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With regret, God

parshat noach, Genesis 6

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on October 27th 2022. According to the popular Bible translations, “in the generation of Noah, God regretted having made humankind”. As if to say that regret is the first Divine emotion represented in the Torah… not mercy, not anger, not joy, not love and not jealousy. We discuss…

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/440854

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. This week we read the parsha called Noach and according to popular Bible translations, “in the generation of Noah, God regretted having made humankind”. It’s the first time an emotion is attributed to God in the Torah.  Not mercy, not anger, not joy, not love and not jealousy but regret is the first Divine emotion we encounter. That’s something worth considering … so join us for: With regret, signed: God

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Well, welcome back. Rabbi Adam, it’s great to have you back. We certainly missed you. And you missed the Bereshit. But you’re here for Noach, and we are all the children of Adam, but we will so all the children of Noah. So, from a certain point of view, this is a beginning all over again. And as I said in the intro, I surprised myself….  I was always intrigued by this verse that we’re going to start with where God regrets having made humans on the earth. But I surprised myself in the sense that it is the first emotion that is ever attributed to God. Maybe I’m wrong, but I went back from the beginning and read all the way up to our Parsha. It says God said it says God rested. And there are emotions attributed to God. I mean, there’s jealousy, there’s anger, there’s all sorts of things. But here is the first time an emotion is associated with God. And we’re going to spend some time defining it. But anyway, you define it וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם ה’. God was, let’s say, regretted. It’s the first emotion attributed to God. That’s a pretty big moment. Do you agree?

Adam Mintz  02:19

That’s a pretty big moment and don’t lose the fact that וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם means he regretted is the same word is Noach.

Geoffrey Stern  02:27

So so we have seen this kind of thing before where a literary piece like the parsha plays, and fiddles and rotates, and bobbles, a word … a name, and as you say, it starts by using this word וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם, but in וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם is the word, Noah. And we’ll see when we read the whole parsha, not tonight, but when you go ahead and read the whole parsha, you’ll see that it continues when the dove gets cast out. And is looking for dry land. It says וְלֹֽא־מָצְאָה֩ הַיּוֹנָ֨ה מָנ֜וֹחַ, the Yona the dove did not find rest. And again, it’s this same word. מָנ֜וֹחַ…..   .נֹ֔חַ I think you’re absolutely right, the fact that it’s the first time an emotion is used, and the fact that here the progenitor of all of human races, is associated with this emotion, again, as you say, makes it even more important. So, with that, let’s go to Genesis 6: 6 and I am literally going to read you a few different translations of the verse. I’ll say it in Hebrew first, because we’re going to spend the whole evening on this one verse וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם ה’ כִּֽי־עָשָׂ֥ה אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֖ם בָּאָ֑רֶץ וַיִּתְעַצֵּ֖ב אֶל־לִבּֽוֹ. So the first translation is the Jewish Publication Society. And it says, And God regretted having made humankind on Earth with a sorrowful heart. So that is what always attracted me to this, I only recently realized that was the first emotion attributed to God. But this concept of regret …. of God regretting his creation, in the second parsha has always intrigued me and made me want to understand is it the correct interpretation? What does it mean to us? I mean, it is pretty powerful that God after creating this whole beautiful world, calling it good calling it at the end Tov M’od, all of a sudden, 6: 6 he’s regretting it.

Adam Mintz  04:55

It’s fascinating, and of course that goes without saying the whole idea that God should regret something, it goes against our idea of God, obviously, right? I mean, we think that God gets it right. If God can’t get it, right, I mean, how can anybody get it? Right?

Geoffrey Stern  05:17

So, you know, I think the bigger question is anthropomorphism, how can you talk about God in any human, finite terms? How can you say that God said, how can you say that God rested on the seventh day? But certainly, when you get to emotions, it raises the ante a little bit. And when God is regretting something, our western I would say Greek philosophically influenced concept of God, is he or she is perfect. So how can something perfect make a mistake? Because isn’t that the basis of regret? So, I think we’ll see in the commentaries or in the translations, I should say, that maybe there’s a little bit of sensitivity to translating it as regret. So, if we go to Everett Fox, he says, God was sorry, that he had made humankind on Earth, and it pained his heart. So we really need to focus on two words here. One is וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם, and the other is וַיִּתְעַצֵּ֖ב. And here Fox says וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם means to be sorry, and וַיִּתְעַצֵּ֖ב …If you notice, in the JPS, it said the second word was with a sorrowful heart. He says it’s a pained heart. But what I think just getting to these two verses shows us…, there are many times especially in Psalms, where the way the Bible tries to convey the sense of a word is almost use synonyms is almost to say the same thing twice. A lot of times, the rabbi tried to pause it and say, well, why did it say a twice it must have different meanings. But I think you’ll agree with me that many times, you don’t have to say it means something different that we can learn from what one word is what the other word is. And here we have in these two translations, a perfect example of that, because the first translation talks about with a sorrowful heart, that is how it translates וַיִּתְעַצֵּ֖ב אֶל־לִבּֽוֹ, and the second translation of Fox translates וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם ה’, as and God was sorry. So certainly we are getting more nuance about what this regret is. It’s regret. It’s sorrowful.  You know, when you regret something, I think the implication is, you think you could have done it differently. And when you are sorry about something, I’m not sure you always the implication is always that you could have done it differently. Certainly, when you are pained by something. It just hurts. So, I do think we’re getting some more nuances, don’t you?

Adam Mintz  08:16

Yeah. Well, I mean, let’s, let’s start at the beginning. And God was sorry. And he was pained. Now, isn’t that obvious? When you’re sorry about something, then you’re upset about it? What is the Torah tell you? The Torah seems to suggest that maybe God was sorry, but that maybe God was in pain by it, because God is God, and God can do everything. And therefore, if God decided to do what he wasn’t sorry about it, he was satisfied with the way that it worked out. But it really turns God into a person by saying that God was sorry. And that being sorry, led him to feel badly about it, right? Both pieces are important, because they kind of emphasize what we’re talking about.

Geoffrey Stern  09:08

Yeah, no question. The two words can amplify each other. But they can also be a progression. We’re not sure yet. You go to the Koran Jerusalem Bible. And it says, And the Lord repented, that he had made man on earth, and it grieved him in his heart. So, I think repented, all of a sudden starts to be it’s really a human type of term. And as you said before, it strikes us as odd but it sounds like he’s going to do something about it. Being sorry about something being pained about something, you don’t necessarily get a sense that you can do or you need to do something. But when you repented about something, then we start to get this feeling of maybe he’s going to do something it’s a forecasting of the rest of the parsha which of course, we know is full of a lot of action as a result of this emotion that God is feeling. The Metsudah Chumash says Adonoy was comforted that he had made man on earth, and he grieved in his heart. So here is the one that uses וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם in the way I think most of us would take it from a number of perspectives. You mentioned at the outset that the word וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם has the word נֹ֔חַ in it. No, I would typically mean the comforter, would it not? Noah, it was the fixer. Noah, it was the guy who ….  as regretful as God was about the rest of the world. Noah was the one who he could cast his lot with. We talked about the Yona the Dove, finding a resting place, again, that comes from finding comfort, finding a happy place, finding a place to lay one’s head, if we want to talk about comfort. Nowadays, when God forbid somebody passes away, and you go to the house of mourning, you are Minachem Avelim.. you are consoling the mourners, and there is a a formula that you need to say  veyinachem haMakom etchem that God should comfort you. So that would be the most natural translation. But it’s very hard to read in the verse, isn’t it? That God was comforted that he had made man on earth, and he grieved in his heart? It’s a hard read.

Adam Mintz  11:50

The hard read is not that the word וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם can mean and he was comforted. That clearly is a legitimate explanation. But how do you explain the second half of the pasuk? If he was comforted, then why was he grieved? I mean, I don’t even understand what the Metsudah Chumash, how it just it’s explaining the verse, What does it mean, he was comforted, but he was grieved. How does that work? Is that is that a progression? That initially he was comforted? And then he grieved? Is that what it’s saying?

