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Steal This Book

parshat nitzavim, Deuteronomy 30

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on September 22nd 2022. The Book of Deuteronomy, also known as Mishna Torah, or the second; Reviewed Torah is drawing to an end and provides us with an opportunity to review some of the Rabbinic Principles that have guided us in the reading of the Five Books of Moses. Starting with the iconic statement that “The Torah is not in Heaven” we realize how the Rabbis began a process of humanizing, maybe even secularizing the Torah in a very radical way…. Almost as though they took the Torah from Heaven. With no apologies to Abbie Hoffman, join us for – Steal this Book.

Sefaria Source Sheet:


Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. The Book of Deuteronomy, also known as Mishna Torah, or the Reviewed Torah is drawing to an end and provides us with an opportunity to review some of the Rabbinic Principles that have guided us over the past few years in our reading of the Five Books of Moses. Starting with the iconic statement that “The Torah is not in Heaven” we realize how the Rabbis began a process of humanizing, maybe even secularizing the Torah in a very radical way…. Almost as though they took the Torah from Heaven. With no apologies to Abbie Hoffman, join us for – Steal this Book.


Well, welcome back to Madlik, and it’s great to have you as the year comes to an end, which means that our cycle of reading the parshiot comes to an end as well. And as I said, we are now in Deuteronomy 30. And I look because we’ve been doing this so long at what we talked about in previous years. And last year, we spent a lot of time on this amazing piece of Talmud, where the punch line was, you can’t listen to voices that come down from heaven. Because guess what it says in our Parsha, the Torah is not in the heavens. And so, it’s very rare that we talk about the same verse two years in a row, but we are going to go as I said, in the intro in a totally different direction, we’re going to take a que from Mishnah Torah, which is a review of the whole Torah. And we’re going to kind of review how we at Madlik actually study the Torah what principles guide us and maybe what the rabbis taught us about how we should learn torah. So, let’s dive right in Deuteronomy 30: 11 says, surely this instruction, which I enjoy knew this day is not too baffling for you, nor it is beyond your reach. It is not in the heavens, לֹ֥א בַשָּׁמַ֖יִם הִ֑וא that you should say, Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us That we may observe it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea, and get it for us and impart it to us that we may observe it? No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth, in your heart to observe it. So this sense that we read, and if we read it in context, Rabbi, I think you gotta believe that when it says it’s not in the heavens, it’s not in the heavens in the same way that it’s not far away in the sea. It’s almost a physical, it’s not too far away. It’s not physically beyond reach. You know, I once had a child who met with his guidance counselor at at high school. And every time he mentioned the school he wanted to go to, she said, Nah, that would be a reach. What we’re saying is that the Torah is within reach. Isn’t that the simple meaning of the text here?

Adam Mintz  03:35

That is the simple meeting. And that’s a good meaning. By the way, that’s a nice meaning that Torah is within reach. Now what that we have to figure out what that means? What does it mean that tau is within reach? Right? What’s the significance of it be within reach? Why would we think it’s not within reach? Is that mean that the laws are within reach? Does that mean that the moral lessons are within reach? What would we think and I think what we might think is that Torah is divine, the Torah is heavenly man can’t live up to the Torah…. the answer’s no, we can live up to the total. That’s a good message, I think, is a really good message for the end of the Torah.

Geoffrey Stern  04:15

I think it’s a great message. I think the verse itself, and this is before we’re gonna go to the commentaries, because trust me, the commentaries go in many other different metaphorical directions. But it ends by saying, בְּפִ֥יךָ וּבִֽלְבָבְךָ֖ לַעֲשֹׂתֽוֹ, it is in your mouth and in your heart to observe it. It’s almost saying that the spirituality, the religiosity, the moral the ethics of the Torah are not some sort of natural law. It’s almost ingrained within us. That would be if I read the verses in context, I would also say not only is it not physically far from us, but it’s not an artificial edifice, it’s not something imposed on us. It’s something that is ingrained in us whether because we’re Jews and we went through this history and therefore eating matzah is very natural for us, or as human beings, that what I’m asking you to do is to be true to yourselves.

Adam Mintz  05:21

Yeah, I mean, that is really interesting, that it’s not artificial. It’s, it’s accessible. It’s real. And therefore, we have to take it seriously. That maybe there’s an inclination to look at the Torah as kind of a fable. The whole thing is a fable. It tells stories, it talks about a people who observe the law, but it’s not real. And what the Torah is saying is no, it’s real, you’ll like that, that makes good sense. I like that.

Geoffrey Stern  05:53

I do like that. So we always go to Rashi first, Rashi says it is not in heaven, for where it in heaven, it would still be your duty to go up after it and to learn it. It’s not a metaphor for Rashi but it’s like, it’s it’s so easy. It’s like you’ve been fed it with silver spoon. There were other people that to get this message would have to convert, they would have to move from far away. But talking to the Jewish people, Moses saying, My God, you’ve been given this great gift. It’s right there sitting in your lap. I think that’s his kind of message.

Adam Mintz  06:39

Yeah, good. I think that’s right. I think that and that’s nice. I mean, and kind of that’s what the text means. It’s not it’s an it’s not a straw. It’s not what we would call it stretch. And that’s always a Rashi does.

Geoffrey Stern  06:50

Yep. So, in Eruvin it says Raba says “It is not in heaven” means that Torah is not to be found in someone who raises his mind over it, like the heavens, i.e., he thinks his mind is above the Torah and he does not need a teacher; nor is it to be found in someone who expands his mind over it, like the sea, i.e., he thinks he knows everything there is to know about the topic, so you know, he’s talking different types of intellectuals. There are some intellectuals that will look at it and look down upon it. There were others that are generalists, maybe interesting that he says it interesting that he feels he needs to say it Rabbi Yoḥanan said: “It is not in heaven” means that Torah is not to be found in the haughty, those who raise their self-image as though they were in heaven. “Nor is it beyond the sea” means that it is not to be found among merchants or traders, of course sea was the highway was the railroad was the channel of commerce in the old world. It’s interesting how everyone needs to find a kind of a metaphorical explanation for this,

Adam Mintz  07:52

Because it is itself a metaphor. לֹ֥א בַשָּׁמַ֖יִם הִ֑וא is not literal. Because the Torah is not in heaven. The Torah is written on the scroll that we read in shul every single Shabbat morning. So, it begs for a metaphoric kind of explanation, doesn’t it?

Geoffrey Stern  08:13

Well, it does. But I think you raise an interesting point. Because I would argue that Shamayim, in the Bible that we’re going to start all over again, in about a month, is you know, and on whatever day it was God created the heavens and the earth. And Shamaya means the what NASA is involved with, you know, and Mayim is what the Navy is involved with. There is no theological implications, I believe when the Bible, if you take it at face value talks about the heavens, you know, maybe the Torah was given from the heavens, because there was lightning and thunder, and it was given from above. But I think almost I wouldn’t say it’s a modern concept of this heaven, in terms of the firmament in terms of the sky. But I would say that the simple reading of the text doesn’t even imply we’re Shamayim is this kind of Western concept or later concept of a heaven? A spiritual, other worldly abode? Do you think I have a leg to stand on here?

Adam Mintz  09:32

That’s interesting, what Shamayim means Loba Shamayim, you need to just take your comment a step back, and really לֹ֥א בַשָּׁמַ֖יִם הִ֑וא. Where else could it be? It’s not in heaven. It’s not in you know, it’s not it’s it’s not far away. Why did they say it’s not in heaven? Why don’t they just say it’s not far away? That’s really the question you’re trying to answer.

Geoffrey Stern  09:56

Well, they do say it. It says it’s not in heaven. It’s not beyond the other side of the sea,

Adam Mintz  10:04

Why is it so dramatic? Why does it just say it’s not far?

Geoffrey Stern  10:08

Got it? Okay, so So you’re saying that this whole metaphor, love fest is created by the fact that it could have been much more straightforward. It’s not far away from you, it’s right in your lap. So you have no excuses, do it, something like that, something like that. So, the Rabeynu Bachya says as follows It is not in heaven. It is possible that the reason Moses made this point is because prior to bringing the Torah to the people, it had indeed resided in the heaven. And we have quoted arguments offered by the angels opposing its descent to Earth. So those of you who are listeners of Madlik. And I actually went on another clubhouse this week, and we got into a whole discussion, we remembered the Midrash that said, when the angels saw Moses getting the Torah, they said, Why is he getting the Torah? We should have it. And Moses replied, Do you have to provide for your family that you might steal something? Do you have to engage in commerce that you have to make sure that your scales are probably calibrated? This concept, which is what Robeynu Bahaya is referring to, is this kind of sense of man somehow taking this other worldly Torah, and not something that was without controversy? I mean, you know, I said, I call this podcast, Steal this Book. And you there was a radical at Columbia, part of the Weathermen called Abbie Hoffman. And when he finally wrote a book about his stuff, and put it up for sale for $7.95, the title was steal this book. In other words, don’t pay for it, steal it, he was so against the authorities. But, you know, I’m thinking of the Greek myth of Prometheus, for instance, Prometheus is best known for defying the gods by stealing fire from them and giving it to humanity in the form of technology, knowledge. He’s generally seen as the author of the human arts and sciences, in other theologies, in mythologies, there is this concept that somehow mankind got access to a higher intelligence. And I think that Midrash that the Rabaynu Bachya is referring to is as close as we get maybe, you know, others we are, maybe we didn’t steal the book. But we certainly somehow convinced God to give us this Torah, that the angels wanted to keep for themselves. And there is this sense when it says לֹ֥א בַשָּׁמַ֖יִם הִ֑וא that you guys got it. Mankind has gotten the Torah.

Adam Mintz  12:58

 I mean, this, you know, this is famous that God went to all the other nations and offered the Torah, that somehow the angels wanted the Torah, this idea that there was a competition for the Torah, and the Jews won, it is a Midrashic concept. Now, I think it’s fair to ask what it means, what its significance is, I think that’s a fair question. But that is something that we’re familiar with. So, let’s take each one of them separately. One is that the Jews got it and the other nations didn’t get it. It’s a sense that they had their chance, and they gave it up. Don’t let they can complain later. To say that you know, that well, you know, why didn’t we get a chance to have the toe where you had a chance, but you know, you couldn’t you couldn’t handle do not commit murder, or you couldn’t handle do not commit adultery. So therefore, we got Torah but the angels is something else. The angels is about what the Torah is, it’s kind of related to לֹ֥א בַשָּׁמַ֖יִם הִ֑וא, the Torah is not for angels. the Torah is for human beings. the Torah appreciates human beings and understands what human beings are. And it’s written for human beings. It’s not written for angels.

Geoffrey Stern  14:12

So now, of course, we segue into what we discussed last year, which is this iconic piece of Talmud, which rabbis are having an argument and one rabbi named Robbie Yehoshua is saying I’m right..  let the walls of the study hall prove it. And the walls of the study hall move and the river prove it and the river goes backwards and finally says, Let the heavens prove it. And a bat kol a voice comes down from heaven and says, What do you want from Rabbi Yehoshua, he’s right!, and Rabbi Yirmia says  says the Torah was already given at Mount Sinai. We do not regard a divine voice. So, he first quotes our verse, he says שכבר נתנה תורה מהר סיני. And then he quotes a verse in Exodus, which says, After the majority we incline. So there are four rabbis against you. We don’t listen to voices from heaven, because the Torah has been given to men. And we go after the majority. So, what I said in the introduction is what I’d like to pursue a little bit now, this concept of the Torah was given to Man… whether we stole it with like Prometheus, or we convinced the angels and God that it was, ultimately this Torah, by the way the rabbis interpreted this verse was given to man, and it might very well be that they reinterpreted the verse that that was not the initial meaning. But that’s what Rabbinic Judaism gave to us. And then they quote, a second principle that guides us when we study Torah, and that is, after the majority we incline, which is אחרי רבים להטות. But what’s fascinating about that verse is, they might have reinterpreted the verse לֹ֥א בַשָּׁמַ֖יִם הִ֑וא, it’s not in the heavens, but in the case of after the majority, you shall go, they didn’t reinterpret it. They went against the actual meaning of the verse, In Exodus 32. It says, You shall neither side with the mighty to do one, you shall not give perverse testimony to prove for read it. you should not go after the majority for bad and here the rabbi’s take it as you shall go after the majority. And so they prove their own point, they prove the point that the Torah is no longer in heaven, and that we have been given the authority, you can say also the responsibility to interpret it. Is that radical or not?

Adam Mintz  17:12

No, I think that’s great. And I think the most important thing to remember here is and it’s always gets a little tricky. The Torah is the divine Torah. But the interpretation is the rabbinic interpretation. And the rabbis were very sophisticated. So what the rabbis do is they interpret the Torah so it will support their authority. That’s what the story about the walls of the Beit Midrash falling are about. It’s about rabbinic authority. לֹ֥א בַשָּׁמַ֖יִם הִ֑וא means I don’t care what the heavenly voice says, we have to follow the majority לֹ֥א בַשָּׁמַ֖יִם הִ֑וא, God doesn’t determine things. Now obviously, that’s an exaggeration of what the phrase means because we don’t usually have heavenly voices. But that is the perfect example of the rabbi’s interpreting the Torah to support the rabbis, you see how that works. That works forward and backwards.

Geoffrey Stern  18:11

It does, but you can’t get away from the democratization of the Torah. When the Rabbi say you follow the majority, you can say it’s a majority of rabbis, you can say it’s a majority of the people.

Adam Mintz  18:25

Thats the rabbinic interpretation. The Rabbinic interpretation is you follow the majority against God, you have to say that last piece; against God.

Geoffrey Stern  18:36

Well, you’re the rabbi, you said it!

Adam Mintz  18:38

Against God, what’s interesting, what I’m so excited about is that that’s not explicit in the Torah. … strange or interesting, whatever you want to call

Geoffrey Stern  18:52

Yeah. And radical, I’d say it’s radical. Right is a very radical piece of Talmud. But you know, it does find its place. It’s not only the majority of the rabbis, there is a concept of טירחא דציבורא that if the rabbi’s make a decree that is too tough on the people. You know, what the people wןn. So democratization is to me, the second rule if we’re kind of making a list of rules of interpretation, and the first one is that the Torah was given to man, and it’s our obligation and responsibility, privilege and liberty to reinterpret. The second is that we’re all in this together. It is a democratic aspect of it, and it could be our elected leaders. It could be our rabbis, and it could be all of us. The next law that I would like to say that has guided us as we’re reviewing these rules, is in Deuteronomy, 4: 6. It says observe them faithfully, for that will be proof of your wisdom and discernment to other peoples who on hearing all of these laws will say, surely that great nation is a wise and discerning people. כִּ֣י הִ֤וא חׇכְמַתְכֶם֙ וּבִ֣ינַתְכֶ֔ם לְעֵינֵ֖י הָעַמִּ֑ים I owe R. Ethan Tucker, thanks for teaching this verse. It was from a rabbi called Rav Shmuel Glasner, the Dor Reve’ee. And he basically argued that our ethics and our morality have to stand up to the rules and the laws of critical analysis, because if not, we will not be somebody who was admired by the nation’s I went to a yeshiva once on Mitzpe Ramon, Mitzpe Ramon is as close to the Grand Canyon in Israel as you will get. And the rabbi first met me in his office and he said, Now let’s go to our real office. And he took me to the edge of Mitzpeh Ramon, this Grand Canyon, and there were some yeshiva students, black hats, white shirts, sits is flowing. He said, ask them how this canyon was created. And I went to them and I said, How was it created and they start talking about millions of the years, there were plates in the earth and my mind like dulled and I’m walking away with the rabbi. And I said, What’s with the plates and the Million years this is a yeshiva , what happened to six days seven days of creation, and he basically told me כִּ֣י הִ֤וא חׇכְמַתְכֶם֙ וּבִ֣ינַתְכֶ֔ם לְעֵינֵ֖י הָעַמִּ֑ים, that God not only created a world, but he created our minds. And if we do not listen to our minds, we are breaking the law as much as any other law written in the Torah. And that just blew my mind. But It does talk to the fact that the rabbi’s absorbed and simulated rules of logic. If if you read an orthodox Siddur every morning, after you say the blessing on studying Torah, you discuss Rabbi Yishmoel’s 13 principles of hermeneutics. And he has these rules of interpreting the Torah. And Saul Lieberman says he probably got this concept of you need rules to decipher and parse a literary text from the Greeks or for the Romans. But here it was these rabbis who have never, absolutely never put their heads in the soil and disregarded scientific knowledge, I would consider that my my third rule.

Adam Mintz  22:39

I think that’s good. I like that a lot. I mean, first of all, let’s just take it back. That’s a good story. It’s a good story that a Yeshiva Bachur, you know, embraces science, and it’s sometimes they have to recognize that science is not against the Torah. Now, that’s an interesting discussion whenever we have it, and that is, you know, how can it be? How can it be that science doesn’t contradict the Torah? How could it be that these plates, you know, separated and created Mitzpei Ramon, and, you know, and that be right, and the story of creation also be right, that’s all interesting. But God created our ability to embrace both of those traditions as being true.

Geoffrey Stern  23:27

Agreed, agreed there shouldn’t be a conflict. So again, this is a review session of the rules that guide us as we study the Torah. The fourth rule, I would say, and we have quoted this many times, is אֵין מוּקְדָּם וּמְאוּחָר בַּתּוֹרָה, that there is no early or late in the Torah, which means that there is no chronology. This is not a book of history. We’ve talked and we talked about Zachor and Yosef Haim Yirushalmi saying that if Herodotus invented history, Jews invented meaning in history. And again, it’s understanding what the rabbis what the tau itself was looking to do. It wasn’t to record history as it was, it was recording history as a lesson. And that has to be a rule when we study the Torah that we got from our rabbis.

Adam Mintz  24:24

Good. So that that is another important rule. The fact that the Torah is not a history book, it doesn’t mean that the Torah doesn’t have history. By the way, every religion has a book of its history. It has to because if not, you don’t know where it comes from. You know, Christianity is an interesting religion. We’ll just talk about this for one second. Christianity is an interesting religion, because Christianity needs the Torah…. It needs the Old Testament, because if there’s no Old Testament, then you can’t explain where Jesus came from because Jesus was a Jew. Right? The Christians believe that the Jews killed Jesus. But the Christians don’t wipe out the Jews. You know why they don’t wipe out the Jews? Because if there are no Jews, then you can’t explain where Christianity came from. If there were no Jews, what’s the story of the Christians, the Christians need the Jews. So everybody needs a book that tells their story. So, it’s not a history book that’s bound by chronology. It’s not a history book, but it’s a book of memory, like Yoseph, Chaim Yirushalmi said, but it does tell our story. And that’s a very important story, just to relate it to Rosh Hashanah because we have to pull everything back for the holiday. You know, it’s interesting when it comes to Rosh Hashanah is not does not commemorate a historical event in the Torah. In tradition, we say the Rosh Hashanah is the day of creation. But the Torah doesn’t say that. Most holidays commemorate a historical event. Pesach commemorates the Exodus and Shavuot to commemorates the day of the Torah and Sukkot commemorate the 40 years in the desert. Every holiday commemorates a historical event. So, it’s not a book of history. But the history part of it is significant.

Geoffrey Stern  26:17

Absolutely any anyone who’s seen these New Testaments that every verse that kind of shows a prophecy from the Old Testament highlighted in red. I understand that. It’s a great segue to the next rule, which is a kind of a parallel to the rule I just mentioned, which is כל מה שאירע לאבות סימן לבנים, which is the stories of our forefathers most of the time it’s referred to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But I would suggest it really refers to all of the history in the Bible is a סימן. Coming from the word symbolism is a symbol for us, so the rabbis themselves. This is not a modern concept. We’re the first to say that the book of the Bible is there to learn lessons from to draw ethical and moral teachings to guide us in making decisions going forward. But it’s not necessarily a book of history. We’re running out of time, and I don’t want to miss all the rules as we’re reviewing in this Mishnah Torah type of modality. The next one is דִּבְּרָה תוֹרָה כִלְשׁוֹן בְּנֵי אָדָם that the Torah speaks in the language of men. And it’s interesting that Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote a book in Hebrew. Most of his books were written in English, his book in Hebrew was תורה מן השמים באספקלריה של הדורות, it was translated by Gordon Tucker called Heavenly Torah – As Refracted through the Generations. And if you have time to read a 600 page book, this is a great place to go. But Gordon Tucker points out that whereas other books on Judaism begin with God. Not only is his title basically, a play on our verse, it’s תורה מן השמים, the heavenly Torah, in the view of the generations, it’s really a commentary, a 600-page commentary on the verse that we started. But his second chapter begins not with talking about God, but talking about the language of the Torah is in human language, it’s written for us as humans, whether it was written by humans inspired by God, whether it was written by God, we are entitled to look at it, to decipher it, to study it, and to learn from it as כִלְשׁוֹן בְּנֵי אָדָם, and I think that last rule almost completes the circle of saying that the Torah is not in heaven. All of these rules relate to how the Torah is ours. And I think for my lesson that relates to the High Holidays, by claiming that God is King, that ה’ מֶלֶךְ ה’ מָלָךְ ה’ יִמְלֹךְ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד. What we are saying is a radical concept, that there are no earthly kings, there are no powers that control us. And we’re also saying that the obligation is that the world was created for us that our Torah was given for us. That’s where the obligation comes from, that God gave us this torah. And it’s for us in this world. It’s for us to make and remake and interpret and empower us. So, I think that’s kind of an amazing way to look at the way over the past two, three years we’ve kind of looked at the Torah and what it means for us.

Adam Mintz  29:46

It’s a great way to end before Rosh Hashanah, wishing everybody a Shabbat Shalom, a Shana Tova a Hag Samayach, and we look forward to seeing you all next week, where we will talk about VaYelech the shortest parsha In the Torah, Shabbat Shalom Shana Tova Geoffrey

Geoffrey Stern  30:03

Shana Tova rabbi, thanks as always for being a part of this discussion. And thank you all for joining.

Sefaria Source Sheet:

Listen to last year’s Nitzavim podcast: Not in Heaven


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Remember to Forget

parshat ki teitzei – deuteronomy 23- 25

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on clubhouse on September 8th 2022. As we approach the Jewish New Year with its emphasis on Zichronot, we ask: what role does memory play in the Torah? Is it for historical accuracy or moral edification? In this week’s parsha we are told to despise some of our foes and others to offer our gratitude. For our arch enemy, Amalek we are told to remember to forget!

Sefaria Source Sheet:


Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. As we approach the Jewish New Year with its emphasis on Zichronot, we ask: what role does memory play in the Torah? Is it for historical accuracy or moral edification? In this week’s parsha we are told to despise some of our foes and others to offer our gratitude. For our arch enemy, Amalek we are told to remember to blot out their memory.  So put away your crossword puzzles and other brain teasers and join us for this week’s episode: Remember to Forget


Well, welcome to another exciting episode of Madlik Disruptive Torah. Rabbi, it’s great to be back… both of us on the same planet, the same east coast, the same side of the Atlantic. And, you know, as I as I referenced in the intro, the high holidays are approaching and I know that we are a group that talks about the weekly parsha, the portion that’s read in the synagogue, but seeping into everything that we think about now is a little bit of a tease, a little bit of a preparation during the month of Elul for what’s coming upon us. And in the probably the most iconic prayer that we have on Rosh Hashana, called Unetaneh Tokef. We talk about remembering, we talk about remembering in all the prayers but it says at one point, you remember all that is forgotten, you open the book of records and from it, it shall be read in it lies each person’s insignia סֵפֶר הַזִּכְרוֹנוֹת וּמֵאֵלָיו יִקָּרֵא וְחוֹתָם יַד כָּל אָדָם בּוֹ. So, we have this sense of a book of remembrance; a Sefer Zichronot, and we can’t but recognize that Zichronot; memory is such an important part of Judaism. And that is what we are going to be focused on tonight. And it comes up in our parsha in many various different guises. And we’re going to explore them all. So, let’s start with the beginning of the Parsha. We’re in Deuteronomy 23 starting at verse 3 and it starts talking about you know, something that we all come into contact with; status. It says no one misbegotten no mamzir, there shall be admitted into the congregation. And then it goes no Ammonite or Moabite shall be admitted into the congregation of God, no descendants of such even to the 10th generation. And then it says because they did not meet you with food and water on your journey after you left Egypt. because they hired Balaam son of Beor, from Pethor of Aram-naharaim, to curse you.—  But your God refused to heed Balaam; instead, your God  turned the curse into a blessing for you, for your God  loves you.— You shall never concern yourself with their welfare or benefit as long as you live.. So, we’re starting to talk about grudges and memories. In verse eight it says, You shall not abhor an Edomite for such is your kin, you shall not abhor an Egyptian for you were a stranger in that land. And it says that ultimately those people; the Edomites and of course the Edomites is comes from a Edom and comes from Esau who ate the porridge that was red (edom). And they can ultimately come into your congregation. But our first touching upon memory is almost an axis of levels of grudge, but also levels of gratitude. And you know Rashi picks up on them. And he also gives these gradations it says Thou shalt not abhore an Edomite he goes “utterly” לְגַמְרֵי. In other words, you can’t hate them completely.

Adam Mintz  04:58

You’re allowed to hate them, but not completely,

Geoffrey Stern  05:01

Just a little, just a little. And then thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian, it says utterly all in מִכֹּל וָכֹל because after all they did cast your male children into the river. But what’s the reason you don’t abhor them utterly, because they were your hosts in time of need during Joseph’s rein after all, they welcomed us during the famines שֶׁהָיוּ לָכֶם אַכְסַנְיָא בִּשְׁעַת הַדְּחָק. So here this first of a few references to historic memory there’s some ambiguity here. But what do you feel about me characterizing it as levels of a baring a grudge? And maybe a little bit of gratitude mixed in?

Adam Mintz  05:51

I liked the idea of analyzing the grudge. You know that the Torah seems to understand that there’s a place for grudges. It’s actually amazing, because you wouldn’t think that our would consider grudges. But the Torah clearly considers grudges, doesn’t it?

Geoffrey Stern  06:06

Well, you know, we talk about a Jealous God we talk about a God who has a memory. Right. I think the most basic sense of memory is you know what, I won’t forget this. I’m gonna remember this. And of course, everything that we talk about on a national level tonight, with the high holidays approaching, I think we can extrapolate to a personal level. And isn’t it natural to hold those book grudges? But I think and we’ll come back to it a little bit later. It’s fascinating about Egypt, that here you have this dialectic between both having a grudge against this country that after all threw your male children into the water Nile to drown, but nonetheless, was there for you when you needed a bed to sleep on and when you needed refuge?

Adam Mintz  06:59

Right. So let’s go back for a second. You know, hate ’em, hold a grudge but not a complete grudge, a little bit of a grudge? What’s the purpose of holding grudges? You see, I don’t think that the Torah holding grudges a good character trait, you know, visa vie you, just to hold a grudge because that’s never good. But there’s a point to it. That by holding a grudge you remember what they did wrong? And I think that’s significant.

