Category Archives: tribalism

Walk like an Egyptian

parshat bo (exodus 13)

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

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

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

Transcript:

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

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

Adam Mintz  04:50

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

Reuben Ebrahimoff  07:17

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

Geoffrey Stern  07:46

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

Reuben Ebrahimoff  07:49

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

Geoffrey Stern  08:26

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

Avraham Bronstein  11:19

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

Adam Mintz  12:59

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

Geoffrey Stern  16:14

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

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

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

Geoffrey Stern  16:57

Haftorahman what do you think?

Reuben Ebrahimoff  19:40

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

Adam Mintz  21:13

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

Reuben Ebrahimoff  21:17

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

Geoffrey Stern  21:41

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

Adam Mintz  27:21

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

Geoffrey Stern  29:28

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

Adam Mintz  29:59

That's good also

Geoffrey Stern  30:00

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

Adam Mintz  32:35

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

Geoffrey Stern  32:49

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

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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.

https://www.clubhouse.com/join/Madlik/WGUNtQ1o/M82Y2nAP

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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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.

https://www.clubhouse.com/join/Madlik/aNTn8REz/MR006KXa

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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in defense of jewish universalism and liberalism – a rampage

This past week I was assaulted twice by attacks on Jewish Utopianism.  I am not blameless.  I choose to expose myself to briefings and podcasts that run the gamut of Jewish and political thought, but I was nonetheless taken aback by a similar message from disparate sources all on the same day.

Daniel Gordis, during an AIPAC briefing and latter in a Jerusalem Post Op-Ed [i] argued that the problem with Europe, the EU, The Left, our college youth and/or Conservative and Reform Rabbinic students (pick any or all of the above) is that they have missed or forgotten the core message of Judaism, Zionism and the State of Israel.  Gordis is actually coming out with a book in August; The Promise of Israel (I have not read but see pre-publication review here). According to Gordis, these misguided leftists believe in a utopian universalism best optimized by John Lennon in his anthem “Imagine”.

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

Gordis is not original in his distaste for this, one of my favorite songs. His colleague at the Shalom Center, Ze’ev Maghen wrote a whole book, or in his words; rampage on it. (see: Imagine John Lennon and the Jews: A Philosophical Rampage)

I have also heard Michael Oren make this argument and Lennon reference. The water at the Shalem Center might be a tad bitter. [ii]

Gordis sets up a false dilemma by arguing that the opposite of Universalism is Nationalism.  He and those making the argument are either ignorant or disingenuous in suggesting that Judaism and Zionism, at their core are Nationalistic to the exclusion of Universalistic.

In a wonderful example of reduction ad absurdum, Gordis argues that any movement, political or cultural uprising which rejects any form of universalism (such as the EU, the UN, NATO etc.) is a de facto vote for Israel.  Ergo…. the vote for Brexit and the popularity of Trump …. is good for the Jews.

An understandable reaction to Gordis’s remarks would be to sit our college kids down, pull our Rabbinic students out of class and explain (with pained sensitivity) that their problem is that they are too idealistic.  Given the holocaust and continued enmity faced by our people, not to mention, a careful re-reading of Judaism and Zionism, Gordis would have us instruct our youth to spend more time defending the nation-state and less time imagining.

After listening to Gordis I drove home only to listen to the next podcast in my que from the Tikvah Fund: Norman Podhoretz on Jerusalem and Jewish Particularity .  Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary Magazine discusses what he calls the “scandal” of Jewish particularity.  Podhoretz argues that the Western Liberal world is scandalized by the Jewish idea of particularism. One would be excused if one left this interview believing that the Jews introduced the world to excessive paternalism, tribal pride and nationalism.

Hasn’t Podhoretz seen My Favorite Greek Wedding I and II?  The truth as Gordis and Podhotetz well know and as is easily demonstrated by the exploits of the Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Crusader, Muslim, Nazi and Soviet empires… nationalism was alive and well before and without the Jews.  To the contrary…. with their eschatology and non-cyclical concept of history the Jews may have actually introduced Utopianism and Universalism to the world (for better or worse…. mostly worse).

That the Hebrew Bible talks about a nation state, boundaries, military conquest and defense is hardly exceptional…. That it talks about a day when man will learn war no more, where boundaries and languages will disappear and all mankind will worship one God in peace… that was a novel idea.  And yes… where in addition to a physical Jerusalem there was and will be an ideal Jerusalem and an idealized temple (see Ezekiel 40 – 44 especially 43:11) and where the commandments of the Lord will be written not on tablets but on the heart of all man… That all predated Christianity and came from the Hebrew Bible and that was the scandal of Judaism . [iii]

I am not a big fan of eschatology and messianism but I am not guilty of the intellectual dishonesty required to proclaim that these utopian and universalistic ideas did not originate and grow in Judaism.

As to Zionism, for anyone to argue, as does Gordis, that for the majority of the secular Zionists (and the overwhelming majority of Zionist thinkers were secular if not downright anti-religious) the Jewish State was not some version of a utopia… is crazy. [iv]

Gordis and anyone who argues for Jewish particularism over Jewish universalism are misreading the real innovation of Judaism and setting up a false binary and a straw dummy.

The opposite of universalism is not nationalism. Nationalism is only the flip side of the coin… the opposite of both of these isms is realism, rationalism, compromise, nuance, common sense, critical thinking and in all other ways an appreciation of the crooked timber of humanity.  The opposite of Universalism is liberalism.

This middle way had no better spokesman than Isaiah Berlin who argued in the “steadfast defense of liberal values against their rivals both on the Left and on the Right.” Illiberals like Podhoretz critique Berlin’s Liberalism for authenticating relativism [v] and who am I to defend Berlin, but I do believe that if Nationalism can be critiqued for being tribal and Universalism can be critiqued for being naïve then Liberalism should have a place at the table. If we are to see a brighter future and connect with our youth (and the youth within us) then surely more focus and critical thinking need be brought to bear on Liberalism… with all its potential detours and warts.