Geoffrey Stern  12:31

You know, I guess you could make the case that when you grieve, that is part of the process of getting over one’s pain. But the question is much better than the answer. There is a commentary that is based on Rashi that I’m going to read next comes up with a little bit of an answer. They focus on the fact….  something that we’ve ignored till now. It says וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם ה’ כִּֽי־עָשָׂ֥ה אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֖ם בָּאָ֑רֶץ, that God, we were translating it as regretted that he had made man on the earth. So the commentary by the Rashi Chumash says, And the Lord was comforted, that he had made man on earth, in parentheses, (and not in heaven, where he would have really made trouble. And then he thought, to go ahead and scout him. So, Rashi says that it was consolation to God that he had created man on earth, for had he been one of the heavenly beings, he would have incited them also to rebel against God. So, I don’t know if I buy into the interpretation, but I am thankful for the focusing on Haaretz; on the earth, what does it mean, even if we don’t buy this translation? And we talk about it means regret? It means sorry? What is the purpose of Haaretz; in the land? I think that’s a valid question.

Adam Mintz  14:11

I think that’s a very valid question. I think that what we see in these couple of parshiot, Bereshit and Noach is that there’s kind of this this tension between the human beings and the angelic figures. At the end of last week’s parsha, right before Noach, we have this crazy story about the B’ney Ha’Elohim the sons of gods who come and they come down and they take et banot Haaretz. They take the the girls, the women, as as wives, and it seems to be that there’s some confusion about you know, those who live in heaven and those who live on Earth. And it could be it could be that that’s a preliminary to the story of the flood, because God needed to start again, there needed to be a clearer distinction between those people who lived in heaven and those people who lived on earth. And that that might be what he’s referring to here. That might be what Rashi is referring to when he when he emphasizes B’Aretzt, because that’s playing immediately, after the story of the b’nei Ha’Elohim, which is the sons of God, and where in the world do they come from? What’s that all about?

Geoffrey Stern  15:33

So, one of the sub-texts of last week’s conversation was how earthly the Bible begins. And of course, as a Christian, I was interested in my friend Richard’s approach to that, because what he’s trying to do is bring Christianity which can be other-worldly, and talk about the pearly gates all the time and say, it’s all about Earth. And at the end of the day, man was created, B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, to steward and to exert agency over the earth. So, I take a little bit of a poetic license, but what I see and wash his comment here is that the whole experiment, the whole endeavor, the whole exercise of creation, …. and we can delve into the reasons why a God would want to create this earth out of nothing. But at the end of the day, that’s what the regrets were, the regrets were that he or she had this amazing project, and the project was to create this earthly existence. And whatever God was doing before that, you know, no regrets. But this project, this so earthly project, that is all we know, God regretted it. So, from that perspective, I’m at the same time very much with Rashi. And I guess what he was comforted was in Rashi’s words, that, you know, there were other things, but in terms of this endeavor, this model of the earth, that he was a total disaster. And I think at this point, we can kind of step back for a second and say, Okay, so we’re talking about the first emotional response of God. And if we go through the long list of different ways we’ve translated it, whether it’s regret, or sorrow, or pain, or repented, or even he or she was comforted. It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? That this is the first exposure that we have to Gods emotions with us. And maybe the emphasis needs to be “with us”. It’s an emotional interaction with his creations, and we’re somehow linked to each other.

Adam Mintz  18:07

And God regrets it and therefore destroys his own creation. I’m going a little far afield. But I think the point is the right point. And that is that, you know, when God destroys humanity, the person who’s most negatively affected by that is God. Right? Because God made something. God created a whole world and God thought it was a mistake. Isn’t that unbelievable? Isn’t that crazy?

Geoffrey Stern  18:41

It absolutely is. I’m gonna go to one more translation that I I was I was blown away because it’s so radically different than everyone else. The first translations of the Bible were not commentaries. They were Aramaic translations. So there’s Onkolus and Targum Yonatan and both of them, I think, are trying to address the problem that you just raised, which is it’s crazy. How can God regret something that he created? And what they do is they introduce something into the regret. They say regretted in His Word וְתַב ה’ בְּמֵימְרֵהּ, they go back to the fact that God created the world with a word with language, and language again, it’s something that we can understand, right, Leshon bnai Adam. So it’s almost as though he regrets the story. He regrets the narrative. I think what they’re trying to do is to take it away from physicality and actuality and more into the level of language, (literature) and words. It’s a fascinating move. But clearly, I think that’s what lies behind what they’ve done.

Adam Mintz  20:03

I mean, there’s no question that That’s right. And וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם, God regretted it, and in a way, God regretted it. And it’s exactly the same emotion. On the flip side, that that comforted God through the figure of no luck.

Geoffrey Stern  20:24

There’s there’s two sides

Adam Mintz  20:26

It’s the same word is important, because it’s two sides of the same coin.

Geoffrey Stern  20:31

Yeah. It’s this dialectic. It’s this. There’s this ambivalence here. So, I said at the beginning, that we’re really talking about two words. And I want to move on a little bit to the second word, which is וַיִּתְעַצֵּ֖ב. And that, as we have seen, has also been translated in multiple ways. pained, grieved… is the most normal translation. It’s an amazing word. Because if you go back to Genesis 3, when man and woman sin for the first time, and they are punished in Genesis 3: 16, it says to the woman he said, I will multiply your pain from your pregnancy, אַרְבֶּה֙ עִצְּבוֹנֵ֣ךְ. With pains shall you bear children, בְּעֶ֖צֶב תֵּֽלְדִ֣י בָנִ֑ים. So twice, it uses the same word as an outcome of a bad choice. And then with Adam too it says, And cause the ground, on your account, painstaking labor, you’re gonna have to eat by the sweat of your brow, בְּעִצָּבוֹן֙ תֹּֽאכְלֶ֔נָּה כֹּ֖ל יְמֵ֥י חַיֶּֽיךָ . So in modern day Hebrew, if you’re sad, you’re עצוב. If you make me sad, if you annoy me, you לעצבן.

Adam Mintz  22:18

The word you’re looking for is עצוב if you’re sad, you עצוב.

Geoffrey Stern  22:24

Absolutely. And so it’s fascinating that that same word, which was used as the outcome of Adam and Eve’s first sin, is also applied to God, when He recognizes that his experiment has gone awry.  it kind of emphasizes what we were saying before, which is that God and His creations, or Her creations are linked or joined. And the pain that is suffered by man, when he falls short, is also suffered by God when he falls short. And maybe from that point of view, it’s not so strange that this is the first emotion that we find attributed to God.

Adam Mintz  23:15

It’s a reflection of falling short, and therefore God regrets creating man, God feels as if he fell short.

Geoffrey Stern  23:25

And I said at the beginning, that it was amazing that the first emotion was not love. It was not jealousy, it was not anger, it wasn’t mercy. But I have to take that back a little bit. Because mercy is רַחֵם. And that too, is related to נחם. So, there is this symbiotic relationship, where for better or worse, God has created this creation. And as the Creator, He is inextricably linked to the creation. And that’s what we find in chapter two, that God is part of this story. He’s a part of our story. And he or she can’t get out of it. And we’re in it kind of together. And that becomes kind of fascinating. And that ties in what what Onkelos and the Targum Yonatan was saying is it’s about this story. It’s about the words, I find that fascinating.

Adam Mintz  24:28

I think it’s fascinating. Now, the fact that God is a partner with human beings in the story of creation is a very troubling aspect, because it means God changes His mind and kaboom. Everything is blown up. Now, of course, that’s interesting. And that’s why this is another topic. That’s why God needs the rainbow. The reason God needs the rainbow is because God needs to promise everybody, don’t worry about it. I’m not going to ever do this again, because you better believe that they were nervous that God was going to do this again. Right?

Geoffrey Stern  24:59

So it means the story is moving forward. And there are new rules as a result, chapter three is going to be different than chapter two, there’s a progression God,

Adam Mintz  25:08

There are new rules for God. And after Noah leaves the ark, there are new rules for human beings, that you’re that human beings. They’re not going to live together with the animals, they’re going to eat the animals. But they can’t eat animals that are still alive. There are a certain set of rules, because I think that the story in last week’s parsha; creation, there weren’t quite enough rules, it was kind of a free for all. And that’s what you have the B’nai ha’Elohim you have the children of God coming down. That’s all too complicated. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

Geoffrey Stern  25:49

So you know, in years past, I think I’ve said that I thought that the story of Genesis is all about choosing…. making choices, we’re going to start getting Cain Abel, we’re going to start getting we started with Noah, that Noah was chosen, that Cain and Abel, one was chosen. And then of course, our patriarchs, and I thought it was all about choosing, but I’m starting to think a little bit differently, that there’s a parallel story going on. And when you choose something, you regret a previous choice, when you have to say I put my lot, I put my chips with all of mankind. And then you have to go just with Noah, there’s the flip side of choosing is regrets. And if God begins the story with B’nei Adam… the people, the children of Adam, or the Children of the Earth, it’s universal. And then starts again with Noach. So now we’re bnai Noach. But this is the last time that we’re all part of the the right side of the choice.

