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Life is with People, and so is Death

parshat Chayei Sarah

Life is with People and so is Death

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

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on October 28th 2021 as we explore the Bible’s euphemism for death: “and he was gathered unto his people” as an opportunity to question our assumptions regarding the biblical view of the afterlife … with much appreciation to Jon D. Levenson. Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life

Sefaria Source Sheet:


Geoffrey Stern  00:04

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and that might leak we light a spark or shed some light on it to his text or tradition. We also host a clubhouse every Thursday evening at 8pm. Eastern, which we record and post as the Madlik Disruptive Torah podcast. If you like what you hear, give us a star or two and write a review. Today along with Rabbi Adam Minch, we explore the Bible’s euphemism for death, and he was gathered unto his people. We use it as an opportunity to question our assumptions regarding the biblical view of the afterlife. So gather together and join us for life is with people, and so is death.                                                                                                     Well, welcome, everybody. I am broadcasting live from Israel. It’s three in the morning. And I’m glad that you joined us at 8pm on a Thursday night, Eastern Time our new time. So we have a wonderful parsha; It’s called Chayei Sarah. And it’s probably the only portion that has that famous Haim in it life. But the truth is, like many good titles, it actually is about the opposite of life. It’s about the death of Sarah and maybe we can somehow work into the discussion how the rabbi’s perspective on life and death would lead them to name a portion that is so much about losing our matriarchs and patriarchs and call it Life. But in any case, we are going to explore two parts of the portion the first is it begins with Sarah dying and Abraham purchasing a cave kever Hamechpelat to bury his wife and for his future himself and for his family. And the other part is, for the first time, the Bible uses a distinct or at least distinctive to us euphemism for death. Up until now, when Adam dies, you can see it in Genesis 5: 5 it says well, the days that Adam lived came to 930 years, then he died. And it goes on and on Noah, Genesis 9 all the days Noah came to 950 and then he died. So up until this point, when somebody dies, literally all it says is an he died. And we shall see that. In this week’s parsha it uses a euphemism that maybe is introducing us for the first time at least gives us an excuse to discuss the ancient Israelite conception of death. But let’s begin from the beginning of the portion. And it says as follows In Genesis 23. “So Sarah died and Kiryat Arba, which is now Hebron [the Bible tells us] in the land of Canaan, and Abraham proceeded to mourn for Sarah and to bewall her. Then Abraham rose from beside his dead and spoke to the Hittite saying, I am a resident alien amongst you sell me a burial site among you that I may remove my dead for burial.” And the Hittites respond, “Bury Your Dead in the choicest of our burial places, none of us will withhold his burial place from you for burying your dead.” So the first thing that I’d like to say is, it seems that number 1, there was nothing distinct. There was nothing extraordinary about what Abraham was doing. If anything, you get this sense of helped me out here, so I can remove the dead for burial, almost as though the Hittites or the Canaanites or that he was talking to understood maybe this this Torah concept of having to bury one’s dead quickly having to remove it from the Earth, maybe Tumah, whatever. But it seems to me that there is nothing up until this moment that is distinctive, either about the burial reihts that we Jews have, or in how we deal with them. What’s your perception Rabbi?

Adam Mintz  04:39

I think that’s right. The idea here in this story is not so much about the burial rights. It’s the fact that Abraham wants to purchase this burial plot. He doesn’t want to get it as a gift. He wants to purchase it. And I think that’s really weird. The crux of the whole story kind of turns around? Why does he need to purchase it? Why isn’t he satisfied just getting it as a gift.

Geoffrey Stern  05:11

So I mean, I can speak from personal experience, it meant a lot to my dad to have a family plot. And the main reason he wanted it is so that he could keep the family together so that he would be assured that there were spaces for the future generations. I mean, as I read this, my first inclination is to say that there is nothing novel here, except the fact that Abraham is a foreigner, and doesn’t have a tract of land already. Do you think that’s possible?

Adam Mintz  05:45

I mean, I think that seems to be not only possible, but probable, that, you know, where did he have a tract of land from, he came, he was a foreigner, he travelled from place to place to place, he was not only a, you know, a foreigner, but he was a wanderer. And I think a lot of the commentators make that point, he wanders, he’s always in a different place. There’s a famine, he goes one place there’s another famine, he goes another place, he’s always traveling, so he never actually settled down. It’s kind of ironic, that the first time he needs to settle down is to buy a cemetery plot. That, to me is ironic.

Geoffrey Stern  06:25

But again, it doesn’t seem strange, or that his burial practices or anything about what he’s doing is differentiating or unique. Before we go any further, I’d like to share with you as as a young man, when I was exploring, for the first time, my Judaism as a young adult, one of the things that struck me when I read books, like basic Judaism, by Milton Steinberg, and just looked around was this kind of preconception that there isn’t much talk about the afterlife, in Judaism and in the Bible, or I should say, in the Bible. You know, there was a theologian named Johannes Pettersen back in the 1800s. And he was in the field of Biblical Studies, he was renowned. And they asked him, you know, there’s not much that biblical scholars agree upon, he says, but in terms of the life after death, the consensus to be brief, is that there was none, that everyone who dies goes to Shaol into the pit. And that was 80 years ago. Is it when you grew up? Or even as you stand here today, Rabbi, and you read the, the Old Testament, and you kind of just read it the way it is, are you struck by how little talk there is? That we have to almost squeeze a word and manipulate a context to get any sort of rendering of what an Abraham believed about the world to come about? What she was involved with here?

Adam Mintz  08:17

Tremendously problematic, tremendously. Now, you know, there’s, there’s a whole history here, because my Maimonides, The Rambam was criticized, as be as someone who rejected the idea of of Techiyat Hameitim of life after death. And he actually wrote an entire book called The statement on Techiyat Hameitim, to prove that he believed in life after death, but you wonder about it. And you wonder he wrote the book, but did he really believe it? Or did he just write the book?

Geoffrey Stern  09:01

Absolutely, I mean, I think if you go back to the text, for instance, Noah I mentioned before the anticlimactic way that his death is described, he lived 950 years, then he died. If you compare that to the story of Gilgamesh, at the end of his heroic journey, he’s promised immortality. The only thing that Noah is promised is that God will never destroy the world again. And the first covenant is made with a rainbow. It does seem that this isn’t only maybe a question that a modern could come up with. It would seem that anyone who read these texts at the time that they were written, published and disseminated would notice that HaIkar Chasar min Hasefer, the main thing is missing from the book. So much of religion is based on the promise of an afterlife. So much of religion as we know it is to answer the questions that we all question about our mortality. And what struck me as a youth but even till today, and almost I’m proud of it, is that somehow my reading of the Old Testament showed me how this worldly we were, and that we did things to live a good life, and not for some future reward. Again, does that resonate with you at all, as in your journey? With with the Torah?

Adam Mintz  10:40

That’s the only way you can really look at the world is to say that we live a good life so that we can have a good life, you know, the idea that there’s, that reward is going to be givien in the world to come. That’s actually just introduced an answer to the oldest question that we have. And that is why the bad things happen to good people. You know, if bad things happen to good people, then you have to ask the question of: that’s not fair. And one of the rabbi’s say to that the reward is in the world to come. Now, that’s the kind of cheap answer, because no one’s ever been to the world to come and come back again to report.

Geoffrey Stern  11:28

So in in our parsha, somehow, there’s a little bit of a crack in the wall meaning to say that, as I said before, not only do we have for the first time the beginning of provisions for when somebody passes in terms of the first funeral, the first burial and all that, but then instead of just simply saying anticlimactically, and he died or she died. It says when Abraham Genesis 25: 8, and Abraham breathed his last, dying at a good ripe old and contented age. And he was gathered to his people V’esof el amov. And if you look at the classical commentaries, all of a sudden, they pick up on it, and they start talking about the various gradations of death of life after death. They imply that the life of Abraham here we see was not only b’seva and Tova, but he was gathered to his kin. And this is some sort of sign of elevation. Do you think that the rabbi’s on their mark here, or they’re just doing what they have to do because there’s so little said, they have to interject this, this sense of: maybe not all of us are destined to have the same place in paradise, so to speak.

Adam Mintz  13:03

I think that they have to say this, I really do believe that we we can’t all have the same place in paradise. It doesn’t seem to, you know, to make sense, in a religious way, that we’re all going to have the same place in paradise. And if we’re not gonna have the same place in paradise, so that you have to explain why should that be. And therefore reward and punishment is not in this world, but reward and punishment is in the world to come.

