Category Archives: Torah

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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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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Filed under Bible, Catholicism, divine birth, immaculate conception, John Cardinal O'Connor, Judaism, miracle, Pilgrimage, prayer, Religion, social commentary, Torah

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

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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Food Fights and Gastro Diplomacy

parshat miketz (genesis 43)

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? Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz for a live recording on Clubhouse December 2nd, 2021 for the first Madlik lunch & learn as we discuss the social power of food.

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?

Sefaria Source Sheet: http://www.sefaria.org/sheets/365771

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:04

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey stern and at Madlik we like to light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. We also host a weekly disruptive clubhouse, Torah discussion on clubhouse, typically on a Thursday evening, but today is a special first, of all time Lunch and Learn 12:30 Eastern, which happens to be about 9:30 in Dubai, which is where my sidekick Rabbi Adam Mintz is so welcome, Adam. In any case today, we are going to look at a very small little mention of eating habits in Egypt and of Jews. So I suggest you all get on your aprons put down those latkes, maybe take of a vodka. And join us as we discuss food fights and gastro diplomacy. Well, Rabbi Adam, welcome from Dubai a few weeks ago, I was in Israel and you were in New York. Now I’m in Connecticut, and you are in Dubai, how exciting.

Adam Mintz  01:13

This really exciting, really, really exciting, but the best part of it is that we’re able to continue this tradition even though we’re so far away. And I’m looking forward to discussing the this week’s parsha which is parhast Mikeitz together with everybody. Happy Hanukkah, everybody. And Geoffrey, why don’t you introduce the topic? And we’ll take it from there.

Geoffrey Stern  01:31

Absolutely. Well, it’s a lunch and learn and guess what we’re going to be talking about food. So in this week’s parsha of Miketz we’ve been following Joseph Story. And we’ve gotten to the point in this story where finally all of the brothers come back to Egypt. With Benjamin, the younger brother they’ve met met all the requirements of the visor, the prince of Egypt named Joseph. And in the beginning of Genesis 43 Joseph says to his servants, he said, When he saw Benjamin, “take the men into the house, slaughter and prepare an animal for the men will dine with me at noon”. And again, nothing really out of the ordinary here. He says, they’ll dine with me, which is fine. But then, as the story progresses, first of all we get an emotional response because Joseph now is going to have lunch with his brothers. So he says, after he saw Benjamin, “Joseph hurried out for he was overcome with feeling toward his brother, and was on the verge of tears, he went into a room and wept there. Then he washed, his face reappeared, and now in control of himself gave the order: ‘serve the meal’. They served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, for the Egyptians could not dine with the Hebrews, since that would be abhorrent to the Egyptians. KiTohavat hi l’mitzrayim’. So now already, we understand that when he said “they will dine with me”, there were a dietary restrictions, and we as Jews who are so used to having our own dietary restrictions cannot but be interested, intrigued by the fact that we’ve seen no dietary restrictions by the Hebrew people, but here they are in Egypt. And it seems like the Egyptians will not eat with the Jews either because of who they are, or what their diet is. And then if we continue on a little bit into a future parshiot, we see that when the 70 family members of these 12 brothers come to Egypt, and this favored nation is going to be given a place in the suburbs. It says, Pharaoh tells them to go live in Goshen, “you may stay in the region of Goshen”, it says in Genesis 46 “for all shepherds are abhorrent to Egyptians uses the same word, “ki tohevat l’mitzrayim kol roeh Tzon” And so now we’re starting to see a little bit of a trend here. And finally, and then I’ll get some comments from the rabbi is that much later on, when Moses is saying to Pharaoh, let my people go, we want to go into the desert to worship and sacrifice to our Lord. Pharoah says Nah, why don’t you just do it in Egypt? And here Moses replied, “That would not be right to do” he says in Exodus 8, for what we sacrifice to the Lord our God is untouchable to the Egyptians the same word Toheva. “If we sacrifice that which is untouchable to the Egyptians before their very eyes, they will stone us.” So this is a major, I would say sociological, anthropological statement that goes through the the Jews, the Israelites that he was 400 years sojourn in Egypt, there was a dietary wall between them and the Egyptians. Rabbi Adam, have you ever thought about this? How does it affect you? And what are your impressions?

Adam Mintz  05:40

Well, first of all, let me say, Geoffrey, it’s a fantastic topic. Because, you know, when you think about Joseph in Egypt, as the viceroy, and the brothers coming down to Egypt, there’s so much intrigue, you know, interpersonal intrigue, but to take a step back and to see how they fit in with the Egyptians, I think is a great topic. So let me just back up, you brought a couple of examples. One was the fact that in this week’s parsha be Egyptians wouldn’t eat with the Jews. The last example you brought was the Moses said that we can sacrifice sheep in Egypt, because that would be a pourraient to the Egyptians. Let’s take the second thing first. The question is, why is sacrificing sheep abhorrent to the Egyptians? So I think the classic explanation is that the Egyptians used to worship the sheep. And therefore, for us to sacrifice sheep, which is their God, we would be considered to be totally inappropriate. Now, if that’s true, we can relate that back to here. And that is we can say that the Egyptians wouldn’t eat with the Jews, because there are different dietary rules. Now, that’s interesting, because, you know, in today’s world, you say, okay, you know, I’ll eat the fish, or I’ll eat the salad. It’s okay, I can eat with anybody. But clearly, the Egyptians didn’t feel that way. Clearly, the Egyptians felt that if we eat differently than the Jews, then we can eat with the Jews. So that’s Possibility number one. Possibility number two is, of course, that is a social thing. And that is the Jews are beggars. They’re coming from the land of Canaan. We know that Canaan is a foreign country, we know that they look down on the people of Canaan, and maybe they just wouldn’t sit down with people they consider to be lower class. Now that Geoffrey is a whole different ballgame. That’s a whole different discussion, because that has ramifications in how they saw Joseph, meaning Pharaoh appoints Joseph to the viceroy. Why? Because Joseph interprets the dream, and he predicts the famine, and he turns out to be right, so he makes him viceroy. But what did they really think about Joseph? Did they really respect Joseph? Or did they think that Joseph was really second rate, or we would use the term second class, and maybe that’s reflected in the brothers. And maybe Joseph the whole time, is really worried that his position as viceroy is very fragile, that you know, because they don’t really respect me. And therefore, if I don’t act, just so I’m gonna get thrown out of my position. And maybe that can help us understand some of the ways that Joseph reacts to his brothers, and to Pharaoh and kind of being nervous about Pharaoh. So I think we want to today explore two options. One is the option of food. And that is the question of whether the Egyptians and the Jews share the same food. And the second is the social issue. And that is, did they sit together, even though they consider themselves to be more upper class?

Geoffrey Stern  08:52

Wow, you’re raising a lot of issues and it is complicated, like everything else in the Torah. So I want to pick up on on the two points that you you made. One is that you’re absolutely correct. The, the traditional explanation given by the Rabbi’s, is that kind of like in India, where the cows are holy and cannot be touched. It seems to be the impression that for the Egyptians, sheep were, it’s like taboo, is it because they were holy or they were untouchable. It’s hard to say, but But certainly, they could not be eaten. But I think the fact that we elevate our eating habits to a question of theology, and God really emphasizes the fact and I’ve called this week’s episode. The food wars is that eating food is is something that is so social and imbedded with emotion, that it ultimately does become a very primary battleground for distinguishing and identifying ourselves and ourselves, visa vis others. So so that, you know, I started by saying that Joseph wiped away tears went into another word, eating with his brothers was an emotionally laden experience. The other thing that you raise is it so much diet? Or is it a way of defining the Egyptians as opposed to putting down the Jews? So there is  one of commentaries is an a guy born in the 1800s of the 19th century thinker called Shadal Shmuel David Luzzatto. And he references in the Hebrew that even Hordut, which is Herodotus, testifies to the fact that the Egyptians were very picky eaters. And so I went ahead and googled and found a study of what Herodotus says about Egyptian eating habits. And lo and behold, this is the case of that when Herodotus deals with them. He says that the Egyptians had many food avoidances, they have this pickiness, which was all foreign to the Greeks, they maintained food taboos, and it is the Egyptian ones who were expressing disgust at the practices of the Greeks. So here we go, and even a Greek who would find himself in Egypt. And of course, this might be many late years later after the Exodus, but the Egyptians had a very strong tendency of using food and eating and that social interaction as a way of defining themselves as superior it would seem to not only the Jews, but also to the Greeks so we don’t have to take it that that personally. But clearly, if we were leaving Egypt, and ultimately the whole story of Genesis and Exodus is to help us define who we were. So many times we focus on slavery and freedom. So many times we focus on, whether it’s the Egyptian preoccupation with death. But this does add a kind of fascinating new element to what the exodus from Egypt is and what it could be. In terms of the the ruling Egyptians, the Overlord Egyptians used food and looked at food as something that was very divisive. And that was kind of fascinating to me.

Adam Mintz  12:49

Yeah, that point, Geoffrey is a super interesting point, the fact that that food is divisive, it’s kind of startling, because we think of food is the great unifier. When you want to make up with somebody, what you do is you take him out to dinner. I don’t know how long that’s been going on going on for but it definitely has been the tradition for as long as we remember. Right? You take him out to dinner, because somehow food’s the great equalizer, even if we disagree about everything, but we can agree about the food that we eat, we can enjoy food together. So food is a is a tremendous unifier. And it’s been used that way let’s imagine centuries. So isn’t it interesting that in Egypt, food is the divider? That’s like a Wow, isn’t it?

Geoffrey Stern  13:41

It is and it’s not because as I said previously, but I’ll kind of amplify now, food is something that unites us, but many times it unites us in counter distinction to others. And anyone who keeps kosher knows that on the one hand, you’re absolutely correct sitting down and having our latkes…  there’s nothing more cementing in terms of relationships than that. On the other hand, by being kosher in many cases, one says I can’t eat with somebody else. And I think that the rabbis picked up on this I found a fascinating Midrash, in the MidrashTanchuma and it goes back to earlier in the Joseph story, and it says And Joseph poured an evil report of them to his father….  remember the Father gave him this multicolored ggarment, and sent him out to check up on the brothers. So he told his father, according to this Midrash my brothers eat the limbs of living animals. My brothers are doing what is called Ever min haChai, they’re breaking one of the seven Noahide laws, the only kosher law that presupposes the giving of the Torah at Sinai. The Holy One bless it be he declared, continues the Midrash, be assured you will be such suspected of committing the very act you accused them of committing. And he says because he spoke slander against them his brothers became embittered, set into motion the chain of events that resulted in the descent of ancestors that their bondage in Egypt for 400 years. So talk about food being a part of this discussion, and the use of food to both unite but in this case to divide, according to this Midrash. That’s what started this whole exile…. 400 years of exile in Egypt was caused by Joseph telling his father, my brothers are not eating kosher, they went to a McDonald’s.

Adam Mintz  15:44

I mean, that is absolutely fantastic. Now, of course, you always have to take those kinds of things with a grain of salt, because what I was gonna say is, what’s also interesting is that the laws of Kosher don’t come up for another two books. It’s not till the book of Vayikra (Leviticus), that we’re actually taught about the laws of Kosher. So you wonder about that tradition that that’s what caused the 400 years of exile. Was it really kosher? Or was it really just this idea that certain groups of people eat certain types of foods, see we’re not even talking about that, but you think about, you know, different classes of people eat differently. We don’t have that so much in our day, because everybody has access. But when you watch television programs or movies, about British royalty, you always watch, I would say the help you know, the the butler’s and the servers and all those people, they’re always eating in the basement. And if you notice, they’re not eating the same food that is being served upstairs in the royal dining room, there was an idea that there was certain types of food that were special for royalty, and that not everybody else was allowed to eat that food. So when you talk about Joseph, and you talk about what they ate, there might have been a certain feeling that Jacob’s family was royalty. We know that actually, it’s interesting. I’m switching a little bit because visa vis Egypt, they might have been second class. But in Canaan, we know that they were royalty, right? Abraham is royalty. Isaac is royalty, Jacob is royalty, everybody’s afraid of them. Maybe they eat a special kind of food that other people didn’t eat, because just like the king eats special kinds of food. So I always wondered about that. Is it that they ate McDonald’s? …. Maybe McDonald’s is the kind of food that royalty doesn’t eat.  Did they eat non kosher? Or did they just eat a food that wasn’t becoming of them. But that’s really a serious thing. And maybe just to take it one step further, maybe just maybe the laws of kosher and I know it’s always tricky to give explanations for the laws of the Torah, but maybe the laws and the Torah of Kosher also related to the fact that we’re God’s people, right. However, the Torah understands that, that God’s people need to eat certain kinds of food. I’ll just tell you that this is off topic, but it’s related because we’re talking about food, the Ramban? Nachmanidies one of the great Spanish commentators who lived in the 1200s. So he gives a great explanation. The Ramban says why is it that the animals need to have split hooves and chew their cud? He said, Because animals that have split hooves means that they have toes, the opposite his claws, he said, animals with claws, they devour their prey, right, they clawed their prey. We don’t want to eat animals like that you are what you eat. And the same thing with fish, we only eat fish with fins and scales. He says that fish with fins and scales tend to swim closer to the surface. And because they swim closer to the surface, therefore, they’re more human than the fish that swim all the way in the deep, the deep water fish. And so it might be related to the fact that that even the laws of Kosher are somehow connected to the idea that God says you’re gonna be my people. I want you to certain kind of food.