Adam Mintz  27:01

Well, that changes in the Tower of Babel. Because in the Tower of Babel, you see the risk, when everybody’s together, when everybody’s together, then there’s a risk that they’re going to try to take over and be like God, so therefore after that story, we’re never united the same way.

Geoffrey Stern  27:22

And again, it’s a what I want to focus on for a second is the fact that it’s ultimately the story of God’s regrets, as much as it is the story of Gods positive choices. And if you look at modern Hebrew, the word עצוב is sad as you point out, but the word עצב means nerve. And עצבני means both sadness, as well as nervous and irritated. So, in a sense, we have a level of, I wouldn’t venture to say it’s depression. But because his creations are falling short, because he has this regret, because he has to comfort himself. There is no question that he is fear, feeling sadness, and pain. And I’m currently reading a book, I don’t know whether you’ve read it or not, it was on the bestseller list about a year ago. It’s called Genius and Anxiety How Jews change the world.

Adam Mintz  28:33

 I do know the book, I didn’t read it. But I know the book.

Geoffrey Stern  28:35

The author, Norman Lebrecht, definitely makes the argument that there were many Jews who happen to be geniuses or geniuses that happened to be Jews, it’s a little bit harder to find out what his message is about anxiety, but he tries to talk about the creativity created by anxiety. And for those of us who look at those parts of the Torah that talk about God in anthropomorphic ways, and we say that is not because God has an arm or God gets angry. But this is a reflection of ourselves. I think it becomes fascinating then, to see that the first emotion attributed to God is this sense of anxiety, this sense of depression, if you will, and if you start thinking, even in his book, he mentioned the Yisrael Salanter, who started the Mussar Movement, who five years spent his life in Germany because he was depressed, Kotzke Rebbe, Kierkegaard, these great spiritual forces, the Breslever Rebbe they all encountered deep, deep periods of depression. And I think that’s part of the story too, that you know, we talk about being godly and being in the image of God, but when you aspire that high, when you when you try to, to create a model such as this, you are opening yourself up for these feelings.

Adam Mintz  28:49

Depression, the word that comes to mind to me is disappointment. Disappointment means that you don’t reach your goal. And that’s actually how God felt God imagined that creation would be x, whatever God thought, and he was disappointed. And disappointment leads to sadness and disappointment leads to depression, like you said, I think that’s exactly the point. You see, what you’re really pointing out from the book and from Yisrael Salanter and all those people is that depression is actually a good thing.  That shows that you’re thinking that shows that you that you’re desiring of something, you want things to be great, and you’re disappointed if you can’t get there, and therefore you depress when that doesn’t happen. But ultimately, it’s a good thing to want to be great. If you don’t want to be great, you’re never going to be disappointed.

Geoffrey Stern  31:06

Yeah, I think, you know, we have to point out that we’re clearly not talking about clinical depression. And we’re not talking about medical depression.

Adam Mintz  31:12

That’s why I said it’s, it’s depression, from the sense of disappointment. From the word עצוב you’re disappointed, disappointed, therefore, you’re sad, therefore, you’re depressed in that sense. It’s a sense that you’re just disappointed. And that’s a good thing. And maybe what we learned from God is the fact that it’s good to be disappointed, we should all want to conquer the world. And therefore, when we can do it, we’ll be disappointed, but at least we were trying.

Geoffrey Stern  31:41

So when I was at the Mussar Yeshiva, with Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, and we had a Va’ad, which would meet late at night, once a week, and once he talked about regret, disappointment, and he says, you know, if you sin and you feel depressed or disappointed afterwards, I’ll turn to you and say, Well, who were you before? Were you Moshe? Rabbeinu. It’s kind of like the old Musar joke. Where all the Mussarniks say I’m nothing, I’m nothing and a new student comes in, and he’s sitting next to one of the senior students. And he goes, I’m nothing, I’m nothing. And they go, Who the hell are you to say you’re nothing. The point he’s making is we started by saying how strange it is that God could be disappointed. But if you look at that message, what it’s saying is actually, the only figure who can be disappointed, who deserves to be disappointed is God, the rest of us need to use our disappointment as a catalyst as a motivation. But we can’t let it get it down. And I think of all the, the great leaders that I mentioned, who, who, who had spouts, of depression, The Breslow Rebbi was the one who focused on joy as a result of that to get out of it.

Adam Mintz  32:59

That’s a great twist to the discussion. So we started with a hard verse about God. And we turned it around to talk about what we need to do and how we need to turn that depression into joy. I think that’s a great lesson for Parshat Noach. It’s great to be back. Enjoy parshat Noach, everybody. Geoffrey, I’m so happy to be back. I look forward to talking about Avraham and parshat Lech Lecha next week. Shabbat Shalom to everybody.

Geoffrey Stern  33:30

Shabbat shalom. Shabbat Menucha to everyone, and we’ll see you next week.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/440854

Listen to last year’s podcast: Noah’s Rainbow

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Shared Beginnings

parshat bereshit – genesis 1 – 6

Join Geoffrey Stern and Dr. J. Richard Middleton recorded on October 20th 2022 on clubhouse. As we read the Torah anew we are joined by a leading Christian Hebrew Bible scholar to get fresh insight into the message of creation, the original sin and man’s creation in God’s Image. Most of all we ask a scholar who is revolutionizing Christian thought, what he sees in our Torah….. and what he can help us see as well.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/438848

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  We also host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. Today as we begin reading the Torah all over again I am thrilled to be joined by a leading Christian Hebrew Bible scholar Dr. Richard Middleton.  I studied Torah with Richard at the Hadar Institute a number of years ago and I am sure that we will get a fresh insight into the message of Bereshit.  Richard is revolutionizing the way Christians read our Torah and I’m sure he will do the same for us. So crack open your Humash and join us for Shared Beginnings.

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Well, welcome Richard to Madlik. And because you joined just today in order to honor us with your presence, welcome to clubhouse it’s a thrill to have you. And I am going to introduce you and give you a chance to tell us about your journey with a question. I mean, you have a PhD in theology from the Institute for Christian studies in Amsterdam. You have an MA in philosophy from the University of Guelph Graduate Studies religion at Syracuse University and a BA in theology from the Jamaica Theology seminary. But to me, your biggest yichus your biggest claim to fame, and what I was so impressed with is, as I said in the intro, four, maybe five years ago, I signed up for the executive seminar at Hadar yeshiva, the Hudson Institute in New York, where there is a extremely rigorous Torah study. And that’s where I met you. We studied B’Charuta, preparing going over a class or two. We had lunch together, we even joked around wearing different kippot. And I still think back to to those moments, but you ultimately are a student of Torah. As the Jewish people begin reading the cycle, from Bereshit, from Genesis all over again, what I like to do on Madlik, is to look at the Torah through a new lens. And it seemed to me how new of a lens how much more of a different lens could we get, then a Christian Bible scholar? So I’m going to start with the first Rashi commentary on the whole Bible. And Rashi is an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Ben Yitzchaki, he is the soundtrack  behind Torah study for Jews. He writes a comment on every verse or two, as we’ll see in the Bible in the Talmud, the oral law, and he lived in the 12th century. So he starts as we all know, the Toa begins בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹקִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ when God began to create heaven and earth, and he asks, In the name of a Rabbi Isaac, he says, why did the Torah, which is actually a book of law, begin here? Why didn’t it begin with the first commandment? And clearly what he’s saying is from a Torah, abiding Jew who follows the 613 commandments….  What’s the need for all of this narrative? Why not just begin from Exodus where it commands us to keep the Chodesh, the month of Nisan as your first month? And in many cases, I think Rashi’s questions are even better than his answers. In past years, we’ve gotten into the answer to this question, but I think it’s a fascinating question to ask as we start reading the book of Genesis, why in God’s name, are we reading this? And so I want to turn to you, Richard, and this is your opportunity to tell us about your journey. What is a nice Christian, scholar like yourself, spending so much time in Genesis? You recently published a book about Abraham’s silence, which we’ll be studying in a few weeks, and the book that I re-read in preparation for today’s talk is a New Heaven and a New Earth reclaiming Biblical Eschatology, and it’s literally all about the section that we’re dealing with; creation theology. So, Richard, what’s a nice Christian boy like you doing in a place like this?

