature. The next prayer that we say in the morning is "Elokai Nishama s'natata bi" thanking God for the soul that God has given us that is pure. "You created it, you formed it, you breathed it into me and you preserve it within me, you will eventually take it from me and restore it to me in the time to come." So I don't think that the rabbis are even ignoring the dichotomy. They're actually addressing it straight on, which is fascinating.

 

Adam Mintz  20:29

Absolutely fascinating. There's no apology, generally speaking, the rabbi's don't apologize.

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:35

So the question is, how did the World see this blessing? Did it see it as we're talking about it today is something unique and fascinating or not? So I came across when I was studying philosophy, and I came across an early essay by Karl Marx, and it's the subject matter was The Jewish Problem. He is very much of a self-hating Jew in many senses. And he writes the following. "The monotheism of the Jew, therefore, is in reality, the polytheism of the many needs, a polytheism, which makes even the laboratory and object of Divine Law. Practical need. egoism is the principle of civil society." And he goes on and on, and basically, he's making the argument of the grubby Jew. And it's interesting from a number of aspects. Number one, how learned was Marx that he knew about this prayer. Number two, did he make this up himself? Was this a widespread canard of those who looked upon this strange process of making this blessing? Have you Rabbi or anyone in the audience ever come across any anti-semitic tropes or other ways that this prayer, if you're aware of the prayer has been used both for or against the Jews?

 

Adam Mintz  22:17

I have not. But that would be amazing if we could find something. Did you look around a little bit?

 

Geoffrey Stern  22:24

I googled it. I did. Because it's hard to believe that Marx would come up with something like this in our zone. Right? You know, he's basically repeating tropes that have maligned the Jews before. So it is fascinating. But of course, when you see something like this, it's kind of a reality check that makes you say, Look, maybe it's not just me, who says that this prayer is so unique and illuminating. It compares, in very iconic way against what the Essenes took to be the divine, the concept of the Divine. It's, it's taken by a MOCs, and he sees it at this. It just seems to me that Judaism as a whole has a very different and I would suggest even healthy perspective on and we can talk about bodily functions, but what we're all ultimately talking about is the body. What makes us an animal what makes us a living, breathing creature with needs?

 

Adam Mintz  23:45

Yeah, I think that that's absolutely fantastic. I mean, I don't think that it's an anti-Jewish trope. I mean, I actually think that this shows, you know, this shows kind of the sensitivity of the rabbis. I always compare this to the idea of Shiva. You know, if you read .... you were talking about Becker's book, The Denial of Death, when you talk when you read books about death, and how sensitive the rabbinic tradition is, by having the idea of Shiva, you see that Judaism, that the rabbis were willing to address the hard parts of life, that just not just the easy parts of life, and going to the bathroom and sitting Shiva are all parts of the hard parts of life. And they're willing to deal with that, which I think is amazing.

 

Geoffrey Stern  24:32

And it's amazing when they deal with it in a way that one doesn't expect because what I gather from this prayer and the juxtaposition of it in the morning to another prayer that celebrates the soul is that it is a real celebration of the human body as a physical, decaying, finite body. And you know, those of you who have been listening to Madlik for a while know that I'm very cynical about an early Israelite, ancient Hebrew concept of a world to come, which is never mentioned, of either a world after death or eschatological world in some time in the future, it just seems to be very much "Shamayim al ha'aretz"  that this is as good as it gets, it's "heaven on earth". This is this is the way it is. But here, you do see this concept of dividing between a soul and a body. The soul is almost on loan, so to speak. But there's no question that who I am, who is the I in I, it is as much my physical body as it is my soul and somehow the rabbi's and Judaism have been able to navigate this maybe with a strong touch of humor, as well. And maybe that's where I did Google "bathroom humor and Jews". And it's a very popular discussion, I can tell you, there's, there's something about Jewish humor that relates to this subject, and maybe, you know, with humor, there's the addressing things that make ill at ease.

 

Adam Mintz  26:19

Did they did they give kind of a history of Jewish bathroom humor? Like, why do Jews have bathroom humor?

 

Geoffrey Stern  26:28

You know, again, I found I found some antisemitic stuff coming from where we come from, not a big surprise, but on the positive aspect. If anything, it was a little bit of what I'm discussing today, which is a very healthy perspective on the physicality of who we are.

 

Adam Mintz  26:50

So they're very positive about it.

 

Geoffrey Stern  26:52

I think that there are a lot of very positive comments about it. And and, you know, there's this, this thing of aging, too, you know, there used to be a website called "Old Jewish Men Tell Jokes". You know, the fact that we call an older person in pretty much every language, whether it's an "old fart", or an "AlterKaker". All of those words have to do with this being able to control one's body that we ultimately lose as we get older. And so maybe it also has to do with a healthy perspective on aging. And as I said before, you can't look at humor without looking at a very powerful tool for addressing things that are beyond our power to address.

 

Adam Mintz  27:46

I think that's good. I mean, I think It's amazing that what is basically a Midrash on this week's parsha turns into this gigantic topic, about how Jewish tradition and how the rabbis deal with things that most traditions, even most religious traditions, are generally afraid to deal with, and have euphemisms for it. Now, Judaism also has euphemisms. But it doesn't seem like in this regard, they really have euphemisms. They say it as it is, don't they?.

 

Geoffrey Stern  28:23

They do they do. And as someone who studies, the Talmud, you know, there's so much involved with bodily functions a lot has to do with the laws of purity. This case, not so much. But it's a very down to earth approach. That can sometimes be a little bit. I don't know the right word "numbing"? But on the other hand, if you if you look at it, if you look at the fact that Rabbinic Judaism, for sure, gets involved in the details of every minutia and small part of life. It does say something loud and clear that no manifesto and no mission statement could, which is the minutiae of our lives matter to us. The fact that all lives are not static, but that there's a beginning, a middle and an end, is not something that we ignore. You're talking this Shabbat about how Moses and Aaron took on this job very late in their life. There is no question that Judaism focuses at the different stages of life. And that each one is different. And it just is kind of fascinating, because it also mixes that up with with the spiritual.

 

Adam Mintz  29:51

Yeah, I think that's great. This is a this is a great topic. It really gives us something to think about. And what's really great about it is it's not the usual topic for Vayera... the usual topic of Vayera talks about the plagues and talks about Moses and Aaron and Pharaoh. And here we found something that really talks about something in a much bigger light. And it's a nice way to end the year and to begin a new year to understand how pervasive Judaism...  Rabbinic Judaism is in so many different aspects. So thank you, Geoffrey, for this amazing topic. Thank you, everybody, for joining us. We have a really nice crew that joined us tonight. Happy New Year to everybody. Shabbat shalom. And we look forward to seeing you next week, as we lead the Jews out of Egypt with Parshat Bo, Shabbat Shalom,

 

Geoffrey Stern  30:39

Shabbat shalom, Rabbi, and I would just like to say that I started by saying that we spend all this time in Exodus looking at Egypt, but we don't really talk about the pyramids and the whole religion based on an afterlife. And so it off-subject but it's very much on subject. And as we approach a new year, we all want to leave behind all our pyramids, our Sphinx is our monuments... a sign that we were on this earth, and I think that we share with all humanity. And the question is where we find it. And I bless all of us, that we find it in all the right places and I invite any of you who want to stay on and talk casually in the after-party to do so. But otherwise, Shabbat Shalom and happy new year and the mic is open land. Michael?

 

Michael Stern  31:36

Well, you really made me love the Jewish people today. Because, you know, poop is the baby's first creation. And I've read psychologists who say that, that's the first creation, and then the baby watches it being washed down and annihilated and disappear. And their first creation, they lose. And then America is constipated, go to any CVS or Walgreens, there's a whole aisle for constipation. So something has gone wrong with our appreciation of the addressing it like us have taught us that the Jews address this whole process. And I also liked when the rabbi talked about Shiva and death because "dust to dust", there's nothing really dirty about our poop. It is in fact fertilizer. And today in sustainable living, one doesn't flush it down, one takes their bucket and makes a pile like manure. And this is a gift back to the earth. So I just think our Jewish people were really right on and thanks for bringing up this subject. Really healing subjects for our world today.

 

Geoffrey Stern  33:09

Well, thank you so much. So Michael Posnik. Welcome back to the Bima. How are you today?

 

Michael Posnik  33:17

It's good to be here. Thank you very much for this discussion. A number of things have come to mind during the discussion, including the odd phrase, "Let my people go". [laugh] And it seems that one could say from a psychological or point of view that Pharaoh is anal retentive character. He wants to hold on to whatever he's holding on to. And he's being invited to let go a little bit. So the other thing that came to mind was that this was an opportunity for Moshe to see Pharaoh as a human being acting like a human being defecating like a human being. And it seems to me if you'll forgive the expression, it gives him a "leg up" in the future conversations. He also grew up in the palace of Pharaoh. So basically, he knows that Pharaoh is not; quote a god. He's a man playing that role. So when he's invited to see that the future conversations that he's going to have with Pharaoh would take a very different turn if he thought he was talking to a god. So, just a thought.

 

Geoffrey Stern  34:38

I love that. Let my people go. I won't. I won't say it the same way again for the rest of my life. Thank you for that.

 

Michael Posnik  34:47

Thank you Geoffrey.  Shabbat Shalom.

 

Geoffrey Stern  34:49

Shabbat Shalom. Yeah, and as I intimated, we talk a lot about God hardening the heart of Pharaoh, but this was a different aspect of him that we might not necessarily think about. But I think you're absolutely correct that he was anal. In this regard, he is the definition of anal. And so it really, in that one moment of him as a person and has is him as a nation, not permitting the Jewish people, this people of slaves to go. He is the personification of what is all bad about being anal and trying to control things, right.

 

Michael Posnik  35:37

And Moshe has just come from meeting with God. And so that beautiful phrase at the end of the prayer, that I'm not able to stand in front of you in your presence, Moses was in the presence of a God.

 

Geoffrey Stern  35:56

I would just like to conclude with one more paragraph from Ernest Becker that I really liked. It says anality explains why men yearn for freedom from contradictions and ambiguities, why they like their symbols pure, their truth with a capital T. The upsetting thing about anality is that it reveals that all culture all man's creative life ways are in some basic part of them, a fabricated protest against natural reality, a denial of the truth of the human condition and an attempt to forget  the pathetic creature that man is", and ultimately, every faith system and every romance and every ideal is basically saying, Yes, I know I am that creature, and I know that the world is full of contradictions and ambiguities, but I embrace them. I'm not afraid of them. And I can live with that contradiction. So let's all have a wonderful new year. That is full of contradictions, but we are up to it. We are up to the ambiguities, and we can make beauty from it. So Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Year to you all

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Listen to last week’s episode: Moses – Reluctant Magician

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The Nativity of a Child – redemption starts small..

exodus 1:22 – 2:4

(22) Then Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, “Every boy that is born you shall throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”

(1) A certain man of the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. (2) The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw how beautiful he was, she hid him for three months. (3) When she could hide him no longer, she got a wicker basket for him and caulked it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child into it and placed it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile. (4) And his sister stationed herself at a distance, to learn what would befall him.

