Jerome L. Stern Pre-Pesah Lecture and Singing Circle – 2023

Please register for this annual lecture at HADAR INSTITUTE 

Jerome L. Stern Pre-Pesah Lecture 2023 | Hadar.org

Join Hadar for an evening of Torah and song in preparation for Pesah, with the Jerome L. Stern Pre-Pesah Lecture given by R. Micha’el Rosenberg, followed by a singing circle led by R. Deborah Sacks Mintz.

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Wash your hands

parshat ki tisa – exodus 30

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on March 9th on Clubhouse. The Torah commands the Priests to wash their hands and feet before conducting the Temple service. The Rabbis command hand washing upon waking, before prayer, before eating and on multiple other opportunities. We review the Rabbinic and comparative Christian and Muslim sources and discuss hand washing; a rite historically identified with the Jews.

Sefaria Source Sheet: https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/472460

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. This week’s Torah portion is Ki Tisa. The Torah commands the Priests to wash their hands and feet before conducting the Temple service. The Rabbis command hand washing upon waking, before prayer, before eating and on multiple other opportunities. When I studied in the Yeshiva, I had a bowl and cup of water under my bed so that I could wash my hands before my feet touched the floor.  If you’ve been to an Orthodox wedding or a rest room in Israel you’ve likely seen a washing cup with two handles.  What’s with all the washing you say.  I say, watch your mouth and….. Wash your hands!

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This year, it’s a second or third year-round. You never know what we’re gonna discuss a good topic we’re gonna discuss washing, washing your hands of all things. In Exodus 30: 17, which is part of our parsha it says God spoke to Moses, saying: (18) Make a laver of copper and a stand of copper for it, for washing;  לְרׇחְצָ֑ה and place it between the Tent of Meeting and the altar. Put water in it, (19) and let Aaron and his sons wash their hands and feet [in water drawn] from it. (20) When they enter the Tent of Meeting they shall wash with water, that they may not die; or when they approach the altar to serve, to turn into smoke an offering by fire to ה’, (21) they shall wash their hands and feet, that they may not die. It shall be a law for all time for them—for him and his offspring—throughout the ages.  So, this is a real thing. This is a this is a law. And you know many times we go to the prayer book, the first blessing that you make in the prayer book, the first blessing you make over a commandment every day is blessed are you oh Lord our God אֲשֶׁר קִדְּ֒שָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ עַל נְטִילַת יָדָֽיִם . You wash your hands under the bed is something called Negel Vaser We’re gonna get into all of that.

Adam Mintz  02:39

Do you know what the word Nagel means.

Geoffrey Stern  02:42

Nagel means nail, I think we might, we might get into that as well.

Adam Mintz  02:47

That’s correct. I think that’s what Negel means

Geoffrey Stern  02:49

And it doesn’t mean nail like hitting the nail with a hammer. It means nail as the end of your fingertip. So, you know, there’s a lot of washing going on. I might have mentioned before that Jews are recognized as Sabbath observers. So, I think in India, the word even that they call Jews are people that keep the Shabbat. [shanivār telī (“Saturday oil-pressers”)] But I think and maybe it’s an urban legend or whatever. People understand there’s a lot of hand washing going on amongst us Jews. So we are going to try to dig down to the bottom of the well, so to speak, and get into all of the ins and outs of washing your hands. What do you think, Rabbi?

Adam Mintz  03:40

I love it. This is a great topic take it away.