Richard Middelton 05:00

That’s a great question. So by the way, let me let me start by saying, I’m a friend. Well, I’m a colleague of Adele Reinhartz. So, you may know her. And she’s a Jewish scholar on the Gospel of John. And she was once asked at her synagogue, what’s a nice Jewish girl like you doing studying the Gospel of John? I heard a whole lecture where she answered that question. Basically, I have found that the Torah that our Tanakh actually, is very grounding for my own faith, I’m a Christian. So, I believe in the New Testament. But for me, you cannot understand the New Testament except as a Jewish Book, it comes from the Old Testament, through the traditions of Second Temple Judaism. And so, for me, to even understand my own faith better, I had to dig deeper into this text. And I came to so love it. And I love Hebrew, much more than I love Greek. And so I decided that this is what I really wanted to study this and philosophy, those are my two primary areas of study.

Geoffrey Stern  05:59

So, I think that would be the typical answer of a Christian scholar, where you’re trying to trace the history of ideas, you’re trying to trace the past of the Christian religion, Jesus was Jewish, many of His disciples were Jewish. But as I read through your book, you go even deeper than that, you talk about the fact that the story of creation is so Earthly, is so physical, and that you talk about how Christianity over time has talked about things like a soul, as opposed to an organic body of spirit and flesh, how it’s made those distinctions, you really, at least in the in the book that I’ve just finished reading, talk about not only looking up the antecedents of Christianity, but also discovering ideas that may have been sublimated, ideas that can make you a better Christian. Talk about that for a second,

Richard Middelton 07:12

Right. So, I want to make clear that when I say I’m looking into the Tanach, as a basis for the New Testament is not defined how the New Testament is a fulfillment, or something like that. That’s what I’m looking for. I’m looking for to understand how the scriptures of Judaism are the fundamental vision that we need to look at the world through to be able to even understand what’s going on in the New Testament, when Jesus was a rabbi, you know, so he used the kinds of language and conceptuality of the Hebrew Bible. And so, I’m interested in that because it has changed my own faith, to root me more firmly in creation, not to live in some kind of airy, fairy hyper spiritual reality, which is a problem for some Jews as well as for Christians. But it’s been, you know, I’ve struggled with this Christian tradition that has disembodied our faith, and look to heaven hereafter, whereas the trajectory of the scriptures is that God comes to earth, to live with his people, you know, in the tabernacle, the temple, journeying with Israel through the wilderness, and people see God and they wonder why they don’t die. Can you see God, but God is embodied in some way. So for me the earthiness of the scriptures, and the challenge to have one’s entire life be shaped by a vision of who God is, and what God wants to do, to make this world into a basically, you know, a place of fulfillment and shalom. To me, that’s what I believe Christianity ought to be about as well as Judaism. So the scriptures of the what we call the Old Testament, which is not a denigration for me, because I view the the older as the more venerable. And that’s the ground of my own faith. And it’s fed me spiritually, to immerse myself in these ancient texts without jumping to the New Testament too quickly.

Geoffrey Stern  09:04

Yeah. I love that I said that that many times, there are two comments of Rashi on every verse, the second comment of Rashi, on the first verse of genesis, is he focuses on the word Bereshit. In the beginning, or as he began, which includes   רֵאשִׁית, and there is a Midrashic interpretation, that the Torah is called בִּשְׁבִיל הַתּוֹרָה שֶׁנִקְרֵאת רֵאשִׁית. That wisdom is called Reishit רֵ֘אשִׁ֤ית חָכְמָ֨ה ׀ יִרְאַ֬ת ָ֗ה Wisdom we all know, is a different part of the Torah, it’s Wisdom literature. But you started in your first answer by talking about this, Jewish scholar who was a scholar in John, and we all know that in the Gospel of John, it says “In the beginning was the Logos”. And I consider that to say that there was what was called a pre-existing wisdom, a pre-existing Torah a preexisting spirit to the world. It’s really almost a fight against this concept of creation from nothing. Creation ex nihilo, or what we in Hebrew called, Yesh Me’Ayin Because at the end of the day, Richard, we might not know why a god would create a physical world, but it was a break a major disruption in the Constitution of the universe, if everything was God, if there was this pre-existing harmony, and all of a sudden, this earthly world was created. If you can’t swallow that, you start to say, well, maybe the world was created from something that already existed, I almost feel that there are parts of both of our tradition that actually have a problem with the coincidence, with the contingency of our earthly world. Am I totally off base here?

Richard Middelton 11:25

Yes, and no, it depends which theologians you’re reading and what they say, I came to grips with the contingency of the world actually, through studying philosophy. Through reading Heidegger, believe it or not, and the Nature of Being and the question of why is there something rather than nothing that Heidegger used to raise and I came to the point that I have to accept that everything in reality is contingent, nothing is necessary. And some Christian theologians, and perhaps some Jewish theologians, do want to have a kind of a theoretical structure of being that somehow is necessary and immutable. But that’s not the way I experienced the world at all. Every moment is a gift. Contingency has these two sides that on the one hand, you have to receive the world as a gift, because nothing is guaranteed. The other hand, it opens you up to the possibility of disruption, and the possibility of crisis, because nothing is guaranteed. And we live in this kind of a world. This is a kind of world, if you want to be faithful to God, it’s got to be in this kind of world, there is no other kind of world.

Geoffrey Stern  12:30

It gets messy, it gets messy when you have these contingencies. In your book, you do a wonderful job of tracing the philosophy started with Plato going to Aristotle, and ultimately to Plotinus. We all know the story of Plato, where you see kind of shadows passing the cave, and the concept you explain is that there is a physical chair. And then there is an ideal, a form of a chair. And Plato and even Aristotle, I think used it as much as a thought experiment as anything else. But by the time you got to Plotinus, he actually believed in this, I believe, and you can confirm this had a major impact on Christianity, that there actually were two parallel universes, and there was a universe of the Spirit. And then there was a very less perfect universe of this physical earth. And you talk about all the wonderful Christian hymns, where we are going to go to those pearly gates, where the objective is almost to be that pure spirit. And almost, when one passes from this world to the next, it’s almost a release. And I really believe that that is a major struggle that we find in this image of creation that we’re looking at today. Because on the one hand, you can try to impose on it some pre-existing logo, or wisdom, and say that it was really all preordained. Or you can say that it was a major break. And that here for whatever reason, the Godhead created a physical, messy, earthy world. But in the words of the great movie, it’s as good as it gets, and we have to make the best of it. Did I did I do you justice?

Richard Middelton 14:29

Yeah, I mean, Plotinus is more complicated than that. Plotinus is not a duelist. He’s a Monist. He thinks that the only true reality is immaterial. And this world is a kind of an emanation from that reality. A lot of people want to compare Plotinus with Hindu philosophy, the Upanishads because there’s similarities, but I think there’s some differences too. But the core with Plotinus is this that he gets this from Plato, that to be a proper human being needs to transcend materiality, to transcend the physical senses and the desires of the flesh. And for Plotinus also means to transcend reason to go to a mystical experience with the One that’s his term for God, to become one with the one. And so this idea that you must transcend this world for spirituality to be effective, has infected, I think not just Christianity, but some Judaism too. And I want to say is the other way around, we’re not going anywhere. But we need to embody tikkun olam, we need to be, you know, establishing this world, or affecting this world, by the way we live so that God is manifest in the world. So it’s a different, it’s not earth to heaven, it’s actually Heaven to Earth, if you want to use that kind of language. And everything changes your whole orientation in life, the whole purpose of life. But there’s a whole lot more going on than just that. But for me, that’s why I had to study philosophy, understand where these ideas came from, and then to study scripture to understand what’s a better way to read the text, without those lenses which distort the text.