(כב) וַיְצַ֣ו פַּרְעֹ֔ה לְכׇל־עַמּ֖וֹ לֵאמֹ֑ר כׇּל־הַבֵּ֣ן הַיִּלּ֗וֹד הַיְאֹ֙רָה֙ תַּשְׁלִיכֻ֔הוּ וְכׇל־הַבַּ֖ת תְּחַיּֽוּן׃

(א) וַיֵּ֥לֶךְ אִ֖ישׁ מִבֵּ֣ית לֵוִ֑י וַיִּקַּ֖ח אֶת־בַּת־לֵוִֽי׃ (ב) וַתַּ֥הַר הָאִשָּׁ֖ה וַתֵּ֣לֶד בֵּ֑ן וַתֵּ֤רֶא אֹתוֹ֙ כִּי־ט֣וֹב ה֔וּא וַֽתִּצְפְּנֵ֖הוּ שְׁלֹשָׁ֥ה יְרָחִֽים׃ (ג) וְלֹא־יָכְלָ֣ה עוֹד֮ הַצְּפִינוֹ֒ וַתִּֽקַּֽח־לוֹ֙ תֵּ֣בַת גֹּ֔מֶא וַתַּחְמְרָ֥ה בַחֵמָ֖ר וּבַזָּ֑פֶת וַתָּ֤שֶׂם בָּהּ֙ אֶת־הַיֶּ֔לֶד וַתָּ֥שֶׂם בַּסּ֖וּף עַל־שְׂפַ֥ת הַיְאֹֽר׃ (ד) וַתֵּתַצַּ֥ב אֲחֹת֖וֹ מֵרָחֹ֑ק לְדֵעָ֕ה מַה־יֵּעָשֶׂ֖ה לֽוֹ׃

Rashi on Exodus 2:1:1ויקח את בת לוי AND HE HAD TAKEN TO WIFE A DAUGHTER OF LEVI — He had lived apart from her in consequence of Pharaoh’s decree that the children should, on their birth, be drowned. Now he took her back and entered into a second marriage with her, and she also physically became young again. For really she was then 130 years old — for she was born “between the walls” when they were about to enter Egypt (cf. Rashi on Genesis 46:15) and they (the Israelites) remained there 210 years, and when they left Egypt Moses was 80 years old; consequently when she became pregnant with him she was 130 years old — and yet Scripture calls her בת לוי a young daughter of Levi (Sota 12a; Bava Batra 119b).

רש”י על שמות ב׳:א׳:א׳ויקח את בת לוי. פָּרוּשׁ הָיָה מִמֶּנָּה מִפְּנֵי גְּזֵרַת פַּרְעֹה, וְהֶחֱזִירָהּ וְעָשָׂה בָהּ לִקּוּחִין שְׁנִיִּים, וְאַף הִיא נֶהֶפְכָה לִהְיוֹת נַעֲרָה; וּבַת ק”ל שָׁנָה הָיְתָה, שֶׁנּוֹלְדָה בְּבוֹאָם לְמִצְרַיִם בֵּין הַחוֹמוֹת, וּמָאתַיִם וָעֶשֶׂר נִשְׁתַּהוּ שָׁם, וּכְשֶׁיָּצְאוּ הָיָה מֹשֶׁה בֶּן שְׁמוֹנִים שָׁנָה, אִם כֵּן כְּשֶׁנִּתְעַבְּרָה מִמֶּנּוּ הָיְתָה בַּת מֵאָה וּשְׁלוֹשִׁים וְקוֹרֵא אוֹתָהּ בַּת לֵוִי (עי’ סוטה י”ב, בבא בתרא קי”ט ושמות רבה):

Shemot Rabbah 1:22 And his sister stationed herself at a distance -why did Miriam stand from afar, Rabbi Amram said in the name of Rav, for she would make a prophesy and said in the future my mother would give birth to a son who would save (Yehoshiya) Israel, since Moses was born, the whole house was filled with light, her father stood and kissed her head, told her “my daughter, your prophesy has been fulfilled” as it is written: (Exodus 15: 20): Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels.” Aharon’s sister and not Moses’ sister, since she made this prophecy when she was Aharon’s sister and still no Moses was born, and since he was cast into the river, her mother stood and patted her on the head, told her my daughter and where is your prophecy?, and therefore it is written: “And his sister stationed herself at a distance” To know what will be at the end of her oracle. The Rabbis said all this verse was written in the name of the holy spirit as it is written: (Samuel I 3:10.): The LORD came, and stood there, and He called as before: “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel answered, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.” and (Proverbs 7, 4): “Say to Wisdom, “You are my sister,”and after (Jeremiah 31: 3): The LORD revealed Himself to me from afar”. “To know what would happen” from Samuel I 2:3 For the LORD is an all-knowing God; By Him actions are measured.

וַתֵּתַצַּב אֲחֹתוֹ מֵרָחֹק, לָמָּה עָמְדָה מִרְיָם מֵרָחוֹק, אָמַר רַבִּי עַמְרָם בְּשֵׁם רַב לְפִי שֶׁהָיְתָה מִרְיָם מִתְנַבֵּאת וְאוֹמֶרֶת עֲתִידָה אִמִּי שֶׁתֵּלֵד בֵּן שֶׁיּוֹשִׁיעַ אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל, כֵּיוָן שֶׁנּוֹלַד משֶׁה נִתְמַלֵּא כָּל הַבַּיִת אוֹרָה, עָמַד אָבִיהָ וּנְשָׁקָהּ עַל רֹאשָׁהּ, אָמַר לָהּ בִּתִּי נִתְקַיְּמָה נְבוּאָתֵךְ, הַיְינוּ דִּכְתִיב (שמות טו, כ): וַתִּקַּח מִרְיָם הַנְּבִיאָה אֲחוֹת אַהֲרֹן אֶת הַתֹּף, אֲחוֹת אַהֲרֹן וְלֹא אֲחוֹת משֶׁה, אֶלָּא שֶׁאָמְרָה נְבוּאָה זוֹ כְּשֶׁהִיא אֲחוֹת אַהֲרֹן וַעֲדַיִן לֹא נוֹלַד משֶׁה, וְכֵיוָן שֶׁהֱטִילוּהוּ לַיְּאוֹר, עָמְדָה אִמָּהּ וְטָפְחָה לָהּ עַל רֹאשָׁהּ, אָמְרָה לָהּ בִּתִּי וְהֵיכָן נְבוּאָתֵךְ, וְהַיְנוּ דִּכְתִיב: וַתֵּתַצַּב אֲחֹתוֹ מֵרָחֹק וגו’. לָדַעַת מַה יְּהֵא בְּסוֹף נְבִיאוּתָהּ. וְרַבָּנָן אָמְרִין כָּל הַפָּסוּק הַזֶּה עַל שֵׁם רוּחַ הַקֹּדֶשׁ נֶאֱמַר, וַתֵּתַצַּב, עַל שֵׁם (שמואל א ג, י): וַיָּבֹא ה’ וַיִּתְיַצַּב. אֲחוֹתוֹ, עַל שֵׁם (משלי ז, ד): אֱמֹר לַחָכְמָה אֲחֹתִי אָתְּ. מֵרָחֹק, עַל שֵׁם (ירמיה לא, ב): מֵרָחוֹק ה’ נִרְאָה לִי. לָדַעַת מַה יֵּעָשֶׂה לוֹ, עַל שֵׁם (שמואל א ב, ג): כִּי אֵל דֵּעוֹת ה’ [וכל הענין].

I have a custom of watching Midnight Mass and am happy to share with you two Sermons that were particularly meaningful for me, and I hope for you, on the concept of a new-born savior.

In 1995 I caught the midnight mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  I was so blown away by Cardinal O’Connor’s sermon that I wrote the Archdiocese of New York for a copy.  I kept it all these years, and have not found it reproduced on the web or in Google books.

The Cardinal quotes Arthur Miller:

“Jew is only the name we give to the stranger, that agony we cannot feel, that death we look at like a cold abstraction.  Each man has his Jew, it is the other. And the Jews have their Jews.”

He (the Cardinal) writes of Jesus: “That Baby was a Jew. He might have been black or Japanese or Eskimo. To hate a Jew because he is a Jew is not an offense merely against political correctness. To hate a Jew, or a Black, or a Hispanic, or a Muslim or a homosexual, simply because he or she is such, is to hate God.”

For the full text of the sermon click here.

Last night I heard the midnight mass given by Pope Francis:

Brothers and sisters, standing before the crib, we contemplate what is central, beyond all the lights and decorations, which are beautiful. We contemplate the child. In his littleness, God is completely present. Let us acknowledge this: “Baby Jesus, you are God, the God who becomes a child”. Let us be amazed by this scandalous truth. The One who embraces the universe needs to be held in another’s arms. The One who created the sun needs to be warmed. Tenderness incarnate needs to be coddled. Infinite love has a miniscule heart that beats softly. The eternal Word is an “infant”, a speechless child. The Bread of life needs to be nourished. The Creator of the world has no home. Today, all is turned upside down: God comes into the world in littleness. His grandeur appears in littleness.

For the full text of the sermon click here

Cardinal O’Conner’s sermon, in particular, struck a cord with my neshama… needless to say, I was not surprised to learn that in fact, the Cardinal also had a Jewish neshama….  According to the New York Times, John Cardinal O’Connor, the Cardinal of New York for 16 years, was Jewish…. and his grandfather was a Rabbi.

Shabbat Shalom!

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Moses – Reluctant Magician

parshat shemot (exodus 3-4)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on December 23rd 2021on Clubhouse as we discuss Judeo-Christian Magical Thinking….. Moses encounters a miraculous burning bush, receives a magical rod and learns an incantation of the name of God. But the Rabbis of the Talmud call Jesus a magician…. We explore the Hebrew Bible and Rabbinic Judaism’s uniquely ambivalent attitude to the miraculous.

Moses – Reluctant Magician

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse as we discuss Judeo-Christian Magical Thinking….. Moses encounters a miraculous burning bush, receives a magical rod and learns an incantation of the name of God. But the Rabbis of the Talmud call Jesus a magician….

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/371145

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:04

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. We also host Madlik disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern. And this week with Rabbi Adam Mintz we discuss Judeo Christian, magical thinking, Moses encounters a miraculous burning bush, he receives a magical staff and learns an incantation of God’s name, but the rabbi’s of the Talmud accuse Jesus of being the magician. Judaism’s ambivalent attitude to the miraculous is what our subject matter is tonight. So take out your magic wand and put on a top hat and let’s meet Moses, the Reluctant Magician. So welcome. You know, they say every parsha ultimately turns out to be very relevant to the times we’re in. And I think that the calendar this year is such that we probably don’t have the first chapter or the first parsah of Exodus called Exodus Shemot coincide with Christmas, very often, but here we are and because so much about this time of year is about miracles, I think that it suits us to read the story of Moses from the lens of the Miraculous;  Magic, and see how the text of the Torah, how later rabbinic tradition and how even Christianity saw the use of magic and miracles, in their narrative, their story and their belief system. So let’s start with Exodus 3.  You all know that Moses was tending the flock, and he went into the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire out of a bush, he gazed, and there was a bush all aflame, yet the bush was not consumed. Moses said, I must turn aside to look at this marvelous sight. Why doesn’t the bush burn up? When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to look, called him and said, Moses, Moses, he answered who I am, Hineni. And he said, Do not come close to remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. And we all know that God then told him that he has remembered the children of Israel, and he’s seen their plight. And he continues in verse 10, “come, therefore, I will send you to Pharaoh, and you shall free my people, the Israelites from Egypt. But Moses said to God, who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt, and he said, I will be with you, that shall be your sign that it was I who sent you “ze l’cha ha’ot”, this will be the sign. And when you have freed the people from Egypt, You shall worship God at this mountain. Moses said to God, when I come to the Israelites, and say to them, the God of your fathers has sent me and they ask me, What is his name? What shall I say to them? And God said to Moses, “Ehiye Asher Ehiye” he continued, thus shall you say to the Israelites, Ehiye sent you to me. So so far, we have a miracle of a burning bush. And we have what many could consider an incantation, a secret name of God, that he was to tell to the children of Israel, to establish himself. Then it goes on. Go and assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, the Lord, the God of your forefathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has appeared to me and said, I have taken note of you, and what is being done to you in Egypt. And he says, yet I know that the king of Egypt will let you go only because of great might. So I will stretch out my hand and smite Egypt with various wonders. “niflaot”, another word for miracle, which I will work upon them. After that, he shall let you go. And then Moses starts complaining and saying, what what about me? He says, What if they do not believe Me and do not listen to me? But say the Lord did not appear to you and the Lord had said to him, What is that in your hand, and he replied, Rod, and he said, cast it on the ground, he cast it on the ground, and it became a snake, a nachash. And Moses recoiled from it. Then the Lord said to Moses, Put out your hand and grasp it by the tail, he put out his hand and seized it. And it became a rod in his hand, that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, did appear to you. And then he goes on says, if they don’t believe that miracle, stick your hand into your vest and pull it out. And all of a sudden, it was encrusted with scales. And he says, now put it back into your vest, he put it back in, and Miraculously, he was healed. And he says, Well, what happens if they still don’t believe me, and he says, You will be able to take that magic rod that I gave you, and you’ll be able to touch the water and the water of the Nile, pour it onto the ground, and it will turn into blood. And then, of course, we know as the story progresses, that actually all of these miracles do happen. So let’s stop here. I think I can coin a phrase of gratuitous miracle. I think this is the first time in the Torah and we’ve read it all the way through Genesis, we’ve seen miraculous things. But this in terms of the burning bush, at least, is the first time that we’ve seen a miracle for its own sake to grab attention. I mean, we’ve seen miracles of Lot’s wife leaving Sedom turning around and being turned into a pillow of soil. That was a punishment. We’ve seen miraculous births. We’ve seen all sorts of miracles. But Rabbi, am i right, if we just focus on the first of the many miracles in these passages, that this is a gratuitous miracle.