Geoffrey Stern  13:31

So after the rabbis go ahead and say that V’esaf el amov is in fact, something that is referred to for a tzadik, for a very righteous purpose person, then in our very same Pasha, they have a problem, because Ishmael also dies. And when Ishmael, it uses the exact same phrase. So again, I think the easy read on this is that we’re not seeing anything unique here, just as Abraham bought a burial ground every Hittite bought and Canaanite bought burial ground. This concept of being gathered to your people, is also not distinctive, and it would apply both to Abraham and it would apply to Ishmael. But the rabbi’s very cutely, then do have to answer the question. And one of the beautiful things about asking a question is it’s like a Rorschach test, you get to to see an answer. And the answer they give is wonderful, which is that Ishmael actually did Teshuvah, he repented. And at the funeral of Abraham, he gave Isaac kavod [respect]  like he was the firstborn he let him walk first. And then I he became a tzadik so, in answering this difficult question that is posed, we get the rabbi’s to reveal a story about how both of Abraham’s children after his death, or at his death, were reconciled, with each other, which is kind of nice. But nonetheless, this concept of being gathered to your people, what does it mean to you?

Adam Mintz  15:30

gathered to your people, to me means that that’s the end, you know that we all are going to reach an end, and we’re all gonna die. And we have to feel that just as if they are just like this community in life, this community and death also gathered to your people, this community in death. I don’t know what it means. Now we know what it means this community in death in terms of paying Shiva calls, and in terms of the community come together to help people can help console people. But it’s interesting, and you’re right for picking that up. It’s really an amazing line. The idea that there is community in death for the dead people as well. It’s such a strange notion, isn’t it?

Geoffrey Stern  16:19

It is it is. And you know, the title for this podcast is Life is with People and so his Death. And of course, the book Life is with People sheds light upon the Jewish life in the shtetl, how truly it was, with people, we, the Jewish community all of the Shabbat rules and all that brought people together, it was a tightly knit community, with every many social institutions that bring us together. And it seems to me one of the explanations and I’ve been reading this book by John Levinson. Last week, he wrote a book about the loss of the Beloved Son, which obviously impacted on the Akeda, The Binding of Isaac. But this week, he talks about the Jewish concept of the afterlife. And he starts on the premise that most of us most biblical scholars, but most of us really believe that in the Old Testament, there is no true concept of an afterlife, that death has a finality to it. You know, when Jacob believes that Joseph was killed, he says, I’m going into the pit of Sheol, it wasn’t an afterlife, he was literally going into the pit, there was nothing that was ever said about death, that made it some gateway to anything else. But he says that that might be mistaken. And what he touches upon as the mistake that we are making is that we in the West are so individual oriented, and not community oriented. And his argument is, and it is born, as much as anything else from this concept of gathered unto your people, is that the Jewish concept, even and we can say the ancient Israelite concept was that more than anything else, you live through your progeny. And so if you want immortality, you have you have children, and you have a clan, and you have a community. And if you are scared of not having immortality, as Abraham was, when he has was promised so much but didn’t have a child or Job has when he loses his seven sons and three daughters. That was the fact that you had no future. And the truth is that if you look at these stories from that context, he believes, it really fits into so many of the themes that we’ve come to recognize, whether it’s returning to a homeland, whether it’s re establishing oneself, whether it’s becoming free. All of these reflect on the community. The first example that he gives is the example of Noah, Noah, right before he dies. God says, unlike Gilgamesh, I’m not going to make you eternal. What I promised to do is to never destroy your seed never to destroy the future. And that to him was very real. And he argues it’s hard for us to understand how real that is. Because we are so individually wired and oriented.

Adam Mintz  19:51

Yeah, I mean, that’s a very strong point. I mean, the the idea is that we’re individually wired it’s very hard for us to think about how things affect other people, especially when it comes to death. I think in life, sometimes our interaction with other people is important because it relates to us. But in death, that’s so much harder, isn’t it?

Geoffrey Stern  20:17

Well, absolutely. And, and what he does is he pushes back against, “Oh, I get what you’re saying. You’re kind of saying that, yeah, you die, and it’s your end, but your kids live on. And somehow, whether they’ll they’ll remember you, or something” according to that kind of idea. And he says, no, no, it was much more material, physical, visceral. And he really says that way, you have to go back then, and read these texts. And you will start to see these very, very strong patterns. That in fact, there’s this corporate consensus of what the people of Israel are. And that through your people, I mean, I think you have to think of Shlomo Carlebach’s great song, when he sang Am Yisrael Chai… No , I need something else. And he added to that Od Avinu Chai, not only does the people of Israel live, but my father still lives. And he took that from Joseph who wanted to know, he wasn’t sure if it was a statement or a question or whether he turned a question into a statement. But he, the link is there. That in truth, the perspective that you’re getting here is a perspective on the eternity and Immortality, but it is part of a corporeal/corprate life that was was very real to the figures in the Old Testament.

Adam Mintz  20:59

There’s no question that That’s right. You see, it’s interesting, then in the Old Testament, there’s very little mention, if anything, about a world to come, you see, let me ask you a question. Why is it so important for Abraham to bury Sarah? If they didn’t know about life after death? Why is that so important,Is it important for the living? Did Abraham want to know where she was buried?

Geoffrey Stern  22:36

The first thing that you can say, if you just look at our Parsha, by itself, here’s the way the partial reads, Sara dies, Abraham’s wife dies, he needs to buy a burial plot, not just for her, but for him and future generations. And that is manifested by the fact that he has to buy it, he has to have a deed to it, he has to be able to own it going into the future. It’s not simply as the Hittites are saying to him, Hey, no problem, you can bury your wife like Rachel, on the side of the road, if you will, no.  And then what happens is in between the story of him buying this burial ground, is the story that you’re going to speak about this Sabbath of finding a wife for his child. And again, here, it flows right into that narrative, that he could not die, until he was assured that his son would have a wife and by having a wife would be able to have children, and his seed would live. So it’s not as though the Bible goes off into a tangent or some editor had to stick in this story somewhere and decided to stick it in where he did. It’s actually part of the narrative of buying the burial ground for his wife that ultimately will be for him, and for his next generations, then finding a wife for his son. He’s almost checking the boxes. And then it says, And he was gathered onto his people and buried in that cave. So I think that the story really holds up to answer your question of what what did he think? It seems as though it’s one narrative, one organic concept of his perception of how he would ensure the future and you can call it immortality you can call it a life after he’s buried. But that I think is is the kind of the honest read of the story and it becomes fascinating from that perspective. If you also notice before everyone dies, and this includes Ishmael, we get one of these genealogies where they talk about their children who begat, who and who begat who. And so again, it’s it’s all part of this uninterrupted narrative about the Bible’s view, it wasn’t that it wasn’t addressing the issue of death. and  future, I think it was addressing it in a fascinating way.

Adam Mintz  25:35

Now, do you think that it made it better, that people lived so long? You think the fact that people live to be 127 years old, and in you know, in Noah’s time they live to be 900 years old? You think that changes the perspective on death, or death is always dead?

Geoffrey Stern  25:57

I think death is always death. And of course, we all take at with a grain of salt, the question of did they really live that long? Right?

Adam Mintz  26:07

Are those right? You have to wonder whether that’s the truth? Given the fact that, that those numbers are real? You think that makes a difference? Abraham lives to be 175?

Geoffrey Stern  26:21

Yeah, yeah, I think one of the fascinating things that Levinson brings up is that if you look at Psalms and later writings, many times when it talks about God’s powers, to revive the dead, in parallel verses, it will say how he heals the sick. And, you know, we have to remember in those days, many times, if you got sick, that was the end of things, so to speak, there was this concept of sleep. We know that when Eve was created, she was taken from the flesh and the bones of Adam, in the sleep. So I think that these length of years, and also the ability of these people to live and to persist, it’s part of it. But to me, the biggest  takeaway from all of this goes back to my original perception when I was young. And that is there’s no question that the biblical text loves life as we know it. You can make a case for immortality of some way. But it’s very hard to make a case of a an unembodied soul. When when ever there is any mention of the miracle of life, or what could possibly happen, whether it ultimately ends up in the idea of the resurrection of the dead, that would be a natural direction for Judaism to take, because life was so important, because the physical life that we know is so important. You know, I was always struck, for instance, by these laws that you can’t wear your ritual fringes your tzitziot at a graveyard. And the reason is because you’ll make the people that are dead jealous, because you can only do mitzvot good deeds, when you’re alive, there is no question that whether there is a sense of an afterlife or not. Whatever sense there is, is in the physicality of living. And that’s maybe why their days are so long, because the emphasis is definitely on this world. And if you were great, it would be easy to say, well, they lived 60 years and they went up to the pearly gates, but no, it’s it’s much more impressive if you live 950 years, I think.