Geoffrey Stern  16:03

And I totally agree with you, by the way, that this is not a discussion only to have in Christian theology. It’s also one in Judaism, I think that there’s all the mysticism all of the thought processes that tries to somehow get away from this Shamayim al Ha’aretz. It’s this heaven on earth with the focus on the earth part has to really read the chapters that we are reading this week, whether with a new lens, or a naked lens to see that God created the world. And we’re going to talk in a second about what the first thing that happened as a result of that was but it was, and it is messy, and it’s celebrated. And I think that’s the takeaway that I get not only from reading the text, but also reading some of the things that you have written about this text. You know, earlier, you said that your reason for reading the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament was not to look for the antecedent of or the, the prequel to Christianity, but to understand it well, and I think, you know, many Jews have seen those versions of the New Testament, where all of the verses that talk about anything that can be construed as the future religion of Christianity are underlined. And I think it’s very refreshing that we can move beyond that and talk as two students of the Hebrew Bible, and just see, what does it mean in the moment? And what does it mean for us, and I just feel that as we start reading the book anew, it’s wonderful to know that there are different faith groups that are reading these same texts, and reading them honestly, just to get the right message, whether it’s something that agrees with their understanding of their faith, or they’re willing to re-evaluate. So the second thing that I think most Jews would say; Torah readers would say, that differentiates our reading of these verses is Original Sin is the quote, unquote, “The Fall”, I did a Google search for original sin in the Hebrew Bible. And I maybe I didn’t spend a long enough time. But the amount of scholars in Judaism that say, There’s no such thing as original sin in Judaism is staggering. But the truth is, and in in our source notes, and this is a podcast and when you listen to the podcast, you will see a reference to the Sefaria sources. I quote, one source that talks about the beautiful custom that we have for women, who are separate Challah But the Talmud says that when a woman has a girl, she is impure for twice the amount of time as she would be for a male. And one of the commentators Rabaynu Bechaya says literally, because the she is atoning for the sin of the first woman of Chava (Eve). So I think to say and he goes on to say, and that’s why women light the candles, and that’s why women separate holla to say that Jews don’t see the first sin as something that’s impactful, I think, is being dishonest. But clearly, it is a major point of; of looking at and to say what happened as a result of that and is man evil by nature. Was it a change in degree? Was it a change in kind, how has your reading of Original Sin changed over time, as you read a scripture anew,

Richard Middelton 20:10

I’ve been influenced by both biblical scholars who pay attention to the text of Genesis 2 and 3 very carefully the garden story, but also by the tradition of John Wesley, I’m in the Wesleyan theological tradition. And Wesley was influenced by what we call the Eastern Church Fathers, the Greek reading early Christians of the first few centuries, and they did not have original sin, it was St. Augustine and the Western the Latin tradition that had Original Sin. So, there is a much more empirical understanding of how sin entered the world. So, my own interpretation as I read the text, and of course, no one reads the text with no assumptions. So, my assumptions have to do with I look at the actual world, we live in the corruption of the world, there is real corruption in the world. I look at my own life experience. And I bring that to the text. I also look at the history of hominin evolution, which I am aware of how does this relate to the development of human beings, as you know, human beings before the face of God, and the way I understand it is, this is a story that is archetypal, that tells us about what happens in every human life. But it also is, I think, we can say it’s a story of what happened to the human race somehow. But we can’t get a one-to-one correspondence between the symbols in the story, and empirical data. We don’t do that. But something happened as humans became human, as they became aware of morality, that they overstepped the bounds of their own conscience, and they corrupted themselves in some way. But that corruption is not, as Original Sin puts it, a genetic defect passed on to all people. It is, I think, a social defect, a cultural defect, as we are all socialized into corrupt ways of living. And we have to learn alternative ways of living. That’s what Torah is for, right? Or a New Testament, the sermon on the mount or the letters of Paul is to encourage people to live righteously, that we learn a new way of living to counter the social worlds that we have entered into, because there was both great good and great evil among human beings. And I think these stories tell us that humans have become corrupt in some way. I don’t think we can figure out exactly how that is, though. I am reading the manuscript of a brilliant Christian geneticist, who looks at what evolutionary theory says about how humans became moral. And he’s connecting that to Biblical stuff. And it’s really interesting, he goes beyond anything I’ve ever read before. And I’m giving him feedback on the biblical side of it. But I’m learning about the evolutionary development of morality in the human race. So I think that there is something that went wrong with the human race somehow, we’re not totally evil, but we have a tendency to evil that we have to overcome. And I That’s my summary, very quick summary.

Geoffrey Stern  23:03

I think when I tried to put together the two points, to connect the dots of where we started, and when we talk about evil, the beginning of evil. I mean, in a sense, evil is slash corruption is slash imperfection, it almost is part and parcel of having a contingent, earthly, finite, physical world. I think I heard you say that, while we all listened to the Western interpretation of Christianity about this evil and I think it was propounded by the Church Fathers, fairly late, maybe Augustine…. But but the point is, that what you were saying is it’s more of a narrative, it’s more an understanding of the human condition. And I look at the rabbinic interpretations. And this is after saying that, I do believe that there is this concept of a Fall and the birth of evil and I quoted that, that one text to prove it, I’m sure there are more, but the flip side is, it says after the world is created, and it was Tov M’od, it was very good, where every other day, it says good. At the end, it says it was very good. And Bereshit Rabbah. One of the early interpretations, says Rav Nachman said, in Rabbi Samuels name behold, it was good refers to the good desire the Yetzer Tov and behold, it was very good refers to the evil desire they Yetzer Ha’rah, now this occurs before the first sin. So there already is this sense that yes, the human condition on like, a time Where there was only the infinite, right Before the time where there was this major disruption. And for whatever reason, God created a physical world where there was no Yetzer ha’rah, when God created our world, there was the possibility of good, and there was the possibility of evil. And that was very good. And if you think of the whole narrative of the fall, as something that explains the most cataclysmic question that religion has, which is mortality, why do we die? And if you project onto the story and say, Well, it’s because we sinned. So then comes along Bereshit Rabba a few chapters earlier. And it says, In a copy of Rabbi Meir’s Torah, and behold, it was very good. And behold, death was good. It’s a little bit of a play on Me’od and Mavet. And that’s why it’s a question of whether this is a textual emendation. Or it’s a commentary. But again, this is before the sin of the tree of life of tree of knowledge. To me, it is amazing, because it does put that into a different context, it does put it into the context of; this is the human condition. And guess what? It’s good. It’s what we were given.

Richard Middelton 26:27

So you see, I would say that the possibility of going wrong is always there in a contingent world. I don’t think that the fact of going wrong is necessary, but it is certainly a significant possibility. Now, some people will say that Tov Me’od comes not after God created human beings, but after God has finished all creation, and looks over the whole thing. And notice, he never said right after the creation of humans, that it was good. It was delayed to the entire creation, because maybe humans are not, we’re not sure if they’re going to be good yet, because they have freedom. So that’s one possibility. But when you go to actually the narrative of Genesis 2, 4 through to the end of chapter 3, it’s quite clear from a close Peshat reading, that mortality is not intrinsically tied to sin, mortality precedes sin, for God makes the human being out of the dust of the ground. Dust throughout the entire Bible is a metaphor for mortality. You know, remember that he remembers that we are just dust. That’s why God is compassionate knows Psalm 103, or Psalm 22, in the lament, you know, I’ve gone down into the dust of death. And you know, dust you are into dust, you shall return. This is a metaphor for mortality, human beings are created mortal I think the way the story goes is, but they’re excluded from eating of the tree of life because of their corruption. Because to eat of the Tree of Life in a sphere of corruption, would make corruption permanent. So, the eternal life is denied access to us, because of sin. Mortality, not a consequence of the fall. It’s just a normal human condition. But in both Christianity and Judaism, the notion of resurrection says that one day, there will be a time when God will perfect the world and there’ll be no possibility of going back again. But that’s a whole different question. I don’t connect mortality to sin, as most of the Christian tradition does, starting in the Middle Ages, but the early church fathers didn’t do that, which I find interesting. They were more accurate to the text.