Geoffrey Stern  19:20

So I think that’s fascinating. I’m wanta pick up on what you said about we are way ahead of the laws of kashrut at this point, and I agree to a degree but I want to bring up what I think is the punch line. Now that we’re looking at this as a gastronomical. Journey, the punch line of the last night in Egypt, so we’ve gone through the 10 plagues, and now we’re ready…..  We’re having the first mandated Torah mandated meal that ultimately developed into the Passover Seder. They are taking that lamb which is taboo either because it’s holy or for some other reason to the Egyptians, so they are taking the deity of Egypt, and they are going to slaughter it and eat it. But the Torah adds an additional restriction. And what it says is you have to form a family or a household. And then it says in Exodus 12, “o foreigner shall eat of it”. So the idea was, if you start with our story today, where we see Joseph is not allowed to dine with the Egyptians, the Egyptians are in charge. Here at the end of the 400 year Exodus story, it gets flipped on its head, and the Israelites are having a meal, and no, Egyptians are allowed to dine with them. So it truly becomes then a story of a food fight, so to speak. But I will add an additional element to this. And it’s a question that I must say, is bothering me. You know, it seems that if you were a slave in a land of Egypt, where they use food, and I use the word “use” in the sense of exploiting, they exploit food and eating as a way of distancing themselves from other people of degrading other people, you would have thought that the Israelites, the Jews would have rebelled against that. And in a sense, you can almost say, and this is the disruptive thought that I have of the week, is that we’ve absorbed it that it’s like the victim becomes the victimizer, so to speak, that we Jews have taken from our masters, the Egyptians, this sense of using food to divide us from other peoples in a sense, as much as we recognize that food is something that unites us. That was a question that came to my mind.

Adam Mintz  22:04

Good. So I like that. I mean, obviously, that’s disruptive Torah. I mean, what you’re suggesting is that we are still using food to separate us. There’s a very interesting law, there’s a law that wine needs to be kosher. Now, that’s a strange thing, because we all know that wine is the same wine, whether it’s kosher or not kosher, but kosher wine means that the wine is prepared by Jews. Where did that come from? So the rabbi’s. This is not from the Torah, the rabbi’s decided that basically, matches between men and women, boys and girls are made over wine. And therefore, and they didn’t want assimilation, they didn’t want intermarriage, they felt the best way to prevent intermarriage was to not allow us to drink wine and with non Jews. Now, first of all, that’s also interesting, because you know, alcohol is not included in that it’s only wine. That was because 2000 years ago, they didn’t drink alcohol. They only drank wine, but the but that idea, but here you go, Geoffrey, this is your disruptive point. And that is that we over time, have used food as the great divide as the great separator.And that law, that rabbinic law is so fascinating, because it recognizes the potential of food to be the unifier. And what we’re saying is no, we don’t want it to be a unifier. We want it to be a separator. Interesting thing, I’ll just tell you, the Conservative movement actually wrote that that’s ridiculous. You know, if a Jewish man wants to marry a non Jewish woman, you know whether or not they drink wine together is not going to make the difference. And therefore they did away with that prohibition. But just see that that’s really at issue here.

Geoffrey Stern  23:57

Yeah, I mean, it is fascinating in terms of historical development, and it started with Rav Moseh Iserles , the Ramah who found a whole community of Jews and their rabbis who were drinking regular wine, and he went out of his way and he said, You can’t use this in general terms. But you know, the the laws of, of making a wine libation and idol worship, they don’t exist anymore today. So we come down to a social question. And I think that’s where the Conservatives kind of said, if if we could stop into marriage by prohibiting wwine we would do it in a heartbeat. But guess what, that that’s not the answer. But again, this is gives us both an appreciation for the power of food. And here we are in Hanukkah, and we love the food associated with a holiday and know what it means to us and how it almost transcends so many other other things of the holiday, it’s part of our identity. So it shows the power of it. So I’d like to move a little bit forward and share wiyh you two amazing stories that I have kind of garnered and cherished through my life that kind of relate a little bit to this question of, of food and and what we call gastro diplomacy. So the first I heard from Rabbi Riskin, and it’s in the source sheet, and it’s of the great Mussatnik rabbi Yisrael Salanter. And he’s invited to the home of a very prestigious, wealthy person in the in the community. And he walks in coming back from synagogue on Friday night with this gentleman, and the gentleman is aghast, he sees that the challah has not been covered. And he screams to his wife, Yada, why is the hollow not covered and she embarrassed comes and covers the challah and Rabbi Yisrael Slanter turns to this person. And he says, Do you know why we cover the challah? And the guy says, Well, of course any child in cheder knows why we cover the challah. Because all through the week, we start our meals with a blessing on the bread. And on Shabbat, we start with wine. So in order not to embarrass the bread, we cover it. Rabbi Yisrael takes a breath. And he responds, he said, and you just embarrassed your wife. So you totally don’t understand the message that came out of your mouth. He says I’m sorry, the food in this house is not kosher, and he left. And of course that touches upon, you know something that Rebbe Jesus if you will said that it’s not important what goes into a person’s mouth, but that which coming out of his mouth that is what defiles a man, but certainly we Jews have taken in the concept of eating this ethical element. And you were talking a little bit about that when you talked about maybe what makes an animal Kosher or fish kosher. But certainly what we did was we took from the Egyptians, this understanding that food is a powerful vehicle of a philosophy an ideology and ethics and morals. And I think that is a positive takeaway that we took from our oppressor and we reirected it and maybe that’s a direction that we can take this in.

Adam Mintz  27:40

I think that’s good. I mean, first of all that story about Yisrael Salanter is a beautiful Rabbi Riskin story. And you know it says everything about what food is and what really matters when it comes to food. So I love that story. What’s your second story?

Geoffrey Stern  27:53

My second story is related to what is called the Maimonedian Controversy. So Maimonedes was a radical thinker with a capital “R”. And the Europeans, the Ashkenazim had many problems with Maimonedes. And at a certain point in time, they put a delegation together. And this again in the source sheet, and it’s well documented, they sent a rabbi Meir to go visit Maimonedes. And the first thing, Maimonedes, invited him to a meal. And the first thing is he put food on the plate that looked like human hands, then Miamonedes goes ahead, and he asks his servant Peter, to fetch the wine, please and pour some wine for everyone at the table. And finally, he takes a calf, and he slaughters it in a very humane way. But he doesn’t use a schita knife, he doesn’t slaughter it in the manner prescribed by Jewish law. And so then he sits down and of course, Rabbi Meir as all of us would says, Thanks, I’ll have the fruit cup. He doesn’t want to embarrass the rabbi. But basically, he assumed that Maimonedes was guilty of preparing the most treif of treif dishes. I’d like to think that we talk about kosher style food, which is food that looks kosher, but actually doesn’t necessarily fit all the prescriptions. What Maimonides did and this might be the first time in history this was done was made a treif style meal, and Maimonides explained to him exactly why everything was kosher. But I think in a sense, Maimonides understood this turf war that we all use in terms of determining what somebody’s standing is what somebody his relationship with God is with the law is and he rebelled against it. He probably rebelled against somebody judging him in general. But he explained why everything was kosher. But clearly he went out of his way to circumvent what many times is used by our kosher laws, which is to use them as a way of defining other people.

Adam Mintz  30:15

So I think that’s a great last story for this. I mean, I think today’s class, just to kind of summarize, since we have two minutes to go, I think today’s class is really is a kind of subversive kind of class, because it really highlights the fact that food which we take as the great unifier, is actually something that’s a lot more complicated. And back to the time of Joseph, and literally today, we have this idea that food is a divider. And the question is really how you use food. And I think Geoffrey probably what we want to say is that it’s kind of the combination of prohibited food, and the social aspects of food. So when I brought up at the beginning that there are two ways to understand this one is it the Egyptians wouldn’t eat sheep, and the other is the Egyptians wouldn’t sit with the lower class people. I think the answer is it’s both correct. And every story that we’ve told, and even the Israel Salanter story shows that there’s more of a social thing. That’s a cultural thing. So I think that’s really mean that really gives people a lot to think about. And I think it was a great topic for this week. Because Hanukkah, one of the things that brings people together on Hanukkah is of course the food, right? Every Hanukkah party has special foods for Hanukkah, and we know that Hanukkah actually is the holiday when you’re supposed to eat fried foods, because that’s the oil. You’re also supposed to eat dairy foods, because somehow they interpret the miracle that the that the general of the enemy was defeated, because there was a righteous woman by the name of Judith, who gave him milk and therefore got him thirsty. And then she got him drunk, and then she killed him and the Jews were saved. So we have we have fried food and we have dairy foods. So here you go. We have food again, as an equalizer, but I think Geoffrey will be able to go into Shabbat Kanaka appreciating the fact there’s more to food than just what goes into our mouths. So thank you, everybody. Shabbat shalom. Hanukah Sameyach from Dubai. We look forward next week again to doing our lunch and learn this was a great setup, at least for one more week. And Geoffrey enjoy. And I look forward to continuing next week.

Geoffrey Stern  32:25

Thank you so much rabbi. And I was inspired for the subject matter by last Shabbat last weekend. Michael is in the audience. I was with him. And we were basically in the kitchen for three days and there was a chef there, there was a wonderful woman named Anna Polanski, who is making a film on what has been called the Hummas Wars. And yes, there’s something called the Hummas Wars. And it is as cutting edge in terms of cultural adaptation, appropriation, these are issues that are on the front burner of so many people as food becomes more and more important to us and the planet. And I just want to thank so many people who are using food in novel ways. And we are just I think, at the cusp of how some of these stories become our stories. And so I wish everybody a Happy Hanukkah, enjoy your your latkes, maybe with some vodkas and Shabbat shalom. And please feel free to listen to this as a podcast on Madlik. And now we’re going to have the after-party, and I am going to invite any one of you who would like to make a comment or introduce a subject. Michael, welcome to the Bima

Michael Stern  33:55

Thank you. Such a wonderful Hag Samayach! This whole conversation reminded me of a story called which wolf do we feed and this is an internal concept where there’s the wolf, which is our ego, the wolf with switches our immediate gratification, the wolf, which doesn’t understand that some action might have a bad effect in the future. And the other wolf is kind and caring and takes into concern others and which wolf do we feed and so for me, in this internal family system, there are the Egyptians which is that wealth of ego, which disdains and even comes up with justification and stories and rationalizations and judgments and dividing concepts. And then there’s the Israelite wolf that honors not to eat the calf in the mother’s milk, that honors family, that honors and knows there’s cause and effect. And so which wolf do we feed? And I love seeing Torah as this metaphor. And for today, I really see an internal family, an internal universe, an internal planet, which has my own divides inside of me. And I want to learn from this to be more careful, more caring to know, am I the Israelite wolf or the Egyptian wolf, and do I feed my higher power? As you said the fish from the higher waters, God wants us to be our higher selves. So I have to feed by which thoughts will I build upon and digest and which thoughts will I throw out into the sea of thoughts? And we suffer in today’s world also from eating disorders. And I think eating disorders are known to represent a psychological emotional imbalance. So I love also taking it to this level of perception. Thank you. It’s beautiful.

Geoffrey Stern  36:32

Thank you so much. And again, happy Hanukkah to everybody. Feel free to check out our podcast and share it with your friends and family. Shabbat Shalom and Hanukkah Samayach.

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Sefaria Source Sheet: http://www.sefaria.org/sheets/365771

Listen to last weeks episode: Genesis as Her-Story

Genesis as Her-story

Parshat Vayeshev – Join Geoffrey Stern, Rabbi Adam Mintz and friends. Recorded on Clubhouse on November 25th as they explore how the story of Joseph and the patriarchal origins of the Exile to Egypt is interrupted by the story of Tamar and the matriarchal origins of redemption through the Davidic bloodline.

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Genesis as Her-story

parshat vayeshev (genesis 38)

A live recording of Geoffrey Stern, Rabbi Adam Mintz and friends on Clubhouse recorded on November 25th as they explore how the story of Joseph and the patriarchal origins of the Exile to Egypt is interrupted by the story of Tamar and the matriarchal origins of redemption through the Davidic bloodline. They wonder whether we might re-read Genesis as Her Story? With special “guest” appearances from Jonathan Kirsch (author of The Harlot by The Side of the Road) and Harold Bloom (the author of The Book of J).

Genesis as Her-story

Parshat Vayeshev – Join Geoffrey Stern, Rabbi Adam Mintz and friends. Recorded on Clubhouse on November 25th as they explore how the story of Joseph and the patriarchal origins of the Exile to Egypt is interrupted by the story of Tamar and the matriarchal origins of redemption through the Davidic bloodline.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/365002

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:04

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we like to light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. This week I’m joined by Rabbi Adam Mintz on clubhouse recorded live on Thursday nights. And we are discussing Parshat Vayeshev, the story of Joseph and the patriarchal origins of the exile in Egypt, and we noticed that it’s interrupted by the story of Tamar and the matriarchal origins of redemption through the Davidic bloodline. So we are going to do what we always do at Madlik and read the Torah through a totally new lens. So put on a new fresh pair of glasses, sit back, and let us hear the story of Genesis as Her-story.