Adam Mintz  29:11

Yeah, well, there’s no question about that. I’ll just tell you, we’re coming to the end. I’ll tell you a story about the Rothschilds. The Rothschilds were all buried in France. But  after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. There was a couple of members of the Rothschilds family who thought that their immediate relatives should be interred and taken and buried in Israel. They had been so committed and given so much money to create a Jewish community in Israel. They thought that the Rothschilds should be buried in Israel, and they did that they moved the bodies from France to Israel. And the story has it that the President Charles de Gaulle, called one of the Rothschilds. And he said to him like this, he said, I want to tell you something. He said, Do you consider yourself French? And the Rothschilds said, Of course, I consider myself French. He said, Let me tell you what I think it means to be French. To be French means to be proud of who you are. To be French means to fight in the French army. And to be French means to be buried in France, when you move the Rothschilds from France to Israel, their burial, they’re no longer French, in my mind. Isn’t that interesting that, you know, 5,000 years later, that idea still exists. That idea that you define yourself by where you’re buried. And if you want to be French, you need to be buried in France. I thought that story really spoke spoke worlds about how we view the importance, it’s a little off topic from what you’re talking about. But it really helps us to appreciate what Abraham was thinking, when he acquired this burial plot.

Geoffrey Stern  31:19

You know, the term that comes to mind is the term at the end of the story L’achuzat Kever, you’re right, is the whole purchase of this. This burial site was more than just purchasing a burial site, it was establishing where he maybe bought some land elsewhere, we don’t really know as you said before, this is the first time that we see that this Wanderer is actually putting a stake in the ground and buying something. But this l’achuzat Kever is defining who you are. And I think that part of this whole process is talking about when we plan for the future. And when we plan for our burial, but also for our children, we are giving a sense of our vision of the future and de Gaulle, got it. But I think definitely, the Bible gets it as well. I will just finish by saying, I think the obvious question that you could ask is in the Old Testament, if you didn’t have any children, you were as good as as dead. But there are exceptions. There’s this surrogate birth, which is called Yibum [Levirite marriage] , where you can build up someone who passed away in an artificial like way. And there is, as you mentioned a few weeks ago that Abraham and Sarah converted people to their movement. When someone converts, they change their Hebrew name to Ben Avraham, or Ben Sarah. And then there was the rabbis. And the rabbis felt that if you have a teacher and you impart to a student information, culture, a worldview, that too, is a way of ensuring that the future is there. And when we make the blessing on the Torah, every week, we use an even rarer form, which is Chaie Olam, it’s very rarely used, but we say that Hayei Olom B’tochenu, that this eternal life is in the Torah and by that we mean study, exchanging views doing what we do here on Madlik. So at any level, I think there is a wonderful lesson in Chayei Sarah and yes, it’s a good thing to call the portion Chayei Sarah, the life of Sarah rather than the death of Sarah, because there are many more messages about life and good living than they love about death in this Parsha so Shabbat Shalom.

Adam Mintz  34:01

I would definitely agree Shabbat shalom. Geoffrey, enjoy Israel. Shabbat shalom, everybody. I will look forward to see you next Thursday night at 8pm. To talk about Toldot the story of Isaac and Rebecca Shabbat Shalom to everybody.

Geoffrey Stern  34:16

Shabbat shalom.

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Abraham’s Epic Journey and our Own

parshat lech lecha (genesis 12)

Abraham’s Epic Journey and our Own

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

Join Geoffrey Stern, Rabbi Adam Mintz, Rabbi Avraham Bronstein and friends as they explore various ways of viewing Abraham’s epic journey and how it reflects our own. Recorded on Clubhouse on Friday October 15th, 2021


Geoffrey Stern  00:00

So everybody, welcome to Madlik. This is our weekly clubhouse where we do what we call disruptive Torah, which means that we look at the Torah through slightly new lenses from a new angle, and hopefully inspire all of us to do the same and to think freshly about our ancient texts. And we do record and we post as a podcast on Sunday. And so if you enjoy what you hear, go ahead and listen to the podcast, give us a few stars, say something nice and share it with your friends. And with that we are literally beginning a journey because today’s Parsha is Lech Lecha, which is the beginning of the epic journey of Abraham. And the words Lech Lecha are open, as is his journey to multiple interpretations. And I’m sure we’re going to get into them all. But basically, in Genesis 12: 1, it says, “And the Lord said to Abraham, go forth from your native land “Lech Lecha Meartzecha” , from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you, I will make of you a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those that curse you. And all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.” And certainly we know that the Abrahamic families are far and wide. Both Islam and Christianity all account their faith and their journey to Abraham. So this is a man who began a wild adventure. So let’s start by asking you in the audience and our panel? What is striking to you about the onset of this epic journey and Lech Lecha?

Adam Mintz  02:00

I’ll start by saying that what strikes me about Lech Lecha more than anything else, is the fact that the background is not there. We don’t know anything about what led to God saying to Abraham leave your father’s house, and, you know, go to this land. And I wonder why that is? If the Torah tells you something, there’s a reason for it. And if the Torah doesn’t tell you something, there’s a reason for it. And I wonder what the reason that the Torah doesn’t tell you is here.

Geoffrey Stern  02:36

I think that’s a great question, Michael?

Michael Posnik  02:41

Yes, it’s a wonderful question. Having worked in the theater for so long, when anything happens on stage, you try to find out from the actors, where they came from, so that when they walk in, they walk in with a bit of history. So I got an opportunity, as I said, to study the Zohar with my friend Misha Shulman, a rabbi, and I’ll share with you some of what we found. It begins with a principle. It says nothing is aroused above, before it is first aroused below, so that what is aroused above rests on it. So the indication is, the work below has to be done first. Before anything can happen from above, there has to be an awakening. So it says here, the secret behind the words Lech Lecha is that Hakadosh Baruch Hu (the holy one blessed be he)  inspired Abraham with the spirit of wisdom. Abraham knew how to judge the spirits and the winds of the civilized world. He observed them, weighed them in the scales, and knew how to connect them to the powers and trusted to govern the inhabited places of earth. And he measured and observed very carefully. And he realized that the whole middle point of the inhabited world is the point from which the whole world moves out to all its corners. Then he discovered, continuing to observe in weigh, in an effort to determine the nature of that central point of the creation, but he was unable to understand it. So he could not cleave to it. It says, he saw the strength of that place, HaMakom, and realized that he could not understand it. Abraham knew and checked all the governors and rulers of the world that had dominion over the entire civilized world. And he was examining all those who governed and ruled over directions of the inhabited world. And he learned how to exercise their power over one another. But he still when he reached the place, the point of Malchut (Rulership), he saw the force of those depths that he couldn’t understand it. As soon as Hakadosh Baruch Hu noticed his awakening and his passion. He immediately revealed himself to Abraham said, Lech Lecha, go learn perfect yourself. So those other words of the Zohar in translation. So you want to know what he was doing before? He was learning everything there was to know about the entire creation and the Center, the core of it was this mystery that could only be filled by Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

Geoffrey Stern  05:46

So so I’m not sure whether what you’re saying is an answer. Or it begs the question, because it seems to me that as you look through the commentaries, you’ve given a beautiful commentary from a mystical point of view. So a mystic feels free to project on to Abraham, what he imagined him going through the this story that most of us learn in cheder, in Hebrew school, is the famous story of Abraham’s father who had a store where they sold idols. And he let Abraham be an idle sitter, if you will, to take care of the store while he went away. And one after the other people came in, either to buy an idol or to give an homage, some food to the idol. And similar to Michael, when you were talking about Abraham, somehow, it doesn’t really in this regard, say where he came to these revelations. But he engages in almost a Socratic dialogue, saying, Well, why are you feeding this idol? If it was made just yesterday? Why are you worshiping Him? If he has eyes and he can’t see if he has he is if he can’t hear. And again, I’m not sure that this midrash, which most kids walk away thinking as part of the text, but it’s not, begs the question or answers it or maybe what it says. And we can discuss some other perspectives on what led Abraham to this moment. Maybe what it says is that Abraham’s journey is our journey, and that all of us, therefore have license or maybe an obligation to project on to Abraham, that journey of discovery of the hidden mystery, if you will, as you put it, of the universe.