Adam Mintz  06:57

There’s no question that that’s right. I mean, this is a gratuitous miracle. And it’s a miracle that kind of comes from nowhere, like you’re not quite sure you know why there’s a need for the miracle. Moses says, Who am I to go to Pharaoh? And God says, I’m going to be with you. And as the proof that I’ll be with you, I’m going to perform a miracle. Why does God need to perform the miracle doesn’t make sense. If you can’t trust God, who can you trust? So I mean, I think that the other miracles even that we’ve mentioned till now, where he teaches them how to use this magic rod, or he teaches him the trick of healing the leprosy. At least, that’s forward thinking, and that’s looking towards, you’re going to have to get out there, you’re going to have to convince people, you’re going to have to speak their language, if you will. But with that first miracle of the burning bush, and you know, the Jewish Theological Seminary, the conservative movement, they took that as their theme. It’s an iconic moment. It’s hard to understand how that fits into the tradition. And I think what I’m trying to get at is, we don’t have gratuitous miracles in our tradition that really lies at the basis of my question is, is it valid?

Adam Mintz  08:24

So I want to go back to what you call the incantation. Ehiye asher Ehiye Iwill be that I will be what is God telling Moses? What kind of name of God is that? Ehiye Asher Ehiye Maimonides actually says that that is one of the names of God. God has many names. One of God’s names is that Ehiye Asher Ehiye, I will be that I will be. I’ve always understood, Moshe says to God, who am I to go to Pharaoh? And God answers says, Don’t worry so much. I’ll be there with you. Ehiye Asher Ehiye, I will be there. To me what that means is that God is promising Moshe that he’s going to be there in the moment. You know, you think about presidents or kings? The last they’re never in the moments, right? They have to deal with the with the big picture. They can deal with every, every single person’s moment. And what God says to Moses is, even though I’m God, Ehiye Asher Ehiye I will be there in the moment with you. You don’t have to worry about going to Pharaoh, I will be there in that moment. And I think that that’s a very, very powerful incantation. Because what that really says about God generally is Ehiye Asher Ehiye God promises to be there for everybody in their moment. God doesn’t doesn’t rule The way kings or presidents rule to be just kind of over the, to kind of, you know, can administer the big picture and to leave the details to others. God actually is interested in the details. And that’s an amazing comment. Now that doesn’t answer why we need a gratuitous miracle. I think that’s the second question. But the first question about the incantation, probably that’s the most important identification of God that we have had yet kind of identifying God telling Moshe what and who God really is that God is in the moment.

Geoffrey Stern  10:38

So I think that what you and I Rabbi have in common is, we just can’t take a miracle by itself. We can’t take an incantation by itself. We as Jews need to see symbolism. It has to mean something. We’re not just looking for someone to say, boom, I did something miraculous, I pulled a rabbit out of the hat. Therefore, you have to believe me. And one of my arguments tonight is that is very deeply Jewish. So supplement or even emphasize your interpretation of Ehiye Asher Ehiye, Let’s go back to the bush for a second Rashi comes and says as follows. He says, Why is it an “Ot” and now we’re starting to get into the multiplexity of what a miracle is in Judaism. It calls it an “ot” but all of us know that the Tephilin the phylacteries that we put on our arm and on our head is called an “Ot” it’s a sign. It’s a something designed to symbolically transmit a message we call Shabbat an “ot”, a sign. So it could be that the rabbinic tradition doesn’t even take the burning bush, as a miracle. It takes it as a sign. And Rashi says that just as thou has seen the bush carrying out its mission I laid upon it, and it was not consumed. So you too shall go on your mission, and you shall not be consumed. And the Ramban gives a different explanation. But all of them are kind of like Jungians looking at this from a symbolic message-oriented approach, they’ve almost ignored the fact that it was a miracle. I would almost argue that they don’t consider it a miracle. They consider it a sign. It’s like looking at a painting, what does it mean to you? And so they are taking from the burning bush, a sign that God will be with you, Moses, and Ramban takes it to mean God will be with the Jewish people. And that is one of the interpretations that especially Buber and Rosensweig give to Ehiye Asher Ehiye, it’s similar what you said, you said that I will be with you in the present. The way they look at it is again, I will be down there with you, I will be there with you.

Adam Mintz  13:23

I think that’s what they mean. But I’m really shouting channeling their view, I will be down there with you, I’ll be there in the moment with you. You don’t need to worry.

Geoffrey Stern  13:35

So So again, all of a sudden, we have taken the first miracle and kind of neutralized it because we’ve said it’s more of something symbolic that is designed to catch the attention. And the emphasis is not on changing the rules of nature. And now we’re taking what I called an incantation. And we’re saying no, no, it’s not a mumbo jumbo magical words. It actually is again a message. And Everett Fox who wrote a commentary on the Bible. He says the following. He says it’s also possible that Ehiye asher Ehiye is a deliberately vague phrase, whose purpose is anti magical, and an attempt to evade the question. And he goes and gives  the fascinating history of this term that was used by the kabbalists , who, as you say, gave many names to God, who used it as a kind of a magical charm word in the Middle Ages. And then he talks about how then it turned full cycle and again, became something that was just a meaningful message. So it really is so fascinating how we Jews…..  It’s like you know, somebody can’t take Yes for an answer, We at this point in time of the commentaries and the discussion that we’ve had, we find it hard to accept a miracle, don’t we?

Adam Mintz  15:10

We definitely do. I mean, I think that’s right now, you talk about whether it’s a miracle or aside, I think the fact that the bush was not consumed, that, to me is a miracle.Right? Isn’t a miracle by definition, something that breaks the laws of nature, the fact that the bush was not consumed. Sounds to me like a miracle.

15:36

I agree with you. But I also would like to emphasize that the takeaway for the commentaries was, Well, you see that bush wasn’t consumed and it was doing God’s will, we won’t be consumed either. So So again, it was a lack of interest, even in the miraculous aspect of it. So we’ve looked at the word “Ot” is a word that can be used as a sign as a symbol, and also a miracle. The, the, the other one that I’d love to talk about is the “Nes” a word that we’ve we probably know. But again, as we’ve probably commented before, has multiple meanings. So of course, before the sacrifice or the binding of Isaac, it says, And God, “Nisa, et Avraham”. And, the word there, there seems to be no miracle, unless, again, you want to go to the end of the story, and an ox miraculously shows up. But all of the commentaries there say that a Nes, and I think the Ramban is the most famous, he talks about how a Nes, a trial of a person brings from potential into actual, it tests you. So it shows what you’re capable of both to yourself, and to God. But again, it’s this sense that the word for miracle “nes” is is also a miracle of inspiration, aspiration, and something that tests us.

Adam Mintz  17:25

So that’s fascinating, the use of the word NES, to test and also to be a miracle is a very, very interesting thing. So God tests Avraham, I don’t buy the fact that that means that there’s going to be a miracle. I mean, God tested Abraham, that’s what it means. And that’s the explanation is that he wanted to bring out the potential in Abraham. And that’s what a miracle does. A miracle brings out the potential. Now the potential of what the miracle is, or what the miracle represents, as you want to say. So actually, it’s the same word. It’s bringing out the potential in something. But it’s so interesting that the same word is used to work to test and for a miracle, even though there’s so much they’re so different from one another….. that’s what’s so interesting, how can they be so different from one another?

Geoffrey Stern  18:32

I agree. And I and I want to emphasize that this is not a supposition or a kind of a comparison that we’ve come up …. with the rabbi’s play with it themselves. I think I’ve quoted in the past Perkei Avot chapter 5: 6, which says that the 10 Obvious miracles that happened, things such as the Earth swallowing up Korach, or the mouth of the donkey of Billam. Speaking, these 10 things, according to the Mishenh of Pirkei Avot were created in The Twilight Hours of creation. In other words, I always use this to show that the rabbi’s was so adverse to breaking the laws of nature, to a miracle that what they did was they said no, no, no, it’s not an exception to the program. When God was writing the code for the future. He wrote these little hacks into it. So it’s not a miracle little interestingly, the burning bush is not in that list……  But what I had never realized is if you go up a few paragraphs, a few Mishnaot in Pirke Avot, you get the following 10 trials was Abraham or father may he rest in peace tried assara nisaynot nitnase Avraham and it says and 10 Miracles were wought for ancestors is in Egypt, Asara Nisim naaseh l’avotentu it is freely going between the use of the word of Nes as a trial and Nes as a miracle. And then of course, it says that there were 10 Miracles were wought for our ancestors in Egypt and 10 at the sea, those of you who have been to a Seder, one of the most annoying I think parts of the seder is when Rabbi Akiva is saying it wasn’t 10, but it was 10 times 10. And it was 10 times 10 times 10. So to say that we don’t have an element of infatuation with miracles, I think would be false. But it does certainly say we take them in a fascinating new new way. I would say there’s an ambiguity here.

Adam Mintz  20:52

Well, let’s, let’s just take one second, that part of the Haggadah that talks about 10 times 10. And that whole thing, you know, how many miracles were there? That’s a different kind of miracle, because that’s about destroying the enemy. And you know, so that’s not a miracle in the sense of breaking the laws of nature. That’s how God is able to be victorious in a way that breaks the usual rules. He was totally victorious over the enemy. So I think that that is a slightly different use of the term.

Geoffrey Stern  21:29

Okay, I definitely accept that. Let’s look a little bit further. When you look at Judaism in terms of magic, you have to go to the code of law as well. And in Deuteronomy 18: 9 it says, Let no one be found among you who consigned his son or daughter to the fire, or who is an auger a soothsayer, a diviner, a sorcerer, one who cast spells or one who consults ghosts, or familiar spirits, or one who inquires of the the dead. And the words that are used here is Kosem kisamim,, m’onen, minachesh um’kasef. Michasefa is a witch. But I want to focus for a second on Minachesh . Minachesh. Haste is a word that’s used for a making magic. We are in the west or in the east, I should say, have a tradition of a snake charmer. Nahash is a snake. And here seconds ago, when we read from our Parsha, they take the rod and they throw it down. And in this version, it becomes an Nachash. So I don’t want to say that we’re having wordplay here. But there is no question that these themes of playing with reality I think the Nahash has a sense of dishonesty of screwing, and defacing reality is part of this magic, but it’s prohibited in Judaism, which is kind of fascinating as well.