I would prefer to engage our college age youth and young rabbinic students with respect for their idealism and to challenge them to subject their universalistic aspirations to the rubber of reality.  To follow Berlin in recognizing nationalism “with the insight that belonging, and the sense of self-expression that membership bestows, are basic human needs” and as Jews we/they more than anyone should appreciate these needs by our own people and by others. [vi]

There is a ten-year-old institute in Israel The Jewish Statesmanship Center which is systematically revising Jewish and Zionist thought in line with the Nationalism and particularism reflected in Gordis and Podhoretz… and successfully educating a new generation of leaders.  Those of us who have a more nuanced understanding of Jewish and Zionist thought need to support those who wish to establish a similar institute to educate and spread the best of liberal thought where universalism and nationalism, chauvinism and multiculturalism, heaven and earth       שָּׁמַיִם עַל-הָאָרֶץ are given equal weight and permitted, nay encouraged to dialectically advanced as the Jewish State prospers. (stay tuned).

One of the lectures that institute might offer could be on the utopian vision in Judaism and Zionism of a world without religion too… The lecturer might review the majority of Zionist thinkers who thought that religion was an archaic tool, the outgrowth of an unnatural life of a people deprived of country and language to be tossed once we have our state.  She might guide us through Talmudic texts that claim in the end-of-days there will be no mitzot (religion).

The commandments will be abolished in the future world (Babylonian Talmud Niddah 61b)

מצוות בטלות לעתיד לבוא – במסכת נדה דף ס”א ע”ב

We might even learn that the reason a pig is called a Hazir is because in the utopia of the future it will again be permitted (hozer) to the Jewish people….

“למה נקרא שמו חזיר שעתיד הקב”ה להחזירו לישראל” [vii]

Ahh … but I digress…

All I know is that on Shabbat I sing of Shabbat being a little taste of Imagine

Like the World to Come, the restful day of Shabbat (Mah Yedidut, Shabbat Zemirot)

מֵעֵין עוֹלָם הַבָּא, יוֹם שַׁבָּת מְנוּחָה,

And let myself indulge momentarily in an Imagine day that never ends…

May it be Your will that we merit a day when it is always a restful Shabbat – (Birkat Hamazon, Shabbat)

הרחמן הוא ינחילנו יום שכולו שבת ומנוחה –  ברכת המזון של שבת

And that I would feel very comfortable singing Imagine at my Shalosh Suedot…

Getting back to my week in podcasts…. Fortunately, the next podcast in my que was from Machon Hadar on a prayer that even Daniel Gordis says every Shabbat and at the apex of his celebration of our particular national deliverance from Egypt during the seder. [viii]

Nishmat Kol Chai, The breath of every living thing …. A prayer that while leaning universal, nonetheless seamlessly integrates the particularism of the Jewish people into a utopian and universal vision of the future….

The soul of every living being shall bless Your Name, Lord our God, the spirit of all flesh shall always glorify and exalt Your remembrance, our King. From this world to the World to Come, You are God, and other than You we have no king, redeemer, or savior. He who liberates, rescues and sustains, answers and is merciful in every time of distress and anguish, we have no king, helper or supporter but You!

God of the first and the last, God of all creatures, Master of all Generations, Who is extolled through a multitude of praises, Who guides His world with kindness and His creatures with mercy. Hashem is truth; He neither slumbers nor sleeps. He Who rouses the sleepers and awakens the slumberers. Who raises the dead and heals the sick, causes the blind to see and straightens the bent. Who makes the mute speak and reveals what is hidden. To You alone we give thanks!

Were our mouth as full of song as the sea, and our tongue as full of joyous song as its multitude of waves, and our lips as full of praise as the breadth of the heavens, and our eyes as brilliant as the sun and the moon, and our hands as outspread as the eagles of the sky and our feet as swift as hinds — we still could not thank You sufficiently, Lord our God and God of our forefathers, and to bless Your Name for even one of the thousand thousand, thousands of thousands and myriad myriads of favors, miracles and wonders that you performed for our ancestors and for us. At first You redeemed us from Egypt, Hashem our God, and liberated us from the house of bondage. In famine You nourished us, and in plenty you sustained us. From sword you saved us; from plague you let us escape; and from severe and enduring diseases you spared us. Until now Your mercy has helped us, and Your kindness has not forsaken us. Do not abandon us, Lord our God, forever. Therefore the organs that you set within us and the spirit and soul that you breathed into our nostrils, and the tongue that you placed in our mouth – all of them shall thank and bless and praise and glorify, exalt and revere, be devoted, sanctify and declare the sovereignty of Your Name, our King. For every mouth shall offer thanks to You; every tongue shall vow allegiance to You; every knee shall bend to You; every erect spine shall prostrate itself before You; all hearts shall fear You; and all innermost feelings and thoughts shall sing praises to Your name, as it is written: “All my bones shall say, Hashem who is like You? You save the poor man from one who is stronger than he, the poor and destitute from the one who would rob him.”

The outcry of the poor You hear, the screams of the destitute You listen to, and You save. And it is written: “Sing joyfully, O righteous, before Hashem; for the upright praise is fitting.”

By the mouth of the upright You shall be exalted;

By the lips of the righteous shall You be blessed;

By the tongue of the devout shall You be sanctified;

And amid the holy shall You be lauded.

And in the assemblies of the myriads of Your people, the House of Israel, it is the duty of all creatures, before you O Hashem, our God and God of our forefathers to thank, laud, praise, glorify, exalt, adore, render triumphant, bless, raise high, and sing praises – even beyond all expressions of the songs and praises of David, the son of Jesse, Your servant, Your anointed.

And thus may Your name be praised forever- our King, the God, the Great and holy King – in heaven and on earth. Because for you it is fitting – O Hashem our God and God of our forefathers – song and praise, lauding and hymns, power and dominion, triumph, greatness and strength, praise and splendor, holiness and sovereignty, blessings and thanksgivings to Your Great and Holy Name; from this world to the World to Come You are God. Blessed are You Lord, God, King exalted through praises, God of thanksgivings, Master of Wonders, Creator of all souls, Master of all deeds, Who chooses the musical songs of praise – King, Unique One, God, Life-Giver of the world [universe הָעוֹלָמִים  ed].