So welcome, everybody, as I said in the intro, we’re about coming to the end of Genesis. And one of the things we’ve always said about Genesis is a foreshadows events to come, the rabbi’s talked about Ma’asei Avot Siman l’banim. And the big event is obviously going down to Egypt and the Birth of a Nation and the Exodus. And we’re just about to get there. And we’re leaving the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and discovering the 12 sons, and beginning the story of Joseph. And in Genesis 38. There’s an interruption. We’ve already read about how Joseph is the favorite son, and how he engenerds jaolousy from all of the brothers and thrown into a pit. And one of the brothers Judah sells him as a servant. And then all of a sudden, in Genesis 38, there is a very strange story. And while most of us will know the story of Joseph, many of us do not know the story of Judah and Tamar. So how it begins is: Judah had a certain a daughter of a certain Canaanite, whose name was Shua and he married her and lived with her and she conceived and bore a son, and he was named heir, she conceived again and bore son and named him Onan, once again, she bought a son and named him shella. He was at Kazib when she bore him, so Judah got married to a local Canaanite woman, which is in itself, unique to us, because so many of the patriarchs went to such great trouble to make sure that their children did not marry Canaanite. And now we move on, and Judah got a wife for Er, his first born, and her name was Tamar. And the story goes on to say how Tama was married to Er. And all of a sudden, Er was displeasing to the Lord and the Lord took his life so Er dies, and then Judah said to Onan join with your brother’s wife and do your duty by her as a brother in law and provide offspring for your brother. So you might have heard of the rule of the Levirate marriage, and it has nothing to do with the tribe of Levi. It has to do with keeping one’s seed alive through a surrogate by way of one’s brother. And so Onan goes ahead. And he is married to Tamar. But he does not have offspring, and he did what was displeasing to the Lord. And basically he let his seed drop to the ground and did not impregnate his wife. And then the story goes on and says that he was afraid that he might die like his brothers. So Tamar went back to her father’s house, and a long time afterward. Sue adore sue his daughter, the wife of Judah died. So now Judah is a widower, and tomorrow is is not married. When this period of mourning was over Judah went up to Timnah to his sheepshearers together with his friend Hirah the Adullamite and Tamar was told your father in law is coming up to Timnah for sheep shearing, so she took off her widow’s garb, covered her face with a veil, and wrapping herself up sat down at the entrance of Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah, for she saw that Shelah was grown up, yet she had not been given to him as a wife. When Judah saw her, he took her for a harlot, a prostitute, for she had covered her face. So he turned aside to her by the road and said, Here, let me sleep with you, for he did not know that she was his daughter in law. What she asked, Will you pay for sleeping with me? He replied, I will send a kid from my flock. But she said, You must leave a pledge until you have sent it. And he said, What pledge Shall I give you? She replied, Your a seal, and chord and the staff which you’re carrying, and the story goes on. And I suggest that we all read the whole chapter in detail, it is engaging. Ultimately, then, a trial is created for this prostitute. And she is about to be burned at the stake for being a prostitute. And it’s a public hearing. And Judah says, Let her be burned. As she was being brought out, she sent this message to her father in law, I am with child by the man to whom these belong. And she added, examine these whose seal and cord and staff are these. Judah recognize them and said, she is more in the right than I am, in as much as I did not give her to my son Shela. And he was not intimate with her again. When the time came for her to give birth, there were twins in her womb. While she was in labor, one of them put out his hand and the midwife tied, a crimson thread on that hand to signify this one came out first. But just then he drew back his hand, and out came his brother, and she said, What a breach you have made for yourself. So he was named Peretz, which means a breach afterward his brother came out, um, whose hand was the crimson thread, he was named Zeira. What do we think of this fascinating story? Here, Judah, who ultimately is the precursor, the foreshadower of the tribe of Judah, from which King David comes, is definitely caught in a compromising situation. And, as we have seen so many times in Genesis, the punch line many times comes at the end, especially with a genealogy. And here we cannot but remember that Peretz, the child that was born, was directly related to Boaz, who was the father of King David? So what do we make of this story? Is it just something that the editor had laying around? Or that Hashem put into a story? Because he thought it needed a place? Why does it come here? And what is its meaning for us?

Adam Mintz  08:10

So thank you Geoffrey for bringing up all these amazing topics. What is the significance of the story of one son sticking out his hand? And that is the idea that in Genesis, generally, firstborn is never the one who is victorious. Ishmael loses out to Isaac, Esauv loses out to Jacob, and Reuven who’s the firstborn of Jacob, also loses out to Judah and to Joseph. And here Zerach who is born first, he’s second to Peretz. And that I think, is really very, very interesting. And it goes to show that if the book of Genesis is not a book about what’s coming to you, that you deserve it, you have to earn it. And that’s why Peretz pushes through. He’s not really the oldest, but he pushes through, and because he pushes through, that’s why he is the one who was the ancestor of the Messiah. And I think that’s a very important lesson, the lesson of the lesson of pushing through. It’s not what you deserve. Peretz should have been second, because Zerach; the red thread was around his head, but parents push through. That’s the right personality trait for the Messiah.

Geoffrey Stern  09:42

So I totally agree with you. But I think that one has to go back and cannot ignore the story behind it. Meaning to say that it’s not simply Peretz there’s context here

Adam Mintz  10:00

Charles did have something to add to that.

Charles S  10:04

Well, I was gonna talk more about the story as it relates to Judah. Because in some respects, you know, last week we were talking about Yaakov and how he gets the name Yisrael and what it means to, to struggle with with God and how, the people of Israel bear that name and what that namesake means for us, and obviously Yehudah is also the namesake for the Jewish people, in that we are Yehudim from Yehudah. And I guess I’ve always thought about this story and Yehudah’s story as just being a model for Teshuva (repentance). And Judah was instrumental in the in the Yoseph story. So this is kind of his teshuva story…. this is his story, which I’ve always thought as a model for teshuva. And again, I’m not sure of the linkage, but it also kind of reminds me a little bit about, you know, the Aaron story, where he’s kind of the leader, [and I’m jumping around a little bit, obviously], but he’s sort of the leader of the Sin of the golden calf. But then, of course all the Kohanim come from Aaron, which a sort of an elevated class within the Jewish people. So again, throughout Torah, we have these models of people who are fallible, but ultimately serve as models for teshuva for the Jewish people, because they’re not perfect, but nonetheless, they their legacy lives on. And, you know, that makes them I think, more relatable.

Adam Mintz  11:58

Charles, so you’re more interested in the Judah piece of it. And actually, for you, the most two important words in this story, are “zedkah Mimeni” you’re more righteous than I am. That’s an admission on Judah’s part. It’s actually the first time at the Torah, that we have an admission of wrongdoing. You know, Adam and Eve when they eat from the fruit, they don’t admit to doing wrong, but Judah admits to doing wrong. And that’s the first example of what you call teshuvah, of repentance. And that’s why this story is so important. So that’s good. And maybe Charles, just to connect your point and my point, maybe the idea is that because Judah’s, the first one to repent, therefore he is the one who’s worthy to have the Messiah come from his seed. And that’s why the Messiah comes from Peretz. How about that?

Geoffrey Stern  12:54

I think that’s great. So I think that they’re all Midrashim that focus on the fact… that Judah started to apologize and to do teshuva, as Charles said, and he even then started to talk about what he did to Joseph, in terms of selling him and then Reuven in the Midrash pipes into so this becomes almost a Teshuva-Fest on the side of the men. But I want to focus on another word, which is mimeni. And I want to focus a little bit on Tamara Rashi says, as follows Mimeni from me, is she with child, or rabbis of blessed memory explained this to mean that a Bat Kol came forth and said the word Mimeni from me, and by my agency have these things happened, because she proved herself a modest woman, while in her father’s house, I have ordained that kings shall be descended from her. And I have already ordained that I will raise up kings in Israel from the tribe of Judah. So I think that what we’re all kind of agreeing upon, is that, number one, you can’t ignore the fact that this is the genesis, if you will excuse the pun, of the Davidic line, of the redemption of the Jewish people. And by saying Peretz that makes it very clear, and that there were at least three parties that we have identified so far. We’ve talked in terms of Peretz himself, even as an infant, where he did the peritza he did what was necessary he took the act into his own hands. Then we have the father who is Judah, who even though he fails, he recognizes his failure, his sin, and He does teshuva and now I would like to start focusing a little bit on Tamar, the Mimeni that she is more righteous than I am. And I think as we come to the end of Genesis, and we segue into Exodus, which is the story of the birth of the Jewish people, I think we would be remiss if we didn’t use this as an opportunity to look backwards at all of the narratives and stories that we’ve read. And maybe now as you say, Rabbi, it’s the first time that a patriarch has asked for forgiveness, I would argue, it’s also the first time that a patriarch has recognized his better half his wife. Has recognized the actions, the ability of the female to mold the forward motion of history. And I think if we take this moment for a second, and grab it, and we start looking back through all of the stories that we’ve read, we will see them in an entirely new light. And in fact, there’s two books that that come to mind. One is a popular book called The harlot by the Side of the Road, by Jonathan Kirsch. And obviously, the title comes exactly from the story of Tamar. And he details throughout the the Bible, all the stories that we might not hear in Hebrew school. Were women play critical, critical roles, and the others. The book is the book of J by Harold Bloom, Now Harold Bloom is a literary critic, he doesn’t claim to be a biblical scholar. And of course, he looks at it to the world, the world of scholarship that believes that the total was written from different documents and put together I think we can ignore that for a second. But what he sees is throughout genesis a female voice, and he sees this as the pinnacle of a theme that we might have been missing till now. So for instance, if we go back, and we look at Genesis 27, when Rebecca said to her son, Jacob, “I overheard your father speaking to your brother Esau of saying, Bring me some game.” Remember that story, where Rebecca goes ahead and convinces Jacob to cover himself in fleece, and to fleece his father, so to speak, and to steal the birthright. What I had never recognized till now was how she ends it. “Jacob says, If my father touches me, I shall appear to him as a trickster, and bring upon myself a curse, not a blessing. But his mother said to him, your curse my son, be upon me, just do as I say, and go fetch them for me.” So he and now we have two stories we are Tamar, I don’t know if you pick this up. But at the end of the story, she has the twins, and Judah leaves her alone. She’s done her job in terms of changing Jewish history. And now she is not thanked, she is not praised the way Judah is set to the side, here to with Rebecca. And I think we’re going to find a theme that these women who go ahead and change the destiny of our people, and our narratives ultimately say, and if I suffer, I suffer. Do you think that there’s any any merit to this theme? Am I bringing up any thoughts that resonate with anybody here?

Adam Mintz  19:02

Mendy What do you think?

Mendy  19:04

I think here is, there’s a Hasidic twist on, on every single story, Torah or everything in the Torah. And the story here with the Yehudah and Tamar, what everyone said, it’s like, I’m sure everyone knows what a chulent is here in the audience. So it’s like a mixture, because basically, if he did the wrong thing, or the right thing, obviously, he went to the side of the road to meet this lady here. But the deep explanation is that he knew that from him and through Tamar, that’s where Meshiach that’s where King David is going to come. And he, he it wasn’t like a mistake, something obligation that he had to do, just like Peretz, he had to jump in and do the wrong thing. Sometimes you have to be assertive, or sometimes you got to go ahead to to get to the goal. And sometimes you go to good, bad and ugly in order to get to reach our goal. So this is basically what happened. And also similarly speaking in our last scandal with Yosef and Potiphar. Also, it apparently it looked like something bad was going on. But that was the ultimate way how the Jewish people ended up in Egypt because that was the route they had to take in order to get to Israel eventually. I hope that makes sense.

Geoffrey Stern  20:36

It makes a lot of sense. I mean, picking up on the Hasidic or even the Kabbalistic element here. There is a strange verse in Leviticus, that it actually associates with what happened because Judah did a number of things wrong. Not only was she a harlot, but she was his daughter in law. And Leviticus says, If a man marries his sister, the daughter of either his father or his mother, so that they see her nakedness and she sees his nakedness. It is a disgrace. But the Hebrew doesn’t say it is a disgrace. It says “hesed, hu”, and the the interpretation is this amazing phrase that says “Olam al Hesed Yibaneh”, that the world is built on this hesed. And the example given is another story of women, saving the day, so to speak, and that is Lot’s two daughters, if you remember, and this is a review of all of Genesis, thanks for being part of the journey. If you remember after Sodom is destroyed, lote runs to the hills with his wife and two daughters, his wife turns around and turns into a pillow of salt, and the daughters and he go up into a cave and look like most provincials, they thought the whole world was Sodom, there is no world outside of Sodom. And so the daughters decide that the world will end unless they procreate with their father. So they get him drunk. And the child of that one of the sisters unions is called Moab of which means literally, from my father. And of course, those of you who know the other lineage of King David, it comes from Ruth, the Moabite. So here too, you have this story of women who take charge of the situation, who maybe take charge, even to the degree of breaking a few rules, but the rules need to be broken in order to achieve the ends. And of course, that can be a very dangerous concept. But looking back through the story of Genesis, I think we will see more and more of it now that our eyes are opened up and kind of be enamored by the critical role that women play. And I’m wondering what everyone makes of that. Let’s focus for a second upon the role of women in the narrative that begins in the Garden of Eden and ends up with Yehuda Tamar.

Mendy  23:20

So I wouldn’t say about the woman’s psrt, I will say it’s the feminine part. That’s what it is. We need to have the masculine and feminine to tell the world was created from the beginning. So it doesn’t become personal anyways, but this is the real truth.

Adam Mintz  23:37

That’s good. And he I think, aGeoffrey, what’s interesting is when you think about the woman’s role, or as Mendy says the feminine role. So of course you think back to the Garden of Eden and he got it got in trouble. But when you think about the, the mothers and the fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel. What’s interesting is that Sarah, Geoffrey has a very major role. She has a major role with Hagar. She has a major role with her son protecting her son, she has a major role. Rebecca, obviously has a major role. She’s the one who helps Jacob steal the blessings. But when we get to Rachel and Leah, while they have initially unimportant role, they seem to kind of fall away. Now Rachel dies. Leah, though, is just not heard from after that. Jacob all of a sudden assumes the more dominant personality in the family. And actually beginning of this week as Paracha it’s his mistakes as a father that get the family in trouble and lead to the sale of Joseph. You want to ask Geoffrey, Where was Leah? Where was his wife? I know that Joseph’s mother wasn’t around anymore. But what about his other wife? Why doesn’t she stand up and say Jacob, you can favor one son over the other. That’s just not how we do things around here. That’s not going to inclusion. So it’s interesting you talk about the feminine piece or the woman’s piece. Tamar is really the last important woman in the story. I mean, it’s not totally true, because you go to the wife of Potifar. But she’s importan because of how Joseph relates to her, I don’t think that she’s important in terms of the idea of legacy, right? It’s not our legacy. So I wonder, Geoffrey, what you make of that, that not only is Tamar, an important woman, but she’s the last important woman in the book of Genesis.

Geoffrey Stern  26:00

Well, I think first of all, you’re absolutely right in identifying the difference between the women that I’ve just mentioned, and a character in the story like Potipar, the women that we’ve been talking about that start with Eve, and with Tamar, are women that have changed the course of biblical history, so to speak, have changed the narrative, they’ve made decisions, whether it was Sarah, who said to Abraham, send out your son Ishmael. And and in that case, Abraham never admits to Sarah, that she’s right. It takes God to say listen to your wife. But getting back to your point of Rachel and leah, and why they don’t play a more important role. I don’t really have an answer to that. I mean, I think that we’re really moving forward. And these two stories, the story of Joseph, which is the continuation of the three patriarchs in terms of not picking, the oldest son of having a favorite son, and going into exile is one narrative. And this Yehudah and Tamar, where it’s really, you can say almost a different kind of direction, and arc of history, where it is the sin and the admonition or the understanding that a sin was made. And the woman taking history into her hands, that moves us into into a future of redemption with David. So it is kind of fascinating, but I don’t I don’t pretend to say I have an answer why Leah and Rachel don’t play a more important part. I mean, I think Rachel got neutered a little bit, because, she lied to her father, stole the idols, and that’s why she’s buried, and she becomes another type of icon. For those who live forever in exile. But Leah, you right, she disappears from the story.