Adam Mintz  23:19

Well, we have to remember a very important thing. In Egypt, Pharaoh has his own magicians. So at the beginning of the story this week, and next week, it’s actually a game between Moses and Pharaoh’s magicians, Moses performs a miracle, and they match the miracle. So magic clearly had a different role in Egypt than it does in the Torah. And it might just be, and I’m not making this up a lot of the commentaries say this, that the reason the Torah in Deuteronomy prohibits magic, is because the Egyptians thought that magic was so important that they believe that magic somehow was God-like, and therefore to kind of uproot that, we say that magic is not allowed. So actually, what you read from the code might actually be a reaction to the stories we’re reading now, which makes it even more interesting. So that God really descends to the level of the Egyptians, in order to make a point, and Moses, in a lot of ways is an Egyptian. And therefore Moses understands the idea of magic. God was actually speaking to Moses and Moses in terms that Moses understood. And I think we need to go back to something that you read at the beginning. And that is God says Moses, you need to go to Pharaoh and Moses It says to God, who am I to go to Pharaoh? Now on one hand, that’s humility and humility is always good. But at the same time when God says do something, isn’t it automatic that God’s gonna make sure that you’re successful? Isn’t it a little bit of a Chuzpah for Moshe to say, I’m not going who am I to go?

Geoffrey Stern  25:20

Well, absolutely. And I think that raises the question of what was Moses’ objection? We normally say that Moses says, I am not a man of words, the Hebrew is Lo Ish Dvarim anochi I am not a man of words. I’m not a man of things. In the context of the conversation, all God is asking him to do is to tell the story that he saw the bush that was not burned, the “mareh” (miraculous vision) that he saw, he’s asking him to repeat over the incarnation of the power of this God-word. He’s asking him to throw down his rod and turn it into a snake. And then something happens. And this is early in the relationship of God to Moses. And he said, “Please, oh, Lord, make someone else your agent. The Lord became angry with Moses.” And he said, Get your brother. When was another time that God was angry with Moses? When was God so angry with Moses, that he changed his life

Adam Mintz  26:41

when he hit the rock,

Adam Mintz  26:42

When he hit the rock, and what was hitting the rock if not doing a miracle, and Moses didn’t do it, right. So he that he was not good at being a magician, or, remember, God said, Speak to thee. This is, this is a modern day Alexa story. You know, God says, talk to them. He didn’t listen. So he hit it. But but the point is, that we as we do with any biblical character, we try to understand what is behind that character, who that character is. And I don’t want to project on Moses and make it sound like he was anti miracle. But in a sense, we don’t know for sure that he was slow to speech. We know within the context of this discussion, that the things that he was being asked to do, and to repeat in front of Pharaoh was these types of things, symbolic acts, miraculous acts, and God got angry at him. And God got angry at him again, in the end of his life. So it certainly does give us a little bit of a perspective on Moses that I had not thought of before.

Adam Mintz  28:03

I think that’s really good god getting angry at Moses, is the word anger or the word frustrating. You see God’s frustrated, the relationship between God and Moses is a unique relationship in the Torah. Because actually, in a way, the conversation that takes place between God and Moses, in chapter three this week, is actually a conversation doesn’t happen anywhere else in the Torah, of someone talking to God that way, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not speak to God, the way Moses speaks to God. And I think that’s something that’s interesting. This is something we’re going to see again, after the sin of the worshipping of the golden calf. God says, I want to destroy the people. And Moses says, No, you will not. And God listens to Moses. So it seems to be that there’s a kind of understanding between the two of them, that Moses can speak to God in a way that nobody else can speak to God. And I think that that’s really, really important.

Geoffrey Stern  29:06

I totally agree. But I do think that we are privy to an aspect of Moses that seems to have issues with miracles one way or the other. And, and what I’d like to do as we finish I promised that because of the confluence of Shabbat, and Christmas, we would talk a little bit about Christianity and Jesus, there was a professor at Columbia named Morton Smith, and he wrote a very controversial book called Jesus The Magician. And his argument basically is and it comes from sources outside of Christianity. So some of those sources are ones like Celsus, who was a Greek thinker, and some of them were the Talmud. But the main opponents of Christianity, one of their main arguments was that Jesus was nothing more than a magician. And Morton Smith takes a look at the types of miracles that Jesus did. And by the way, he got a PhD in Talmudic at Hebrew University, he was a close friend of Grershom Scholom and Saul Lieberman. And he says that you know, the stories of turning the water into the wine, he just wanted to outdo Moses turning or the editors wanted to, to outdo Moses turning the water into the blood, walking on the water wanted to outdo crossing, the Red Sea, healing, which was a very big part of the magician’s work. Again, we came across those typos in this week’s parsha with a three miracles, the three types of miracles that God shows to his would-be magician, Moses is curing the hand of leprosy, turning the water into blood, and of course, the miracle of the staff. So he tries to make an argument about the historic Jesus, I would tend to say, we can’t do that. All we can say is that with the competition, sometimes healthy, sometimes not so much. between Christianity and Judaism, it made both religions rethink their relationship with miracles, the Church Fathers, even according to Morton Smith, hid these criticisms, they censor the Talmud, where it said that Jesus was a magician, and could heal the sick. But there were other thinkers who have come in and said, you know, really, that Judaism and Christianity, Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity came at the same moment. And some things were influenced in one direction, and others in another. So as we approach Shabbat, which is also Christmas, I think we can safely say that in our texts in our parsah in the texts that are going to be lived and celebrated by our Christian brothers and sisters. There is an open question about what is magical, and what is meaningful. What is wonder, and, and what is simple magic… playing with nature and trying to impress, and I think that’s a fascinating discussion. And if you look at the source notes, books, like Jesus in the Talmud, written by another scholar, and Morton Smith are fascinating. I think we learn about ourselves by learning about other religions that grew at the same time as us.

Adam Mintz  32:58

I think that’s that’s a great way to end. And I think, you know, we raised a whole bunch of fascinating questions about the beginning of the story of Moses, and about the beginning of the relationship of God and Moses, and Morton Smith, who obviously was a legend. You know, and one of the great scholars who was knowledgeable and Talmud and wrote about Christianity, I think he’s the perfect scholar to quote, as we approach Christmas…. he would smile to know that he was quoted as we get ready to, to observe Shabbat, which is also Christmas. So I want to wish everybody Shabbat Shalom, enjoy the beginning of the book of Exodus. It’s a great book, and we look forward next week to continue next week, Geoffrey will start talking about the plagues. And there’s nothing more fascinating than the plagues.

Geoffrey Stern  33:45

So thank you so much, Rabbi, Shabbat Shalom. But I do think that, at least on Madlik, we do have a moment of goodwill to man and peace on earth, we are discussing each other’s texts with respect and learning. And I think we live in a golden age of dialogue, especially between Judaism and Christianity. And any of you who have an opportunity to read some of the books, whether by Levinson, or by Daniel Boyarin , or Morton Smith, or whatever. You’ll be surprised at the level of learning of our Christian brothers and sisters, and their willingness and thirst to learn our texts as well. Michael, welcome to the Bima

Michael Stern  34:34

Thank you, Geoffrey, today’s talk about miracles and what’s a miracle and the burning bush that didn’t burn and using miracles to compete. I’m always relating it to life today is I find it’s a miracle to grow up in an alcoholic home and somehow forgive or to grow up as a gay boy in a religious Jewish home and feel part of the family or to marry a non-Jewish person and be a Jew and be loved and accepted, be ADD …. You made some life situations that we all live with. You turn them into miracles for me a miracle of who each of us are to come out of this evolving time. And I just want to thank you and ask… I know I take it to this different place if, if this resonates and Christmas and bringing it all together and talking about it. As Jews, you just really did a lot of beautiful making magic in real life.

Michael Stern  35:55

Well, thank you so much. I think miracles are kind of like beauty they are in the eye of the beholder. And those of us who want to see miracles can see them everywhere. And maybe that’s ultimately the real message of the burning bush that he saw it and that’s what God saw in him that he was someone who could recognize a miracle when it was there. So Shabbat Shalom, thank you so much all for joining us, and we’ll see you next week.

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Listen to last week’s episode: Members of the Tribe

Members of the Tribe

Parshat Vayechi – Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse December 16th 2021 as we recognize that Jacob introduced the handle #TwelveTribes. The book of Genesis ends, as does Deuteronomy with blessings over these iconic Twelve Tribes of Israel but the count is unclear.

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Filed under Bible, Jewish jesus, magic, miracle, Religion, Torah

Members of the Tribe

parshat vayechi (genesis 49)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on Thursday December 16th 2021 as we recognize that Jacob introduced the handle #TwelveTribes. The book of Genesis ends, as does Deuteronomy with blessings over these iconic Twelve Tribes of Israel but the count is unclear. Joseph is at times counted as one tribe and at times subdivided. Shimon and Levi are likewise alternately diminished or removed. What are we to make of these inconsistencies and of Jacob’s desire to share the future? Join us as we discuss who’s in and who’s out and what it all means for us.

Members of the Tribe

Parshat Vayechi – Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse December 16th 2021 as we recognize that Jacob introduced the handle #TwelveTribes. The book of Genesis ends, as does Deuteronomy with blessings over these iconic Twelve Tribes of Israel but the count is unclear.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/369304

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:04

Welcome to Madlik, my name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. We also host Madlik disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern. And this week along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we explore the ins and outs of the 12 tribes. So gather your tribe together and join us as we discuss Members of the Tribe who’s in and who’s out, and what it all means for us.

Geoffrey Stern  00:38

So, welcome to Madlik, we keep this as a podcast, and we’ll post it before Shabbat. So if you enjoy what you hear, share it with friends, give us a few stars, and write a nice review. In any case, this week, the parsha is vayechi and as you mentioned last week, Rabbi it is the end of the book of Genesis. So it’s a momentous occasion. And it’s really about Jacob, the last of the patriarchs, on his deathbed, so to speak, blessing, at least his grandchildren, Manasseh and Ephraim. And then although many people think that he is blessing the rest of his boys, we will be the judge. Because the blessings can be pretty harsh, to even put it mildly. But I have to say that, you know, there are many aspects of the parsha that are fascinating. But I am looking forward to seeing a West Side Story. And that is about tribes, and that is about different clans and gangs. And so I decided let’s talk about the tribes because they feature so highly here. And in fact, as we shall see, it’s the first time in the Bible that not only are the tribes of Israel mentioned, but also the fact that there are 12 tribes mentioned. So in Genesis 49, it starts out pretty innocuously. And it says And Jacob called his sons and said, Come together that I may tell you what will befall you in the days to come “B’achrit Hayamim”. And I don’t know about you, Rabbi. But when when I was studying in the seminary, in the yeshiva, everybody seemed to follow the traditional explanation of what happens ‘B’achrit Hayamim”, in the end of days, so to speak, and this is the first reference to eschatology to the end of days. And this is the interpretation that Nachmanidies for one gives. And he goes “and everybody agrees that this is what this is talking about”. And of course, what is a little surprising is the fact that it doesn’t mention anywhere these “end of days”, takes a little bit away from his argument, and he has to actually explain if he’s going to make a prediction about the end of days, why doesn’t he say it? And the traditional explanation is that he was hushed up by the angels, because we can’t know what will happen in the end of days. So let’s start right there. What Rabbi do you think is meant here by “b’achrit hayamim” in the days to come. Is Jacob about to make a big disclosure and is hushed up?

Adam Mintz  03:53

So the rabbi’s like to say it like that. Like this was almost the moment when we would know what was going to happen for all of us. And it didn’t happen. But I don’t think that’s the simple reading of the Torah. I think the simple reading of the Torah tells us that what what’s really going on here is that Jacob is making predictions for each of his sons about what’s gonna happen. I think that’s the key word. Sometimes we say the blessings that Jacob gave to his sons, but it’s not true. They’re not all blessings, some of them are actually not blessings. Some of them are curses. And so therefore, I think “b’acharit Hayamim” is what Jacob is saying to them is, this is what’s going to happen to you in the time to come. This is what you should expect from your tribe going forward. So Judah gets the blessing of kingship. And Joseph gets the blessing of a double portion. And Simeon and levy get cursed because they, you know, killed the people of Shchem. It’s a prediction of what will happen ‘B’acharit Hayamim”.