Adam Mintz  08:07

I like that. I like the idea that Abraham’s journey is our journey, the Sefat Emet, one of the Hasidic masters, says that God says Lech Lecha to everybody, it’s just Abraham was the first person who actually heard

Geoffrey Stern  08:28

If you join Madlik a few minutes before four, we always ask Rabbi Adam, what he’s going to speak about in synagogue on the coming Shabbat. And he intimated that it’s not altogether clear that what we just read, is actually the full story, even from the text. I’m not sure who divided up the Torah into portions, who divided it up into chapters, maybe one day we’ll spend a session going over that. But if you look a few lines before the beginning of our Torah reading of Lech Lecha, it actually has either a variant or a supplemental account of what actually happened in Genesis 11. It says, “Terach, took his son Abraham, his grandson, Lot, the son of hawan, and his daughter in law, Sarai, the wife of his son Abraham, and they set out together from Or of the Chaldeans for the land of Canaan. But when they had come as far as Haran, they settled there.” So just as in Genesis 1 and 2, we have two stories of the creation of Adam and Eve. Here too. It seems almost as if we have two stories of leaving Haran. In chapter 11 of Genesis. It doesn’t give credit to Abraham. It doesn’t say that Abraham left his father this To Rebel Without a Cause this rouser of breaking of the the loaded idols of his parents here, it says that his father took him and his grandson and his wife, and maybe they didn’t make the whole trip. But certainly from this text, it looks as though his father was involved. And I’m wondering, not only do we have a license to look at this story through our own eyes, but we have a license to say, Abraham could also envision it with his own eyes. How many times do we as children envision certain things that we believe we’ve come up with on our own, and in the second telling, maybe we realize, we got that from dad, or we discovered that for mom, and I’m wondering if a little bit of that is going on here as well, what thinks you?

Michael Posnik  10:55

Clearly, we all receive a good part of our personality from parents, there’s no doubt that it may well be that the man who made idols, made idols but didn’t believe them. It’s possible that that was his business, and he knew it was a good business. I don’t know, the question that comes to my mind is, when they left, where did they think they were going? And how many times in our lives do we have a destination in mind, but something wonderful or not so wonderful happens, and our destination has to change? In Abraham’s case, it seems to me they were headed towards Or of the Chaldeans or whatever that was, where they were headed. And then God says, I’ll show you where to go. So it’s completely open. It completely impromvisatory, if you will, spontaneous, he asked to just go and follow that son. whatever direction they were going, that’s, that’s been my experience in life, actually, I lived my life where I was intending something or nothing, and suddenly, I hear a voice to go in that direction. ….I met wonderful people.

Adam Mintz  12:17

I just want to point out Geoffrey, you know, this story of the family of Abraham, traveling from Or Chasdim  to Haran all of that, you know, this is really the first time in the Torah. And this is already the third portion where people travel. Each of the two, previous Parshot has talked about genealogies talked about different people. And it almost never says they started here, they went there. So what you see at the very least is the Terach is exploring. And I think you get credit for exploring, even if you have bad intentions, the idea that you want to explore, is it itself something that we encourage. And I think that’s an important point.

Geoffrey Stern  13:23

Well, I mean, a little bit later in the portion, we get into some fights and interactions between Abraham and other people. And obviously, it’s only when you interact with other people, that people get to name you and you get to name yourself.

Michael Posnik  13:39

Just jump in for a second. I’m thinking about Cain who is Nad veNad, who is constantly in motion from place to place with no direction.

Adam Mintz  13:51

Correct and that was God. That was the punishment. he had to travel. Here is the first time we have traveled where he chooses to track.

Geoffrey Stern  14:01

So but let me let me go a little bit later on, you know, Abraham strikes to be defined and to define himself and he gets involved in some battles with other kings, and his brother gets kidnapped. And in Genesis 14, it says “And a fugitive brought the news to Abraham, the Hebrew who was drilling at the terebinths of Mamre”, and this is the first time to my knowledge that Abraham is actually called a Hebrew. “L’Avram HaIvri”  and Rashi quite rightly says, the one who came from the other side of the river “Mever HaNahar”. And so in one verse, not only is Abraham defined as this traveler, as this person who’s defined by not where he is but where he is coming from, but it is kind of interesting that a fugitive is the one who is giving him a message. We almost are in a world that is populated in a different way. And it’s not simply one heroic person, but we’re surrounded by a world in flux. And it gives I think, more emphasis to this whole concept of Lech Lecha, in terms of a journey, I do believe that we’re all kind of on the same page here. In terms of this process. There is this trite saying where “life is a journey and not a destination”. And whether it is literally Abraham, beginning on this journey, or whether it is the fact that maybe he didn’t quite start it all by himself, but his father started it, but didn’t finish it. And that kind of echoes this concept of we never finish our journey. And our journey is only the beginning of a bigger journey. It’s just so emblematic of what Abraham created, and what the story values, I think. So what what makes us of “God” here? Because I think so many of the interpretations revolve around the birth of monotheism. Michael, you were talking from a kabbalistic point of view, that it was clear that what instigated this departure was some eureka moment or some lifelong struggle for identifying the mysteries of the universe. But if you look at the text itself, you know, I don’t think there would have been our person in that ancient world who would have done anything unless he was inspired by the Spirit. The fact that God said to him make this journey, you know, God spoke in the Epic of Gilgamesh to…  the gods was speaking all the time. There’s nothing inherent in this tale that leads one to believe that Abraham created some revolution in theology. And I’m just wondering if that is something that resonates at all with you? Or is it clear that this man began his trip because of some theological inspiration?

Adam Mintz  17:37

I don’t think anything is clear. And I don’t even know what a theological revelation means. What you just said was right. We talk about Abraham as being the first Jew. The truth of the matter is that scholars all say that’s not technically correct. Jews are related to Judah. It only came later. Abraham is the first monotheist

Geoffrey Stern  18:06

Well, he’s the first Hebrew he’s the first Iviri.

Adam Mintz  18:09

right Ivri. He’s separate from everybody else. He recognizes God. There’s a very famous Rashi. Rashi says that when they were traveling, it says that Abraham, “converted” is the word Abraham megayeret et ha anashim veSara mgayeret et aha nashim” and Sara was converting the women, “converting” does it mean converting like we have today. It means the day actually we’re teaching monotheism. They believed that monotheism was something that needed to be taught, that needed to be spread to all different people. And I think that’s really interesting.

Geoffrey Stern  18:56

You know, I could make the argument that Abraham was the first atheist. And what I mean to say is, if you look at Abraham from the perspective of Terach, or if you follow the story of Nimrod, who puts him into a fiery furnace? Here is a guy who’s saying that everything the world believe was a God does not exist. He says, No, the sun has no power, the stars have no power, this Totem, this animal, it has no power. And and what he was claiming, was, in fact, of a power and of course, this is all a projection of the Midrash, or of Maimonides or of the Zohar was this hidden this unseen, untouchable thing from the perspective of the landed powers that be he was denying God, he was denying all that they believed in and from that perspective it leads all the way to Spinoza, who was excommunicated by saying God is no way but God is everywhere. Maybe he was the first secularist.

Avraham Bronstein  20:13

You remind me of Peter Brown. So Peter Brown, the great historian of the Roman Empire, and one of his books about religion in the ancient Roman Empire, or the classical world, talks about how the Judeans, the original Jews were seen as atheists by the more polytheist, pre Christian Roman Empire at the time, because they couldn’t comprehend how Jews maintain the belief not in their God, but in a god. It didn’t make any sense to them.

Geoffrey Stern  20:44

Fantastic. Yochanan welcome to the bima

Yochanan  20:48

Thanks, thanks. Thanks so much for having me. By the way, Rabbi Maza, the Chief Rabbi of Moscow, 400 years ago, he says what you just said. So he says that Abraham was a kultur b’kalim . He was like, like you said, he was the first secularist or atheists to to deny all the deities, all the old the religions of the environment.

Geoffrey Stern  21:14

I think that’s fantastic. We forget sometimes, because Judaism is 3000 years old, that there was a time where it was the rebel in the room, and it was offering ideas that seemed to break all of the accepted beliefs. So we’re moving along, I want to talk a little bit about Lech Lecha the words itself. And I think if you had to translate it, simply, you would say lech means to go. And lecha means to yourself. And in Rashi, his interpretation is for your benefit. L’hanatcha, l’tovatcha for your good. But as any good researcher will do. One, will look to see where else these two words come together. And I know of one other place where they come together, I don’t have the confidence to say it’s the only other place where they come together. But it is certainly a very prominent place. And it is in Genesis 22. And similar to our text God comes forward and says Abraham, and he says who I am. And he says take your son, your favorite one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. He says ulech lecha el eretz hamoriah. And so iconically. In Perkai Avot it says that Abraham had been given 10 tests in his life. And the commentary say the first and the last test both began with lech l’cha. And so the two are certainly connected. But it makes one wonder if Rashi’s interpretation is correct. Because certainly it’s a hard sell to say that as you’re asked to take your son, you only son that this is for your benefit. Another parallel and then I’ll open it up to discussion is that notice the cadence in both of these renderings. In both God steps it up. God says in our parsha, he says to go from your land, from your father, from your home. And on the Akida, the The Binding of Isaac, he does the same thing. And of course, the commentaries say, well, it’s a test. So it’s to give him more benefit, to give him more credit for the different steps that he’s taken. But what makes all of you about this connection between the Lech l’echa of leaving a land a temporal place, and this lech lecha of this amazing, challenging, tragic test towards the end of his life?