נִשְמַת כָּל חַי תְּבָרֵך אֶת שִׁמְךָ ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ וְרוּחַ כָּל בָּשָׂר תְּפָאֵר וּתְרוֹמֵם זִכְרְךָ מַלְכֵּנוּ תָּמִיד. מִן הָעוֹלָם וְעַד הָעוֹלָם אַתָּה אֵ-ל. וּמִבַּלְעֲדֶיךָ אֵין לָנוּ (מֶלֶךְ) גּוֹאֵל וּמוֹשִׂיעַ. פּוֹדֶה וּמַצִּיל. וְעוֹנֶה וּמְרַחֵם. בְּכָל עֵת צָרָה וְצוּקָה. אֵין לָנוּ מֶלֶךְ עוֹזֵר וְסוֹמֵךְ אֶלָּא אָתָּה: אֱ-לֹהֵי הָרִאשׁוֹנִים וְהָאַחֲרוֹנִים. אֱ-לוֹהַּ כָּל בְּרִיּוֹת. אֲדוֹן כָּל תּוֹלָדוֹת. הַמְּהֻלָּל בְּכָל הַתִּשְׁבָּחוֹת. הַמְּנַהֵג עוֹלָמוֹ בְּחֶסֶד וּבְרִיּוֹתָיו בְּרַחֲמִים. וַה’ אֱ-לֹהִים אֱמֶת. לֹא יָנוּם וְלֹא יִישָׁן. הַמְעוֹרֵר יְשֵׁנִים וְהַמֵּקִיץ נִרְדָּמִים. מְחַיֶּה מֵתִים. וְרוֹפֵא חוֹלִים. פּוֹקֵחַ עִוְרִים. וְזוֹקֵף כְּפוּפִים. הַמֵּשִׂיחַ אִלְּמִים. וְהַמְפַעֲנֵחַ נֶעֱלָמִים. וּלְךָ לְבַדְּךָ אֲנַחְנוּ מוֹדִים: וְאִלּוּ פִינוּ מָלֵא שִׁירָה כַיָּם. וּלְשׁוֹנֵנוּ רִנָּה כַּהֲמוֹן גַּלָּיו. וְשִׂפְתוֹתֵינוּ שְׁבַח כְּמֶרְחֲבֵי רָקִיעַ. וְעֵינֵינוּ מְאִירוֹת כַּשֶׁמֶשׂ וְכַיָּרֵחַ. וְיָדֵינוּ פְרוּשׂוֹת כְּנִשְׁרֵי שָׁמָיִם. וְרַגְלֵינוּ קַלּוֹת כָּאַיָּלוֹת. אֵין אֲנַחְנוּ מַסְפִּיקִין לְהוֹדוֹת לְךָ ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ. וּלְבָרֵךְ אֶת שִׁמְךָ מַלְכֵּנוּ. עַל אַחַת מֵאֶלֶף אַלְפֵי אֲלָפִים וְרוֹב רִבֵּי רְבָבוֹת פְּעָמִים. הַטּוֹבוֹת נִסִּים וְנִפְלָאוֹת שֶׁעָשִׂיתָ עִמָּנוּ וְעִם אֲבוֹתֵינוּ

מִלְּפָנִים מִמִּצְרַיִם גְּאַלְתָּנוּ ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ. מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים פְּדִיתָנוּ. בְּרָעָב זַנְתָּנוּ. וּבְשָׂבָע כִּלְכַּלְתָּנוּ. מֵחֶרֶב הִצַּלְתָּנוּ. מִדֶּבֶר מִלַּטְתָּנוּ. וּמֵחֳלָאִים רָעִים וְרַבִּים דִּלִּיתָנוּ. עַד הֵנָּה עֲזָרוּנוּ רַחֲמֶיךָ וְלֹא עֲזָבוּנוּ חֲסָדֶיךָ. עַל כֵּן אֵבָרִים שֶׁפִּלַּגְתָּ בָּנוּ. וְרוּחַ וּנְשָׁמָה שֶׁנָּפַחְתָּ בְּאַפֵּינוּ. וְלָשׁוֹן אֲשֶׂר שַׂמְתָּ בְּפִינוּ.הֵן הֵם. יוֹדוּ וִיבָרְכוּ. וִישַׁבְּחוּ. וִיפָאֲרוּ. אֶת שִׁמְךָ מַלְכֵּנוּ תָמִיד.כִּי כָל פֶּה לְךָ יוֹדֶה. וְכָל לָשׁוֹן לְךָ תְשַׁבֵּחַ. וְכָל עַיִן לְךָ תְצַפֶּה. וְכָל בֶּרֶךְ לְךָ תִכְרַע. וְכָל קוֹמָה לְפָנֶיךָ תִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה. וְהַלְּבָבוֹת יִירָאוּךָ וְהַקֶּרֶב וְהַכְּלָיוֹת יְזַמְּרוּ לִשְׁמֶךָ. כַּדָּבָר שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר כָּל עַצְמֹתַי תֹּאמַרְנָה ה’ מִי כָמוֹךָ מַצִּיל עָנִי מֵחָזָק מִמֶּנּוּ. וְעָנִי וְאֶבְיוֹן מִגֹּזְלוֹ: שַׁוְעַת עֲנִיִּים אַתָּה תִּשְׁמַע. צַעֲקַת הַדַּל תַּקְשִׁיב וְתוֹשִׁיעַ. וְכָתוּב רַנְּנוּ צַדִּיקִים בַּה’ לַיְשָׁרִים נָאוָה תְהִלָּה: בְּפִי יְשָׁרִים תִּתְרוֹמָם: וּבְשִׂפְתֵי צַדִּיקִים תִּתְבָּרַךְ: וּבִלְשׁוֹן חֲסִידִים תִּתְקַדָּשׁ: וּבְקֶרֶב קְדוֹשִׁים תִּתְהַלָּל: בְּמִקְהֲלוֹת רִבְבוֹת עַמְּךָ בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל. שֶׁכֵּן חוֹבַת כָּל הַיְצוּרִים, לְפָנֶיךָ ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ וֵא-לֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ לְהוֹדוֹת. לְהַלֵּל. לְשַׂבֵּחַ. לְפָאֵר. לְרוֹמֵם. לְהַדֵּר. וּלְנַצֵּחַ. עַל כָּל דִּבְרֵי שִׁירוֹת וְתִשְׁבָּחוֹת דָּוִד בֶּן יִשַׁי עַבְדְּךָ מְשִׁיחֶךָ:

וּבְכֵן, יִשְׁתַּבַּח שִׁמְךָ לָעַד מַלְכֵּנוּ הָאֵ-ל הַמֶּלֶךְ הַגָּדוֹל וְהַקָּדוֹשׁ בַּשָּׁמַיִם וּבָאָרֶץ כִּי לְךָ נָאֶה ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ וֵא-לֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד  שִׁיר  וּשְׁבָחָה. הַלֵּל  וְזִמְרָה עֹז. וּמֶמְשָׁלָה. נֶצַח. גְּדוּלָה. גְּבוּרָה. תְּהִלָּה וְתִפְאֶרֶת. קְדֻשָׁה. וּמַלְכוּת. בְּרָכוֹת וְהוֹדָאוֹת לְשִׁמְךָ הַגָּדוֹל וְהַקָּדוֹשׁ. וּמֵעוֹלָם וְעַד עוֹלָם אַתָּה אֵ-ל. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה מֶלֶךְ גָּדוֹל וּמְהֻלָּל בַּתִּשׁבָּחוֹת. אֵ-ל הַהוֹדָאוֹת. אֲדוֹן הַנִּפְלָאוֹת. בּוֹרֵא כָּל הַנְּשָׁמוֹת. רִבּוֹן כָּל הַמַּעֲשִׂים. הַבּוֹחֵר בְּשִׁירֵי זִמְרָה מֶלֶךְ אֵל חַי הָעוֹלָמִים.

Shabbat Shalom

——————————–

[i] See: A Dose of Nuance: Brexit and the validation of Zionism, By DANIEL GORDIS  07/02/2016 see also The Spirit of Jewish Conservatism by ERIC COHEN APRIL 6 2015 Mosaic.

[ii] especially when drunk by 60-something expat American immigrants to Israel… for more on this see Alan Argush’s fine analysis here.

 

[iii] And it shall come to pass in the end of days, that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established as the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. Isaiah 2: 2-4

וְהָיָה בְּאַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים, נָכוֹן יִהְיֶה הַר בֵּית-יְהוָה בְּרֹאשׁ הֶהָרִים, וְנִשָּׂא, מִגְּבָעוֹת; וְנָהֲרוּ אֵלָיו, כָּל-הַגּוֹיִם

 וְהָלְכוּ עַמִּים רַבִּים, וְאָמְרוּ לְכוּ וְנַעֲלֶה אֶל-הַר-יְהוָה אֶל-בֵּית אֱלֹהֵי יַעֲקֹב, וְיֹרֵנוּ מִדְּרָכָיו, וְנֵלְכָה בְּאֹרְחֹתָיו:  כִּי מִצִּיּוֹן תֵּצֵא תוֹרָה, וּדְבַר-יְהוָה מִירוּשָׁלִָם

וְשָׁפַט בֵּין הַגּוֹיִם, וְהוֹכִיחַ לְעַמִּים רַבִּים; וְכִתְּתוּ חַרְבוֹתָם לְאִתִּים, וַחֲנִיתוֹתֵיהֶם לְמַזְמֵרוֹת–לֹא-יִשָּׂא גוֹי אֶל-גּוֹי חֶרֶב, וְלֹא-יִלְמְדוּ עוֹד מִלְחָמָה

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; forasmuch as they broke My covenant, although I was a lord over them, saith the LORD.  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the LORD, I will put My law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people; and they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying: ‘Know the LORD’; for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more. (Jerimiah 31: 30-33)

 

[iv] Gordis, in a verbal response to my point that most of the Zionist thinkers were socialists was that he had said universalists and not socialists which is mute… all of these political movements called for a disruption in the existing capitalist and political structures in order to herald in a new age based on communal ownership and governance.  According to Gordis the only universalist Zionists were Buber, Einstein and the early Ahad HaAm (??)

[v]https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/a-dissent-on-isaiah-berlin/

[vi]  See http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/berlin/#5.5

[vii] See footnote 30 http://www.aharit.com/A-12.php

[viii]https://www.mechonhadar.org/torah-resource/nishmat

imagine_peace_by_mcullenhightopp-d4fnfxf

 

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Filed under Bible, haggadah, Israel, Judaism, Martin Buber, Passover, prayer, Sabbath, Shabbat, social commentary, Torah, tribalism, Zionism

the chosen blessing

parshat Vayechi

Given the choice between an heir and a spare, God will always pick the spare.  If the theme of the first book of the Hebrew Bible is the election of the twelve tribes of Israel then the sub-plot is the rejection of the first-born.  Unlike Greek mythology and its oedipal complex, the story of the choosing the tribes of Israel revolves around sibling rivalry more than parental passion/aggression.

God chooses Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s, Isaac over Ishmael[i] and Jacob over Esau.  Going forward, Moses is selected over Aaron and David over a bunch of older siblings. To paraphrase Adam Sandler: “all spares”.

The first choice of Abel over Cain ends in the first genocide, the last choice of Joseph’s second born is  recounted at the end of Genesis and provides a welcome conflict resolution and a valuable lesson.

The lesson is clear.  The opposite of chosen is not rejected.  The opposite of Chosen is Entitled.  If the Jews were singled out as a Chosen People, it is not because they were exceptional; it was because they lacked all class title or land title, all prior rights or natural rights.  The Chosen People are the personification of the unentitled and dispossessed.

In our liturgy, we recite many blessings, but besides the Priestly Blessing, there is only one blessing that is of biblical origin.  It is the blessing which parents bless their children on a weekly basis and it makes no sense unless one understands it within the context of entitlement reform.  It is a blessing that contains within it the simple message to every child (and therefore, I suggest, appropriate for daughters too).