Geoffrey Stern  07:25

You know, I love that because I think one of the takeaways from the discussion this evening, is when a Jew looks at historic facts. They go well, what does it mean? What does it tell us? What is the lesson? We’re not just interested in the facts. And I think the next verse that I’m going to bring literally is a perfect segue into this concept of what do we learn from history. In Deuteronomy 24: 8 our a parsha again, it says: in cases of skin affection, be most careful to do exactly as the Levitical priests instruct you, take care to do as I have commanded them. Remember what your God did to Miriam, on the journey after you left Egypt. So here we have the first explicit reference to the word Zachor. Remember what happened? And of course, what is the lesson then to be learned from Miriam. So, Rashi says, if you wish to guard yourself against being stricken with leprosy, do not speak slandered. Remember what was done unto Miriam. So, I think that is a perfect example of what you were talking about and what I was saying, which is we are permitted to extrapolate from these very broad directives and gestures into our personal life. And this gets very personal. This is lashon hara, talking bad about somebody else. So, I think your question was a very Jewish question. We’ll get into Jewish memory as we go along. And the parsha bears you out. I don’t think this can this context of listening to the Kohanim. And remembering what happened to Miriam. Strikes me is very Deuteronomy, it’s not something that came up prior to this.

Adam Mintz  09:26

That’s for sure. But we know that already.

Geoffrey Stern  09:30

Yeah. So so it continues. Deuteronomy 24: 17 says, You shall not subvert the rights of the stranger or the fatherless. You shall not take a widow’s garment in pawn. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and that your God redeemed you from there. Therefore, I enjoin you to observe these commandments וְזָכַרְתָּ֗ כִּ֣י עֶ֤בֶד הָיִ֙יתָ֙ and you know normally we’ll talk about the takeaway from this is how important the stranger is. and the “other” is in Judaism. But tonight, I want to focus on the zachor part of it. And taking this whole amazing, powerful story of the Exodus, which took up more than the book of Exodus, it took up a whole chunk of Genesis as well. And the remember you were slaves in Egypt, literally impacts how you ought to treat the stranger or the fatherless, or the widows. And I think that gives us a real insight into what Zachor means what memory means. What does it mean to you?

Adam Mintz  10:47

Yeah, well, so remember, and memory are two different things. You see, in today’s world, when you think about remember, you talk about history, right? You’re talking about what’s the history of the monarchy in England. But when you talk about Jewish memory, it’s not about exactly what happened. It’s about what the message is about what happened. Right? Remember Amalek, because they did this, remember the Edomites. because they did this, remember Edom because they did this, the “because they did this” is a very important part of the puzzle.

Geoffrey Stern  11:25

And you could very easily take from that, that it’s some sort of the logical argument. It’s, you were a slave. You were a stranger, you understood what it was to be without a parent or a guardian. Therefore, you should do this. But I think that Torah goes a step further, I’m going to leave Deuteronomy for a second, I’m just going to quote, a parallel, a corollary to the verse that we just said, from Exodus 23, it says, You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know, the feelings of the stranger, having yourself been strangers in the land of Egypt, וְאַתֶּ֗ם יְדַעְתֶּם֙ אֶת־נֶ֣פֶשׁ הַגֵּ֔ר, you know the soul of a ger (stranger). Here already, this memory is amplified by knowledge, by empathetic, sympathetic knowledge. You can’t just take memory as kind of a logical, data-driven fact. It’s really this knowing the soul of the stranger, I just think that that gives us new insight into what Zachor means.

Adam Mintz  12:45

That’s fantastic that remember, because you, it allows you to appreciate something that you wouldn’t appreciate without. That’s really what you’re saying,

Geoffrey Stern  12:55

On a very, on a very deep level. The Ramban on those verses says, he says, “that is to say, you know, that every stranger feels depressed, and is always sighing and crying, and his eyes are always directed towards God, therefore, He will have mercy upon him, as he has shown mercy to you.” And of course, he makes an argument where he said he had mercy on them not because of their merits, but in an account of the bondage. You know, he makes an argument that says, people that have nothing, but God are going to be driven to the purity of the supplication to God, and you better bet your last dollar that God is going to listen to them, so you better not mess with them. But in saying that he talks about the depression this sighing The crying of the stranger, this such empathy there and understanding that I really feel that to talk about Zachor as simply memory you’re missing a whole lot of; you can call it baggage but you can well call it nuance and depth as well.

Adam Mintz  14:12

Good. I mean, I liked that I mean, nuanced depth empathy. You’re saying remember so that you can be empathetic

Geoffrey Stern  14:21

You can be in their place.

Adam Mintz  14:25

Empathy means to be in their place. That’s exactly the point, right?

Geoffrey Stern  14:29

Yup. And it gets back a little bit to what we do on the seder night where we we don’t simply commemorate or remember; we act as though we are there we are experiencing it.

Adam Mintz  14:43

בכל דור ודור חיב אדם לראות את עצמו כאלו הוא יצא ממצרים It’s not memory, it’s experience. We need to re-experience the Exodus from Egypt.

Geoffrey Stern  14:56


Adam Mintz  14:58

That’s actually the best example of all wasn’t it?

Geoffrey Stern  15:00

Yeah, I think it really is. So now we get to the key verse in all of Tanach, all of the Torah, that mentioned Zachor, and it’s in our parsha. And I’m going to start Deuteronomy 25: 15. And it probably starts in a way that none of us would remember it starting it says you must be completely honest, weights, completely honest measures, if you are to endure long on the soil that your God is giving you. For everyone who does these things. Everyone who deals dishonestly is abhorrent to God כִּ֧י תוֹעֲבַ֛ת ה’ אֱלֹקֶ֖יךָ. And then it goes on remember what Amalek did to you on your journey after you left Egypt? זָכ֕וֹר אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֥ה לְךָ֖ עֲמָלֵ֑ק בַּדֶּ֖רֶךְ בְּצֵאתְכֶ֥ם מִמִּצְרָֽיִם We have a whole parsha, a whole weekend called Parshat Zachor Shabbats. There were those that believe that there were very few verses in the Torah that you literally are commanded to read. This is one of them. And it says to remember what Amalek did to you on your journey after you left Egypt how undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march when you were famished and weary and cut down all the stragglers is in your rear. Therefore, when your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you in the land that your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget תִּמְחֶה֙ אֶת־זֵ֣כֶר עֲמָלֵ֔ק מִתַּ֖חַת הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם לֹ֖א תִּשְׁכָּֽח. So number one, we have both sides of Zachor, there’s  remember and there’s לֹ֖א תִּשְׁכָּֽח (don’t forget).

Adam Mintz  16:57

That’s not a small thing, by the way, that they have to say it both ways is very interesting. Why don’t they just say remember, why do they have to say? Remember and don’t forget,

Geoffrey Stern  17:11

And more the subject matter of our talk tonight is remember to forget, which sounds like a riddle. But literally, that is what it is telling you. I can promise you, Rabbi, if you go to 42nd Street, and you ask the local person, who is Amalek? They will not know who Amalek is. You go into a shtibel, you ask any Jew who Amalek is…. we are the only people who are preserving the memory of this dastardly people, if we would talk less, they would truly be forgotten. But once a year, maybe twice because we read the Parsha also, we are the ones who are telling everybody to remember to forget them. It’s fascinating.

Adam Mintz  17:56

Yes, it is fascinating. And what do you make of that? I mean, and remember to forget them. But לֹ֖א תִּשְׁכָּֽח, Don’t forget them. It’s as if that we’re remembering them, but we want to forget them. So, we have to be reminded don’t forget them. It’s something like that, isn’t it?

Geoffrey Stern  18:15

It is. I think Zachor, we are already feeling operates on many, many different levels. And so I think that maybe one of the explanations is that on the level of remembering is one thing, and on the other of taking the the message and understanding, but it is an enigma, it’s an enigma that need not be solved. But ultimately, here we are, we are the only people on the planet of the earth who talk about this dastardly people call Amalek. When anybody really is bad to us, we say that they are from the seed of Amalek. And but what do you make of it coming right after honest measures? Rashi says if you use false weights and measures when you must apprehend the provocation of the enemy, as it says in Proverbs, A false balance is an abomination to the Lord. מֹאזְנֵי מִרְמָה תּוֹעֲבַת ה. So, he takes that word Toh-eva, which is something that is totally detestable to God, and He makes the parallel that false weights are called a Toh-eva. And here there’s a reference to Amalek as someone who is detested by God. And he says, and it is written immediately after this, “If intentional sin comes, shame comes”, the bottom line is I don’t think that Rashi is all that convincing in his answer, but he is spot-on in his question, and the question is what is the connection between having honest weights and, and not cheating somebody, and this remembrance of a Amalek.

Adam Mintz  20:11

And what kind of answer would you get?

Geoffrey Stern  20:13

Again, the only answer I can give is we are in a modality in this week’s Parsha, maybe through Judaism, that you can talk about leprosy of Miriam, without saying that there’s a moral lesson. There’s a takeaway, …

Adam Mintz  20:32

So therefore, you don’t cheat people. Because it means you have to think about other people. And part of thinking about other people is remembering Amalek, that’s part of it, being good to other people and being with a mother like that. They’re all related to one another.

Geoffrey Stern  20:49

I agree. And I think that most of us when we go to synagogue in the Parsha, before Passover, that is called right after Purim, I believe. Shabbat Zachor.. we’re not thinking about weights and being more moral in our business practice. There’s a whole different slant to that. And this is call it refreshing. , If you look it in the context of the Torah itself. You can’t just have hatred. You have to have a takeaway. There has to be a edification here. There has to be a lesson here. I think that’s kind of fascinating.

Adam Mintz  21:36

It’s fascinating. The fact that memory and lesson go together. I guess it’s not surprising, but it is fascinating. I would go with that.

Geoffrey Stern  21:46

And for those of you who have ever heard the expression, if one talks about the Nazis one says “Yimach Shemo”, This comes right out of this admonition Yamach means to erase Shemo means the name,

Adam Mintz  22:05

That means don’t remember. You see, I always was interested in Yemach Shemo, because Yemach Shemo seems to say don’t remember him wipe him out. But the Torah says remember him Don’t forget.

Geoffrey Stern  22:20

But nonetheless, here we are. When we talk about the Nazis, or Hitler we’ll say Hitler Yemach Shemo we don’t we don’t want to mention. It’s so it’s important that we know what words mean. And that’s and where they come from. But it comes from this, this tradition. And I think, you know, ultimately, we talk about the importance of acquiring a good name. And I think blotting out someone’s name is more profound than just blotting out their memory. It’s blotting out any credence that they have? And I think, you know, maybe that’s part of the answer here that we can remember Amalek and blot out their name by Blotting out any residual value any weight that comes with who they are up, who knows, but it is a fascinating enigma.

Adam Mintz  23:19

So let’s go back though, to the idea that memory has within it a value statement, you remember, because you evaluate their values and who they are, you know, they’re talking now, obviously, today, the discussion is about the queen, the mother…. So, now King Charles, his grandmother, his father’s mother, was actually a Greek princess who was related to the King of England somehow, and they lived in Athens and she was deaf. And during the Holocaust, she saved a Jewish family. And in Yad Vashem, there is a plaque to the grandmother of the now King of England, King Charles. So, you know, you say that’s an amazing story. But that’s not an amazing story, because I just told you a historical fact. I mean, that’s a story. But it’s an amazing story because it shows you that this woman whose grandson is now the King of England, was someone who was, you know, who put her her life on the line to save a Jewish family. That’s an amazing thing. So its history, its memory, because of its value to us.

Geoffrey Stern  24:39

You know, I can just say personally, I’m the head of an organization that supports many organizations in Israel and my local Chabad Rabbi came to me and he says, I have a congregant whose parents were saved by a non-Jew during the Holocaust. And these non-Jews are getting very old and they have an application into Yad Vashem to become considered Righteous Among the Nations. And could you help us out? So, you know, I sent them a letter at Yad Vashem, and they politely replied, you know, obviously, we’ll look into it clearly, we don’t listen to outside sources. But I understand they are getting older. And a month later, they approved this person, and they sent the file. And I was blown away, the file was 120 pages long. It had testimony from police, from academics from community members that you know, talk about memory, and talk about recognizing those people that help us I mean, if we can recognize the Egyptians who tried to kill us, but nonetheless, they gave us a place to stay early on, think of the memory and what Yad VaHashem and it has that word in it, Sam, doesn’t it? Of course, of course, of course, that that the value of wood that we give to redeeming preserving, celebrating a name, and I was just blown away by the level of scrutiny. And most of it was in Polish. I couldn’t read it, but you could tell how deep the discussion was. So I think I love I’m glad that you brought up that story about the adverse sermon, the Queen, because it relates directly to kind of what we’re talking about. So as you know, somewhere in this summer, I picked up a book called Zachor “Remember” by Yosef Haim Yirushalmi, who is a professor of Jewish history at Columbia University. And it’s a very short book for all any of you who are interested in this story for any of you who get maybe a little bored during davening and Rosh Hashana and like to put a book inside of your Tallis bag. This is the book this year. It’s called Zachor. And what he is, is a historian struggling with what the Jewish connection is to memory, because Jewish historians only began very recently besides Josephus, we have not had a story until Heinrich Graetz, in the 1800s. And is your friend. Yeah. And he says, “Indeed, in trying to understand the survival of a people that has spent most of its life in global dispersion, I would submit that the history of its memory, largely neglected and yet to be written, may prove of some consequence.” He says “Only in Israel and nowhere else is the injunction to remember felt as a religious imperative to an entire people. It’s reverberations are everywhere but they reach a crescendo in the Deuteronomic history. And in the prophets, remember the days of old consider the years of ages past Deuteronomy 30: 2 to remember these things. Oh, Jacob, for you, oh, Israel, oh, my servant, I have fashioned you, you are my servant always. We’ll never forget me. Remember what Amalek did to you. Remember now that Balak king of more plotted against you? And he finishes and with a hammering insistence, remember that you were a slave in Egypt. He says if Herodotus was the father of history, the fathers of meaning in history, were the Jews. It’s a fascinating book. But I think it touches upon so many of the elements that we are dealing with tonight that are so fascinating. I just want to go back to that early verse, which has always intrigued me that says that you can’t hate that you have to recognize the Egyptians, because there is another fascinating law that the rabbi’s found in the Torah. And that is a prohibition against living in Egypt. You remember when the Egyptians were drowning, and all of the plagues had finished and God and Exodus 14 says, For the Egyptians whom you see today, you will never see again, the rabbi’s took that as a prohibition of going back to Egypt. In Deuteronomy, it says, in 17, Moreover he shall not keep many horses, it’s talking about our kings or send people back to Egypt to add to his horses, you must not go back that way again. So, most of us take that to mean don’t be like an Egyptian. The Rabbi’s took that as a commandment not to go back to Egypt. But we all know that there was always a Jewish presence in Egypt. If those of you who want to look at the notes on Sefaria, you will see that there was actually a temple modeled after our Mishcon in a place called Elephantine. And the most amazing thing is that there are some authorities that say that when Maimonides signed a letter written from Egypt, he would say, I am Moses, Maimonides, transgressing three commandments every single day.

Adam Mintz  30:40

That’s funny. it might be a legend, but it’s a good legend.

Geoffrey Stern  30:45

Some people say it’s a sign of humility. But even there it is a question about memory, and what we do with memory, because it seems to me that there is a possibility that some of these areas where we say, you can be nice to the Egyptians and the Edomites, and not nice to the Moabites might have had to do with politics of the day so to speak, our memory can change. But the lessons from that memory, I think, remain constant. So what are your last words on memory Rabbi as we approach the High Holidays?

Adam Mintz  31:23

So my last words on memory come from Yirushalmi’s book to say that exactly what happened in Judaism is not what’s important. You know, we say that the both temples were destroyed on the same day, you know, what the chances of that are very small, they were both destroyed in the same time of year, we put them together, because, because memory requires that the date the Temple was was destroyed as the worst day that you wish here. So be it put both of them together, it’s even worse. And I think that’s a very, very good lesson, that in Jewish history, it’s not exactly what happened, but it’s what we learn from it. And the fact that the word zachor is used so many times. That’s an important piece in this week’s parsha. So thank you very much for bringing that up this week. Shabbat Shalom to everybody. We look forward to seeing you next week. Parshat Ki Tavo. Be well everybody,

Geoffrey Stern  32:17

Shabbat Shalom to everybody. Remember that we have a podcast remember to give us a star and a good review is share it with your friends and family. And as we are in synagogue and Rosh Hashana. Let’s remember that there are lessons to be learned even from those people who have sinned against us or we have sinned against and let us progress from week to week. Shabbat shalom. See you all next week. Anyone who wants to raise their hand and come on up and say a little something, ask a question, continue the discussion I’m here,

Michael Posnik  32:57

just want to say this was a wonderful exposition. And there’s so many pieces of it that really make a lot of sense. What I was thinking about is that all the years that I grew up, you know, remembering Amalek and what he did to me what he did to me, Amalek and I remember at Yeshiva, the Mashgiach, got the Aliah for that parsha for that moment, remember, Amalek, it was like a holy moment. And I always thought it was you remember him because of what a mamzer he was, and how mean he was to us. So what I’m thinking now, and it has to do with your discussion about grudge, you know, Amalek is in us. And we have to remember that we have the potential to become Amalek. But the fact that it all happened to us should remind us should help us remember not to do that, essentially. And I think that’s connected to what you were saying about taking the lesson from it. Don’t be Amalek. Remember what he did. So, it’s like, you can’t blot out the memory but you can change what your grudges to something useful. Use the energy in a different way, you know, don’t behave like that. So that’s what came to my mind.

Geoffrey Stern  34:31

Well, I’m telling you, I think you’ve solved my riddle because you know, the verse starts by saying you must have completely honest weights and honest measures and that kind of cheating is an ounce here. A pint they’re not a big deal. Remember what it said about Amalek that we hate so much about them? They took advantage. They surprised you on the March when you were famished and wearing cut down all the stragglers in the rear. I think it’s the petty crimes. It’s the fact not that they attacked you, but how they attack you. And, and what you just said, was brilliant, because it’s the takeaway is yes, there’s an Amalek inside of us. And where does it come out? It doesn’t come out in realpolitik it doesn’t come out and global relationships, it comes out in cheating a little old lady, by putting your finger on the scale when you’re weighing her apples.

Michael Posnik  35:32

I love it. And it’s a message to read verses in context to. So yeah, Amalek… you could have little baby Amaleks and you can ever grown giant Amaleks. You know, the part of us that wants to deal dirty in the world is always there. And to remember that it’s always there and don’t do it. To choose life to use another way to deal with it. So Shamor, tizkor and zachor, right? What is it? Al Tishkach, don’t forget that it’s in you remember that you have the capability? Of behaving like that. And don’t do it. Yet. That’s it. So. But it’s a wonderful change for me, because you’re always supposed to hate Amalek for what he did …. well look at look at the Amalek in in all of us. And just remember that it’s there and don’t feed it. That’s I think that’s a good message for the holidays. Yeah, yeah. So, thank you.

Geoffrey Stern  36:50

Thank you, Michael. Great, great having you Oh, and Loren is raising a hand,

Loren Davis  36:56

I think this, this whole issue of weights and measures, gets down to the very foundation and the very fiber, it doesn’t really matter if you put your finger on the on the on the on the weights on the on the on the balance machine. The point is that you can do it. And that is something that we have to keep remembering, this whole issue of memories can change, which the rabbi discussed. I’m not sure how that quite fits in. But maybe it’s the examples aren’t as important as what the original foundation of the teachings is all about. Because it’s hard to argue against putting your finger on the balance I was looking at, at a company a number of years ago, and the fellow was trying to sell me it was a commodity company. And the fellow was trying to sell me the inventories…  his balance sheet on what the profitability was. And he was a religious Jew, an Orthodox Jew. And the reason his balance sheet was so wonderful was because he was, he was under shipping his suppliers because of the quantities involved it would never be discovered. And so, I think this, this whole issue, this whole concept of concentrate on the reality of your life, as opposed to maybe some of the facts that you’re gonna forget or not particularly remember, consistently makes a lot of sense to me.

Geoffrey Stern  38:32

My revelation this week in reading these verses in the context of the scales is that so many people talk about this Zecher Amalek, this overwhelming amount like in global terms in the you know, the amount of nationalists and politicists that talk about it. And we all do that we all watch our version of the news, and we want to know what banner to fly. But what this is telling us, as you said, is that it really comes down to the weeds of our own ethics and our own relationships, one to the other, and you build up from there. And that’s my real takeaway this week. And what you and Michael are saying, I think totally complements that. And it gives you a new way of thinking not only about that, but how we relate to the big picture. I mean, just imagine if all mankind would worry more about the scales, and less about nationalities and borders and attacks and things like that we’d have a different world.

Loren Davis  39:43

Sometimes there’s more to be lost in the examples as opposed to getting straight to the fact and I think that’s where sometimes this these writings get a little confusing because you try to insert things that maybe aren’t as important as the book basic message and I think your sheet was just incredibly wonderful so thank you for doing that

Geoffrey Stern  40:05

well thank you thank you everybody for coming have a great Shabbat and we’ll see you all next week thanks so much

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Restore our Judges

parshat shoftim, deuteronomy 16 – 17

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on clubhouse on September 1st 2022. In the same parsha that the Torah concedes to the people’s desire to have a king “like the other nations” it also suggests another leadership model. The Shofet, normally translated as the Judge. We discuss the meaning of Shofet and explore a past and promised age of Shoftim.

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Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. Last year in an episode called: “You are not my Boss” we focused on the Torah’s distaste for the people’s desire to have a king.  Today we will explore an alternative leadership model which is actually the name of the Torah portion.   The parsha is called Shoftim and Shofet, normally translated as the Judge can also be a decision-maker or person of action. So join us as we discuss the meaning of Shofet and explore a past and promised age of Shoftim in our episode called Restore our Judges.


So welcome, welcome back from Paris rabbi, and welcome everybody. As I said, we do record this, it will be a podcast. And if you do listen to the podcast, make sure that you give us a star and give us a like and share it with your friends and family. But as I said, this parsha begins in Deuteronomy in 16: 18, and it says you shall appoint magistrates and officials, for your tribes in all the settlements that your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice. You shall not judge unfairly; you shall not show partiality. You shall not take bribes for bribes, blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just, justice, justice, shall you pursue that you may thrive and occupy the land that your God is giving you? So, in the parsha, it has the famous צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף and it starts by saying שֹׁפְטִ֣ים וְשֹֽׁטְרִ֗ים תִּֽתֶּן־לְךָ֙ so judges and law is so seminal to Judaism. We are a people of lawyers. It’s one of the chosen professions. We talked a little bit in the pre-show about the impact of my Maimonides who is a doctor, but certainly law was such an important part of the Jewish psyche. I am the head of 100-year organization (PEF Israel Endowment Funds) that was started by Louis Brandeis, who along with Justice Cardoza, were two absolutely famous Jewish Supreme Court justices, and they did more than just sit on the bench. Louis Brandeis was so involved as a Zionist that there is a kibbutz named after him in Israel called Ein HaShofet. So, Rabbi, what is your first impression when you are given the word Shofet, and Zedek Zedek Tirdof,

Adam Mintz  03:20

So I think that your connection to last year’s class about Kings is very much related. You see, there are different models of leadership. King is an absolute ruler, Shofet.  Tzedek Tzedek Tirdoff is a different kind of ruler. Tzedek Tzedek Tirdoff is really saying that we have judges who carry out God’s desire, God remains the ultimate authority, and the judges are under God. But when you have a king, the king seems to take the place of God. That’s the difference between a Melech; a king, and a Shofet… a  judge.

Geoffrey Stern  04:08

I love that. I love that. And I love the fact that we both seem to be on the same page that we are talking about alternative leadership roles. There’s the kingdom, and there’s the judge and they are different and they relate to the people differently and they relate to God differently. If we scroll down a little bit in the Parsha, and we go to Deuteronomy 17, 8-9, it says if a case is too baffling for you to decide, be it a controversy over homicide, civil or assault matters of dispute in your court. You shall promptly repair to the place that your God has chosen and appear before the Levitical priests or the magistrate in charge at the time and present your problem when they have announced to you the verdict in the case. So here we get even a third role of leadership, it says that you should come to וּבָאתָ֗ אֶל־הַכֹּהֲנִים֙ הַלְוִיִּ֔ם וְאֶ֨ל־הַשֹּׁפֵ֔ט. So, it seems to me that even at this preliminary stage, a shofet is more than just a judge. He’s a leader. And from that perspective, you can bundle so fat with words like priest and Levi, you’re basically coming to people that make decisions, you’re coming to people that have leadership roles. And I think that’s really the path that I want to explore this evening, is looking at the shofet in a much broader lens, as a leader, and then kind of exploring, how is that leadership different than kingship, for instance, or other types of things? But how does it strike you that you would bring up a shofet, a Levi and a Cohen in the same breath?

Adam Mintz  06:04

You’re bringing up again, an amazing point, you know, the impression you get from the Chumash is that the Cohen and the Levi used to be the shoftim, they themselves used to be the judges. If that’s true, I can’t prove it necessarily. But if that’s true, what you see is that there was a connection between religious leadership and judicial leadership. The judges were the religious leaders. That’s not the way we have it today. Obviously, you know, you’ve talked about Judge Brandeis and Judge Cardozo, they happen to be Jewish. What you didn’t tell everybody was that when, Woodrow Wilson, I think, who selected, who nominated Brandeis to be the supreme court justice, there was big opposition, ironically, led by the New York Times that said that Brandeis could not be a Supreme Court justice, because there was a conflict of interest. They were afraid that his Judaism would influence his decisions. Can you believe that? His Judaism influences decisions? Now, the New York Times lost, and he was one of the great justices we ever had. But that’s what they say. And you see in the Chumash, that it’s exactly the opposite, that the Kohanim actually were the judges.

Geoffrey Stern  07:41

I think that’s fascinating. You know, it is so interesting. I think there’s a very high percentage of Roman Catholics, who are justices, and I think, and of course, President Kennedy came up against the same challenge, because the Catholic religion is so legalistic in many senses as well. But just to finish up, because I think I want to explore some verses that touch upon some of the things we’ve been talking about in in Deuteronomy, 19, which I believe is next week’s parsha. It says the two parties to a dispute shall appear before God before the priests or shoftim, the magistrates in authority at the time, and the magistrate shall make a thorough investigation, if the one who testified is a false witness, having testified falsely against a fellow Israelite. I think the aspect of religion that definitely blatantly, clearly impacts the Law is that they take an oath in the name of the Lord. And of course, we have that even till today. So, so I do think it’s fascinating how religion and justice kind of partner that is, and have a synergy between them. But I think there’s one aspect that I want to touch upon, that we touched upon a few weeks ago, if you recall Rabbi, we had an episode on Challah. And the we talked about that you had to take the challah, you had to take a portion off of the Challah and give it to the Cohen. And you told me and you said but Geoffrey it doesn’t say anywhere in the verse Cohen, it says you should give it to God. So, I was struck by that and in a sense, we have an instance where the priests are referred to as God. So, it was understood by those who read the text that when it says you shall give the piece of the challah to God, it meant to God’s representatives in a sense to the Kohanim. But what is equally fascinating is that many times, judges, are also referred to as God. So in Exodus 21, it says, but if the slave declares, I love my master and my wife and children, I do not wish to go free, his master shall take him before God, and he shall have his ear pierced, and Rashi on Exodus 21 5-6 says, el haElohim, to God means to the court. In Exodus 22, it says, If the thief is not caught, the owner of the house shall depose before God and deny laying hands on the other’s property. He says,  וְנִקְרַ֥ב בַּֽעַל־הַבַּ֖יִת אֶל־הָֽאֱלֹקִ֑ים and Rashi again, says, the judges. So it is fascinating that the two groups that we have focused on counter disposition to a king, who, as you said, replaces God, the Kohanim. And the judges are actually referred to God, what do you make of that?

