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this land is MY land

parshat behar, leviticus 25

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on clubhouse on May 19th 2022 for Madlik Lag B’Omer … full of sparks, flames and disruptive Torah. The earth is the Lord’s resonates throughout the Torah nowhere stronger than in the laws of the Sabbatical and Jubilee years. We explore what a Promised Land means when land ownership is only temporary.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/406956

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 traditional. 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. Today is L’ag B’ Omer so I’m hoping that the sparks and flames of disruptive Torah will be particularly strong today. The earth is the Lord’s so it is written in the Good Book. Nowhere does this more loudly resonate than in the laws of the sabbatical and Jubilee years. On the other hand, we Jews have serious ownership issues with our land. So let’s explore what a Promised Land means when land ownership is only temporary. This land is MY land.

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So welcome. What a wonderful way to talk about a Pasha,  both on L'ag B' Omer where I said sparks do fly because it is a tradition to light a bonfire on L'ag B' Omer. And also I just came back from the land of Israel. And we are going to be talking about land tonight and what the unique relationship with land the Bible has and the Bible has for us. So this week's parsha is Bahar, which means the mountain and it's in Leviticus 25: 1 that it says God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, speak to the Israelite people and say to them, when you enter the land that I assigned to you, the land shall observe Shabbat six years, you may sow your field and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in the field. But in the seventh year the land shall have a Shabbat of complete rest a Shabbat of God, You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard, you shall not reap the after growth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your untrimmed vines. It shall be of a year of complete rest for the land. And then it goes on to say there's a cycle of seven years and seven times seven is 49 and the 50th year is called the Jubilee Year. And it says Then you shall sound the horn loud on the seventh month of the 10th day of the month, the day of atonement, and you shall have the horn sounded throughout your land, and you shall hollow the 50th year you shall proclaim release throughout the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee year for you. Each of you shall return to your holding and each of you shall return to your family. And it goes on to say in this year of Jubilee each of you shall return to your holding you will get your original land back. You shall observe my laws and faithfully keep my rules that you may live upon the land in security. The land shall yield its fruit and you shall eat your fill and you shall live upon it in security but the land must not be sold beyond reclaim for the land is mine. You are but strangers resident with me. וְהָאָ֗רֶץ לֹ֤א תִמָּכֵר֙ לִצְמִתֻ֔ת כִּי־לִ֖י הָאָ֑רֶץ כִּֽי־גֵרִ֧ים וְתוֹשָׁבִ֛ים אַתֶּ֖ם עִמָּדִֽי. And throughout the land you hold you must provide for redemption of the land. And in this, it says the most famous saying, which is written on the Liberty Bell, that you shall proclaim freedom throughout the land. וּקְרָאתֶ֥ם דְּר֛וֹר בָּאָ֖רֶץ So Rabbi, we actually are in the year of the Shmita, the sabbatical year. And as I drove through Israel every so often on the highway, you would see signs that would say, we are observing the Sabbath year this Shmita year, which means that they literally were letting the land lie fallow. But I want to focus less on the agricultural aspect of this. And more on the aspect that comes out really clearly in the 50th year; the Jubilee year, but I think that impacts our understanding of the seven year cycle as well. This concept of the land belongs to God, and we are toshavim, we are settlers We are transients upon this land. This is a radical idea. And it starts by saying, When you come into what we all know, is the promised land. Is this radical idea?

 

Adam Mintz  05:17

Tremendously radical. I mean, the Torah, basically, in this week's parsha teaches us that if I buy a field from you, that field goes back to the original owner on Shmita. Now, that actually affects the entire economic system. Because if I buy a field from you in year one of Shmita, that means I'm going to pay a rental for 48 years. But if I buy a field from you in year 45 of shmitah, well, I'm only paying for five years, it's not going to cost as much money. So actually, the entire real estate system was around this idea of Yovel - Jubilee. And you can imagine that, everyone was reminded of Yovel all the time. Isn't that amazing?

 

Geoffrey Stern  06:12

It is, I mean, you know, there is Turkish law, for instance, even in Israel, my parents owned a house in Yemin Moshe, which is the the little community that Moses Montefiore, he's the Moshe of Yemin Moshe built. And when they bought it, and they paid a sum that was equated with the value of the land, they got a 99 year lease. And of course, they had to renew it for $1. But Turkish law, and there are other legal systems in the world, that you really do never really own that real estate, we who we think of real estate as the one thing that you can really own. Should you rent, or should you buy? Well, some legal systems say you can only rent. But those are legal systems, our system is more than just a legal system. It's a moral system. It's an ethical system.

 

Adam Mintz  07:22

This law, Geoffrey is a moral law, because it prevents people from getting too wealthy. Because if you were able to amass, you know, 1,000 fields, well, you're not going to be able to keep them because they have to go back during Yovel. So it's a moral system.

 

Geoffrey Stern  07:38

It's the ultimate reset. It's the ultimate redistribution of wealth. It's like playing Monopoly, and then you get to a certain point and it reverts back to the way it was. And I think that's the classical understanding. But what I want to focus on is even when it reverts back to the way it was, and goes back to the original tenant, it's not going back to the original owner, the language that it uses. It says וּבְכֹ֖ל אֶ֣רֶץ אֲחֻזַּתְכֶ֑ם, this, אֲחֻזַּ means really what you hold, you know, they talk about possession is 90% of the law. But the point is, you never get to the point where you literally own it, because God says that the land belongs to Him. And I think that the tagline for that is in Psalms 24, 1-3. And this was actually the name of a book written by Abraham Joshua Heschel. It says, The earth is the Lord's and all that it holds the world and its inhabitants for he founded it upon the ocean, set it on the nether streams, who may ascend the mountain of the Lord, who may stand in his holy place. And it says לַֽ֭ה' הָאָ֣רֶץ וּמְלוֹאָ֑הּ, and that was the name of Heschel's book. The idea is ultimately, that at the end of the day, it all belongs to God. And we can never own we can touch we can feel we can have a relationship with but I think that ultimately is the essence of what we're focusing on here.

 

Adam Mintz  09:28

Yeah, that's right, that we can't own, that's really very interesting. Only God owns land. And what about the fact that every Shmita all loans go back [and] are canceled? So if I borrow money from you, if I can pay you back? Well, then the Shmita comes and cancels the loan. Actually, and we know this, that that create It's such an economic crisis, that already in the time of the Talmud, almost 2,000 years ago, they introduced something called a Pruzbol. A Pruzbol is a legal fiction, which allows the lender to collect the loan even after Shmita. And the amazing thing is that as Shmita comes to a conclusion, this summer, there will be ads all over the place in Israel, to start to to fill out this form called the Pruzbol, in case you lend money to somebody to make sure that the loan isn't cancelled. So that's really alive today. But that's the idea that again, it's the great reset, if someone can't afford to pay back well come Shmita the loan is cancelled.

 

Geoffrey Stern  10:51

You know, we've kind of discussed this double entendre, this dual meaning to different commandments, mitzvot in the Torah, I think we first came across it, when it said in the in the Parsha in the section dealing with the Exodus, that you shall write these things on your arms and on your your head. And we said there it's not referring to tephilin it's refering to the ideal. I think with shmitah, there is a very strong argument that in fact, it was more ideal than it was real, meaning to say that there are passages in the Talmud that talk about well, who is a really great person, someone who observes the Shmita, which leads one to believe that they were the exception to the norm, that it was so countered to the necessities of daily life, that it almost was as much an ideal, as it was a reality. Is there any truth to what I just said?

 

Adam Mintz  11:57

I mean, you're making such a big point. And we of course, we've talked about it before. And that is that generally speaking, I mean, just take the laws of Shabbat, Shabbat is a reality. But it's also an ideal. You just talked about Abraham Joshua Heschel. He wrote a book about the Sabbath. And his book about the Sabbath really talks about exactly what you said, he talks about sanctity of time and sanctity of space. He takes Shabbat from the thing that we observe every seventh day. And he basically says, it's about the sanctity of all time, you know, of time generally. And that, he says, you have to see it in the bigger sense. And obviously, that's true about Shmita, too. And I think that's an important point, we talked about this before. But the idea of seven's is a very critical idea here, you know, every seventh day, we rest, every seventh year, the land rests, and every seven of seven years, then the 50th year, then, the slaves go free and the land goes back. It's all about seven's. You talk about how the Jewish calendar works, the Jewish calendar works around sevens. That's not, to be taken for granted. The Jews basically gave the week to the world. That's not to be taken for granted. When you think about the month, Geoffrey, the month is 30 days, it probably would have been better to divide the week into five or six days, then every month would have exactly the same number of weeks by dividing the week into seven days. Actually, the months are confusing, because every month starts at a different day. Now we're used to that already. But wouldn't it be easier if the first of June July August and September were all Tuesday's that would make it a lot easier. But Judaism gave the world the idea of seven. So yeah, that's what you're talking about the you know, the reality and the ideal. I think the idea of the week the idea of seven is something that's both the reality, but it's also an ideal.

 

Geoffrey Stern  14:21

So I'm less of a numerologist than maybe you are, but I do agree that the Sabbath, both the seven day day of rest, and what we're studying today, which is the seventh year cycle of land, letting the field rest and the seven times seven cycle of the Jubilee where as you said, not only do you rest the field, but the field goes back to its original placeholder. The loans get nullified and what we didn't mention is that slaves go free. And that's, of course, why it's on the Liberty Bell. But this idea of rest, meaning to say, of disruption, and then rest of coming to yourself, I think is the greatest gift of the Jews to the world. You know, there's a series of book The, the gift of the Irish and he wrote a book on the gift of the Jews. And in the gift of the Jews, it was this day of rest, Shabbat, the same word for Shabbat, which means to rest is the name Shvita , which is a strike, a labor strike in in Israel, ultimately, when you mandate that your servant has to rest, and that your animal has to rest. That is the most basic form of human rights and animal rights and waits to nature. It means that these things cannot always be controlled. And I think that is an unbelievable message. But I think ultimately, what lays at the heart of that, in terms of the biblical message, is there's a reason for all of that. And that is, as I was saying, before, that everything belongs to God. And you know, whether you believe in God or you're an atheist, the idea is that it doesn't belong to us. We don't own it. And what I'd like to take the discussion in another direction, which is I mentioned that the word that is used for when it returns to the first owner ..... owner is a mistranslation, because what it really returns to is the first ochez, the first holder. And we know in Genesis that Abraham is promised this promised land, and what I want to square the circle is this kind of dialectic and tension between a promised land, but also a land that ultimately is not yours because no land belongs to anybody. The first Rashi in all of the Torah, embrace it and we've quoted this numerous times, says Why does the Torah begin with the story of creation, to show exactly as that psalm that I read a second ago, that really the whole world belongs to God and God goes out of his or her way to make Abraham come from another place he's not entitled to this particular Promised Land. He's given that promised land on the basis of לַֽ֭ה' הָאָ֣רֶץ וּמְלוֹאָ֑הּ, the world belongs to God and  God can give it to who he wishes. But the interesting part of that tension is in Genesis 17:8, it says, I assigned the land you sojourn into you and your offspring to come all the land of Canaan as an everlasting holding, I will be their God, the word for everlasting holding is a אֲחֻזַּ֖ת עוֹלָ֑ם, achuzah is that word that I've been focused on, which means really, you're not a title-holder, you grab it, you hold it, and olam would seem to mean, everlasting. So it seems to me a little bit like one of these words that there's a conflict or a tension within it. Like when Adam is introduced to Eve as his עֵ֖זֶר כְּנֶגְדּֽוֹ, his help-meet and of course, Rashis says If he is worthy she shall be a help to him; if he is unworthy she shall be opposed to him, to fight him. Is there a tension in the word who's אֲחֻזַּ֖ת עוֹלָ֑ם?

 

Adam Mintz  18:57

אֲחֻזַּ֖ת עוֹלָ֑ם? Yeah, I mean, that's interesting, well, let's take a step back because you made so many good points. The first interesting point was that it's not the owner of the land. It's only the person who's holding on to the land. There's no idea of ownership. In addition, let me just finish this point, then we'll get to the next point. The Torah says in this week's parsha Avadai Hem The Torah says that the people are my servants. And the rabbis learned from there Avadai hem, v'lo avadim l'avadim, you're not allowed to work for anybody else. That's why the slaves go free. Because land is not owned by anybody. And nobody can work for anybody else. It all goes back to God. אֲחֻזַּ֖ת עוֹלָ֑ם? It's not really אֲחֻזַּ֖ת עוֹלָ֑ם.. generally, doesn't mean forever? Alarm means until the Yovel (Jubillee)  The Torah says that the Jewish slave if he likes his master can have his ear pierced. And the Torah says Ve'avado L'olam, he's a slave forever. But the word olam doesn't really mean olam. The word olam really means until the Yovel. So you're you're right for pointing that out. But the rabbi's already picked up on that and said, it doesn't really mean that.

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:26

I'm just blown away from that I had never heard that before. And again, it means that the rabbi's understood what the contradiction was, and that they tied it to the rule that we are discussing today. Just blows me away. But But there's another aspect of this achuza that we all are aware of. If you noticed when I read the verses, in verse 18, it said, You shall observe my lowest and faithfully keep my rules that you may live upon the land in security. וִֽישַׁבְתֶּ֥ם עַל־הָאָ֖רֶץ לָבֶֽטַח, the land shall yield its fruit, and you shall eat your field and you shall live upon it insecurity. For those of you who read the prayer book, who say the Shema, twice a day, once a month, once a year, you know that the second paragraph of the Shema says the following, and it's from Deuteronomy 11:16. Take care not to be lured away to serve other gods and to bow to them, for God's anger will flare up against you shutting up the skies, so that there will be no rain, and the ground will not produce its produce, and you will soon perish from the good land that God is assigning to you. So even this promised land, even in these very verses, it has the two sides to it. It's promised to you if you observe the rules, and you conduct yourself properly. But if you don't, you will be banished, it will not produce what it needs to sustain you. And for a people that his been outside of its land more than it's been on its land. This is a powerful, powerful message that again, is connected to the concept of the sabbatical year, the Jubilee Year. And as you just pointed out to the word Olam, which we normally mean is it's ours forever.

 

Adam Mintz  22:41

I mean, it's such a nice point you raised that for there's no forever in the Torah because the only one who's in charge of forever is God.

 

Geoffrey Stern  22:52

Yeah, yeah.

 

Adam Mintz  22:53

Isn't that a great idea?

 

Geoffrey Stern  22:55

I think it's an amazing idea. So let's let's deal with another word, we dealt with achuzat for a second, there is a another word that comes up in these words, and it seems to mean something like forever. And the word is, the land shall not be sold permanently for the land is mine. You are strangers and sojourners with me. And the word for permanently is tzemitut. And that word similar to olam has a bunch of connotations. In modern Hebrew, we talk behalutin which means again for ever, so if you if you talk about someone who is in modern Hebrew, if you say that someone is Meshuga l'chalutin and, and in the word that it goes, it means absolutely. But at the end of the day, these words kind of have the sense of a death grip. They're not positive words. Tzemitut has a sense of destruction and decay; when you're sold that to me took forever. So it's almost as if it's not only that you only have this temporarily, but there is a negative, decaying aspect of having something forever that we are a dynamic religion we are have a dynamic sense of living and life and that this concept of forever is not something that it's too bad. We miss the latter and we don't have have it forever. Having something forever is actually a kind of a dead end.

 

Adam Mintz  25:05

It's bad to happen forever. Well, it's against the toe right to have it forever.

 

Geoffrey Stern  25:11

I think yeah, it is. But it's also not. We like to think of something you know, they always say nothing lasts forever. But but but the concept behind that is, wouldn't it be cool if it did. And the if you look at the Hebrew words that are used for forever, they're, they're actually not that positive. They're static. And they're, in a sense, almost derogatory. There's a beautiful verse as in Kohelet and Ecclesiastes. And it says, just as a man enters this world by final decision, בַּחֲלִיטִין, so he leaves this world by final decision, it's almost associated with death. And what the Shmita, ultimately is about is about this tension, of living on the edge of this lack of finality, this lack of, of forever, is actually a lease on life, if you'll mind the pun.

 

Adam Mintz  26:22

And you know, you say also, it's, it's also introduces this the element of uncertainty. You know, it's scary that you can't work the land during Shmita, you talked about driving in Israel, and seeing the signs that you can't work the land during Shmita. That's scary. How you going to make a living? Right? It's scary that you're gonna have to give back your field at the Yovel How you gonna have to start again, you say it's the great reset, the great reset sounds good in a bit in the big picture. But personally, the great reset is kind of scary, isn't it?

 

Geoffrey Stern  27:00

It absolutely is. So I want to jump ...., because I just came from Israel. And so because so much of the tension and an end and a bloodshed in Israel is about ownership of land, is about territoriality. I want to do something radical on this lLag B'Omer, I want to study a Mishnah in the Talmud, that really at one level has nothing to do with what we're discussing. But I think after we learn it together, we might find it has everything to do with what we're discussing. And it focused is on a Who's that, and holding. So it's the first mission or the first page of Talmud that I ever studied. And it likely might be the first page of Talmud that you ever studied. I can sit here looking up at the sky and say it by heart. שנים אוחזין בטלית זה אומר אני מצאתיה וזה אומר אני מצאתיה, there are two people struggling over a tallit; a piece of cloth. And each one claims that they found it, which of course is very much in line with what achuzah means. They don't say they owned it forever. They don't say they inherited it. They both found it. And the missioner goes on to say what do we do. And it says this one takes an oath that that he does not have ownership of less than half. And this one takes an oath that he does not have ownership of less than half. And of course, when you take an oath, we take it very seriously, you're taking an oath in the name of God. And each party has to be credible, we can't let someone make an oath that could break their integrity. So instead of each party saying the obvious, which is it's all mine, they each says I don't have less than half; that even in the worst circumstance that both of us came at it at the same time. I don't have less than half. And I've always thought that this is a wonderful paradigm for how people argue also about land. That in a sense, it preserves for each party, the integrity that they need to have their narrative. It retains their truth, but nonetheless at the end of the day, it says יחלוקו that each one gets half even though they each believe that they deserve the whole and I would love one day to learn this Mishnah at a peace talk between different people arguing over the same land. Am I crazy? I mean that's great. I mean that's about you know, that's about the time interaction between our desire to own things, our desire for things to be forever our desire for things to be final and the reality of שנים אוחזין בטלית, isn't that what it's really about it is

 

Adam Mintz  30:16

Its tension, which is built in.