“Child, nothing in this wonderful world is yours by right or by privilege.  You must earn your blessings and learn to respect those who earn their blessings, even if they outperform you”  “God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh”

Here’s the back story of this simple blessing in Genesis 48

1 And it came to pass after these things that someone said to Joseph: ‘Behold, thy father is sick.’ And he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. [in that order]
5 And now thy two sons, who were born unto thee in the land of Egypt before I came unto thee into Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh, even as Reuben and Simeon, shall be mine.
10 Now the eyes of Israel [Jacob] were dim for age, so that he could not see. And he brought them near unto him; and he kissed them, and embraced them.
13 And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near unto him.
14 And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands wittingly (literally; with Sechel – common sense); for Manasseh was the first-born.
15 And he blessed Joseph, and said: ‘The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God who hath been my shepherd all my life long unto this day,
16 the angel who hath redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named in them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.’
17 And when Joseph [Firstborn of Rachel and apple of his father’s eye] saw that his father was laying his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, it was evil in his eyes, and he held up his father’s hand, to remove it from Ephraim’s head unto Manasseh’s head.
18 And Joseph said unto his father: ‘Not so, my father, for this is the first-born; put thy right hand upon his head.’
19 And his father refused, and said: ‘I know it, my son, I know it; he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; howbeit his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.’
20 And he blessed them that day, saying: ‘By thee shall Israel bless, saying: God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh.’ And he set Ephraim before Manasseh.

וַיְהִי, אַחֲרֵי הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה, וַיֹּאמֶר לְיוֹסֵף, הִנֵּה אָבִיךָ חֹלֶה; וַיִּקַּח אֶת-שְׁנֵי בָנָיו, עִמּוֹ–אֶת-מְנַשֶּׁה, וְאֶת-אֶפְרָיִם

וְעַתָּה שְׁנֵי-בָנֶיךָ הַנּוֹלָדִים לְךָ בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, עַד-בֹּאִי אֵלֶיךָ מִצְרַיְמָה–לִי-הֵם:  אֶפְרַיִם, וּמְנַשֶּׁה–כִּרְאוּבֵן וְשִׁמְעוֹן, יִהְיוּ-לִי

  וְעֵינֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כָּבְדוּ מִזֹּקֶן, לֹא יוּכַל לִרְאוֹת; וַיַּגֵּשׁ אֹתָם אֵלָיו, וַיִּשַּׁק לָהֶם וַיְחַבֵּק לָהֶם

וַיִּקַּח יוֹסֵף, אֶת-שְׁנֵיהֶם–אֶת-אֶפְרַיִם בִּימִינוֹ מִשְּׂמֹאל יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאֶת-מְנַשֶּׁה בִשְׂמֹאלוֹ מִימִין יִשְׂרָאֵל; וַיַּגֵּשׁ, אֵלָיו

וַיִּשְׁלַח יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת-יְמִינוֹ וַיָּשֶׁת עַל-רֹאשׁ אֶפְרַיִם, וְהוּא הַצָּעִיר, וְאֶת-שְׂמֹאלוֹ, עַל-רֹאשׁ מְנַשֶּׁה:  שִׂכֵּל, אֶת-יָדָיו, כִּי מְנַשֶּׁה, הַבְּכוֹר

וַיְבָרֶךְ אֶת-יוֹסֵף, וַיֹּאמַר:  הָאֱ-לֹהִים אֲשֶׁר הִתְהַלְּכוּ אֲבֹתַי לְפָנָיו, אַבְרָהָם וְיִצְחָק–הָאֱ-לֹהִים הָרֹעֶה אֹתִי, מֵעוֹדִי עַד-הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה

הַמַּלְאָךְ הַגֹּאֵל אֹתִי מִכָּל-רָע, יְבָרֵךְ אֶת-הַנְּעָרִים, וְיִקָּרֵא בָהֶם שְׁמִי, וְשֵׁם אֲבֹתַי אַבְרָהָם וְיִצְחָק; וְיִדְגּוּ לָרֹב, בְּקֶרֶב הָאָרֶץ

וַיַּרְא יוֹסֵף, כִּי-יָשִׁית אָבִיו יַד-יְמִינוֹ עַל-רֹאשׁ אֶפְרַיִם–וַיֵּרַע בְּעֵינָיו; וַיִּתְמֹךְ יַד-אָבִיו, לְהָסִיר אֹתָהּ מֵעַל רֹאשׁ-אֶפְרַיִם–עַל-רֹאשׁ מְנַשֶּׁה

וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹסֵף אֶל-אָבִיו, לֹא-כֵן אָבִי:  כִּי-זֶה הַבְּכֹר, שִׂים יְמִינְךָ עַל-רֹאשׁוֹ

וַיְמָאֵן אָבִיו, וַיֹּאמֶר יָדַעְתִּי בְנִי יָדַעְתִּי–גַּם-הוּא יִהְיֶה-לְּעָם, וְגַם-הוּא יִגְדָּל; וְאוּלָם, אָחִיו הַקָּטֹן יִגְדַּל מִמֶּנּוּ, וְזַרְעוֹ, יִהְיֶה מְלֹא-הַגּוֹיִם

יְבָרְכֵם בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, לֵאמוֹר, בְּךָ יְבָרֵךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר, יְשִׂמְךָ אֱ-לֹהִים כְּאֶפְרַיִם וְכִמְנַשֶּׁה; וַיָּשֶׂם אֶת-אֶפְרַיִם, לִפְנֵי מְנַשֶּׁה

The truth is that the blessing: “God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh” is a culmination of all the blessings of the Book of Genesis.  Ephraim and Menashe were two nondescript kids who are never mentioned again in the Holy Text but who are linked together more than any siblings in the Bible.  Unlike their predecessor siblings there is no record of a rivalry.  While their father Joseph[ii] complains, they do not.  I suggest that their mutual respect elevated the simple mention of their names into a blessing.  In a meritocracy, titles are awarded to those like Ephraim who are deserving, by a society which rewards achievement and whose members each individually., like Menasheh, share an aspiration to achieve.  A Start-Up Nation is powered by audacious and rogue entrepreneurs who are rewarded and funded by the landed gentry of the day.  Everyone benefits. Ephraim and Manasseh is a win win… it’s a blessing.

Rashi, the great Medieval commentator in his first comment to the Bible asks why this Code of Law (Torah means Way or instruction) begins with the narrative of Genesis and not with the first commandment given to the generation of the Exodus in the book of that name?