Geoffrey Stern  05:19

So, you know, I think throughout Genesis, we found many times where it’ll give the name of a place, and it’ll say, this is what it’s called “ad Hayom Hazeh” up until these times, and of course, biblical critics will use that as proof that it was written at a later date, and those who are loyal to the fact that it is a holy writ. And it was given at Sinai will say simply that the Torah knew that it was going to be read in in many ages to come and made a prediction. So I think we can kind of quickly get around that problem and let Jewish commentators whether they believe that the tone was written at a later date, or not speak with each other. And I’m almost tempted to start calling the Madlik podcast into the Shadal podcast. Because once again, I am visiting my my new friend, Shmuel David Luzzatto. And he actually references these critics. And he says that clearly there is no reference here to the days of the Messiah. And clearly it relates to the conquest of the Land of Israel and its division. So the the direction that he takes it in is, as we shall see, it’s the first time that we will get a reference to the tribes of Israel even to the 12 tribes of Israel. And rather than blessings, we shall see that Jacob is actually describing and evaluating the children. And we’re going to focus on Shimon and Levi in particular, because Shimon and Levi are picked out. And he says something when he talks to them about what the ramifications will be of his negative critique. So let’s go right to the portion. It starts by saying listen to Israel, your father, Rueben is my firstborn. And he talks about how he was the the child who gave him his fruit and vigor and rank, but in a little bit of an Oedipal moment, we didn’t discuss this on Madlik, but Reuben did try to lay on his father’s bed, and so he’s not happy with Reuben.  But then he gets to Shimon and Levi and he says Shimon and Levi are a pair their weapons are tools of lawlessness, let not my person be included in their council. Let not my being be counted in their assembly. For when angry they slay men and when pleased, they maim oxen, curse it be their anger is so fierce and their wrath, so relentless, I will divide them in Jacob scatter them in Israel. So here and we’re going to get to the background, the context of why he is cursing them in a sense and thinking unhighly of them. But for now, I would like to focus on ‘Achalet B’Yaakov V’afitzam b’Yisrael” that I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel. …. If any of you now or after a Google map of the tribes of Israel, you will see two interesting facts. Number one, the tribe of levi did not get a portion they were given towns throughout the land of Israel. I think if you want it to reference a Buddhist monk who lives off of charity who lives off of tithes, you would have a better picture of the way the Levi’s were living in the land of Israel. They were given land to live in houses to have, cities if you will, but not to have agriculture and they were dependent on the tithes the Ma’aser, given by the rest of Israel. And then if you look in that map and you look at Shimon, you will see that Shimon is inside of the tribe of Judah. So the truth is that this “I will divide them and scatter them in Israel” actually does relate to the distribution of land to the tribes of Israel, that’s the Shadal’s reading, I find it very convincing. What about you, Rabbi?

Adam Mintz  10:07

I didn’t know that reading. That’s, that’s a good reading. And that’s what it means to really to separate them. It’s interesting, then in the predictions, he says, Shimon and Levi “achim” (brothers). He puts shit Shimon and Levi together, they’re the only two tribes that are put together, everybody else gets their own lesson or their own prediction, but Shimon and Levi, get a joint prediction. What do you make of that?

Geoffrey Stern  10:39

Well, you know, I think the commentaries will say that they had the same mindset, that they were of the same philosophy. I will make a point later, that because we are talking about tribes here, it’s not necessary that it gets wrapped up with a bow. So simply that these are necessarily the 12 children of Jacob.  You could make the argument that what we are experiencing here in the book of Genesis, is how different peoples different tribes different clans, came together, and united in the land of Israel. And from that perspective, when it says about two of them that they were Achim, maybe that means they were literally Achim / brothers, but some of the others maybe not so much, but I’m going out on a limb there, I definitely think they were like minded.

Adam Mintz  11:39

That’s good that that’s interesting to kind of give a positive twist to it. They were brothers, they were like minded. Turns out, they didn’t necessarily do the right thing, but they were likeminded.

Geoffrey Stern  11:54

So as I said, in this last bequest, Jacob does for the first time say in verse 16, Dan shall govern his people as one of the Tribes of Israel “Shivtei Yisrael”. And since it’s the first time that we think of Shivtei (tribes), it does give us pause, because until now, we were talking about a closely knit family, we weren’t talking about tribes, per se. And then towards the very end, it says, “All these were the tribes of Israel 12 in number”. And the interesting thing about this 12 In number is that there are other places in the Torah, where the number of members of the tribes are delineated. And they’re not always the same in terms of membership, they are always the same in equaling 12. In this particular rendering, there is no Manasseh and Ephraim who if you look at that map that I hope you Google, you will see that there were two tribal spots for Manasseh and Ephraim, and there is no spot for Joseph. So in a sense, Joseph did get the [status of] firstborn who gets a double portion. But there were other times at the end of Deuteronomy, which we read a few months ago, that again, Moses blesses all of the tribes of Israel. And there believe it or not, there is no mention of Shimon. So I think we can kind of conclude from that, that there is a dedication to this number 12, whether it’s 12 months of the year, whether it’s the signs of the zodiac, whether it’s just something that is universally accepted as complete and unified. The idea is that there was a unified people, but the membership is not all to gather clear. Do you think that’s a safe supposition?

Adam Mintz  14:02

I think that that is a safe supposition. Yes, I would agree with that.

Geoffrey Stern  14:07

Good. So now, let’s get to the meat of the story. I said that I really was driven here by the upcoming release of West Side Story. And of course, West Side Story is based on Romeo and Juliet. And I think if you keep that in mind, and now we’re going to read why Shimon and Levi got the bad end of Jacob’s wrath here. We’re going to read a story that really can be read and smack of a Romeo and Juliet type of story. So it goes back into Genesis 34. And it says, Dina, the daughter of Leah, born to Jacob went out to visit the daughters of the land, Shchem, son of Hamor the Hivitte chief of the country, “nasi Ha’aretz”  saw her and took her and lay with her. And my English translation says, By force.  So, so far, we have a rape, “being strongly drawn to Dina daughter of Jacob and in love with the maiden and he spoke to the maiden and tenderly” gets a little complicated now, because now it sounds like a love story.

Adam Mintz  15:27

Right

Geoffrey Stern  15:28

“Shchem said to his father, Hamor, get me this girl, as a wife, Jacob heard that he had defiled his daughter Dina. But since his sons were in the field with his cattle, Jacob kept silent until they came home.” So we clearly see that Jacob is ambivalent, maybe he needs to talk with the other sons in terms of what his strategy should be how he should relate. But anyway, his response is not to get a clear either. “Then Shchem’s father Hamor came out to Jacob to speak to him. Meanwhile, Jacob’s sons, having heard the news came in from the field”, this is very dramatically written. “The men were distressed and very angry, because he had committed an outrage in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, a thing not to be done “v’Ken Lo Yaaseh”, and Hamor spoke to them saying, My son, Shchem longs for your daughter, please give her to him, in marriage. Iintermarrie with us. Give your daughters to us and take our daughters for yourselves, you will dwell among us, and the land will be opened before you settle, move about and acquire things. Then Shchem said to his father and brothers, do me this favor, and I will pay whatever you tell me, ask of me a bride price ever so high, as well as gifts, and I will pay” and the story goes on. And the brothers come back and they’re very angry. And they come back and it says at this point, it says “you have one condition that we will agree with you. And that is that every male be circumcised, then we will give our daughters to you and take your daughters to ourselves.” So depending how you look at it, you could say that they are using ritual and circumcision as leverage. Alternatively, you could be saying that they are agreeing to become a kindred. And since the Israelites have believed in circumcision, they were asking them to join their group to join their tribe. “Then Hamor and his son Shchem went to the public place of their town and spoke to their fellow townsmen.” So he had to just as Jacob had kind of waited until his people, his children came home to discuss it with them. Now, Hamor does the same thing, and he discusses it with his fellow townspeople. To make a long story short, he convinces all of the townspeople to get circumcised. On the third day, which according tradition, is the hardest day to recuperate from surgery. Shimon and Levi come, and they slaughter all the people of Shchem and then the rest of the boys come in, and they rob all of the belongings, they plunder the town that defiled their sister. Jacob thinks he has the last word and he says, “What have you done? We are a minority, we are weak, my men are few in number so that if they the Shchemits unite against me and attack me, I in my house will be destroyed. He says, You have brought calamity upon us.” And Shimon and Levi said, No, “should our sister be treated like a hore?”, we did the right thing. So this could be a story of rape. But I would argue as much as you have in here, the ingredients of a rape, you also have the ingredients of a love story. You also have the ingredients of a turf war between two vying tribes and the potential for bringing those tribes together. How do you read this story rabbi or anybody in the audience?

Adam Mintz  19:58

I think that you’re read is the right read, let’s go back to the beginning, you point out the fact that when you read the story, it’s not entirely clear whether it’s a rape story, or a love story. And actually, Geoffrey read the whole story is different, depending on whether it’s a love story or a rape story. Because if it’s a rape story, then the brothers are taking revenge against the people for raping their sister. If it’s a love story, then it’s a story about assimilation. And the fact that the brothers are opposed to assimilation, they don’t want to assimilate with the people of the land, and therefore they feel they have to kill the people of the land. And you wonder about Jacob’s reaction being so upset with them. Which reads better? You know what Jacob be upset with them that they took revenge against people who raped his daughter, maybe it makes more sense that Jacob is upset with them, because it’s really a love story. And what they don’t like is they don’t like the assimilation. And Jacob thinks that’s not the way you deal with it. If you don’t want assimilation we don’t have to have assimulation, but you can’t go killing the people. So I think Jeffrey, that’s something to consider, the fact that the story reads differently. If you have it as a love story, or is a rape.

Geoffrey Stern  21:27

I think the higher biblical critics say that clearly this is two stories, not necessarily elegantly edited together.

Adam Mintz  21:36

So obviously, the critics are important. But usually when we study this stuff, in a sense that’s too easy. They put together two stories. But the problem is that the beginning of the story is two stories. But there are two endings. Geoffrey, you wonder why there aren’t two endings. If there are two beginning, maybe Jacobs reaction is different. If it’s a love story, or if it’s a rape story.

Geoffrey Stern  22:08

Yeah, so I think one of the things that helps guide me is now after many years, we got his initial reaction, his initial reaction smacks of the ghetto Jew Who’s afraid of the minority who’s afraid. What he says on his deathbed, is a little bit more strident. He says their weapons are tools of lawlessness. He accuses them of acting out of anger, and slaying people. And by way of looking down that way of trying to evaluate it, I would look at what happens when we get to Deuteronomy. So in Deuteronomy, when Moses is blessing all of the children of Israel, he praises the tribe of Levi. You will remember at the sin of the golden calf, it was the tribe of Levi, who stood up, and they were the ones who took God’s challenge, and went ahead and killed all of the people, their fellow Jews, who had worshipped the golden calf. And in Deuteronomy, Moses says almost to their credit, that they did not consider even whether that person was related to them or not. So it’s clear to my mind, that there is an aspect of Levi at least, which has to do with the purity of the ideology, the purity of the family, the purity of the tribe and the purity of the nation. And I think that that is the aspect that I take away if you read this from the perspective of the beginning of the creation of the 12 tribes, that if we see this story, and it’s you know, you can’t but overlook not only the romance here, but the woman’s is so strong, that clearly Hamor and Shchem who are the majority who are ruling the land, who are in a similar position, as was when Abraham bought the Kever the burial cave (for Sarah) he was begging here, they who have all the chips, all the cards are truly saying we want to accept you, you we want you to to be able to walk amongst the land. And my take from this is that if you look at the two blessings, there’s the critique of Jacob and the critique, or I wouldn’t say critique the, the admeration that Moses has relate to (racial purity). And of course, we can’t forget the zariz (zealot) Pinchas, who was also a Lavi, who are speared, the Moabites with the Israelite. These are people who took God’s ideology very strongly and took the law into their own hand and retain the racial purity, if you will, of the people of Israel.