 

Geoffrey Stern  30:19

In the notes. I quote from The Autobiography a very short Autobiography of a young scholar, who died very young, but was considered by everybody to be an Eloy genius. His name was Rav Avraham Eliayu Kaplan. And he says the first time he learned this missioner, he really thought they were arguing in a synagogue over a tallied because that's what it says, not a piece of cloth, which is what the Aramaic means, .... he saw a religious content to it. And I think we can look at a simple legal text like this, we can look at illegal text of the sabbatical year, and we can learn so many profound lessons. The only last thing that I will say because I do believe that religion has a place in peace talks and in coming together is that when Sadat made peace with Israel, he used a law from the Sharia called a hudna, which means you can make a temporary peace, even when you are breaking some of your ideals. And of course, the temporary peace can last forever. I think in these rules is a way of getting beyond our ideologies and being able to accept others and being able ..... because God owns the world because לַֽ֭ה' הָאָ֣רֶץ וּמְלוֹאָ֑הּ. we can find a way of compromise.

 

Adam Mintz  31:54

Amazing, great topic. Welcome back. Enjoy Bahar, everybody. And we look forward to seeing you next week. Shabbat Shalom everybody.

 

Geoffrey Stern  32:03

Shabbat Shalom to you all.

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So welcome. What a wonderful way to talk about a Pasha,  both on L’ag B’ Omer where I said sparks do fly because it is a tradition to light a bonfire on L’ag B’ Omer. And also I just came back from the land of Israel. And we are going to be talking about land tonight and what the unique relationship with land the Bible has and the Bible has for us. So this week’s parsha is Bahar, which means the mountain and it’s in Leviticus 25: 1 that it says God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, speak to the Israelite people and say to them, when you enter the land that I assigned to you, the land shall observe Shabbat six years, you may sow your field and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in the field. But in the seventh year the land shall have a Shabbat of complete rest a Shabbat of God, You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard, you shall not reap the after growth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your untrimmed vines. It shall be of a year of complete rest for the land. And then it goes on to say there’s a cycle of seven years and seven times seven is 49 and the 50th year is called the Jubilee Year. And it says Then you shall sound the horn loud on the seventh month of the 10th day of the month, the day of atonement, and you shall have the horn sounded throughout your land, and you shall hollow the 50th year you shall proclaim release throughout the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee year for you. Each of you shall return to your holding and each of you shall return to your family. And it goes on to say in this year of Jubilee each of you shall return to your holding you will get your original land back. You shall observe my laws and faithfully keep my rules that you may live upon the land in security. The land shall yield its fruit and you shall eat your fill and you shall live upon it in security but the land must not be sold beyond reclaim for the land is mine. You are but strangers resident with me. וְהָאָ֗רֶץ לֹ֤א תִמָּכֵר֙ לִצְמִתֻ֔ת כִּי־לִ֖י הָאָ֑רֶץ כִּֽי־גֵרִ֧ים וְתוֹשָׁבִ֛ים אַתֶּ֖ם עִמָּדִֽי. And throughout the land you hold you must provide for redemption of the land. And in this, it says the most famous saying, which is written on the Liberty Bell, that you shall proclaim freedom throughout the land. וּקְרָאתֶ֥ם דְּר֛וֹר בָּאָ֖רֶץ So Rabbi, we actually are in the year of the Shmita, the sabbatical year. And as I drove through Israel every so often on the highway, you would see signs that would say, we are observing the Sabbath year this Shmita year, which means that they literally were letting the land lie fallow. But I want to focus less on the agricultural aspect of this. And more on the aspect that comes out really clearly in the 50th year; the Jubilee year, but I think that impacts our understanding of the seven year cycle as well. This concept of the land belongs to God, and we are toshavim, we are settlers We are transients upon this land. This is a radical idea. And it starts by saying, When you come into what we all know, is the promised land. Is this radical idea?

Adam Mintz  05:17

Tremendously radical. I mean, the Torah, basically, in this week’s parsha teaches us that if I buy a field from you, that field goes back to the original owner on Shmita. Now, that actually affects the entire economic system. Because if I buy a field from you in year one of Shmita, that means I’m going to pay a rental for 48 years. But if I buy a field from you in year 45 of shmitah, well, I’m only paying for five years, it’s not going to cost as much money. So actually, the entire real estate system was around this idea of Yovel – Jubilee. And you can imagine that, everyone was reminded of Yovel all the time. Isn’t that amazing?

Geoffrey Stern  06:12

It is, I mean, you know, there is Turkish law, for instance, even in Israel, my parents owned a house in Yemin Moshe, which is the the little community that Moses Montefiore, he’s the Moshe of Yemin Moshe built. And when they bought it, and they paid a sum that was equated with the value of the land, they got a 99 year lease. And of course, they had to renew it for $1. But Turkish law, and there are other legal systems in the world, that you really do never really own that real estate, we who we think of real estate as the one thing that you can really own. Should you rent, or should you buy? Well, some legal systems say you can only rent. But those are legal systems, our system is more than just a legal system. It’s a moral system. It’s an ethical system.

Adam Mintz  07:22

This law, Geoffrey is a moral law, because it prevents people from getting too wealthy. Because if you were able to amass, you know, 1,000 fields, well, you’re not going to be able to keep them because they have to go back during Yovel. So it’s a moral system.

Geoffrey Stern  07:38

It’s the ultimate reset. It’s the ultimate redistribution of wealth. It’s like playing Monopoly, and then you get to a certain point and it reverts back to the way it was. And I think that’s the classical understanding. But what I want to focus on is even when it reverts back to the way it was, and goes back to the original tenant, it’s not going back to the original owner, the language that it uses. It says וּבְכֹ֖ל אֶ֣רֶץ אֲחֻזַּתְכֶ֑ם, this, אֲחֻזַּ means really what you hold, you know, they talk about possession is 90% of the law. But the point is, you never get to the point where you literally own it, because God says that the land belongs to Him. And I think that the tagline for that is in Psalms 24, 1-3. And this was actually the name of a book written by Abraham Joshua Heschel. It says, The earth is the Lord’s and all that it holds the world and its inhabitants for he founded it upon the ocean, set it on the nether streams, who may ascend the mountain of the Lord, who may stand in his holy place. And it says לַֽ֭ה’ הָאָ֣רֶץ וּמְלוֹאָ֑הּ, and that was the name of Heschel’s book. The idea is ultimately, that at the end of the day, it all belongs to God. And we can never own we can touch we can feel we can have a relationship with but I think that ultimately is the essence of what we’re focusing on here.

Adam Mintz  09:28

Yeah, that’s right, that we can’t own, that’s really very interesting. Only God owns land. And what about the fact that every Shmita all loans go back [and] are canceled? So if I borrow money from you, if I can pay you back? Well, then the Shmita comes and cancels the loan. Actually, and we know this, that that create It’s such an economic crisis, that already in the time of the Talmud, almost 2,000 years ago, they introduced something called a Pruzbol. A Pruzbol is a legal fiction, which allows the lender to collect the loan even after Shmita. And the amazing thing is that as Shmita comes to a conclusion, this summer, there will be ads all over the place in Israel, to start to to fill out this form called the Pruzbol, in case you lend money to somebody to make sure that the loan isn’t cancelled. So that’s really alive today. But that’s the idea that again, it’s the great reset, if someone can’t afford to pay back well come Shmita the loan is cancelled.

Geoffrey Stern  10:51

You know, we’ve kind of discussed this double entendre, this dual meaning to different commandments, mitzvot in the Torah, I think we first came across it, when it said in the in the Parsha in the section dealing with the Exodus, that you shall write these things on your arms and on your your head. And we said there it’s not referring to tephilin it’s refering to the ideal. I think with shmitah, there is a very strong argument that in fact, it was more ideal than it was real, meaning to say that there are passages in the Talmud that talk about well, who is a really great person, someone who observes the Shmita, which leads one to believe that they were the exception to the norm, that it was so countered to the necessities of daily life, that it almost was as much an ideal, as it was a reality. Is there any truth to what I just said?

Adam Mintz  11:57

I mean, you’re making such a big point. And we of course, we’ve talked about it before. And that is that generally speaking, I mean, just take the laws of Shabbat, Shabbat is a reality. But it’s also an ideal. You just talked about Abraham Joshua Heschel. He wrote a book about the Sabbath. And his book about the Sabbath really talks about exactly what you said, he talks about sanctity of time and sanctity of space. He takes Shabbat from the thing that we observe every seventh day. And he basically says, it’s about the sanctity of all time, you know, of time generally. And that, he says, you have to see it in the bigger sense. And obviously, that’s true about Shmita, too. And I think that’s an important point, we talked about this before. But the idea of seven’s is a very critical idea here, you know, every seventh day, we rest, every seventh year, the land rests, and every seven of seven years, then the 50th year, then, the slaves go free and the land goes back. It’s all about seven’s. You talk about how the Jewish calendar works, the Jewish calendar works around sevens. That’s not, to be taken for granted. The Jews basically gave the week to the world. That’s not to be taken for granted. When you think about the month, Geoffrey, the month is 30 days, it probably would have been better to divide the week into five or six days, then every month would have exactly the same number of weeks by dividing the week into seven days. Actually, the months are confusing, because every month starts at a different day. Now we’re used to that already. But wouldn’t it be easier if the first of June July August and September were all Tuesday’s that would make it a lot easier. But Judaism gave the world the idea of seven. So yeah, that’s what you’re talking about the you know, the reality and the ideal. I think the idea of the week the idea of seven is something that’s both the reality, but it’s also an ideal.

Geoffrey Stern  14:21

So I’m less of a numerologist than maybe you are, but I do agree that the Sabbath, both the seven day day of rest, and what we’re studying today, which is the seventh year cycle of land, letting the field rest and the seven times seven cycle of the Jubilee where as you said, not only do you rest the field, but the field goes back to its original placeholder. The loans get nullified and what we didn’t mention is that slaves go free. And that’s, of course, why it’s on the Liberty Bell. But this idea of rest, meaning to say, of disruption, and then rest of coming to yourself, I think is the greatest gift of the Jews to the world. You know, there’s a series of book The, the gift of the Irish and he wrote a book on the gift of the Jews. And in the gift of the Jews, it was this day of rest, Shabbat, the same word for Shabbat, which means to rest is the name Shvita , which is a strike, a labor strike in in Israel, ultimately, when you mandate that your servant has to rest, and that your animal has to rest. That is the most basic form of human rights and animal rights and waits to nature. It means that these things cannot always be controlled. And I think that is an unbelievable message. But I think ultimately, what lays at the heart of that, in terms of the biblical message, is there’s a reason for all of that. And that is, as I was saying, before, that everything belongs to God. And you know, whether you believe in God or you’re an atheist, the idea is that it doesn’t belong to us. We don’t own it. And what I’d like to take the discussion in another direction, which is I mentioned that the word that is used for when it returns to the first owner ….. owner is a mistranslation, because what it really returns to is the first ochez, the first holder. And we know in Genesis that Abraham is promised this promised land, and what I want to square the circle is this kind of dialectic and tension between a promised land, but also a land that ultimately is not yours because no land belongs to anybody. The first Rashi in all of the Torah, embrace it and we’ve quoted this numerous times, says Why does the Torah begin with the story of creation, to show exactly as that psalm that I read a second ago, that really the whole world belongs to God and God goes out of his or her way to make Abraham come from another place he’s not entitled to this particular Promised Land. He’s given that promised land on the basis of לַֽ֭ה’ הָאָ֣רֶץ וּמְלוֹאָ֑הּ, the world belongs to God and  God can give it to who he wishes. But the interesting part of that tension is in Genesis 17:8, it says, I assigned the land you sojourn into you and your offspring to come all the land of Canaan as an everlasting holding, I will be their God, the word for everlasting holding is a אֲחֻזַּ֖ת עוֹלָ֑ם, achuzah is that word that I’ve been focused on, which means really, you’re not a title-holder, you grab it, you hold it, and olam would seem to mean, everlasting. So it seems to me a little bit like one of these words that there’s a conflict or a tension within it. Like when Adam is introduced to Eve as his עֵ֖זֶר כְּנֶגְדּֽוֹ, his help-meet and of course, Rashis says If he is worthy she shall be a help to him; if he is unworthy she shall be opposed to him, to fight him. Is there a tension in the word who’s אֲחֻזַּ֖ת עוֹלָ֑ם?

Adam Mintz  18:57

אֲחֻזַּ֖ת עוֹלָ֑ם? Yeah, I mean, that’s interesting, well, let’s take a step back because you made so many good points. The first interesting point was that it’s not the owner of the land. It’s only the person who’s holding on to the land. There’s no idea of ownership. In addition, let me just finish this point, then we’ll get to the next point. The Torah says in this week’s parsha Avadai Hem The Torah says that the people are my servants. And the rabbis learned from there Avadai hem, v’lo avadim l’avadim, you’re not allowed to work for anybody else. That’s why the slaves go free. Because land is not owned by anybody. And nobody can work for anybody else. It all goes back to God. אֲחֻזַּ֖ת עוֹלָ֑ם? It’s not really אֲחֻזַּ֖ת עוֹלָ֑ם.. generally, doesn’t mean forever? Alarm means until the Yovel (Jubillee)  The Torah says that the Jewish slave if he likes his master can have his ear pierced. And the Torah says Ve’avado L’olam, he’s a slave forever. But the word olam doesn’t really mean olam. The word olam really means until the Yovel. So you’re you’re right for pointing that out. But the rabbi’s already picked up on that and said, it doesn’t really mean that.

Geoffrey Stern  20:26

I’m just blown away from that I had never heard that before. And again, it means that the rabbi’s understood what the contradiction was, and that they tied it to the rule that we are discussing today. Just blows me away. But But there’s another aspect of this achuza that we all are aware of. If you noticed when I read the verses, in verse 18, it said, You shall observe my lowest and faithfully keep my rules that you may live upon the land in security. וִֽישַׁבְתֶּ֥ם עַל־הָאָ֖רֶץ לָבֶֽטַח, the land shall yield its fruit, and you shall eat your field and you shall live upon it insecurity. For those of you who read the prayer book, who say the Shema, twice a day, once a month, once a year, you know that the second paragraph of the Shema says the following, and it’s from Deuteronomy 11:16. Take care not to be lured away to serve other gods and to bow to them, for God’s anger will flare up against you shutting up the skies, so that there will be no rain, and the ground will not produce its produce, and you will soon perish from the good land that God is assigning to you. So even this promised land, even in these very verses, it has the two sides to it. It’s promised to you if you observe the rules, and you conduct yourself properly. But if you don’t, you will be banished, it will not produce what it needs to sustain you. And for a people that his been outside of its land more than it’s been on its land. This is a powerful, powerful message that again, is connected to the concept of the sabbatical year, the Jubilee Year. And as you just pointed out to the word Olam, which we normally mean is it’s ours forever.

Adam Mintz  22:41

I mean, it’s such a nice point you raised that for there’s no forever in the Torah because the only one who’s in charge of forever is God.

Geoffrey Stern  22:52

Yeah, yeah.

Adam Mintz  22:53

Isn’t that a great idea?

Geoffrey Stern  22:55

I think it’s an amazing idea. So let’s let’s deal with another word, we dealt with achuzat for a second, there is a another word that comes up in these words, and it seems to mean something like forever. And the word is, the land shall not be sold permanently for the land is mine. You are strangers and sojourners with me. And the word for permanently is tzemitut. And that word similar to olam has a bunch of connotations. In modern Hebrew, we talk behalutin which means again for ever, so if you if you talk about someone who is in modern Hebrew, if you say that someone is Meshuga l’chalutin and, and in the word that it goes, it means absolutely. But at the end of the day, these words kind of have the sense of a death grip. They’re not positive words. Tzemitut has a sense of destruction and decay; when you’re sold that to me took forever. So it’s almost as if it’s not only that you only have this temporarily, but there is a negative, decaying aspect of having something forever that we are a dynamic religion we are have a dynamic sense of living and life and that this concept of forever is not something that it’s too bad. We miss the latter and we don’t have have it forever. Having something forever is actually a kind of a dead end.

Adam Mintz  25:05

It’s bad to happen forever. Well, it’s against the toe right to have it forever.

Geoffrey Stern  25:11

I think yeah, it is. But it’s also not. We like to think of something you know, they always say nothing lasts forever. But but but the concept behind that is, wouldn’t it be cool if it did. And the if you look at the Hebrew words that are used for forever, they’re, they’re actually not that positive. They’re static. And they’re, in a sense, almost derogatory. There’s a beautiful verse as in Kohelet and Ecclesiastes. And it says, just as a man enters this world by final decision, בַּחֲלִיטִין, so he leaves this world by final decision, it’s almost associated with death. And what the Shmita, ultimately is about is about this tension, of living on the edge of this lack of finality, this lack of, of forever, is actually a lease on life, if you’ll mind the pun.

Adam Mintz  26:22

And you know, you say also, it’s, it’s also introduces this the element of uncertainty. You know, it’s scary that you can’t work the land during Shmita, you talked about driving in Israel, and seeing the signs that you can’t work the land during Shmita. That’s scary. How you going to make a living? Right? It’s scary that you’re gonna have to give back your field at the Yovel How you gonna have to start again, you say it’s the great reset, the great reset sounds good in a bit in the big picture. But personally, the great reset is kind of scary, isn’t it?