Adam Mintz  11:17

Yeah, that is great. I mean, the word Elohim is the same word for judges and God. Now probably that reflects God to say that one of the roles that God has is He’s a judge. But it also means that the judge has the status of God. You see, you started, the class tonight by quoting the posuk said, Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof, we should pursue justice. Now, it sounds to me, like that’s a kind of secular comment, right? Pursue justice. But the truth of the matter is that that’s a religious statement. pursue justice is religious, you need to pursue justice, in a religious way, justice is defined in a religious way. And that’s brought out by the fact that the judges are also connected to God and connected to the Cohen and to the Levi.

Geoffrey Stern  12:20

You know, I think that you could easily make a case, that in a sense, that you go to a Cohen, you go to a judge with a difficult case, and you’re almost kind of consulting with an Oracle. And that would be the association with calling them God, you could make the case that they are representatives the human representatives of God, and that’s why you call them God. And finally, and I intimated this before, you could say that you actually do have to swear an oath in the name of God. And that’s why it says that you are approaching God, but I have a kind of a humanistic way of looking at it. And that would be that the way you started, you were saying that our challenge with kings is that they want to replace God. And I think that these leaders are as close to B’tzelem Elohim, the image of God, they do represent God and that in a sense, our leaders; those people that are active in the community, and are trying to decipher what the right and moral way is, are in fact, those people that are imbued with God. Those are, you know, in the words of Erich Fromm, those are the people who are following the dictate of You shall be as gods. So I do think that we are talking not only about leadership, alternatives, but leadership that is totally condoned by the Torah, and it’s condoned, because these people are trying as best they can as humans to represent to channel the Lord in this world.

Adam Mintz  14:20

I think that’s right. And again, I think it goes both ways, which is so great, right? It’s … They’re like God, and God is like the judges, we look at God as a judge, you know, there are two elements of God. There’s one element of God; God as being a compassionate God. And there’s another element of God as God being a righteous God or God being the God of justice. Now, God being the God of justice is a kind of scary God. There’s a wonderful Midrash it’s reflected in the Rosh Hashana davening. When it talks about the Akedah. The Akeda is when God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac on the altar, and God at the last-minute changes his mind. And what the Midrash says is that Abraham said to God, you know, you’re acting like the God of justice, I want you to become the God of compassion. And that’s what we do all do on Rosh Hashana; we try to turn the God of justice to into the God of compassion. That’s a really interesting idea.

Geoffrey Stern  15:27

You know, it’s not the focus of tonight’s discussion. But there are so many commentaries on why it says Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof , justice, justice, shall you pursue. And certainly, one of them, the most beautiful in my mind, is that you need to pursue justice, with justice. And I think that’s kind of what you were referring to….  that the strict law of justice, well, maybe that’s easy to do. But to do it in a fair way to do it in a compassionate way, to see the bigger picture. Maybe that’s why it says Tsedek Tsedek twice. But I want to get back to Shoftim. And those of us who pray three times a day and say the 18 benedictions, that Shemona Esrei, the Amidah, we talk about the Shoftim three times a day, there is a one of the 18 benediction says הָשִֽׁיבָה שׁוֹפְ֒טֵֽינוּ כְּבָרִאשׁוֹנָה וְיוֹעֲצֵֽינוּ כְּבַתְּ֒חִלָּה, Restore our judges as before, and our counselors as at first. Remove sorrow and sighing from us and reign over us, God along with kindness and compassion, and make us righteous with justice. And then it says, Blessed are you, oh, God, who is full of compassion and justice. So in this one, prayer is a lot to unpack, because it helps us make the transition from looking at a Shofet as simply a judge to something that is a whole lot bigger, because it’s clear in the big scope of history, that when it says, Bring back our judges and our counselors, it’s actually referring to a period in our history, the beginning of the book of Ruth says, and it was in the days of the Shoftim, it was in the days of the judges, there is a book of the Bible could call Judges that come before the book of Samuel and the book of Melachim, which is the Book of Kings one and two. So there is a whole period, call it a period that we can romanticize that we want to return to call it what you will, but it was a period that was ruled by Shoftim. And I think you would agree with me that the shoftim that it’s referring to are not simply magistrates sitting on a bench adjudicating these were all leaders. And so this is a fascinating blessing, least of which it proceeds a number of blessings that talk about bringing back the Davidic line and bringing back Jerusalem. It also is part of the whole eschatology of ending our suffering and bringing back a new age and it starts with shoftim, what does this blessing mean to you?

Adam Mintz  18:48

Oh, boy. So now you bring up a really interesting thing. That blessing הָשִֽׁיבָה שׁוֹפְ֒טֵֽינוּ כְּבָרִאשׁוֹנָה וְיוֹעֲצֵֽינוּ כְּבַתְּ֒חִלָּה is actually a blessing In  Shemona Esrei, in the order of the blessings of the Shemona Esrei, that blessing comes right beforeוְלִירוּשָׁלַֽיִם עִירְ֒ךָ בְּרַחֲמִים תָּשׁוּב that we go back to Jerusalem. It seems to be in the idea of the editor or the author of the Amidah that part of a return to Jerusalem is a return to justice, the way that it used to be. We can’t return to Jerusalem without a return to justice. Wow, that’s great. Right? Who would have thought that? But that seems to be what it’s saying. And it’s הָשִֽׁיבָה שׁוֹפְ֒טֵֽינוּ כְּבָרִאשׁוֹנָה וְיוֹעֲצֵֽינוּ כְּבַתְּ֒חִלָּה, it’s almost like a messianic prayer. We want judges like we used to have judges, then we’re going to have a messianic reality. So the this really elevates the idea of justice. This isn’t just that, you know that the judges are the ones who are going to be fair and all these things. It’s that that’s part of the Messianic vision, not so we don’t have now Which is kind of this, you know, symbiotic relationship between judges and God and religion and Tzedek all of these things together, I’ll just say the word said Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof, the word tzedek is a great word. Because we always love talking about words, because the word Tzedek is related to another word that we know that word is the word Tzedakah. usually you think of Tzedakah as charity as something that you volunteer to do. Tzedek on the other hand, righteousness is something that you’re obligated to do. And what you see is that you’re obligated to be good. That’s why we choose the word Tzedaka. Being good is not something that you voluntary, in tradition, it’s part of the obligation, you need to be good. That’s what Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdoff means.

Geoffrey Stern  20:59

You know, the, the prayers that we say every day, they don’t come out of a vacuum. And this prayer has beautiful language that you referenced about returning us to the days of old, and it really comes from the most beautiful haftorah that we say, I would say oh a year, and it’s on Shabbat Hazon, Hazon means vision. And it comes from Isaiah, 1:1, the prophecies of Isaiah, who prophesies concerning Judah and Jerusalem. And these are the prophecies where Isaiah says, I don’t want your sacrifices. I take no joy in the bulls or delight in the goats. He goes, bringing ablations is futile. Bringing oblations is futile,-c Incense is offensive to Me. New moon and sabbath, Proclaiming of solemnities, Assemblies with iniquity,-d I cannot abide. . He says, putting down all ritual and he says Wash yourselves clean; Put your evil doings Away from My sight. Cease to do evil; (17) Learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; Aid the wronged.-e Uphold the rights of the orphan; Defend the cause of the widow. And then he goes on to say Your rulers are rogues And cronies of thieves, Every one avid for presents And greedy for gifts; They do not judge the case of the orphan, And the widow’s cause never reaches them. (24) Assuredly, this is the declaration Of the Sovereign, the LORD of Hosts, The Mighty One of Israel: “Ah, I will get satisfaction from My foes; I will wreak vengeance on My enemies! (25) I will turn My hand against you, And smelt out your dross as with lye,-h And remove all your slag:  And then it says, I will restore your magistrates as of old, And your counselors as of yore. After that you shall be called City of Righteousness, Faithful City.” (27) Zion shall be saved in the judgment; Her repentant ones, in the retribution. So exactly as you said, this is the context of this prayer. They lifted, they paraphrase, they took the exact words of Isaiah, but it really puts doing the right thing above all else, all of the ritual, all of the mouth services, all of the temple worship, it’s one of the most profound messages. And it all is triggered from corrupt leaders, corrupt judges, and judges of Old, it is absolutely powerful. Is it not?

Adam Mintz  23:39

It is I wonder why it is that the judges were so corrupt. Why is it that the book of Shoftim is the wrong model of leadership? You never would have guessed it from this week’s parsha this week’s parsha שֹׁפְטִ֣ים וְשֹֽׁטְרִ֗ים תִּֽתֶּן־לְךָ֙ בְּכׇל־שְׁעָרֶ֔יךָ sounds as if we should make judges that’s a good model of leadership. Where do you come up with this idea that they were bad? Isn’t that interesting?

Geoffrey Stern  24:09

I’m gonna part roads with you. I think that Isaiah was talking literally about the judges. As we know them in the day of, in the period before the destruction of the temple. I think when he says restore the shoftim of old. Yes, he’s referring back to the time of the Shoftim. And like I did last week, I went back and I opened up Shoftim and I read it anew and I do believe that there was a little bit of a golden age zero. It was very strange. Joshua dies. And there are literally 12 judges, one of who is Deborah, the judge, and I say the word judges I’m going to speak about them now as Shoftim because they were not judges in the way we’ve been you using the word, they were decisionmakers. They were people of action. And I think that’s how they can best be described. They were not necessarily the person who would sit in the front pew of a synagogue, one of them had was missing an arm. And he went ahead and killed the enemy by coming into request a private meeting. Deborah was was a warrior. And this is the challenge for us. Not that Isaiah was putting them down, or the prayer that I just referenced from this Shemoneh Esrei puts them down. But in a sense, it does talk about these very human people who are and you know, we grow tired of saying this, that the Torah always talks about, even our greatest heroes have flaws and limitations. But I think what you do when you read the book of Shoftim, and it’s all in the Seforia notes, is there’s a cycle that people have a Shofet, and he rules for 12 years, and then he dies, or he gets killed, and the people start eating off the land. And all they care about is wealth, all they care about is agriculture. They don’t even care enough to defend themselves. These Sophtim more than anything else are people that defended the people, I think that Josephus believe it or not, characterizes the shift in best. He says, After this, the Israelites grew effeminate as to fighting any more against their enemies, but applied themselves to the cultivation of the land, which producing them great plenty and riches, they neglected the regular disposition of their settlement, and indulged themselves in luxury and pleasures; nor were they any longer careful to hear the laws that belonged to their political government:  they stopped building armies, they stopped protecting themselves. And they also Yes, went into idolatry. And then a Shofet would come, and he would be a Shofet for 40 years. And then they would fall into the same thing. It was almost, I talked about it so fat as people of action, because I think that what the sin of the people really was, was that they were inactive, that they were just satisfied with the status quo. And that to me, is the read I’ve gotten from looking at the book of Shoftim this week, which is a fascinating read. It’s a fascinating period in our history that we don’t really know we don’t talk about.

Adam Mintz  27:57

So that’s interesting and the reason we don’t talk about that period in our history, is because it was an unsuccessful period in our history. And it was undone with the introduction of kingship, first King Saul, who was a great king. I mean, he failed, but he was a great king. And then of course, there was King David. So what you’re saying, is that really the Shoftim, their problem was that the form of leadership of a Shofet is to take the reality as it is, and to work with it. And sometimes that just isn’t good enough. Sometimes you need a king who can actually change the reality. That’s really good.

Geoffrey Stern  28:40

On the one hand, it was a failed period. And on the other hand, three times a day, we talk about returning us to the period of the Shoftim.

Adam Mintz  28:56

That’s correct. You can say there, you know, it depends; judges are as good as judges can be. But I think there’s a very important piece the religious piece that you brought up about the fact that Elohim means both the judge and means God there’s something messianic about judges.

Geoffrey Stern  29:16

I think there’s something messianic and it is one of the few blessings that we change during the 10 days of repentance during the high holidays

Adam Mintz  29:25

We emphasize HaMelech. הַמֶּֽלֶךְ הַמִּשְׁפָּט Because the 10 days of Rosh Hashanah – Yom Kippur it’s about God being king. We don’t say God is the judge, though that’s there obviously. But it’s God being the king. That’s also something to think about why on Rosh Hashana is God King and not God judge? God obviously could be both why do we choose one and not the other? I don’t know the answer. It’s good question.

Geoffrey Stern  29:57

I mean, my sense is that God has to be I’m king because he has to reclaim the title from humankind. There are humans who wish to steal it. God being a judge, I think he can live with judges who represent him. You know, I think there’s, there’s a lot more synergy I think between God as a judge and human judges, then there is God as the king and the human king, where there’s really only one seat at the throne. But I think it’s a fascinating takeaway.  I continue to be intrigued, and I will take it with me for the Shabbat that we want to return to a failed period where at least we were struggling with these issues, and as importantly, that we celebrate people, men, women, Deborah Sampson people of action, and that the worst thing is to grow. Where we don’t care, we go callous, not only to the orphan and the widow, but even to our own needs of moving forward, protecting our families and so forth and so on. And all we want to do is harvest our crop.

Adam Mintz  31:07

I think that’s, I think that’s great. This was a great choice. And it’s really something to think about suddenly thinking about the Shabbos and something to think about as we approach Rosh Hashanah. So thank you so much. Thank you for leading this class from the car and after enjoying a great day at the US Open and we want to wish everybody a Shabbat shalom. Enjoy the parsha Enjoy the holiday weekend and we look forward to seeing everybody next week to talk about parshat Ki Tezei. Be well everybody Shabbat shalom.

Geoffrey Stern  31:37

Shabbat shalom. Thank you, everybody.

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A Second Torah

parshat devarim, devarim 1

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on August 4th 2022. The fifth book of the Five Books of Moses is called Mishneh Torah which means the Second Torah or the Repetition of the Torah. We use this as an opportunity to explore how the Torah has been renewed and rediscovered over time.

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Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform.  The fifth book of the Five Books of Moses is called Deuteronomy in Greek and referred to as Mishneh Torah in Hebrew…  both of which mean the Second Torah or the Replayed Torah. Join us as we explore how the Torah has been renewed and rediscovered over time. So put on your headphones and set up your turntable as we spin… A Second Torah.


Well, welcome! I wasn’t prepared to celebrate Simchat Torah in the middle of the summer. But the truth is, at the end of last week’s podcast Rabbi, you reminded us that it was a Hazak Hazak moment, we had finished the book of Numbers. And really, if you take a few verses from Deuteronomy; Devarim that we’re gonna start reading today, and you put on the end of Moses’ career, you really have finished the whole Torah, it is a complete literary unit. And that is why so many people hear a different voice in the book of Deuteronomy. And why as I said in the intro, even the name that we refer to it literally means the second or repeated law in Greek. And we’ll see in a second to that it’s also called Mishneh Torah. Similar to Lechem Mishneh, which is the two pieces of bread or mana that they got before Shabbat, Mishneh is like shenayim, it’s repeat its turn it’s dual. So let’s just jump in to verse 1: 1 in Deuteronomy, which is where the other name of Deuteronomy comes from. And it says אֵ֣לֶּה הַדְּבָרִ֗ים These are the words that Moses addressed to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan. So the Hebrew books, our names for them, are very similar to the names we give the parshiot. Pretty much, you just take the first word that comes up. And that’s why we have Bereshit and Vayikra. And so that’s really, without any significance or meaning, why the other name for the book that we’re starting today is Devarim. But it does already kind of tickle my fancy by saying, These are the words that Moses addressed on the other side of the Jordan, already, it’s changing the voice of the whole book that we’re going to hear, which is ultimately a bunch of sermons in the voice of Moses. I think that’s kind of fascinating. And I think it’s so important that we have that in mind as we read it because it really does…… And we’re going to take a few examples today in our own parsha about how the voice is different.   But it is kind of radical. It’s a new start today.  mazal Tov, Simchas Torah. Here we are.  Fantastic, can’t wait to begin.

Geoffrey Stern  03:29

So, the word that מִשְׁנֵ֨ה הַתּוֹרָ֤ה comes from is actually a few chapters ahead in 17: 18. And it talks about this ceremony where the king not only had to write the Torah, but he had to also read it. And it says in 17: 18, when he is seated on his royal throne, he shall have a copy of this teaching written for him on a scroll by the priests. And it refers to מִשְׁנֵ֨ה הַתּוֹרָ֤ה the second the re-learning. I mean, we know the word Mishnah. From our how we refer to the Oral Law of Yehuda HaNasi, which we’ll see in a second is also a repetition, is a repeat of the Torah. So, everything here has to do with how this is unique on the one hand, but how it’s also a reflection and a redux, so to speak, on what we heard at Sinai, and so even if you look at our portion, it says in Deuteronomy, 1: 6, our God spoke to us at Horeb saying, you have stayed long enough at this mountain. So, if you look at the Hebrew it says ה’ אֱלֹקֵ֛ינוּ דִּבֶּ֥ר אֵלֵ֖ינוּ בְּחֹרֵ֣ב all of a sudden it’s a different tense. You pointed out a number of podcasts earlier Rabbi how in every blessing, we change our tense. And here you have ה’ אֱלֹקֵ֛ינוּ. and it’s not a quote of a blessing or a quote of a verse. It’s actually Moses saying: and this is what God said to us. He’s talking to the people of Israel directly. And I must say, I was struck by the fact that he says a few times in this week’s parsha רַב־לָכֶ֥ם, you stayed at Sinai too much. And of course, we know רַב־לָכֶ֥ם that’s gonna be next year’s podcast, because I don’t know if he was rubbing in it or not. But let’s keep on track here. It says in Deuteronomy, and our portion 1: 22, in his recounting the history, the recent history, and it says, then all of you came to me and said, Let us send agents ahead to recontour the land for us, and bring back word on the route we shall follow, and the cities we shall come to, and I approved of the plan. And so I selected from among you, 12 participants. I mean, it’s almost as though God didn’t play a part in Numbers. 13: 1. it says God spoke to Moses saying, Send the agents to scout the land of Canaan. It’s almost as though we’re reading the notes on a video or the outtakes or the editors or the producers edition. Are you struck by that the way I am?

Adam Mintz  06:35

Yeah, I mean, So first of all, the Mishnah Torah, the book of Devarim is written in Moses, his voice, that’s really the point you made of ה’ אֱלֹקֵ֛ינוּ Moses is the one who’s speaking. That’s different than the rest of the Torah. The rest of the Torah is in the voice of the narrator, Vayomer Hashem el Moshe Laymor, right most of the Torah is a third party and God spoke to Moshe but in Devarim in Mishneh Torah it’s in Moses, his voice ה’ אֱלֹקֵ֛ינוּ,  he’s telling the people our God spoke to us. It really makes it very personal. And actually, it’s not this week’s parisha next week’s Parsha, where we see V’etchana Hashem, that Moses begged God to let him enter the land. It’s really the last time that Moses begs God to enter the land. It’s clear from this first person, you know, dialogue of Moshe, that it’s really a tragedy that he’s not given the opportunity to enter the land. Yeah, the voice thing is absolutely fascinating. I think the other thing is if we look at the word Mishneh Torah in the in the rabbinic literature, this is not an interpretation. This is literally what it was called. So if you look at the Sifrei Devarim, when it deals with the requirement that I mentioned before of the King having to write a Sefer Torah it says this tells me only of the Mishnah Torah meaning the book of Devarim where do we derive that the mitzvah also applies to the rest of the Torah? So it was so common language common nature, that when it says Mishnah Torah it meant that book of Devarim, that now the rabbis are asking, how do we know the king has to write a complete Sefer Torah and so it learns it from a another source. But then it says So why was it written Mishneh Torah if in fact, you have to write the whole Torah. And then it says, because in the days of Ezra, they are destined to change the script. So now we’re starting to get a little bit of a sense, and you know, me, Rabbi, I always try to combine what contemporary critical scientific thinkers say about our Torah and rabbis. And we’ll see very soon that there are many modern-day scholars who believe that the whole book of Devarim was written in the time of Ezra, and it’s made for the people returning to the land. But here we have in the Talmud itself, this sense that the book of Devarim, all of a sudden, was written in בכתב אשורית in this different script. And so you definitely get a sense that even the rabbi’s understood that not only was there something different here, but the language, the language was different. And let me just quote a little bit more from the Talmud in Sanhedrin that says that he had to write the second Mishneh Torah it says because the script is apt to be changed. וכתב את משנה התורה הזאת כתב הראוי להשתנות למה נקרא אשורית and of course להשתנות is very similar to Ma Nishtana, how will it be changed? So why is this script called Ashurite? Because it ascended with the Jewish people from Assur when they returned from their exile in Babylonia. So the rabbis are in no shape or form agreeing the biblical critics who said that this thing was written at a later date in the exile coming back from the exile. But what they are saying is, at least it was written or rewritten in a script that came from the exile. And maybe because it was talking specifically to the people coming back from the exile, you know, some of the ideas in Devarim that are different is it really focuses on getting rid of the idles on monotheism, it focuses on returning to the ways. So I just see a confluence here that we really don’t have to disagree, we can all look at it, specifically from a traditional or a scientific perspective, but come up with the same conclusion. That’s great. I love that, you know, because it’s so difficult to know what that means that it’s written in a different hand and a different formation of the letters. What does that mean? But of course, what it means is that it was written for a different group, it was written for the people who were returning to the land and exactly what you said, you know, the idea of anti-idolatry. While it does appear, it appears in the 10 commandments. It’s not a theme of the first four books of the Torah. And all of a sudden, in the book of Devarim, they are literally obsessed with idolatry. And clearly what they’re worried about is they’re worried about this, these people who are idle worshipers, right? That’s what it’s about.

Geoffrey Stern  11:56

Yep, absolutely. And now I’m going to quote from Ramban, Nachmanides in his introduction to the book of Devarim. And again, he is recognizing the difference. He says, this book is known to constitute a review of the Torah, in which Moses our teacher explains to the generation entering the land, most of the commandments of the Torah, that pertain to Israelites as opposed to priests, he does not mention anything relative to the law of the priests, neither about the performance of the offerings, nor the ritual purity of the priests and their functions, having already explained those matters to them. He goes on to say, Thus, there are in this book many admonitions regarding idolatry, that follow one after another, as well as chastisements, and a sound of terror, casting upon them the fear of all the punishments for the transgressions. Additionally, he proclaims commandments, which have not been previously mentioned at all. So here, it’s kind of fascinating. He’s making a major move now, on the one hand, he’s saying that, in agreement with what we were talking about, that this is for people returning to the land are coming to the land for the first time. And it really is focused not on all of this cultic stuff, but on getting rid of idolatry. But now he makes a fascinating move. And he says, There are new commandments here. And he says, Now all these laws had in fact been declared to Moses, either on Sinai, or in the tent of meeting. He is talking about the book of Devarim is the first inkling, the first insight we have to an Oral law, because we are now hearing about things in the book of Devarim that we didn’t hear before. But Ramban is claiming they were said before, this was a total revelation to me as I prepared this week.

Adam Mintz  13:56

That’s a great thing. I mean, you know, that’s kind you know, the tension about how exactly the Torah was given, you know, up to now, the Torah has basically been a chronological history of the Jewish people, every once in a while, you have some Rashi, saying, you know, this story is out of order. But more or less, it’s a chronological history of the Jews. And all of a sudden, now you have this reflection of Moshe, it’s not exactly clear when this reflection happens, and how it kind of plays itself out. For instance, in this week’s Parsha, you have a retelling of the story of the spies. It’s the same story, but you know, when Moses tells it, it’s a slightly different story than when the Torah originally told him. When the Torah originally told it. It seems like Moses sent the spies but when, but when we’ve retold it this week, it sounds more like the people sent the spies you know, Moses changes it a little bit to kind of take some of the blame away from himself. It really plays Moses as a very human character, which is fantastic.

Geoffrey Stern  15:08

You know, I’m gonna, kind of continuing what you’re saying and combine it with what I just heard the Ramban say. The Rambam said that there are new laws here that not were not invented here they were given before in the tent of meeting, and they oral until they were written down into the rim. But what you were saying was something fascinating because what you’re saying is that Midrash was also put into divine because isn’t it? Midrash? When you describe the same event slightly differently? I mean, isn’t that what our Aggadata is all about? Isn’t that what all the lore and legend of Judaism is all about? It’s about taking the original story of the spies. And then we packaging it. We citing it. And I think if that’s what you were saying, I’m with you, 100%. It’s really amazing.

Adam Mintz  16:03

That’s exactly what I’m saying. It is it’s a restaging of some of the stories in next week’s parsha, you have the 10 commandments, even the 10 commandments, can you believe it? The 10 commandments are not exactly the same. For instance, the commandment about Shabbat when it first appeared in the book of Exodus, it said Zachor et Yom haShabbat, you should, you should remember the day of Shabbat, and in next week, parachuters Shamor, you should guard and they say zachor means the positive ways of observing Shabbat and making kiddush and eating food and all those things. And next week, we have the negative commandments of Shabbat, which is so interesting. I just want to make a point, which is not related to this, but I said, I marked down and I was gonna say it, you know, this week, I think it’s important to mention something. And that is that this week, Shabbat goes into Tisha B’Ab the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, the day in which we commemorate the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. And what’s interesting is and it relates to our Torah reading as well. What’s interesting is that actually, the ninth of Ab on the calendar is is Saturday. It’s Saturday, it’s not Sunday, but we don’t observe Tisha B’Ab on Shabbat, we push it off to Sunday, Shabbat, the observance of Shabbat, the idea that you eat and you enjoy that beats out the mourning of Tisha B’Ab. And that’s a great our religion believes that celebration beats out morning. And I think that’s a very powerful kind of idea. The only fast day that actually can be observed on Shabbat is Yom Kippur. You can fast on Yom Kippur on Shabbat. That’s different because Yom Kippur is not considered to be a sad day. It’s a serious day. But it’s not a sad day. But Tisha B’Ab is a sad day. We don’t have sad days on Shabbat. That’s why I know Orna just finished Shiva. But if the Shiva were to were to conflict with a holiday, then actually the Shiva is canceled on behalf of the holiday, because celebration always beats morning in Judaism. So I think that’s a nice lesson, especially for this Shabbat this week.