Geoffrey Stern  28:38

Yep. And I think that is a fascinating insight coming from a Christian because I think most of us on the outside looking in, would say knee jerk, that is the most basic assumption of Christianity. You know, there’s a book written by Harvey Cox, who was a Protestant theologian at Yale. And he ended up marrying a Jewish woman and he wrote a book called Shared blessings. And he says, the first time he ever met a Jew, he said to the Jew, he says, Oh, you’re the guys who don’t believe the Messiah has come. And of course, for most Jews, that’s not how we define Judaism. Some of us don’t even believe in the Messiah. But I would think that most of us Jews looking at Christians believe that critical to the faith is that man can only get salvation can only fix the original sin by this leap of faith. And I think what you’re saying to my ears is then becomes kind of kind of radical. And again, it gets back to this rereading of our text, as it’s not all about escaping this earth. It’s not all about escaping the human condition. It’s possibly about making it better.

Richard Middelton 29:59

Yes. I definitely think that’s the dominant trend of scripture of both Testaments. That’s not a contradiction between Christianity and Judaism in their original texts anyway. In the received tradition, it may be but not in the text itself.

Geoffrey Stern  30:13

So I want to get back to Rashi’s original question. Why are we reading this? And I think one of the biggest takeaways that I took from your book is that you focus on what is the purpose of creation? That’s what this book is all about. And that’s certainly what these chapters are all about. That would be the obvious answer to Rashi. Rashi, it’s not all about just keeping the commandments. It’s like, what are we doing on this world? What is the plan that God has for us in philosophy, you know, that’s called teleology, it means, what is the end goal? What is the thing and you focus on two verses, Genesis 1: 26, God says, Let us make humankind in our image, after Our likeness, they shall rule the fish of the sea, and the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things, and God created humankind in the divine image, creating it in the image of God creating them male and female, what is that message to you?

Richard Middelton 31:24

And I back up a little and say something about why we’re reading creation and then go to the teleology?…  So the question that Rashi had, the way you articulated it was, you know, why are we reading all these narratives? Why not just get to the Torah? Because it’s the law after all right? Well, even the beginning of the 10 words, right, says, I’m the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt out of the house of bondage. There is a summary of the narrative of Exodus that ground the Torah, because the Torah is a response to the God, who was already entered into relationship with us was already acted on our behalf. And likewise, creation is really the first act of God in our behalf. Before God redeems us in any historical situation. God brings us into being and gives us a purpose in the creation accounts of the ancient world that Israel lived in. Usually, the people who are created by their god is that particular nation or that particular culture that’s who was created, in the Enuma Elish the Babylonian creation story, the gods created the black headed people.  the name for the Mesopotamians. They don’t create the other people of the world, there’s no accounting for them. The Bible says God created all peoples and gives you these complex genealogies that lead to the line of Seth, and then the line of Abraham. And then that goes to Jacob and Joseph and the people of Israel. So Israel is within the larger scope. This God is not just an ethnocentric deity, this God creates all peoples, even the people outside of the Covenant are created by God, and God has a purpose for human beings. So most of the ancient Near East viewed their temples as microcosms of the universe. And Israel also does …. you have the candelabra which is like the stars, and you have imagery from, the fruits and vines, and so on, on the doors of the temple, and it was on the tabernacle too, you have a cosmic imagery, that this is like a miniature tabernacle, and it particularly Jewish scholars, like John Levinson has made this a very important point. But one of the unusual things about the view of the world in the Israelite literature was, they didn’t just do their temples, as a microcosm of the universe. They viewed the universe as a macro cosmic temple. It doesn’t seem to any other nation did that. So God makes a world you know, there is a floor …. the earth. Ha’aretz and then there is a, a roof, you know, the rakia, and it holds back the waters and then creatures are living in this world, and God wants to make this his temple. And in the later scriptures, you find the notion that God dwells in heaven, right. And when Moses takes the elders of Israel up the mountain in Exodus 24, they see God on a throne seated upon something blue, which is the sky, God is reigning in heaven … now it’s an image. It’s a metaphor. But the idea is that God is in the Holy of Holies, of the cosmic temple, and God places in the cosmic temple, an image and every pagan temple would have an image, but this image is human. And this image is the human being who is meant to manifest to channel the presence of deity from heaven to earth, by the way they live in the ordinary processes of human life. So ruling over animals in Genesis, as many scholars will tell you refers to animal domestication. And you know, the man names the animals in Genesis too which is asserting some kind of authority or power over them, subduing the Earth ….  don’t think about modern technology destroying deforestation or something. Think about what it was like in the ancient world, for a farmer to bring the Earth into productivity, it took a huge amount of work. So animal domestication and agriculture are being spoken of in the ordinary mundane aspects of human life. Human beings are to manifest God’s presence that is defined later in Scripture in terms of what sorts of ways in which we should live. How should we use the agency and the power that we have in the world for good, not for evil, and that’s what Torah is for, to reshape Israel after the deformation, of Egyptian bondage, because once you are slaves, you are not a full human being anymore, you have become deformed, to remake them as full-fledged human beings and community that can become a royal priesthood or a kingdom of priests manifest to the other nations. Because as God says in Exodus 19, all the earth is mine, but you are going to be for me special, you will be my manifestation, primarily because narratively speaking, human beings have not been doing it, they have become corrupt. So I’m going to pick a one, peoples, and I want them to manifest what the whole human race should be, you become the model for all other peoples. And in my, one of the articles I wrote, I don’t think you read that one. I quote Martin Buber, who says, Why does God pick this one people? And in Deuteronomy in the Torah, I think it’s chapter 32. God speaks about like a mother Eagle, taking Israel on his wings, and teaching her to fly. So why is God picking this one eagle? What about all the other little eaglets in the whole world, but God wants this eagle to fly, that the others may imitate and follow her. And so the whole human race may be restored. That’s basically my summary of what the teleology of creation is all about ….. restoration. But the imaging of God in the world by righteousness in ordinary, everyday activities. And God wants to restore that, that’s what the rest of the Scripture is about.

Geoffrey Stern  37:12

That’s, that’s beautiful. I mean, one of the things that I did take away from your writings was this sense of agency and responsibility, that being in the image of God implies, but I also and I want to finish on this, the question that you ask is so simple, so obvious. But because we spend too much time reading the Rashi’s of the world, and looking at the commandments and all that, we sometimes forget to ask the question, What does God want of us, and I come from a tradition started by Robbi Yisrael Salanter in the 19 century, called the Mussar Movement. And he basically said the same thing. He said, you can spend all your life keeping all the commandments. But if you don’t ask, what am I doing here? And more importantly, in terms of that agency and responsibility, you don’t focus on what can I do to improve myself and thereby the world? You’re missing the boat? And so, I think, and I thank you for bringing your insight into rereading, which is what we all do when we begin the cycle of the Torah, rereading the holy text in the Scripture, to ask what does it mean to us? And what is really there, and I just found this conversation. So fascinating. I hope, Richard that you’ll join us again, I hope you enjoyed a fraction as much as I did, and you felt your time was worthwhile. I do want to open it up if anyone in the audience has any questions. But again, I want to thank you so much for studying with us the way we did five years ago. Thank you so much.

Richard Middelton 38:59

May just said Geoffrey, that I found our time together at Hadar wonderful. It was liberating, and I loved getting to know you. So, this is why I wanted to do this because you’re a great person. And I love your spirit. Thank you so much.

Geoffrey Stern  39:12

Thank you. Be sure to listen to this as a podcast. It will be published later on and share it with your friends and family. And we’ll see you all next week when we study Noah and the Ark and see how the story progresses. Shabbat Shalom and thank you again, Richard.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/438848

Listen to last year’s Bereshit episode: Exile and Return from the Beginning

Check out Dr. Middleton’s book: A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology, 2014 by J. Richard Middleton

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Fallingsukkah

shabbat Sukkah

Join Geoffrey Stern recorded on clubhouse on October 12th 2022 for Madlik Disruptive Torah. We explore Judaism’s unique concept of holiness of place, using the Sukkot prayer that God “raise up the falling tabernacle of David” as our point of departure.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/437526

Transcript: Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  We also host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. In a previous podcast called Architecture in Time we’ve discussed Judaism’s unique concept of the holiness of time. This coming Shabbat is Shabbat Sukkot so find yourself a temporary booth and join us as we explore Judaism’s unique concept of holiness of place.