Geoffrey Stern  27:00

It absolutely is. So I want to jump …., because I just came from Israel. And so because so much of the tension and an end and a bloodshed in Israel is about ownership of land, is about territoriality. I want to do something radical on this lLag B’Omer, I want to study a Mishnah in the Talmud, that really at one level has nothing to do with what we’re discussing. But I think after we learn it together, we might find it has everything to do with what we’re discussing. And it focused is on a Who’s that, and holding. So it’s the first mission or the first page of Talmud that I ever studied. And it likely might be the first page of Talmud that you ever studied. I can sit here looking up at the sky and say it by heart. שנים אוחזין בטלית זה אומר אני מצאתיה וזה אומר אני מצאתיה, there are two people struggling over a tallit; a piece of cloth. And each one claims that they found it, which of course is very much in line with what achuzah means. They don’t say they owned it forever. They don’t say they inherited it. They both found it. And the missioner goes on to say what do we do. And it says this one takes an oath that that he does not have ownership of less than half. And this one takes an oath that he does not have ownership of less than half. And of course, when you take an oath, we take it very seriously, you’re taking an oath in the name of God. And each party has to be credible, we can’t let someone make an oath that could break their integrity. So instead of each party saying the obvious, which is it’s all mine, they each says I don’t have less than half; that even in the worst circumstance that both of us came at it at the same time. I don’t have less than half. And I’ve always thought that this is a wonderful paradigm for how people argue also about land. That in a sense, it preserves for each party, the integrity that they need to have their narrative. It retains their truth, but nonetheless at the end of the day, it says יחלוקו that each one gets half even though they each believe that they deserve the whole and I would love one day to learn this Mishnah at a peace talk between different people arguing over the same land. Am I crazy? I mean that’s great. I mean that’s about you know, that’s about the time interaction between our desire to own things, our desire for things to be forever our desire for things to be final and the reality of שנים אוחזין בטלית, isn’t that what it’s really about it is

Adam Mintz  30:16

Its tension, which is built in.

Geoffrey Stern  30:19

In the notes. I quote from The Autobiography a very short Autobiography of a young scholar, who died very young, but was considered by everybody to be an Eloy genius. His name was Rav Avraham Eliayu Kaplan. And he says the first time he learned this missioner, he really thought they were arguing in a synagogue over a tallied because that’s what it says, not a piece of cloth, which is what the Aramaic means, …. he saw a religious content to it. And I think we can look at a simple legal text like this, we can look at illegal text of the sabbatical year, and we can learn so many profound lessons. The only last thing that I will say because I do believe that religion has a place in peace talks and in coming together is that when Sadat made peace with Israel, he used a law from the Sharia called a hudna, which means you can make a temporary peace, even when you are breaking some of your ideals. And of course, the temporary peace can last forever. I think in these rules is a way of getting beyond our ideologies and being able to accept others and being able ….. because God owns the world because לַֽ֭ה’ הָאָ֣רֶץ וּמְלוֹאָ֑הּ. we can find a way of compromise.

Adam Mintz  31:54

Amazing, great topic. Welcome back. Enjoy Bahar, everybody. And we look forward to seeing you next week. Shabbat Shalom everybody.

Geoffrey Stern  32:03

Shabbat Shalom to you all.

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life after death

parshat emor, leviticus 21

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on May 12th 2022 for a discussion of the Biblical taboo against contact with death. We explore Biblical and Rabbinic texts and wonder what the Torah’s aversion to death teaches us about life.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/404890

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.  Today we discuss the Biblical taboo against contact with death. We wonder what the Torah’s aversion to death teaches us about life.  So put away your fancy books on theology and metaphysics.  Forget for the moment about mysticism and concepts of the afterlife and let’s talk about our lives.  Let’s talk about life after death.

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So welcome to Madlik. I am broadcasting live from Tel Aviv, Israel, and I'm joined by Rabbi Adam Mintz in New York City. So we are combining both in traditional Jewish fashion, Israel and the Galut. And I must say that I got to Israel maybe a week, a week and a half after Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day and, and all of the flags are still streaming from balconies, and from trees and from cars. And I'm reminded that in Israel, something very strange happens on Independence Day. First, there's Yom Hazicharon (Remembrance Day), which is probably the saddest day of the year, where those of you who have been in Israel, the most moving profound ceremony, ritual takes place where for one minute, the sirens are blasted. People literally stop their cars on the highway and stand at attention and respect (for the fallen soldiers) next to their cars. And then the next moment the day is over, and the happiest day of the year occurs. And I will call that for today's purposes, life after death. So we are not talking about the afterlife. As I said in the introduction, we are talking about life, and we're talking life in the shadow of death after death with death. And with that, we are going to jump right in to this week's parsha it's potshat Emor. And it's Leviticus 21. God said to Moses, speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron and say to them, none shall defile himself or any dead person among his kin. לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ לֹֽא־יִטַּמָּ֖א בְּעַמָּֽיו, except for the relatives that are closest to him, his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, and his brother. And then it goes on to say, They shall not shave, smooth any part of their heads or cut the side growth of their beards, or gash their flesh, they shall be holy to their God, and not profane the name of their God, for they offer God's offerings by fire, the food of their God, and so must be holy. And those rules apply to any profit to any priest or Cohen. But then in verse 10, it goes on to say, the priest who is exalted above his fellows, הַכֹּהֵן֩ הַגָּד֨וֹל, the high priest, on who's had the anointing oil has been poured, and who has been ordained to wear, the vestments shall not bear his head in warning or rent his vestments, he shall not go in where there is any dead body, he shall not defile himself, even for his father or mother. So correct me if I'm wrong, Rabbi. But really, this is the first time that the Bible in this cycle of the reading is addressing head on the laws of impurity. And the most basic cause of any impurity in Judaism is coming into contact with death. And it's so much of a taboo that a normal Cohen cannot go to a funeral of a cousin. He cannot mourn for a friend by going to a cemetery. The high priests can't even mourn and come into contact with his own parents. So first of all, am I right that the source of all impurity in the Bible is death, and two here we are what can we make of this?

Adam Mintz  04:40

So, first of all, this is an amazing beginning of the of the weekly parsha. Yes, the source of all impurity in Judaism in the Torah is death. You see, Judaism is a religion of life. The Torah says Ve'Chai Ba'hem, you should live by the laws, and therefore death is the opposite of that. And therefore death. Death is impurity. It's interesting that the idea of life versus death comes up, I'll just talk about in another context, and we'll bring it back to the Cohen. You know, we're told to choose life, That's why if someone puts a gun to your head and says, I'm going to kill you, unless you violate Shabbat, or unless you eat not kosher, you're supposed to eat not Kosher or violate Shabbat. Rather than die. Ve'Chai Ba;hem we live by the Torah, the Torah wants us to live not to die. There are only three exceptions to that. That's idolatry, adultery and murder. But those are just exceptions, basically, you're supposed to live. And here the Cohen. Who himself in this case, it's basically men, because they are the ones who worked in the temple, they are required to remain holy, to remain holy means that you are not allowed to come in contact with death. It's interesting actually, that a regular Coben is allowed to come in contact with death for a close relative, the high priest is not allowed to come in contact with death, even for a close relative. And I wonder Geoffrey, which is more surprising, is it more surprising that the Cohen is allowed to come in contact for a close relative or that the Cohen Gadol is not allowed to come in contact with a close relative, I would suggest maybe that what's surprising is that the regular Cohen can come in contact with, with death in any situation, because the Cohen needs to stay away from death, since the code needs to always be available to work in the temple.

Geoffrey Stern  06:53

You know what's amazing to me.... And I think to answer your question about the different gradations here, I think that these are paradigms. In other words, the exceptions are and exceptions probably come from just human social concerns. I mean, a normal priest is a normal priest. He's not quite at the level of the high priest. So he can make an exception to the rule, the Cohen Gadol the high priest can make no exception to the rule. But what the statement that it's saying, what strikes me is that it associates this with being holy. Last week, we had the Parsha called Kedoshim and we talked about what holiness was. And the last thing we mentioned, was, we didn't say that holiness is not coming into contact with death. So this is really a profound statement of not simply, as you say, that Judaism is very this worldly, and, you know, you can you can almost do any sin, it says ve'chai ba'hem And when we raise up our glass, we say, L'Chaim, I get all that. But this is a level deeper a letter for a level farther, because what this is saying is part of God's message, or maybe the core of God's message is you don't need death. And the interesting thing is, I think that the classic rabbinic sources kind of take up upon this. I mean, if you think about this, the purpose of religion, normally when we talk about what is religions, most primary function, it's to explain to us the unknown. It's to comfort us when we need comfort. It's when we face the abyss, it is literally to answer the question of death. And here we are saying that in God's book, holiness, is to not dwell, not focus on death. And here's how the rabbinic sauces in my mind kind of approach it. They take the verse that is right before our verse at the beginning of our portion Leviticus 20: 27, A man or a woman who has a ghost or a familiar spirit shall be put to death; they shall be pelted with stones—and they shall retain the bloodguilt.. And the Tanhuma says, Why are those verses put right before the verses that we just read? It's because God says to the Jewish people, do not inquire of ghosts. Remember, many people, even up till today, will look for inspiration amongst the spirits of those who are dead with those who are past a necromancer. And what God says is you don't have that choice. I am your God, you come to me, You shall not inquire of spirits and in a sense, I think that's explaining the connection between God being holy, that his temple is holy and an aversion to dwelling, inquiring focusing on death. Do I have a leg to stand on here?

Adam Mintz  10:11

I mean, I think you do that's interesting that you connect the two. Let's let's talk bigger picture, the connection between this week's portion and last week's portion. Kedoshin means to be holy means not to be impure, not to come in contact with death. So the entire parsha actually, last week was about life, how you live your life, what you need to do fear your parents keep the Sabbath do all of those things. And then this week, it's about stay away from death. It's the flip side isn't?

Geoffrey Stern  10:55

It? Is it is there's no question about it. And you know, I'd like to focus a little bit on your insight that you said, Why is there an exception for your parents, and in the case of the Cohen Gadol even that exception doesn't exist. It's fascinating that the rabbi's say that once Rabbinic Judaism began, they say that you can make an exception also for righteous people. And for scholars. It says אין טומאה לצדיקים ולא לחכמים, and that's in the Midrash Aggadah, Leviticus. But they say that at Yehuda HaNasi's funeral, even Kohanim came and felt that because he was so righteous, they could defile themselves. So I think you're right, in asking that question. There is an aspect of this, that while we don't linger, while we don't focus on death, because we have this amazing connection with God, there are certain people that have a valid right to that connection as well. And that's our parents, both, our physical parents, but also the righteous. So I think there is the exception is real. And that's kind of fascinating.

Adam Mintz  12:16

That is fascinating that Midrash is actually fascinating that the exception is extended to righteous people. I think there are two ways to say and if you want to be Talmudic about it, you could say that those people don't have ritual defilement. Or you could say that you're allowed to ritually defile to those people. And I think the second is correct, meaning a Cohen, in the time of the temple, who went to their father's funeral, would then have to go to the mikveh, to the ritual bath, and be sprinkled with the ashes of the red heifer, they would have to go through a purification process. It's not that becoming tameh, to your parents doesn't make you tameh, it makes you to tameh, it's just that your obligation to your parents overrides the prohibition against becoming today. I think that's a nuance, but I think it's an important nuance.

Geoffrey Stern  13:19

You know, so far, we've talked about these laws almost in a vacuum. We've said that, you know, any religion is there to explain death, any religion talks about how you react with those who have passed into the nether world. And, we really said that if you read this text as straightforwardly, it's making a stand. It's saying that we Jews have a direct connection to God. And therefore, we push back from the dead and the nether world and all that, but I want to explore something that has always fascinated me. And this week, I actually explored it because it seems so obvious to me in terms of a historical context, you know, the Jews came out of Egypt. And you don't have to be an Egypt scholar, to know what the Egyptian religion was all about. I mean, the pyramids are the wonders of the world, you have to believe that every citizen of the Near East knew about Egyptian metaphysics and the Egyptian belief in the next world. And then if you look at the Jewish people, and after all, what were we building? We were building pyramids, which were literally to take the pharaohs and the upper class to the next world. So I said to myself, isn't this a rejection also, of all that Egypt represented? We have that theme throughout the Bible. So I look back and you know, the first interesting thing About the Cohanim, the priests in Egypt, is that they had land, and our priests have no land. So if you look at a Genesis 47, and it talks about Joseph, taking away all the land of all the people as they had to come and get food for the seven year famine, it says in 47: 22, only the land of the priests רַ֛ק אַדְמַ֥ת הַכֹּהֲנִ֖ים, he did not take over for the priests had an allotment for Pharaoh, and they lived off the allotment. So here we definitely have this contrast already, between the priests in Egypt, and the priests, in Judaism in biblical Judaism, where they never had any land. And then you start to think about other parts of our verses. For instance, if you noticed by the high priest, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, it says, You shall not shave, you shall not cut the corners of your beard. And all of us who have ever seen pictures of the Egyptians, as opposed to Babylonians, who had a healthy beard, and Persian kings, they were saved. So it seems to me that part of this is a rejection of all that Egypt represented. And before I asked you for your opinion, you know, Rabbi, one other data point was when Joseph died, and it said that he was embalmed. But he was it was done so in a way that ensured, not that he would go into the nether world, but that he could be taken with them. So it just seems to me that there were these minor reference points to facts about the Egyptian religion, and that if one was reading it from this context, this is just one more rejection of everything that Egypt represented, does that resonate with you?

Adam Mintz  17:22

It's fantastic. Actually, I mean, the idea of connecting the Cohan of Egypt, with the Jewish Cohen, I think, is a really interesting thing. First of all, you have to know the Torah never makes that connection. I mean, the Torah talks about Cohanim. But the Torah never makes that connection. But what you're saying is that our priesthood is actually the opposite of the Egyptian priesthood. And that the purpose of our priesthood is to show that the Egyptians did not have it, right. Meaning we don't have a priesthood where the where the priests owns everything. It's a priesthood where the priest has nothing. So the purpose of the introduction of priests and the tau raise to show what's important in Judaism. That's a great idea isn't that we kind of we kind of undermine the pagan society.

Geoffrey Stern  18:21

Well, but it's not only pagan, if you think I mean, the easiest, I'm sure I could pick any religion. But if you look at the Catholic religion, for instance, what is the power that the church has over the people? It's the pearly gates, it's damnation, or it's go to heaven. And literally, it is the biggest cudgel, the biggest stick of that religion. And I argue that Egypt again was all about that. It was all about the afterlife. And here we have a religion that yes, that's why the Kohanim in Egypt and it uses the same word. We always think of Cohanim like Cohen... Cohen's a nice Jewish name. But Cohanim means priests. And when the Bible refers to Egyptian priests, it refers to Kohanim but no wonder they had land because they had all the power. They controlled everything and here we have, the Jewish Priest doesn't have that land doesn't have that power. And to me, the punch line if you'd look at the opposite of the pyramids, is Deuteronomy 34: 6 and God buried him meeting Moses in the valley in the land of Moab near Beth poor, and no one knows his burial place to this day. Here our leader, and in the Bible at times it says Moshe was like a god Moshe was like a pharaoh. Here our leader is buried in an unmarked grave. You cannot but have a takeaway from This, that this is a radical rejection of all that was Egyptian and that's kind of natural, is it not? We were freed slaves.

Adam Mintz  20:08

Yeah. Good. I think that's all good and I gotta make one additional point, the story of Hanukkah, right B'yemai Matityahou ben Yohanan Cohen Gadol.  The story of Hanukah was actually the victory of the Cohanim. And what happened was after the story of Hanukkah, the Cohen, the High Priest actually became the king. And Ramban, Nachmanides says that that family was punished, because the Cohen is not allowed to be the king. There's a separation between church and state, the Cohen is not allowed to be the king separation of church and state, that's not great.

Geoffrey Stern  20:48

Well, absolutely. And you can almost equate the downfall of [Temple] Judaism. That was the beginning of that slippery slope, all the way to Herod. And all that when we we gave up that separation of literally, of church and state, you're absolutely correct. That absolutely amplifies what I was saying. I mentioned a few minutes ago, that the rabbi's kind of took away from these biblical verses some lessons and the first lesson they took was that you can defile yourself for a teacher. And that there's something profound in Judaism in terms of the respect we have for our parents for our past, and for the education and the transmission of our tradition, that is at the same level, possibly, or gets close to the same level as this relationship that we have with God. But the rabbi's went even further, and I'd like to explore some rabbinic texts that relate to the way they valued life. So one interesting, and this is a piece of Talmud that I searched for, because I knew it was there. And I said, you know, it's the old question of you know, two guys walk into a bar. What happens if a funeral possession and a wedding possession meet on a crossroad. In Ketubot 17a it says the sages taught one reroutes the funeral procession for a burial of a corpse to yield before the wedding possession of a bride. מַעֲבִירִין אֶת הַמֵּת מִלִּפְנֵי כַלָּה And the reason they do that is because the wedding represents the future. And the burial is the past. And again, I put it within the context of other religions, that deify, that make this realm of the afterlife as the fulcrum that guides our observance, and just a very simple rule like this is a profound statement, is it not?

Adam Mintz  23:08

It really is. These great Talmudic statements where you have one thing versus the other, you know, they have a case where yet where you have a chance to save your father or your teacher, who do you say first. What is considered to be more important, a funeral or a wedding, which is considered to be more important. I always like to study those pieces of the Talmud by asking the following question, what would we have thought if the Talmud hadn't given us an answer? What would you have thought to a bit in the right answer?

Geoffrey Stern  23:38

I don't want to get into social commentary. And maybe this doesn't apply to your synagogue and to modern, Orthodox, observant Jews, but I belong to a conservative synagogue. And I know that around the holidays, they will say services begin at this time, and Yizkor is at this time. Even Lincoln Square synagogue has a free Yizkor service. Yizkor is when we remember those who have passed away and it seems that even till today, even within our Judaism, we focus upon that aspect because we know that's what brings in people to our religion, but at the end of the day, those of us who are involved in our religion 365 days knows that it's really the wedding's not the funerals. It's really the Simchat Torah and the Purim and the Hanukkah, but nonetheless we default to using the hook of the afterlife the Netherworld? Am I wrong, am I being facetious and cynical?

Adam Mintz  24:54

What about the fact that what brings people to shul is Kaddish? Right?.