Adam Mintz  24:31

Well, let me ask you, you know, Geoffrey, the question is, which was more challenging, right? Was it harder for him to leave everything that he had grown up with? Or was it harder, not knowing what God’s stood for? Or maybe at the end of his life, he learned to trust God already. And even though God said sacrifice your son, maybe he had enough trust in God to believe that, I don’t know how it’s gonna work out okay, but somehow is gonna work out Okay.

Geoffrey Stern  25:05

One of the commentators says that it relates to this testing that in lech l;echa we come literally to our essence to find out to discover who we are. And one can make the argument that one only knows who one is when one is tempered with the test and the experience of life, another commentary and I kind of love this and this, maybe he resonates a little bit with what Michael was saying about the esoteric texts of the Kabbalah. Emek Davar says that it is Lecha (only to you) a secret. So Lech Lecha, this is something that was hidden only to the recipient. This is a private journey. And so he says, when it comes to the binding of isaac, he says to Abraham, keep it quiet, because if anyone else knows this crazy mission that you’re on, they are going to resist. So Lech Lecha it’s a hidden message. But I do believe that the, the fact that this iconic term was used in both instances is certainly fascinating. Uri welcome to the bema

Uri  26:30

Thank you so much.


Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz as they explore various ways of viewing Abraham’s epic journey and how it reflects our own.

Recorded on Clubhouse on Friday October 15th, 2021

Link to Sefaria source sheet:

Listen below to last week’s Clubhouse meeting: Noah’s Rainbow

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noah’s rainbow

parshat noach (genesis 1)

We follow a less traveled path down Noah’s family tree.

Join Geoffrey Stern, Rabbi Adam Mintz and Pastor Dumisani Washington of IBSI – Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel and Christians United For Israel for a live recording of a discussion on Clubhouse Friday October 8th, 2021 with the Pastor regarding his book Zionism and the Black Church: Why Standing with Israel Will Be a Defining Issue for Christians of Color in the 21st Century. We follow a less traveled path down Noah’s family tree. We discover the Biblical Mission of Africa and the bond between the Children of Shem and the Children of Ham.

Noah’s Rainbow

Parshat Noach – Join Geoffrey Stern, Rabbi Adam Mintz and Pastor Dumisani Washington of IBSI – Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel and Christians United For Israel for a live recording of a discussion on Clubhouse Friday October 8th with the Pastor regarding his book Zionism and the Black Church: Why Standing with Israel Will Be a Defining Issue for Christians of Color in the 21st Century.

Sefaria Source Sheet: 


Geoffrey Stern  00:00

[To Reverend Dumisani Washington] Thank you so much for being with us. On our clubhouse when you come up to the platform, we say first of all that you’re coming up to the bimah [the podium or platform in a synagogue from which the Torah and Prophets are read from]. And then second of all, when we make you a presenter, we give you smicha… So that means that you are ordinated. So instead of Reverend, we’ll call you Reb. Is that okay?

Dumisani Washington  00:20

That sounds good to me. Sounds good, no problem.

Geoffrey Stern  00:23

So anyway, welcome to Madlik. Madlik is every week at four o’clock, and we do record it and post it as a podcast on Sunday. And if you listen to it, and you’d like what you hear, feel free to share it and give us a few stars. And what we do is disruptive Torah. And what we mean by disruptive Torah is we look at the ancient text of the Torah, with maybe a new lens, or to see a new angle. And today, I’m delighted to say that we’re not only looking at it through a new lens, but we’re looking at it through another lens, a lens of a pastor, of a man of God, who we will learn about his mission. I heard about it on clubhouse one evening, I was scrolling, and I stumbled upon you Reverend, and you’re on a mission and you see Judaism and you see Zionism from a whole new perspective. So I want to thank you for coming on. And I want to say that, as I told you, in my email that I sent you that you know, every week about Saturday on Shabbat, on Sunday, I start thinking about what I’m going to pick as a subject matter for the coming Madlik session. And I purchased your book maybe two months ago, and it was sitting by the side of my bed, and for some reason, and of course, I’m sure there are no coincidences in this world. I picked it up this Shabbat. And it starts with our portion of Noah, it starts by talking about the line less traveled by us Jews of Shem’s son Ham. And I should say that nothing is written for no reason in the Bible. And when it gives you a genealogy, it’s because of what comes in the future. And many of us Jews will look at the genealogy in Genesis 10. And focus on Shem… with Semites. And that’s where the name comes from. And we go down that path, and your book starts. And of course, I should say that your book is called “Zionism and the Black Church, Why Standing with Israel will be a Defining issue for Christians of color in the 21st Century”. And it begins by traveling down this path less taken, of Ham. Welcome to Madlik.  But if you could begin by touching upon our portion of the week, no off and and and discussing what you see in it, and maybe your mission.

Dumisani Washington  03:06

Absolutely. And thank you, again, Rabbi for having me on. Yes, there are six chapters in “Zionism in the Black Church”. And the first chapter is entitled The African Biblical Tie to Israel. And so we as I say, in the book started the beginning, right, we start at the beginning of the Scriptures, and so as you know, between the two portions of “Bereshi”  I believe whether the towards the end is when Noah was first introduced, but of course in “Noach” there’s the explanation of the nations where all the nations of the earth come from, from Noah’s three sons Shem, Ham, and Jafet. And so we recognize that in the Scriptures, it is said that Ham has four sons. And there’s a couple of unique things as you know, you read the book, that the scriptures that in the law of Moses deals, Psalms and some of the prophets, there’s a term that’s given several times in the scripture about Ham’s descendants harms the sentence differently, then either Jafet or Shem.  The land of Ham is actually something that’s in the scriptures. And I don’t know what that Hebrew word is … “Aretz Ham” … I never looked at that part of it, Rabbi but it talks about that, which is really interesting because there’s not, to my knowledge, and I’ve kind of looked at for a little while, a similar rendering like the Land of Japhet or Land of Shem. Right? We’re obviously the genealogy is there, right? But there’s not the same thing that deals with the land and the peoples …. interesting and we’ve come to know that of the four sides of Hem, which are in order Kush, which you know, is where obviously the Hebrew for later on Ethiopia I believe is a Greek word, but from that region Mitzrayim, which is Egypt. Fut or Put which is Libya, and then Canaan, which is Canaan, right? So those four sons who come from him. But interestingly in the scriptures when it says land of Ham, it almost exclusively refers to Egypt and Ethiopia, what we would call today, Africa, right? This region. And again, you’re talking about an antiquity these regions were much broader in size. And they are today if you look at the map today, you see Egypt as a small state and go down to the south, west, south east, and you’ll see Ethiopia then you see Yemen, you see Kenya, well, obviously all those states weren’t there that happened much later in modernity is particularly after the colonial period where those nations were carved up by a few states in Europe, and they were given certain names everything right, but these were regions in the Bible. And so Kush, the land of Kush, and the land of Mitzrayim, they’re actually dealt with many, many times. Right? After the words obviously “Israel” and “Jerusalem”. You have the word Ethiopia, I believe one of the Ethiopian scholar says some 54 times or something like that the word Ethiopia actually comes up in the Bible, obviously not as many times as Israel or Jerusalem but more than virtually any other nation other than Egypt. Right? So Egypt obviously that we know too. Africa plays a huge role in Israel’s story right? The 430 years in slavery is in Africa, right? The Torah was received at Sinai: Africa. All these things happen in Africa. At some point God tells Jeremiah during the time of the impending doom, the exile that will happen at the hand of of Nebuchadnezzar and God says to to the Israelites to the Judeans, and “don’t run down into Egypt, Egypt won’t be able to save you.” Why does he say that? Well, because historically the Israelites would go to Egypt when it until it got safer, right? For those Christians who may be on the call, you’ll know that in the New Testament, Jesus, his parents take him down into Egypt because Herod’s gonna kill him. Right? So there’s this ongoing relationship between Ham and Shem, that’s very intertwined. Moses, his wife, or his second wife, depending on how you interpret it….  Some of the sages. She’s Ethiopian, right? She’s kushite. So you have this interchangeable thing all the time, throughout the scriptures, but actually starts with the genealogy. And I’ll say just one last thing, rabbis ….. we’re opening up. This is also unfortunately, as I mentioned, the book as you know, the misnomer of the quote unquote, “Curse of Ham”, as we know in the text, Ham is never cursed for what happens with Noah it is Canaan that is cursed. And he actually says, a curse that Canaan become a servant of servants shall he be, even though it was Ham who however you interpreted…. I’ve heard many different interpretations of “uncovered the nakedness he saw his father, naked,” but somehow, for whatever reason, Noah cursed Canaan, not Ham.  Who is Canaan…  is one of him so’s, his fourth son, as we know those who are listening, you may know that it is The Curse of Ham, quote, unquote, that has been used sadly, unfortunately, among many other things as a justification of the slavery of Africans. Right? That somehow, Africans are quote, unquote, “Cursed of Ham”, therefore, the transatlantic slave trade, the trans Saharan slave trade, those things are somehow…  God prescribed these things in the Bible, the curse was making him black. That’s why he’s like all those things that are nowhere in the text whatsoever, right? skin color is not in the text. slavery as a descendant of Ham. None of those things are in the text. What’s in the text? Is that Canaan is cursed for that? And so we start there, Rabbi, and from there trying to walk out this whole Israel Africa thing.