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Well, welcome to Madlik. Rabbi Adam is we gave him off for the Jewish holidays! So here we are broadcasting as you know, on clubhouse and it gets recorded and published as the podcast on Madlik. So if you like what you hear, feel free to share it with your friends and family. So I thought tonight, as I said in the intro, it is going to be both Shabbat and Sukkot this coming Shabbat Sukkot. I thought I would start with a story. And the story is told by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin: So, two Hasidic Rabbi’s, the Kotzker Rebbe and the Vorker Rebbe were sitting in the sukkah on Shabbat. And they started discussing what was the most important, what was the most pleasurable commandment. And the Vorker Rebby says, well, I love Sukkot, because when you’re in the sukkah, you are surrounded by the mitzvah. And the Kotzker Rebbe, who was a little bit of a cynic said, Well, that’s true. But if you walk outside of the sukkah, you are no longer in the soccer. So, my favorite Mitzvah is the Shabbat, because you can’t walk out of Shabbat. And it’s a great story. But it really focuses on the difference between the holiness of time represented by the Shabbat and the holiness of place. And I want to imagine what the Vorker Rebbe would have responded, Because I doubt that the conversation ended there. And as I made reference to in the introduction, in a previous podcast, we talked about Heschel’s, great concept of the Shabbat, is a cathedral in time. And of course, what he meant by that is that we Jews do not have an edifice complex. We don’t focus on a place of finite latitude and longitude. And by making time holy, we have a taste of eternity. But nonetheless, I think the Vorker would have said yes, but we do live on this wonderful, glorious earth of ours. And we do have finite bodies and times and senses. So my sense is that he would have put up an argument, but he would have argued, in a sense that we have a unique concept of space and place and that’s what we are going to discuss today. So when you sit in the sukkah, you make a blessing over the sukkah as you do over every other commandment, but you also add a beautiful prayer in the Birkhat Hamzon; in the grace after meals, and the prayer is very short. But I want to read it to you in the Hebrew and the English it says הָרַחֲמָן הוּא יָקִים לָֽנוּ אֶת־סֻכַּת דָּוִד הַנּוֹפָֽלֶת may the Merciful One raise up Yakim, the Fallen Tabernacle of David, the Succat David Hanofelet. And it isn’t the sukkah David She’nafal  the sukkah of David that has fallen, but it’s actually in the active present it is the fallen or the falling Tabernacle of David, the falling booth of David. And that’s why I named this episode Fallingsukkah with a nod to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater which maybe we’ll get to at the end of our podcast, but this has always intrigued me. This concept of this shaky booth, who those of us who build one in our backyard, we cringe at the idea of a strong wind or a hard rain, because we’re afraid that it’s going to fall down. I believe at MIT in the day the Jewish engineering students would go ahead and make different Sukkot all based on different very sophisticated laws of physics laws to see who could stand and who could fall. But surely part of the magic of the sukkah is it is a temporary a booth. It is transitory. And I think that is what this beautiful blessing is celebrating. But it’s always intrigued me as I said, so I wanted to use this time to find out what the source of it is. And as we did last week, every prayer that is in the prayer book comes from somewhere. And this particular prayer comes from chapter 9, in the book of Amos. And many things to do with our Sukkot, we shall see have to do with the end of days. And in this particular case, Amos says after a long liturgy of what will happen in the end of the days. He says, all the sinners of my people shall perish by the sword. Those who boast never shall the evil overtake us or come near us. In that day, I will set up again the Fallen booth of David אָקִ֛ים אֶת־סֻכַּ֥ת דָּוִ֖יד הַנֹּפֶ֑לֶת I will mend its breaches and set up its ruins anew. I will build it firm as in the days of old, (12) So that they shall possess the rest of Edom. And then he goes on and it says I will restore my people Israel, they shall rebuild ruined cities and inhabit them. They shall plant vineyards and drink their wine. They shall till gardens and eat their fruits. So surely what he sees in rebuilding this booth of David that has fallen is rebuilding the temple, coming back to the land, being part of the agricultural cycle, being able to plant and reap to have vineyards and drink wine. And it is an apocalyptic vision and it’s wonderful. But it still really doesn’t get into this concept of the sukkah hanofelet, it talks about what will be in terms of making that sukkah rebuilding that sukkahr, but it still doesn’t answer my intrigue of what is this sukkah that is constantly falling. And so I think what we need to do to really understand this is to step back and say the sukkah; the booth is actually one of the most unique commandments. We’ve come across something like this once before, when in a podcast called walk like an Egyptian, we noticed that the first time that God says write these words on your arm and between your eyes. Certain commentaries said he’s not commanding us to wear the phylacteries the tefillin, he’s talking in a metaphor. And of course, we have in Jeremiah write these words on your heart, this concept of writing things on your body. But that is a small metaphor. The metaphor of the booth of the sukkah is something that is so much bigger, so much broader, so much more universal than the seven- or eight-day holiday that we’re in. So, for example, in the evening service, we say a prayer called Hashkeevenu. And it says, may God lie us down in peace our king raise us up again to life, spread over us the shelter of Your peace, וּפְרוֹשׂ עָלֵֽינוּ סֻכַּת שְׁלוֹמֶֽךָ, this concept of a tabernacle of peace is way more than just the holiday that we’re in. It’s clear that this booth, this protective layer, this shadow and shade from the elements is by far a bigger, a much bigger metaphor. We see in the Talmud that when it talks about this nofelet to this fallen thing, it doesn’t limited only to the temple. It’s bigger than just the temple. So RAV NACHMAN said to me, Isaac, have you heard when the Fallen son will come when בר נפלי And he said, Who is the Fallen son Mashiach answered RAV NACHMAN and the Messiah you call the befalling son? And he answered, Yes, for it is written (our verse in Amos) and that day, I will rise up the tabernacle of David. So, this concept of a tabernacle is more even than just a point, a place of a shade. It is actually the human condition. It’s actually a person. When they talk about the sukkah, hanofelet. They’re talking about man stumbling as well. And so I think that even to look at it as only place and space is to constrain it too much. It’s more than that. It is literally as I said before the human condition. Another piece of the Talmud says as follows that Robbie Itzhak said to him, this is what Rabbi Yohanan said, during the generation in which the Messiah, Son of David comes Torah scholars will decrease as for the rest of the people, that eyes will go fail, and it will be a hard time. And why is that? He says, because it is a time that is fallen, he quotes our verse again. So, it’s really this, this raising up the Sukkah that that is trembling, this sukkah that is hardly standing in the wind is really a much big metaphor. And there are two sides of it. On the one side, it seems to me there is the human condition, that we are so feeble, so open to the whims of nature and of destiny. And on the other hand, there’s this sense, as we saw in the prayer in the evening prayer of something that provides a shelter, and shade. So here is kind of the interesting thing that really puts this whole sukkah into a little bit more of context, this time of year, obviously, we all make fun of and we joke about when will the Jewish holidays, finally come to an end. And that’s because in Tishrei, we start with Rosh Hashanah, then we go to Yom Kippur. And then we end with this sukkah. And you really have to almost look at them as one literary piece, one experiential piece, and there’s one psalm that we say, from the beginning of Tishrei, until the last day of Sukkot, shemini, Atzeret and Simchas Torah, and it’s Psalm 27. And in it, it says, one thing I ask of God, אַחַ֤ת ׀ שָׁאַ֣לְתִּי מֵֽאֵת־ה’, and that is what I seek, to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. It says, לַחֲז֥וֹת בְּנֹעַם־ה’ וּלְבַקֵּ֥ר בְּהֵֽיכָלֽוֹ, and to frequent His Temple. So in a sense, you almost get a feeling of the high holiness, the steadfastness of the Rosh Hashanah and the Yom Kippur experience. This coming in as a stranger maybe coming in as someone who’s just visiting, and then to get access maybe, to the temple, but then it goes on, he will shelter me in his pavilion on an evil day כִּ֤י יִצְפְּנֵ֨נִי ׀ בְּסֻכֹּה֮ בְּי֢וֹם רָ֫עָ֥ה. So we get this sense of the sukkah as the refuge the sukkah as outside and a counterpoint to the Bayit and Hechal…  to the temple. And again, you get this sense of the contrast between that sense of a cathedral, that sense of an edifice, that sense of something that is קבוע; which is permanent and Something that is ארעי that is temporary. There’s a beautiful phrase in Pirkei Avot and it says that אַל תַּעַשׂ תְּפִלָּתְךָ קֶבַע you should never make your prayers permanent.  