Geoffrey Stern  03:44

So first of all, Torah Temimah, which is a kind of a compendium of the Talmud says from this verse, washing of the hands is associated with prayer. So, as I said, the first blessing that you make in the siddur is this blessing of, of washing your hands, and it comes from this verse. The Rabbi’s felt very strongly about washing your hands in the Talmud in Berakhot 15a Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: Anyone who relieves himself, washes his hands, dons phylacteries, recites Shema, and prays, the verse ascribes credit to him as if he built an altar and offered a sacrifice upon it, as it is written: “I will wash in purity my hands, and I will encircle the altar of the Lord” (Psalms 26:6).   So clearly there is a connection that the rabbi’s take to our verse, and washing of the hands and if prayer duplicated if prayer was put in place of the temple service here you have the Talmud saying it and we see that right from the beginning. And it says, Robert said to him Rava said to him: Do you not maintain, Master, that one who does so, it is as if he immersed his entire body, as it is written: “I will wash in purity,” and it is not written: “I will wash my hands”?  So, we’re going to see already from the beginning. And I was tempted to use this episode to talk about mikvah, which is something that you Rabbi are intimately involved with, because you do so many conversions. But the truth is, there is a little bit of a tension between washing the hands and immersing in the mikvah. And that is mentioned right here. And it’s almost like a Mikdash katan that washing your hands is somehow different than immersing oneself in the mikvah. But nonetheless, as we just saw, it’s as if one has immersed themselves in the mikvah. It says as if one is re-born and rejuvenating Ravina said to Rava: My Master, look at this Torah scholar [tzurva merabbanan] who came from Eretz Yisrael and said something astonishing: One who has no water with which to wash his hands, it is sufficient that he wipes his hands with earth, a rock, or a sliver of wood. Rava replied to Ravina: He spoke well, as, is it written: I will wash with water? In purity, is written referring to anything that cleans.  So it’s almost as though this washing is clearly washing. But it’s also a metaphor for holiness. Do you do l that washing hands is number one I associated with Jews identified with Jews? Is it a critical part of Rabbinic Judaism?

Adam Mintz  06:47

Well, first of all, let me tell you how its associated with Jews in the 1300s, there was a terrible plague in Europe. And the Jews, and like a third of all European population was killed. And Jews were killed at a smaller rate than that. And there was a theory that it’s because Jews keep the laws of cleanliness, better than everybody else, that they’re washing their hands all the time. So, I want to tell you no. And that led to anti semitism, of course, because they didn’t like that. But it’s interesting that even in that context, Jews are associated with washing your hands, I’m going to tell you an interesting law. The law is that you’re not allowed to wash your hands ritually, unless your hands are clean. That’s a very interesting law. It means you can’t wash your hands for bread. If your hands are dirty. If your hands are dirty, you have to go to the sink, you have to wash your hands with soap, get them clean, then you can wash your hands for bread. So washing for bread or washing in the morning, what we call Negel, Vaser is a ritual, it’s not for cleanliness, which I think is very interesting.

Geoffrey Stern  08:01

So you almost said something, you know, your self-contradictory. On the one hand, you gave the hygienic argument for…

Adam Mintz  08:09

I showed you the way they look at it, the world looks at it at as hygienic. But I’m saying that in in Halacha, it’s exactly the opposite, which is interesting. That would be our answer to that, right.

Geoffrey Stern  08:22

So as all of you faithful Madlik, listeners know, we have Sephira notes that go with every episode. And if you look into the notes for this week’s episode, we quote an article from the Jewish Review of books published in 2021. And it says Jews, Genes and the Black Death, it’s towards the end of the notes, and it talks about, for lack of a better word, I’m going to say this bubba meiser, that every good Jewish mother would tell their kids wash your hands, because this saved us from the bubonic plague. And what’s fascinating about it, as you say, Rabbi is we’re not sure that it came from the Jews, or it came from the non-Jews, we do know that there was anti-semitic outbursts during the plague, because the Jews were blamed. That’s just a reflex, I assume. But it’s fascinating. The article goes into it and actually goes through the numbers. And it comes out if you’re interested in saying that if and that’s a big if the Jews did not die in the same numbers as the non-Jews, it may have something to do with DNA. And I just suggest that you read the article because we are not a DNA podcast here. But in any case, it is fascinating that nonetheless, what you’re saying emanates this concept that it washing hands was clearly identified with The Jews, it was a a mark, so to speak. In the Gomorrah and Hulan 106a, it says, When Rav Dimi came from Eretz Yisrael he said: Due to the failure to wash with the first waters, meaning the washing that you do before you eat, they ultimately fed a Jew pig meat. So, what happened? A Jew shows up to a butcher shop that carries both kosher meat and pig meat. And based on the fact that the guy didn’t wash his hands, the proprietor figured he must not be Jewish. So again, what the Talmud is, in effect, saying between the lines is that washing of hands was an identifier. And I think that is kind of fascinating.

Adam Mintz  10:50

That is fascinating. I mean, that not your point that you’re making. It’s that it’s an identifier. And that’s, that’s interesting socially, I’m interested in how we identify one another. Like, it seems to be that people are always washing their hands. Not everybody does this. And I’ll admit that I don’t do this either. But actually, the tradition is to wash your hands before you daven as well. Before every prayer service, you’re supposed to wash your hands. That’s why sometimes outside of a shul, you’ll see a basin or you know, a sink in order to be able to wash your hands.