Geoffrey Stern  18:31

I think it’s an amazing lesson. And it’s a wonderful segue into what I want to talk about now in terms of picking up on where Ramban left off. I’ve already alluded to the fact that Mishnah Torah has in it the word Mishnah, which is the Oral law, written down by Rob Yehuda HaNasi, after the destruction of the temple, after Yohanan, ben Zakkai, decided that it was more important to give the Jews a future with a Yavneh and it’s wise men. And so in a sense, there’s a total connection between what we’re talking about today, whether it’s in the book of Devarim of Deuteronomy, or later in the mission of made by Yehuda HaNasi. To the fact that life takes precedence and where that life is, is in the living dynamic traditions that we have that are constantly being renewed, replayed, and reflected. So I think that the the person who took the word Mishnah Torah and made it the most famous was a medieval scholar named Maimonides and Maimonides did something very radical. He took all the laws of the Talmud, and instead of requiring that every Jew be learned and enough to go through all of the spins and tails and curves of the Talmud, he codified it. And he made it into an indexed …. a phonebook of Jewish law, if you will. And that was considered very radical. And he called it Mishnah Torah. And he wrote an introduction to the Mishnah Torah, that basically gives the history of Torah being renewed. And so in the introduction, he says, All the word that I commanded you ye shall observe to do is written in Deuteronomy 13: 1 and he says, this is the source of the oral law that we know in the Torah, because it relates to this word, that there was an oral tradition. And he said that Joshua likewise continued throughout his lifetime to study it orally. So we have this book of Devarim, which according to the Ramban is already the beginning of writing down in oral tradition, but certainly preserving it. And then he goes to Rabbi Yohanan, son of Zakkai, had these five disciples, and He passed it on to them, and then Rabbi Gamaliel, the elder, and then it finally gets to our holy master, Yehuda, HaNasi, Judah, the prince, who compiled the Mishnah. And it says, Our Holy Master compiled the Mishna. From the days of Moses our Master till our Holy Master (Judah the Prince) no text book of the Oral Torah for public instruction had been issued, the practice theretofore being for the president of a tribunal or a prophet who flourished in a given generation to keep privately written memoranda of his Masters’ oral teachings, out of which he, in turn, instructed the public. So Maimonides goes into detail how actually, there was not only this tradition, but a very strong tradition to the extent of almost being a prohibition against writing all of these things down. And then he explains that Yehuda HaNasi realized that the people were being dispersed, the temple had been destroyed. so that the Oral Torah be not forgotten from the midst of Israel.  But why did our Holy Master thus, and did not leave the matter as it was heretofore? Because he observed that the number of students continued to decrease, whereas the volume of oppression continued to increase with renewed strength; that the Roman Empire continued to spread out its boundaries in the world and conquer, whereas Israel continued to drift aimlessly and follow extremes, he, therefore, compiled one book, a handy volume for all, so that they may study it even in haste and not forget it. And his whole lifetime, he sat together with the members of his tribunal and gave public instruction in the Mishna.  So really, if you want to talk about the connection between this week’s Parsha and, Tisha B’Ab, it’s all here. It’s the dialectic between preserving, rewriting and renewing our tradition, and the oppression that was so representative by the Romans. So he goes into very great detail about what Rav Yehuda HaaNasi did. But of course, the punch line, because this is the introduction to his revolutionary book. He says, Therefore, I Moses son of Maimon of Spain, girded up my loins and supporting myself upon the rock, bless it be he made a comprehensive study of all of these books. And he goes on to explain what he’s going to be doing in his book, because he knew it was controversial. And I think it’s a wonderful history of how the oral tradition and the renewal of the written tradition have been renewed in order to let us survive.

Adam Mintz  23:59

So that’s beautiful. The Rambam says in his Mishnah Torah, that basically you a Jewish library, only needs two books. It needs a Torah, and it needs a Mishneh Torah. So, he actually saw his mission, a Torah, his Encyclopedia of Judaism, as a Mishneh Torah, the way the book of Devarim is a Mishneh Torah, which is kind of a summary of the Torah, so it’s not just that he’s borrowing the phrase, he’s actually using it in exactly the same way, which is an amazing thing. And he was criticized, because he was they thought that he was too arrogant actually. They said, Who are you to say that you don’t need any other books except for the Torah and your Mishneh Torah? What about the whole tradition of books? What about the whole tradition of scholarship? Why don’t you need that and Maimonides basically thought that the average person that he would distill all the law for the average person. And the average person did not need any other books. It’s an amazing idea.

Geoffrey Stern  25:08

I mean, I love the fact that you, you reference how controversial it was, but also the hubris involved or as we Jews say in Latin, the chutzpah of it all. I mean, if you look at his language, he writes the whole scope of pure language and concise style. the Oral Torah be entirely methodical in the mouth of everybody, without query and without repartee, without the contentious thus of one and such of another, but clear text, cohesive, correct, in harmony with the law which is defined out of all these existing compilations and commentaries from the days of our Holy Master till now; … so that all laws be open to young and old, whether they be laws concerning each and every commandment. He is basically saying, he sounds almost like someone standing up and saying, I have a new gadget, it’s going to replace everything in the house. It can do anything you want. And he writes it in this manner after this long introduction. But he introduces this concept of, you need to have a little bit of chutzpah to do this. And we all know, in his mind anyway, that Yehudah HaNasi needed Chutzpa to do it. He needed to stand up against people who were saying he was giving up on Jerusalem, he was giving up on the temple. It’s fascinating especially when we look at people in our history, who stand up and go against the current and how they are criticized. Here are individuals and books that were written because of them that were radical in their day, and ultimately played a role because I don’t think that Maimonides at the end of the day was correct. The last thing we would want would be to throw away the Talmud and all of that’s involved in it and just look at his homogenized processed product. But nonetheless, he founded Jewish law in a way that the people own the law and that the Shulchan Orach could be written and that people could find out what was the right path to take for decentralized Judaism.

Adam Mintz  27:24

Yeah, so what you just said is very interesting. The Rambam was wrong. That’s absolutely right. The Rambam was wrong. We couldn’t have managed with just the Torah, and the Mishneh Torah, and Maimonides’ encyclopedia. It’s interesting what he thought, right? I mean, what do you mean, the Rambam is wrong. He was pretty smart. He’s probably was as smart as we are. So why was he wrong? I think he was wrong, because he underestimated the Jewish mind. And the commitment of the people. He kind of shortchanged everybody, he said, you know what, they’re not going to really study the Talmud. They’re not going to really study the other commentaries. Let me write a book that’s easily understandable, that’s accessible. We have the phrase today we use user-friendly, right? Well, let me give them a book that’s user-friendly. And basically, we don’t need user-friendly all the time, we can work hard, right, the way you put together your Sefaria Sheets, you know, people have been putting together Sefaria sheets for generations. Now, they didn’t have Sefaria. It wasn’t as easy in the old days. But the same idea of going to the different sources and seeing the variety of opinion, is really the richness of the tradition. But in a way, that’s a sophistication, right? to be able to understand the richness of tradition based on different traditions is actually kind of sophisticated. And Rambam says, you know, I’m not sure that everybody is so sophisticated. It’s an interesting discussion. It’s an interesting debate. So you say the Rambam was wrong, but he wasn’t just that he was wrong. He had a very specific view, which turned out not to be correct, because, we’re better than the Rambam thought.

Geoffrey Stern  29:05

Well, and, you know, maybe it’s as trivial as he didn’t have a vision of the printing press. You know?

Adam Mintz  29:12

How could he possibly, right?

Geoffrey Stern  29:13

So when I say he’s wrong, I don’t think he’s wrong in writing the Mishneh Torah, the Mishneh Torah is a brilliant work. We both agree upon that. But I think you’re right, we can disagree about whether his prognosis for the Jewish people who ultimately has its own genius inside of it was shortchanged. You know, I’d like to end because as you say, we are right in front of Tisha B’Ab and the destruction that that involves is, you know, to say that really in Kings, there is a story about a scroll that is found by in the times of King Josiah and many people, including the rabbinic authorities believe that they found the scroll of the Mishnah Torah amongst the rubble. And I have that vision here. I also have the vision of Yohanan, ben Zakkai, who had to be smuggled out of Jerusalem because there was zealots surrounding it. And they didn’t want anybody to compromise their vision of martyrdom. And he put himself in a coffin so that he could be smuggled out and create Yavneh V’Chachamecha; Yavneh and it’s wise men, and I look at these two visions of finding a scroll the destructed part of the temple, the desecrated part of the temple, and of this coffin going out, and both of them have to do with rewriting the book in a new way in a new day. And I think that ultimately is the positive vision that we need to take away from Tisha B’Ab that brings us into the Nachamu and the 15th of Ab that we spoke of last week.

Adam Mintz  31:07

Right and we definitely will. So, we look forward next week, I will be in Be’er Sheva, I’m officiating at a wedding so we will do a lunch and learn at noon next Thursday. So, look forward to seeing everybody new next Thursday. Want to wish everybody a Shabbat Shalom, enjoy the beginning of the Devarim. I think we showed some of the richness of the text and of the discussion of the whole topic of Mishneh Torah. Have an easy fast, everybody and we look forward on the other side to a time of Nachamu and of good things. Shabbat shalom, everybody be well. Shabbat Shalom Rabbi have a nesia tova, a good trip to the holy city of Be’er Sheva and to everyone else. Let’s all enjoy this new book, seen through a new lens. Shabbat Shalom.

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The United States of Israel

parshat matot-masei, numbers 33-36

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on July 28th 2022 as we look at the configuration of the Israelite tribes through new eyes… the eyes of modern scholarship that suggests that the conquest of the Land of Israel by the freed slaves from Egypt also included the uprising of local tribes. Together they formed a confederation of tribes, united in their rejection of the existing class structure and the sovereign-vassal subjugation of Egypt and later empires.

Sefaria Source Sheet:


Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform.  Today we look at the configuration of the Israelite tribes through new eyes… the eyes of modern scholarship that suggests that the tribes were distinct peoples including freed slaves from Egypt but also regional disrupters who formed a confederation of tribes. Independent states united in their rejection of the existing class structure and the sovereign-vassal subjugation of Egypt and later empires. So, take out your musket and join your local militia as we explore the United States of Israel.


So welcome to Madlik, as we were saying, in the pre-show, it is a very long portion, it is two portions combined. And we are finally going to be catching up with Israel. So that we’ll be on the same page, so to speak. But the portion as you were saying, Rabbi starts with kind of following up on what happened last week with the Midianites that we are going to surround it really talks in very brutal terms about killing, destroying their towns, even killing the women who were of age. And it’s very hard to swallow. And we’re not going to focus on that, but we might have some insight into it. And then it goes into the cities of refuge that need to be set up now as we’re about to cross the Jordan. And then finally, it revisits something that we could have all thought was a minor, little question of law. If all of you remember back in the day, we had the daughters of Zelophehad, whose father had passed away, and they had no brother, he had no sons. And they asked Moses, what’s going to happen with our inheritance in terms of the continuity of our dad’s name, and Moses consulted with God, and God came back and said, the daughters of Zelophehad can have the portion. And we thought that was behind us. But it reappears today. And that’s where we’re going to start, we’re going to kind of look at the portion backwards to forwards it, there’s an expression of אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה there’s no chronology. And we’re going to take that, we’re going to start with the daughters Zelophehad And we’re gonna work our way back. So, we are in Numbers 36. And we’re going to pick up in verse 3, where are the members of the same tribe, the tribe of Joseph, it’s called, that the daughters of Zelophehad’s father was a member of say, Now, if they become the wives of persons from another Israelite tribe, their share will be cut off from our ancestral portion and be added to the portion of the tribe into which they become wives, thus, our allotted portion will be diminished. So we’re really starting to get a very strong sense of this tribalism, but also how particular we Jews like to think of ourselves as homogeneous, there are Ashkenazim, there were Sephardic, Iraqi Jews, US Jews, but we’re starting to see that they took the tribal division of the land very seriously. And Moses comes back and says, and he sounds a little bit like Henry Ford here. He says they may become the wives of anyone they wish, provided they become wives within a clan of their father’s tribe. So, I’ll make the car in any color as long as it’s black. So the solution is that there is no intermarriage between the tribes. So here again, we have this emphasis on really the division between the tribes and I had really never focused that much on that. But Rabbi, am I correct in saying that from the viewpoint of Jewish history, I mean, we all know about the lost tribes and all that but ultimately, maybe being a Jew is so much determined by what others think. We’ve kind of coalesced into a Jew as a Jew is a Jew. But here we have to kind of change our lenders a little bit and really think more tribally, am I correct?

Adam Mintz  05:06

Absolutely. Right. Well, I mean, you know, that in the Middle East generally, you know, in the Arabian Peninsula even as late as the time of Mohammed, that the Arabs lived as tribes means tribalism was something that was very familiar. And the Jews had tribes, you know, today, it’s not really fair, because we read that before the destruction of the First Temple around the year 700 BCE, the 10 tribes the 10 northern tribes were actually dispersed, and they disappeared. So, we actually are all part of the tribe of Judah, Judah and Benjamin, which are called Judah. So that whole tribalism disappeared. But when they entered the land, everything was the tribe, you had to be part of your tribes. That’s the story of the daughters of Zelophehad, but they said, We want to inherit our Father, we have no brothers, we want to inherit our father, they were from Menasha. If they didn’t inherit their father, then their land would be lost. So what Moses tells them … your good will, you can inherit your father, but you need to marry within Menasha. If you marry outside the tribe, then you’re going to lose the land. It’s all within the tribe. I mean, it makes the shiduch market difficult, you know, who you can marry, you can only marry within the tribe, which is fascinating.

Geoffrey Stern  06:27

Well, it gives the word intermarriage, a whole new meaning.

Adam Mintz  06:30

Isn’t that right? Intermarriage had a huge, you know, a detriment, because, you know, your power was dependent on the amount of property that you had as a tribe, there was a lot of influence that was very much dependent on the tribes on the different tribes. So, you are this Shabbat Rabbi, I always ask you in the pregame, what you’re going to talk about, and you’re going to talk about Tisha B’Av, the ninth day above, and I believe that tonight is Rosh Chodesh Av… So, we are really talking this evening, at the beginning of a new month, and everybody does focus on the ninth of Av but I want to focus on a Mishnah that talks about the 15th. Day of Av, and in the tractate of Ta’anit, which deals with fasts. It says Rabbi Shimon, ben Gamliel, said, there were no days as joyous for the Jewish people as the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur as on them, the daughters of Jerusalem would go out in white clothes.  And later in the Talmud, it asks, you know, I get Yom Kippur, your pure, your purified, you go out in white, you feel it’s a new beginning, I can understand why the daughters of Israel will rejoice. But what about the 15th of Av…. What makes it special? And Rabbi Yehudah said that Shmuel said this was the day on which the members of different tribes were permitted to enter each other’s tribe by intermarriage. And it goes on to ask and how do we know that and it quotes the verse I just read from our weekly portion. And it says, this is the matter that the Lord had commanded concerning the daughters of Zelophehad. It says, this matter shall be practiced only, for this generation, the generation when Eretz Israel, the land of Israel was divided among the tribes, but afterwards, members of different tribes were permitted to marry. So somewhere and it doesn’t quite say when, you know, we have an instance. And I think we’re going to come across this, we’ve already come across this many times, where there’s a law on the books, but the law on the books doesn’t appear or doesn’t end up being what it appears to be. So even according to this piece of Talmud, the prohibition on one marrying someone from another tribe was either I can’t say it was while of the daughters of Zelophehad were alive. It was maybe while they were dividing up the land, and that could have been a generation or two, we’ll see. But certainly, there was a point and of course, because there’s a celebration on the 15th of Av, you’ve got to believe there was a precise point where that was no longer the case. And it was a time for great celebration. So Rabbi, what is your read on this? It’s not something every Jew probably has heard of the ninth of Av not so much the 15th of Av. Maybe because when you live in a period where the ramifications of the destruction of the temple might still be here. You can mourn it, but when you feel that Jew can marry a Jew, you’ve forgotten this time and place when we were divided into 12. So, I think that that amazing piece of Talmud has a couple of things. The first interesting thing is that the time that they were married, allowed to marry one another was a time of great celebration. That’s fantastic. Because that actually has to do with what I joked before about the shiduch market. You know, once you once you open up who you can marry, so it’s it, you know, it makes a huge difference. All of a sudden, your pool of potential husbands and wives is not only within your own tribe, but it’s open to everybody. That’s why they celebrate. And that’s interesting. The way we celebrate the 15th of Av is the women go out in white clothing to find husbands. It’s all about finding husbands. And this is what it was, because the tribes were able to marry one another. So, you know, so that’s interesting that that specifically was a celebration. Now, the idea that, once the land is divided, so the borders between the tribes was set, once the borders between the tribes was set, so then they could intermarry and go back and forth, because the borders within the tribes were set. It was only in the first generation when they were establishing those borders, that they had to be strict in terms of marrying one another. Now, what’s interesting about that piece of Talmud is that it doesn’t exactly tell you the story, right? It doesn’t exactly tell you how it worked. So what happened, if it turns out that the grandchildren of Zelophehad, you know, married outside the tribe? So what happened to the land? What happened to the property that belongs to Zelophehad? Did it move? Or did it stay where it was, but the daughters moved, but their land stayed where it was. And I think that’s probably what happened, there was movement of people, but there was no longer movement of land. And that’s what they wanted to establish.

Geoffrey Stern  12:06

 I mean, you definitely could make that case, I think you could also make the alternative case that over time, because the boundary of marriage was no longer there, the strict division between the tribes started to wear away, and you would have somebody from the tribe of Benjamin living in Yehudah, so to speak, or whatever. I think you could go either way on this. But definitely, what you were saying is that once the borders were there, so in other words, it’s kind of like you had a stake in the ground, you didn’t need to protect the concept as much. I like to think about it as, and I call this episode, the United States of Israel. You know, once you establish the state of New York, you can let people from Connecticut in, you already have your, your identity. And maybe that was part of it. But I want to continue with the Talmud in Ta’anit, because the next reason for why it was a joyous day is even more striking, who have Joseph said that Rob Nachman, said the 15th of Ab was the day in which the tribe of Benjamin was permitted to enter the congregation. And, and it is stated the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpah saying, none of us shall give his daughter to Benjamin as a wife, none of us, but our children could. So I’m going to let you all in on a little secret, you know, that I am an ex Bachur Yeshiva. I’m someone who studied in a traditional Jewish Academy. And I think this it’s safe to say that Rabbi Adam did as well. And unfortunately, many times in the Yeshiva, the only way you read stories of Tanach of in the book of Samuel, in the book of Chronicles in the book of Judges, is because you have a reference, as we just saw here, and then you go ahead and you read it. So you understand the text of the Talmud. And it’s a real shame. And I think Rabbi Adam, the organization that you’re involved with that reads a chapter from Tanach, is it every day or every week,

Adam Mintz  14:30

Every day, and it tries to solve this problem that you’re describing?


I’m actually studying Tanach with somebody. We’re already on the 10th Chapter of Joshua. Every week we study one chapter of tanach. It’s funny, amazing, important. It’s very important.

Geoffrey Stern  14:34

Maybe, you know, we always have to decide what we’re going to do next year. Come Simchat Torah and maybe we should start looking at different…. So here’s a story that if you’ve never I heard it will absolutely blow you away. There is a gentleman from the tribe of Levi, and his wife runs away, and she runs back to her father’s house. And after a while he goes to fetch her. And he goes to the Father’s house and the Father continually day after day, wines and dines him and tries to convince him to stay another day, stay another day, you don’t know what the situation is, clearly his daughter ran away, and he preferred that she’s under his roof. Maybe there’s an issue with this guy from the tribe of Levi. But finally, he takes this. And it’s a concubine. Not sure even if it’s his full wife, but they go in the direction of Jerusalem. But they don’t go to Jerusalem, they go into an adjoining town. And there’s no one who wants to give them a place a manger to stay in, so to speak, and then in the courtyard. And finally, and this gets a little bit to the comment I made earlier about people from different tribes living within those other tribes. Someone outside of the tribe, and I believe they’re in the tribe of Benjamin, that’s the area they’re in. But someone outside says, come into my house. And then the story starts to sound identical to the story of Sodom and Lot. A crowd forms outside, and they want to sodomized this Levite, this stranger, and the person who owns the house says, take my daughter, and the Levi says take my concubine. And finally, he throws his concubine out. And she gets raped multiple times. And in the morning, he sees her. We don’t know if she’s dead yet, but soon to be dead body. And he takes her and then he cuts her up into 12 pieces. And he sends a piece to each one of the 12 tribes and says, Look what has been done. And as a result, all of the other tribes mount an army they have I said in the intro, you know, go join your militia. Well, every one of the states have their own militia, and that is in the parsha as well. And they attack the tribe of Benjamin multiple times. Until finally, they are able to persevere and the language that they use, I ask you all if you’re interested at all, look at the notes in Sefaria that we published along with our podcast. And you will see that the language that they use about killing every male killing every female, who is childbearing age, is exactly the same as what we have in the beginning of our parsha to this week. And to the point where now they have an issue about who are these people going to marry. And I won’t get into all of the long story there. It’s very gruesome, it’s very brutal, but they decide two things which is to go ahead and attack other members of tribes who didn’t actually participate in the military action. And they force them to marry so that the tribe of Benjamin does not go extinct. But they keep to their guns, and they say there is no marriage between any of the tribes, none of us will marry the tribe of Benjamin. And it is referring to this story. When it says on the 15th, of Ab there was rejoicing because again, we don’t have a sense of why the 15th of Ab was picked, that it was a particular deadline. But in any case, there too this was behind us and what both these stories have is clearly about the tribalism and Israel working through the tribalism, what do you make of this story, Rabbi,

Adam Mintz  19:33

I mean, Israel working making, you know, working through the tribalism and somehow the realization that if we don’t allow intermarriage between the tribes, that Israel will disintegrate. To me that’s the more interesting part of it, meaning the story of Pilegesh of Givah the story of what went wrong there is its own story. But what the 15th of Ab celebrates is the realization that to make it as a nation, we have to allow marriage between the tribes. That’s interesting. Both stories are exactly the same. it’s realization that tribalism doesn’t work for us. That’s really what it is.

Geoffrey Stern  20:25

And I totally agree with you. But I also think that there’s a flip side of this, which is both recognize that the origins of our people were, in fact very tribal.

Adam Mintz  20:39

Well the story with Benjamin is extremely tribal. They blame Benjamin. That’s not the way we would do it. Today, we would blame individuals, Why do you blame the whole tribe? Where does that come from?

Geoffrey Stern  20:55

yeah, absolutely.

Adam Mintz  20:58

 And again, it’s other Jews, so to speak. I mean, we consider them Jews, I will argue that our concept of we’re all Jews, maybe doesn’t so much apply at this period of our history, where the association in an identification with the particular tribes was so strong, that you were Benjamites, or you were from the tribe of Manasseh, or Dan, it was total identification with your tribe. But one of the things I said that we were going to look at it through the eyes of modern scholarship as well. And one of the things that the modern scholars have said, is that they believe, looking at it, even from the perspective of the same identical language is used here as in our portion, where our portion we’re talking about exterminating, so to speak, the Midianites. Here, we’re talking about doing the same thing to the tribe of Benjamin, the argument is that Israel was formed from many tribes. And yes, we have a wonderful story about the 12, sons of Jacob. And of course, Jacob had concubines too, and it wasn’t all homogeneous. But the scholars really go back. And they say, that it could very well be that this amazing story of Egypt became the primary story of our people, but that ultimately, there were other peoples in the land of Canaan. Some of them were not friendly, the Midianites and we decimated them, some of them the Benjamites, we had to go through a process. You know, it reminds you this story, a little bit old, so of the rape of Dinah, and the story that we studied in Genesis of Shechem, where they’re she’s raped first, then they are required to circumcise, and then they get killed, if you just change the chronology slightly. And you have a situation where they become part of the tribal area, this Shchemites decide to convert and be part of our mission, and they circumcise, and then they rape, similar to what happened here with the Benjamites, then you have a very similar story. But you definitely have paradigms of different people joining up in modern archaeology shows that there were there was a real disruption in Canaan at this point, and that you can go look at cities, not only Jericho, but you can look at other cities that in this 100 200-year period, there was a revolution going on. And it could very well be that the Jews coming out of Egypt, joined a revolution, but also brought this amazing concept of one God and all that. And slowly but surely, this confederation of different peoples different tribes joined together. And there were definitely some speed bumps as we see in this tribe of Benjamin.  But it’s a different kind of model, I think that becomes kind of fascinating. And again, I get back to the rejoicing, that we ultimately rejoice our ability to accept all of these tribes and to break down the boundaries between all of these tribes, and whether you buy into there were other peoples or you really limit it to tribes. I think the message is similar. And I think we can all agree upon that. But that certainly is a little bit of what’s happening here.  There’s no question it’s a it’s a celebration of the nation of Israel. And you know, you suggest something which you’re right, you can’t prove, but you wonder about, where the 12 tribes like the 50 states. It’s interesting you call it the United States of Israel was elected 50 states which basically meant that they were one country and 12 tribes and 12 states, or were they really 12 countries more like Germany was, you know, in the, in the 1800s, where they actually were separate countries, in this kind of confit and this federal Federation, and what you’re suggesting, and I don’t think there’s any way to prove that you’re wrong, what you’re suggesting is that they actually were 12 nations. And you know, that’s why the story of Pilegesh at Givah, the story that you told about Binyamin is such an important story, because actually, there were there was, there were battles between the tribes, these were battles between nations. And then when they were allowed to marry one another, that was important, because that really says that we decided that that model is wrong, we need to be the United States of Israel. So I think the title of tonight’s class really tells us a lot about what was at stake in all of these things.

Geoffrey Stern  25:53

And I think that maybe you know, there were many times that we moderns have a problem understanding an ancient text. But in this particular case, as many of us are Americans and understand this dialectic between a federal government and states, clearly, we have an insight into this in our short history. Clearly, they had their own militias. And that’s pretty powerful in those days, they collected their own taxes. So, it is kind of fascinating. So, I promised that I was going to work my way backwards in the Parsha. So now I think is a wonderful segue to talk about the Cities of Refuge. So here too, clearly, you’re coming to a land. And of course, it’s fascinating that they already are talking about cities, the urban, you know, he you’re coming out of the desert. And you’re not talking about farmlands and all that you’re talking about people living in a very concentrated way in cities, but it’s there’s town planning going on. And there are two things that need to be done that are different from the current infrastructure in Canaan, you know, they can move into the city of Jericho, but they’ve got to modify it in a way. And the ways that they have to modify it a one, they have to have the Cities of Refuge, there were six of them, and three of them are in the mainland of Israel, and three of them are going to be on the other side of the Jordan. And we’ll get into that too. But then they will also 48 towns for the Levites. And we’ve talked about this multiple multiple times. So again, what it looks like is an archaeology proves this is that at this time, there was a confluence of all of a sudden turmoil and change, and cities were falling down and their infrastructure was being changed. And maybe we have situations of treaties, where the vassal, and the Pharaoh were being broken, there were rebellions going on. And here we formed the Cities of Refuge. But to the point that we were just discussing, the real function of the cities of refuge is to stop blood feuds, and blood feuds we know about it even till today, if someone in your family gets killed, the only way to redeem their blood is to kill somebody in the family or the tribe that did it. And it goes on and on. And so talking about this kind of arc of history that we’re seeing with tribalism is strong. And then come the 15th, of Ab it celebrated, that it’s not so strong. I think you can make a case I wonder, Where do you think, Rabbi, that the Cities of Refuge are again, a another chip away at this tribalism? And this this, this blood feuding and blood is thicker than water, so to speak.