Geoffrey Stern  25:00

Yeah. And neither one of us is putting it down obviously. But nonetheless, you can ask the question: Why is Kaddish such a draw and not? You know, listening to the Torah? You know, why did you say the Torah reading begins sharply at 10:00?

Adam Mintz  25:18

We know the answer and I guess that's the that's the problem, right?

Geoffrey Stern  25:22

Yup. So I want to dig a little bit deeper. We it's very trite to say that the rabbi's were this worldly, and they loved life. But there's another thread that I find fascinating and Ketubot 103b It says: When Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi fell ill, Rabbi Ḥiyya entered to be with him and found him crying. He said to him: My teacher, for what reason are you crying? Isn’t it taught in a baraita: If one dies while laughing, it is a good sign for him; while crying, it is a bad sign for him?... Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi said to him: I am crying for the Torah and the mitzvot that I will be unable to fulfill after I die. The sense that only someone of flesh and blood can feed the poor, can put tephilin on his arm can make the decision whether to be faithful to his wife or not, can study the Torah, this lack of looking at the next world as the ultimate goal and reward. It's absolutely lacking here. This gives religious substance to our life on Earth. Is it powerful?

Adam Mintz  26:44

Very powerful. So what do you make of that statement? I think it's great.

Geoffrey Stern  26:48

I think you can only take it at face value that just as those of us who come into contact with, with a friend or family who passes away, and we walk out we go, you know, we got to savor every moment on this beautiful earth. It's as good as it gets. There's such a focus on the only thing that we can do is in this world. You know, it reminds you of that Midrash where the angels were arguing with God, saying, why God are you giving the Torah to Moses, give it to us we're pure. And all the arguments are because Moses can sin and he's human, and he's hungry, and he has to work and he has to make sure he's ethical. You don't have any of those issues. That's kind of the way the Rabbi's, especially in a text like this are looking at the next world. Maybe it's a place for reward. But it's not a place for spiritual growth. It's not a place where you can learn one day what you didn't know the day before.

Adam Mintz  27:49

Yeah, I think that that's all good. I mean, the idea of this world versus the next world, how do we live our life? Are we supposed to worry about this world? Are we supposed to be concerned about the next word?

Geoffrey Stern  28:03

You know, and you don't even have to go to rabbinic sources. If you go to the psalms that we read when we sing Hallell it says lלֹ֣א הַ֭מֵּתִים יְהַֽלְלוּ־יָ֑הּ וְ֝לֹ֗א כׇּל־יֹרְדֵ֥י דוּמָֽה. The dead cannot praise the Lord, nor any who go down into silence. I shall not die but live and proclaim the works of the LORD. The LORD punished me severely, but did not hand me over to death.

Adam Mintz  28:28

I mean, King David knew the answer, right?

Geoffrey Stern  28:31

So you could look at it from the point of view of someone who's in pain and someone dying. But from the perspective that we're looking at, it's no this is the best life that we have. And it's fascinating that when the rabbi's did put together an afterlife, it was Techiyat Hameytim it was coming back with a body they were so focused, so committed to life as we know it. I just want to share one law that actually is in the Misheneh Brura and the Shulchan Aruch till today and the Gomora Berachot says one may not walk in a cemetery with tephilin on his head and a Torah in his arm and read from it. If one does so he commits a transgression due to the verse. He who mocks the poor blasphemed his creator. לוֹעֵג לָרָשׁ חֵרֵף עוֹשֵׂהוּ And there are other laws. In the Mishna Brura  that says you can't wear ztitzit, a talit in a cemetery. And again, it harps on what Rob Yehuda HaNasi said, You can be the biggest tzadik in the world buried and visited by by 1000s of Hasidim. But you can't do mitzvot anymore. And so if somebody shows up to a beit kevarot to a cemetery wearing tephilin, he is mocking the dead. And the flip side of that is that every breathing moment that we have the obligation but the privilege of being alive.

Adam Mintz  30:04

I think that's the best thing. That's the best word so far. And that is, we have the privilege to do all these things. Isn't that a great thing? We have the privilege to do these things. Once you die, you no longer have the privilege to do these things anymore.

Geoffrey Stern  30:21

Yep. And and, and it comes across, not as some sort of ethical message or a drash. But it goes all the way through to the Halacha and the fact that when you leave the cemetery, you wash your hands, we give great respect for the dead. And I should say that the laws even for a Cohen, if there's no one else to bury somebody, you got to do it. It's called a Meit Mitzvah.

Adam Mintz  30:49

I'll tell you another interesting thing about respect for the dead, you know, some people wear their tzitizit out of their shirts, you know, they wear they wear their tzitzit hanging. You know, that when you go into a cemetery, you're not allowed to have your tzitzit hanging out, because that would be embarrassing for the dead. We take that so literally, that would be considered embarrassing for the dead. Isn't that interesting?

Geoffrey Stern  31:13

It's interesting. But again, it's a it's a little trivial example of a profound message.

Adam Mintz  31:20

One more example of the same message.

Geoffrey Stern  31:24

And that love of life that we have isn't just a simple L'Chaim. It's a love of everything that we can do with every breath that we have in every blessed moment that we have. And that ultimately, is why a rejection of death is something that is holy, and it is an affirmation of our relationship with God and life and that to me is an amazing message.

Adam Mintz  31:51

Fantastic. Enjoy Israel. Shabbat shalom, everyone else Shabbat Shalom and we look forward next week to returning to our regular scheduled time at 8pm Shabbat Shalom everybody

Geoffrey Stern  32:00

Shabbat Shalom to everybody. Bye bye

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/404890

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Loose Lips and Leprosy

parshat metzora, leviticus 14

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on clubhouse on April 7th 2022 as we explore how the affliction of Leprosy became identified with slander in Rabbinic texts. We’ll watch our tongue as we revisit the theme of Mitzvot as symbol, language and metaphor.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/398050

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, I host Madlik disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern, and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. Today we explore how a skin condition became identified with slander in rabbinic tests. So rinse your mouth and wash your face and join us for loose lips and leprosy.

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So welcome, Rabbi, another week of Madlik disruptive Torah. And I was all prepared to say to you, you know, maybe the reason why leprosy was compared to speaking evil was because there was a quiet week in the parshiot and no one had anything to talk about, you know,  especially in this cycle where we have, it have Tazria and Metsorah, two portions that are just very hard to connect to. I mean, they talk about houses that get mold in them and all sorts of stuff that we can hardly relate to. And then as I started doing my research, I said, you know, this is a little bit more than just filling in the white space, the amount of texts that are invested in making the association between this skin condition which is called leprosy and the English translation probably isn't quite that. And the evils of speaking evil slander are all over the place, the sections that you go to when you do a search, don't have an isolated paragraph they go on and on. So I think we're actually in for a little bit of a treat. It's not something that most people have not heard of, I think it's fairly common knowledge that leprosy and lashon hara are identified. But I think we might be a little bit interested and surprised by how deep, profound and maybe even directions are taken that we weren't expecting. So let's begin with Leviticus 14, 1-3. And it says God spoke to Moses saying, this shall be the ritual for a leper at the time of being purified. When it has been reported to the priests, the priests shall go outside the camp. If the priest sees that the leper has been healed of the scaly affection. And then it goes on to describe different types of this dermatological ailment, and different levels of purity. But one thing is pretty clear that it is done outside of the camp, it is done outside in the open. And somehow it piqued the interest of the moralists who connected it to speaking evil. So let's stop here. Do you think a simple drash, hermeneutics that the connection was made? Do you think its inherent in the text? How do you explain it?

 

Adam Mintz  03:26

Well, first of all, you started by saying that we have two weeks of this, which is fascinating, right? We have two weeks of these kinds of pashas, which are hard to kind of find relevance. But I think the idea of biblical diseases is a fascinating topic. And what I mean by that is, I think we may have mentioned last week, when you think about, you know, the characters in the Bible, nobody dies of disease. How is that possible? Right? Nobody dies of cancer. Nobody has a heart attack. Everybody seems to die of old age. The one exception in the book of Genesis is that Rachel dies in childbirth. But that's not exactly sickness. Why doesn't anybody gets sick? I think the answer is that according to see in the pre penicillin era, when they couldn't cure diseases, they had to somehow get their arms around desease. The only way they knew to get their arms around disease was by saying that the disease was a punishment for a sin. So no, it's not inherent in the text. But basically, the text has no choice, but to suggest that there's a reason for it. And the reason has to be a sin. Mitsora, sounds like Motzzi shem Rah, which is The Hebrew word for gossip. That's really where it's a similarity of, of words, it's a similarity of hearing of, of, you know, a pronounciation. That's really the connection.

 

Geoffrey Stern  05:17

So I love the fact that you make us aware that in the Bible till now, yes, there are people that are killed as a punishment, they're swallowed into the earth, things like that. But in terms of especially the main characters, the pivotal characters, they just die. And you know, they were beautiful euphemisms for that they are gathered into their people. And we focused a little bit on that. But you're right, there is no particular disease. And as someone who has just this past week, experienced death in a hospital, you know, you got to put something in the death certificate, you can say, this 95 year old person died of old age, it's got to be something conjunctive heart disease, pulmonary failure. And you're absolutely right, that, although this doesn't necessarily talk about death, but it does focus on a disease on an ailment. And the Rabbi's, as you say, in Erochin 15b Reish Lokish says, this is the law of the leper. This means this shall be the lowest of a defamer motsi shem rah. So on the one hand, you kind of scratch your head and say, Well, if it was that, why didn't you say it? But on the other hand, I think what he's doing is tied into what you talked about. And this is kind of controversial, because in a sense, what we're saying is bad things happen to bad people. And that's a very scary concept. On the one hand, in terms of morality, and edification, it's nice for us to think if we do something bad, we might get punished, our bodies might misfunction, whether if we abused them by eating the wrong thing, or saying the wrong thing. So it is a slippery slope. But let's talk first about the positive side that it's trying to take a moral message or moral meaning from an ailment, such as what is called leprosy. And I think what we can certainly do is focus on what directions, the texts kind of take this for now. And maybe later, we'll come back to the other aspect of it. Which is, are you really saying that bad things only happen to bad people, and that if someone who seems to be righteous gets a skin ailment, you can assume that he must have been speaking Loshon Hora?

 

Adam Mintz  07:54

Right. I think that that really is the question of the parsha. If you had to get the parsha down to one question, though, that really is the question about how you connect Loshon Hora to this skin ailment. There's another question by the way, what exactly is the ailment? So in the title, you called it leprosy? But you said that it's not really leprosy. Most of the scholars identify it more with psoriasis. You know, it's interesting leprosy. You know, until very recently, the Western world was scared of leprosy on Roosevelt Island, there's actually a leper hospital. It does not use this a leper hospital anymore. But there's a building that is a leper hospital. A leper hospital means that the people were afraid of lepers. They thought that leprosy was contagious. And therefore people who got leprosy were literally put in a hospital away on Roosevelt Island away from everybody. People were afraid of leprosy. Isn't that interesting? I wonder whether that's connected to our parsha?

 

Geoffrey Stern  09:09

Well, I do think that leprosy or any type of dermatological skin ailment is distinct from other ailments. You can be walking around with heart disease and no one knows it. You can have any sort of disease of internal organs, no one knows it. I think what's unique about whatever this is, whether it's leprosy or some other variation, is that you can see the disease. You're wearing it on your shirt sleeves, so to speak. And I think that is what possibly guides the rabbi's and some of the commentaries that say, not only is it a punishment, but it's a punishment for something that somebody does in private and has implications to the public, and therefore the punishment is made to fit the crime, midah keneged midah, and you are punished in public for something that you did to hurt somebody in private. And that I think, is a little bit of a clue as to why the rabbis thought that leprosy had to do with Motzei Shem rah. Motzei means like, in Yetziat Mitzrayim, taking something out into public and Shem Rah obviously, we know from Wisdom literature for Mishlei, that the most important thing that anybody has is a good name. So am I correct in saying that the rabbi's kind of make that connection here,

 

Adam Mintz  10:50

They definitely make that correction. And you're right Shem Rah is the opposite of a Shem Tov. Actually, the Misheneh in Pirkei Avot says that what you need the Keter shem tov oleh al gabeyhem.  That the most important thing of all was to have a good name. And that's really that's important idea.

 

Geoffrey Stern  11:12

So I think we've established that one of the connections besides the play on word, which is probably a little artificial, One of the connections is this public private space. But the other is, is in the narrative itself in Numbers 12, we learn of Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses, because of the Kushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. And they had a problem with either her being a Cushite, or something to do with their marital relationship. And then it goes on in verse 10. And when the cloud was removed from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow. And Aahron looked upon Miriam, and behold, she was leprous. And the commentaries and the Midrash start to do something that we're now going to encounter, which is, this is a sin that is full of nuance. This is a sin that scholars up until the great Chofetz Chaim who wrote a complete book, just on the laws of lashan hora, were totally aware. How do you distinguish between saying lashon Hora and listening to it? How do you respond if you hear it? So here in this particular case, the Ibn Ezra, and also the Gemora says that Aaron was punished t0o because he listened to it. But in any case, I think here is a clear connection between speaking bad of somebody speaking bad of somebody's private affairs, marital affairs, maybe even race and the affliction of this dermatological condition.

 

Adam Mintz  13:02

I think that that is absolutely correct. Now, there is an interesting question about why turning your skin turning white is the appropriate punishment for Lashan Hara. I think that's a good question to ask. And I think probably the answer is that when you speak Lashon, Hara, you want to harm other people. And, you know, like you're acting as if you're superior to other people. If I gossip about you, I'm feeling superior to you. And, you know, the way to handle someone who appears to feel superior is to embarrass them publicly. And if their skin turns white, they're embarrassed publicly. So that's also an interesting twist on all of this, that actually the punishment, we would say the punishment fits the crime.

 

Geoffrey Stern  13:56

Well, I think that normally we think of white as something that's pure. When the thread on Yom Kippur turns from red to white, we know that our prayers have been answered. But what you raise is this issue of embarrassing someone and in Hebrew, it's Malbin Panei chavero. So those of you who know Hebrew Malbin comes from the word Lavan, which is white. And the concept is if you embarrass somebody in public, the blood leaves their face, they turn white, and maybe there's that connection.

 

Adam Mintz  14:33

Good. I liked that also, that's good. Malbin Pnei Chavero, So you embarrass them, they turn white, so your skin turns white too. The other thing that's interesting is what happens to you if you get this disease and what happens is that you have to leave the camp. Badad Teashev. Now that's very relevant to us. Because we have a term for that these days, you call it quarantine, right? You have to leave the camp, you can be with other people. Now, everybody knows everybody who's had COVID knows how depressing it is to be in COVID quarantine. And here, this is what they did, they put them in quarantine, they had to go outside the camp, they couldn't interact with anybody in the camp, that's also very relevant to the sin that they violate.

 

Geoffrey Stern  15:31

So obviously, this concept of you think you hurt somebody with just language. But it has physical consequences. And I think there's that connection as well. Not only is there that momentary loss of face color, so to speak, but you can do infinite damage. I mean, we all know, unfortunately, from what happens on the internet, where there are companies designed to help you clear your name, you know, the old story that I believe came from the Chafetz Chaim . And that says that speaking evil is worse than any other sin. Because it's like a pillow full of goose feathers, that once you open it up, you can't control where those goose feathers go. And if you want to repent and you're asked to retrieve all of those goose feathers, it's almost impossible. So the idea is you start by speaking.... speech only. And then you end up by creating hurt that is not easily retrieved or taken back, it leaves an indelible mark,

 

Adam Mintz  16:49

That is a great image. I mean, that's a famous Chofetz Chaim. But that idea of you can't control. And we all know it, right? Once you start once something's on the internet, it goes places you never would have imagined, you know, what, what do they say, don't put anything in an email that you wouldn't say, to the whole world that you wouldn't publish in the New York Times. Because potentially that's what's gonna happen to it. And that's really the image of the Chofetz Chaim long before there was email.

 

Geoffrey Stern  17:20

And the Hebrew expression is HaChosed BeKesharim loke begufo. Someone who is "choshed" who suspects somebody of being evil, and they are kosher, they get hurt bodily. So there's, you know, it's, it's when I started, I forgot all of these nuances. And I said, you know, we all sit around the table on Friday night and somebody says, Did you hear what happened to this one? And we all say, don't say lashon Hora. Let's not get down there. You see the side of a bus in Israel. And if you Google the word loshen horah, when you look at the images, it's amazing. People have bumper stickers that say don't speak loshon horar. But loshon hara  taken by the rabbi's and parsed by the rabbi's gets into all sorts of things. There's the story of Rav Kook who would see a car driving on Shabbat and instead of throwing a stone, he would say Mazel Tov, because in his mind, why else would you be driving a car on Shabbat if you weren't going to have a bay? So that's the "dan lekav zechut" That's when you think that whatever anybody does, there must be some righteousness in it. It's the opposite of "Choshed bekasherim" We've we've come across this concept of listening. Aaron, according to the Midrash was also punished with leprosy. It came and it went faster, but he just created an audience for it. So there's that aspect of it. But the one fascinating point is that all of the commentators, as they begin to speak, say, although this is not a commandment, and of course, there is a commandment that says "lo telech rachil b'amecha", you should not go about and speak. Raheel will, he looked is certainly a synonym to LaShan Haoran, but because of the context that it's in, and it talks about judging and showing favor to the poor and deference to the rich, and it talks about judgment, the actual use of Raehilut it is probably more legal. It has to do with giving evidence when you have to say something bad about somebody and where that's not necessary, where a judge who leaves the court doesn't necessarily have to say, well, it's not that all of us agreed that he was blameless. But nonetheless, there's this commandment, quote unquote, commandment that has definitely taken root within Judaism in a very impactful way, even though it's truly not one of the 613 commandments. And what does that say about sometimes you need to be commanded? And sometimes maybe you should figure it out in your own.

 

Adam Mintz  20:31

Yeah, I mean, that's also interesting, that, you know, right, you know, sometimes it's better not to be commanded, right?