He answers, that unlike every other nation which lays claim to its homeland because of prior and uninterrupted title, the Jews unabashedly admit that they have no entitled claim to their Promised Land.  Abraham came from the other side of the “tracks” or in his case “river” and was the personification of the “other”.  Abraham was the first Hebrew which means Other. (Ivri – Hebrew as in Me’ever HaNehar ).

It is God, as introduced in Genesis, who provides the even playing field.  Just as the opposite of Chosen is entitled, so the opposite of the Promised Land is a Land with a Title.

Since God created the Universe, it is God, not nature, not title, not bloodline and not incumbency which awards the Promised Land.

Here’s the text of that first Rashi:

In the beginning: Said Rabbi Isaac: It was not necessary to begin the Torah except from “This month is to you,” (Exod. 12:2) which is the first commandment that the Israelites were commanded. Now for what reason did He commence with “In the beginning?” Because of [the verse] “The strength of His works He related to His people, to give them the inheritance of the nations” (Ps. 111:6). For if the nations of the world should say to Israel, “You are robbers, for you conquered by force the lands of the seven nations [of Canaan],” they will reply, “The entire earth belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He; He created it (this we learn from the story of the Creation) and gave it to whomever He deemed proper When He wished, He gave it to them, and when He wished, He took it away from them and gave it to us.

אמר רבי יצחק לא היה צריך להתחיל [את] התורה אלא (שמות יב ב) מהחודש הזה לכם, שהיא מצוה ראשונה שנצטוו [בה] ישראל, ומה טעם פתח בבראשית, משום (תהלים קיא ו) כח מעשיו הגיד לעמו לתת להם נחלת גוים, שאם יאמרו אומות העולם לישראל לסטים אתם, שכבשתם ארצות שבעה גוים, הם אומרים להם כל הארץ של הקב”ה היא, הוא בראה ונתנה לאשר ישר בעיניו, ברצונו נתנה להם וברצונו נטלה מהם ונתנה לנו

Ironically, if the Jews as the Chosen People and the Land as the Promised Land, have a message to mankind, it is not that one people has inalienable privileges and natural rights to a piece of real estate but to the contrary. The election of a chosen people for a promised land is a declaration that “The earth is the Lord’s” and no man, woman or child has a claim or right to any land or social title.  (The flip side for the Jews, as the Hebrew Prophets never tire of repeating, is that if they forget that the Earth is the Lord’s they will be spit out to wander the world dispossessed and stateless).

It was in Jewish Learning, scholarship and intellectual inquiry that this rejection of entitlement and genetic patrimony paid its biggest dividends.

The story of a young Akiva as an ignorant  laborer (am haAretz) who works his way up to lead the academy is legend.  Other stories of Talmudic scholars who started out dirt poor, as converts or as petty criminals are common.  There are no glass ceilings in the pursuit of knowledge and it is this chosenness that we celebrate when we bless Torah Study.

In their reading, the First Century Rabbis insinuate that what set apart the second-born of our patriarchs wasn’t their birth-order but their dedication to learning.  According to Babylonian Talmud Yoma 28b Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all were part of a certain Scholar’s Council.

According to Genesis 25: 27 “Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents.”

וַיְהִי עֵשָׂו אִישׁ יֹדֵעַ צַיִד, אִישׁ שָׂדֶה; וְיַעֲקֹב אִישׁ תָּם, יֹשֵׁב אֹהָלִים

For the Rabbis, the tents in which Jacob sat (ישב) were the academies (ישיבות) of Shem [Noah’s son] and Eber [Noah’s grandson]. Genesis Rabbah 63:10 b. Yoma 28b)

Similarly in Genesis 47:1 (above) when it says that [someone] said to Joseph that Jacob was ill Rashi comments: Some say, however, that Ephraim was accustomed to study with Jacob, and when Jacob became ill in the land of Goshen, Ephraim went to his father to Egypt to tell him.

ויש אומרים אפרים היה רגיל לפני יעקב בתלמוד, וכשחלה יעקב בארץ גושן, הלך אפרים אצל אביו למצרים והגיד לו

For the Rabbis, the selection of Israel and a dedication to unconstrained study were one and the same.

The Rabbis elevated study to a religious obsession.

There are five separate blessings said over the public reading and study of Torah.

The first three are for the study of Torah and found in the introductory portion of the daily prayer service and the second two are recited before and after the public reading of the Torah on Sabbaths, Holidays and market days (Mondays and Thursdays).

Uncharacteristically, the Talmud does not pick and choose between blessings offered by different sages but includes them all… “Let us recite them all” [Bab Talmud Berakhot 11b] When it comes to study, the more blessings the better….

לימרינו לכולהו

See Daily Torah Blessings in Sim Shalom pp 6-8

Blessed are You Lord God King of the world Who has commanded us to engage (לעסוק) in the words of Torah.

And make sweet Lord God your words of Torah in our mouth and in the mouths of your nation the House of Israel and let us and our children all know your name and learn your Torah for its name sake (לשמה).  Blessed are You our God Who teaches Torah to his people Israel.

Blessed are You Lord God King of the world Who has chosen us from amongst all the nations and given us His Torah.  Blessed are You of God Who gives the Torah.

ברוך אתה ה’ א-לוהינו מלך העולם אשר קדשנו במצוותיו וציוונו לעסוק בדברי [על דברי]  תורה

והערב נא ה’ א-לוהינו את דברי תורתך בפינו ובפיות עמך בית ישראל, ונהיה אנחנו וצאצאנו כולנו יודעי שמך ולומדי תורתך לשמה, ברוך אתה ה’ המלמד תורה לעמו ישראל

ברוך אתה ה’ א-לוהינו מלך העולם אשר בחר בנו מכל העמים ונתן לנו את תורתו, ברוך אתה ה’ נותן התורה

As is the custom with any blessing, the blessing must be followed immediately by the action which it sanctifies, so these blessings are followed by a short passage from the Torah, Mishneh and the Gemara (Bab Talmud Shabbat 127a) ending with:

And the study of Torah is equal[iii] to them all

וְתַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה כְּנֶגֶד כֻּלָּם

And the study of Torah is equal to them all

The word לעסוק is translated by Sim Shalom as “study” but this robs it of all meaning.  The word “asok” means to work.  In Modern Hebrew the word means “business” so it contains also the sense of struggle (for one’s daily living) as well as barter and the give and take of the marketplace of things and ideas.