Adam Mintz  29:12

So tribalism ….. here’s another term that we use, and that’s clans. You know, tribes are sometimes tribes and tribes are sometimes just large families. You know, you read about the the Saudi Arabia, you know, Saudi Arabia today is made up of these ruling families. He talks about the UAE, you know, they’re basically just ruling families. They’re not tribes, they’re just families. But the families are so large and so important that they become their own tribe. And I wonder whether that’s really what the Torah talks about when it talks about blood feuds. You know, you have these powerful families, which are themselves tribes, and that leads to this idea that they’re going to take revenge and that’s why you need your protection. So, there’s no question that that’s true. It’s just that the Torah sets it up as they’re being tribes, as opposed to families. But I think obviously that you know, that’s not so simple that really there were probably very, very big, powerful families. And we know that kind of, and this also relates to what’s in this week’s parsha. We know that from the story of Zelophehad, Zelophehad was a family. The father was clearly very prestigious, and he dies and he has no sons and the daughters are nervous because our father is prestigious our father is important, and he’s going to lose his land and they’re not worried about the tribe. They’re worried about the family. And that’s why it says it says it in this week’s parsha they have to marry within the tribe, which really means they have to marry within the families, לִבְנֵ֥י דֹדֵיהֶ֖ן לְנָשִֽׁים the Torah says they should marry their cousins, they should marry their first cousins very literally. So it’ not the tribes so much. It’s really the family. That’s interesting. I didn’t think about that. But what the Torah says לִבְנֵ֥י דֹדֵיהֶ֖ן לְנָשִֽׁים 

Geoffrey Stern  32:06

Absolutely. I think I mentioned that there were three cities of refuge on in the mainland of Israel, and three on the what we would call today the West Bank. And Rashi asks, why is that? And he says, because in Gilad and the East Side murderers were more numerous דִּבְגִלְעָד נְפִישֵׁי רוֹצְחִים. So here too, it wasn’t homogeneous. They had certain issues with some of the tribes, whether they were children of Jacob, or they were other people that had come in. Again, it gives you a sense of the real challenge of uniting this. And I think the flip side of that is that the United monarchy, and all of that didn’t last very long. But it this was something that was unique in history also, that for a shining moment, these disparate peoples were kind of United, I want to go back to the beginning of the parsha, which is the one that gave me the hardest time where we read about a conquering the conquest of the land, and much of it is very hard to read. And I think one of the comments of the those who read all of Tanach understand that it’s not altogether clear whether this actually happened. Whether, in fact, the Canaanites were ever totally exterminated from Israel, it might be kind of wishful thinking. And I think we have an example of that even today, when the ultra-orthodox Haredi are trying to recreate a Europe where everybody studies Torah, guess what, there was never a Europe where everybody studied Torah, they’re trying to recreate an ideal that never was. And I think that there’s no question that part of what’s going on in this rendering, because if you look at Joshua, and if you look at the later books of the Tanakh, in no way in form, does it say that everyone was exterminated. This is one kind of wishful opinion. I quote, a source in the notes, which is just absolutely, I think, rich and fascinating. And it’s from a guy named Moshe Weinfeld. And he actually goes all the way through the rabbinic period, how they dealt with this, quote, unquote, the harem and extermination. And there was no consensus on this. One of the most fascinating things that I’ve read, and I think I’ve mentioned this before, is it talks about killing the וְה֨וֹרַשְׁתֶּ֜ם אֶת־כׇּל־יֹשְׁבֵ֤י הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ (Numbers 33: 52) and we normally talk about יֹשְׁבֵ֤י הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ as the residents, the citizens of the land. But as everyone knows, when we bring the Torah back to the ark on Shabbat, we go ה’ לַמַּבּ֣וּל יָשָׁ֑ב וַיֵּ֥שֶׁב ה’ מֶ֣לֶךְ לְעוֹלָֽם The LORD sat enthroned at the Flood; the LORD sits enthroned, king forever.  And so יֹשְׁבֵ֤י הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ can also mean the rulers or the ruling class or those in charge. And that fits very well into this [theory of a] rebellion that went on. So, I don’t know, I think we all do have to struggle with it. But I think if you look in the context of this very long portion, you can see other threads very strong threads that we’re dealing with, which have to do with how do you make disparate people one, and I think that, to me, is the most positive, exciting and joyful aspect of this parsha and of the 15th of Ab which comes in a month full of tragedy.

Adam Mintz  34:46

I think that’s a great way especially on Rosh Hodesh Ab the first of the bad month, yet you talk about the positive that’s really beautiful. Enjoy the Parsha , this is a Hazak week. so to everybody we say Hazak Hazak Vnitchazek. We should be strong. We should be strong we should strengthen one another and we look forward to seeing you all next Thursday night. Shabbat Shalom everybody

Geoffrey Stern  35:07

Shabbat Shalom

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The Circle of Life

parshat Pinchas – numbers 25-27

Join Geoffey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on July 21st 2022 for another episode of Madlik disruptive Torah. The Torah uses a term associated with harassment, pain, siege, and tsuris and we are intrigued, because it is also associated with being bound up in the bundle of life. In a week when we mourn our losses we explore the connections.

Sefaria Source Sheet:


Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform.  The Torah uses a term associated with harassment, pain, siege, and tsuris and we are intrigued, because this same term is also associated with being bound up in the bundle of life. During this period in our calendar when we mourn our losses, we explore the connections. So take off your shoes and sit on a simple stool as we explore The Circle of Life


Well, welcome to another week of Madlik and another where we are transcontinental, I am in Israel and the rabbi is in New York, I came to Israel, because there was a death in my family. And this learning tonight is dedicated to my mother-in-law whose name was Haya bat Hanna and Avigdor. And it also happens to be a time when all of the Jewish people are at a level of mourning. Many things that we do, when we mourn an individual I made reference to taking off your shoes and sitting on a stool, are done in a gradual fashion as we get closer and closer to the lowest point, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, which is Tisha B’av . And so, I think that one rule when you read the parsha, and you look for something that attracts you in any particular year is you can’t evade what happens in your own personal life. And I have always been intrigued by an expression that is used when we bury somebody and it’s used during the Yizkur and other times when we remember those who are passed. And that is the the concept as I mentioned in the introduction of being bound up in the bind of life, to be צְרוּרָ֣ה ׀ בִּצְר֣וֹר הַחַיִּ֗ים and as I was reading this week’s parsha with that on my mind, I discovered that the word appears in the parsha and that is the link that will bind us and guide us as we today explore this word and how it is used in a different manner. So, we are in a parshat Pinchas. And Pinchas, a you probably know it started at the end of last week’s parsha was Zariz (קַנַאִי), a zeolot, he was a someone who took the rules of the law into his own hand. And after the Moabites failed to curse the Jewish people. They tried to entice them through sending harlots and prostitutes and there was one coupling of a prince of Israel and a prostitute and he was extrajudicial, he took a spear and he killed them. And that’s where most of the focus is when people read through a parsha. Very quickly it talks about how we deal with this in the future. And in numbers 25: 17 -18 it strangely enough, we’re not going to go into it takes aim not at the Moabites but at the Midianites and it says Asail the Midianites and defeat them for they assailed you by trickery they practiced against you because of this affair with Cozbi, daughter of the Midianite chieftain. So the word that it used for assail is צָר֖וֹר. And for those of you who have a ear, for the Hebrew language, and the Shoresh, the source system know that a word like צָר֖וֹר has the word צָר֖ in it. And צָר֖ can mean narrow. We always talk about Mitzrayim  מִצְרַיִם as a narrow place. It also as well, in the three weeks and we know that the siege of Jerusalem began at a certain time, a מָצוֹר is a siege, and we’re going to explore how else this word is used primarily in a negative way. But first what I’d like to do is to bring in in Rashi and Rashi is struck by not only the word, but the grammatical form that it’s used. And he says that what you Need to do with צָר֖וֹר It’s like זָכוֹר, and שָׁמוֹר. And again, those with an ear for the Hebrew language know that in the 10 commandments in one place, it refers to the Shabbat you shall remember the Sabbath day. And the other place it says you shall keep the Sabbath day. So he really feels that this צָר֖וֹר this you have to assail, you have to vex you have to have enmity for the Midianites is a very powerful charge to action. And he says it’s an idea of continuous action, just as you remember the Shabbat all the time. And all of the commentators kind of pick up on what Rashi is saying. And they go back and forth. And I’ve shared this in the notes about how emphatic it is whether it’s a combination of the present tense and the future tense. But I think the overall concept that Rashi’s trying to get a course is it has an exclamation point after it. And it is an absolute call to continuous action. And Rabbi, you know, normally I pose a question to you …. has this issue ever been raised? It’s not really an issue. But I guess it is the connection between צָר֖וֹר that we find here and צְרוּרָ֣ה ׀ בִּצְר֣וֹר הַחַיִּ֗ים, this binding up? Are you at all that intrigued as we begin and set out on this journey?

Adam Mintz  06:36

I think that’s great. I mean, the fact that you’ve found that connection in this week parsha, which is a word that clearly is the same word, but a completely different context. And that’s really the beauty of Hebrew, that the same word is used in completely different ways. And you know, it’s kind of a challenge for us to see, is there a connection in the word between its two usages? And sometimes there is, sometimes there isn’t. And that’s part of the fun. So, yes, I am very intrigued.

Geoffrey Stern  07:06

So and I think you hit the nail on the head, sometimes there is a connection. And sometimes you think that you’re almost involved in some sort of artificial gematria, or some sort of artificial hermeneutics, and we will all be the judge. But it is fascinating to look at just as we look at the history of an idea, it’s fun to look at the history and the development of a word. So, I said before that usually the word at the at the root of צָר֖. צָר֖וֹר is very negative. And some of the verses that we can kind of touch upon to represent that would be as follows. It says, (Exodus 23: 22) And if you obey Him in all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes. So, it says, וְצַרְתִּ֖י אֶת־צֹרְרֶֽיךָ. So, the idea is that צָר֖ is narrow. And that צָר֖ is as we said, about a מָצוֹר about a siege. It’s something that squeezes but it also became something associated with an enemy. So and it’s not only a political enemy in Leviticus 18: 18, it says, Do not take a woman as a rival to her sister, and uncover her nakedness. So, you should not take and I believe that’s probably the לֹ֣א תִקָּ֑ח לִצְרֹ֗ר that case. Is a sister. in law.  And the way it refers to that sister-in-law is לִצְרֹ֗ר. It’s a rival. It’s somebody who is not so much an enemy as as a rival. And then in numbers 10: 9 it says, when you are at war in your land against an aggressor who attacks you, you shall sound the short blasts on the trumpets that you may be remembered before your God and be delivered from your enemies. And here too it says וְכִֽי־תָבֹ֨אוּ מִלְחָמָ֜ה בְּאַרְצְכֶ֗ם עַל־הַצַּר֙ הַצֹּרֵ֣ר אֶתְכֶ֔ם. And so here again, it’s the enemy that attacks you. So, most of the references that refer to l’zror are of a military nature and so that is a Another thing that kindled my intrigue and my curiosity in terms of a verb, and a relationship that is so powerful and so visceral, that is usually used for enemies and is usually used for military actions. How does that end up being used also to talk about the bind of life? So one old additional interpretation is, it means again to be wrapped as in a, as in a siege, but something that’s wrapped around the body. So if you look in Exodus 12: 34, it says, so the people took their dough, they’re leaving Egypt, before it was leaven, their kneading bowls wrapped in their cloaks upon their shoulders. So here it says, צְרֻרֹ֥ת בְּשִׂמְלֹתָ֖ם עַל־שִׁכְמָֽם. So here again, I think we always think of tsar as narrow. But I think the image that comes to my mind when I combine this last verse in Exodus with the concept of a siege is it’s almost more like a chokehold, or it’s something that encompasses you. So it’s narrow not in the sense so much of a corridor. It’s now almost in the sense of something contracting, encompassing and slowly pushing together. What is your sense? Am I missing anything?

Adam Mintz  11:42

Good I liked that I liked the connection to the idea of the צְרֻרֹ֥ת בְּשִׂמְלֹתָ֖ם wrapped in their clothing, because that’s really what צָר֖וֹר אֶת־הַמִּדְיָנִ֑ים means in this week’s Parasha wrap them, but it’s wrapped them in the sense of surrounding, it’s a military wrap. I think that’s the way we would say it right, It’s a military wrapping, wrap them, surround them. And then בִּצְר֣וֹר הַחַיִּ֗ים is a positive use of the same phrase, but it’s the same idea means wrap them in the bonds of life, but it’s also totally in, you know, it’s surrounding them, enveloping them somehow. Here is actually just to make that point sharper, is you see the same word used in a negative context and used in a positive context. Because the idea of being wrapped of being enveloped, can be positive and can be negative.

Geoffrey Stern  12:56

Absolutely. And so if you actually say Okay, so, we understand that, when you say Yizkor, you say, let his soul be bound up with the binding of life צְרוּרָ֣ה ׀ בִּצְר֣וֹר הַחַיִּ֗ים, when you look at a graveyard, and you see ראשי תיבות, which is an acronym, and it says תַּנְצְבָ״ה , it is an acronym for תְּהִי נִשְׁמָתוֹ צֽרוּרָה בִּצְרוֹר הַחַיִּים , we see it at the prayer El Moei Rachamim that we say at graveside all of these are referring to a single expression and a single verse. So let’s visit that verse. And it is in the book of Samuel; Samuel I. It’s 25: 29. And the background for the verse is as follows. There is a beautiful lady named Avigail. And Avigail is married to a person who has not such a beautiful name, his name is now Naval. Now Naval means disgusting, pretty much. And to make a long story short, David sends his soldiers to petition this Naval to provide a support: food for them and he declines. So now he sends a force to to kill Naval and Avigail comes out to meet him, and she provides his army. So again, we’re talking about a military situation with food and refreshments. And then she goes ahead and she blesses King David. And she says: if anyone sets out to pursue you and seek your life, the life of my Lord will be bound up in the bundle of life in the care of the Lord. But he will fling away the lives of your enemies as from the hollow of a sling. So what becomes fascinating here is, number one, the terminology is military. The second part of the verse talks about an image of a slingshot that I guess it’s randomly throwing out stones that aren’t seeming to hit their mark. And the blessing part of it seems to be that you shall have all the stones that you want, when it says that you’re that the soul of my Lord will be נֶ֨פֶשׁ אֲדֹנִ֜י צְרוּרָ֣ה ׀ בִּצְר֣וֹר הַחַיִּ֗ים it almost seems like you’ll have live ammunition that you’ll have what you need to protect yourself. Have you ever thought about it that way? Am I reading something into this?

Adam Mintz  15:57

Right. I think that that’s a great read, because we see that the word is used both militaristically, but also in a way in a positive kind of way צְרוּרָ֣ה ׀ בִּצְר֣וֹר הַחַיִּ֗ים in the way we use it today. And I think that that pasuk (verse) is really the source of that kind of tension in the two ways of using that word.

Geoffrey Stern  16:17

So that takes us to now the question becomes, we have this beautiful imagery, but it doesn’t somehow relate at all, to the way that the history of the word has developed, were somehow those that we love those who pass away, it’s a blessing that their soul should be bound up in the bind of life. So I started looking at the Midrashim. the first thing I did is I continued reading are Parsha. And as you’re going to speak about this week about the death of Moses, and why his kids could not succeed him. It says in Numbers 26, after it takes a census. It says that among those who are not enrolled were Moses and Aaron the priest, when they recorded the Israelites in the wilderness, for God had said to them, they shall die in the wilderness. And for those of you who are longtime fans of Madlik, and two weeks ago, we discussed Freud’s theory of Moses being murdered in the desert. I should have quoted this verse because the words that he used when it says they shall die in the wilderness is מ֥וֹת יָמֻ֖תוּ, which is as close to a death sentence, as you will see, but I digress, …. and it talks about him, Moses Ascend these heights of Abarim and view the land that I have given to the Israelite people. When you have seen it, you too shall be gathered to your kin, just as your brother Aaron was.  For, in the wilderness of Zin, when the community was contentious, you disobeyed My command to uphold My sanctity in their sight by means of the water.” Those are the Waters of Meribath-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin. when the community was contentious, you disobeyed my command to uphold my sanctity, those are the waters of mu BA and in the wilderness of Zin, now in a Midrash, called Avot D’Rabbi Natan. It goes into a long story about how God summoned Moses, or sent an angel to summon Moses, to meet his end, so to speak. And if you’re interested in the whole story, you can look at the notes in Safaria, but after failing a few times to get the messenger or the Satan to bring him Finally, the Holy Blessed One said to Moses: Moses! You’ve had enough of this world. The World to Come has been prepared for you since the six days of creation. As it says (Exodus 33:22), “God said, here is a place near Me; stand on that rock.” And then it goes on to say, And not only Moses’ soul is stored under the Throne of Glory, but also the souls of all the righteous are stored there! And he says, What about the people who are not righteous? Could it be that souls of the wicked are there too? And the verse continues? Well, I should have said that he quotes our verse in Samuel. And not only Moses’ soul is stored under the Throne of Glory, but also the souls of all the righteous are stored there! As it says (I Samuel 25:29), “[If anyone sets out to pursue you and seek your life], the soul of my master will be bound up in the bond of life.” Could it be that the souls of the wicked are there, too? The verse continues: “but He will fling away the lives of your enemies like a slingshot.” [(To what can this be compared?) It can be compared to someone who takes a stone and places it in a sling;] even though he flings it from place to place, he does not know where it will land. So it is for the souls of the wicked, which cast about and go wandering the world, and have no place to rest. So here we all of a sudden start to have references to stones, which is very true to the verse in David. But certainly, we start to use the verses that we saw in one Samuel as a metaphor. And to take the second metaphor, first, the sling is where the stones are lost, the stones are indiscriminately spread out into the field. And that’s what happens to the souls of the wicked. And by reverse metaphor, this idea of that the soul is bound up צרורה בצרור החיים means that all those stones, which ultimately become souls, are stored in the sack, they’re stored in the ammunition, thing. So here, we do start to see a transition of this military metaphor, which is life and death, after all, but into something that has to do with this contrast between the souls of the wicked who are lost, spread out, rejected, if you will, and the souls of Moses and the righteous who are collected, protected and stored under God’s Shechina.

Adam Mintz  21:38

Right, well, I like the idea….. you see, protecting the souls in the military way, you know, when you’re fighting and like you said, It’s life and death, you protect things in a much more serious way, when it’s not life and death. So you protect it, but, what difference does it make, but when it’s life and death, when you’re protecting the swords and the bows and arrows, you have to really protect it carefully. So I think it’s really a nice image to say that you protect the souls in that same way.

Geoffrey Stern  22:12

And, you know, it occurred to me as I was reading that, that there are few verses that the rock band The Byrds made very famous, but that is many times read at a funeral, the Byrd’s song was Turn, Turn, Turn. It’s from Kohelet; Ecclesiastes, and it says, A time for slaying and a time for healing, A time for tearing down and a time for building up; A time for weeping and a time for laughing, A time for wailing and a time for dancing; A time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones, A time for embracing and a time for shunning embraces; A time for seeking and a time for losing, A time for keeping and a time for discarding; And I always found that expression, kind of strange. Do you think there’s a connection here with this custom or this, this metaphor of the casting out of the stones and the gathering in of the stones?

Adam Mintz  23:10

I mean, that’s interesting. It’s a time to gather stones, you know, gathering stones really has the impression of building, it’s not really a military image, it’s a bit it’s an image of creating a building, right? It’s so time you collect the stones, and you build at a time when you get rid of the stones. So it is interesting, though, that there are all these ideas are related. And I think you know, you’re onto something in that the balance between the, between the military and kind of the embrace of this of this whole idea, right?

Geoffrey Stern  23:47

Yep. You know, I think for a Jew, where exile is such a powerful metaphor for us. You can’t but think of when they’re about Avot D’Rav Natan says that either the souls are gathered or they’re indiscriminately spread out, that either we have return, or we have exile, and Rashi on this verse in Ecclesiastes says, A time to cast away stones. The youths of Yisroel scattered during the destruction of the Beis [Hamikdosh], as it is stated, “sacred gems are scattered.” (Lamentations 4: 1) And a time to gather them from the exile, as it is stated, “And Adonoy their God will save His people like sheep on that day, for the stones of the crown will be exalted over His land.” (Zacharia 9: 17) So Rashia quoting the rabbinic texts definitely saw this as this metaphor on a national level. And we can then extrapolate that to a personal level of the difference between exile and being spread out indiscriminately amongst the world, even if you’re a gem, and then the gathering of stones together. And of course, that brings it very close to home for the three weeks, that we’re in.

Adam Mintz  25:12

Very right. It’s right on the mark.

Geoffrey Stern  25:15

I mean, another metaphor, I should say that they talked about was the difference between the first tablets of the 10 commandments, which were broken. And the second, but this one really resonated with me, because this really dealt on the dynamic between exile and return. And in a sense, as we move from the military, and as we move from the political to something that is very personal, it gives a different read on what it is to be gathered into the bundle of life, it’s a return from exile, if exile is alienation. The return is repatriation, if you will, it’s it’s finding coming back to your home, I think the other thing that comes to mind, of course, is the stones, you know, we all know the custom of leaving a stone on a grave site. And here we have the gathering of the stones and the throwing out of stones. If you were paying attention to Avot d’Rav Natan, it was standing on a stone. And of course, in the whole metaphor of the sling, we are talking about stones. And we even had a mentioned a second ago of a shepherd bringing back the flock. So one of the beautiful explanations that I’ve heard for both the stones, and for this concept of tsrurah b’tsror ha- chayyim, of gathering the stones in is one where in the old days, a shepherd used to go out into the field. And if he had 20 sheep in his flock, he would take 20 pebbles and keep it in his pouch. And then as the flock was out there, and he would he would put the pebbles out. And as they came back, he would return a pebble kind of like a census to let him know that every one of those sheep had returned. And of course, if there was an extra pebble, that meant that one of the sheep did not return. I heard it in the name of a great scholar in manuscripts called Betzalel Narkis, I think he told it to my dad. But again, I do think that there is this element of the shepherd of coming back to to the flock, to the to the home, so to speak. And again, this concept of return.

Adam Mintz  27:48

Yeah, no, that’s a really nice idea. So stones, first of all, there’s the tradition that Jacob slept on a stone. Right? That, when Jacob slept on that that dream when he saw the angel going up and going down, that actually there was a stone and he slept on the stone. The tradition there says that the stones fought to see which one Jacob would actually put his head on. And they all kind of bound into one. So stones on one hand, are kind of rough and difficult, but at the same time they give comfort and they give support. I think there’s both ideas of stones, the same there’s the way there’s both ideas when it comes to the idea of tsror.

Geoffrey Stern  28:48

Absolutely. You know, getting back to the idea of tsror I was thinking when I first started thinking about this, that really since tsror is so much this binding, and then not so much in a pleasant sense. But this this kind of almost a suffocating. Something that would there not be an opinion that looked at the kind of Stoic sense of death is a release from life that you are released from the bonds of life. You know, the most famous author of that is Marcus Aurelius. “Death is a release from the impressions of the senses, and from desires that make us their puppets, and from the vagaries of the mind, and from the hard service of the flesh.” And I was wondering if there was any opinion within Judaism that saw this, this metaphor of the bond of life as not something that was either not totally positive or had within it this sense of the conflict between being bound to a body and then being released. And Maimonides in Mishneh Torah (Repentance 8: 3)  He talks about what the soul is. And he says he talks about the form of the soul, which is the intelligence and being a philosopher, he absolutely follows the idea that the real soul is your intellectual power, by which over your lifetime, you attain knowledge of the non-concrete. And he does talk about The life herein spoken of, because there is no death connected with it, seeing that death is only incidental to the happenings which befall a body, and as there exists no body, is called a collection of life, even as it is said: “Yet the soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life” So Maimonides both here and in the Guide for the Perplexed get as close as I can find of a Jewish thinker, who sees here in depth as a release of the real intellect, the real soul. And I love the fact that he talks about, it’s a collection, it’s a collection of all the intellectual spiritual, moral activity and progress that we make during a lifetime. And that’s the bundle of life and what’s left behind, thrown away with the slingshot, so to speak, is the material things. So he does come close to that. There’s an amazing article by David Daube, that I have a quoted in the notes, which really deals with this question of is there in Judaism, this concept of Death as a Release in the Bible, and I encourage you all to look at that. But I’d like to leave you with the thought that this collection of life is the collection of our life is the collection of all those experiences. And I also love the idea to getting back to the original Rashi, that it has an exclamation point after it, and that the memories of that the person takes with them also remains behind, but it’s daily now. And it’s into the future. That was my takeaway. Anyway,

Adam Mintz  32:29

I think this is great. I want to thank you, Geoffrey, you picked one word in the parsha and you really made something that was really very meaningful. And obviously this week, we wish to your mother-in-law, she should be bound up in the bounds of the living and that you would ordain on the family should celebrate many, many happy occasions together, and together with all of us for many years to come. So we wish you all a Shabbat Shalom from New York, from Tel Aviv and from everywhere in between, and we look forward to seeing you next week. Be well everybody.

Geoffrey Stern  32:58

Thank you and Rabbi, I have to say personally, I thank you for sharing my life and your life with me and with our listeners as we move through this wonderful cycle of life so Shabbat Shalom to you. Thank you, as always.

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Make Challah

parshat shelach, Numbers 15

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on June 23rd 2022 on Clubhouse as we ignore the headline story of the nearsighted spies and leave the Sabbath Gatherer of sticks to his fate. We even pass up a chance to enjoy the blue indigo of the tzitzit. Instead we focus on the lowly loaf of challah and explore how it defined and saved the Jews.

Sefaria Source Sheet:


Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform.  Today we discuss parshat Shelach and we ignore the headline story of the spies who lacked vision. We overcome the urge to defend the מְקֹשֵׁ֣שׁ עֵצִ֑ים the gatherer of sticks on Shabbat.  We even pass up a chance to enjoy the blue indigo of the tzitzit. Instead, we focus on the lowly loaf of challah and explore how it saved the Jews. So join us as we Make Challah!