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:40

Yeah, we've definitely come across that, even with the two sons of Aaron, who were killed in service, so to speak. So there is that tension there. But this certainly became very mainstream. The interesting thing about the word Racheel, and where he looked, that is different slightly from LaShawn Hara is Rashi. In the verse in our numbers that I just quoted, he goes on to talk about why does it say "holech racheel", and he starts making comparisons between sellers of merchandise and tailbearers. And so now he's talking about those people who almost make a living out of exposing other people's private lives. And that's certainly something that rings true to us today, where, you know, if you say something bad, it's gonna get a lot more hits than if you say something that's nice. In this whole weather, it's the National Enquirer, this whole element of character assassination, that seems to be so part and parcel of our politics. You know, it's the more you think about it. This is a profound aspect of social life. And it ultimately is a blemish in terms of social mores. It's at the basis of so many bad things that affect us.

 

Adam Mintz  22:20

That is absolutely correct. I mean, it's interesting how we started with with tsarat, with leprosy, and we kind of are able to connect it all the way through to all these fascinating ideas.

 

Geoffrey Stern  22:33

Well, and I think in a sense, that's why leprosy is not a bad translation, not because medically it's correct. But because, as you mentioned, yes, this this thing of calling out leper leper, maybe it was considered contagious. And that is clearly something that speaking bad, or even nurturing a society that lives off the secrets of others, that lives off the talking about others. Is something that is clearly contagious, you know, you get into I think I came across an article from Rabbi Sacks of a teenager who committed suicide because of what people was saying about her. We live in a hyper situation with regard to these these visceral attacks, and visceral impact of words.

 

Adam Mintz  23:36

Yeah, I mean, obviously, that's true. I mean, the internet makes these things so much more complicated, doesn't it?

 

Geoffrey Stern  23:45

It certainly does.

 

Adam Mintz  23:47

Because all of these things, we're talking about the the feather pillow, the the idea of "rachil", you know, the word rachilut, comes from the word rachil, the word rachil means a merchant. And the way they explain it is that a merchant goes from place to place. And that's what our Lashan Hora does, it goes from place to place; the same idea, is it not a powerful image? That actually comes from Rashi.

 

Geoffrey Stern  24:19

It actually does. And the other thing that while she says is he quotes a French word, which comes from spy "espiement". The idea is not simply to come across this foul secret, but to look for it to make an industry of it. Let's get back a second to the episode of, of Miriam and Aahron. So the commentaries have, you know, tried to figure out what was the content of Miriam's loshon hora. So if you recall when I quoted it, there were two things that come to mind. One is she said Moses, his wife was a Cushite. And I thought for sure that a Cushite means an African or black person. And I was sure that I would find in the commentaries, a level of bias of bigotry. I was sure that I would find something that harken back to us discussion with the Reverend Washington, way back when of the of the sin of Ham. And the reason I was so sure about it is because I remember as clear as day having an argument with my study partner at the Yeshiva where he was talking about listen, black people, you know, it's no compliment. Look what happened with Miriam, and to my grand satisfaction. And maybe it's because I didn't have enough time, I did not find one classical commentary that read into this a racist remark. What they all focus on, is that she was distinctive, like a Cushite, because actually, in the Bible, it says that she was a Midianite that he married a girl from Midian. So they explained that she stuck out in the crowd, her beauty was so striking. It was like a dark skinned person amongst white skinned people. But one of the things that Reverend Washington told us and I think some of us learn is that skin color as a derogatory characteristic is a fairly new phenomenon. But again, I was pleasantly surprised on the one hand, but I think I cannot say conclusively, but anecdotally, I do find in certain circles of Jews, that there is a high level of bigotry and bias. The word Shvarter is used in a negative way. And I know that Lushan hara and the laws that we're talking about today a studied in detail, but I think this core essential aspect of it seems to have lost thieri attention, whether it's even Jews of color, Sefardin and some members of Haredi society. And again, we all have it, we all have this, but I would like to think one of my takeaways from today's discussion is that on the one hand, talking in a bigoted fashion, whether you believe in bigotry, or you're just using the words of the past, is lashon hara, and it needs to be called out. And that the the types of conversations that we have where the youth is getting too hypersensitive (politically correct) , and you can't get hypersensitive about lashon hara, if the Chofetz Chaim taught us anything, he wrote a book on every aspect of it. And he said, The Power of Words is profound.

 

Adam Mintz  28:05

There is no question that that's right. I mean, and obviously, that's right, in terms of bigotry. And it's terrible, that we live in a world where there is so much bigotry. But what's fascinating is the Torah kind of goes out of its way to not be bigoted there, it'd be easy to be bigoted there. Right, it'd be easy to say that they were worried about was the fact that he married a woman of color, but they go out of their way to say no, that's not what we're talking about. It's almost as if they're sensitive to that very point.

 

Geoffrey Stern  28:43

I couldn't agree more. The other commentary as to what Miriam was saying that was negative was that she said, she overheard a conversation of two people who had become prophets and had separated from their wives, and overheard Moses's wife say, Yeah, I know what that's about. So they were getting into the private marital affairs of Moses. And I think that to the aspect of lashon hara, that many times we can ignore it sexually and in you, innuendo. And this is the kind of core case history everything else becomes commentary. So I think that's another takeaway. We're running out of time, I would like to focus a little bit on the first instance, of leprosy in the Bible. And that goes back, believe it or not to the burning bush, in Exodus 4. If you recall, Moses is striked by the fact that the Bush is burning and not consumed. And he says, What happens if the people of Israel don't listen to me? So the first thing that God says is grab the staff and throw it down. (5) “that they may believe that ה', the God of their ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, did appear to you.” (6) ה' said to him further, “Put your hand into your bosom.” He put his hand into his bosom; and when he took it out, his hand was encrusted with snowy scales!  (7) And [God] said, “Put your hand back into your bosom.”—He put his hand back into his bosom; and when he took it out of his bosom, there it was again like the rest of his body.— So this is the first instance of leprosy that is related to something that Moses said, the traditional commentary say, he doubted the people of Israel, He said to God, they're not going to believe that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is there for them. And for that sin, he was punished. And isn't it interesting that we have Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, three siblings who all all kind of case studies in tsoras.

 

Adam Mintz  30:57

So let me tell you what's fascinating to me about that story. It's amazing that Moshe gets leprosy for speaking lashon hara before the Torah tells us that you get leprosy for speaking lashon hara. The Torah hasn't gotten there yet. But Moses gets it anyway. It seems to me from that story, that this was a common belief in the ancient world that the punishment for lashon hara was leprosy. In Jewish and Egyptian culture in all cultures, everybody knew if you get leprosy, I know what I did wrong. It's like if you wake up tomorrow, and you have COVID, God forbid, so you know, you're exposed to somebody with Covid. If you wake up tomorrow with a white skin disease, you know, you spoke lashon hora. And that's what happened to Moshe, the Torah doesn't need to tell us that that's what happened. That's an automatic. That's why you get leprosy. Isn't that interesting?

 

Geoffrey Stern  31:56

It is interesting. It's also interesting, that from this perspective, Lashon hara is when you speak badly of a people. So in a sense, when Israel is the only nation in the United Nations that gets blamed for crimes that it does possibly do, or where it falls short. But it's one amongst the family of nations, that's loshan hora also. And for those of us who are can can talk about a whole people in in one broad stroke, and say that they are thus and they are the other that also lashon hora. So it seems to me that the more your journey through our texts, you see the profound effect that words can have to both heal, but also to hurt. And I think at the end of the day, this brings it back to the Egypt story. This brings it back to a story of believing in our people, ultimately believing in ourselves, it comes down to national pride, and it comes down to giving that same pride to other peoples and to other nationalities, and that the Exodus story therefore is so universal,

 

Adam Mintz  33:14

and you know what it goes to show that the most irrelevant of parsha's is also the most relevant of parshas. I want to wish you Shabbat Shalom. And the next two weeks there is no parsha because the next two weeks is Pesach so therefore, we look forward to seeing everybody three weeks from now when we continue with another great parsah the parsha of Acharei Mot. Hg Sameyach everybody enjoy and look forward to seeing you in a few weeks Chag Samayach.

 

Geoffrey Stern  33:43

Chag Sameyach, Shabbat Shalom and I love it Madlik Spring Break. See you all in three weeks.

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of woman born

parshat tazria (Leviticus 12)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on Thursday March 31st 2022 as we use the Torah’s treatment of postpartum impurity to explore postpartum depression, gender definition and female sexual needs and rights, to name a few stimulating topics…

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/396094

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, I host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern, and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. Today, we use the Torah’s treatment of childbirth to explore postpartum depression, gender definition, and female sexual needs and rights to name a few stimulating topics. So put away your Masters and Johnson forget about your chosen pronouns, and ditch your favorite child rearing book and join us as we explore Of Women Born. Boy, did I fit enough in that intro?

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Adam Mintz  00:55

I don't want to miss it either.

 

Geoffrey Stern  00:58

I mean, you know, usually we focus on just a few verses, but I gotta say that this week, boy, oh, boy, there were so many topics and they all relate to the subjects that I described. So let's just jump in Leviticus 12: 1-5 "God spoke to Moses saying, Speak to the Israelite people. Thus, when a woman at childbirth, bears a male, she shall be impure seven days, she shall be impure as at the time of her menstrual cycle. On the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised, she shall remain in a state of purification for 33 days, she shall not touch any consecrated thing nor enter the sanctuary until her period of purification is completed. However, if she bears a female, she shall be impure (twice as long,) two weeks, as during her menstruation, and she shall remain in a state of blood purification for (not 30 days, but) 60 days." So there's so much to unpack here. Why is she impure? Why does she bring a sacrifice? And yes, why is there a difference between whether she has a boy baby, or a girl baby, and as a new father, grandfather of a baby girl who's today, four weeks old.... This is really pertinent to me. So Rabbi, what is the most interesting, stimulating, engaging question that comes to your mind from these verses?

 

Adam Mintz  02:52

So to me, the question of why the period of purification is different if you give birth to a boy or to give birth to a girl? To me, that's always the hardest question. And I don't know even after all these years, whether I have the perfect answer.

 

Geoffrey Stern  03:11

So I'm going to go out on a limb here, and I know that we are supposed to be having Disruptive Torah. And I'm always gonna be dredging and saying, "Why is this gender different? And why is this like this?" But I've got to tell you, that I actually believe that the issues that are raised are more important than necessarily the conclusions that are reached. So let's begin with your question about why is it different if you have a baby boy, and why is it different if you have a baby girl? So the most I think accepted answer comes from the Talmud in multiple places. I'm gonna quote Nida 31b. And it says and the students of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, not a small Rabbi further inquired of him. What reason does the Torah say that a woman who gives birth to a male is ritually impure for seven days, but a woman who gives birth to a female is impure for 14 days. Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai answer them. When a woman gives birth to a male. Everyone is happy, and she regrets her oath, that she will never engage in sexual relations with her husband. Already seven days after giving birth. She's so happy that she had a baby boy, she forgets about all the nasty things she said about her husband and having sexual intercourse with her husband. By contrast, after giving birth to a female, over which everyone is unhappy, she regrets her oath only 14 days after giving birth. So it takes her twice as long to get over the fact that every woman during childbirth, as they are living through the hevlei Leadah, the pangs of giving birth, and are saying, How did I get into this situation? Am I crazy? I'm never gonna touch my husband. Again. It's a question of how quickly she gets over it. So that is the traditional answer. Rabbi, how do you how do you take that, and I assume that you were as happy when you had a girl as you had a boy, so I'm putting you on the spot.

 

Adam Mintz  05:46

I don't know what that means. I'll tell you the way I always understood it. And we'll see if that's what the Talmud means. I always understood that the period of purity is longer for a girl. Because giving birth to a girl is actually more significant than giving birth to a boy, because a girl is herself going to have children. So actually, the period of purity is not only for your daughter, but for all of the generations that are going to come from her, which doesn't apply to a man.

 

Geoffrey Stern  06:20

You know, I have not seen that explanation in all of the traditional commentaries is that your own Hidush?

 

Adam Mintz  06:28

I heard it a long time ago from George Rohr. George Rohr runs the beginners service at KJ on the east side, you know, it's hard to run a beginner service on these kinds of weeks, because the beginners asked hard questions, because they don't have any background. And that's the way he always used to explain it. And of all the explanations, that explanation is the best explanation I've ever heard. I don't know if it's perfect, but it's the best explanation I've ever heard.

 

Geoffrey Stern  06:58

So we're gonna get to a bunch of explanations, but one of them is similar in terms of the compound nature of a woman having a woman. But I absolutely love George Rohr's explanation. I think that's fantastic. That is just beautiful. So what I take away from this is I focus less on the kind of the characterization of social norms of a time where everybody wanted a son to carry on their family name, everyone wanted a son to carry on the business, and I get it. But what I love about this is that it focuses on the psyche of the woman. And it focuses on the fact that having a baby is a major milestone. And that psychologically, it is difficult for the woman. I've been preaching since the beginning of Leviticus, that sacrifices are made to help us deal with pain, with pleasure, with joy with thanks. And if this isn't a case study, in a sacrifice being created to deal with postpartum with giving birth, you've been carrying this child inside, the pain of giving birth is traumatic. And here, the Torah is distinguishing between nuances. Forget about the gender issue. I just love the fact that it's focused on you got to deal with different people in different ways. And then you talk about I mean, again, and it engenders an explanation like George Rohr gave, which is, yes, I'm giving birth to a woman who is going to go through this. I just love it. So I in terms of my reaction that I just love, the fact that the Torah is seems to be really empathizing with the emotional impact. I want a quote from Tzeror Ha-Mor of R. Abraham Saba (1440–1508)  Oh, and by the way, I found some beautiful monographs and some very scholarly studies that were done on these verses, and they were all in the notes on Safaria. If you look at his he goes into this birth, Pang things. And he uses words lay like God היודע הלבבות, who knows the souls of people. And again, he's focused on the fact that in his milieu, having a boy was different than having a girl, but I'm focusing on that he goes on to say, היא עצובת רוח בעצב כפול that when the woman has a girl, she is doubly depressed. And again, I'm not focused on the girl, I'm focused on the depressed, I'm focused on the fact that a commentator is focused on עצובת  and עצב . On the fact that you can have a very strong dose of depression, and then he uses another thing, and he says, so therefore the total gives the woman two weeks to recover, התורה שירדה לסוף דעתה, it goes down and understands her mind. And that's what as lovely and as wonderful as I love to be the contrary guy, I also want to appreciate that whether it's in the actual verses themselves, or in the commentaries and the tradition, here, we're looking at something that has become recognized as a very important; postpartum depression, and focused on how you address it. And did they know how to address it perfectly. 1000 1500 years ago, maybe not, we can discuss that, but they wanted to address it. That's my takeaway.

 

Adam Mintz  11:10

So I like I love that point. That point that they wanted to address it, that maybe they didn't have all the tools that we have, you know, we are very sophisticated. Now we're educated, we have a lot, but they wanted to address it, I liked that idea that there are some things that are kind of built into the human psyche that people have been trying to deal with since the beginning of time. That's really a nice idea, isn't it?

 

Geoffrey Stern  11:35

I love it, I just absolutely love it. And, you know, this is typically a parsha that people have difficulty talking about. But I mean, here in these three, four verses, the fact that it distinguishes between gender bothers me less than the fact that I'm aware that it distinguishes between personal responses to similar situations. So let's drill down a little bit deeper. You talk about, maybe their understanding of science was limited. So in some of the monographs that I quote, it's fascinating that there was a concept out there in Greek medicine. And it goes to Galen, and it goes back to Hippocrates. In the fifth century, that a female fetus takes longer to develop than a male. So again, the rabbi's looked at the science, the best science that they had. And there were some traditional commentaries who go back to that and explain it based on that. And the fact that they explain it means they were bothered by it, too. And how great is that? That 1500 years ago, there were rabbis who we all like to say are the patriarchy and you know, men writing for men? And they were concerned about why does the Torah distinguish between men and women? And again, it was based maybe on a false thing. And you can you can give any kind of commentary; you want to why it would take longer for a female fetus to develop. But again, it was using the best science that they had, and asking themselves, why is there this difference, which is based on the premise that men and female are equal, and I love that too.

 

Adam Mintz  13:37

I love that too. I mean, that is interesting. Again, it doesn't really matter whether the Greek science is correct or not. The point is that they're addressing this topic. And I think that's great.

 

Geoffrey Stern  13:47

But as we continue this discussion, and it's kind of like when you have a challenging problem like this, it's kind of like a Rorschach test, every Rabbi brings to the question, his own baggage and his own perspective. So the most amazing monograph that I quote, is based on a few Rabbi scholars who similar to what you quoted about George Rohr, talk about this is a compounded issue, meaning to say, Why does a woman who gives birth to a woman need two weeks and a woman who gives birth to a man only one week, and one of the answers that they give is that not only is she suffering addressing, compensating for her own life, but she is addressing the life of the mother of all mothers, which is Eve which is Hava and it's very rare in Jewish tradition that we have reference to what the Christians call Original Sin and The Fall. But if you all remember when we studied Genesis, we know the punishment that Adam was given was that he had to work and toil by the sweat of his brow. But the punishment that Eve was given his that she would give birth under pain. And so they harken this back to the original sin, which again, you can interpret in in all different ways. Have you ever heard of this kind of connection? And how does it resonate with you, Rabbi,

 

Adam Mintz  15:38

it resonates, I liked that explanation. And I agree with you. I like the compound nature of the these kinds of explanations. And I think that's interesting. Now, it's an interesting question about whether Original Sin is ultimately a Jewish idea.

 

Geoffrey Stern  15:56

Well, I think it's definitely an idea that Christianity took from us. And as a result, we raise our eyebrows when we see commentaries that reference it. But there was no question that the book of Genesis is not a storybook, that things in it are very important, and that the story of Adam and Eve explains our mortality. It explains the struggle of earning a livelihood that we've talked about when we talked about Lechem and Milchama, and now we're talking about childbirth. It explains the struggles of life. So I don't think there's anyone who takes the Bible seriously. Who would ever say, nah that's just a fairy tale? It was, we're talking about chapter two, of the Bible. And so the change of man, mankind leaving Eden.... You can call it The Fall, you can call it Original Sin. But whatever you call it, it's, it's if you take your Bible seriously, it's important.