Geoffrey Stern  11:32

Well, absolutely. And I said that a little bit in the intro. These strange cups that have two handles on them,

Adam Mintz  11:39

Right. That’s correct.

Geoffrey Stern  11:40

Yeah, you go to an orthodox wedding and you see them you go to a synagogue, you see them, if you’re in Israel, and you go to a restaurant, nine times out of 10 outside of the bathroom, and they might even have the sink outside of the bathroom. It’s made for ritual washing, whether it’s washing because you’ve relieved yourself or washing because you’re about to partake of a meal and eat bread. I mean, let me give you a sense of how many washing opportunities there are. We know when we go to a cemetery. We wash our hands upon leaving. After cuttings, one hair or nails and we’ll get a little bit into the nails association here because you already mentioned that the water that one keeps at the side of one’s bed called Nagel vaser that one washes one’s fingertips upon waking up, has in the Yiddish Nagel means nails so your washing your fingertips. Some people wash before prayer, and again, this reminded me of my yeshiva days when I we did wash before prayers. I had forgotten about that. But it is kind of fascinating now to see how important it was to the rabbi’s go to Sotah 4b The Gemara continues its discussion of washing hands. Rabbi Zerika says that Rabbi Elazar says: Anyone who treats the ritual of washing hands with contempt is uprooted from the world.  הַמְּזַלְזֵל בִּנְטִילַת יָדַיִם נֶעֱקָר מִן הָעוֹלָם  The rabbi’s took this very seriously. Rav Ḥiyya bar Ashi says that Rav says: With regard to the first water, so let’s stop here for a second before you start a meal before you eat. There’s מַיִם רִאשׁוֹנִים  That’s what we all know where you wash your hands before you say hamotzi but there’s also מַיִם אַחֲרוֹנִים  which you wash at the end of the meal. You may have seen these little wonderful Judaica pieces that look like a well with a little cup hanging down.

Adam Mintz  13:59

They’re fantastic, aren’t they?

Geoffrey Stern  14:01

Oh, they are. And that is מַיִם אַחֲרוֹנִים . And that is to to wipe off what it’s called the מלח סדומית the salt from Sodom. And again, the health explanation would be that in those days, they used a lot of salt to preserve things…

Adam Mintz  14:21

Well something else. They didn’t have cutlery. So, the salt got on your fingers today, you would say What do you mean wash your hands, but at the end of the meal you’re using a fork and a spoon and a knife, but they didn’t have cutlery so the salt from the food and they needed salt in the food because they didn’t have refrigeration. So, the only way they preserve the food was by salting the food.

Geoffrey Stern  14:44

And of course there are more theological answers because who can talk about Sodom without thinking about מידת סדום (the evil character of Sodom) so when you finished eating and you’re satiated, which is the time that you might not focus on people that are less fortunate wash off the salt of Sodom, is a beautiful explanation I once heard. Getting back to the Talmud, it says so when you do the first washing, you must raise your hand upward, שֶׁיַּגְבִּיהַּ יָדָיו לְמַעְלָה . And when you do the מַיִם אַחֲרוֹנִים, you put your hands downward, there is something and we’ve already touched upon it, this association between holiness and cleanliness, holiness, and cleaning one’s hands. And so, while you definitely have a point, when you say this is not just cleaning one’s hands, your hands actually have to be cleaned before this ritual washing. There is this sense of, of raising your hands to a higher level raising you to a higher level. You know, we have a Mishnayot that talks about people being excommunicated, because they questioned the laws of purifying the hands. This actually was a very big, big deal. And it was a controversial idea. I think I could say that it not only was I an identifier of Jews, but because we Jews are the heirs of the Pharisees the Perushim, the Rabbinic Judaism in its day when there were other sects, it was a identifier of someone who was loyal to the rabbis. And therefore, if one did not wash or ascribe to washing or when put down washing, one was Kofer B’ikar, one was somehow undermining the whole project.

Adam Mintz  15:19

Yeah, I think that that makes a lot of sense. I think that’s, that is good. And that’s, you know, it’s interesting, I wasn’t thinking about מַיִם אַחֲרוֹנִים. But that’s another good example of kinda the balance between the hygiene piece of it, and the ritual piece of it. You don’t wait to wash until after Birkat HaMazon, you wash before Grace after meals, because it’s part of the ritual.