Well, welcome. As I said at the introduction, I was looking through the parsha. And it brought back a lot of memories. But we’ve already discussed the spies last year, and we can wait to discuss the guy who gathered sticks on Shabbat and was stoned. I said to myself, let’s discuss Challah and sure enough, hidden in the parsha is the story, the origin of the concept and the ritual of Challah. But again, nothing is in a vacuum. And it does follow the story of the spies. And it follows I would say the worst punishment that the Jewish people ever got. It was a sin greater than the Egel, The Golden Calf and a whole generation was to die in exile, to die in the desert. And then after that story, it says in Numbers 15: 2 peak to the Israelite people and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you to settle in, כִּ֣י תָבֹ֗אוּ אֶל־אֶ֙רֶץ֙ and Rashi says the reason why we’re going to study two laws that relate to going into the land is God brought them good tidings that they would enter the land. He wanted to sweeten up the worst day of their life. And he says there will be a time where you will go into the land. And the first law that he gave them had to do with a sacrifice that you bring when you make a vow. But the second law starts as follows. And it’s numbers 15: 17 And it says God spoke to Moses saying speak to the Israelite people and say to them, when you enter the land to which I am taking you. Now it doesn’t say כִּ֣י תָבֹ֗אוּ אֶל־אֶ֙רֶץ֙ it says בְּבֹֽאֲכֶם֙ אֶל־הָאָ֔רֶץ When you come into the land, and you eat the bread of the land מִלֶּ֣חֶם הָאָ֑רֶץ, you shall set aside as a gift to God. As the first yield of your baking you shall set aside a loaf as a gift חַלָּ֖ה תָּרִ֣ימוּ, you shall set it aside as a gift like the gift from the threshing floor. You shall make a gift to God from the first yield of your baking throughout the ages. And similar to the first Rashi that we quoted here to Rashi is focused on the fact that this law is associated with coming into the land. But he says it uses a different word than anywhere in the Bible. It doesn’t say when you come כִּ֣י תָבֹ֗אוּ אֶל־אֶ֙רֶץ֙ it says בְּבֹֽאֲכֶם֙ אֶל־הָאָ֔רֶץ This statement about their “entering” into the land is expressed differently from all other statements about their “entering” made in the Torah, and he explains that everywhere else. It has the implication that you have to complete the entree, you have to complete the taking over the full possession the ירושה of the land, but this law has to do when you just come in. He says in this case however it is stated בבאכם and your coming, implying that as soon as they entered it they ate of its bread, they became subject to the law of Challah so already I feel a little bit fresh. I feel like “epis” there’s a taste of Challah in my mouth. What about you Rabbi?

Adam Mintz  04:42

i love it. I mean, you made a great point and that is you know it’s so it’s so psychological of the Torah that just at the lowest point where the Jews of the desert are told to dig in a wanderer for 40 years. The next thing God says to them, but don’t worry, I’m gonna give you two laws relating to the land of Israel, you’re gonna make it right, just when you’re frustrated, and you think you’re never gonna make it God promises, you’re gonna make it. Isn’t that nice?

Geoffrey Stern  05:10

I think it is. And I think if one of the questions that we discussed in the pregame was this mystery, how did Challah become so iconic? How did it become so associated with the Jewish people and with a meal and with Shabbat? I think we’re starting to feel the taste already. Here. It was, it was something to savor, after the most bitter, bitter day of their life, and you already have that. But I think it is a good question. I mean, if you think of the icons and the iconology, of the Jewish people, you know, there’s the Menorah. That’s, that’s very late. Start with David, you know, very late. And Challah is maybe that along with two candles, and you know, both of those associated with women, so we can talk about that a little bit later. But certainly in terms of what represents, what unites us, what brings us together. I think Challah is right up there. And here it is buried in this innocuous law. So what is the law of Challah?

Adam Mintz  06:18

So the law of Challah and it’s still practiced today, that when you bake bread, you take off a little piece of that bread. What’s the significance? I think the significance is it even a thing as basic as bread, that you need to remember that all of our blessings come from God? I think that’s really a very good point. And a very important point.

Geoffrey Stern  06:52

It is, there’s no question about it. If you had to think of all the sacrifices of all of the observances that we have in the temple, the Mishkan, the tabernacle, and finally, the temple. This is probably the only one and I’ll go even further, even laws that have to do with beautiful law has to do with the Land of Israel, where you have to leave the corner of the field, Peah, Leket, if you drop a few straws, you can’t pick them up, you have to leave them for the poor. But of all those laws, whether we’re in Israel or outside of Israel, it seems that this one ritual of taking out that little piece has survived. And I think that is … it’s amazing to me, and maybe it comes down to this בבאכם this entry into the land. It’s not a status. It’s not a state of being. But it’s this little moment that we went in, and we might have gone out and we might have not been fully there and we might not have been there forever. But it does seem from all the stuff in the temple. This is it. This is the one thing that’s universally celebrated. Am I wrong?

Adam Mintz  08:10

No, I think you’re right. The other interesting thing here is that it says תָּרִ֥ימוּ תְרוּמָ֖ה לַה. It doesn’t seem to say that it goes to the Cohen.  It seems to be that it’s an offering to God, you know, most of the offerings are given to the Cohen or to the Levi. But here we have an offering that’s given directly to God. That also seems to be interesting to me.

Geoffrey Stern  08:35

So I’m looking at the verses now. We know the outcome was that it was given to the Kohanim….

Adam Mintz  08:48

I know but look at the verses וְהָיָ֕ה בַּאֲכׇלְכֶ֖ם מִלֶּ֣חֶם הָאָ֑רֶץ תָּרִ֥ימוּ תְרוּמָ֖ה לַה’׃ (כ) רֵאשִׁית֙ עֲרִסֹ֣תֵכֶ֔ם חַלָּ֖ה תָּרִ֣ימוּ תְרוּמָ֑ה כִּתְרוּמַ֣ת גֹּ֔רֶן כֵּ֖ן תָּרִ֥ימוּ אֹתָֽהּ׃  מֵרֵאשִׁית֙ עֲרִסֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם תִּתְּנ֥וּ לַה’ תְּרוּמָ֑ה לְדֹרֹ֖תֵיכֶֽם׃  Isn’t that interesting?

Geoffrey Stern  09:13

It’s it’s absolutely. It’s interesting…  by itself it’s interesting and the fact that it was totally identified that you gave it to the Kohanim. And you know, I think the best parallel or analog to how this system work was. If you look at Buddhist monks who live off, people giving them food offerings. The Kohanim we’ve said this before I had no land inheritance, they were separated from agriculture. And they literally lived off of these types offerings, givings and sharings. And one of the sources that I bought is a source called Panini halacha. And it says that a donation of Challah to the Cohen, and the Cohen and his family can prepare from it breads and cakes and eat in purity, in order to fulfill their spiritual mission to teach Torah to Israel.  כדי שיוכלו למלא את שליחותם הרוחנית ללמד תורה לישראל So it was also this aspect of elevating our lives that we had a priestly class and maybe later on we’ll talk about a class of scholars that literally would come to the table and be given these handouts these, the dough in order to make themselves bread and cakes.

Adam Mintz  10:54

So the Torah says you give it to God, practically speaking, you give it to the Cohen. This is one of those gifts that you give to the Cohen, because the Cohen as we know didn’t have any land. So they needed these gifts. And you remember, see, we sometimes forget this. Today, we live in America, you know, you’re not supposed to eat too much bread, bread, …  breads bad for you bread, you know, makes you gain weight. So we don’t eat much bread. But if you go to Europe, every meal is around bread. And of course, in the old days when they didn’t have very much to eat, everything was around bread. Right? They didn’t have silverware, because there was like, you know, like the hummus, they used to have bread that used to, you know, slurp it up with the pita. So bread is the main staple. So it’s not surprising that this is the gift that’s given to the Cohen.

Geoffrey Stern  11:57

So I have to say, and I think we’re going to jump between what Challah means to us today and what it means to the Jewish people, and what it meant back then. And when I read this about giving the holler to the kohanim, who were the educators, I thought of when I was a student at the Yeshiva and I studied at two Yeshivot that this happened to me at where I was a Shabbos Bachor. And that meant that on every Shabbat I would go to a family who lived in the neighborhood and they would feed me and I’d bring a little Devar Torah with myself not to sing for my supper, but to maybe give Torah for my supper. And this is I don’t know if you know a guy named Ivan Berkowitz.  I was in Torah Vodaas in Flatbush and I went to his and his wife’s house in Ocean Parkway, where I was their Shabbos Bachor. And then when I was in the Yeshiva in Long Beach, I actually had a relative who lived there (Ed and Judy Steinberg). And I did a Google search for Shabbos Bachor and I couldn’t believe that I couldn’t find anything. And I really spent a little bit of time. So the one thing I did find, and it’s in the Sefaria notes, is I looked up the word Bachor. And there’s a language dictionary. And it gives an example “we hosted a 15 year old Bachor for Shabbos”.

Adam Mintz  13:31

So they had it .. not exact words…

Geoffrey Stern  13:35

And then the other thing that I did is I remember to in the end told the movie, how Yentl was eating at the house of the girl that her Avigdor had had given up. And sure enough, I have the text there. It was during the week, it wasn’t even Shabbat. But the custom of having a scholar, come to your table and break bread goes back, I think all the way to this. And imagine how enriching it is for the family, and how enriching in another way it is for the scholar. It’s just a beautiful custom that I think still exists in the Hasidic and Orthodox world, but probably doesn’t exist as much as it should in our worlds.

Adam Mintz  14:33

In Eastern Europe before the Second World War. So you know, the Yeshiva … you talked about Torah Vodaas, you talked about Long Beach. The origins of the yeshiva go back just around 200 years, around the year 1810 or so. They had the first yeshiva in a place called Vologen in Lithuania. And what made that yeshiva special is that it was the first time they had a Yeshiva, where boys came from out of town. It used to be this used to learn in the local place, and you went home every night. But Rabbi Haim Velozener introduced the idea of boys coming from out of town. And they had exactly what you said a Shabbos Bachor, and that you used to go to people’s homes for Shabbos. And people used to take care of you. Sometimes not only Shabbos, but during the week, they didn’t have dormitories, they didn’t have public kitchens, you went to their house.

Geoffrey Stern  15:29

My guess is more people know about the shabbos goy than people know about the Shabbos Bachor. And I think they’re both two fascinating institutions. Where you ever a Shabbos Bachor?

Adam Mintz  15:43

I come from Washington DC. And I both went to high school in New York, Rabbi Riskin’s High School. And then Yeshiva University. And I used to go to people’s houses for Shabbos. Because the most depressing thing was not having a Shabbos invitation and having to stay in the dormitory. So you always got an invitation. And I was the Shabbos Bachor.

Geoffrey Stern  16:05

So So I do think it’s amazing. And of course, I would, I would be remiss if I left out the third element, which is the poor people, you would leave the synagogue on a Friday night. And you might argue over who gets to bring the poor person home. But there certainly was this aspect of sharing the meal. And I think the real definition of Challah is not the plucked up beautiful bread that we have. But the act of separating the part that is given as a gift from the part that we eat. And I think that tradition is is a fascinating one.

Adam Mintz  16:48

Yeah, that is most definitely a fascinating one. So what you really have if you want to draw a line, Geoffrey, is you’re drawing the line from the Cohen all the way to the common practice of providing for the poor for by providing for the Yeshiva Bachor, but it’s really a direct line isn’t.

Geoffrey Stern  17:07

It is a it is a direct line. And I would go even further, there’s two other lines I want to draw. You know, the custom when you hold up the two, Challas, before you make Hamotzi, it reminds us a little bit of Bikkurim of the first fruits. And I think again, as I said before, in this color is the remnant of pretty much the only remnant we have of that whole temple tradition of celebrating the first fruits and celebrating the bread. It is kind of fascinating that it talks about its dough, and it’s not the threshing floor. So you know, the threshing floor is united and connected to the land of Israel. It’s connected to an agrarian society. But the dough and this is probably part of how it survived and served us so well. That’s done in the kitchen that’s cooked. And you don’t give out the bread as much as give out the “taig” the dough to let somebody else make an ugga, make a cake or make a bread. I think that’s kind of fascinating, too.

Adam Mintz  18:17

That is actually very fascinating. I like that. Now you know that having Challah baking has become a tradition as a time of prayer. If somebody’s sick, they have a Challah baking to pray for that person who’s sick. And I always wondered about that. Where does that jump come from?

Geoffrey Stern  18:44

So before we even get there, and I think it is an interesting question. I have a little bit of an insight of the answer. But the other part of Challah is become associated with women. And you could easily say well, because it’s dough because it’s cooking a woman’s place is in the kitchen. But even in some of the some of the texts that I bring, it just nonchalantly says and you might think you do Challah even for a small piece of dough. No, she must remove …. it talks in the “she”. And I think that there are two pieces of Talmud, at least, that associate Challah with the three Mitzvot, the three commandments that are most associated with woman, but I might argue are most associated with the home. And again, that’s that line between the temple, the tabernacle and the home …. the traveling home that belongs in each house and I think that there’s no question that it’s the Rechem…  the womb that gives birth and possibly, maybe the womb is also connected to healing, maybe that has something to do with it. Or birth, I’m gonna quote something in a second that just blew me away. But what do you think of that connection?

Adam Mintz  20:14

That’s an interesting connection. You know, also when someone is sick, we use their mother’s name. Somehow our prayer for sick people is connected to women, to mothers.

Geoffrey Stern  20:28

So when I look for sources, and this week, I couldn’t find a whole lot on Challah in the old texts in the Midrash in the Talmud, besides the ones I’ve quoted, I look everywhere. And I happen to look at [Marcus] Jastrow, this amazing scholar who was I believe, at the Jewish Theological Seminary, who wrote a dictionary of Aramaic and of the Talmud that when you study in a traditional yeshiva, you keep hidden under your Shtender, because he wasn’t in the Orthodox world, and you consult it. And in his listing for her lab, he always brings examples of how it’s used. And he brings the following example from Bereshit Rabba it says, I. THEN THE LORD GOD FORMED MAN, etc (II, 7). The king by justice establisheth the land, but a man of gifts (terumoth) overthroweth it (Prov. XXIX, 4). He’s quoting proverbs. The king refers to the supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He; By justice establisheth the land’ means that He created the world on the basis of justice, as it is written: In the beginning Elohim (E.V. ‘God of Justice’) created (Gen. I, I); But the man of gifts overthroweth it refers to Adam,  who was the hallah, the completion of the world, while hallah is designated terumah, as it is written, Of the first of your dough ye shall set apart hallah (E.V. a cake’) for a gift terumah (Num. xv, 2o). quoting our verse   R. Jose b. Kezarta said: Like a woman who mixes her dough with water and separates hallah from the very centre, even so, at first, There went up a mist from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground, and then THE LORD GOD FORMED MAN OF THE DUST OF THE GROUND. Now it doesn’t say just the lord of justice, but the Lord God of mercy formed man of the dust of the earth. So here is a metaphor of God creating man out of the Butz …. the mud out of the dough of the primal material. And it compares God to the woman who is making the Challah. And so you might take away that it’s took out the best and that was man, what I take away is that woman, Rechem, Rachmanut, Mercy is compared to God. And that in a sense, it is a reenacting of the God of creation, the God of mercy, who created us that woman does when she makes the Challah, maybe that relates to why the Challah is so important in terms of sickness and health.

Adam Mintz  23:38

That’s nice. I mean, I think that’s a nice Midrashic kind of explanation, you know, some of these cultural things, you know, there’s no real explanation. It might just be that someone in a community once had this idea that when people are sick, let the women get together and let them bake Challah. So it’s hard to know, either, I should just explain that to this very day. We still take Challah, when Sharon bakes Challah, she takes a little piece of the dough. She wraps it up in aluminum foil, as she puts it in the toaster oven. And, you know, it burns there, you know, kind of symbolically that’s the Challah that she takes. And that’s been practice basically for 3000 years.

Geoffrey Stern  24:27

And when I was reading the sources, it made a distinction between how much dough you were baking. Does she make that distinction?

Adam Mintz  24:35

Yes, there is absolutely true. It’s only if you bake a certain amount. She makes a lot of Challahs at once. So she doesn’t have to do it every week. She would know in a second. It has to do with how much flour you have? Only a certain amount of flour Do you start taking Challah.

Geoffrey Stern  24:55

But again, it just seems to me it’s kind of you know, it’s all rabbinic, that’s what the texts start to say right from the get go. When it says when you come into the land, they say, Well, you know, if we’re not in the land, it’s only rabbinic and, and all of these things, to me it’s rabbinic is another way of saying it was a mitzvah made to travel. It was a mitzvah on the go a mitzvah that developed over time, but it just seems to me that it is so associated with community. And maybe that’s has a little bit to do with the fact that it has to have a little oomph to it, it’s not just making a roll, but you’re making for a community or for a larger audience. But it just kind of symbolizes to me, the table, and, and the home. And one of the things that I started thinking about is that, in Jewish law, there are actually law upon law upon law about how you have to act as a guest in someone’s house.  I bought the paragraphs in the Shulchan Aruch, and it starts by saying, and there were 22 paragraphs here, and it’s in the Orach Chayim. And, you know, it talks about two individuals who are eating out of the same plate, if one pauses to take a drink his friend should also pause until he is finished. It says you should not be stingy, when it comes to food. It says don’t look at someone eating and not at his portion in order not to embarrass them. I mean, it almost reads like Emily Post’s Etiquette. And not for knights of Shining Armor,  it’s for everybody. It just seems to me that this tradition of so much focus on the table, so much focus, I mean, even the fact when we get back to the Challah is your koveah Seudah. You only have a real meal, if you have bread. It just seems to me that that’s what the Challah kind of personified, and maybe that’s why it became so universal.

Adam Mintz  27:27

I think that’s nice. I mean, I think sometimes these customs are bigger than the texts, you know, they just kind of took on a life of their own. And Challah is one of those things that took on a life of its own. It might also be Geoffrey, that the fact that Challah is so central to the Jewish week to the Jewish home, to Shabbat, it kind of elevates its importance.

Geoffrey Stern  27:51

Yeah, I mean, I think the association with Shabbat came and I do have an article in the source sheet that says that came fairly late. You know, in this article, it says it came in the 15th century Rabbi Joseph bar Moshe, and basically the association is to the manna to the mon. And on Friday, obviously, because you could not gather manna or sticks. As we learned in this week’s portion. You had two portions, you had what they call Lechem Mishneh. And as a result, the two Challos became part and parcel of the meal. But I mean, so much of what we’ve talked about tonight has nothing to do with Shabbat. But at a certain point in time, that focus definitely came to that moment at the Shabbat table. When you raise up those two Challot in thanks. And you and you make the blessing.

Adam Mintz  28:53

I think that’s right. It’s also interesting that actually in you know, in the Torah portion, it’s only five verses. It’s a very, very short little subsection, which you know, has come to mean so many things.

Geoffrey Stern  29:09

Well, it’s not only short, but it’s in a blockbuster Pasha and

Adam Mintz  29:13

right That’s correct. Yeah.

Geoffrey Stern  29:15

You have the story of the spies that overwhelms everything. But I love lashes connection, that after all those terrible things happen. You’re going to come into the land and you’re going to eat Challah.

Adam Mintz  29:31

Okay, don’t worry, it’s gonna be okay.

Geoffrey Stern  29:34

Now, one thing I’m curious if you have an insight into is in most of the literature, the focus was on Ashkenazi Jewry when it came to Harlem and you know, the idea of course was that if you go to a typical Mizrahi, Iraqi, Syrian home, it looks more like Pita there is no challah but I’m sure that they take the challah. And I think maybe it’s just a nuance or am I missing something?

Adam Mintz  29:35

No, I think you’re 100%. Right? I think that’s absolutely right. Every tradition has the tradition of Challah. It may look different, but everybody has the tradition of Challah.

Geoffrey Stern  30:25

Well, all I can say it was very refreshing me to me to pick …. maybe a topic that was not disruptive.

Adam Mintz  30:35

No…  you know, what was disruptive about it is you didn’t choose the usual topic …. that was disruptive.

Geoffrey Stern  30:44

And it was disruptive to pick five verses that normally fall through the cracks like crumbs…

Adam Mintz  30:51

I think it was great.

Geoffrey Stern  30:53

So anyway, I’d love to wish everybody a Shabbat shalom.

Adam Mintz  30:57

Shabbat Shalom, everybody should feel good. Enjoy the Parsha. We look forward to seeing you next week.

Geoffrey Stern  31:01

Enjoy the Challah and see you all next week.

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Joining the Tribe

parshat beha’alotcha, numbers 9

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on June 16th 2022. The Torah breaches the subject of a Ger (Convert alt. resident alien) celebrating the Exodus from Egypt. Jews-by-birth praise God who took “us” out of Egypt and we wonder along with Nachmanides and Maimonides whether a convert can or should consider him/herself a part of past Jewish historical experience as well as part of the Jewish People. In the process, we discover an ambivalence Judaism has to converts and we explore this ambivalence through history and up to the present.

Sefaria Source Sheet:


Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite podcast platform.  The Torah breaches the subject of a convert celebrating the Exodus from Egypt.  Jews by-birth praise God who took “us” out of Egypt but what about those whose ancestors did not share this historic experience?   Tonight, we explore an ambivalence that Judaism has to converts and we explore this ambivalence throughout history and up to the present. Join us as we explore: Joining the Tribe.


Well, welcome. Welcome to Madlik. And if you are listening to this as a podcast, please, if you like it, give us a few stars, say something nice about it, and share it with your friends. So, the rabbi; Rabbi Adam Mintz who is with us tonight spoke at the JCC of Manhattan on Shavuot about conversion. And every other week in pre party, he he’ll say, I went to Italy like he went last week or he went here or there to officiate at a wedding. And I think he once dropped the fact that he’s converted 200 people maybe in the last year. So I dedicated myself to finding a parsha, where we could use this as an opportunity to get a little bit more of an insight into Rabbi Adam Mintz’s approach to conversion. So here we are, it’s in numbers, Beha’alotcha is the name of the Parsha. And it starts by talking about how the Israelites all had to come forward and lay their hands on the Levites we get the word smicha from this, and they basically transfer the concept of being a first-born from themselves unto the Levites. I have taken them for myself, in place of all the first issue of the womb for all the male first born of Israelites. And then it goes into keeping the Passover something that it does a lot similar to what it does about the Shabbat It’s a favorite subject. But in numbers 9: 14 It says out of the blue, as it’s discussing how you now have to keep the Passover. And when a stranger who resides with you would offer a Passover sacrifice to God, it must be offered in accordance with the rules and rights of the Passover sacrifice. There shall be one law for you, whether stranger or a citizen of the country חֻקָּ֤ה אַחַת֙. So, all the rabbis are wondering, scratching their heads. Why would one think that a convert would carry or observe the Passover in a way different from the rest of the Jews? He joins the tribe. He keeps all of the laws whether Shabbat kashrut, in the same manner as the Jews. So, Rashi says well, you might think that Passover is so important that if you convert on a Wednesday in June, you should do a Seder immediately. And therefore, this comes to tell us that no, the Convert waits to observe their first Passover when it happens in Nissan. But Ramban Nachmanides, a commentator that we’ve come across many times before, says something even more insightful, I believe, and serves as a great segue to today’s conversation. He says when we celebrate the Passover, we might think that strangers who joined us in going out from Egypt, this mixed multitude should keep the Passover, because they were also included in the miracle of the Exodus. But those who converted afterwards in the desert or in the land of Israel, we might have thought do not have to bring the Passover offering since neither they nor their ancestors were included among those who it is said he brought us out of the land of Egypt, and therefore according to Nachmanides, we need this verse to tell us that even if in your Cultural Historical Heritage, your ancestors did not literally come out of Egypt. Even if you are a convert, you should keep the Passover sacrifice, the Seder the observance in an identical fashion as the Jews, but what Nachmanides is raising and Rabbi, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say this, is that there is this tension there is this dynamic there is this way of looking at a convert and saying maybe you don’t get it. Maybe you are not full in How can you say words like that God has commanded us at Sinai, when you and your predecessors were not at Sinai. How can you say all these wonders were done for us? So I do really think that Ramban raises this question of how does Judaism deal with and consider the convert? Am I right?

Adam Mintz  05:52

You are right. And it’s interesting that you talk about the ערב רב the mixed multitude. I want to tell you in the Chumash it’s not clear who the mixed multitude is. It just says that the mix multitude came out with the Jews from Egypt. And it seems to be that they were involved in the sin of the golden calf. Now, Rambam, Maimonides, in his laws of conversion, says the following. He goes through how someone converts, a woman goes to the mikvah, a man needs circumcision, and then goes to the mikvah. And he goes through all of that. And then his last law in that chapter, says the following. קשין גרים לישראל כספחת. Now ספחת that’s a great word. It’s a word that we’ve had before. One of the types of tzarat, of leprosy. They have different names for the different types of skin issues. One of those issues is what called a ספחת. And so basically converts are as bad for the Jews as leprosy, which we know is the worst, right? I mean, that’s kind of the thing you want to stay the furthest away from is lepers. And the Rambam explains, because the converts are going to cause you to sin, as we see from the ערב רב the mixed multitude, who caused the Jews to sin at the golden calf. So Rambam is clear that they’re bad. Now, there were other explanations, I’ll just tell you quickly, about what it means it’s a quote from the Talmud, קשין גרים לישראל כספחת that converts are as bad as leprosy. Another explanation is that converts are as bad as leprosy, because converts, will keep the law more strictly than Jews from birth, since they’ll keep the law more strictly than Jews from birth. It’s embarrassing, they embarrassed the Jews. And that’s why you shouldn’t have converts. Now, two explanations are exactly the opposite. Right? One is that they’re bad because they cause you to sin. The other explanation is, they’re bad because they make you look bad, completely different. Isn’t that fascinating?

Geoffrey Stern  08:28

It is fascinating. And it literally hits the nail on the head, in terms of this ambiguity. In terms of, clearly, if someone joins the fold, if you have a movement, and someone joins in, from a certain perspective, they are not natural, they have to work at it. They’re bringing in foreign elements, and so forth and so on. But on the other hand, you are there because you had no choice you are there, because you were born into it. And this person is a Jew by choice, which is a wonderful word for converts. But what it means to amplify is that they chose God. They chose Judaism, they chose this way. So, I think that just as we find in the commentators on this verse, this sense of; is it because they were in there? It identifies exactly the issue that I believe you spoke about Shavuot night, which we have this kind of dialectic and ambiguity between looking at the Convert as something that is, it shows that God’s word is growing, that the movement is growing, that one day the whole world will recognize God on the one hand, and on the other hand something that is a dilution, and how does that work out through history.

Adam Mintz  10:06

So, basically, throughout history, meaning from the time of the destruction of the Second Temple until the year 1800 people were not allowed to convert to Judaism. Christians weren’t allowed to convert to Judaism and Muslims weren’t allowed to convert to Judaism by their law. So, it never happened. And that’s what I wanted to say. That’s an important thing. And that is when Maimonides; when Rambam talks about this, you have to remember that Maimonides, is not talking practically about converts to Judaism. He never met a convert to Judaism. I know that, because in Cairo it was punishable by death to convert to Judaism.

Geoffrey Stern  11:04

But on the other hand, you know, when I read that Nachmanides that I quoted the second ago. It had no problem with a non-Jew, who was part of the Exodus, who went out with the Jews, because clearly that non-Jew experienced everything that the Jews experienced. But the question that Nachmanides raised was, well, what happens if you convert it in later generations? And as you know, one of the most famous letters that my monitors ever wrote was to Ovadia the Righteous Convert. So, what you’re saying is, he might never have met a convert, but he certainly was in discourse with

Adam Mintz  11:50

Yes, that’s correct. We don’t know exactly what overcharges background is. But that’s right. So that’s interesting. That’s a very good point means he was familiar with the idea now, how it could be that Ovadiah converted to Judaism. That’s something that I don’t think we have an answer to. If it was prohibited in Muslim countries to convert to Judaism, how could he have converted to Judaism?