 

Adam Mintz  17:05

There is no question that that's right. And it was interesting what you just said, and that is, it doesn't really matter what you call it. The question is how it helps you understand some of these complicated laws in the Torah.

 

Geoffrey Stern  17:19

So I want to go in a completely different direction now. We've kind of looked at the gender issue a little bit. Now I want to look at the question of why is a woman who gives birth to a beautiful child giving a sacrifice in the first place? What did she do wrong? What does she have to ask penitence for? And we've kind of focused on it a little bit, in terms of she made an oath, but let's hit the nail on the head, it needed the masechta the Tractate Nida 31b. It says the students of Rabbi Benue Hashem and when I asked him, Why does the toe say that a woman after childbirth brings in orphaning. He said to them at the time that a woman crowd to stick of birth. Her pain is so great, that she impulsively takes an oath, that she will not engage in intercourse with her husband ever again. So that she will never again experience this pain. Therefore, the Torah says that she must bring an offering for violating her oath, and continuing to engage in intercourse with her parent, her husband. So now we're talking on a whole different level. We're starting to talk about marital relationships, and we are focused on the woman in terms of what she might say during the pangs, the struggle of childbirth to her husband, but before I ask for your opinion, I want to quote the flip side of this discussion, because the flip side is much more radical. What I just told you now again, comes from the patrimony that guy's upset, his wife won't touch them. She gave birth and you know, he wants his conjugal waits. Here's what the mission in q2 boat 61 B says, with regard to one who vows that his wife may not derive benefit from marital relations with him. Beat samurai says he may maintain this situation for up to two weeks. But beyond that he must divorce her and give her the payment for her marriage contract. Paid Hillel says he must avoid sir, if he continues beyond only one week and the Gomorrah continues. Where do they learn this from Big surprise from our verses. So now we're not talking about the husband rights to conjugal rights. We're talking that any woman can say to her husband who wants to be either holier than thou, or he, he's not looking at her. He's not smiling at her. He's not caressing her. She can say, Listen, buddy, the verse that we just quoted from Viagra, whether you go like beit shamai or beit Hillel, it's one or two weeks, and if you can fulfill my sexual desires, I have a right to divorce you and you have to make full payment. How many documents do we have that provides such a representation of women's rights? To conjugal rights? Are you blown away like I am

 

Adam Mintz  20:53

blown away? That's amazing. That's actually amazing.

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:57

I mean, you know, I started by saying in the intro, throw away your Masters and Johnson

 

Adam Mintz  21:04

So let me just say that the Torah in the in the book of Exodus, when it talks about a husbands responsibility to his wife, conjugal rights are seen as the husband's responsibility to his wife. It's not this explicit, but the Torah does. Say She-era Kesuta lo dibra, Ona'ata means conjugal rights, so that he has the responsibility to give her conjugal rights. So the idea that that's the woman's right is actually there in the Torah, but it's not this elaborate.

 

Geoffrey Stern  21:39

But I mean, think of how radical the Fear of Flying and the Kinsley study, and all of this stuff was in the 60s. And here you have the rabbi's talking about a wife's right to sexual fulfillment.

 

Adam Mintz  21:59

Crazy, totally crazy.

 

Geoffrey Stern  22:01

So that's why I find this verse and these three verses and the discussions that are currently about them. So mind blowing. So let's move on a little bit. There are some commentaries who notice something interesting about our verses, if you remember, it says when it's talking about a male, that you shall be impure seven days. And then for another 30 days, you're going to go through this other cycle. But in verse three, it says, On the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. And that, of course, we all know is Brit Milah, is circumcision. And normally, we take that to be something that relates to Abraham, and it relates to a covenant, so forth and so on. But you don't have that parallel on the female side. And so I quote, a wonderful study called Gendering a child with Ritual by Dr. Christine Hankinson Garraway, where she talks about the importance in ancient societies and she goes back to Akkadian and Hittite things about announcing the gender of your child, clearly, if we've learned anything so far, and I say so far, because we're going to go in a different direction in a few minutes. But so far, gender matters. If you have a boy, you feel one way, if you have a girl, you feel another way. But what she does is she takes the double week as something that balances the Brit Mila. So for the male, the way of introducing it to the community, as I had a male son, you have this milestone this, this rite of [passage], of circumcision. And if you have a girl, you show that by the two week period, by the 60 day period, she takes it to be something along those lines, which again, to me, I kind of back away and say it's not so much about gender, but that everybody has the right and the ability to announce their child joining their family, their community, the world in different ways. But she takes it as a positive and that's kind of fascinating.

 

Adam Mintz  24:40

That's very fascinating. I mean, that's, that's interesting to take it as a positive. Who is she,

 

Geoffrey Stern  24:48

You know, it's in if you look at the source, there's this wonderful blog, it's Torah.com I believe, and the level of this scholarship is extremely high. But she's a either a rabbinic student or something. And, and look, I love the source sheets that we always include with our podcast. And if you go there you can, you can do like I do, which is Hafoch bo v'hafoch bo de kulo  bo, you can, you can dig in them, there's so much learning there. But again, see uses as a as a way of distinguishing and announcing the gender of your child.

 

Adam Mintz  25:32

It's very interesting. I think that that that's all you know, sometimes you say that when there are so many different suggestions about the reason for something, it's because nobody really knows the reason. It's not like, Yeah, I know, this is the reason I know, this is the reason everybody's all over the place, because nobody really knows the real explanation.

 

Geoffrey Stern  25:55

Absolutely. And it opens itself up for new interpretation.

 

Adam Mintz  25:59

You know, we haven't discussed one possibility that this was just part of the culture of the ancient world that all religions had.

 

Geoffrey Stern  26:09

Well, and to a degree, if you read her monologue, she says, yes, there was at least in the ancient Near East in the in the Hittite, and the Acadian communities, there was this sense of announcing and bringing into the community.

 

Adam Mintz  26:23

Oh, so she does raise that as a possibility.

 

Geoffrey Stern  26:26

She does. So what I'd like to take away in the next last segment, because we have so many segments to this discussion, is she talks about gender announcing. Now I want you to listen to the Talmud in Nida 40a. And the Gomorrah asks, and what do the rabbis derive from the superfluous expression, so the rabbi's are torn over every extra word in the Torah. And if you notice, when I read about if a boy is born, it says the following, and then it goes says and ve'im nekeva teled which means and if a girl child is born, and all of this commentary say, Why does it need to say if it's a girl? Why does it have to say "was born"? So the Talmud, and Anita says as follows why, for this superfluous expression, the Gemora answers, in their opinion, that expression is necessary to include the birth of a child whose sexual organs are indeterminate, which in the Talmud is called a tum tum, or a hermaphrodite an androgenous, which has a child that has both sexual organs, as it might enter your mind to say that the words male and female are written in the passage to only talk about them, therefore, it teaches she "gives birth", that is the birth itself, not the sex of the offspring that matters. Are you kidding me? This sounds like don't give me labels. If a child is born, I don't care what sex he is, or she is, I don't care what pronouns she/he/it's going to have. I mean, this, this verse blows me away. And in bottom line, what it says is, if you have a child whose sexual identity is in question, you do two weeks, and you do 60 days, but we learn it from the fact that "it is born". It's a child that is born, and it doesn't have to be male or female. I'm blown away that.

 

Adam Mintz  28:40

I love that.  I mean, that is really amazing. I mean, you know, they derive it in, you know, in kind of classic rabbinic way. But what is the message that it gives us such an amazing thing isn't?

 

Geoffrey Stern  28:51

It is and, and again, it's the way we moderns read it, because we can read it differently than either they meant it or that it's been read for 1500 years. But I do believe that the way I just read is true to the text.

 

Adam Mintz  29:13

I think when you read it is fantastic. I love that.

 

Geoffrey Stern  29:15

So the last thing that I'm going to bring up is the question and I called this discussion of woman born. And for those of you who know your Shakespeare, you know that at the beginning of Macbeth, he is told he will be killed by someone who was not of woman born. And of course the punch line was that he was killed by someone who was born via cesarean and there was not of woman born. So the rabbi's also bring that into the discussion and they talk about where it says that from this, we learned that if you are born from cesarean, we all know those of us who have had cesarian births or children have had cesarian births. You don't do, for instance, the redeeming it from the Cohen, it wasn't literally Peter Rechem. It didn't open up the womb, the rechem but all other things that have to do with being a firstborn, whether being responsible [a double portion]  or whatever, is still there. And the word that it uses for cesarean is Yotsei dophen. And today in modern Hebrew, when you say that something is Yotsei dophen what do you mean is it's exceptional? It's out of the ordinary. And I just love the fact that everything that we've been teaching, so the Mishnah in Berachot 47b says Rabbi Shimon says the first son is a firstborn with regard to inheritance, if he is his father's first son, and then it goes on to say but if she bears a girl, again, they're focused on this extra word "teled" that the apparently superfluous term "she bears" serves to include a child born by cesarean section, yotzei dophen. So I would conclude by saying that these verses that have struggled and been difficult for many people, especially people that are very gender conscious, you can read them in a way that absolutely opens up our minds and makes us think yotze dophen, which is out of the box, and to explore things that obviously intrigued our forebears and continue to intrigue us today. But ultimately, just love and admire the miracle of childbirth and everything that it means for us.

 

Adam Mintz  32:19

I think that's beautiful. This was a great topic. Thank you so much. Enjoy this this amazing stuff this amazing topic, everybody. Have a happy Shabbat and a happy Rosh Chodesh and we look forward to seeing you next week. As we will tackle Metzorah and get us ready closer for Passover. He well everybody.

 

Geoffrey Stern  32:40

Shabbat Shalom to everybody. And I just want to say that tonight is the week of my father's Yotzei he passed away five years ago Yehuda Leib ben David Shmuel, and this learning is dedicated to him and to Don Lebell who is if my stepfather who is an amazing person and was a very loving friend of my father, and it's dedicated to birth and the cycle of life so Shabbat Shalom to everyone. And see you all next week. Shabbat Shalom

 

Adam Mintz  33:15

when we remember your father so fondly, and we look forward to many years of studying together in his memory.

 

Geoffrey Stern  33:21

Thank you so much.

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No Martyrs No More

parshat Shmini (Leviticus 10)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Michael Posnik, recorded on Thursday March 24th 2022 on Clubhouse as we ask: Was the death of the two sons of Aaron a tragedy or the ultimate sanctification of God’s Name…. or both? We explore the concept of martyrdom in the Bible and Rabbinic texts and into modern times with the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the creation of the State of Israel.

Sefaria source sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/394321

Transcript;

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at madlik we light a spark with shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. I host Madlik disruptive torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern, and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. Today I ask was the death of the two sons of Aaron; a tragedy, or the ultimate sanctification of God’s name, or both? We’ll explore the concept of martyrdom in the Bible in rabbinic texts and into modern times. So keep your head low, and join me for No Martyrs No More

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So Michael, I am so overjoyed that you are here with us. Because I think we're all going to benefit from your insight. This week's pasta is a tough one. We've spent weeks in Leviticus, with dry subjects about sacrifices, we've tried to make them relevant, and about a tabernacle and a temple as a holy place. But here is where the drama begins. This is a real tragedy that occurred. And I was surprised as one should be every year when one reads these texts, one needs to find something new. And when I mentioned to you a few minutes ago that we were going to discuss this, you said are we going to discuss the silence? Well, let me read the verses and I'm going to pick something slightly different. But we'll see in just a few words, how it's not only the silence, but what is said that is so haunting. So in Leviticus 10, 1-3 it says "Now Aaron, Sun Nadav and Avihu each took his fire pan, put fire in it, and laid incense on it. And they offered before God, alien fire, which had not been commanded upon them, and fire came forth from God and consumed them. Thus they died at the instance of God. Then Moses said to Aaron, this is what God meant by saying through those near to me, I show myself holy and gain glory before all the people. And Aaron was silent." And I have always focused on the "Eish zar", the foreign flame, the fact that the sacrifice was not commanded. And of course, I've always focused on Aaron's response, but what I neglected to focus on and what I would love to discuss today is Moses his response. And Moses says, This is what we mean when we say "bekrovai ekadesh" , by those that are near me, I am made holy "ve'al pnai kol ha'am echabeid" And through all of the people, I will be given honor. We spent so much time Michael talking about what was the sin of Nadav and Avihu. And Moses, his response doesn't even indicate that they did anything wrong, Moses response to say, look, here's an example of how we can sanctify God. What could this possibly mean?

 

Michael Posnik  03:42

It's a that's the big question. What is strange fire? What did they think they were doing? What does it mean to offer a sacrifice without being commanded to offer a sacrifice? And finally come back to Aaron's question? What might he have said, had he not been struck dumb in some way? And then like you say, Moses doesn't even answer, doesn't even dwell on the question.

 

Geoffrey Stern  04:11

So let's look for a second at our old buddies, the traditional commentaries, because again, I have never focused on Moses response. But if you look at the traditional commentaries, like Rashi, Rashi says, And he quotes, the Midrash, Moses said to Aaron, this is what God meant by saying, so he's quoting somewhere else, like, Hey, this is a textbook case of something that we've heard before. And Rashi says, the verse that he's quoting, is there I will be met by the children of Israel in the tabernacle, and shall be sanctified by my glory. This is a verse in Exodus. So way back in Exodus, God is saying that one day I'm going to have a temple, it will be Sanctified by my glory. And the Midrash says read not by my glory Bechvodi, but read "b'michvodi"  with my honored ones. So, Moses said to Aaron my brother, Aaron, I knew that this house was going to be sanctified by those who are beloved of God. And I thought that it would be either through me or through you. Now I see that those; the sons are greater than me and then the end, they were the ones who made this house holy. So here we are, we believe we we have a tradition that despises rejects, human sacrifice, especially the most obvious form of human sacrifice, sacrificing one sons. And here we have Moses saying, You know what, I thought we; you and me, Aaron, we're going to have to make the ultimate sacrifice. And in fact, our children are greater than us. So Rashi doesn't shy away from this reading, to him, it's it's the most obvious it's a case of martyrdom, which is exactly what the subject of today's talk is. Because if we feel that martyrdom, and sacrifice in the sense of giving the best and the brightest and the best of ourselves, is abhorrent, we have to be able to confront it when it occurs. And maybe by reading this, we're struggling with the texts, but Moses was right in it. How else can you read Moses?

 

06:45

I don't know. I have a question for you. What does it mean sanctified by my honor? What is it? What does that mean to you? In plain, plain talk

 

Geoffrey Stern  06:59

in plain English, we talk all the time about something called a Kiddush Hashem. When you and I, Michael do something good when we help that old lady across the street, and we are wearing our kippah and our tzitzit are flying. Someone who sees us says, wow, is that must be a wonderful tradition that these guys are helping little old ladies across the street. And when God forbid, the opposite occurs. We talk about a Hillul Hashem, we are somebody who should be representing God. And by the way, one of the most beautiful interpretations I've ever heard of the concept of in the image of God, but Tzelem elohim is that we are all representatives of God. So when we human beings do something good. That's a Kiddush Hashem that honors God. And when we do something bad, it, it means it profanes God, and that's the typical modern-day translation and tradition. But what we are tapping in here to answer your question is Kiddush Hashem for many generations meant ultimately giving your life for God, which to us seems absurd and abhorrent. But we are going to explore texts today, where kiddush Hashem literally, the ultimate form means to sacrifice one's life. And that's something that I don't think we can be quiet. I don't think we have the luxury of Aaron, to be quiet. I think we need to speak up.

 

08:51

Yeah, thanks for the explanation of it. There's also a sense of that they were not commanded to do it. You know, so what are they? Are they trying to do more than the usual person are they trying to bring something strange or unacceptable to the Mikdash? How do you understand that?

 

Geoffrey Stern  09:21

So I think, you know, many of the traditional commentaries who focus on that are trying to find out what they did wrong to deserve being killed. And I think that's a very valid discussion. And the parameters go all the way from maybe they were drunk. Maybe there's this concept in the Talmud that says, It is more a value to do something that is commanded than something that is not commanded, which in a sense is counterintuitive. You know, when you asked me to pick you up from work, because it's raining and all that, and I do it that's one thing. But when I look outside the window and I see it's raining and I say I don't want Michael sitting out the rain and I'm waiting for you, you would think that someone who's lo mitzaveh is yoter then someone who is m'tzveh.   So the rabbi's discuss this, and ad nauseum. But again, what I'm intrigued by today is not to understand why this punishment happened to these two sons of Aaron, but to look at the traditional commentaries who don't stop with Rashi. They go to the Ibn Ezra to the Ramban, all of them are lined up and saying that these words, and one of the verse that are we to you shortly, is almost the source for this really, so foreign, and I would, I would almost say un Jewish concept of God wants us to sacrifice ourselves, or the highest form of sanctifying. God's name, is to give up one's life. And that, to me, is where I want to focus.

 

11:26

You see them as martyrs, as people are sacrificing their lives in the name of God B'shem Hashem.

 

Geoffrey Stern  11:34

Yeah. And so that's what verse 3 says, And Moses said to Aaron, and this is what God meant when he says, "Those near to me, make me holy", that these are my chosen, these are the apple of my eye "Bekrovei ekdesh: I won't be made holy by the punishment of my enemies, it's those that are close to me. And then it adds "ve'alpnei kol ha'am echabed' there are two elements hee... and it kind of gets back to tncept of the first fruits, and the choicest produce goes to God. And that's fine, I get that that's hidur mitzvah. But here we're saying, and we know where this comes from. This comes from what we thought, Judaism rebelled against. When months ago, we studied the binding of isaac Akedat Yitzchok. We explained that we Jews, for the most part refer to it as Akedat Yitzchak  becasue he wasn't sacrificed. He was just bound; it was just a test. And then we found that the Christians call it the sacrifice of Isaac. And in fact, they are even within our own tradition, in the Perkei d'rav Eliezer. It says that, actually, he was killed, and he was put back to life. And again, we say, if that's the case, how can we celebrate the Akeda? Again, it's a it's a story of a father sacrificing his sons, as Malach is, and we believe that Malach is exactly what we reject it. So what I'm what I'm struggling with what I'm what I'm wanting to explore today, is, how deep is this tradition? Is it staring us in the eye? And are we whitewashing it? Or is it and therefore, you know, like any other text until you recognize something, whether in your life, or whether in your holy texts, you can't really reject it until you see it first. And you and you see how it developed. And that to me is so fascinating here because it's  written exactly the way washy and the Ibanez was say it is that this is a source case, for God asking us to die al Kiddush Hashem, and that is how he is sanctified.