Adam Mintz  25:48

I would just add one thing, you know, Moses skips shimbo when he gives the blessings at the end of Deuteronomy. So I think what you just said is right. I don’t think Moses forgets what Jacob said, you know, cursing their anger. And you know, and all of that. I think Levi, actually, in a certain sense turned, they become good, because of the way they acted at the Sin of the Golden Calf, in a sense, they did teshuva (repentance). And Moses, therefore reflects on their more recent actions at the time of the golden calf. But Moses does not forget what Jacob says. And therefore Shimon, which never actually repents, they’re just totally left out, which I always found was fascinating.

Geoffrey Stern  26:44

Absolutely, I would maybe add a maybe a little bit more commentary in terms of, I’m not sure that Levi ever changed totally. But they were able to channel or at least Moses was able to channel and history was able to channel that anger, there is a place maybe for that anger, and for that puritanism. I do think it’s important to note that not only were the tribe of Levi, not landowners, but they didn’t get drafted into the army. So they were not allowed to militarize, so to speak. And they were distributed to the land, so that they had too, too beg. You know, there’s an interesting parallel story that happens much later on, and is in the book of Joshua. And that is a story of when the Israelites came into the land. They said that they were going to, to, to get rid of all of the existing infrastructure and tribes that were living there, for whatever reason, we can get into it on another day and discussion. But they felt very strongly about that. And there was a one of those native tribes who made a decision. They said, rather than they get killed, let’s get dressed up and pretend that we are not one of the seven tribes. But we are from outside the land, and we’ll make a treaty with Joshua. And they do just that. And then of course, just like the the ruse of Shchem and Hamor is revealed their rules is revealed two, but the end, the difference is that Joshua says We made a deal, we’re going to keep the deal. So I think my takeaway from this discussion, and from ending the book of Genesis, is that one thing is clear that the stories of the patriarchs are not sugar coated, they lend themselves to interpretation in multiple ways. There are no heroes or complete demons. There are multiple sides to each of the different personalities that we have met, and that the history of our family, of our tribe and our nation has sorded elements, to it, to say the least. But nonetheless, at the end of the day, there was a moment of unity that was achieved. It was a moment because you all know about the lost tribes. They truly did get lost. We split up pretty quickly. And Judea was the tribe of Judah, the other tribes disappeared. So I think the warning is clear. But I think that the message is that we are not as homogenous as one would believe. One can walk down the streets of Israel, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, see all these different colors, all these different types of people. That is who we are. And, you know, welcome welcome to the family. But this is the setting stone for now, what is the next book, which is the book of Exodus, where we get molded into one people from, from the outside, if you will.

Adam Mintz  30:50

I think that’s a really a nice idea. And that’s really a nice way to look at this moment. I think, you know, I just like the moment where Moses blesses the people at the end of Deuteronomy. This is the end of the book of Genesis. And it’s very striking that this is the way both the book of Genesis, and the book of Deuteronomy, and with these kinds of blessings or predictions for the future. There’s always a look towards “acharit Hayamim” towards the future. The book ends, but it’s not an end. It’s a look forwards “acharit Hayamim”. So we got to go back at the end to where you started with an understanding of what “Acharit Hayamim” really means. So I want to thank you Geoffrey. I think this was a great discussion about Vayechei. To everybody. Hazak Hazak v’Nitchazek. This is what we say always when we finish a book of the Torah, we should be strongly to be strong, we should strengthen one another. And we look forward to seeing you next week again, eight o’clock. Where we’ll talk about the parsha of Shemot as we begin the Book of Shemot. Thank you, Geoffrey. Shabbat shalom.

Geoffrey Stern  31:57

Shabbat shalom. See you next week.

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Listen to last weeks episode w/ bonus Avidan Freedman interview – Joseph – Tool of a Repressive Regime?

Joseph – Tool of a Repressive Regime?

Parshat Vayigash – A live recording of Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on December 9th 2021 as they ask: What if our Prince of Egypt, was not an ancient-day Paul Samuelson using science and economic theory to serve society?

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Joseph – Tool of a Repressive Regime?

parshat vayigash (genesis 47)

Listen to Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on December 9th 2021 as they ask: What if our Prince of Egypt, was not an ancient-day Paul Samuelson using science and economic theory to serve society? What if Joseph and his Pharaoh were the villains and the new Pharaoh “who knew not Joseph” was an Egyptian patriot and liberator who saved the Egyptians from foreign exploitation? How would that change the message of the Exodus?

Joseph – Tool of a Repressive Regime?

Parshat Vayigash – A live recording of Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on December 9th 2021 as they ask: What if our Prince of Egypt, was not an ancient-day Paul Samuelson using science and economic theory to serve society?

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/367055

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:04

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and that Madlik we lite to spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. We also host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday. This week along with Rabbi Adam Mintz we asked, What if Joseph and his Pharoah were the villains of the story, and the new pharaoh who knew not Joseph was an Egyptian patriot and Liberator who saved the Egyptians from foreign exploitation. Talk about a plot twist. So fasten your seat belts and get ready for a few sharp curves and detours as we ask Joseph tool of an Oppressive Regime? Okay, well welcome everybody to Madlik. We published Madlik as a podcast. So if you enjoy the conversation today, you can feel free to share it with friends and give us a good review and a few stars. Welcome. We’re gonna start today the Parsha Vayigash and it is a continuation of the end of Genesis, the beginning of Exodus. It’s really a transitional story that sets up the whole exile in Egypt. And we’re gonna pick up kind of where we left off. Last week, we talked about how the Jews as shepherds were distinct and different, had to eat differently from Egyptians. Egyptians would not hang out with them. And that’s going to factor a little bit into today’s discussion. So we begin with  Genesis 47. And it says, “Then Joseph came and reported to Pharaoh saying, my father and my brothers with their flocks and herds, and all that is theirs have come from the land of Canaan, and are now in the region of Goshen, and selecting a few of his brothers, he represented them to Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to the brothers, what is your occupation? They answered Pharaoh, we Your servants are shepherds, as were also our fathers. We have come they told Pharaoh to sojourn in this land, for there was no pasture for servants flocks, the famine, being severe in the land of Canaan. Pray then let your servant stay in the region of Goshen. Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, as regards your father, and your brothers who have come to you, the land of Egypt is open before you settle your father and your brothers in the best part of the land. Let them stay in the region of Goshen. And if you know any capable men among them, put them in charge of my livestock.” Well talk about a twist, it seems as though Pharaoh was not similar to other Egyptians, he might have had his own flocks, he might have been a shepherd as well. Never dawned on us to ask that question. Rashi, in his commentary says, over that, which is mine over my sheep, so Rashi seems to believe that Pharaoh in fact, was a shepherd, in a sense, the Ibn Ezra, another classical commentary is bothered by this. And he says, rule over my cattle, such as horses and mules, because obviously an Egyptian would not be a shepherd having sheep. And as Ibn Ezra goes on to say, a shepherd was an abomination to the, to the Egyptians. So how could Pharaoh, the head of the Egyptians have such a flock. And interestingly enough, the Ibn Ezra says, and even till today, in India, the Indians have something very similar, where they look up to cows, and they do not drink the milk because milk is from a living creature, which they won’t have. So kind of interesting that you need to know about the cultures of the world to study the Torah, but I’m going to finish with the Shadal who we came across last week. And he quotes the same commentaries. And he concludes, this king was not a Egyptian, but rather from the shepherd kings who came from Asia and conquered Egypt. It is possible that it was a king of sheep and cattle. So let’s just stop here. Are we taking this too far Rabbi, or is there something here here that maybe this Pharaoh the first Pharaoh was a pharaoh who was not quite a Egyptian?

Adam Mintz  04:52

So there were a couple of things here. So as we have come to see, Geoffrey, the Shadal is very creative in his commentary. I think that’s the first thing we need to see. The Shadal lives in the 1800s, in Padua, which is just outside of Venice, he actually is secularly. educated, he kind of has a fresh new view of the Chumash. And his view of the Chumash is actually amazing here in this story, he suggests that Pharaoh was really an outsider. Now, what does it mean to be an outsider? Whenever I learned that Shadal Geoffrey, I think about John F. Kennedy. John F. Kennedy was the first Catholic president in the United States. Now for us today, that is totally meaningless, right? I mean, what difference does it make whether you’re Catholic or Protestant, but in 1960, there actually he ran against Richard Nixon. And some of the opposition to eventually President Kennedy was the fact that he was a Catholic, he was an outsider, America was a Protestant country, it came from England, and it was a Protestant country, America should not have a Catholic president. And when you take that, and you think about it, having an outsider be the king of the Pharaoh, the President is something that’s very problematic, because the idea is that the King, the pharaoh needs to represent the people, for him to be a from a conquering country. And therefore, he’s going to govern over a group of people who don’t really affiliate with him. That really is a recipe for disaster. But the Shadal suggests that, because how could it be that he be a shepherd, given the fact that the Egyptians worshiped sheep, or at least treated sheep in a certain way that made them special and kind of off limits? So let’s play it out a little bit. How about Geoffrey, if we take the Shadal, and we say, the Joseph is sold to Egypt to Potiphar? Now Potiphar is potentially really an Egyptian. So what happens? Joseph gets in trouble with Potiphar’s wife. Now the question in that story is, why isn’t Joseph killed in the ancient world, if you’re suspected of trying to take advantage of the minister’s wife, he should have been put to death. But maybe the relationship between Poty fire, and Pharaoh was one that was not so simple. Maybe they were actually on opposite teams, maybe Potiphar was a native Egyptian, and maybe Pharaoh was from the other side, and therefore Potiphar didn’t have the ability to kill Joseph. And maybe that’s why Joseph was kind of forgotten about in prison, because he was the prisoner of Poitiphar who was not part of the ruling class. And it was only after Pharaoh has absolutely no alternative that he reaches out to Joseph, and that he embraces Joseph and he makes some visroy over Egypt. And just one last point before we begin the discussion. How about the fact that Pharaoh embraces in this week’s parsha Jacob comes with his family now? Why do they accept these foreigners? They put them in Goshen? Put him in Goshen? You know, Geoffrey is almost like forcing them to live in Connecticut, right? means, you know, they’re not allowed to live in the city, they have to live, you know, far away from the city. So they don’t pollute the city. But the truth of the matter is that Pharaoh is willing to accept, he’s willing to embrace foreigners, maybe it’s because Pharaoh himself is a foreigner.