There is something revolutionary going on here in the daily prayers. Not only does the blessing celebrate the competitive exchange of ideas and opinions so characteristic of Jewish Learning but also insures that every peddler, baker, banker and blowhard had to study a text every morning or be guilty of reciting a blessing in vain.  In Judaism study has never been limited to the academy or to the scholars.[iv]

The word לשמה is translated “on its own merit” but is alternatively translated “for its own sake” or literally “for its name” and traditionally has been understood to mean to do something without looking for a reward, or in the case of scholarship, pure research without any intended outcome or obvious practical application.  All characteristics of inquiry that lead to paradigm shifting discovery.

Here too.. the revolutionary element of Jewish learning is in view, where no opinions or conclusions are out of bounds… as radical, unforeseen or even unorthodox (or should we say heterodox) that they might be.

And finally we have mention of the election of Israel, both in this daily blessing and the blessings before and after the public reading of the Torah.

The only other blessings to include mention of Israel’s selection is the blessing relating to Israelite national holidays which is to be expected.  But the mention of Israel’s choseness with regard to Torah study and public reading is less obvious… unless one appreciates the connection the Rabbis made between the entitlement reform inherent in choseness and the entitlement reforming potential of unfettered intellectual inquiry.

The Talmud asks the standard “who do you save first” question normally prefaced by “a boat-is-sinking” or “a house-is-burning” but in a nod to Jewish history is rephrased:  Hostages-have-been-taken, who do you save first?”

To release from capture, a Cohen (priest) comes before a Levi, a Levi before a Yisroel and a Yisroel before a Mamzer (bastard).  When?  When they are equal.  But if the Mamzer is a Talmud Hacham and the [even] a High Priest is an ignoramus… the Mamzer (bastard) Scholar takes precedence over a High Priest ignoramus.

Mishneh Horiot, 3, 8

ולהוציא מבית השבי

… כוהן קודם ללוי, לוי לישראל, ישראל לממזר … אימתיי, בזמן שכולן שווין

 אבל אם היה ממזר תלמיד חכמים, וכוהן גדול עם הארץ–ממזר תלמיד חכמים קודם לכוהן גדול עם הארץ

מסכת הוריות פרק ג, ח

Judaism recognized and celebrated the power of scholarship, learning and critical thinking to break all social strata, caste systems and tribal barriers.  Learning was the ultimate equalizer, the ultimate title reformer.

One final phrase of interest found in the blessings of the Torah is included in the blessing after the public reading of the Torah.

Where we bless God who has “given us the Torah of Truth, planting within us life eternal.

חיי עולם נטע בתוכנו

There is something adversarial and combative about Torah learning.  The Rabbis are always counterpointing it to something else.  Above, against (כנגד) all the commandments and here, against prayer…. The Rabbis associate “temporal life” (חיי שעה) with prayer and eternal life (חיי עולם) with study.

Raba saw R. Hamnuna prolonging his prayers. Said he, They forsake eternal life and occupy themselves with temporal life. But he [R. Hamnuna] held, The times for prayer and [study of the] Torah are distinct from each other. R. Jeremiah was sitting before R. Zera engaged in study; as it was growing late for the service, R. Jeremiah was making haste [to adjourn]. Thereupon R. Zera applied to him [the verse], He that turneth away from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination. [Bab Talmud Sabbath 10a]

This is a variation on the famous line attributed to Louis Finkelstein: “When I pray I speak to God; when I study, God speaks to me.”

Study is our link with eternity because knowledge is truly the only thing that we pass on to future generations.  This is the true eternal life (חיי עולם).

Maybe that explains why the blessing that parents give their children every week is actually not a parental blessing at all…. It’s a grandparental blessing originally given by Jacob/Israel to his grandchildren Ephraim and Menasha! The blessing celebrates multigenerational aspect of living a life not based on a static patrimony but on an active and chosen engagement.

And maybe that’s why, of all the Rabbis and Midrashim that Rashi quotes in his commentary, scholars have been unable to find the source of this first midrash, nor have they been able to identify this certain Rabbi Yitzchak to whom Rashi refers.  Could it be that this Rabbi Yitzchak was not a Rabbi of Midrashic times, but was actually Rashi’s own father?[v]  “Rashi” is an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo ben Itzchaki and after all it is only in learning that we honor and preserve the memory of our parents, grandparents and teachers…

[adopted from a kavanah study session at The Conservative Synagogue of Westport, CT]

——————-

[i] Abraham is an interesting possible exception. See Genesis 10: 27

[ii] The truth is, that the resolution of the birthright/chosen conflict at the end of Genesis includes not only Ephraim and Menasha, but Joseph as well.  Joseph, who as the first-born of Rachel, Jacob’s chosen first-born wife gets the double portion due a first-born by receiving two tribal portions (Ephraim and Menashe) in the promised land.

[iii] נגד as in a scale where all the commandments are on one side of the scale and the study of Torah is on the other.  Compare also נגד as in the exchange of opposite or differing opinions אזר כנגו, כנגד ההר, כנגד ארבה בנים

[iv] As Nahum Sarna writes: “the conventional treaty provision requiring periodic public reading of the treaty’s stipulations was expanded in Israel and transformed into a wholly new category: the obligation, oft repeated, to disseminate the law among the masses; that is, the universal duty of continuous self-education.” [Exploring Exodus: The Origins of Biblical Israel, Nahum M. Sarna, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Aug 10, 2011 p. 143

[v] “His impressive commentary of the Bible starts with a question asked by a Rabbi Yitzhak: ….. for some exegetes, this Rabbi Yitzhak is none other than the author’s father. If this assumption is correct, it would mean that we know at least one thing about Rashi’s father: he was himself a rabbi who posed questions worthy of contemplation. But beyond the fact that he was the father of one the greatest scholars of the biblical and Talmudic literature, we know very little.”

Wiesel, Elie (2009-08-06). Rashi (Jewish Encounters) (p. 11). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

blessing-ephraim and Menasha

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the next aliyah

parshat Hayei Sarah

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

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

וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ, אַבְרָהָם, לִפְנֵי, עַם הָאָרֶץ

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

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

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

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

AmHaaretz

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

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

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

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

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

Arik

 

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

AmHaaretz boylerin

 

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gimme shelter

parshat massei

Sanctuary: 1. A place of refuge, especially for political refugees 2. immunity from arrest

The Concise Oxford Dictionary

With the army of a victorious Henry VII bearing down on him, a terrified Francis Lovell made for the only place he knew he would be safe – a church.