Adam Mintz  28:28

I mean, Rachel dies. So I think she gets neutered a little bit and then she dies. So she’s not a fit figure. I don’t know the answer to this, because I think this is thing that, you know, that is a question, what happens to Leah? Geoffrey, I think as we get come to 930 I think what we’ve seen in this story is something very interesting. And it really is food for thought. And that is that each one of the characters in this story is extremely important. Judas important, you get out that Tamar is very important. Clearly the sons are important, because that’s the legacy that from which Messiah will come. And then you have the question of all the people who are not in the story. That’s Rachel and Leah, and what their role is going forward. And then even better, Geoffrey, in the next chapter, we talk about the white but Potipar like we said, you can compare Tamar who changes the course of Jewish history with the wife of Potipar, who’s just someone in the story, but doesn’t change Jewish history. So I think when we think about this story, we think about the pasha the characters here are really really, literally pregnant with meaning and interpretation. And I want to thank everybody for joining us tonight on Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving. Shabbat Shalom. Happy Hanuka, Hanuka begins on Sunday night, and we look forward next Thursday night to continuing the story of Joseph. I will be participating from Dubai and Geoffrey from home. And we will be continuing in the story of Joseph and his brothers. So Happy Thanksgiving Shabbat Shalom, everybody.

Geoffrey Stern  30:21

Shabbat Shalom to you, Rabbi. I’ve been requested that we keep the line open in case anybody wants to have to jump in and discuss anything further. I will say that the big takeaway for me this week, and I read this book by Harold Bloom, who literally says, if you read the, the book of Genesis, and you think in terms of Sivim Panim l’Torah that there were 70 different faces to Torah. Well, certainly one of those faces would let us consider that the whole book of Genesis was written from the perspective of a woman. And I think, to me the punch line after going backwards from Tamar to Sarah, to Rebecca, to all that, and then I end up back at the Garden of Eden in Genesis. And if you notice, and this I noticed, for the first time, after the sin of the eating of the apple, and true to form, just like Tamar ended up being punished. And just like Rebecca said, If anyone gets punished, it’s me. Eve gets punished. But after that, it says, “The man named his wife Eve, because she was Mother of all the living.” And it just kind of brought home to me that from the perspective of looking at all of these stories, from a woman’s point of view, who maybe has been marginalized and has to work in the background, and maybe we can enlarge the picture. It doesn’t have to be a woman, it can be an other, it can be somewhat outside of what today is very fashionable to call the patriarchy. But it really changes all of the stories. So I am thankful for that. I’m thankful for all of you, studying Torah every week. And now if anyone wants to come up, raise your hand and discuss any of this further. We’ll leave the mic open. Michael, welcome to the to the Bema

Michael Stern  32:46

Thank you, Happy Thanksgiving. I think it’s important for me, I love that we have this extra time, just to say how I feel when I leave this discussion. And today, I feel so much better, because I feel that there was so much dysfunction, and so many agendas and men and women and mothers and fathers and children all doing things. I call them mistaken ways. And then to hear that, oh my gosh, the Messiah messianic lineage comes from a lineage of mistaken power plays, agendas manipulations, because I have had my share of living life in that kind of way. And I could feel guilt and shame but actually starting today, I feel compassion. And I know that there’s so many paths mistaken paths, and that’s the feeling I go away with, with an uplifted feeling that. Wow, there’s hope. So thank you.

Mendy  34:21

Okay. So first of all, Potipar, when we touched on her, her daughter ended up being Joseph’s wife. And she was the mother of Ephraim and Menashe. That’s she’s not insignificant. She’s very significant in the story. And back to Adam and Eve, as we were talking just very recently now. The choice was, the world should stay spiritual. Or if you touch the tree, because if you really see the the text it’s very confusing. He’s the way God said, don’t eat from it, but if you eat from it, so he was like implying that you would eat from it or you’re not,…. it’s complicated, which I don’t want to get into the whole discussion, but the short of it is, Eve. “Hava”, she realized that the world, which is a very high level, because the woman has extra understanding the “Bina Yesera” there a certain way of thinking the woman has more powerful than the man. And she realized that in order for the world to get to the destiny that it needed to go, it had to go through all this troubles and corruption or whatever you want to call it, a different kind of scandals. And that’s the whole way of of the life, the feminine is like the up and down the wavy part, you know, man is a strong part. But it needed to go through this, all these mistakes and all these problems…  because if you don’t toil for something, if you don’t work hard for something, then it’s not significant at all. So the world we need to go through all these craziness. And hopefully, this will end and we will come to our destiny very soon.

Geoffrey Stern  36:09

Thank you so much, Mandy, I just want to pick up on what you were saying, Michael, about this sense that there’s so many crooked paths that lead to redemption, and you can call it the Messiah, you can call it salvation. But that clearly is the story here. And the phrase that i mentioned before, Olam al hesed Yibaneh  that the world is built on hesed, we Jews don’t normally translate the word hesed as Grace. Because somehow whether when we split word, we had a divorce with Christianity. They took the grace word, and we got the Old Testament God of justice. But my rabbi Shai Held is right now writing a book. And he’s reclaiming hesed. And I think this sense of grace that Christianity took where you can be forgiven, no matter what your sins are, is something that Jesus took from. The New Testament took from the Old Testament, and this chapter, this sensual, explicit and a one could say, adhorent chapter is evidence number one, that out of the depths of problem and sin can come salvation, and I think that’s what you were saying. And it’s an extremely, extremely important lesson, and one that we have to reclaim, I think, because it clearly is in our texts, and we have to be thankful for it and to use it as a way to pull ourselves up and to know that every one of us can achieve complete redemption and salvation. And again, it’s all in Humash in our Parsha in our Torah.

Michael Stern  38:15

Geoffrey, I’m I really appreciate that. And I have a question about redemption because it seems to me that redemption is that some outer force God redeems, forgives redeems us, lets us still have a you know, clean slate. But for me, the how do you tie that into self redemption? Do we come as individuals? And is that part of it? Can you tie self redemption where one forgive oneself for the mistaken ways?

Geoffrey Stern  38:54

Again, I think that in the divorce with Christianity, we got national redemption and they took personal redemption, but personal redemption is so much part of Judaism, you know, we talk about Yetziat Mitzrayim, leaving Mitrayim as a country, and becoming a nation. And then we call Mim hameytzar karaati Yah that I call God from the narrow place and that’s the personal redemption. So I think that Judaism has always believed  very strongly about the personal redemption. And the most wonderful story that I’ve ever heard, is, I think Maimonides says, when we prepare for the holidays, and we’re all being judged not as a nation, but as a world and the scales are teetering on either side. Each one of us has to feel that our personal redemption our personal teshuva can move the scale in one direction or the other. So he brilliantly ties personal redemption to the larger redemption of the world. But I totally think that it all starts with me and with you and with each one of us.

Michael Stern  40:13

Thank you

Mendy  40:14

very very appreciated.

Geoffrey Stern  40:17

Okay, so Shabbat Shalom and Hodu Lashem Kitov to you all.

Listen to last week’s podcast: Arguing with God and Man

Arguing with God and Man

parshat Vayishlach (genesis 32) Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded live on Clubhouse on November 18th 2021 as they discuss arguing with God in the Bible and later Rabbinic texts and Jewish Literature. Jacob’s name is changed to Israel which we are told means to struggle with Man and God.

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Arguing with God and Man

parshat Vayishlach (genesis 32)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded live on Clubhouse on November 18th 2021 as they discuss arguing with God in the Bible and later Rabbinic texts and Jewish Literature. Jacob’s name is changed to Israel which we are told means to struggle with Man and God. How do we live up to this name?

Arguing with God and Man

parshat Vayishlach (genesis 32) Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded live on Clubhouse on November 18th 2021 as they discuss arguing with God in the Bible and later Rabbinic texts and Jewish Literature. Jacob’s name is changed to Israel which we are told means to struggle with Man and God.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/363352

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:04

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern. And at Madlik we like to light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish tradition or text. We also host a clubhouse at 8pm, Thursday nights Eastern, where we have disruptive Madlik Torah. And tonight I’m joined with Rabbi Adam Mintz. And we are going to discuss the metamorphosis of Jacob, who turned into Israel by fighting, arguing, struggling with an angel. So get yourself into  debating mode, where we discuss arguing with God, and man. Welcome to another week of Madlik, the Parsha is Vayishlach and we have the story of Jacob coming back to the land of Israel. He’s about to cross the Jordan. And because we are all a product of our past, now he has to confront his past, he has to confront his brother Esau, who if you remember he swindled out of birth blessing. And now he comes with a family. He’s a family man. He’s gotten some wealth to him. But he is basically fearful for his life. And we are going to focus on that moment, before he comes and crosses the Jordan River. And he’s alone at night, he sent his family, split them up into two camps to protect them. And now is alone on the bank of the Jordan and confronts an angel. So in Genesis 32, it says, “Then Jacob said, oh god of my father, Abraham and God of my father, Isaac, oh Lord, who said to me, return to your native land, and I will deal bountifully with you, I am unworthy of all the kindness you have steadfastly shown your servant with my staff alone, I cross this Jordan, and now I have become two camps, deliver me I pray from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, else, I fear, he may come and strike me down, mother and children alike “am al banim”. And then he goes on and he says, after taking them across the stream, he sent them all his possessions. Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn, when he saw that he had not prevailed against him. He wrenched Jacob’s hip at its socket, so that the socket of his hip was strained as he wrestled with him. Then he said, let me go for dawn is breaking. But he answered, I will not let you go unless you bless me, said the other. What is your name? He replied, Jacob, said, he, your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed. Jacob asked, pray, tell me your name. But he said, You must not ask why name and he took leave of him. So Jacob named the place Penuel meaning I have seen a divine being face to face yet my life has been preserved. Then the sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel limping on his hip. That is why the children of Israel to this day, do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the socket of the hip, since Jacob’s hip socket was wrenched at the muscle.” So this is the source of why Jews cannot eat filet mignon. So already, we have a wonderful takeaway. But the real question, is, this striving this struggling with this angel, and the name change to Israel, and the name Israel literally implies struggling with man, and God. So you can’t even say that this is a subtext of a subplot when someone’s name is changed, and that name means to struggle with God and man, that’s pretty profound. Are we? The B’nai Yisrael, the children of Israel, are we a little argumentative? Are we strugglers is that that the take away from this, is this a key characteristic of the Israelite Jewish story?

Adam Mintz  05:09

I think the answer is yes. I think that Jews throughout the ages have liked the impression that the Jews struggle that goes with Jews being a minority, you know, Jews are a minority, we always have to struggle. And therefore, even though obviously, the name change goes back to the Torah, I think it’s a name change that has resonated with Jews throughout history. And I think that’s kind of interesting when you think about it.

Geoffrey Stern  05:42

You know, there’s a famous saying, in Perkei Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers, that says, A machloket l’shem shamayim an argument that is for the sake of heaven, will endure forever, but one that is not for the sake of heaven will not endure it. And anyone who has studied whether it’s the Mishneh, whether it’s the Talmud, the Oral Law, which is actually an oral law, it is a transcript of literal arguments between our rabbis, and those of you who like myself has studied in a traditional yeshiva know that when you walk into the study hall of a traditional Academy of Jewish learning, of a yeshiva, it is the absolute opposite of walking into a library, which is calm and quiet. A yeshiva the din of students arguing amongst themselves, they call it the Kol Torah is overwhelming. But in a sense, because everyone is arguing there’s a silence as well, you can actually focus and concentrate. But that truly is a real element of an argument and conflict of ideas and passions, deeply rooted in our tradition.

Adam Mintz  07:16

That is correct. The Rabbi’s say in the Talmud, that there’s nothing better than students arguing with one another when they’re studying Torah. That’s part of the experience of studying Torah is being able to argue with one another. And I that’s that’s a very strong idea. And you know, what’s interesting about the name Israel, is the fact that the Torah says that Jacob struggled with God and with man. And the question is, what the significance of that is, actually the one he’s struggling with is the angel. But the angel seems somehow to represent Easav, who’s the one he’s about to confront. So there seems to be two parallel stories, almost like two parallel train tracks going on here. One is the experience of Jacob and the angel. And the other is the experience of Jacob and Easav. And I wonder what we make about the combination of those two stories here.

Geoffrey Stern  08:20

You know, before I get to my understanding of what he means, by struggling with man, I want to make us very current, there was a book written about 10 years ago, and it’s called Startup Nation. And it tries to address why Israel per capita has so many entrepreneurs has so many startups and in the preface, it talks about a few Israelis who are sitting in a conference room and arguing amongst themselves at the top of their lungs, about a who knows what some minutiae of how to program or start their company, and the American colleague who views this, and then sees the same people that had been deep in argumentation, go have a drink later and laugh and hug each other was amazed by it. And the same thing applies to the Israeli army with is this lack of recognition of [authority], this anti hierarchical respect. And they both go to this sense of you can argue with anybody and and he liked something rather interesting, and I’ll quote, so when he asked Major General Fakash why Israel’s military is so anti higherarchical and open to questioning. He told us it was not just the military, but Israel’s entire society and history. Our religion is an open book, he said, in a subtle European accent that traces that traces back to his early tweens in Transylvania, the open book he was referring to was the Talmud a dense recording of centuries of rabbinic debates over how to interpret the Bible and obey its laws. And the corresponding attitude of questioning is built into Jewish religion, as well as into the national ethos of Israel. and Israeli author Amos Oz has said, Judaism and Israel have always cultivated a culture of doubt and argument, an open ended game of interpretations counter interpretations reinterpretations opposing interpretations from the very beginning of the existence of the Jewish civilization. It was recognized by its argumentativeness.” And and I quote that picking up on your comment about this sense of arguing with God, and arguing with men, and there’s no question that deep in our essence, in our core, is this sense of taking the other position of looking at an alternative approach. And whether he’s talking about his potential future confrontation with his brother ESAV, or the years that he spent working for his father in law, and striving against a man who at every turn, was out to get him? I think that in our case, Jacob Yaakov really did have under his belt, the ability to say, I have striven with man and I have striven with God. And I have prevailed.