Geoffrey Stern  08:59

Okay, so I love the fact that you’re willing to run with the Shadal a little bit. But I really do think that this Shadal has a compelling case. I started by reading a passage that had almost Joseph coaching the brothers what to say to Pharaoh, and this was one of at least five verses, where the emphasis is always we are shepherds, children of shepherds. It’s almost as though they were establishing their credentials as shepherd foreigners to this to this ruler. And of course, you know, the context of all of this is what comes next in in Exodus when it says a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph, did he not know Joseph, did he not recognize Joseph? He certainly did not like Joseph and the Shadal on that verse really flushes out the the crux of the issue here. And what he says is that, in fact, we do know and as you say Shadal was educated in the best of comparative religion and anthropology archaeology of his day. And he references the Hyksos dynasty. And he said that there was no question that when this foreign ruler and whether it coincided with the time exactly of Joseph or not, we don’t really know. But when the forign ruler was replaced by Ramses, who was definitely a local, tribal, alocal King, that there was real hatred towards the the foreign interlocutors, if you will, and that would explain a lot and in terms of what Shadal says, he ends by saying, and from here, we can understand, SheParoh gazar alYisrael mah shegazar, that Pharaoh decreed upon the Jews what he decreed. So this is a pretty critical message, and it really does make you read the text very differently. You said a second ago, that when the Jews was settled in Goshen, they were being sent out to the suburbs. Here’s what Genesis 47: 11 says. So Joseph settled his father and his brothers giving them holdings in the choices part of the land of Egypt, in the region of Ramses, as Pharaoh had commanded. So this Goshen, was in a larger area code called the region of Ramses so in fact, like we read in England about the tutors and and the other royal dynasties. There’s no question that any Egyptian reading this and knowing that the Ramses dynasty was about to begin, that the current pharaoh of Joseph was literally replacing the Ramses threat by settling or resettling the Jews there. And then it begins. And I want you all to listen to this, from the perspective what the Shadal just said, this Shadal said that whith his reading of this text, this might very well be an explanation of why all of the trials, all of the tribulations of the exile in Egypt, and the necessity for the Exodus came about. And remember, we’re not reading a Midrash. We’re reading the text of the Torah itself. And it says, Because you have to understand the famine was to last seven years. And the brothers and family of Joseph came in the first two or three. So Joseph gathered in all the money that was to be found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, as payment for the rations that were being procured. And Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh’s palace. And when the money gave out in the land of Egypt, and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, Give us bread lest we die before your very eyes for the money is gone. And Joseph said, bring your livestock and I will sell to you against your livestock if the money is gone. So they bought their livestock to Joseph and Joseph gave them bread in exchange for the horses for the stocks of sheep and cattle, and the asses. Thus he provided them with bread that year in exchange for their livestock. And when the year was ended, they came to him the next year and said to him, we cannot hide from my Lord that with all the money and animal stocks consigned to my Lord, nothing is left at my Lords disposal. We are persons in our farmland. Let us not perish before you eyes, both we and our land. Take us and our land in exchange for bread. And we with our land will be serfs to Pharaoh, “avadim l’Parpoah”. Provide the seed that we may live and not die, and that the land may not become a waste. So Joseph gained possession of all the farmland of Egypt for Pharaoh, every Egyptian having sold his field because the famine was too much for them. Thus the land passed over to Pharaoh, and he removed the population, town by town from one end of Egypt’s border to the other. This is quite amazing. He not only took all their money took all their livestock, he took their land, and then he went above and beyond almost what he needed to do by dispossessing them of their locale and moving them to another. And of course, the commentaries all pick up on this. But before we get to the commentaries, I have two questions that I really invite anybody in the audience, but especially you Rabbi, to address. Is this just telling the facts? Is there an ethical or moral underpinning here? Do you sense? What is the Bible sharing this with us for? What is the message, if any here? How does this strike you when I read it?

Adam Mintz  15:36

I when I want to hear Geoffrey, what you have to say first? ,

Geoffrey Stern  15:41

Well again, from the context of a foreign Pharaoh who does not have the interests of the Egyptian people at heart. This seems to be a radical displacement and almost a taking into slavery, of all the population in Egypt. And if you think of it from that perspective, it gives a whole new color to ultimately what happened to the Hebrews, after this Pharaoh and this regime died.

Adam Mintz  16:18

So that’s an interesting point. I think you’re really Geoffrey asked him two things. One, is there a moral element? And second of all, what you’re asking is whether this sets up what’s about to happen later. Right? Isn’t that a more interesting question? What’s the relationship? You said at the very beginning of today’s class? You said this parsha is a transition to the beginning of Shemot (Exodus). I think that’s very interesting, because actually, the beginning of Shemot begins by “VeYakam melech hadash asher lo ladaat et Yoseph” a new king arrives over Egypt who doesn’t know Joseph. So the impression that you’re given at the beginning of Shemot is that there is that there’s no connection between the end of Bereshit (Genesis) and the beginning of Shemot. But you’re suggesting that there very much is a connection? Isn’t that interesting?

Geoffrey Stern  17:22

Well, I think that when it talks about a new king, who knew not Joseph, it’s literally talking about a regime change. You know, I think we all believed that there was a father and son, an older Pharaoh who had a warm feeling for Joseph and when he died, his son did not but it’s clear from the text, that Ramses was a whole different dynasty. But but I’d like to point out that we are not uncovering documents that were buried around in the Egyptian library or in in hiding, we are looking at our own text, and that makes it amazing that these clues are staring us out in the open. If you look at the Rashi to 47: 21 In Genesis, he asks, Why does it go out of its way to say that Joseph causes them to pass from one city to another, that they may be reminded that they had no claim to the land, he settled the people of one city in another city, and Rashi goes on to say, there was no need for scripture state this except for the purpose of telling you something to Joseph’s credit, that he intended thereby to remove of repproach from his brothers, because since the Egyptians were themselves strangers in the various cities that they dwelt, they could not call them Joseph breathren, strangers. So while she does two things here, number one, and this I agree with wholeheartedly, he says the Torah doesn’t say anything for no reason. Whether you believe it’s a divine document, or whether you believe it’s one of the most incredibly written and edited documents that assures that people like us can come once a week and study it and find new insight, but nothing is there for no reason; that I agree with. He says that the reason why it goes into detail of Joseph dispossessing the Egyptians from their home, was to make them feel like strangers in their own land, so that they would not be biased and bigoted against the Hebrews, who were strangers… that I’m not so sure about. But I do believe that Rashi is correct. And this is the real question that I ask why did the Torah leave us so many of these facts? Why did it repeat that the Jews the brothers were coached to tell Pharaoh that they were shepherds? Why does it talk about this concept of the sheep and tie the sheep to a pharaoh who clearly was a shepherd as well. And most importantly, why does it go through these truly, at least from a western point of view a modern point of view that we are bothered by what was happened to the Egyptians, but certainly taking their money, taking their animals and their chattel, and then taking and dispossessing them and making them slaves, even to the Biblical mind. Remember, this is a Bible that preaches that no one should be sold into slavery for perpetuity. It understood that when you are very poor, sometimes you have to become an indentured servant. It is a Bible that believes that land should never be taken away in perpetuity. And here we have Yes, it is before revelation. But we have a Joseph who is working with his boss, man, Pharaoh, and they are literally dispossessing the Egyptians from the land forever. And as far as we can tell, making them slaves forever. I’ll finish by saying that our good buddy Shadal, says, Actually, he moved them from city to city, he quotes the Rashbam. And it says similar to what the Assyrian king Sanhereb did to the peoples that he conquered. Now, those of you who know history, you do not want to be compared to Sanhereb. So Shadal is definitely saying and the Rashbam in this particular case, which is another classical commentary, is truly saying that what Joseph did was on par with what one of the greatest conquerors and dictators did when he conquered other people. It’s certainly not flattering.

Adam Mintz  21:55

Good. I think that’s interesting. And let me rephrase just one piece of your question. Geoffrey, let me ask you a question. Does Joseph’s actions reflect strength on Joseph’s part, or weakness on Joseph part? When you start acting like a tyrant? Does that mean that you’re powerful? Or does that mean ultimately that you’re weak, and you’re trying to compensate for being weak, because you know, in next week’s Parsha, Jacob dies, and Joseph has to ask special permission to be allowed to leave to go bury his father in the land of Israel, you kind of begin in next week’s parsha to get the impression that Joseph might not quite be as powerful as we had thought him to be. And I wonder whether that weakness is beginning to be reflected. You know, Joseph had done his job, you know, there were seven years of plenty, then seven years of famine. Actually, Joseph job was really was to divide the land and to collect all of the produce, during the seven years of plenty. during the seven years of famine, Joseph’s not so important, because all they need to do is just distribute the food, they don’t need Joseph to distribute the food, anybody could distribute the food. So I wonder whether Joseph loses a little bit, ffor lack of a better term, his cache. Now, at the end of this whole story, that’s how, kind of what I would add to your question, because you’re right, Shadal is painting a very unflattering picture of Joseph. And I’m wondering whether Joseph is actually working out of a sense of desperation at this point.

Geoffrey Stern  23:51

So I love your question and your insight, and I’d like to even increase it a little more. My impression of the pharaoh of the Exodus is that he never really became the target of animosity in the same way as whether Titus or Haman or whatever, you know, his heart was hardened. I think that if you look at the Joseph character, and you look at the Pharaoh, and I’m talking now about the pharaoh of the Exodus, that new Ramses Pharaoh. Both of them are conflicted and troubled individuals who come out of a past and I think that’s what you were referring to with Joseph, there is no question that he’s coming out of a position of weakness. He shows up, he’s put in jail, he’s got nothing, and he does what he needs to do to save himself and then ultimately, save His people. So I don’t think that even if you were to Shadal down on our podcast or on our clubhouse, he would not have mixed feelings about Joseph. I think ultimately where Joseph ended up was that he was forced by becoming who he became into this corner, where he became the tool of a very repressive regime. And on the other hand, this Patriot named Ramsess who took over Egypt, and therefore unslaved, all the Egyptians potentially could be forgiven for enslaving the Hebrews, the family of Joseph, who had been part of this regime. So I think that that kind of enters into it. And from a historical perspective …. I’d like to bring this into more of historical perspective, the the Jews, were forced to be tax collectors throughout history. And if you look at Joseph, he ultimately is a tax collector. And a lot of people will argue that one of the sources of anti semitism was, in fact, the fact that Jews because of their weakness, because of their lack of status, because they couldn’t be landowners were very easy targets to become tools of the local prince or the king, and made into tax collectors. And of course, tax collectors are collecting the tax like Joseph did for the ruling class, and are hated by those who they hate. So it’s, it’s, you know, even the most radical, higher biblical critic will never say that the Bible was written in the middle ages. It is an ancient document at the end of the day. And what’s so fascinating to me, that this kind of a weakness, this character flaw, caused by circumstance comes up so early in the Bible, and haunts the Jewish people. And I do think there’s a lesson there.

Adam Mintz  27:13

And the lesson is?

Geoffrey Stern  27:15

I think the lesson is, and this I am, I think I’m going out on a little limb here, because the Bible doesn’t give us the answer. But it does say that, therefore the Jews were enslaved. And so you know, where all of the Midrashim are asking, what did the Jews do? What did the Hebrews do to be enslaved? Nowhere in the Bible itself, do you find anything? Unless possibly you look at something like this, and you say, maybe we don’t have to look for some deep theological answer. Maybe it was a practical outcome of what they did. But if you take it that way, and therefore the lesson of the Exodus becomes that no matter how difficult your existence is, and what you’re forced to do, at a certain point, you have to understand that I am a human being and I share that humanity with others, and I need to be redeemed. And that to me, would be a fascinating takeaway of the Exodus, where we’re not simply a people who was victimized, but we were people that was victimized, became the victimizer learnt our lesson. And that lesson became so profound and maybe complex, that it resonated throughout the world, which I do think that the story of the Exodus has done.

Adam Mintz  28:37

I think that’s I love that. I think that that’s really, really good. And I think that maybe that’s why Vayigash, is the transitional Parsha that it is, right. I mean, maybe that’s the issue here is how this sets up. Everything we’re gonna read about at the beginning of the book have Shemot.

Geoffrey Stern  29:02

Absolutely. And I do want to bring it into the moment. When I started realizing what my takeaway was from this Pasha. I contacted a rabbi in Israel, his name is Avidan Freedman. He lives in Efrat. And he has started a charity, an organization called Yanshuf. And the purpose of the charity is to say that I understand how the State of Israel in its early ages in order to defend itself and not be dependent on the world had to develop an arms industry. But what he is saying is that today, Israel has to look at where it sells its arms. And those of you who have been following the story of the cyber warfare that Israel now is capable of doing, it’s getting into the wrong hands. And he’s done some polling in Israel. And the polling is very positive of people saying No, we are a startup nation. We are no longer a third world economy, we can make that transition. And I asked him to come on, and he really had wanted to. But unfortunately, he had something in his calendar that he couldn’t. But he is a rabbi. And he’s a teacher of Torah. And when I pointed out the verses that I was going to discuss, he agreed that they were totally relevant. And it’s a nuanced question. And it’s a nuanced challenge to us in this modern era. And I said, maybe what I would do is follow up with a conversation with him after he gets to listen to our discussion. Adam, do you know him?