static without dynamism, you should make them temporary full of dynamism. So, you have that conflict you have that I would say dialectic between the two concepts, the two experiences of the High Holidays which are temple based. And then the sukkah, which is not only outside of the temple, and therefore has this dynamism to it. This sense of fleeting and temporality and also very being precious and in the moment. And then one also gets the sense of the sukkah being some sort of a shelter. But as I said before the Sukkah is used in so many ways as different metaphors for different things. So when the Ibn Ezra comments is on this, and it says B’sukkah, he says it’s Jerusalem. So you almost get the sense that the sukkah is a Rorschach Test where everybody projects on to it what it is they want to be rebuilt. And he bases this on Psalm 76, which says, וַיְהִ֣י בְשָׁלֵ֣ם סֻכּ֑וֹ וּמְע֖וֹנָת֣וֹ בְצִיּֽוֹן, Salem became his abode, Zion, his den, so whether it is Jerusalem, or Israel, here, we get into this sense of the holiness of place for the Jew, the homeland, the Temple. But again, what is compared to that homeland? What is compared to that temple? It’s this lowly humble, very tenuous, Booth, this Sukkah that is constantly falling, stumbling, and picking itself up again. And I just feel that it is a fascinating concept. It’s one thing to say as Heschel that we Jews focus on time and the holiness of time. And that’s all good and well. But at the end of the day, we also do live in space. And so, the question then becomes, how do we live in space? What is our affinity with space? How do we interact with space, and I think the rabbi’s or the metaphor more than any other seems to be this sukkah. And it seems to be almost a transitional, a bridging concept. So, I was thinking about who, who would have an insight into the sukkah more than anyone else. And the one thinker who has really focused on the brilliance of the Jewish people, the genius of the Jewish people, is that we transcend space, and we transcend place is a thinker that we might have mentioned a few times before. It’s Franz Rosenzweig, a good friend of many Zionists, including Gershom Scholem, who made Aliya, who emigrated to Israel at the turn of the century in the early 20s, and 30s, and was inspired stayed behind in Germany. And in his books, Star of Redemption, he really focuses on the genius of the Jewish people has always been created in the Galut, the genius of the Jewish people is that we have not been anchored to a particular land. So it’s clear that he had a, I wouldn’t say challenges, but he was challenged by this concept of a homeland. So I wondered what he would say about Sukkah. And what he does in the Star of Redemption is he talks about the calendar, the Jewish calendar, and he tries as does the psalm that we just read to bridge between the Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah experience and the sukkah experience, and he says he calls the chapter “The way back into the year”. And he says, “For after them” meaning after Yom Kippur and Rashanna “comes the Feast of Booths, which is a feast of redemption founded on the base of an unredeemed era and other people yet within the pale of history, in the common unity of man, the soul was alone with God to neutralize this foretaste of eternity. The Feast of booth reinstates the reality of time.” So as someone focused on time, Rosenzweig is focused on time on this Jewish concept of cycular time that constantly moves forward. And we are experiencing that at this very moment, because in a sense, we’re coming to the end of the year, both in the calendar, as well as the reading cycle of the Torah, we’re about to begin it all over again. And he senses that transition in the transition from Yom Kippur, and Rosh Hashanah, to coming down into the cycle of the Torah reading into the cycle of the pilgrimage holidays into the cycle of agriculture. And he sees that it reinstates the reality of time within space. He says, Thus, the Feast of Booths is not only a festival arrest for the people, but also the festival of ultimate hope. Redemption is only a hope, only something present, expected in the source of wanderings. So I take his interpretation, as again, a wonderful reflection on what nofelet means it’s this dynamic movement between eternal, eternal time and historic time, and temporal time. And we on this upcoming Shabbat will be experiencing all of that. And I find that to be again, all based on this word, nofelet which is falling in the active present. It just seems to me so dynamic, so exciting. And it takes a very, a universal metaphor of the hut, of the refuge provided by shade from the elements. When I was in synagogue last week, on Ha’azinu. The Haftorah is another great poem/song that was written, and it was written by David, and it is in Samuel II 22. And because I was already thinking about Sukkot, my ears picked up and I read something that I had never read before. He’s talking as David could only talk as the one who was hiding the one who was constantly afraid of his enemies. He says In my anguish I called on the LORD, Cried out to my God; In His Abode He heard my voice, My cry entered His ears. (8) Then the earth rocked and quaked, The foundations of heaven shook— Rocked by His indignation. (9) Smoke went up from His nostrils, From His mouth came devouring fire; Live coals blazed forth from Him. (10) He bent the sky and came down, Thick cloud beneath His feet. (11) He mounted a cherub and flew; He was seen-h on the wings of the wind. (12) He made pavilions of darkness about Him,. So here he says, וַיָּ֥שֶׁת חֹ֛שֶׁךְ סְבִיבֹתָ֖יו סֻכּ֑וֹת. So as opposed to a Sukkah that provides shade here, David seems to be living in a Sukkah that is shade. That is the darkness. And so this too gives a whole other aspect to what that Sukkat Hanofelet is; that sukkah that is constantly falling. It’s not only falling in the sense that it is potentially rising, but it’s falling in this sense that it’s going down. And here he is describing his situation where he’s hiding from his enemies. He’s hiding from despair, and he’s in the sukkah of darkness around him. So it kind of puts a different aspect on this. nofelet, but to me, it simply manifests once again how that Sukkat Hanofelt, that constantly falling sukkah is actually the human condition. And it’s the condition of both one getting up. But it’s also the condition of that person going down. It’s the condition of being protected. It’s also being the condition of being depressed and ensnared. And to me, that makes the fact that we call this holiday Simchateynu, our joy, gives it new meaning because it is the joy emanating out of the human condition that I celebrate. I started by saying that this week, we’re calling it with a nod to Frank Lloyd Wright, who built a beautiful home over a waterfall called Fallingwater. And we are calling it Fallinsukkah. Because I think if anything, to say that time is fleeting, and Time moves, that’s easy. But to talk about space, place, nature, the human condition that that is constantly in flux, I think is something that becomes even more magical. And in the notes, I have a picture of Fallingwater. And if you haven’t seen it or been there, I’ve not yet been there, I definitely want to go. It gives you this sense of this combination of not so much the permanent with the temporary, but that all that is permanent, is actually the temporary. And that’s how I’d really like to end up. There was a great pre-Socratic philosopher called Heraclitus. And you know many of us have heard his adage that you can’t put your foot into the same river twice, because the river is always moving. All entities move and nothing remains still. He’s quoted as saying everything flows and nothing stays. And I think to me, the message of the Sukkah Hanofelt is that what is the most important to us what we celebrate in at the end of this month of Tishrei is the only thing that is in fact permanent. And that is change. The only thing that is permanent is growth. And I think that at the end of the day, the only thing that can’t be destroyed and certainly if there is one word that is associated with a cathedral or with a Jewish Temple, it always seems to be the word destroyed temple and the one thing that can never be destroyed permanently is that which is temporary. It is permanently temporary. It is constantly falling. And that constant flux is I think what we celebrate on Sukkot. When we sit inside of our Sukkah, hanofelet. S with that I thank you I wish you Shabbat Sukkah Samayach. Because what is sukkah about if we can’t sing a song or hear a song, I’m gonna play Shlomo Carlebach’s rendition for the prayer that we have been talking about.

Geoffrey Stern  29:45

We’ll see you all next time on Madlik Disruptive Torah.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/437526

This is a continuation of a previous podcast: Architecture in Time

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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: www.sefaria.org/sheets/433106

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 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.

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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: www.sefaria.org/sheets/433106

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: www.sefaria.org/sheets/429450

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 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

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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

Absolutely.

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

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/429450

Listen to last year’s episode for kei Teitzei: Listening to the lyrics of Jewish Law

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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.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/427752

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 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.

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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.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/422607

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 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.

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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.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/422607

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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: www.sefaria.org/sheets/421369

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 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.

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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?

14:34

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: www.sefaria.org/sheets/420122

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday 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

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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.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/420122

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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: www.sefaria.org/sheets/415522

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm Eastern and share it as 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!

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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.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/415522

Listen to last week’s episode: Joining the Tribe

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