Geoffrey Stern  12:15

That’s an interesting question. Interesting question. You know, as long as we’re talking about that letter, you know, you have to say that the letter is addressed to this Ovadiah, who Maimonides called HaMaskil HaMeivin, Ger Tzedek, that he was an enlightened convert in all of the accolades that you could possibly give. And Ovadia asks the same question, addresses the same question as knock manatees, and says, Can I both in public and in private? Talk about the God of my father’s? Can I talk about the God who commanded me assuming it was at Sinai? And ultimately, to our point, can I talk about the God who took us out of the land of Egypt? And Maimonides gives an answer to all of the above questions, saying, yes, you can say that was commanded to you. You’re a child of Abraham. And then he gets to the question of our pasuk, of our verse. And there, he says, that when it comes to leaving Egypt, he says, as to the words, who brought us forth from the land of Egypt, or who performed miracles for our ancestors, these you may change, if you wish, and say, You who bought Israel from the land of Egypt, you who perform miracles for Israel, If however, you do not change them, no harm has been done. So literally, Maimonides goes on the fence in this one. And there’s overwhelming sensitivity for Ovadia, who he clearly respects but again, he straddles the question of what is the place of a convert in Judaism, and of course, you bring up Islam, and you bring up Christianity. In those religions, at least in Christianity, I’m pretty confident you don’t get born into it. The only way of access is by being baptized, and in a sense, opting in. So, conversion is what every member of the movement is ultimately going through. Judaism has this unique concept of both. It’s a race, but clearly from the texts that we’re looking at. It’s a shared historical destiny. And the question is, if you haven’t, or your ancestors have not been involved in that historic destiny, can you, should you, will you?

Adam Mintz  15:01

So that also is a fascinating question. So Rambam seems to say that your ancestors were not part of that tradition, but you’re allowed to accept that tradition. There was another great medieval scholar in Muslim Spain. His name was Robert Yehuda Halevi. He wrote the Kuzari that Kuzari says that actually every convert to Judaism, their soul was at Mount Sinai. Meaning that it’s not that you’re allowed to do it even though your parents weren’t part of the tradition, you could accept the tradition. No, you are part of the tradition, it just took a while for you to recognize that.

Geoffrey Stern  15:47

It’s kind of like finding this hidden connection.

Adam Mintz  15:50

It’s very interesting. Now, people have been critical, because it’s a little racist, seeming to say that, you know, Jews are somehow better than everybody else. But anyway, leave that aside. It’s an interesting dispute between Rambam and the Kuzari. Well, I take it in a different way, when you said it, it reminded me of the similar tradition, that when you meet your Basher’t; your spouse, that ultimately you had been already connected before you were born, and you are meeting so to speak, combining those two halves. And I believe there’s even a dating site called saw you at Sinai.   So when you said that, I didn’t think of it as racist, I just thought of it as finding your shared destiny, that if somehow Judaism resonates with you, the history of this people resonates with you, and you, for whatever reason, come and join the tribe, you’re re-joining the tribe. And I think that’s, that’s something beautiful, that we provide that sort of aspect. And I think what I was saying before, when you join Christianity, you’re born again, everybody becomes born again, what Judaism seems to be at least on the side of those who are saying that you can say, the God of my father, and my mother, and you can say that we were in Egypt, what it is permitting you to do, is to join a history to join a heritage to join a tradition that maybe was not yours in terms of a DNA, but is yours by choice. And I think that’s kind of a beautiful concept.  That is really a beautiful concept. I don’t think the Kuzari disagrees with that, the Kuzari just wants to understand mechanically how it works, or religiously how it works.

Geoffrey Stern  17:52

I mean, if you think of us as Americans, you know, we all look back to the revolution, we all look back to Washington chopping down the cherry tree. That’s our shared Midrash. That’s our shared heritage. And so I think it’s almost natural to say that yes, and, you know, this is a long term theme, I think, of Madlik, which is that we can choose our history that we that that Judaism and the Exodus what it proved was that entitlement was wrong, where you are who you are, because of your blue blood, and choseness was in and were choseness is you can pick your heritage, and you can pick your future. And I think ultimately, that’s part of the concept of conversion within Judaism, which given our background as a tribe becomes kind of unique.

Adam Mintz  18:55

I think that’s really beautiful. I think that’s interesting. It’s important to say that all of these views we’ve talked about now, in the first half of the class, are all medieval views, where basically there weren’t converts. That’s interesting about Ovadia the Convert, but basically, there weren’t many converts. Radically, around the year 1800 that all changed. Around the year 1800. Jews were granted citizenship in Germany, and then in the rest of Western Europe. That meant that for the first time in history, Jews could go to university, Jews could be lawyers, Jews could be doctors, Jews could live in non-Jewish neighborhood. And you know, the first time something is opened up to you, you literally embrace it, you gobble it up. And the Jews gobbled it up, including the fact that for the first time they could integrate with the Germans. They could be in the same community. And the intermarriage rate in Berlin in 1840 was something like 50% from zero to 50. Now we talk about the intermarriage rate. But then it was literally from zero to 50. Because before 1800, Christians were not allowed to marry Jews. And all of a sudden, the Jews are marrying Christians. And there was a whole complicated situation where what you had was a Jewish man, marrying a non-Jewish woman. And they actually didn’t convert, and they had children. And the father, it’s interesting, he didn’t care about marrying a non-Jewish woman. And some of these men wanted their boys circumcised, and to have their boys have a bar mitzvah means like, I’ll be married to you, the kids are not technically Jewish. But can they be circumcised? Can they have a bar mitzvah? And this was a huge debate. So, I’ll tell you that there a rabbi who lived in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was the rabbi, an orthodox rabbi, who lived in New Orleans. And this rabbi, he had the following question. There was a mohel in New Orleans, who was willing to circumcise sons of Jewish men and non-Jewish women, even though they weren’t Jewish. He said, Let’s circumcise them when they’re babies. And hopefully, when they grow up, they’ll convert to Judaism. But if we don’t circumcise them, as adults, there’s no way that they will circumcise themselves. So this is like the first step towards the process of conversion, even though we have no reason to assume that they’re gonna convert. The rabbi in New Orleans, was very upset about this. He was upset. He thought this was totally wrong. The kids aren’t Jewish, in a sense, you’re legitimizing the fact that this Jewish man married a non-Jewish woman, Jewish men will marry non Jewish women all the time. If they’re promised that they can have their son circumcised. So he wrote to the rabbis in Europe, because in those days, New Orleans, America was not much in 1840. He wrote to the rabbis in Europe and Germany, asked them what they thought about this. Most of the rabbis in Europe agreed with him, saying, you’re right, you should not circumcise the son. But there was one rabbi, his name was Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer. Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer was kind of interesting, because he was the first religious Zionist. Long before there’s a state of Israel. He was an outspoken, religious, Zionist, and in Germany, they thought that was dual loyalty, they were very much committed Germany. So people weren’t really Zionist. But he was a religious Zionist. And he wrote that No, I believe that we should circumcise these babies. Because again, he agreed with the mohel, that that was the first step towards conversion. And I think that Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer is a very interesting statement, about an attitude towards intermarriage and towards conversion. He believed that we need to be more inclusive, because for the sake of Judaism, you need to be more inclusive, meaning he didn’t say it, that you should circumcise the baby, because that’s the right thing to do. No, he was very practical, he said, This is gonna be good for Judaism, if we circumcised the baby, he added, took a very practical view to circumcision, and for the possibility of conversion. Now, that sounds very different than Rambam, who talks about the fact that that converts are like leprosy keep converts away. This Rabbi Kalischer is saying, No, don’t keep converts away. Let’s help him convert by allowing him to be to be circumcised.

Geoffrey Stern  24:26

So I find that so fascinating, but you know, I contacted you discovered you were in Italy, and said we’re going to talk about this and what should I add to this source sheet? And you said go ahead and look at Mishneh Torah, Forbidden intercourse 13 and 14 and I did and what I was blown away by, besides that throwaway comment that converts are like leprosy, it is so amazing to look at the original sources in this case, Maimonides, and see what he says about what is necessary for conversion? One of the things that really struck me, how do we deal with someone who says they’re Jewish? How do we how do we deal with someone who says they converted? And if you read the text of my Maimonides, it’s pretty amazing that we assume he’s telling the truth. And then when it comes to getting married, okay, so then we want some proof. But if he has children, and later on, he goes, you know, really, I didn’t have witnesses. So, you might say, he’s no longer Jewish, but his kids remain Jewish. The amount of flexibility there is, the amount of forward thinking there is, the amount of what you were just describing as within the law, the ability to look at conversion, the way every other religion does, which is, it’s wonderful when somebody chooses to be part of your club. It’s wonderful when somebody chooses to obey your commandments. And I think that’s kind of what comes across in those chapters, which are in the source notes, from my Maimonides that you are assigned me, so to speak, Rabbi and the other thing that comes, of course, is that these things are socially subjective. So, there was some rules that apply in Israel, and some rules that apply outside of Israel. In Israel, if a convert says I’m Jewish, you believe him, because most people are Jewish. I don’t want to get into the reeds of the particular sociology that is being addressed. But what I do want to say is, it is socially contingent, that it depends on the age, as you were saying, it depends on the circumstance. And we don’t have a long show. It’s only half an hour. I want to use that as a segue for you, Rabbi to talk about, how do you take this ruling of the rabbi in New Orleans? How do you take that into your own Rabbinate? And how are you dealing with these couples that are coming to you?

Adam Mintz  27:17

So that’s a good question. You know, we live in a different time. In those days, a Jewish man married a non-Jewish woman, it wasn’t just that the non-Jewish woman didn’t want to convert to Judaism. The Jewish husband didn’t care whether the non-Jewish woman converted to Judaism or not, he didn’t care, because they were being accepted in the non-Jewish world. And he was happy to marry a non-Jewish woman. Today, there are many secular couples like that. But what we’re finding is that there are many people who are exploring conversion. And that’s an interesting thing, that people are willing to convert. So if somebody came to me at a case like that, and they said, you know, can I circumcise my son, my wife is not willing to convert, and we do sometimes have cases like that. So, I’m very much aware of Rabbi Kalischer. And obviously, that’s what I would say, but I would broach the topic that maybe the mother would be willing to convert also. And I would discuss what that would mean to convert. You know, there’s an important thing about conversion. For a man conversion involves circumcision. But for a woman, it’s just going to the mikveh. The question is, what kind of commitment to Judaism do you need before you can go to the mikvah? That’s also an interesting question. Maimonides says, You have to accept the idea of mitzvot. Not that you have observe every Mitzvah, but you need to accept the idea of mitzvah. And the question is, and this is also an important question for today. How strict are we about that? I don’t think we’re so strict about that. I don’t think we should give away conversion, you know, we always say, don’t give away anything for free. If it doesn’t hurt a little bit, then you’re not going to value it. So, I don’t think we should give away conversion. I don’t think we should have a day in the mikveh whoever wants to come and dunk in the mikvah can dunk? I think there has to be a steady process. I think there has to be an understanding and a commitment to Judaism, as a whole, but I think, you know, the, the old-fashioned idea that if you know, if you don’t accept all the mitzvot and you don’t practice, you’re not observant, that you can’t convert. I think that that’s not what’s best for Judaism, and what just generally best for the community right now. Well, you know, I applaud that. I’ve been approached by family members who have a friend and they’ll say they’re getting converted and they go into conversion classes. Maybe it was Reform, maybe it was Conservative. And the rabbi said to them, so what is tough for you? And they go, well, you know, I love all of the mitzvot, and I’m going to have a kosher home and all that, but I kind of like a Christmas tree because it’s a national holiday. And the rabbi says, I think you need to find another class. And I thought to myself, you know, it, I think it takes a certain level of self-confidence for a rabbi to be able to look at Maimonides which I did this week. And you’re absolutely correct. He doesn’t say you have to accept it all. He goes, you know, some of the rules are tough, and if they don’t go away, then you go, okay. It’s so accepting. And I started the parsha today, by bringing this into context of the people of Israel, laying their hands upon the Levites. And saying, You guys are now the firstborn. And we know the Levites are not the firstborn, those of us who believe in birth order, there’s a whole dynamic to being a firstborn. But somehow by putting one’s hands on the Levites, they made the Levites take on a roll that was not theirs. And I think reading it afresh this week, that that was almost an intro to this ger (convert) who, in fact, we are making it possible to lay the hands upon tradition, to lay the hands upon our destiny, and to join, and I think it’s a beautiful thing. And I think it’s an amazing thing that you’re doing because I think at the end of the day, in the day and age that we live in people joining our group, people, loving our Judaism and our history as much as we do, is only, is only a positive thing.  I would agree with you and I think it’s a great topic. Thank you for raising this topic. It was a great conversation, and I love the fact that you found it in this week’s parsha I want to wish everybody Shabbat Shalom, enjoy the parsha, and we look forward to seeing you next Thursday. Enjoy the parsha, Shabbat Shalom.

Geoffrey Stern  32:08

Shabbat Shalom and Rabbi Keep up the good work.

Adam Mintz  32:11

Thank you so much be well.

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Rashi, Women & Wine

parshat Nasso, Numbers 5-6

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on June 9th 2022 as we read the text of the weekly portion through the eyes of the iconic Torah Commentator; Rashi. Keep in mind that Rashi was the proud father of four daughters (no sons) and had a day job as a vintner. Did this affect his treatment of the Sotah (Unfaithful Wife) and the sober Nazirite? Grab a glass of wine and let’s discuss. L’chaim!

Sefaria Source Sheet:


Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. Join us today as we read about the Unfaithful wife and the sober Nazirite through the eyes of the iconic Torah Commentator; Rashi. Keep in mind that Rashi was the proud father of four daughters (he had no sons) and had a day job as a winemaker. Does this affect his commentary? Grab a glass of wine and let’s discuss. Rashi, Women and Wine. L’Chaim


Well, welcome to Madlik. I feel like Shavuot is over. We’ve all received the Torah so we should all be excited to tackle the Torah this week. And before I even begin reading the text of this week’s parsha. You know, there’s a lot being said today about DAF Yomi. Everybody is talking about DAF Yomi. But I think and Rabbi You can correct me on this, probably the earliest tradition of doing something where everybody did it. And I’m not saying just reading the Parsha is something called Chumash and Rashi where by every Friday, you had to go through the whole Parsha and read it not only the text, but through the eyes and with the commentary of Rashi. Is that true?

Adam Mintz  01:46

So, I’m gonna tell you an amazing thing, which actually Sharon knows much better than I do. You know, printing started around the year 1450. We know that the Gutenberg Bible was printed. Before that everything was hand written. And the first Jewish book that was printed in history about 1470 was actually Chumash and Rashi which I guess is not surprising that supports your claim.

Geoffrey Stern  02:11

Yeah, I mean, I know. And I’d love you to confirm this too, that because of that, so much of how we read the text is colored by the lens of what Rashi brings. And he doesn’t always and we’ll see this week, it’s not as though he makes things up. He just is very selective in the texts that he brings to the table so to speak. And therefore, you see the text of the Toa through the selection that Rashi makes.

Adam Mintz  02:48

Right, there’s no question. I mean, you know, when you go to yeshiva, sometimes you’re not even sure what’s Rashi.  and what’s the Chumash itself, which is a funny thing, like you say something you say, doesn’t the Torah say that say no, that’s Rashi who says that?

Geoffrey Stern  03:07

That’s true. And I have to say personally, I went to a yeshiva called Be’er Yaakov, which was in a little town called Be’er Yaakov and the head of the Yeshiva was Rav Moses Shapiro, but the real star was the Mashciach someone named Rav Shlomo Wolbe and he made the Yeshiva study Chumash and Rashi for 15 minutes every morning. And he also took one student every year to study Chumash and Rashi with him. And I was fortunate in my second year there to be his Havrusa, his study partner.

Adam Mintz  03:42

Wow, that’s amazing.

Geoffrey Stern  03:43

It is and you know, I don’t even know how many things I’ve seen now through the eyes of Rabbi Wolbe seeing through the eyes of Rashi. But it’s powerful. So anyway, this week is Numbers 5, and the name of the Parsha is Nasso and it talks about the unfaithful wife and I should say it unfaithful in quotation marks Maybe yes, maybe no. It says in verse 12, speak to the Israelite people and say to them, any person whose wife has gone astray and broken faith with him, in that another man had slept with her unbeknownst to her husband, and she keeps secret the fact that she has defiled herself without being forced, and there is no witness against her. But a fit of jealousy comes over him and he is wrought up about the wife who has defiled herself. That’s one instance. Here’s another instance. Or if a fit of jealousy comes over him, and he is wrought up about his wife, although she has not defiled herself, so that is the law of the Sotah. And it’s not even clear whether she in fact, what As unfaithful, That party shall bring his wife to the priest and he shall bring as an offering for her 1/10 of an ephach of barley flour, no oil shall be poured upon it and no frankincense shall be laid on it, for it is a meal offering of jealousy. I mean, when we were studying Leviticus, we talked about sacrifices are really just a way of religion and I tradition helping people in different moments. And we knew about sacrifices of sin offerings and Thanksgiving offerings. Here we have a jealousy offering. It’s a meal offering of remembrance which recalls wrong doing, it’s not clear who’s wondering, the priest shall bring her forward and have her stand before God. The priest shall take sacred water in an earthen vessel and taking some of the earth that is on the floor of the tabernacle, the priests shall put it into the water, after he made the woman stand before God, the priest shall bare the woman’s head and place upon her hands the meal offering remembrance, which is a meal offering of jealousy. And in the priests hand shall the water of bitterness that induces the spell. So there is so much to discuss here. Sometimes I wonder whether we’ll have something to discuss next year, in the case of the Sotah, I don’t have that issue. There’s, and I’ve kind of referenced some of the areas that it triggered my interest. But I want to speak today, about one area where Rashi seems to feel very strongly. And the tradition, the text and the translation of the text is almost uniformly against him. And that relates to a very small part of what goes on. It says the priest shall bare the woman’s head and place upon her hands the meal offering the words in Hebrew is וּפָרַע֙ אֶת־רֹ֣אשׁ הָֽאִשָּׁ֔ה. And parah is the key question. In Rashi. It says he shall put in disorder, the woman’s head, he pulls away her hair-plaits in order to make her look despicable. And then he goes on to say, we may learn from this as regards married Jewish women, uncovering their head is a disgrace to them. He says in the Hebrew מִכָּאן from here, לִבְנוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁגִּלּוּי הָרֹאשׁ גְּנַאי לָהֶן. So he’s almost saying two things. The one thing is he’s not translating it as uncovering the head. And so we should learn nothing about uncovering the head. And then he says, but this is what they learned. This is the source of the tradition that Jewish women have to cover their head. Rabbi, what’s your read on this?

Adam Mintz  08:04

Well, which piece I mean, the last piece, which is the piece that the women have to cover their hair, because the Sotah had her head uncovered, that’s really an amazing kind of derivation, because it’s not a derivation that has anything to do with Sotah. It’s a derivation that you see from the story of Sotah that women must have covered their hair, because it says about the Sotah that her head is uncovered.

Geoffrey Stern  08:41

If that’s the correct translation,

Adam Mintz  08:44

Right. That’s, that’s what’s interesting

Geoffrey Stern  08:47

The interesting thing for me is….  if let’s go with the translation, it says, uncover her hair. it’s kind of like, I do something wrong. And the rabbi takes off my kippah. Because what we’re saying is that it’s a sin for a woman. It’s a disgrace for a woman to have her hair uncovered. It’s against the law. And here where we’re making the woman break the law further. I mean, that’s one thing that’s kind of strange about it. It would be much more, I think, straightforward to say that this woman appears and she has maybe a cheap look about. And maybe she looks like to everybody, like she’s a little bit of a player. And the rabbi disheveled her hair, he makes her look less attractive. And that’s I think, where washi is coming from where he says, he musses up her hair. He disorders her hair; it seems to be much more natural. And I think what Rashi is bringing into the discussion you said it yourself is, there’s no relation. Really, it’s a forced relationship between this custom or law that we have of women having to cover their hair, and learning it from a Sotah. That’s also the kind of challenge and maybe I’m reading into Rashi, where he says the two things he gives the correct translation in his mind. And then he says מִכָּאן לִבְנוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל, here’s where they learn this. He doesn’t say, this is where we learn it, he doesn’t say this is where the source is, he does seem to follow what you were implying, which there’s a disconnect here, that they’re almost pinning it on this peg, and it doesn’t quite belong here. I think that that’s exactly right. I mean, I think that’s interesting and Rashi. That’s interesting, just in the rabbinic tradition. Let’s take go back to the story. The woman is suspected of committing adultery. We don’t know she committed adultery. Basically, when we were young, we would say that we saw the wife of somebody with a man in a Howard Johnsons, right. They were having an ice cream together, but it looks suspicious. And the husband warns her, I don’t want you having an ice cream with this guy anymore. And she doesn’t listen. And two witnesses see her having an ice cream again with the guy, then the husband has the right to take her to Jerusalem, and to find out whether or not she committed adultery. Now, the story the way the Torah presents, it suggests that the very act of being suspected is it itself an embarrassment? Even if she turns out to be innocent. Even if it turns out that she goes to Jerusalem. She drinks this water and nothing happens to her. It’s embarrassing that they even suspected her. And I think that’s interesting. That’s part of וּפָרַע֙ אֶת־רֹ֣אשׁ הָֽאִשָּׁ֔ה, he messes up her hair. He makes her look disheveled, because she is supposed to be embarrassed, because wives were not supposed to be suspected of adultery, even if they didn’t actually commit adultery. They weren’t supposed to be in a way that gave the suggestion that they committed adultery. So yeah, I totally agree with you. What I found fascinating is I am going to quote three more verses where Rashi gives the same translation of being disheveled or not looking your best. And the standard English translations. across the board, I looked at pretty much all of them. Keep to this baring your head. So in Leviticus 10: 6, right after two of Aaron’s sons are sacrificed/killed by bringing this strange fire. It says in verse 6, And Moses said to Aaron, and to his sons, Eliezer and Itamar and now I’m reading the JPS translation, do not bare your heads, and then it put an asterisk it says dishevel your hair, and do not render your clothes lest you die in anger strike the whole community. So here what he’s clearly telling the family is don’t go into mourning. Don’t look like you’re mourning. Maybe it’s because God was the one who punished them maybe because they’re Kohanim. Who knows. But Rashi says אַל־תִּפְרָ֣עוּ  means Let not your hair grow long. And he says, And from this, the tTorah learns that when you mourn, you don’t cut your hair. So and of course, the reason why you do that when you mourn is you don’t focus on your looks. You don’t focus on the superficial when you’re in mourning. So it again, as long as we’re dealing with Rashi he does use this kind of same language מִכָּאן. From here, we learn אָבֵל אָסוּר בְּתִסְפֹּרֶת that and Avol a mourner is not permitted. But what kills me is you almost feel like a tension between the standard translations. They keep on talking about uncovering your hair, which makes no sense in this context.

Adam Mintz  14:32

Well, I mean, the first question is that Rashi there the sons of Aaron translates the word, תפרעו in a different way, which is let your hair grow long. Unless you say that letting your hair grow long means make your hair disheveled. … it might be the same translation, right?

Geoffrey Stern  14:56

Yeah, I think he’s consistent. He’s like saying Forget about your haircut, forget about your hairdo or your “do” you know. And so obviously in the case of the Sotah, you, you can’t let your hair grow long in one hour. And that’s even the case of the two sons, but they’re going to be, you know, watched for the next 30 days or next year. So they should not go into this modality of letting their hair grow long, they should make sure to comb their hair is what it’s saying. But again, he’s consistent here. And even in our parsha, later on, we’re going to get to the story and the law of the nazarite. In Numbers 6 part of our parsha, it says throughout the term of their vow as a Nazarene, no razor shall touch their hair, it shall remain consecrated until the completion of the terms as Nazarene of God, the hair of their head being left to grow untrimmed. So here everybody translates פֶּ֖רַע שְׂעַ֥ר רֹאשֽׁוֹ as letting your hair grow, letting your hair out.

Adam Mintz  16:10

So there they’re definitely consistent.

Geoffrey Stern  16:12

Yes, but again, Rashi won’t let it go away. So the Rashi over here says the word פרע is punctuated. And he says the meaning of the word פרע is overgrowth of your hair similar to Leviticus 21: 10, he shall not let his hair grow wild. And he goes on …  so I don’t know whether he’s fixated on this or not. I think that would be ascribing to him a little much.  I don’t know he’s fixated on it. I mean, he’s kind of consistent every time it comes up. Yeah. And he and he points it out, and he connects. It again, it seems to me that the text, the traditional text that puts this concept of a woman needs to cover a hair on this is a little bit of a stretch, because it’s not only disconnected from the act that’s going on. It also is not in line with the true meaning of the word. So it’s a kind of a double stretch, in the Sifrei Bamidbar. It is a source for what Rashi is talking about, and it says Rabbi Yishmael says from here, from this verse that we have in the Sotah, from the fact that he The Cohen uncovers her hair, we derive an exhortation for the daughters of Israel to cover their hair. And though there is no proof for this, there is an intimation of it. ואף על פי שאין ראיה לדבר זכר לדבר So one thing we always point out on Madlik is how important sources are to all the commentaries at every level, no one, even if they try to massage the text a little bit and put a later day custom into the earlier text. They pointed out, it’s very important to give the provenance of a law, and even the ones that say we learn it from here, they’re only saying it’s a זכר לדבר. It’s kind of I don’t know, how would you how would you translate,זכר לדבר?

Adam Mintz  18:23

זכר לדבר means that there’s kind of a hint to it. But it’s not a real source

Geoffrey Stern  18:29

Of interest. It goes on and it follows this concept of what we’re trying to do is to make her look less pretty. So Rabbi Yehudah says if her top knot were beautiful, he did not expose it. and if her hair were beautiful, he did not dishevel it. If she were dressed in white, she is dressed in black. So the point is that we’re definitely trying to take away from her beauty.

Adam Mintz  19:00

You understand the psychology, of course, the theory is that if she committed adultery, it’s because she made herself beautiful to attract the man, and therefore the punishment is to dishevel her. So it’s not just out of nowhere. That’s the punishment for this sin.

Geoffrey Stern  19:21

Yeah, yeah. And then well, the Oakland says something R. Yochanan b. Beroka says: The daughters of Israel are not made more unattractive than the Torah prescribes אין מנוולים בנות ישראל יותר ממה שכתוב בתורה. So, again, the rabbi’s discussed everything under the sun, even fashion, and in this particular case, they were well aware of all of the fashion and signs of beauty and stuff. So let’s talk about a little bit about your sense of a woman covering her hair. You spoke at the JCC about the history of conversion. What in your mind is the history of this covering of the hair?

Adam Mintz  20:10

That’s a good question. Clearly there is a history means clearly the rabbi’s had an idea that women were supposed to cover their hair. What’s interesting is that Maimonides says that it’s not only for married women, any woman over three years old has to cover her hair, that tells me that’s not unbelievable. Any woman over three years old, meaning that Maimonides presents it like this, Maimonides presents it that just like a woman has to be dressed, that her elbows are not allowed to show and her knees are not allowed to show so to her hair is not allowed to show. That’s Maimonides’ view. I think that today, that’s not our view. I think today, the idea of wearing a hat is to identify a woman as being married. And if she’s married, in a sense, she’s off limits, it’s kind of what we say is you know, it’s like some men wear rings and some men don’t. They want to wear a ring to say I’m married, I’m off limits.