Adam Mintz  11:44

I think that’s right. You see, Jacob is always identified as the first Jew in exile, the first diaspora Jew, because Abraham is basically in the land of Canaan. And Isaac never leaves the land of Canaan. But Jacob, his whole life is with Laban. And then with Easav It’s a life of struggle. We often don’t think about the story here. But Jacob has another confrontation in the city of Shem, when his daughter Dina is raped. And that’s a very difficult story, because his sons take revenge against the people of Shem. And Jacob seems to get angry at the sons for embarrassing him. And the sons seem to get angry back at Jacob, which is just a very interesting back and forth there about what’s going on. What exactly is Jacob’s, place in the diaspora, Jacob always seems to be struggling. And just to look forward to next week what’s interesting is, when Jacob finally gets settled back at home, that’s when he has real trouble, because that’s when he favors his son, Joseph. And that’s when Joseph is hated by the brothers, and sold, and the whole story of Egypt begins. So actually, Jacob has a hard time, we would say in today’s language, figuring it out, I think.

Geoffrey Stern  13:22

So. So in other words, it doesn’t end. [laughs]

Adam Mintz  13:25

Yes, That’s, that’s my, that’s my read of from here to the end of the book of Genesis. It doesn’t really end, Jacob has trouble. And more than anything, Jacob struggles, you know, is he victorious? I don’t know. If he’s victorious.  You know, the rabbi’s want to make him victorious, the rabbi’s are very proud of Jacob, because Abraham has Yishmael, and Isaac has Esav, but Jacob, all his children are true to his tradition. So you know, in a sense, they want to make it seem as if Jacob is somehow superior to his father and grandfather. But I don’t know that that’s so clear or so simple.

Geoffrey Stern  14:11

So I want to pick up on this concept of argument is the essence of the Jewish people. I mean, you know, again, the fact that we are called Yisrael which means striving with God and man, according to the verses that we just read. You can you can ignore that. So there’s a wonderful book, and it’s called Arguing with God, a Jewish Tradition by Anson Laytner. And he literally writes a whole book about this concept and you have heard me speak previously about how we now know from Ancient Near Eastern texts, this whole concept of making a [treaty] covenant and stuff like that, what he picks up from similar ancient texts is that is a whole tradition of what he calls this prayer of arguing with God. And what he does is he talks about how it’s called The Law Court Pattern of Prayer. It’s literally taking a god to court. And of course, what the Jews did with that was because their relationship with their God was so unique, and they only had one God, it was taking the single God to court. And of course, that makes a paradigm shift, because you can’t play one god against another. And I think as we look at different examples that the author brings, I think we’ll see stuff that really resonates that we’ve all heard about. But I want to start with one of the texts that he bought that actually relates to the argument, or I should say, the thoughts that Jacob shares with us today. If you recall, when I read a second ago, Jacob split up his his family into two. And  he said whether musing to himself or to God, that He says, I fear he may come and strike me down. Mothers and children alike, “Aim al Banim”and, and the Midrash pipes in and explains that he is actually in a sense, taking God to court here. And what he’s saying, and I quote, Bereshit Rabba 76 He says, “I fear he may come strike me down mothers in childhood, like, but you said, [Jacob says to God,] if along the road you chanced upon a bird’s nest, in any tree or on ground with fledglings or eggs and the mother sitting over the fledglings, or on the eggs, do not take the mother together with her young”, there is a law in Deuteronomy that literally prohibits you from taking the eggs out of a nest, while the mother bird is still on it. Somehow, it broke with the moral, the ethical aesthetic of the Bible. There’s another law that said, “he may come and strike me down mothers and child alike, but you wrote, you have written in your Torah, do not kill a cow, or ewe and it’s young on the same day.” So again, according to this operation, robber, Jacob is also referring to a law in Leviticus that says, you cannot, again for this same moral aesthetic reason, kill a mother and child cow on the same day. There’s something about uprooting any sense of continuity among any species that rankles the ethics of the the Torah. And it goes on to say, “if this wicked one, Esau comes and destroys all at once, what will happen to your Torah, which in the future you will give on Mount Sinai, who will read it, I entreat you deliver me from his hand, that he will not come and kill both mother and child together” So the the author of this book has multiple examples, we’re going to visit a few through history, where this Jewish concept of taking God to task, quoting his own Torah, and this is something that the author feels in any case, is unique in the Jewish religion, Rabbi, do you feel that that is something that is unique to us?

Adam Mintz  18:47

That’s a good question. I don’t know the other traditions well enough? To answer that question. I can just say that it is a very striking aspect of Judaism. calling God to task is a fascinating idea. The fact that, we have all these examples, my favorite is Abraham calling God to task about destroying stones, and you know, really try to negotiate with God, the idea of negotiating with God, it’s such a crazy notion, how can you  negotiate with God, but Abraham feels comfortable enough to negotiate with God. So I think the fact that we’re willing to take God to task is something that is very striking, I’ll just add to that idea of taking God to task. There’s another rabbinic idea. And that’s the idea that God suffers with us, that when we suffer, God suffers together with us. We take God to task but God it’s not as if God’s our enemy, God is with us and even God, when we go into exile, God goes into exile with us so we take God Death. And God responds in a way that really is very compassionate.

Geoffrey Stern  20:05

Absolutely. Almost God’s there with us. You know, the other thing that we have touched upon in the past is that much about Genesis is a forecast of what will happen in Exodus, going down into Egypt, in the case of Abraham and Sarah, and even Jacob. And it occurs to me, that Jacob here crossing the Jordan is identical to Moses about to cross the Jordan. But unlike many of the other precursors, I think that this story is slightly different, because Jacob is allowed to cross the Jordan, with his people, and Moses is not. And another example of this argument with God can be found in Devarim Raba. And this is, what words are put into Moses, his mouth, and Moses says, “Master of the Universe, the labors and pains which I have devoted to making Israel believe in your name are manifold and known to you to what trouble I have gone with them in connection with the precepts in order to fix them Torah and precepts thought, just as I have witnessed, they are Whoa, so too, I would behold their award. But now that we’re word of Israel has come, and you say to me, You shall not go over this Jordan. [And here’s where Moses gives his argument.] Behold, you made a fraud of your own Torah as it is written, you must pay him his wages on the same day before the sunsets, for he is needy, and urgently depends upon it else, he will cry to the Lord against you, and you will incur guilt. Is this the reward I get for 40 years labor that I went through in order that Israel should become a holy and faithful people.” So here Moses is taking the law, that you have to pay a laborer, the money that you owe him before you go to sleep, you can’t let the sun set without paying him. And Moses is saying, I suffered with these people for 40 years, I paid my dues, and now you won’t pay me what is is owed to me. And and again, it’s an amazing argument. But I think in the sense, it becomes even more profound, because we have to grapple with why Jacob was allowed to cross over into the Jordan, I mean, Jacob, if you look at the text, both this week, and last week, Jacob makes a very similar argument. He says, I worked with Laban and I worked for seven years for one wave seven years for another, he gets to ESAV. And he goes, I know you are concerned about me having the blessing. But I worked for everything that I show you today. I paid my dues, and he is somehow allowed, to course the Jordan, but Moses, who makes this type of argument that I think only a B’nai Israel could make is somehow not allowed. So my question is, well, my comment is twofold. Number one, why was Moses not successful in his request, but two this sense of argumentation, of literally, just as Jacob was able to hold the angel and say, I will not let you go until you bless me is a tradition that starts, as you say, from Abraham, and goes all the way through Moses, and we’ll see in a second through throughout Jewish history, it’s it’s very profound.

Adam Mintz  24:05

Yeah, I mean, yes, the answer is it is it is very profound. How do you take it as it relates to Jacob specifically, What do you think the fact that this is true about Jacob, and that we’re called Israel? What does that mean for us going through history?

Geoffrey Stern  24:25

Well, I think it certainly gives us a license, if not an obligation to argue and to take our God to task. You know, it’s a very fine line who this angel is, at some point he’s called Elohim. At some point, you could come to understand him as to be man, but definitely, somehow by the end of the story, and Jacob is obviously a person who throughout his life is looking for blessings he’s looking for recognition, he’s looking for someone to, say you are you, you are your own person. But nonetheless, Jacob does achieve that. He can’t forget his past, it’s not going to go away from him. But the legacy that he gives to his children, and to the world is this, I would say, not only license but an obligation to struggle and to argue with one’s God. And it enables him, I think, to get across the the Jordan and get into the promised land. And so he is successful, where maybe Moses was not.

Adam Mintz  25:55

Yes. So the idea that He gives permission that I think is a very critical idea that Jacob is actually the one who gives us permission to challenge God. And that, throughout history, Jews have challenged God as the descendants of Jacob. And that’s what we do. We challenged God. I mean, we asked, Where was God? Where was God in the Holocaust? Where was God when young children are killed in terrorist attacks in Israel? Where was God? And what you’re really saying correctly, is that that’s what Jacob did in a way, in, you know, in in challenging the angel is he’s challenging God. I wonder why the rabbi’s say that the angel was the angel of Esav. What did they gain by that?

Geoffrey Stern  26:51

Hmm, I hadn’t really seen that. But whether the angel was the angel of God, or whether the angel was the angel of ESAV, where Jacob becomes Israel, is by standing on his own feet and standing up to him. And, you know, I think this concept of arguing with God almost transcends a standard belief in God. In the texts and the traditions that the author that I quoted before brings, he brings poetry written and prayers written during the Holocaust, and after the Holocaust, and you mentioned the Holocaust. And you know that, that is a tipping point, in a sense, and I’d like to read just a little poem written by somebody called Jacob Gladstein, that he quotes. And I’m not sure the person who writes it can anymore believe in God. But when I read it, I pictured Jacob, sitting after fighting the angel, giving thought to what everything he’s come through all of the losses that he’s had. And here’s what he writes. And it’s really about God, and this person sitting in the DP camp. And he writes, “I love my sad god, my brother Refugee love to sit down on a stone with him and tell him everything wordlessly, because when we sit like this, both perplexed, our thoughts flow together in silence, my poor God, how many prayers I’ve profaned, and how many nights I’ve blasphemed him and warned my frightened bones at the furnace of the intellect. And here he sits my friend, his arm around me, sharing his last crumb, the God of my unbelief is magnificent. Now that he’s human and unjust, how I love my unhappy God, how exalted is this proud, pauper, now that the merest child rebels against his word” , and I really see in this words, Jacob sitting with the angel after fighting all night, and they’re both breathless and out of any strength, and they just put their arms around each other. And it’s an amazing picture. I had a professor of philosophy at Columbia, Sidney Morganbesser, and he was in great pain before he died. And one of his students came to him, and he said, “Why is God making me suffer So? do you think it’s punishment for me not believing in Him?” …. yeah he said that and he’s quoted as saying that, but again, it has this same tension that we of Israel are obliged to struggle with our God. And that, in a sense, is our essence. It’s it’s just, it’s just fascinating.

Adam Mintz  29:59

That is correct. It is just fascinating that that becomes our essence. And your essence is always your name. We always say that right? You know, names mean a lot. And the fact that we are named the children of Israel means a lot that, you know, that shows that our essence is that we’re made to struggle. You know, they often talk about you talked at the beginning what it’s like to be in yeshiva, and you know, the argumentation. You know, that goes on. But that’s our personality, we argue with one another. And we challenge everybody, we even challenge God, Isn’t that an amazing thing? We argue with one another, and we even argue with God.

Geoffrey Stern  30:47

I think it is amazing. And the most fascinating takeaway that I have taken away from this, and I haven’t seen it written anywhere else. Is I started by saying that the outcome of this story is that the Jewish people do not eat filet mignon, they do not eat that part of the animal that has the sciatic nerve in it. Because Jacob walked away from this battle with a limp. And what’s fascinating is, there is really no commandment from God, that we not eat this piece of meat. The verse says, That is why the children of Israel to this day, do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the socket of the hip. And what’s amazing to me is this is a commandment that possibly does not come from God. Is it one of our 613 commandments? Yes, it is. But where does it come from? It comes from Israel to Jewish people. And it’s a sense of when you come out of that struggle, and you limp away and you fought with man, but more importantly, in this context, you fought with God. Therefore, until this day, we Jews, maybe it’s our commandment, versus God, we are we remind our God, our God within ourselves or a God out there, that we have struggled with him or her, we continue to struggle with him or her, but it is a commandment that comes from us. I mean, how many times in Genesis does it say there were seven wells and therefore until today it is called Beersheba. It’s not a commandment. It’s a point of fact. But in this particular case, the fact that Jews, Israelites B’nai Israel do not eat from this piece of meat is a testament to our willingness and our need and our obligation to strive with God and man.

Adam Mintz  32:59

That I think is a beautiful note with which to end this discussion. The portion next week is Vayesh. It’s right before Hanukkah. Let’s have a great discussion next week. Thank you and welcome back. Geoffrey, this was a really good discussion this week. And Shabbat Shalom to everybody. Happy Thanksgiving. And we look forward to seeing you all next Thursday, Thanksgiving day to talk about Yayeshev.

Geoffrey Stern  33:21

Shabbat shalom. Thank you. Bye bye

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Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse on Thursday November 18th at 8:00pm Eastern as they discuss arguing with God in the Bible and later Rabbinic texts and Jewish Literature. Jacob’s name is changed to Israel which we are told means to struggle with Man and God. How do we live up to this name?

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Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/363352

Listen to last week’s podcast: HaMakom: Place / No Place

HaMakom – Place / No Place

Parshat Vayetzei – The Rabbis learn from the multiple use of the word MAKOM – Place in the story of Jacob’s Ladder, that God is the Place of the World, but the World is not His Place. What can we learn from the Rabbis?