Adam Mintz  30:39

I sure do know him. He’s a very impressive Rabbi. My impression is that he’s just, he’s just getting going. But that his, you know, but but he’s doing really, really important work in Israel.

Geoffrey Stern  30:53

And what is special about his message is that it is nuanced. He’s not saying that Israel had never any way to get into the arms industry. He’s not a bleeding heart. “beat your swords into plowshares” type of guy. He understands it as much as we understand why Joseph got to where he got. But he is also saying that within the prism of history, there becomes a time where you have to take responsibility. And that’s what’s so fascinating about this story of Joseph, there are no real villains here. And there are no real heroes. That’s the amazing part about our Torah, it doesn’t pull any punches. It includes verses such as this that can trigger this kind of conversation. I just love it.

Adam Mintz  31:46

I love it. I love it. And I think the idea that Joseph, you know, that Joseph does certain things that will lead the Shadal kind of bringing it back to the beginning to compare him to Sanhereb is worth everything. Because I think we we often because the story kind of has a happy ending, we often don’t focus on the challenges that Joseph faced, but I think the shutdown, you know, deals with it head on, and says that you know what, you have to realize that maybe not everything Joseph did was right, but maybe he didn’t have all that much of a choice. And that’s hard. It’s hard to be the viceroy over Egypt when you’re when you’re when you’re a nice Jewish boy from from the neighborhood. And I think that he’s really being very, very sensitive to that. So I thank you that you spoke to Rav Avidan, I think that’s great. And I think this was a super interesting topic. Again, interesting for this week’s parsah, but taking us to next week and then to the beginning of Shemot. I want to wish everybody a Shabbat shalom. And I hope that you’ll join us next week when we finish up the book of Genesis. That’s exciting. Geoffrey, we’re going to finish up the book of Genesis, all of these stories kind of come together with the blessings that Jacob gives to his sons and the death of both Jacob and Joseph. And we’ll read about that next week. So Shabbat Shalom to everybody. Shabbat shalom, Geoffrey, and thank you as always for joining us on our clubhouse.

Geoffrey Stern  33:09

Thank you so much Rabbi safe travels back to the states and next week we will be Thursday evening. At eight or nine o’clock Eastern. We’ll determine what time that is. So that’s it. Shabbat Shalom to everybody, and we’ll see you next week.

Geoffrey Stern  33:25

And now as I made reference in the podcast, I was able to catch up with Rabbi Avidan Freedman from Yansoof, after he listened to the podcast to get his insights and suggestions, sit back and enjoy. So Avidan, thanks for listening to the podcast. One of the things that came to my mind is, how do you teach your message through Torah texts? And you could consider that a klutz Kasha; a foolish question. Because it’s pretty obvious. We’re all created in the image of God, how can we do something that hurts other people in such a profound way as the weapons trade can. I guess it’s “Lifnei Ever Al Titeyn Michshol” don’t put a stumbling block in front of somebody you give somebody a gun and you know they’re going to use it. I get all that. But one thing that occurred to me is there is a growing disconnect between the galut community, specifically the US Jewish community and Israel, where Israel is so focused on making sure that the land of Israel is a refuge for the Jews that it provides security for the remnant of the Jewish people. That many times the messages of the liberal type of progressive la dee da messages of Beating swords into plowshares gets pushed aside is naive and vice versa with so many of our youth, and I’m specifically referring to youth that are trained in Hebrew day schools, and that take their Judaism very seriously cannot wrap their arms around being in an arms industry at all. Is part of what you’re doing bridging that gap? Do you have any resistance in Israel to your message based on that type of an argument?

Avidan Freedman  35:28

It’s a really well, well formulated question. And there are a lot of different aspects to it, there are a lot of angles, that that needs to be addressed. I think it there’s a funny irony, a kind of an inversion, because what you’re saying is that the opposition that I face, regarding this issue comes from that place of realpolitik comes from a place of okay, we need to do what we need to do in order to survive, Israel needs to be reckoned with, we have to prevent another holocaust, etc, etc, all those kinds of statements. So do I do I encounter that in Israel? Yes, I certainly I certainly encounter that in Israel. But when when thinking about the religious message of it and and the religious perspective, for me, it goes much, much deeper, then then just the question of “lifnei Ever” (stumbling block) which it’s true, it actually halachikly when this is spoken about this issue, it’s spoken about, somewhat in terms of those terms. But, but for me, it’s a much deeper question of how much is the Jewish state going to be defined by power politics by realpolitik? And see what you called “ladi da” see moral issues as a luxury? That we’ll get to sometime later, and one of the most dominant central messages in, in Torah, today was aseret b’Tevet (a fast day for the destruction of the Temple) So it was really sat exactly there. One of the most central messages in the Torah, actually, about what it means to be to be sovereign in Israel, is the idea that ultimately, what defines and what determines our ability to stay here in this land? And what determines our our safety? Isn’t our pacts with this country or that country, And it isn’t our physical and political strength, It is, to what extent are we living up to our moral vision and aspirations? And that’s as far as the Torah perspective, that’s really the raison d’etre of the Jewish state, as I understand it, and and it’s the necessary condition. So today I viewed a movie with my students about Jeremiah and the destruction of the First Temple. And the movie did a very nice job of really demonstrating how the political echelons were very concerned, are we going to be allied with Egypt? Are we going to be allied with Babylonia? And where are we going to do that? And Jeremiah says, You’ve got it all wrong. And in the end, on the one hand, it’s true, and many point out that the prophets educationally didn’t manage to convince people. That is true. But but on the other hand, the Kings didn’t win. The Kings didn’t win the day. And ultimately, as far as realpolitik, they always failed. The attempts to be allied with this power and this power and the other power, they never actually work. And the religious message is that the reason they didn’t work wasn’t because it was just bad politics. The reason they didn’t work is because they were much deeper societal issues of corruption and abuse of power. That were at play that spiritually and ultimately realistically tore Israel apart and led to its destruction. So So for me, it’s ironic because, to me, the galuty mindset (ghetto mentality), the exilic mindset is the mindset of, we have to worry about our survival. And we are so weak, and we always have to be concerned that the game are trying to kill us. And everything we have to do is in order to ensure our survival and the opportunity of Jewish sovereignty. The challenge of Jewish sovereignty is a challenge of responsibility. And it’s a challenge of coming to say that morality is not a luxury, but it’s it’s part of what we need to be, and that we’re powerful when we are moral. And we’re successful when we’re moral. And that, to me, is the worst importing of an exilic mindset in Israel. And the arms sale is is one example of of how it leads to moral failure, I really feel like it’s the most egregious example of how it leads to a moral failure. And there are many, many, many other examples of when we feel like we are besieged, and we need to do everything we need to do in order to survive a country can can come to try to justify all manner of terrible things in the name of survival. So, to me, it comes back to the vision of Abraham, like you said, it’s the vision of the of the Jewish people is to be a blessing to the nations. It’s what we want to do on an individual level, it’s “VeAhavta L’reacha Kemocha” what’s hated to you don’t do unto others. But on an on a national level we’re supposed to be a Venivrachu bcha kol mishpachot ha’adama”i (that all the nations of the world will be blessed from you) from the beginning, that was the vision. And so so for me, as far as the torah, it goes all the way through from lech l’cha and before with Zelem Elohim but nationally from Lech L’cha all the way through to the last chapter of Kings.

Geoffrey Stern  41:42

So one of the things that I mentioned in the podcast that I found particularly appealing about your message was that you didn’t have the naivete, or you couldn’t be accused of the naivete of saying that there was never a time that we couldn’t justify being in the arms industry, because we needed to be independent, and you can’t design a tank or a gun, unless there’s a market for it, because domestic demand isn’t enough. And it’s kind of like, there all these concepts of Chayecha Kodem that your life comes first. There’s certainly a value to protecting one’s own. But the nuance came from the ark of time. And that something that might be not right, but at least acceptable or permissible, or de facto, okay, at one time in a person’s life or in a nation’s life might not stay okay. And I think that nuance is totally lacking from conversations on the right and the left these days. And how do you find that? I think I found it a little bit in Yossef, where certainly, with Yosef, we really are privy to the development of a biblical character in ways that I don’t think we necessarily are with others, we really see him from being a braggart of a youth, guilty of everything that you one should be guilty of it as an adolescent, and then he grows. And I think if we were critical, or some of the commentators were critical of him in last week’s Parsha, it was that he didn’t continue to grow and that what was okay, at one stage of his life maybe stayed the same. But how do you convey that message when you’re talking about the subject that is the focus of your interest?

43:42

So first of all, Geoffrey, I want to say you overstated my position a little bit in terms of over time. I would formulate it a little bit differently. I would say, I sitting from my place in 2021. I don’t want to go back and judge Israel for what it did in the 60s and 70s. I’m not willing to say that I can morally justify I’m not willing to say that I really think it was necessarily the right thing to let’s say to, to arm the South African apartheid regime and and the various Juntas in South America. I do appreciate and agree that the stakes were different. Israel was in a much, much more vulnerable position. And therefore I can understand it much more. I still don’t know if it’s really morally defensible. Because the idea of “Chayecha Kodem (You’r elife comes first) can never come at the expense of an innocent bystanders late. And that’s that’s a different paradigm, that’s the paradigm of Yehoreg V’al Ya’avor” the paradigm of you actually have to be killed rather than kill, somebody comes and puts a gun to your head, and says, kill this person, or I’ll kill you. The simple logic of that, the the Talmud says, Who says Your blood is any redder? So you can’t say, Well, you know, my life comes first. And this person essentially by their existence is now threatening, you have to you have to give your life, so I don’t know, I don’t know, morally, but But I do think that there we’re in a much much more privileged position nowadays. And to continue saying and continue thinking and conceptualizing our position. Now in 2021, as if we’re still in, in the 60s and 70s is very dangerous thing. In other words, we put ourselves into the eternal victim or the eternal potential victim mindset. As I was saying before, I think that’s it’s dangerous. And it’s also not true. Nowadays, it’s just not true. We think God, where we’re powerful. As far as exports, we have wonderful things to export to the world that bring tremendous amount of blessings to the world. And the idea that we need to base ourselves on these kinds of experts that know that attack cyber and guns and drones, and those types of things. And that’s the start-up nation, as opposed to the startup nation being drip irrigation and solar energy and all of these things is, again, is we’re missing the point. So I think I think that the time should demonstrate to us that, that we’re much more able to and if we don’t feel like we’re able to if we’re still telling ourselves, we’re so vulnerable. Now we have a we have a problem with their self concept.

Geoffrey Stern  47:05

I love it, light unto the nation is an export strategy that that needs to always be our best export. So I am totally grateful that we could have this follow-up conversation. And Avidan as the parshiot move forward in the year ahead if there is a parsha that you stumble across, or think of in terms of any of the issues that you’re passionate about, send me a message and we’ll focus a session of Madlik on that I would love nothing more. But thanks for participating. And let’s, let’s keep keep your message out there. I think that we need to export more light. And I won’t even say and less arms, maybe no arms that should be the objective, but certainly arms to people that are responsible and have the same moral integrity that we would like to have of ourselves. So thank you for that.

Avidan Freedman  48:05

Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity.

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Listen to last week’s episode: Food Fights and Gastro Diplomacy

Food Fights and Gastro Diplomacy

Parshat Miketz- Shabbat Hanukkah – Food Fights-Gastro Diplomacy. Ancient Egyptians wouldn’t break bread with Hebrews and were known to have rigorous dietary restrictions….. How does this play out in the Exodus narrative and what does it mean for us?

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