Adam Mintz  08:47

First of all WOW… thank you so much. I just want to clarify in terms of color, I think that’s a very interesting thing. It’s very possible that in the biblical period, everybody was dark.

Dumisani Washington  09:00

Yes, sir. I mentioned that in the book as well. But yes, sir. Yes, yeah. All right. Sorry,

Adam Mintz  09:04

I didn’t see that in your book. But that’s important, you know, because a lot of people are caught up in this color thing. Did you know that there’s a distinction, we don’t know it for sure but it makes sense that everybody was dark in those periods. So that the difference in color was not significant. So when, when Moses marries goes to Ethiopia, maybe is king of Ethiopia, and marries an Ethiopian. And the idea is that he marries a foreigner. The fact that she’s darker may or may not have been true.

Dumisani Washington  09:39

Yes, absolutely. No, thank you Rabbi. And I do touch on that, as well. We say in the terms in this modern term, even in my book, I use the term Christians of color and I don’t usually use those terms just in when I’m speaking. I did it that way in the title so that it would be presented in a way that is going to deal with some provocative things but hopefully the people that they read it they’ll see what I mean by that and if you’re talking about the Israelite people, the Hebrew people they are what I call an afro Asiatic people. Israel is still at that at the point of where those two continents meet right Southwest Asia northeast Africa is landlocked with Egypt I tell people God opened up the Red Sea because he wanted to right … He’s big and bad and he can do what he wants to do but you can literally; I wouldn’t recommend it obviously, but you could literally walk from Egypt to Israel and you always have been able to for 1000s of years that has always been the case and so you have a people that in terms of skin tone or whatever… Yes, absolutely, they would be what we would call today quote unquote people of color right and so unfortunately particularly in our country we all know race and colorism is such a huge topic and it’s often so divisive and it’s used in so many different ways and we know much of that goes back to whether slavery, Jim Crow, people being assigned work obviously based on how dark or light they are all of those things but the problem as you all know is that those things aren’t in the Bible right? There’s no God likes this person doesn’t like this person, this person’s dark this person’s like, that type of thing. But again, that’s what men do, we are fallen creatures, we read what we want to read into the text, and then we use it unfortunately, in a way that’s not helpful. Let me just say and pause here, I can tell you that as a Christian pastor, over the years of my just delving into what we often call the Jewish roots of our faith, by studying Torah with rabbis and with other Jewish scholars, my faith has been more important to me than ever in that it helps me understand even more so right, what is the Hebrew in this word here? What do the sages say about that, that’s been a fascinating journey for me, over the last 30 some odd years since I’ve been doing this particular work.

Geoffrey Stern  11:58

So I just want to jump in, you said so many things. But there is in this verse that we are reading today, the word “ashkenaz”, he was one of the children of of Shem, and you quote, an Ethiopian Rabbi named Ephraim Isaac, and this is a sample of some of the humor in your book or the sense of discovery. And somebody said to him, You don’t look Jewish. And he said:, “Ethiopia is mentioned the Bible over 50 times, but Poland not once.” And I feel like that was, that was a great line. And what it really talks to is our preconceptions, and your book, and your vision, and your mission breaks preconceptions of what it is to be a Jew, what the mission of a Jew is, but most importantly, what the relationship is between the Jewish people and the African people. And one of the things that you touched upon was the sense of Mitzraim and Kush , and in your book, you really talk about how many times they’re interchangeable, because really, it is the same area and those of us who think about Mitzrayim, or Egypt, we focus on the Exodus story, we focus on the pharaoh story. But as you mentioned, the prophets later on, we’re having to talk to the Jews about not going back, because ultimately, the experience in Egypt was always favorable, it was our neighbor, and it was our place of refuge. Abraham goes down there with Sarah twice, Jacob sends his kids down there during a time of famine. The relationship and the reference to a Ham and to Mitzrayim  and to Kush is a very positive one. And yes, it does say in our week’s parsha of all of the children, it says, “b’artzetam v’goyehem” , that they have a special language, and they have a family and they have a land. So the fact that we are neighbors is so important in the biblical context. So I said if we were going to walk down this wonderful path, and I would love for a second to talk about your mission about reuniting our two peoples and some of the challenges that you have. Clearly you don’t speak to groups like us very much, although I think that I’m going to have an opportunity later to say that I think you should, because there’s so much that we can learn. But what is your mission? How did you discover it? And what are your challenges?

Dumisani Washington  14:40

Well, I’ll do it concise, just because I don’t want to take up too much time to firstly touch as much as we can. I am the founder and CEO of an organization called The Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel. I started it in 2013 but for about nearly seven years, I was not as active I started it. I did a lot of touring and a lot of speaking throughout the United States, churches, sometimes synagogues as well. And with this mission, it was a mission that was really placed in my heart. Actually in 2012, my first trip to Israel, I went as a guest of Christians United for Israel, I would come later on to join the staff with CUFA. But I was a guest pastor, I knew some friends who were part of the organization. And the short version of that story was my first tip ever, I’m in Israel, I’m at the Western Wall of the kotel. And I have a very intense experience in which I feel although Africa and Israel were passions of mine already, but the fusing of those two things together and a real work in which we continue to strengthen the alliance between Israel and Africa. And then obviously, in the States in the black and Jewish community. And there and finished the first edition of the book now, what you have there Rabbi is the second edition. And we started this organization for that very purpose to do both of those things continue to strengthen the black Jewish relationship, and also the Israel Africa Alliance. And so the challenges have been probably more than any other thing disinformation, right? There’s a lot of false information that’s there, when it comes to those things that would seek to divide and separate when you’re talking about whether Africa Israel, now we’re talking about the modern state of Israel, obviously, the rebirth of Israel in 1948. Israel’s close ties with African nations throughout the continent, starting especially with Golda Meir, the foreign minister, all the way up into the 70s, where you have, as I mentioned in the book, Israel has more embassies throughout Africa than any other nation other than the United States, African economy, some of them are thriving, a great deal. You have a lot of synergy between the African nations and Israel. And after the Yom Kippur War in 1973, like never before Israel’s enemies target that relationship between Israel and its African neighbors for different reasons. One of those is voting in the United Nations, right? And that became very much of a challenge. So one of the greatest challenges is, is information. What we share in the book and when we do our organization, we teach what we call an organization “Authentic History” is really simply telling what happened, how did something [happen]. Whether we’re talking about biblically, whether we’re discussing the parsha or we’re talking about historically, right? We’re talking about what the relationship was, and is. Why those connections there? And I’ll just give one quick example if you’re talking about black Jewish synergy in the United States, not just Dr. King’s relationship with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in the civil rights community, not that it happened, right? But why, what was that synergy about? Right? So we’ve delve into that. We share from the documents from the Rabbinical Assembly; Dr. King’s most famous words regarding Israel that were recorded 10 days before he was killed, right, why? And as a pastor, what we call a prophetic moment. Why 10 days before he’s taken from us, is he telling the black community in the world to stand with Israel with all of our mind and protect its right to exist? Why is he saying these things? What’s so important about it. And even the generation before? Why was it a black and Jewish man who changed the trajectory of this nation, Booker T. Washington, and Julius Rosenwald; millions of now first and second generation, slave; free slaves, right? but who had no access to education, not in a broader sense, and why that synergy saw some 5400 Rosenwald schools built throughout the segregated south. We touch on those historical points, and we delve into why that black Jewish synergy has been so powerful for so many people for so long. So that is our mission to strengthen those ties, because we believe that there’s a great future ahead.