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HaMakom – Place / No Place

parshat vayetzei (genesis 28-32)

A live recording of Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse on November 11th 2021 as we discuss the Rabbi’s enigmatic saying that God is the Place of the World, but the World is not His Place. שֶׁהוּא מְקוֹמוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם וְאֵין עוֹלָמוֹ מְקוֹמוֹ What can we learn from the Rabbis?

With “guest” appearances from Spinoza and the Kotzke Rebbe

HaMakom – Place / No Place

Parshat Vayetzei – The Rabbis learn from the multiple use of the word MAKOM – Place in the story of Jacob’s Ladder, that God is the Place of the World, but the World is not His Place. What can we learn from the Rabbis?

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/360797

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 a clubhouse every Thursday evening at eight Eastern which we record and post as the Madlik podcast. If you like what you hear, give us a star and share with your friends. And write a review. Today along with Rabbi Adam Mintz we climb up and down Jacob’s Ladder, and explore the evolution of the Hebrew word for place; Makom. Makom signifies both a unique place in Jewish history and geography, and a place that transcends both place and time. So find yourself a comfortable spot, but don’t get too comfortable as we explore hamakom- place / no place. Well, welcome I am broadcasting from Tel Aviv and rabbi Mintz is in New York. So we are in two different places. And we have a wonderful portion today it’s called Vayetzea, and it is about a famous story of Jacob, on his way to find himself a bride and the sun sets and he finds himself in a certain spot, he puts a bunch of rocks under his head as a pillow. And he falls asleep and has a dream of a ladder going from the ground up to heaven. And there are angels going up and angels going down. And when he wakes up, he realizes that he is in a very special place. And we are going to focus not so much on that story, because I just told you this story. And know you remember it from Hebrew school. But we are going to focus today on a word that is used multiple times. And I have used it already a few times today. And it is the word for place it is Makom. So now I’m going to read a little bit of the text in the actual language it’s written in. And we are going to focus on how this word is used here. And then how the history of that word developed over time. So we are in Genesis 28. And it says of Jacob, “He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night for the sun had set, taking one of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. That was one verse and it said Makom three different times. And then it talks about the story that I just described. And towards the end it says Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, Surely the Lord is present in this place. And I did not know it  Shaken, he said, how awesome is this place? This is none other than the abode of God. And that is the gateway to heaven. Early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put unto his head, set it up as a pillar and poured oil on the top of it.”So Rabbi, what do you make of this use of the word place over and over again? Is it just a special place? What is going on here?

Adam Mintz  03:43

Well, first of all, let me say that, you know, that clearly is the key word in this story. It’s not so much the dream. It’s the fact that Jacob has found the place. Now according to rabbinic tradition to start backwards. This place is the place where Abraham was ready to sacrifice Isaac, it’s this place that became the place where the temple was going to be built. So therefore this is the place the mountain in Jerusalem, this is the place and Jacob locates the place. And I think that’s a really interesting idea in Judaism, that there’s significance to place. You know, on one hand, we’re told to believe that God is everywhere. Hasidic masters always say, Where is God wherever you let him in. But in addition to that, there is the idea of God being in a specific place, there was the temple, and when the temple was destroyed, the temple was replaced by synagogues and Geoffrey you’re in Israel, and this week you were in Northern Israel. They have some amazing archaeological finds there. of ancient synagogues. There were synagogues that go back more than 2000 years. So the idea of having a place in Judaism, and of course, you know, it’s funny in COVID, people had synagogues outdoors. But in the Middle East in the summer, they needed synagogues outdoors,  so they kind of beat us to the punch. They had synagogues outdoors in gamla and in many of these places. So the significance of place is extremely important to find the place, there is a place where God is closer, there is a place where we can communicate with God. And I think at least on the simplest level, that’s what the Torah is telling us about Jacob, he found this place.

Geoffrey Stern  05:48

So you mentioned that the rabbinic interpretation is that the place is Moriah, it’s where the binding of isaac occurred. And Rashi, of course, because he always gives us an insight into what the traditional interpretation says, says exactly that. And the interesting thing about that is if you look at Genesis 22: 4 it says, “On the third day, Abraham looked up and saw the place from afar” haMakom meRachok  So that’s kind of interesting and some of the classical commentators pick up on that as well. That there’s a sense, of course, with Yaakov, of not knowing that he was in a very holy place, having the dream waking up and realizing my gosh, I am in a very holy place. And Abraham seeing the place from afar. As you mentioned, there is this connection between the place and a temple, a synagogue. If you notice at the last few lines that I read, what he does, when he realizes that he’s in a holy place, is he takes a stone, and he sets it up as a pillar and he pours oil on it. Later on in the parsha. way. later on, after Jacob has toiled for both Leah and Rachel, his two wives, and he leaves Laban, his father in law in a hurry. After Laban chases  him they make a pact of friendship, because there’s a lot of tension there. And here, too, it’s kind of interesting, they set up a stone, very similar to what Yakov did at the beginning of the portion, when he finds out he’s in a holy space. And here, too, they set it up, but they do something kind of interesting. Yaakov calls it Gal Eid” (Gilaid) which means the stone is a witness. And Laban, in one of the few times in the Bible where we get a kind of a translation, he calls it “yigal Saduta” which is Aramaic. And those of you who have studied archaeology know, whenever they find one of these stones (stella’s)  that has languages translated on it, it provides a way of understanding the past. So I think that if you look at it, just from the perspective of a physical stone, of physical place, we have all of these dynamics going on. We have man seeing the holiness from afar, and then maybe discovering it, we have man solving problems of social conflict and making a pact and consecrating so even if you look at it at the most, I would say literal way. It’s a fascinating insight into sanctification of a particular place, wouldn’t you say?

Adam Mintz  09:12

I would say there’s no question about that. And again, the idea that you can sanctify a place, we still have that idea. You know, there are certain rules that apply to synagogues that don’t apply to other places. You have to treat synagogues with a certain amount of respect. synagogues are sanctified

Geoffrey Stern  09:29

in a similar way. And then of course, there’s this concept of this stone here. So before we leave and go on a World Wind tour of how this developed in rabbinic literature, I think we would be remiss if we didn’t talk a little bit about the significance to at least two religions of literally, this stone. If you go to the Dome of The Rock if you go to Har Habayit, there is the cornerstone there, the Even hashatea   We call it the Foundation Stone. And in Islam, it’s called the Noble Rock. And it’s very likely that this is the story of exactly that stone. And of course, you have the beautiful Midrash which explains why when Yaakov went to sleep, it says he put a number of stones under his head, and he woke up and it says, He took the single stone. So you have these stones fighting amongst themselves, whose head who will have the head of this righteous man on me, and they all come together. But this is the noble rock this is the Even hashatia, is it not?

Adam Mintz  10:53

It definitely is. So that stone becomes the holiest stone, the holiest place in Jewish history.

Geoffrey Stern  11:01

And there is a another beautiful Midrash that says that when the world was created, and man was made from the earth, that in fact, he was made from literally this earth. According to Rashi, it says “he took the dust from that spot on which the Holy Temple with the altar of atonement was in later times to be built, an altar of Earth thou shalt make for me.” And Rashi draws the conclusion, between the words Earth used in making the altar, and the words Earth used in making humankind so this is really the kind of the fulcrum, the eye of the universe for the biblical and rabbinic mind. It’s pretty dramatic.

Adam Mintz  11:56

It most definitely is  This story of the place is extremely dramatic. And you drew the parallel to the story of the binding of Isaac. And they’re also Abraham sees the place  It’s never by accident, when the Torah uses, the same word in different contexts. If the Torah uses the same word in different contexts, it’s coming to tell you that you’re supposed to connect the stories. So when you connect this story of Jacob’s dream with the story of the binding of Isaac, this story is elevated. And actually just to say another thing. That means that all three of our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all had an experience in the place, the place that would become the holiest place in Judaism is a place where the forefathers had their experience of relating to God, that’s very powerful.

Geoffrey Stern  12:52

So if we were to stop right here, we would have enough to chew on so to speak, in terms of taking these ancient stories and narratives of our forefathers and bringing them into the present in terms of the temple in ancient times and even today, but what amazes me is there’s a phrase in the Talmud, that is, brought in Bereshit Rabba and it’s from right here, and it asks a question. And the premise of the question is, for those of you who are aware of Jewish tradition, the word place makom in rabbinic tradition became a name for God. And of course, we know there were many names for God. You’re not supposed to speak inside of a bathroom because you might say the word Shalom. Shalom is a name for God. In a sense, we believe that God has no name and therefore there are many names. The colloquial, the common way of referring to God for religious Jews today is Hashem which means “the name” but Makom is used as a name of God. And we are going to visit all the times that it’s used, or at least the famous times that it’s used. But before we do, here is the amazing statement in Bereshit Rabbah 68 And it says, “And he came upon this place, quoting from our portion Rav Huna says in the name of Rabbi Ami: why do we substitute the name of the holy blessed one and use “place”? So he literally asks why when we do the Seder do we say Baruch hamakom, baruch hu” Why when we go to a Shiva, do we say “hamakom yinachem” instead of God should console you, we say the place should give you consolation. And here’s the answer that he gives. He says, because “God is the place of the world, but the world is not the place of God.” And for those of you who know Hebrew, you have to listen to the lyricism here. He says, “makomo shel olam v’eyn olam makomo” It’s an amazing phrase, I’m going to say it one more time, that “God is the place of the world. But the world is not God’s place.” And that is what Rob Hoonah says, is the reason why we substitute the name of Makom for God’s name. Are you as amazed by this phrase, as I am rabbi?

Adam Mintz  15:58

Well first of all, like you said, the poetry of the phrase, is that really amazing? It’s brilliant how they do that? But yeah, I mean, it’s such an interesting idea, you might have thought that the world and God are one, that it’s not that one is the place of the other, but the world is God and God is the world. But this phrase says that that actually is not true, that it’s not true, that the world is not God’s place, but God is the world. I mean, what is it? What let me ask you a different question, a Talmudic Question. What’s the difference between the two formulations? Meaning, what difference does it make if God is the world or the world is God?

Geoffrey Stern  16:47

Well remember what it says is that God is the world, but the world is not God’s place. So it doesn’t actually parallel the two. So I always think, I always think of when Elie Wiesel was standing in front of Reagan, and Reagan was about to go to a (SS) cemetery, He said, It is not your place. So I think in maybe the most broadest sense, what it’s saying is that everything is God. In other words, everything that we can see with us senses is God, every stone, every beam of light, every sound that we hear, but it’s not God’s place, meaning that doesn’t limit God. He’s more than that. But he is all of that. That’s kind of the way I kind of take it at face value.

Adam Mintz  17:47

That’s interesting. It doesn’t limit God, but it gives God a kind of a foundation in the world. I like that. And so the question is, if God is not connected to the world, how do we relate to God? God needs to be connected to the world somehow, right?

Geoffrey Stern  18:10

I think so. And that’s why I think there’s this sense of imminence and transcendence. In other words, it’s kind of like Jacob wakes up in the morning, and he goes, my God, (excuse the pun) This is his God’s place. He hadn’t seen it before. Or when Abraham sees the Makom from afar. I think there’s that also and of course that ties in a little bit to the ladder, doesn’t it about being close what you’re going to talk about this Shabbat, about the heavens and the earth, being both transcendent, and imminent?

Adam Mintz  18:54

Right. I mean, that is a very important point, the relationship between heaven and earth. Now, interestingly, the it’s the world that’s called Makom not heaven. You get the impression that God’s place or the place of God is the earth, not heaven. And that’s something different than we usually are brought up to think. Don’t we usually think haShamayim Shamayim L’Hashemthe … the heavens belong to God. VeHa’aretz natan l’bnai adam.  But that’s not the way they’re saying it here.

Geoffrey Stern  19:29

Yep. And then if you think of the future temple, where God says “v’shechanti n’tochem” that “I will dwell withim you” You have that aspect of it. What I’d love to do is now that we have this amazing sense of what Makom came to mean for the rabbis, to first of all agree that in the biblical texts themselves, there’s not this sense at all. We started by talking About the holiness of this particular place this stone. And the question then if we agree on that is what happened? Why did the rabbis or how did the rabbis and what license did the rabbis have to go to this so sophisticated, so lyrical, so poetic, maybe even a Buddhist sense in a sense it’s everything is here but nothing is here  How did this happen?

Adam Mintz  20:30

Yeah, that’s a good question. What was the development of the idea? Where did it come from? Since it’s not in the text? Where does the development come from? That’s really your question. Yeah.

Geoffrey Stern  20:43

Yeah. So what I’d love to do is to kind of go over a few different kind of key phrases where this new sense of Makom as God’s name appeared. And maybe we can together and I invite anyone from the audience to come up. We are in virgin territory. No matter how many (or few) years of learning gives you any prerogative here. It’s really poetic. But the first time that we really see this in the biblical text is in your Ezekiel  and we use this phrase in our prayers in kedusha on Shabbat, so here’s what Ezekiel says. “Then he said to me, mortal, listen with your ears and receive in your mind all the words that I speak to you. Go to your people, the exile community, and speak to them, say to them Thus said the LORD our God, whether they listen or not, then a spirit carried me away. And behind me, I heard a great roaring sound, bless it is the presence of the Lord in his place. “Baruch Hashem mimkamo” If this is the first time that you really get a sense of Makom being associated with God, it certainly does bring up exile. And maybe that’s what this is all about. Maybe after the first physical sense of Temple no longer had meaning. And the people were in exile. This became a new temple, and it was a temple in God himself. I don’t know. But there is this association with exile in Yehzkel.

Adam Mintz  22:39

So let me tell you a very strong rabbinic tradition. The strong rabbinic tradition is a phrase “imo anochi b’tzara” that when someone is suffering, we empathize with the suffering. And the amazing thing is that the rabbi’s say that that phrase applies to God as well, that when Jews suffer, God empathizes with them, that when the Jews go into exile, God goes into exile with them. When the Jews are being punished, God is also being punished. And what they do is they reread several verses in the Torah to suggest that idea, Baruch Hashem Mimkamo from God’s place. Now, it’s not God’s place, it’s every place God is where he needs to be, or where God needs to be, not he or she, and when Jews are suffering or when people are suffering, God is with that. When people are celebrating, God is with them. I think that’s a very strong, very strong idea.