 

Michael Posnik  14:18

It's a pretty strong case.

 

Geoffrey Stern  14:20

It's a scary case.

 

Michael Posnik  14:22

And my mind keeps going back to what is meant by strange fire.

 

Geoffrey Stern  14:31

You You're still you're focused on a strange fire. And I think you're absolutely right, we can ignore that part of the story as we can't ignore Aaron being quiet. But I do think that to focus a second and what is said outright that Moses says "this is what is meant". So let me give you a little bit of a sense of how this worked out in in Jewish in Jewish history. So there's a tradition that there were 613 commandments. And as a result, there was a tradition of books written starting with Maimonides  on what those commandments are. And the Ninth Commandment, according to Maimonides, is that God commanded us to sanctify his name, said "Tzivanu l'kadesh et shmo". And he says, and where do we learn this from a little bit further in our book, Leviticus 22, where it says, and I shall be sanctified in the midst of the children of Israel, very similar to our verse here. And it says that you are commanded to publicize our true faith in the world and in God, even at pain of being killed. But it says, but rather Maimonides rights, we must give ourselves over to dying and not deceive him to think that we have denied God, he be exalted in our hearts. And this is the commandment of sanctifying, God's name Mitzvot Kiddush Hashem and it was designated publication, this this concept here  to be Mefarsem , "Vyekashu et ashem brabim". And again, that came out of the second part of our verse where Moses said, I not only am I sanctified by those close to me, but then he goes on to say and gain glory before all the people that this is a show case. And it's a very, very troubling thought, if you go through Jewish history. So the question is, number one, what did it take for us to transition away from this? And what do we now need to see in some of the biblical texts that we never saw before? We call this Madlik Disruptive Torah. But this is certainly a disturbing, disruptive thought. And we can't hide from it.

 

Michael Posnik  17:08

Yes. Keep going, because this is all new material for me. And what is it? What does it really mean to sacrifice yourself for for God? Even if that's not your intention?

 

Geoffrey Stern  17:21

You know, I think and you would be the, the the authority on this. But in the Shakespearean tragedy, for instance, there too, you have this element of you know, from the beginning, something bad is going to happen. But it's a tragedy. I would say the heresy here. The heresy that Moses is speaking kivi'yachol, if you could say is that this is the sanctification of God's name.  not a tragedy. We're not Yes, yes. Yes. Yes. So here's an interesting thing. If you look up the Arab word for a motto, we all know it unfortunately, we all know it. It's a Shaheed so the word Shaheed comes from the same, Semitic source, as the Aramaic word for Sahadi, which means a witness. And in the Quran, the word Sahid is used predominantly as a witness, and it's only once used as a martyr. But again, I think what we learn from that is there's this element of somehow giving one's life for God. That means that one is giving witness to the power of God. That this is another nuance of not only are I sanctified by those close to me, the most precious, but by doing it in public somehow, it shows how great God is. And we can look at other nations such as Islam, and find that distasteful but it seems to be in our tradition too. This, this somehow, that sacrificing is something that can be turned into anything than it really is, which is a total desecration of life.

 

Michael Posnik  19:32

Right. A question comes up if you don't mind. What do you think the effect of Nadav and Avihu, what happened to them is on the people who are watching this,

 

Geoffrey Stern  19:47

So my gut reaction is fear. My gut reaction is and this again adds a nuance to our conversation is making God holy. We know there were many interpretations of what is holy. You know, one of the most simple interpretations is Kedoshim ti'hu, perushim ti'hu"  that which is holy is other than us. It's on a whole other level. And, you know, we moderns, we love to feel at home, in our synagogues, we love to feel at home with our rituals. And again, there's this whole other tradition, that this is something that is beyond our understanding beyond our power, and that we truly should be shitting in our pants, so to speak. And again, that's very distasteful to us. But I think there's definitely an element of Kodesh, you're standing on holy ground, step away from the mountain, so to speak. And we can't ignore that. I mean, if we're trying to be honest with how the language is used. So I mean, the truth is, in Jewish history, we we actually find instances where this Kiddush Hashem was taken to the very extreme that we see it, you ask, what was the takeaway from the two sons of Aaron, what did the people there? And what did history take from that? And I think that there was a very strong tradition, the Aleinu prayer, that we say at the end of services, traditionally, that was associated with martyrdom, and that was associated with a proclamation that my religion is the true religion, it is better than yours. There were instances where, during the Crusades, there were Jewish communities, who almost stood up. And in a spectacle, I took their own lives or gave themselves to martyrdom. It's hard again, for us to either comprehend, or to condone. But again, it's this very strong, I guess, urge, within a certain aspect of the, the religious mind, and maybe to make it more relevant to us, you know, how many times do we use religion and God to counter our own best interests and feel that somehow that is serving God? I mean, I think that's the real opportunity here, it gives us an opportunity to explore what the urges are, I mean, you know, I'm, I'm of the mind that, whether you believe in God or not, just as there is this instinct (capacity) for music and art that we can explain, we can't touch, but somehow there is a dimension of the human condition that has within it, the artistic feeling, and music, I think religion is the same. And so in a sense, we're all in this boat together, because we all have to address this desire to destroy in order to sanctify maybe that's the shortest way that I put it,

 

Michael Posnik  23:28

Say some more about that destroy in order to what is destroyed, in order for the sanctification to happen.

 

Geoffrey Stern  23:35

Well, well, in this case, and in the case of the sacrifice of Isaac, the concept was in order to prove one's fealty to anything, but in this case to God, one has to destroy what is the most precious to you? You know, I said in a previous episode, that the the Law that God is reading up in heaven when he was visited by Akiva was the law of the purification of the red heifer. And what really challenged God I believe, was that it's metaher et hatemayim umtamei et hatehorim. It purifies those who are impure, but it makes impure those who are pure. And it's this, this concept, that it's a zero sum game, that you somehow can't achieve holiness without losing something. And I think that's what I meant when I said, that you in order to sanctify, one needs to destroy and it's I'd like to think that it bothers God up in heaven and that's why he studied that text.

 

Michael Posnik  24:56

Geoffrey, what do we know about this in our lives? In your life in my life, what do we know about this? About destroying something in order to achieve a greater level of kedusha? What do we know about that?

 

Geoffrey Stern  25:14

When maybe the question is even bigger, you know, it's not so much a level of kedusha, but those of us who find ourselves sometimes being our worst enemy, our own worst enemy is the expression. And it's this sense of in order, in order to achieve something we have to break,  I don't know, but I think it's healthy to, to kind of confront it, to see that this was a very mainstream idea within our tradition. And if we reject it, like I think many did ...... there's a phrase within the ole knew, that talks that we have taken out of most of our ciders, but on the other hand has been retained. That talks about that we bow down to the truth, and you bow down meaning maybe Christians and Muslims to hevel and Rek sh'eyn Yoshia (to vanity and emptiness that doesn't save)  this, this competitive religion that's part of it also, in terms of doing it in public, so as to so that one, religion is better, I think maybe it's part of this zero sum game mentality. But what I'd like to do in the minutes that remain, is to my mind, to see how Jewish tradition has turned the corner and done it in a sense with eyes wide open. And in the source sheet, I bring the texts. I think that in Jewish history, the last time that martyrdom was discussed and given away was a combination between the Warsaw ghetto and the State of Israel, when Ben Gurion was very much against iconizing Masada. He thought that Masada was exactly the wrong message. Ben Gurion said not Masada and not Vishy. And by this he meant he did not want to get into a Masada type of struggle with the physical body of the nation could be destroyed in a desperate and hopeless battle. And, and when they went further, and he looked into the Masada story, he said that they actually killed themselves. And this is not what Israel is about. I mean, when we look at the Ukrainians to bring it home today, they're not looking to be martyrs. They're fighting for their land. On You know, the topic of the conversation today, I called No Martyrs No More, which was a play on "no war no more". Because there's a part of war where somehow, we feel we are sanctifying something and the truth is your sanctifying nothing. And that's not to say that there aren't things worth fighting for. And when necessary, there are things worth dying for. But I think that the modern state of Israel really was founded because they understood that there is no sanctification in Nadav and Abihu, and that, in a sense, they had to purge that in order to, to build something constructive. And I think that when I look at the Ukrainians today, and I'm so inspired, it's because they're finding within themselves something that they didn't even know existed, where they want to fight for their homeland, and they want to fight for freedom, but it's positive. And I just feel that we one of the takeaways that we need to have when we read these ancient texts, is to discover our own neurosis, so to speak, and by discovering it possibly be able to talk it through. And that's the discussion that I want to have. And I'm curious for your thoughts now that you've had half an hour to think about it. In literature in theater, does this also trigger any insight that you have

 

Michael Posnik  29:44

I'm thinking about a Tale of Two Cities that "It is a far far better thing I do", where he let himself be put to death force for the sake of somebody else? And I look at it also from a point of view of In order for us to achieve or come near or have access to the purest and most Tzelem Elohim of us, right? We have to sacrifice we have to get rid of stuff that's in the way. Every day we're trying to do that, it seems to me, we do have a sense that what's deep within us is pure, and good. And divine, if you will, or that Tzelem Elohim, the piece of that, that that each of us carries. It's not accessible to all to us all the time. It needs it needs to be, we have to see what's in the way. So and this may be related to what you're what you're speaking about, that something has to be removed in order for, if you will a producer to be revealed? Or the energy that was in the way has to be transformed into a greater energy, into a pure energy? That's what comes to my mind.

 

Geoffrey Stern  31:05

But it's a narrow path, it's it's very easy to make it perverse.

 

Michael Posnik  31:11

absolutely

 

Geoffrey Stern  31:11

I think at the end of the day, when when Aaron is quiet at the end, you know, I understand his, his not being able to respond to that.... for obvious reasons, but I don't think that we can be quiet, I think that we need to, we need to call it out, we need to call out tyrants. Who are you know.  Putin is going through a whole different algorithm here. But there are enough Holy Wars out there and there are enough people who feel that you've got to, you know, break the eggs to make breakfast. And I think by identifying it, we can hopefully find it within ourselves and get rid of it and focus on the real holiness that you were discussing, where we remove the impure.

 

Michael Posnik  32:06

That's what friends are for. That's what study is for prayers for to help us see what's in the way to what I call what's in the way but you said to crack the shell that's actually keeping the egg from nourishing us.

 

Geoffrey Stern  32:22

Amen. Well, so butts alone. And I look I look forward to continuing this discussion. I think today was as much a struggle as it was a discussion, but maybe, but from every struggle comes hopefully something positive so Shabbat Shalom to you all, and we'll see you all next week.

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Moses’ Code of Law – What’s New

parshat mishpatim (exodus 21- 24)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz for a live discussion recorded on Clubhouse on January 27th 2022. Moses places twelve stone slabs (stelas) engraved with a code of law before his people. We take a look at the similarities and differences with other ancient Near Eastern Codes such as Eshnunna and Hammurabi and ask: What’s new with Moses’ Code of the Covenant?

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/379013

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:03 Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or traditional. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz we host Madlik disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern. In this week’s portion Moses wakes up early in the morning, and places 12 stones engraved with a code of law before his people. Hammurabi also placed his code of law on a stone stela as did a lesser-known Babylonian king named Eshnunna. Join us as we explore any similarities and differences between these codes and ask what’s new with Moses’s code of the covenant?

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So Rabbi, I got a notice from clubhouse that we have a year anniversary, it's hard to believe we've been doing this for a year, but we need to pat each other on the shoulder. You said last week that this week, we were going to do the laws, we were going to do Mishpatim. And we certainly are. The name of the Pasha is laws. And as you could tell from the introduction, I want to put it into context of what I believe was the correct context of these laws, and of this this episode. So instead of starting from the beginning of the portion, I'm going to jump to the end, after all these laws that you referred to, are already promulgated, and on the books. So in Exodus 24:4, it says "Moses then wrote down all the commands of the Lord. Early in the morning, he set up an altar at the foot of the mountain, with 12 pillars, for the 12 tribes of Israel", it continues, "then he took the record of the covenant and read it aloud to the people. And they said all that the Lord has spoken, we will faithfully do." Na'aseh v'nishma". And of course, this this concept of we will do, and then we will hear, it could be a segment all in and of itself, because it is iconic. We are going to kind of walk through these 12 pillars as we go through all these laws, but they come in a very rich tradition. Those of you who have ever heard the word Hammurabi know that they found this amazing stela or a stone that contained upon it one of the earliest codes of civil law. As I mentioned in the introduction, they also found in a town called Susa, which otherwise is known to us Jews as Shushan, a stone that was even earlier than Hammurabi and also contained rules such as that. And it's called Eshnunna. But literally, there was a very strong tradition in the ancient Near East, that if you came out with a code of law, you wrote it in stone. You wrote it in stone, and you placed it in front of the people to see. And we will even note that in Joshua, at another milestone of the Jewish people. He does a similar thing. He selected 12 men from among the people, one from each tribe, and I'm reading from Joshua 4 and instructed them as follows pick up 12 stones from the spot exactly in the middle of the Jordan, where the priests’ feet are standing, take them along with you, and deposit them in a place where you will spend the night. And literally he writes the laws of God, the Mishneh Torah, on the stones, and he refers to them as an "Ot" as a sign. He refers to them as "Zichron" as a memorial. This is not an isolated episode. It is a very strong episode that would be recognized by anybody living in the ancient world, especially the Near East. And so I'm going to kind of take, I think, what is a fascinating track, and that we're going to look at these laws from the perspective of OK, so we wake up in the morning, and we see these columns out there with our law. What's different about our law So are you ready to join me on the journey? Rabbi,

 

Adam Mintz  05:03

I can't wait, take it away.

 

Geoffrey Stern  05:07

So, you know, as I said, this was a tradition. But I think even if, even at this preliminary perspective, we have to be struck, I think by two things. First of all, they were 12 pillars. You know, that's kind of fascinating. We've talked about the 12 tribes. And of course, the 12 pillars are associated with the 12 tribes. But there's almost a message right from the start, that this belongs to every one of the tribe, that there's almost a tribal Federation. And whereas, when we look at Hammurabi's code, and then Eshnunna, they talk about things such as social stratification, two different classes are in the Eshnunna Code. And in the Hammurabi, code laws are designed to distinguish between, you know, if you hit a slave, or you hit a free man, so I think right from the get-go as they woke up in the morning, and as we wake up and read this parsha, we're struck by something that is kind of unique, these 12 pillars.

 

Adam Mintz  06:31

Yes, the 12 pillars, I mean, you say it's a 20 of the tribes, but it's the unity of the people, everybody is together. And you know, in the desert, there's a lot of complaining. But this is a good moment, this moment of the 12 tribes, and you know, we will do and we will listen, this might be the best moment in the 40 years in the desert.

 

Geoffrey Stern  06:55

I like that, I like that. It's, "it's morning in the desert". So the other thing that struck me is I said a second ago from quoting the English translation of Exodus 24. "Then he took the record of the Covenant", in the Hebrew, it's "Vayikach Sefer haBrit". You know, normally, when I compare an English translation to a Hebrew word, I say, you know, the English is probably off it's not striking the right tone or nuance. But in this particular case, it makes us look at the word "sefer" differently, because clearly, there's no book here. I mean, you know, you got a question when sefer is used at all in the Bible, because they had scrolls, they didn't have books. So we already know that our modern conception of "sefer" is probably off. But I think here, maybe "record of the Covenant" gives us an insight into what a "sefer" is more than the other way around. How do you read "sefer"?

 

Adam Mintz  08:07

It's good. I mean, they didn't have books. The word "sefer". And the words "Sipur" are the same word. Sipur means a story. And so therefore, a sefer is something that tells s sipur. Now today, we have books that tell stories. In those days, they didn't have books that tell stories told stories. They had scrolls, who told stories, so I think that's the English there is playing on that idea, that idea of sipor of a record of what happened. Which is nice. By the way, you know, the word "sefer" is also related to the word "sapar". A sapar is someone who's a barber. And it's interesting what a book has to do with being a barber. The answer is that a book has a beginning and an end, it cuts off at a certain place, just like the sapar cuts off your hair.

 

Geoffrey Stern  09:10

I like that does sapar or L'saper also mean to count?

 

Adam Mintz  09:16

Yes, Lispor means to count. It's exactly the same word. Because counting also has a limit if I count, right, so you know, like Sefirat HaOmer is the Torah's used for the word L'spor, Sefirat HaOmer, you count to 49. And that's it the same way you cut your hair. And that's it. Same idea.

 

Geoffrey Stern  09:39

So I think if you look at the first time that writing is used, the earliest clay shots that we find that have writing, most of them are used in economics, how many bushels are included in this shipment? And so in a sense I'll come back to my first comment, which I think a record a ˈrek(ə)niNG, a cataloging of events is probably pretty close to at least one of the meanings. And so you know, you talk about to cut and to limit. Yes, it means something is finite, it is quantitative. And so I get back to my first word that it becomes an insight to me in what Sapir means and what Safer means. And I think we can we can Oh, that a little bit. to these verses that are obviously talking something written in stone.

 

Adam Mintz  10:43

Yeah, that's right. That's absolutely right. Now, we understand that in those days, if something was going to remain, it had to be written in stone. Hammurabi's code we have today, because it was written in stone, which is, of course, great, but that's how we have it. Hammurabi code was written in stone, they found the stone, it's not fantastic.

 

Geoffrey Stern  11:07

I think it is. And I think the adverse is true, that they haven't found these 12 stones that Moses refers to, or that Joshua refers to. But I would argue that more people know what's written on Moses' and Joshua's stone, then Hammurabi [laughs].... and that's maybe an insight we'll take from today.