Geoffrey Stern  19:05

You did such amazing research. I mean, I can tell you I never knew that Herzl said about Africa, “that once I have witnessed the redemption of Israel, my people, I wish to assist in the redemption of the Africans.” And that is taking a small quote out of a full paragraph where the histories of the two people are so similar. I mean, it comes to us as a pleasant surprise, these synergies but it shouldn’t because both our peoples have really traversed and continue to reverse the same pathway. And you quote Marcus Garvey and even Malcolm X and William Dubois. Malcolm X says “Pan Africanism will do for the people of African descent all over the world, the same that Zionism has done for Jews. All over the world.” there was a sincere admiration for this miracle of a people returning to its land, we were talking before you came on about this whole kind of image of an ark. And it reminds you of Odesyuss… and it reminds you of all of these stories of man going on this heroic journey to find their their roots to come back, gain, experience and come back to their homeland, to their Aretz.. On the one hand, your job should be very simple. I guess, like any other fights, the closer you are, the bigger the friction can be. And there’s nothing bigger than the friction between brothers. But it’s such a challenge to address, as you say the misinformation.

Dumisani Washington  20:51

Absolutely. And this is, again, why that’s our primary goal. And then as part of what our mission is, we have launched here just recently, an initiative called The PEACE initiative. And PEACE is an acronym for Plan for Education, Advocacy, and Community Engagement, and the short version of that, again: We recruit young, black American and African young people from certain cities throughout the United States, a group of them, they go to a 16 week study course having some of the same conversations we’re having now, including the modern state of Israel, ancient Israel, the United Nations, all these things that intersect when it comes to the black Jewish relations, then they will travel to Israel for about 10 days, and returned to the cities from where they’ve been recruited, and be the hub of black Jewish synergy in their communities. We believe with our organization that one of the reasons for the synergy that we’ve seen in the past, whether it was at the turn of the century with Booker T Washington, and Julius Rosenwald, or the mid part of the century with Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel, right now we are in different challenges, there are challenges that face particularly the more vulnerable black communities. And we see that that synergy could really address so many issues, whether it’s education, whether it’s jobs, those types of things, they can be really be addressed in a very holistic way. And really harnessing that synergy between the black and the Jewish community. And this is what we are doing. An Israel advocacy that is also rooted in these communities. And it’s amazing. We see already rabbis and black pastors are working together all over the country. So that continues to happen. But we want to highlight those things even more and go even further in meeting some of the challenges what we call MC ambassadors will be leading that in different cities across the country.

Geoffrey Stern  22:02

That’s amazing. I want to come back to this sense of self-discovery and pride. And we always talk about it from our own perspective. So if you’re African American, you want to make sure that your children believe that black is beautiful, that they come from an amazing heritage to be proud of who they are. And if you’re Jewish, you want the same thing. But it seems to me, and you kind of cage the question in this way, “Why standing with Israel will be a defining issue for Christians of color”, when we as Jews can see ourselves in the black community as we did during the civil rights movement that redeems us. And that empowers us. And I think what you’re saying, and I don’t want to put words into your mouth, but the same thing works in reverse. That in a sense, when the African community can recognize in Israel, its own story. It also can find a part of itself. Is there any truth there?

Dumisani Washington  23:50

I believe so Rabbi. I believe that that’s exactly as a matter of fact, what we saw was the synergy. So let me use the example and go back to the early 1900s with Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald. The way that story happens, as you may know is that Booker T Washington writes his seminal book “Up From Slavery”. Julius Rosenwald, who lives in Chicago at the time, is very active in his community. As a matter of fact, he was active, using his wealth; of those of you who don’t know of Sears Roebuck fame, he is the one who took his company to this whole different level, economically and everything. And so with his wealth as a businessman, he’s helping the Jews who are being persecuted in Russia. And one of his own testimony, I don’t say this part of the book, but I kind of alluded to it, that here he is driving to work from the suburbs to where his factory is where his store is, and he’s passing by throngs of black people who’ve left the South, right? looking for a better life, but they’re living in very, very bad conditions, a lot of poverty and everything. And he says to himself, basically, if I’m going to do all of this to help Russian Jews right, way over the other side of the world, and I have this human crisis right here, where I live, I want to be able to do that and his, his Rabbi was Emile Hirsch, one of the founding members of the NAACP. Right? So his Rabbi encourages him. And we see this with our Jewish brothers and sisters all the time, see yourself, do help, do use your wealth, use your ability, right? To help. And so he reads Booker T. Washington’s book he’s taken with him, they begin to correspond. And Booker T. Washington says, Here’s how you can help me I’m trying to build schools for my people who don’t have access. And Rabbi to your point. Here is this man, this Jewish man who is very well aware of his history, he knows his People’s History of persecution and struggle and triumph, right? Very much sees himself in that black story, and then he uses his ability. It’s amazing even what he does; there’s a Rosenwald film about Rosenwald schools, I believe his children were the ones who produced it. And they were saying that what he actually did was pretty ingenious, he put up a third of the money, the black community raised a third of the money, and then he challenged the broader white community to partner with them and bring the last third and that is how those Rosenwald Schools began.  Because what he wanted to do, he wanted to see people come together, he wanted to see them all work together. Even though Booker T. Washington passes away only three years into that, right, that venture continues on Julius Rosenwald goes and sits on the board of the Tuskegee college, Tuskegee University, right? There’s this long connection that’s there. So in that struggle, the black American community, and he connected with this black American leader, the one of the most prominent of the time, Booker T, Washington, and they, like I tell people, changed the world. Like, can we imagine what the United States would have been if you had those millions of now freed slaves, right? with no access, and particularly those who are living in the Jim Crow South, no access whatsoever to education, Would the Harlem Renaissance have become what it become, with the black Wall Street, whether it was in Tulsa, whether in Philadelphia, these things that explode because of the access to education to now these first and second generations of people coming out of slavery, right? So I believe that that’s the case and which is why I’ll say again, here today, some of those challenges are there, some of the challenges are different than they were, obviously 50, 60, 70, 80 years ago, but we believe in organization that those challenges can be met with that same amazing synergy between the black and the Jewish community.

Geoffrey Stern  27:26

A lot of people would argue that the rift or the change of the relationship between the African American community and the Jewish community was when the Jews or Israel stopped being looked at as the David in the Goliath story and we won the Six Day War. And how do you ensure that the facts are told, but also as you climb out of the pit, and as you achieve your goals, you shouldn’t be necessarily punished for being successful. Success is not a sin. It’s an inspiration. But it seems to me that’s one of the challenges that we have, especially in the Jewish community for our next generation of children, who really do see ourselves not as the minority and don’t see ourselves anymore mirrored in the African American community.

Dumisani Washington  28:25

But one of my favorite things about the Jewish tradition of the Seder, is that you all lean and recline in the Seder today, and you tell your children, when we had the first one, we sat with our sandals on, our staff, in our hand, our belts ….because we were slaves leaving slavery, but now we are no longer. And that whole ethos of telling children, right? There’s a strong parallel in the black American community, right? The whole point of going from struggle to a place where you can live in peace or at the very least, you recognize and realize the sacrifice of the people who came before you right? And I won’t step into the controversial for lots of different reasons, we’ll be able to unpack it, but let me just say this, for the black American experience when you’re talking I often teach this in our sermons and other things that arc …. and let me say again, no, people are monolith. Obviously we just kind of put that on the table, all the Jews arent’ alike all black Americans aren’t alike….. Having said that, there is an overarching story when you talk about black Americans, who, from slavery to Jim Crow, segregation, black codes, all of those types of things to the modern era. And that story cannot accurately be told without talking about God and His people. In other words, when you’re talking about the spirituals “Go Down Moses”. “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” and I talked about that in the book, these songs that are rooted in the scriptures, most of the time in, in the Tanakh, our Jewish brothers and sisters’ side of the Bible. I mean, sometimes in the New Testament, most of the time, these songs are being sung in hope. And that hope was realized, right? It’s not an Negro spiritual song technically, but I put it in that category, part of the greatest one ever. I mean, how it culminates would be “Lift Every Voice and Sing” us a song that today has all these political things connected to it for lots of different unfortunate reasons. But when James Weldon Johnson wrote that song, wrote it as a poem? Those stanzas and anybody listening to this, I want to tell Google that Google Lift Every Voice and Sing”; just read the words. And this was a very powerful, very, very much God and God’s love, and our hope and our faith and our trust, and our honoring the people who came before us; all of those things. And he talked about being free. Now, it’s written in 1899. Right? You still have questions. I mean, there are no laws against lynching there going on, it’s still crushing racism. However, he as a father in the black community is not only acknowledging what God has done, there’s amazing things that are happening. One of the economist’s that I quote, in my book, Thomas Sol said that the black community after slavery, and less than 50 years after slavery went from 0% literacy to almost 50% literacy, in that half a century, something economic historians say has never happened before. And now you’re later on, you’re talking about the black Wall Street, you’re talking about black oil barons and landowners and factory owners, right? You’re talking about this black middle class emerging. There’s been no civil rights bill, right? There’s been no Pell grants for school. These things don’t even exist yet. We’re talking about the 19 teens and the 1920s. You’re talking about black people who had previously been slaves for hundreds of years. Why am I saying all that we as a people know full well; if we know our history, know full well what it is to come from all of those dire situations into a place of blessing, even though there may be struggles just like our Jewish brothers and sisters. We are convinced an organization that as we know, as a black community, particularly younger people that we are talking with, and teaching, as we know and appreciate our history, not the history that’s regurgitated in terms of media and, and for political purposes. But truly our history, there is a great deal to be proud of about that. And to see, as I said in the sermon a couple of months ago, not only does it not a victim narrative, I descended from superheroes, my people went through slavery, Jim Crow, and still build on Wall Street still built the Tuskegee Institute. Still, we’re soldiers who fighting for their own freedom in the Civil War. I mean, you’re talking on and on and on things that they should have never been able to accomplish. When I consider what they accomplished with not very much help often. I recognize the greatness of the heritage that I come from, then that allows me to see an Israel rise like a phoenix from the ashes and not spurn that but recognize that our Jewish brothers and sisters have gone through millennia of this and Israel then to be celebrated, not denigrated.