Geoffrey Stern  24:02

And part of that idea is that man is somehow involved here. So one of the alternative explanations of why God was there (with Jacob) was a “b’makom sh’tzadikim omdim sham haKadosh barchu nimtza” in the place where the righteous people are, that’s where God is. And I think that kind of ties a little bit into what you were saying. It also ties into the famous answer of the kotzke Rebbe when they say where is God, and he said, wherever we let him in. So you’re saying he’s everywhere, but nonetheless, it does relate to humanity in a sense, whether it’s because they’re righteous or because some other sanctification (suffering or joy). Michael, welcome up to the Bima, How are you today?

Michael Stern  24:54

Good. Thank you and it’s late at night for you and I really appreciate you being on this from Israel, I wanted to consider that. There’s a saying I think it was job. It’s like his heart is as firm as a heart of stone. I remember hearing that. And so when I think of what the rabbi’s said it’s everything is a perspective. So a heart of stone could be cold and hard and no empathy. And just crushing, walk, stepping on anything it passes. And then a hardest stone could be connected to earth energy, have permanence stability. I have endure and strength structure. So I just think that for me, I was listening of Makom And for my understanding Makom is this place. That’s everywhere. But I have been searching for it. And it’s within. And I have tried it all the heart of stone, no empathy, me, me, me and then a stone that is connected to the earth and to everyone else and the sacred space. So I just think it’s interesting, this heart of stone could be also seen in two different ways.

Geoffrey Stern  26:34

I think that’s beautiful. You know, there is a sense of, as you were saying, that this place is is available to everybody is all encompassing this sense of having the stone but having it accept everybody on different journeys on different narratives. Is one that I find very appealing. And if you think of how we use Makom in the Haggadah of the Passover Seder, we say Baruch Hamakom baruch hu baruch sh’natan Torah l’amo Yisrael. We’re saying how great is God that He gave us the Torah. And then it goes on. And it says keneged arba banim dibra torah  that God spoke to the four children, which is really just a symbol of four different amongst a multiplex of different pathways that one could find to that stone. So I love that idea of having it being all encompassing. And the other time that we use makom is when someone is in mourning. And you know, the advice that the rabbi’s give is don’t say anything to somebody in mourning, whether it’s a Job or it’s Joe from next door. Who are we to understand what they’re suffering, what got them to where they are. So it says hamakom yinachem etchem, that the God or the place this all encompassing place should accept you. So I do believe that there’s a really strong sense in this attribute of God as a place that opens it up to so many different emotions and pathways.

Adam Mintz  28:18

Yeah, I mean, let’s let’s take a second go back to the idea that in Shiva, when you offer consolation, you say HaMakom the place why do we think that that is why do we refer to God as being HaMakom? Or is that actually what it means Hamakom yinachem etchem. Does it mean God? Or does it mean this place where you sit Shiva together with everybody else? Let that provide the comfort means I think it’s ambiguous what Hama comb refers to exactly

Geoffrey Stern  28:55

yeah, I agree. We do see here in Hamakom Yinachem this reference to the exile again, so that it is a recurring theme. It says that God should have Mamakom should comfort you amongst the gates of the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. So again, you know, you kind of get a sense of the evolution of this concept of a physical place to a less tactile place a more all encompassing place. Yes, Elise.

Elise Meyer  29:34

I keep thinking of Makom as being like a state like the state of mind the state of being the state of togetherness, you know, whatever. Whatever the Makom is, that’s your Makom.

Adam Mintz  29:49

Interesting hamakom yinachem etchem means where you are now that should comfort you. However you’re feeling now that should be a sign a source of comfort. The question elise is how do you get that from the word hamakom?

Elise Meyer  30:06

Think of the word situation? Situation is like makom.

Adam Mintz  30:11

Yeah, I mean, that’s what you need to say what you need to say is that it’s the situation. May the situation console you, right? That’s a very nice Geoffrey, what do you think of that? That’s a nice little twist to this.

Geoffrey Stern  30:28

I think it’s all there. And and I think we would be remiss and we are starting to run out of time, if we didn’t mention the most famous heretic and I say that in quotes of Judaic thought, and that is a guy named Baruch; Benedict Spinoza. And he was accused of something called Panantheism. Only because he said something to the effect of “whatever is, is in God, and nothing can be or be conceived without God.” In the notes that I give on Sefaria for this talk. There is a erudite lecture that says that who could say that this idea of Spinoza was not in Judaism. And literally the first argument he gives is our sense, that God is the world but the world is not God. And it’s really, it’s so transcendental and so universal. It’s such a powerful, powerful idea. But one of the things that Spinoza was influenced by was Descartes, who literally said, everything in the world is probably what’s in your mind. Because, you know, he said, Cogito ergo sum I think, therefore I am. And in a sense, at least, that’s what you’re saying this Makom is in our head, but maybe Spinoza took it one step further. And he said, the whole world is in God’s mind. So this is a mind blowing concept. There’s no question about it.

Elise Meyer  32:24

I love this. I love this conversation. It was great.

Adam Mintz  32:28

Thank you, Elise.

Geoffrey Stern  32:29

I want to conclude at least my comments by bringing ourselves back to Israel, which is where I am right now. And I was trekking in the Negev and I came to a sign put up by the nature authority, and it’s the type of sign that you’d expect to find on a campground. It says put all your trash away, lieve the site clean, but it’s in Hebrew, and it says at the end, Ben Adam L’makom between man and earth and place. And of course what it is doing is it’s taking another time that Makom is used in our tradition, which is before Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, we are told that for sins between man and God, between Adam v’Makaom you can ask forgiveness on your own between Adam v’havero (man and his fellow) you have to request permission. But what this sign did is it took this concept that we’re talking about right now. Back to the physical piece of land, and in an environmental way. It says it’s ben adam l’makom it’s between man and his responsibility to this beautiful world that we live in. And that really blew my mind.

Adam Mintz  33:56

That is a great way to end Geoffrey thank you so much. Enjoy Israel enjoy the Makom. Everyone we wish you a Shabbat Shalom and we look forward next Thursday night to learning the parsha of Vayishlach continuing the stories of Jacob and Geoffrey Shabbat Shalom in Israel. Lila Tov to everybody. Have a great week. Be well everybody, bye bye.

Geoffrey Stern  34:19

Shabbat Shalom to everyone and let the place be with you.

Adam Mintz  34:22

Amen.

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Listen to last week’s Podcast: Stolen Blessings and the Crooked Timber of Humanity

Stolen Blessings and the Crooked Timber of Humanity

Recorded live on Clubhouse on November 4th from Tzofar in the Arava of the Negev Desert in Israel with Rabbi Adam Mintz in New York, we explore Yaakov’s name and career path and struggle with his twice stolen blessing.

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Stolen Blessings & the Crooked Timber of Humanity

parshat toldot (genesis 23 – 25)

Recorded live on Clubhouse on November 4th from Tzofar in the Arava of the Negev Desert in Israel with Rabbi Adam Mintz in New York, we explore Yaakov’s name and career path and struggle with his twice stolen blessing. We ask how parents could give a child a name such as “heel-sneak” or “heal grabber’ and how Israel could emerge from such crooked timber?

Special “guests” include Shmuel Yoseph Agnon and Isaiah Berlin

Stolen Blessings and the Crooked Timber of Humanity

Recorded live on Clubhouse on November 4th from Tzofar in the Arava of the Negev Desert in Israel with Rabbi Adam Mintz in New York, we explore Yaakov’s name and career path and struggle with his twice stolen blessing.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/358410

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 a weekly disruptive Torah discussion on clubhouse every Thursday evening at 8pm. Eastern today along with Rabbi Adam Mintz we explore Jacob’s name and career path and struggle with his twice stolen blessing. I’m broadcasting live from the Negev in Israel. So join me in the desert as we explore stealing your blessings. So welcome, another week of disruptive Torah. And as I said, I am in the Negev, and I’ve been talking to my buggy mates as we dune buggy across the desert and my camping mates about the Parsha. So you are going to get some very Israeli and secular Israeli cultural Israeli insights into this parsha that I am very, very excited to share with you. So as I said in the intro, we’re really going to focus on the personality that is scripted for Yaakov known in English as Jacob, and the personality and the career path that he has starts from the first moment of his birth. In Genesis 25: 26. It says then his brother emerged [because he was twins with a guy named ESAV]. And his brother emerged holding on to the heel of a Esav. So they named him Jacob. Yaakov comes from the word. Ekav, which means heel. So right from the beginning, from the moment he was born, there is this relationship with Esav, clearly, but it’s a special relationship. Because unlike Achilles, whose heel also plays a major role in his life, at least it’s HIS heel. In the case of the alcove, he gets his characterization by grabbing on to his brother’s heel. And then of course, as we talked about in the pre party, there’s two stolen blessings. And we’re not going to really get into all the details about how the blessings was stolen, mostly because we all know the story, the first stealing of the blessing. And I’m saying that in quotes, because I’m going  to ask the rabbi in a second, whether he feels in fact that they were stolen. But the first episode is when he Esav who’s a hunter, very vibrant, comes home after being out in the fields, and sees a pot of, of lentils, red lentils on the table that Yakov is about to eat. And he just says I could die for those lentils. And sure enough, Jaco takes advantage of the situation. And he says, Well, no problem. I will sell you these lentils for the birth right, because he was ultimately the second born child, he came out second grabbing onto that heel. And Esav went ahead and said, Sure, not a problem. Fast forward to later on in the Parsha. We know the second episode, which is where Yaakov dresses up in a garment that makes him feel Smell Taste like his brother, and he goes to his father who is blind, and he impersonates his brother, and gets the blessing in that way. So let me stop here and ask you, Rabbi, and anyone in the audience, do you feel that these blessings were actually stolen? And if they were, were they stolen twice? Or just once? What’s the deal?

Adam Mintz  04:21

Okay, first of all, Geoffrey, it’s so nice that you’re able to do this all the way from the Negev. And I look forward to the perspective that you’re going to share from your friends who are with. I think the simple reading of the text is that the blessings are stolen once. It’s only the second time the story with Jacob dressing up like Esav with his and his father being blind. That was trickery. The first time he took advantage of his situation. I don’t think we would say that that’s dishonest. He took advantage of a situation Esav should have been more careful. So I think it’s an interesting question what the relationship is between the first story about the soup? And the second story about stealing the blessings? Does Jacob feel as if he’s legit in taking the blessings? Because he bought them from Esav? The Torah never says that. Exactly. Does the Torah mean that? Is that supposed to be understood? So I’m not quite sure. So your questions a good question. I don’t think he stole them twice. But I think there is a fair question about what the relationship is between story A and story B.

Geoffrey Stern  05:41

So as I said in the intro, I’ve been camping in the desert of the Negev. And as any of you who are campers or have seen Blazing Saddles, will know that campers do end up eating beans into the trip. And so sure enough, one night, we were served beans this week. And I said, you know, what’s, what’s the connection between beans and and this week’s parshah with Jacob, Yaakov and ESAV. And the Israeli says, well, there is an expression and it’s called NAZID ADASHIM  and Nazi Adashim is the opposite of something that I was aware of which is ONAH, you’re not allowed to charge too much for something by biblical law, NaZID ADASHIM is when you buy something for much, much less than it’s worth. So if you go ahead and Google that you’ll see in Wikipedia,  two examples from literature of how these words are used. So one example is the guy had to sell an interest in his company, for a lot less than it was worth mamash nazid adashim It was really a case of nazid adashim. So from the Hebrew vernacular of modern day Hebrew, I think it’s pretty clear whether it was actual stealing, or gross taking advantage of a situation. It certainly was not something that if anything, we would put on a pedestal and say, this is the way we want to live our lives. Even if you look at the prophets, like Jeremiah, Jeremiah says, In 9: 3 “beware every man of his friend, turn not even a brother. For every brother takes advantage, every friend, is base in his dealings”, and the words that he uses for every brother takes advantage is Kol ach Akov Yakov.  So here you have both modern day Hebrew and the prophets themselves. Jeremiah is in the business of bringing the Jews back to proper behavior. And clearly the reference is to a Yakov. But it’s even deeper than that. It’s almost his vernacular way of saying, you know, the brothers should not take care of brothers and they shouldn’t be grabbing the heels. So I do believe that both traditional Jewish texts and the way the story is carried on in modern Israeli culture. The premise is that Yakov did not do a good thing that’s for sure. Whether it was outright stealing or crass, taking advantage of his brother, is up for grabs. But before you respond, Rabbi or anyone in the audience, what I would like to add to my question is, what sort of a name is it for parents to give their child or if you want to look at it as literature, the author of our holy text to give to one of our patriarchs a name that ultimately means heel or a heel grabber? It It’s so strange. I mean, Rabbi this Shabbat you’re going to be talking about what did Isaac see in ESAV, who was out there hunting and earning a living, but what did he see and his wife see in their son that they would give him such a name? There’s literally nothing nice you can say about using the word Yaakov which could mean crooked. I mean when when armies attack from the rear,  the word that is used is attacking the heel, the Ekev. And we all know what Amalek is hated for it attacked the rear of the Jewish people. Rabbi, what do you make of this? And how could anybody call their child? Yakov?