 

Adam Mintz  11:35

Why are these stones important? You see, the question really here is, what's the relationship between this story and the story of revelation in last week's portion? Is it the same story? Are they sister stories? Are they unrelated stories? What's the connection? They sound very familiar? They sound very similar. Because you know, God, God says, Will you do? And he will do, I will do and we will listen, it sounds like you're accepting the law, what exactly is going on?

 

Geoffrey Stern  12:12

So I would almost argue, and you kind of intimated it last week, this is where the rubber hits the road. We had the revelation at Sinai. And one of the things that I'd love to talk about tonight, is that when that rubber hits the road, it's about inter human societal relationships. Let me let me segue into this slightly differently. While she says about writing these words, he says, From Bereshit (Genesis), up to, but not including the account of the giving of the Torah. When it says I'm writing these words, he's looking at a finished Torah scroll, he's looking at a finished five books of Moses. And he's saying, you know, this was a first cut, so to speak, a "daily", we got everything from Bereshit until here, my buddy ShDaL, Shmuel David Luzzatto says what I think is probably closer to the truth now that we know about Hammurabi and Eshnunna. he says, "it seems to be from the 10 commandments, until verse 33", which is the end of the Parsha in terms of the legal code that's given. So in a sense, this legal code that we might see, and if we don't get to it, you'll look in the show notes, parallels in terms of its content, and in terms of its subject matter, so much Hammurabi and Eshnuna, in terms of how do you deal with an ox that gores, How do you deal with something that you find how do you deal with people that fight and kill each other inadvertently or advertently? This was classic. This was right after the giving of the Torah and now it says, Okay, and here's the rules. And here are the laws that you expect to hear, in terms of you know, and I'd like to say we talk about Hammurabi code. I'd like to say it's Moses' Code, but we all know that unlike Hammurabi who might have emphasized himself, it's not Moses' code, it's God's code. But the point is that I think that this is a like ShaDaL says and like we would if we compare it to these other stelas... this is the beginning of civil law, this is how you're going to have to get along. This is how you're going to have to run your society. And it's almost one piece .... starting with Jethro, who talks about how to set up the courts, all the way to how to deal with all of these very social, civic, societal regulations.

 

Adam Mintz  15:29

I like that a lot. I like the idea of a line from Jethro through the social law, the civil law. My question is, what's the role of the 10 commandments in all of this? Like, they almost seem like who needs them? Jethro says, this is the way you set up the court. This week, we have all of the civil law. What do the 10 commandments do for us? Exactly? Every law of the 10 commandments, is somewhere else in the Torah. Shabbat somewhere else in the Torah. Honoring parents, somewhere else in the Torah.  Believe in God somewhere else in the Torah? What's the point of the 10 commandments?

 

Geoffrey Stern  16:10

So I think that's a great question. And it's a wonderful segue into how our laws are laid out, again, comparing them to these other texts, they all contain similar provisions, but ours begins Exodus 21. "These are the rules that you shall set before you, when you acquire a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years in the seventh year, he shall go free without pay payment." You cannot, but, focus on the fact that these laws are given to ex-slaves, these laws are given to people who have just exited from Egypt. And just as those 10 commandments that you refer, begin with "Anochi", I am the God who brought you out of Egypt.....  One of the major differences, I think, between this formulation of the Civic laws, and the others in the ancient Near East, is this ties into a narrative much more. And this ties into our narrative much more. And there's kind of, and maybe this will ech out why our laws are still being learned today. And Hammurabi’s are not. These are part of our journey as a people and of the human journey. And I think that ties them into the 10 commandments to a large degree, because the 10 commandments are built on this prologue of I am the Lord who took you out of Egypt, therefore, you shall rest. I mean, you can struggle with how all of the nine other commandments relate. I know Nachmanides, and I have I haven't put it in the source sheet says that all of these laws were late to "kina" to, to being jealous of somebody else (Thou shalt not covet"). I don't know how that works out. But I do think that the basis of his question is your question, how does it relate to the 10 commandments? How does it become one piece?

 

Adam Mintz  18:25

I think it is an interesting question. I mean, you could say that every religion needs a moment of revelation. Right? Christianity has, you know, the resurrection. Islam has Mohammed, every religion needs a moment of revelation, .... if you're allowed to say it, it's not heresy, .... it gives credibility to the religion. God spoke to us. Therefore, we're a real religion. And you need that. And so therefore, maybe the 10 commandments is not so much about the content of the commandments. Maybe it's more about the experience of Sinai. And that's why I think, Geoffrey, that this chapter about the about the Jews receiving the covenant is also a lot about the experience, the drama of the moment.

 

Geoffrey Stern  19:22

Well, I mean, you know, the revelation at Sinai was dramatic. I love the fact that Moses set this up in the morning, like the morning after....  the Big Thunder, the big lightning, and then the morning after, here are the laws...

 

Adam Mintz  19:38

tell you that Rashi says in this chapter 24, he says chapter 24 actually happens before the receiving of the Torah. It happens on the fourth day of Sivan, and we received the Torah on the sixteenth.  That is interesting. Rashi has a different image of the whole thing that this was after the receiving of the law. This was preparation for receiving of the law. And the Jews only received the law after they said we will do and we will listen. That's also interesting.

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:09

Yep. And we saw a little bit of that last week how the poetic license that we who study the Torah given by the rabbi saying "Eyn Mukdam u'me'char baTorah" there's no chronological order enables us to do that. I think last week, I had an insight into why she might have done that I'm not too sure why he would have done it this time. But I focused a little bit on the differences already, I want to stress because you know, maybe none of us have read the Hammurabi code, or we haven't read it lately about how similar they can be. So I said a second ago, that Exodus begins by saying, when you acquire a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years in the seventh year, he shall go free without payment. And then it goes on about how they leave. And then it says, and if one of those Jewish slaves who is basically an indentured servant, I mean, this was the problem with social stratification. You would go into debt, you might go into debt with interest, we might get into interest later on. And now you're done. You're gone, this is how castes are made. And the Bible says, we always say speak so strongly about No, there's a reset button. Every seven years, we have our wonderful Shmita, which is actually what we're going through this year, there's this reset button that you come back. And we think that's very unique. So let me read from Hammurabi’s code. 117. It doesn't begin by talking about slaves. We begin by talking about slaves, because it's very important to us. But he says, "If anyone fail to meet a claim for debt, and sell himself, his wife, his son and his daughter for money, or give them away to forced labor, they shall work for three years in the House of the man who bought them, or the proprietor. And in the fourth year, they shall be set free." So he even does us better. He doesn't say seven years, he says three years. My point is that not everything about our is totally unique, is totally radical. And, you know, there was a great scholar named Harry Austern Wolfson at Harvard. And he would wait two volumes on a guy like Spinoza. And at the end, he would say, So what's new about Spinoza. And the reason he would say that is because his Derech halimud was, the way he studied was, you can't understand somebody unless you put him into the context of his time, (you read) everything that he read, and I think we do the Torah a disservice if we tried to isolate it, or if we blind ourselves to what else was going on. I think reading things like Hammurabi code, and Eshnunna and seeing that other people were struggling with similar situations and stuff, does us a disservice. On the other hand, it enables us as we educate ourselves to say what's new. And that's clearly one of the messages one of the takeaways that I have today, which is that we can look at the Torah at the Bible in the context of the world that was given, whether it's looking at Jethro, whether it's looking at Hammurabi and still be able to come out with insights into where we are different, but not take all the credit for every single different aspect. You know, kind of saying, it's all created here.

 

Adam Mintz  23:55

So that's really interesting. First of all, we need to date Hammurabi, when exactly was Hammurabi. So I think most scholars think that Hammurabi was not at the time of Mount Sinai, but Hammurabi's code actually goes back to the time of Abraham. So it might be ..... this is exactly to your point, actually,..... it may be that there was a Hammurabi code before there was a Torah code. And, you know, that's interesting. That's number one. That's interesting. Number two, in this week's parsha, we have a description of somebody who's building and he and he kills a boy. And the Torah says that you put the person to death who kills the boy, but you don't kill his son. That's a funny thing for the Torah to say, you don't kill his son. You know why the Torah says that? The Torah says that because in Hammurabi code you kill the son. Hammurabi says, really an eye for an eye. And therefore if you kill somebody's son, your son dies. He takes Hammurabi to that level. So the Torah actually, here's responding to Hammurabi.

 

Geoffrey Stern  25:21

I think that, you know, again, I would love to see I only prepare for these during the week before. And I started in my, in my show notes, I quote the verse and then I put Hammurabi underneath it, and Ashnuna underneath it, and [it would be amazing if someone could index the verses with associated provisions in the other codes and)  actually track the differences between them. And whether you free a slave after seven years, or after three years, it's a coin toss. I think the fact is that they were addressing very similar issues. I mean, you talk about not making the son of suffer. There's, in Exodus 21, which is part of our portion, it talks about a :Shor She'nigach"  If, however, that ox has been in the habit of goring, and the owner, though warned, has failed to guard it, and it kills a man or a woman—the ox shall be stoned and its owner, too, shall be put to death." Hammurabi 251 says, "If a man's ox be a gorer, and has revealed its evil propensity as a gorer, and he has not blunted its horn, or shut up the ox, and then that ox has gored a free man, and caused his death, the owner shall pay half a mina of silver." So again, we get in the Hammurabi code, that there's stratification because if you kill a free man, there's one payment if you kill a not so free, man, there's another payment. But I think that becomes something that's so fascinating. And again, it enables us to kind of see the differences. You know, there's part of the laws that we read it this week has to do with" if you find a lost object.... in 23. It says, When you encounter your enemy's ox or ass wandering, you must take it back to him "Hashev Tashivenu", you shall return the lost object, and Hammurabi has his own reference to returning a lost object. But as someone who studied in a academy or Jewish Academy, or yeshiva, I don't know about your experience, Rabbi. But the first pieces of Talmud that I ever studied were from the Seder of Nezikin, which is Damages. It's a bunch of tractates in the Talmud, that deal with exactly these laws. And we spent a semester dealing with "elu Metziot shelo v'elu tzarich l'hachriz" "these are lost objects that you can keep, and these you must return". We dealt with two people fighting over a garment. And I think that most people who look at traditional Jews who are studying in a kolel, and studying Torah, they probably think that they're studying laws of ritual about Tefillin and about Shabbat. But my experience especially the early years of my study, we were studying commentaries and insights into exactly these types of (civil) laws. And that is absolutely fascinating to me. And that gets back to how we started where we talked about, yes, they might have both been written in stone, but we call them a sefer and that sefer engendered this lively discussion that has lived on through the generations, what was your experience as a yeshiva student?

 

Adam Mintz  29:14

My experience was exactly the same. And I like parshat Mishpatim, because it reminds me of those days. You know, there's been so many books written about the civil laws about you know, finding one. What's amazing is you have one verse in the Torah that tells you about lost objects. And there are three tractates about lost objects. Isn't that unbelievable? It really makes the Torah come to life. I'll just say .... we're kind of coming to the end of the time, but I'll say the following. It's interesting the way that the Torah describes laws, as opposed to last week. In the 10 commandments, the laws are very absolute. don't kill, don't commit adultery, don't steal, don't don't, don't don't. In this week's portion, many of the laws are introduced with the word "if" "Im b'machteret timaze haganav" If you find a criminal, crawling in your basement to get up to your house "im", why does it say that "im"? Why does it just day? When you find a criminal Who's climbing up through your house? You see, I think the answer probably is that "im" means if it happens, I don't know if it's gonna happen. Sometimes it happens. Sometimes it doesn't happen. In the 10 commandments laws given in a very kind of God centered way. It's not about people don't do this. Don't do this. Don't do this. In Mishpatim, the civil law is very personal. Here's what might happen. These are real people. Sometimes these things happen. Sometimes they don't happen "im" everything is introduced with the word "im". And that's what it comes to tell you about the law. There's an amazing Midrash. The Midrash says that the angel said to God, you should give the Torah to us. And Moses said to the angels, give it to the angel.... Angels do you have a Yetzer hara"? Do you have an inclination to kill? Do you have an inclination to commit adultery, to steal? They say no, we don't have an inclination for any of that. He says no, the Torah is not for you. The Torah is for real people. The terrorists are people who struggle to keep the laws of the Torah And I think that's really a beautiful idea.

 

Geoffrey Stern  31:52

I love it. I love the contingency of it. The "im" almost presupposes a discussion. And if I had to conclude with my takeaway, because I do feel like you when I read these laws, it takes me back to the discussions that I had in my youth about these issues, that Hammurabi's code and Eshnunnah's code. The biggest difference between them and the Tora and Moses code, God's code is they came to us because they happen to be written in stone, and we happen to find them. And these 12 tablets, these 12 pillars that are both Moses and in Joshua set up, we don't have in stone, but we have them in this living discussion that we have this sefer, this sipur that has kept them alive. And it's fascinating. It's fascinating that up until today, these discussions have molded I would, I would argue our ethos, and it is something that has so profoundly affected the Jewish psyche in terms of questioning and taking the highest intellect down to the most trivial and material and social level. And I think that to me is the real gift of mishpatim.

 

Adam Mintz  33:29

Beautiful Shabbat Shalom, everybody. Enjoy a great parsha. Enjoy the week. We'll see you next week. Geoffrey. As we build the Mishkan ...we build the tabernacle.

 

Geoffrey Stern  33:39

Oh fantastic. So Shabbat Shalom to everybody. See you all next week. Shabbat shalom.

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Sefaria Source Sheet:

Moses’ Code of Law – What’s New | Sefaria

Parshat Mishpatim – Moses places stone slabs (stelas) engraved with a code of law before his people. We take a look at the similarities and differences with other ancient Near Eastern Codes such as Eshnunna and Hammurabi and ask: What is new with Moses’ Code of the Covenant?

Listen to last week’s Episode: Is Judaism Exclusive or Inclusive?

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Life is with People, and so is Death

parshat Chayei Sarah

Life is with People and so is Death

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

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

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/357282

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:04

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

Adam Mintz  04:39

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

Geoffrey Stern  05:11

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

Adam Mintz  05:45

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

Geoffrey Stern  06:25

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

Adam Mintz  08:17

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

Geoffrey Stern  09:01

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

Adam Mintz  10:40

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

Geoffrey Stern  11:28

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

Adam Mintz  13:03

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

Geoffrey Stern  13:31

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

Adam Mintz  15:30

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

Geoffrey Stern  16:19

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

Adam Mintz  19:51

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

Geoffrey Stern  20:17

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

Adam Mintz  20:59

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

Geoffrey Stern  22:36

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

Adam Mintz  25:35

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

Geoffrey Stern  25:57

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

Adam Mintz  26:07

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

Geoffrey Stern  26:21

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

Adam Mintz  29:11

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

Geoffrey Stern  31:19

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

Adam Mintz  34:01

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

Geoffrey Stern  34:16

Shabbat shalom.

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Abraham’s Epic Journey and our Own

parshat lech lecha (genesis 12)

Abraham’s Epic Journey and our Own

Recorded live on Clubhouse on Friday October 15th 2021 Parshat Lech Lecha – Geoffrey Stern, Rabbi Adam Mintz and Rabbi Abraham Bronstein explore various ways of viewing Abraham’s epic journey and how it reflects our own. Sefaria Source Sheet: http://www.sefaria.org/sheets/354270 Transcript (excerpt): You know, I could make the argument that Abraham was the first atheist.

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

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:00

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

Adam Mintz  02:00

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

Geoffrey Stern  02:36

I think that’s a great question, Michael?

Michael Posnik  02:41

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

Geoffrey Stern  05:46

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

Adam Mintz  08:07

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

Geoffrey Stern  08:28

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

Michael Posnik  10:55

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

Adam Mintz  12:17

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

Geoffrey Stern  13:23

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

Michael Posnik  13:39

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

Adam Mintz  13:51

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

Geoffrey Stern  14:01

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

Adam Mintz  17:37

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

Geoffrey Stern  18:06

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

Adam Mintz  18:09

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

Geoffrey Stern  18:56

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

Avraham Bronstein  20:13

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

Geoffrey Stern  20:44

Fantastic. Yochanan welcome to the bima

Yochanan  20:48

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

Geoffrey Stern  21:14

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

Adam Mintz  24:31

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

Geoffrey Stern  25:05

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

Uri  26:30

Thank you so much.

26:30

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

Recorded on Clubhouse on Friday October 15th, 2021

https://www.clubhouse.com/event/MzrkWw0a

Link to Sefaria source sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/354270

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

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noah’s rainbow

parshat noach (genesis 1)

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

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

Noah’s Rainbow

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

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/352058 

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:00

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

Dumisani Washington  00:20

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

Geoffrey Stern  00:23

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

Dumisani Washington  03:06

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

Adam Mintz  08:47

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

Dumisani Washington  09:00

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

Adam Mintz  09:04

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

Dumisani Washington  09:39

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

Geoffrey Stern  11:58

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

Dumisani Washington  14:40

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

Geoffrey Stern  19:05

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

Dumisani Washington  20:51

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

Geoffrey Stern  22:02

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

Dumisani Washington  23:50

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

Geoffrey Stern  27:26

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

Dumisani Washington  28:25

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

Adam Mintz  33:12

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

Dumisani Washington  33:51

Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Adam Mintz  33:53

Thank you Geoffrey, Shabbat Shalom, everybody,

Geoffrey Stern  33:55

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

Dumisani Washington  35:55

Hopefully to put that out next year sometime. Absolutely.

Geoffrey Stern  35:59

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

Dumisani Washington  36:05

Thank you. Shabbat Shalom and looking forward to bye bye

Music: Lift Every Voice and Sing – Melinda Dulittle https://youtu.be/6Dtk9h1gZOI 

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

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

Friday October 8th at 4:00pm Eastern Time

https://www.clubhouse.com/event/m3GGZBZv

Link to Sefaria source sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/352058

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

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exile and return… from the Beginning

parshat bereshit (genesis 1-4)

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

Friday October 1st at 4:00pm Eastern Time

https://www.clubhouse.com/event/M4o7Balx

Link to Sefaria source sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/348859

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

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Filed under Bible, Judaism, Religion, Torah, Uncategorized