Adam Mintz  33:12

Thank you. We want to thank you. Your passion, and your insight is really brought a kind of a new insight to our discussion here. We really want to thank you, you know, we at Madlik we start on time and we end on time, Shabbat is about to begin in just a little while. Hopefully we’ll be able to invite you back in the future as we continue this conversation. But I know I join Geoffrey and everybody on the call and everybody who’s gonna listen to the podcast. Thank you for joining us and for really your insight and your passion. You really leave us with so much to think about as we begin the Shabbat.

Dumisani Washington  33:51

Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Adam Mintz  33:53

Thank you Geoffrey, Shabbat Shalom, everybody,

Geoffrey Stern  33:55

Shabbat Shalom. And Reb Dumisani, you mentioned the songs. There’s a whole chapter in your book about Negro spirituals. And as the rabbi said, w are approaching the Shabbat. And as you observe the Sunday we observed Saturday, but you know that the secret of living without a land or being on a difficult mission is that Sabbath, the strength of the Sabbath, and the connection between Noah and the word Menucha which is “rest” is obvious. And there was a great poet named Yehuda halevi. And he wrote a poem about the Yona; the dove that Noah sent out of the ark to see if there was dry land. And he he said that on Shabbat. Yom Shabbaton Eyn L’shkoach, “the day of Shabbat you cannot forget”  Zechru l’reach Hanichoach”  He also uses Reach Nichoach which is a pleasing scent,Yonah Matzah Bominoach, the yonah, the dove found on it rest v’shom ynuchu yegiah koach  and there in the Shabbat , in that ark of rest on that ark of Sunday or Saturday is where we all gain strength. So I wish you continued success in all that you do. And that this Shabbat and this Sunday we all gather the strength to continue our mission. But I really do hope that we get another chance to study Torah together. And I really hope that all of the listeners go out and buy your book, Zionism in the Black Church because it is an absolute thrill. And I understand you’re coming out with a new book that’s going to talk more about the Jewish people and the various colors and flavors that we come in.

Dumisani Washington  35:55

Hopefully to put that out next year sometime. Absolutely.

Geoffrey Stern  35:59

Fantastic. Well thank you so much so Shabbat Shalom and we are we are in your debt.

Dumisani Washington  36:05

Thank you. Shabbat Shalom and looking forward to bye bye

Music: Lift Every Voice and Sing – Melinda Dulittle 

Join Geoffrey Stern, Rabbi Adam Mintz and Pastor Dumisani Washington from Christians United For Israel on Clubhouse Friday October 8th at 4:00pm (ET) for a discussion with the Pastor regarding his book Zionism and the Black Church: Why Standing with Israel Will Be a Defining Issue for Christians of Color in the 21st Century. We follow a less traveled path down Noah’s family tree. We discover the Biblical Mission of Africa and the bond between the Children of Shem and the Children of Ham.

Please make every effort to attend to show Dumisani your appreciation for his mission.

Friday October 8th at 4:00pm Eastern Time

Link to Sefaria source sheet:

Listen below to last week’s Clubhouse meeting: Exile and Return…. from the Beginning

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exile and return… from the Beginning

parshat bereshit (genesis 1-4)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse Friday October 1st at 4:00pm (ET) as we discover the quintessential Jewish theme of Exile and Return …. at the very beginning of creation. We explore this theme, normally associated with Exodus and the national narrative of the Jewish People as primal to the Bible’s presentation of the human condition and our heroic struggle.

Friday October 1st at 4:00pm Eastern Time

Link to Sefaria source sheet:

Listen below to last week’s Clubhouse meeting: turn! turn! turn! i hope it’s not too late

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turn, turn, turn

kohelet (ecclesiastes)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse Friday September 24th at 4:00pm (ET) as we use the book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) to explore the fundamental difference between Torah (given at Sinai to the Israelites) and Wisdom (which we inherited from our neighbors in the Ancient Near East). We wonder what each tradition has to teach us and why traditionally we read/need Wisdom after the High Holidays and during Succoth.

Friday September 24th at 4:00pm Eastern Time

Link to Sefaria source sheet:

Listen below to last week’s Clubhouse meeting: Blame it on DAD

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Blame it on DAD

parshat ha’azinu (deuteronomy 32)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse Friday September 17th at 4:00pm (ET). With the Yom Kippur liturgy fresh in our minds we explore a disturbing, persistent and infantile argument for forgiveness… that God forgive us for His sake. Using equal measure of Chutzpa and shaming, we argue that God, as our Father and as our Creator is ultimately responsible for our sins, the sins of his children/creations. We ask: How does God Respond? How should we respond?

Friday September 17th at 4:00pm Eastern Time

Link to Sefaria source sheet:

Listen below to last week’s Clubhouse meeting: The Aleph Bet Revolution

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The Aleph Bet Revolution

parshat vayeilech (deuteronomy 31)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse Friday September 10th at 4:00pm (ET) as we review the septennial Hakhēl convocation where the Torah is read publicly every seven years. We use this as an opportunity to explore the revolutionary nature of the Hebrew Alphabet from both a social and technological perspective. In so doing, we may shed some light on the proliferation of alphabetical acrostics in the Psalms, later liturgy, piyyutim and especially on the High Holidays.

Friday September 10th at 4:00pm Eastern Time

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Listen below to last week’s Clubhouse meeting: Not in Heaven

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Not in heaven

parshat nitzavim (deuteronomy 30)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse Friday September3rd at 4:00pm (ET) as we explore the verse in Deuteronomy 30 that proclaims that the Torah is not in Heaven. We explore it in context and in the agada. We take a literary journey into the iconic story of the oven of akhnai.

Friday September 3rd at 4:00pm Eastern Time

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Listen below to last week’s Clubhouse meeting: Chosen

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parshat ki tavo (deuteronomy 26)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse Friday August 27th at 4:00pm (ET) as we explore the roots of the concept of the Chosen People looking at the Favored sons and wives of Genesis and at the concept of Covenant and antecedent Hittite suzerainty treaties. Was Tevya right and should God choose someone else for a change?

Friday August 27th at 4:00pm Eastern Time

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Listen below to last week’s Clubhouse meeting: Listening to the Lyrics of Jewish Law

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Listening to the lyrics of Jewish Law

parshat ki teitzei (deuteronomy 21 and 23)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse Friday August 20th at 4:00pm (ET) as we ask: “When was the last time you listened to the lyrics, poetry and sounds of the mitzvot?” אַשְׁרֵי אִישׁ שֶׁיִּשְׁמַע לְמִצְוֹתֶיךָ “Happy is the one who listens to the mitzvot” We are told that there never was nor ever will be a case of the Biblical Rebellious Son. That we are simply to be rewarded for its study and listening to the nuances of its halachot. We explore, with the help of Haim Nachman Bialik, how all of the commandments provide similar rewards for those willing to listen to their lyrical nature.

Friday August 20th at 4:00pm Eastern Time

Link to Sefaria source sheet:

Listen below to last week’s Clubhouse meeting: You Are Not My Boss


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