Adam Mintz  10:25

It’s fantastic question. I mean, the simple answer to the question, of course, is that Yaakov held on to the heel of Esav when they were born. So actually he was named after an event that took place in his life. Now, that doesn’t answer your question. It’s still not a good name.  But you have to know something, you know, they always ask the question the book of Ruth, the sons, the husband of Ruth and the husband of her sister in law, Orpa names are Machlon and Kilion means disease, andKilion means destruction. And you have the same question, Geoffrey. And that is, how in the world could you name your kids disease and destruction? And I think the answer they give is that in the Bible, the names are not always names that were given by parents at the birth of the children. Sometimes it’s the Bible, giving these names to these people, reflecting what their life was about. They want you to identify these people. So Machlon and Kilion were bad guys. They died young. So they’re called Machlon and Kilion . And Yaakov. Interestingly enough, if we take this view, the Torah wants us to know that he was a very complicated guy, and that he basically made his way by being cunning. It’s not only this week, Geoffrey, next week, he’s gonna do exactly the same thing except with his father in law, Lavan, you know, when he has this kind of very strange way in which he’s able to take the flock of Lavan. Now, he’s also someone who is tricked. Because next week, Laban tricks him and gives him the one daughter rather than the other daughter. So, so Yaakov lives a life of trickery. And if we understand like the verse in Jeremiah, that the word really means trickery. That’s the way we remember Jacob, as someone who lived a very complicated life. He’s the first one of the forefathers, who actually, his life is not straight. His life is very, you know, very crooked, back and forth, and forth and back. And I think it’s our job to try to figure out what do we think about this guy Jacob, were named after him. By the way, Binay Yisrael, the children of Israel were named after Jacob. But interestingly, just on your point, we’re not called B’nai Yaakov. We’re called B’nai Israel. I don’t think that’s a mistake. Right? They don’t want to call us b’nai Yaakov, B’nai Yisrael the word Sarita means either to struggle or to be victorious over, that’s a much better name than Yaakov.

Geoffrey Stern  13:27

If I can interpret what you’re saying a little bit, is first of all, yes, there are many instances where our names in the Bible foreshadow what is to come. And if what is to come is not that pretty? You might get a lame name like, you referenced. Of course, that begs the question here a little bit, because as you say, Yakov is our patriarch, we are the children of Jacob. So this is not a side character. Or you could certainly not say that Yakov is the bad guy in this story. The story continues from him. So I would like to suggest that maybe his name foreshadows a name change. And of course, we all know that Yaakov evolves into Israel. And that becomes kind of an interesting dynamic here. Do you think there’s any any any thought to that where one needs to grow into a name? I mean, if we look at Yakov as the one who follows the crooked path, the schemer, the conniver, the one who basically has to claw his way up by his bootstraps, and then we look maybe at the future Parsha where he fights with the angel and he wins and and gets a new name. Maybe in his case, he’s foreshadowing, this change in terms of whether it’s his parents or if we look at it from a literary point of view, the author of this story, do you think there’s any basis there?

Adam Mintz  15:24

I’m sure there’s basis there. This week’s portion and next week’s portion are Jacob, the conniver. Jacob’s name is changed two weeks from now in Vayshlach, by then he’s done conniving, he meets his brother Esav right when they’re both older and successful. And they actually have a confrontation. I mean, it doesn’t turn out to be a bad confrontation, but they have a confrontation, there’s no more of the conniving in Jacob. He is someone who goes out and he has the self confidence to have a confrontation with his brother. So I think that there’s no question that Jacob evolves, develops into Israel, and were named after Jacob with the name Israel. And that’s the Jacobwho has  12 sons and one daughter, that’s the Jacob who goes down to Egypt, that’s the Jacob who basically is able to reconcile his family and we’re gonna have plenty of weeks to talk about that. That’s a very interesting idea. And that is a Jacob might have been responsible for the fact that the family split apart that he favored Joseph, but in the end, it’s Jacob, who brings the family together. And it’s a nice story, because at the very end of the book of Genesis, we have the story that everybody is there, around Jacob when he passes away, because he’s able to bring everybody together. So the story of Jacob and in a very straightforward way, he’s not the conniver anymore. He’s very deliberate and very straightforward. So it might just be that the second half of the book of Genesis, is the development of the character of Jacob.

Geoffrey Stern  17:09

So I think you’re absolutely correct in terms of if you look at the book of Genesis, you get that resolution at the end, for sure. But what I would love to do is maybe we’re being a little harsh on Jacob, on Yakov may be looking at Yaakov’s need and ability to work the system work around the system to break a few rules, to get where he needs to be. Maybe it’s not all, Jacob, but maybe there’s a theme here that Jacob is meant to open our eyes to. And so when I started thinking along those lines, I started thinking of Abraham and Isaac, the parents, both of them either went down to Egypt or went down to another place when there was a famine. And for whatever reason, both of them lied about the relationship with their wife. Abraham had a beautiful wife, he was afraid that he would be killed if it was known that that was his wife, and he said, It’s my sister. And again, so now I’m kind of sensitized. We’ve talked before about the fact that the Abraham with Lech Lecha  is a wanderer, comes from the other side of the tracks, so to speak, and that’s where the word Ivri comes from M’ever, but maybe we haven’t focused enough on the more pathetic side of being a wanderer, maybe we have looked at it as too heroic. And maybe what this Pasha is making us do and what Yaakov is making us do is to understand a little more the pathos of being that wanderer, that stateless person, that one who has to land on his two feet and, and try to get a grave for his wifewithout any leverage talking to the locals, the landowner [belonger], so to speak, and has to lie about the relationship with his wife, which has to be the most emasculating thing that a person could do. And, and then I came across a beautiful verse in Isaiah 40, it actually comes from the Haftorah, that we say, after Tisha B’Av called Nachamu, and it it has a verse and it says, Let every valley be raised and Every hill and mountain made low, let the rugged ground become level and the ridges become plain You guessed it, right? If you guessed that my buddy who was driving the dune buggy with me, we started talking about crooked roads and bumpy roads. And he brought up this verse and a book by Agnon that I’ll get to in a second. But even if you look at this worse verse when it says that he makes the ground level, it says Vehaya Ha’akov L’misur  the word for crooked ground is that old word. We’ve been talking about this akov. And the Midrash has an amazing interpretation of this path of this story. Of course, Isaiah is consoling the Jewish people, he’s talking about the future. And he’s gonna say that in the future, things are going to be straight, the road is going to be flat. And the Midrash says that, yes. Not only that, but unlike when you left Egypt, and you went to Pharaoh, and you said, Hey, Pharaoh, we need to go to the desert, to pray to our Lord. And you literally had to lie. The first or second time when you were talking to Pharaoh about what you really wanted to do. We want national independence, we are human beings. No, you made up a little white lie. And the Midrash says that in the future in the final redemption, we’re not going to have to lie anymore, we can take the straight path. So it really put it clear in front of my eyes, that we’re looking at this theme of knowingly knowing that we as people, and we have a mythology of having to do that corner cutting and having to grovel and having to break a few rules. And this theme is more than just Yaakov. Does that resonate with you at all rabbi?

Adam Mintz  22:15

It does resonate with me. I’m waiting to hear the rest. Yes, that does resonate.

Geoffrey Stern  22:20

So the rest is that the guy who I’m driving with says, and you have to read a book by ag known, and the book is called Vehaya Ha’akov L’misur And the Crooked shall be made Straight. And through modern technology, I have my Kindle with me. I’m in a tent, I’m able to download, unfortunately, only an English translation of this work. And it’s an amazing story about a guy and his wife who had childless who owned a store in Eastern Europe, a hardware store. And all of a sudden, like Job, everything goes wrong. The local nobleman favors another retailer, so he raises their rent. Once the rent goes up, their taxes go up shortly after they go bankrupt. And now the the the hero of our story, a guy named Menasha Chaim has to make a decision when the decision is he’s going to go to other towns, and he’s gonna become a shnorer. And in his mind becoming a snorer a fundraiser for himself is close to stealing. And one of the stories that he tells is in the name of the Rebbe of Kochnitz. And it’s called the Gulden thief, not golden, but gulden. Because this chasid goes to his rebbe. And he says, I’m just not making it. I can’t make ends meet. And so the rabbe says, You know what you need to do, you would be a fantastic thief. So he goes out. And this is a hasidic story. And he starts, he says, I need a gulden once a week. It’s like a shekle, it’s like a pound to survive. So he breaks into stores, he breaks into homes, he opens up the safe, the safe could be full of hundreds of 1000s of dollars. He takes out one gulden and it’s a long story. But in a sense, what it’s doing is it’s talking about stealing in a way that is very simpatico you feel for this thief. And there are many different little side stories in the book and I assure you that if you read it, you will love every minute of it. But the most fascinating part story is that when he leaves his town he goes to his rabbi to get a letter saying that this man is very righteous so he can use this letter to fundraise to shnur And he’s a bashful young guy, and he just finds it, it’s difficult to use this letter and he’s, he’s really a loser. And at every turn, he’s losing money. And finally he meets another beggar in a tavern. And the otherbegger says to him, Well, why are you doing so badly and he shows him the letter. And the other beggar says, Listen, I’ll buy that letter off of you. Because you don’t have to use it. I know how to use it. I can make a lot of money with that letter. So he sells him the letter he now has money in his pocket. He gets drunk. The guy who bought the letter thinks he’s going to be rich and he gets drunk. The only problem is the beggar who has the letter dies. So now he dies with this letter in his pocket saying that he is Manassa Chaim, and he’s a good guy. Well, his wife, Manasseh Chaim’s wife has been waiting at home. And now she hears that her husband has died. So she goes to the rabbi and the rabbi says, Well, you have the letter. So you can say that he died. And she gets remarried. Now. Moshe Chaim, is coming back to town come back, he comes back. And no one recognizes him. And he talks to a beggar. And the beggar says I’m off to the circumcision of the child born to this woman who was your wife, but of course, he doesn’t say was your wife. Now he realizes he has to leave town. Because if he becomes apparent, that will ruin his wife’s life, and the child will become a bastard. So he strats to start sleeping in the cemetery because he wants to die. And the cemetery man starts putting together this beautiful gravestone. And he comes in looks at it, and his name is on it. And it turns out, his wife says, I want a beautiful gravestone for my first husband. And so you can imagine … what Agnon does, in my mind, is he parallels the story, as you were saying, Before Rabbi were a Jacob cheated his brother, Esav, what comes around goes around next week, we’ll find when he goes to Lavonne. He’s cheated. But you literally have this sale of this letter, very reminiscent of the porridge. It is absolutely fascinating. But at the end of the day, what one is left with is this sense of what it was like to live as a minority without a gulden to scratch together, begging for your life. And there was nothing heroic about it. But it was who we were. And it makes you look at this whole story from a whole different perspective. And you start to wonder, maybe 200 years ago, they read this story much differently. Maybe they saw in Yaakov themselves. And that was the question I was left with after reading the book, I just looked at the whole story totally differently.

Adam Mintz  28:26

So that first of all, thank you for sharing the book and the story. And it’s amazing that they’re in the Negev, you discovered this book, and you read the book I love the whole the whole background. But you know, that is so interesting to say that we see ourselves as Jacob. And really, Geoffrey, the sermon that you’re giving is, do we see ourselves as Jacob? Or do we see ourselves as Israel? Which name do we see ourselves, and that were called the children of Israel, but maybe depending on when you lived and what the situation was and how difficult it was? Maybe we get comfort in the fact that we’re the sons, the descendants of Jacob, that we know how to…. I think the word they use today is operate in a very hostile world.

Geoffrey Stern  29:22

And what would goes with that is, so profound because nowadays we talk about people who are victimized or have a sense of being a victim. And of course, that gets back to the part of the story that we talked about or foreshadowing a name change, you know, how do you kind of respect and understand the pathos of the Yaakov and still be able to see the Israel as the Ideal, the successful person who can stand on his two feet? How do you get around making the Yaakov, the heel grabber something that you can kind of sympathize with, understand, both in yourself and in others without making it into a model. And that, to me was a fascinating part of the story as well, I must say that the other thing that came to mind….  is I loved a thinker called Isaiah Berlin. And he wrote a book called The Crooked Timber of Humanity. And it was taken from a saying of Immanuel Kant, who believed all morality was perfect. But the concept was, that we are human. And being human, dictates what ultimately the outcomes are. In Kohelet, Ecclesiastes sees, it says, 7: 13 consider God’s doing, who can straighten what he has twisted, and in so I think part of it also, is this recognition of who we are. And the direction that Isaiah Berlin took it was that he grew up in an age where Communism and Nazism and all of these isms, these ideals will literally responsible for the deaths of millions of people. And his concept was that if the Timber of humanity is crooked, then making it straight, making some sort of ideal, which has no basis in the matter of fact, nature of our lives of our trivial lives and pathetic needs, makes no sense. And his concept was, get rid of the ideals and think of the practical things that you can do. And more importantly, understand that there might not be a resolution to every question, and that there might be more than one side, ultimately, that life can be murky, and that we all might be heel grabbers.

Adam Mintz  32:29

I mean, you go from it from OG alone to Isaiah Berlin. And you know, what you see really is that this idea of the need to sometimes be a heel grabber, and to gain comfort in the fact that one of our ancestors was a heel grabber is an extremely powerful idea. And I think just as we, as we reach 8:30, I think, Geoffrey, that you really, you put you put this in perspective, I think we always start by saying, we’re the children of Israel. And I think by sharing the unknown story and sharing Isaiah Berlin’s insight. I think what we really see is it’s not so simple. And Yaakov’s his life was not so simple. And the way we look back and we associate with those lives is not so simple. And that being a heel grabber is not necessarily something that we need to be ashamed of. But you know, different situations require different kinds of reactions. So that’s fascinating, and I look forward Geoffrey, to next week. continuing our conversation we’ll talk about Vayetze, we’re gonna continue our conversation about Jacob’s life so Shabbat Shalom, you’re gonna get to Shabbat before we will. But Shabbat Shalom, enjoy the Negev enjoy Toldot in the Negev and Shabbat Shalom, everybody. We look forward to seeing you next Thursday night at 8pm to discuss Parshat Veyetze.

Geoffrey Stern  33:54

Thank you so much rabbi, Shabbat Shalom to everybody. And please know that this part this was recorded and it will be published as a podcast, and it will include a Safira source sheet so you can go ahead and look at all the sources but forget about all that and run out and buy that book by Agnon. It is amazing and it’s called And The Crooked Shall Be Made Straight. Shabbat Shalom to you all.

Adam Mintz  34:24

Shabbat shalom. Bye bye

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Listen to last week’s episode: Life is with People and so is Death

Life is with People and so is Death

Parshat Chayei Sarah – Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on October 28th 2021 as they explore the Bible’s euphemism for death: “and he was gathered unto his people” as an opportunity to question our assumptions regarding the biblical view of the afterlife …

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