It was 1485 and his master Richard III had just been killed on the battlefield at Bosworth and Francis had every reason to believe his head would be next.

But he made it in time to St John’s Abbey in Colchester where he invoked the ancient law of religious sanctuary. It made him untouchable.

Claiming sanctuary in a church to avoid being punished for a crime was abolished in England in 1623 but the idea persists to this day. (see)

The antecedence for refuge in a sanctuary hark back to Numbers 35: 9 –

And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: ‘Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: When ye pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then ye shall appoint you cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer that killeth any person through error may flee thither. And the cities shall be unto you for refuge from the avenger, that the manslayer die not, until he stand before the congregation for judgment.

 דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם:  כִּי אַתֶּם עֹבְרִים אֶת-הַיַּרְדֵּן, אַרְצָה כְּנָעַן

 וְהִקְרִיתֶם לָכֶם עָרִים, עָרֵי מִקְלָט תִּהְיֶינָה לָכֶם; וְנָס שָׁמָּה רֹצֵחַ, מַכֵּה-נֶפֶשׁ בִּשְׁגָגָה

 וְהָיוּ לָכֶם הֶעָרִים לְמִקְלָט, מִגֹּאֵל; וְלֹא יָמוּת הָרֹצֵחַ, עַד-עָמְדוֹ לִפְנֵי הָעֵדָה לַמִּשְׁפָּט

The six cities of refuge were designated for all inhabitants regardless of citizenship “For the children of Israel, and for the stranger and for the settler among them,” and where designed to break  the pre-existing rules of Blood Feuds whereby a relative of the murdered was required to redeem the blood    גֹּאֵל הַדָּם of his relative by killing the murderer, even if the murder was accidental.

The City of Refuge is first and foremost the antidote to the negative aspects of clan  and tribalism.  The refuge cities עָרֵי מִקְלָט along with the monetization of lex talionis (eye for eye see Lev. 24:19 and Talmud Baba Kamma, 83b–84a) represented the Hebrew Bible’s frontal assault on the zero-sum mechanics of blood-for-blood honor killings.

Ironically, Israelis call a bomb shelter a Miklat  מִקְלָט.    The connection between the modern day bomb shelter and the Biblical city of refuge is profound. The modern day Miklat protects Israeli citizens from the attacks of  terrorists who wish nothing positive, but only to take revenge for prior injustices and to redeem the blood of fellow clan members.  In a very real sense, the Iron Dome Missile Defense system, the Miklat, and the security wall are all designed to end the cycle of violence.

When these same terrorist shoot rockets without  sheltering their own citizens  from the inevitable return fire, they are striving to escalate the blood feud, ditto for the use of their citizens as human shields.

The cinematic image we share of the fugitive finding refuge in a church shows how this legal institution of the City of Refuge survived in Church law and popular culture, but what is less well known, is how primary this message was to Muhammad’s message and early Islam.

According to Joseph Schacht, the celebrated Columbia professor of Arabic and Islam, Muhammad reformed the norms of retaliation with the introduction of  blood-money “because of the main aim of the Prophet  – [was] the dissolution of the ancient tribal organization and the creation of a community of believers in its stead.” [An Introduction to Islamic Law, Joseph Schacht, p 13-4)

See Quran Sura 4: 92

And never is it for a believer to kill a believer except by mistake. And whoever kills a believer by mistake – then the freeing of a believing slave and a compensation payment presented to the deceased’s family [is required] unless they give [up their right as] charity. But if the deceased was from a people at war with you and he was a believer – then [only] the freeing of a believing slave; and if he was from a people with whom you have a treaty – then a compensation payment presented to his family and the freeing of a believing slave. And whoever does not find [one or cannot afford to buy one] – then [instead], a fast for two months consecutively, [seeking] acceptance of repentance from Allah . And Allah is ever Knowing and Wise.

According to Schacht, Islam after Muhammad continued this evolution away from tribal revenge killings and toward the rule of law and restitution.

The Umayyads did not interfere with the working of retaliation as it had been regulated by the Koran, but they tried to prevent the recurrence of Arab tribal feuds which threatened the internal security of the state, and they assured the accountancy for payments of blood-money, which were effected in connexion with the payment of subventions. ibid. Schacht p. 24

Schacht, who was not Jewish, believed about Islam what many of his contemporary Jewish Scholars had concluded about Judaism, namely, that there was at one time a  “living tradition” where ideas took on a life of their own and evolved forward, even if projected back to engender authenticity. (see Remembering Joseph Schacht (1902‑1969) by Jeanette Wakin) [1]

With regard to the subject at-hand, Schacht concludes that:

 The considerable restriction of blood feuds was a great merit of Muhammad’s. According to Bedouin ideas, any member of the tribe of the killer, and even more than one, could be killed if homicide had occurred. Islam allows only the killer himself (or several killers for one slain), to be put to death, and only if he is fully responsible and has acted clearly with deliberate intent; Islamic law further recommends waiving retaliation. Ibid Schacht p 185

It’s a shame that, in the Islam we encounter today, the movement by the Prophet Muhammad and early local schools against tribalism and blood feuding was not permitted to develop further.  It’s a shame that both Jews and Muslims do not have a miklat, a shelter, refuge and sanctuary to protect them from the evils of bloodletting and the cycle of violence that it drives.

In the meantime, the civilized world should honor and emulate the shelter that Israel provides it’s citizens as not only an acclimation of life but also as a concrete and practical strategy to break the cycle of violence and bloodletting.

 

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[1]  Writes Wakin: “Not surprisingly, scholars in the Muslim world in general are unable to accept Schacht’s discoveries or face their implications. … The understandable fear among modern Muslim scholars is that the great edifice of the religious law, and thus Islam itself, will collapse if it is shown to have been the product of human minds. Schacht’s findings can, of course, conceivably be put at the service of a liberalizing movement, but this has not yet been attempted.”

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