Geoffrey Stern  21:21

So I think what you said from Maimonides is fascinating. I am no scholar in Islam. I do know, as as a tourist, so to speak, when I walk around in Islam, the women who cover their hair, that are Muslim, do it before marriage as well. And I wonder whether Maimonides wasn’t affected by where he lived. And that possibly, you know, in the Middle East in general, this was just the way women were dressed. And in a sense, we absorbed it and codified it. But I do think that no one in the Muslim world who read what Maimonides wrote, would have been surprised by that because all unmarried women cover their hair. I mean, I think it would be almost radical for a Jewish woman to walk around with a head uncovered, even if she’s unmarried and be surrounded by Muslim women’s who hair is covered.

Adam Mintz  22:29

that’s 100%. Right. Rambam was definitely influenced by the culture around him, no question about it. And I think that we’re influenced by the culture around us. You know, you would say 50 years ago, women did not cover their hair, even very orthodox women, very few women covered their hair. But now that’s not true. Now, there are more orthodox women, even, not Hasidic women who cover their hair. That’s kind of tradition, and the culture changes over time. And that’s fascinating.

Geoffrey Stern  23:06

I’m sensing a real change. I was in Israel a month ago. And the number of Orthodox women that I met with even I saw one on television during an interview. I did some it’s they’re wearing turbans almost…. it’s almost taken upon women as something that is empowering, liberating this this concept of not objectifying my beauty type of thing or my femininity. But have you noticed also, I did a little research there’s something called a snood, there’s a  shpitzel, there’s a turban when I grew up, there was a sheitel I think sheitels are falling away a little bit, because they’re almost

Adam Mintz  23:52

In Israel, but not in America. Yeah. Tell you what you saw in Israel a month ago is very important. I know what religious community you come from, by what type of head covering you have, meaning one type of headcovering means that you’re part of the Hasidic community. One part says that your part of the ultra orthodox, non Hasidic community. The other says you’re part of what they call Hardal which is kind of חרדי לאומי, which means that you’re very orthodox, but you’re still a Zionist, everybody has their own head covering we went to visit somebody in a community and literally it was a Yishuv everybody in that Yishuv had the same head covering isn’t that crazy? It is even more crazy. Okay. And that is in this Yishuv. That was the rule. You weren’t allowed to live in this Yishuv unless the wife covered her hair. If the wife went with her head uncovered, then you would be asked to move out of the Yishuv.

Geoffrey Stern  24:54

Did Rav (Joseph Ber) Soloveitchik’s wife cover her hair?

Adam Mintz  24:58

She did not. Lithuanian women didn’t cover their hair. That was just the tradition. Every culture had a different tradition. And the wives of Lithuanian rabbis did not cover their hair. That was true about Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s wife. Now when they came here to America… You see, America was a funny place. Because you know, in Eastern Europe, Hasidim and non-Hasidim lived in different places. You know, a city was Hasidic, or a city was non-Hasidic, there was very little, you know, integration between the communities and a lot of places there was competition between the communities, but they came to America. And because America was smaller, at least at the beginning, everybody lived together. So the non-Hasidim took on some of the customs of the Hasidim and the Hasidim took on some of the customs and the non-Hasidic. One of the customs that the non-Hasidim took on of the Hasidim is that even though in Lithuania, the women did not cover their hair, but in America, those those you know, those rabbis’ wives cover

Geoffrey Stern  26:07

Neil, welcome to the Bima.

Neil (Nachum) Twersky  26:08

So I prefer to be called Nachum. Technically, my name is Neil. And I just wanted to say that Rabbi MICHAEL J. BROYDE, has a long, extensive, I would call it seminal article on the whole subject of covering one’s hair (Further on Women’s Hair Covering: An Exchange Tradition, Modesty and America: Married Women Covering Their Hair

Adam Mintz  26:31

And Nachum, what’s his punch line?

Neil (Nachum) Twersky  26:33

Well, first, the whole question is, Is it m’hatorah? Or m’rabanan Okay, if it’s m’hatorah, as he suggests, according to some it might, then you’re stuck. If it’s rabbinic, then you can introduce what you might call the contemporary time and it’s open to rabbinic interpretation. As such, he doesn’t come out right and say it. But he infers that on that basis, there might be some permission for women, you know, not to cover their hair. I think what he’s trying to do, in some way is objectify that which you refer to as what Rabbi Soleveichik  I will tell you that when my sister asked Rav Soleveichik whether she should cover her hair, the Rav told her Yes.

Adam Mintz  27:38

Let me just tell you. Actually, Geoffrey, this is all relevant to what we’re talking about. Because whether or not covering hair is biblical or rabbinic, is basically the question of that Rashi, we’re going back to that Rashi. And that Rashi says, that we live we derive from this week’s Torah reading that a woman needs to cover her hair. And the question is, what kind of derivation is that? Is that a Torah derivation? Is that really what the Torah men, or that’s the rabbi’s making it up based on what the Torah says? And that’s interesting, right? So that whole discussion in that, according to what Nachum, said, the traditions today are really based on how you understand that Rashi? So it all goes back to our good friend Rashi?

Geoffrey Stern  28:33

Absolutely. And in the source notes on Sefaria, I bring additional texts, which literally start to distinguish between when even those who believe it’s from the Torah. When is it from the Torah? Is it in a totally public domain? And then when is it custom? When is it something that was from the rabbi’s that would be from courtyard to courtyard so it’s all there in the source notes. And now we have a new source as well. Thank you for that Nachum. We need to finish up but I love the fact that we talk about what Rabbi Soloveitchik did and his wife, we talk about Nachum, your sister went to him. One of the amazing things about Rashi is that I said this in the intro, he had four daughters, and he had no sons. He had son in laws, who became the Tosephots, and they had names like Rabbeinu Tam and they used to argue with their father in law all the time. If he’s said YES, they said NO, but one of his daughters Rachel got divorced. And it wasn’t because I think they were childless. And there are many people who believe nothing is totally documented that his daughter is put on Tephilin one of his daughters. When he was sick, wrote his Teshuva for him, wrote his kuntaris for him… So these were clearly very learned and doesn’t it have to be that way. I mean, if you are a man of his knowledge, and you have only four daughters sitting around the table, it’s Yentl, isn’t it? And, and I think that without projecting onto him, but clearly, in this case of the Sotah, this woman accused of this, suspected, he is taking a real stand in terms of what this means. And I don’t think he’s taking a strong stand in terms of the covering of the head. But in any case, he definitely has something to say about it. And I think it’s a wonderful way to read the parsha with Rashi get to know his daughters get to know practice in the world that we live. And we always talk about the the nomenclature, the vernacular in Hebrew, I have to mention a book that every kid reads when they grow up in Israel and it’s called Yehoshua Parua. And Yehoshua Perua is about a kid with hair that is wild, and grows very long.

Adam Mintz  31:14

That’s a great way to finish up. So we really came we went full circle from Rashi to a kids book, I think that’s fantastic.

Geoffrey Stern  31:27

Okay, well Shabbat Shalom to everybody.

Adam Mintz  31:29

Shabbat Shalom everybody. Thank you so much. Enjoy the parsha and we’ll see you next week. Be well,

Geoffrey Stern  31:34

Shabbat shalom. Enjoy your Chumash and Rashi

Sefaria Source Sheet:

Listen to last week’s episode: Nachshon

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As a driven leaf

parshat bechukotai, leviticus 26

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on May 26th. This week we see the flip side of not owning our land. We are exposed to exile and alienation, both physical and emotional. But mostly, we are struck by the almost too rich vocabulary and overly haunting imagery the Torah exhibits for a people without a land.

Sefaria Source Sheet:


Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform.  Last week the Torah taught us that only God owns the land and we felt the liberation of not being tied to the land. This week we see the flip side of not owning our land. We are exposed to exile and alienation, both physical and emotional in very visceral terms. So pick up you walking stick and pack you bags as we become a driven leaf.


So, welcome everybody to Madlik. And you know, every week I kind of feel. And I don’t know if it’s like that for everybody who reads the Parsha every week, as if it’s anew. But you know, every Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday, I look at the next parsha. And I’m always surprised by what I find. But it turns out that this parsha is an extension of last parsha, where we talked about the sabbatical year. And you’re going to see that in a few minutes. And it really is the flip side of what we discussed last week. So, if you’re tuning in to our podcast for the first time, and you didn’t listen to last week, after you listen to this one, I suggest you go back and listen to This is MY land. But in any case, we are in parshat Bechukotai . And it’s in Leviticus 26 and it starts out אִם־בְּחֻקֹּתַ֖י תֵּלֵ֑כוּ if you follow my laws and faithfully observe my commandments, and it goes on verse after verse, how good things are gonna be if you listen to God’s commandments, but then we get to verse 13. And it says, I God am your God who brought you out from the land of the Egyptians to be their slaves no more, who broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.  But if you do not obey Me and do not observe all these commandments, if you reject My laws and spurn My rules, and of course, the words that it uses is, וְאִם־בְּחֻקֹּתַ֣י תִּמְאָ֔סוּ וְאִ֥ם אֶת־מִשְׁפָּטַ֖י תִּגְעַ֣ל נַפְשְׁכֶ֑ם if you don’t listen to Bechukotai and it says and if you break my confidence, then it starts talking about what will happen to you. And in very poetic and haunting ways. It says starting with verse 17, I will set my face against you, you shall be routed by your enemies, your foes shall dominate you, you shall flee, though none pursues. And if for all that you do not obey me, I will go to discipline you seven-fold for your sins, and I will break your proud glory, I will make your skies like iron, and your earth like copper, so that your strength is shall be spent to no purpose, your land shall not yield its produce, nor shall the trees of the land yield their fruit. If you remain hostile towards me and refuse to obey me, I will go on smiting you seven-fold for your sins. And Rabbi last week you accentuated, you sensitized as to this seven-fold-ness of the sabbatical cycle, and boy, oh boy, in this week’s parsha in verse 20, it says, I too will remain hostile to you, I in turn will smite you seven-fold for your sins. And then it goes on when I break your staff of bread. ten women shall bake your bread and single oven, they shall dole out your bread by weight, and though you eat you shall not be satisfied וַאֲכַלְתֶּ֖ם וְלֹ֥א תִשְׂבָּֽעוּ the opposite of what we do when we do birchat HaMazon where we eat and we are satisfied. And then in 28 It says seven-fold for your sins. And it says I will lay your cities in ruin make your sanctuarys desolate, and I will not savor your pleasing odors exactly what we talk about in the temple when the sacrifices are given and God savor us the pleasant odors here I will not savor your pleasant odors. And then in verse 33, and you I will scatter among the nations, and I will unsheath the sword against you, your land shall become a desolation and your cities a ruin, then shall the land make up for its Sabbath years throughout the time that it is desolate, and you are in the land of your enemies, then sell the land rest and make up for it’s seven years. So clearly, the Torah is not finished with the Sabbath cycle, the Shemita years when the land lies fallow throughout the time that it is desolute, it shall observe the rest, that it did not observe in your Sabbath years while you were dwelling upon it. As for those of you who survive, who will count faithfulness into their hearts, in the land of their enemies, the sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight, fleeing as though from the sword, they shall fall through none pursues, this is an ongoing theme, that they will be afraid of something that is even not there, with no one pursuing they shall stumble over one another, as before the sword, you shall not be able to stand your ground before your enemies, but shall perish among the nations and the land of your enemies shall consume you. And luckily, towards the end, in verse 42, it says, Then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, I will remember my covenant with Isaac, also my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. But oh, boy, is this the flip side of not owning the land? And is this a continuation of this concept of seven, but this concept of the sabbatical year, and I have to say, we read the tour every year, and it should be something new to us. But the continuation of the motif from last week was profound to me. What about you, Rabbi?

Adam Mintz  07:24

I think it’s great. I mean, well, there are a few things. Number one, of course, is that the number seven is important, right? That’s true, just generally, the number seven, so everything is seven-fold. But there’s no question. You know, last week’s Torah reading was about the fact that if you observe the sevens, everything will be fine. So that when things unravel, they unravel in the same way, or the opposite way of what of the way it worked out. So if it worked out in sevens, it’s going to unravel in, right. And that’s really what you read, you said, you know, and it’ll get the rest that it didn’t get, if you don’t observe the sevens, it’ll unravel, it’ll, it’ll take advantage of that. And it will get the rest of the will lay fallow, even when it’s not supposed to lay fallow. So it’s clearly a play on last week’s Torah reading.

Geoffrey Stern  08:23

Yeah, it’s a continuation there’s and you know, we always talk about the artificial division of one Pasha to another, but this clearly is a continuation, and God so to speak, hasn’t finished speaking. And, and the flip side of being just an ezrach, just a settler, a renter on the land, is that you definitely can, and we talked about it last week, that you can be discarded from the land. But what I am amazed by is the poetry The Haunting way that it describes what it’s like to be in exile, and of course, for the biblical critics who claim that parts of the total were written much later, that may have been written in exile, you can say, hey, you know, I get it. This is written where people have experienced this. And for people that believe that the Torah is prophetic. How prophetic can you get? And there’s this recurring theme of the neurosis, the psychology of being alienated from your land, where you feel you’re being pursued, and there is no pursuer there. That just blew me away.

Adam Mintz  09:49

I would agree with what you said. And I would say it just a little differently. And I would say is, wow, I was psychological, the Torah is.  Right, the worst fear is to feel like you’re being pursued. But to have no pursuer. It’s one thing to be pursued. Because if you’re pursued, you know what, you know where to run away to. But if you just feel pursued all the time, that’s really scary, because there’s no pursuer.  But what you said is also interesting. The poetry… this part of the Torah is called Vetochacha, which is the warnings, and the tradition and synagogue is to read these verses in a in an undertone, which is really interesting. And that it’s symbolically to say, God, I hope you don’t hear this. And you got you got to eat that up. Right? God, I hope you don’t hear this.

Geoffrey Stern  10:57

You know, I understand that the Klausenburger Rebbe, who was a survivor of the Holocaust and lost his whole family. And when they read these verses quietly, he clapped on the table. And he said, Say it loud. It’s happened already….

Adam Mintz  11:17

You know that story from Rabbi Riskin, the same place I know that story … The Klausenburger Rebbe he lost his entire family. And he says, Say it loud we lived it and now we get to live the good things.

Geoffrey Stern  11:29

Well, you know, if Madlik is anything, it’s about clapping on the table and saying listen to the verses. So here we are in Klausenburger fashion. So, I named this episode, a driven leaf. And any American who grew up when I did read the book, The Driven Leaf (by Milton Steinberg), and I believe Rabbi, You gave a podcast series on great American Jewish thinkers…

Adam Mintz  12:04

You’re connected to Park Avenue Synagogue; the rabbi was the rabbi at Park Avenue synagogue. He was the one of the great rabbinic minds of the 20th century, Milton Steinberg and he wrote an amazing book called as As a Driven Leaf.

Geoffrey Stern  12:18

So, in the beginning of The Drivel Leaf, it has a quote, and it brings the word Driven Leaf, the same word עָלֶ֣ה נִדָּ֔ף. But it doesn’t quote our verse in Leviticus, it quotes Job 13: 24-25. It says, (24) Why do You hide Your face, And treat me like an enemy? (25) Will You harass a driven leaf, Will You pursue dried-up straw? So the fascinating thing is that in our text, we are kind of cursed with being a driven leaf, this is what will happen to you, if you don’t observe the commandments. And in Job, we turn that around, and we say to God, will you pursue a driven leaf. And that’s the fascinating aspect of the verses that we’ve just read. On the one hand, they describe where the Jews will be if they don’t listen to Bechukotai, to my commandments. And on the other hand, it so represents a very large portion of Jewish life, where we were pursued by pursuers who weren’t there, where we were a driven leaf. And there is this kind of dialectic this conflict between looking at it as a curse, and understanding it as this sympathetic understanding of what it is to be a nation who has suffered all these things. And that’s why I focus on this amazing prose, this amazing insight that the text shows to the condition of the alienated person and the alienated people.

Adam Mintz  14:24

So I’ll tell you something amazing. You mentioned the fact that you know, the Bible scholars say that this was written later. You see, you don’t need to say that. Nachmanides, Rambam, one of the famous medieval Spanish commentators on the Torah, he says that he says the following thing, this poetry Vetochacha, the warning, is actually mentioned twice in the Torah here, and then at the end of the Torah before the Jews enter the land of Israel, and the Rambam says that the two times are for the two different exiles, the first exile was after the destruction of the First Temple. And the second exile is after the destruction of the Second Temple. So, when you say that the Jews lived this or people in exile live this, the Rambam says the Torah is actually prophesizing, about this reality, which is really just an amazing thing, right? That this is what’s going to happen. This, this, this very graphic description is really what happened to the people.

Geoffrey Stern  15:28

That means that we’re kind of on the same page. And that is an ongoing theme that I’ve always had, you know, a podcast, that whether you look at the Bible, as written by people and put together and higher biblical criticism, or whether you look at it as a believing Jew, the ultimate outcome is the same that either it predicts or it describes our people. And that is what we all, you know, ultimately have ownership of. And that’s what makes it you know, our book, and it belongs to our people in a profound way.

Adam Mintz  16:12

Yeah, and actually in this Vetochacha section, you get that feeling more than in most parts of the Torah. I wonder, and this is just an interesting thing to think about. Why it is that these warnings are done in such a poetic manner. Most of the Torah isn’t poetic like this. Why is this part of the Torah so poetic?

Geoffrey Stern  16:35

You know, I think you can say it’s poetic. And you can say it’s emotional. And you can say it’s empathetic. But I really feel that no matter what side, you stand on the author of these words, God, whoever. There’s real empathy here, and there’s real understanding here, and there’s real sympathy, simpatico here, and it comes across, even, even from the beginning, when it says that I, I took you out of Egypt, to be slaves, no more, who break the bars of your yoke, and made you walk erect. I mean, where have we seen those words written about the Jews coming out of Egypt, we made them free, we made them this, but it’s an intro to what comes to follow that I gave you freedom to walk erect, and then in exile, you walked bowed in exile, you were afraid of the shadows in exile, you were a driven leaf. I think it’s all it’s all it’s, it’s, it’s much more poetic than it describes the beauty of living in the land, it really has this connection to what it was like, out of the land. And that is so so powerful, both for a nation. But I think also for individuals, for individuals who are alienated, for individuals who feel they do not belong. This is the power of this document. And I think this is why we are studying till today.

Adam Mintz  18:26

I think I mean, that point, is a great point, which is that the Torah is as relevant today as it ever was. And the reason we study it every single year is because every year it means something else. And we were talking before that the tragic shooting in the school in Texas. And you know, the answer is, this is the week for Vetochacha. And I’m sure many rabbis are gonna say that, you know, the idea of the warnings of all the bad things. I mean, you know, and then you we live a tragedy like this. And you’ll wonder I mean, this isn’t what’s described in the Torah, but you wonder that the Torah is warning us already about tragedies about being careful about all of those things.

Geoffrey Stern  19:06

You know, I said before, when I picked up on this concept of the driven leaf, how Job even took it in a different perspective, where the Bible, where we’re reading it, looks at it as a punishment, drove, flips it and says, Would you, would you, would you go after a driven leaf, would you persecute a driven leaf? So some of the verses here it says in 26: 19, and I will break your proud glory, I will make your skies like iron and your earth like copper. And I’d like for a second to focus on how that poetic metaphor has played out in Jewish history, I mean, or even in common, is Israeli vernacular, which is one of my favorite, go to aspects of this podcast. You know, Ross, he talks about how you make your heaven as iron and your earth as copper, and he talks about the different characteristics of iron and copper. But, you know, we all know about Iron Dome, the כִּפַּת בַּרְזֶל, which is the modern defense system for the State of Israel. And you got to believe that it kind of comes from this metaphor. And again, it kind of flips it in a sense, saying that these words that were used for the uneasiness of the exile can also be turned around and protected. I mean, my wife and I are now watching on HBO plus an Israeli TV show that is called כיפת ברזל and on HBO plus, it’s called the Commandments. And it uses the word kippah as a yarmulke, a kippah. And it talks about a brigade of the Cheredim who are in the army. But this, this taking of these words, out of our parsha, and manipulating them in different ways, has both protective and otherwise, It’s just fascinating to me, this concept of כיפת ברזל.

Adam Mintz  21:52

you’ll love that phrase,

Geoffrey Stern  21:53

I do. And you know, the other thing that comes to mind is, we all know the beautiful song of Jerusalem of Gold. And, you know, it became the mantra, the theme song of the Six Day War. And there was a singer called Meir Ariel, who was a soldier. And he actually saw his comrades die. And he actually saw the cost of that victory. And he wrote a song sung to the same tune as Jerusalem of Gold, called Jerusalem of iron. And again, it was called ירושלים של ברזל and it talked about the cloud of war, it talked about what it took to gain these pieces of land. And after all, what have we been talking about for the last two weeks? It’s what land means? Are we owners of land? Are we owned by land? And in the the notes for the show, on Sefaria you can see, all the lyrics that he wrote, oh, my Jerusalem of I know, Doc lead, can you not see no wailing at your wall? Now, we set you free. It’s very cynical. It’s very so much against the whole concept of you have a war you publish an album. And, I think there is this aspect here, between the driven leaf that is in our parsha, and the driven leaf that is in a job that kind of addresses this dialectic between what is a curse? And who are we and what have we accomplished? I don’t know. It’s, it’s very fascinating to me how these many of these words were taken.

Adam Mintz  24:03

Well, I mean, let’s, let’s go back to יְרוּשָׁלַיִם שֶׁל זָהָב and ירושלים של ברזל, the fact that again, it’s the flipside, the very song, the very phrase that that we use, to describe the glory of Jerusalem is exactly the same phrase that he uses to describe the tragedy or the challenges. That’s a very Jewish idea. And that’s what we find in vetochacha as compared to last week’s Parsha. The idea that the good and the bad are literally flip sides of one another, I think is a very powerful idea. It’s kind of a healthy way to look at things, if you’re good, then x will happen. And if you’re bad, then negative x will happen, you know, but they’re all related to one another. And I think that to me, that’s a very powerful idea, in the Torah, and it’s seen in this week’s parsha more than anywhere else.

Geoffrey Stern  25:00

And I think ultimately, the fact that the Torah invests this type of literary, poetic symbolism in the exile. At the one hand, yes, it is a curse. But at the other hand, there is this profound empathy and understanding. And I think that’s ultimately what comes out of this. And you know, you look at this, this word, a driven leaf, which is just such a powerful metaphor, and you can’t but think of the Yom Kippur Unetaneh Tokef, where it talks about, We come from dust and return to dust, we labor by our lives for bread, we are like broken shards, like dry grass, like a withered flower, like a passing shadow, and a vanishing cloud, like a breeze that passes like a dust that scatters like a fleeting dream. But you are the king who lives eternal, and you can’t. The poetry of all of those metaphors could only be written by a people who was a passing shadow. And who was liked dust that scatters. And I think that that comes out so profound, that it almost transcends the curse.

Adam Mintz  26:35

That’s interesting. I mean, so now, in the last five minutes, so we’re changing the argument a little bit. And that is that the poetry actually kind of softens the blow.

Geoffrey Stern  26:49

It softens it, but there’s ownership there. There’s, there’s, there’s only one God, or only one author who could have written this, and that is a God, and an author who is with us, that is a God or an author who loves us, or who is a part of us. And that’s why the punch line is so powerful, that it talks about, and I am the God of Yitzchok and Yakov and Avraham. And the punch line is, and I will remember the land and it’s of your land. So, you know, this is a people that was exiled from the land, when Yehudah HaLevi wrote a book called The Kuzari, which was an argument for the superior nature of the Jewish people. The name that he gave the book was the Kuzari, in defense of the Despised Faith. You can say whatever you want about his arguments for how superior we are, but it comes from a place of being at the bottom of the poll, so to speak.

Adam Mintz  28:04

Yeah, there’s no question that That’s right. That’s interesting about Kuzari means that we’re just at the bottom. And it’s only you can only appreciate all these things. It’s people who lived and experienced and wrote about what it means to be on the bottom, and it really goes back to the rabbi Riskin and the Klausenburger. And that is, you know, we know what it is to be on the bottom. But you know, we don’t need to keep that a secret. We know what it is, we need to say that loud, because we’ve been on the bottom so much, we deserve not to be on the top. That’s such a great Jewish idea, isn’t it?

Geoffrey Stern  28:35

It is an it’s an idea for nations. But it’s also an idea for individuals. And it’s almost an implicit argument for saying, unless you really understand what it means to be a driven leaf. Unless you understand what it means to be a cloud in passing. Maybe you can understand what it is to return to a land and to be a privileged to have a land.

Adam Mintz  29:09

Well, that’s the story of the State of Israel. And that is we appreciate what the state of Israel is, because we didn’t have it for 2000 years. Had we had it all along. It wouldn’t have been such a big deal. Right. But I mean, that was the celebration. And you know, Sunday is Jerusalem Day you talk about יְרוּשָׁלַיִם שֶׁל זָהָב, Yom Yerushalayim, the anniversary of the Six Day War, and you know, we still remember that and they still dance in the streets of Jerusalem on Jerusalem Day because it’s still a celebration.

Geoffrey Stern  29:38

Well, absolutely. And it seems to me that in this argument, you understand the importance of being in the land, but you also understand and value that being out of the land and the experience that the Jewish people have out of the land. And you know, I As I was thinking about this, Franz Rosensweig was a great Jewish thinker. And he ultimately decided he parted with his friend Gershom Scholem, who made aliyah to Israel, because he believed that the natural state of the Jew was to be outside of the land was to be a driven leaf was to be a passing cloud. You know, he wrote at one point, “it is only by keeping their ties to the diaspora, that Zionists will be forced to keep their eyes on the goal, which is to remain nomads, ever there.” So this sense that we’ve had over these last weeks, where we look at the sabbatical cycle, and we look at the fact that even when you’re in the land, you’re only a renter, not an owner, you’re an alien, you’re there by the grace of God, and that when you’re outside of the land, you are this driven leaf, which is a curse, but also an amazing insight into what life is. I think what Rosenzweig was saying that you need both and you need the tension between the both. And I think that’s ultimately what the two Bechukotai that we have in this week’s parsha really teaches us if you listen to the Bechukotai, and if you don’t listen to the Bechukotai, the lessons of being in the land, the lessons of being outside of the land, and that’s ultimately what makes us so special.

Adam Mintz  31:39

I think that’s a beautiful way to end I want to wish everybody a Shabbat Shalom, you should enjoy this wonderful Shabbat and this in a sense, frightening parsha and we look forward to seeing you next week as we begin the book Barmidbar; the book of Numbers.

Geoffrey Stern  31:52

Shabbat shalom. Thank you all for joining and listen to our podcast and share it with your friends. Thank you so much

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Listen to last week’s episode: this is MY land

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