Geoffrey Stern  17:24

So what I love about scholarship today, and many times I will quote comparative religion, from the New Testament from the Quran. But in this case, it actually helps us understand the Talmud, because clearly the Talmud is excommunicating people who don’t wash, it is judging people as to identity if they don’t wash, something was going on. And if it was just in a vacuum, we would say maybe it’s a paper tiger. But in Mark 7 we have this long story, which I’m going to read. 1The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.  I don’t know if that’s referring to being tovel kelim in a mikvah? Who knows. 5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” 6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips,     but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship me in vain;     their teachings are merely human rules.’[b] 8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” And then it goes on, and it compares it to honoring your mother and father. And to cut a long story short, because I welcome you all to read it in the original and it appears twice in the New Testament. It’s also in Matthew 15. They basically make the argument that while the Bible itself says that you have to honor your mother and father, the rabbi’s say if you make an oath, if you make a neder, that you won’t do something that involves your parents, you have to keep the oath. The argument that Jesus and the New Testament on making here is that this law of washing that we just read about in the Torah that relates only to the priests in the temple is only by rabbinic decree made for everybody else. And what they are undermining is rabbinic authority. They are undermining the oral tradition. They are fundamentalists in a sense, but the fact that they picked this particular lawyer twice as their use case is kind of fascinating. And of course, at the end, it ends up with something that I had always associated with Jesus saying about kosher, but he in fact, says it about washing your hands. And he makes the famous comment, it’s not important what goes into your mouth. It’s what comes out of it. And what he meant to say, following up on the Isaiah quote, is that this purity needs to come from inside and not from outside. I call it a cheap shot, if you will. But it’s fascinating to me that this was documented not only in the Talmud, but also in the New Testament, that this was a point of discussion of a separation between the sects.

Adam Mintz  21:17

I mean, that’s so interesting, they argued about this ritual. And of course, they argued about this ritual, because this ritual is not biblical, but it was something that was added by the rabbi’s. So the Pharisees liked it, because they were part of the rabbinic tradition. The other sects rejected it, because they didn’t have such a good feeling about the rabbis. Right. This is so you’re really introducing even though you had this, the you know, the the story about the sects, you’re really introducing the fact that as important as ritual washing is, it’s actually a rabbinic obligation, not a biblical obligation.

Geoffrey Stern  21:58

So I think you’re right. And I think in the normal course of events, we would talk about this just as that we would say that if the story that we read about in the Parsah is called an Asmachata אסמכתא בעלמא  that it’s kind of like a place holder, or it’s an allusion. But I think a little bit because it was so controversial. If you go to Tanna Debei Eliyahu Rabbah 15:1  it says that יש מקרא ואין בו משנה  that there are instances in the Torah of stories without an explanation or without the learning. And they actually they talk about the Jews outside of Sinai where they had to clean themselves. For three days. They had to go into the mikvah, and it says גם למדנו רחיצת ידים מן התורה  the rabbi’s are trying very hard, this is so important to them, that they are trying very hard to associate it and of course, they bring our verse as well. And they say that because it says you shall be holy. When you wash your hands, it doesn’t relate totally, or exclusively to the Kohanim. But also to all of Klal Yisrael, so it is kind of fascinating. I think the real the real elephant in the room here is that the rabbi’s introduced a whole culture of food that was either Chulan, Demai or it was holy (terumah) , and there were all sorts of degradations, and you had to be in a state of purity to eat them. And I think what’s fascinating at the end of the day is what the rabbi’s have done is they’ve actually made an innovation here. If you look at Maimonides, Maimonides makes a general rule. And he says Whenever the Torah mentions washing one’s flesh or laundering one’s garments from impurity, the intent is solely the immersion of the entire body or article in a mikveh. The phrase, Leviticus 15:11: “And he did not wash his hands in water,” also refers to the immersion of the entire body.  And in a sense what the rabbi’s have done because it would not be practical to go to the mikvah every time one ate, they actually made an innovation that was a practicality. They said that dipping your hands or we’ll get into a second washing your hands was enough to make you holy. I think that’s a kind of fascinating, kind of a tweak on what is at stake here.

Adam Mintz  24:49

I think that’s great. I think that that’s absolutely right. And what you said about the rabbi’s working hard to find the biblical source It’s a familiar trope in in robotics that they look for a verse to, to, to support something that they made up themselves, because they want to make it stronger than just rabbinic. They want to give it the sense as if it’s biblical.

Geoffrey Stern  25:16

Yeah, absolutely. But this was a little, the stakes were a little bit higher here, because I think that, you know, there’s this whole issue of what constituted Am Aretz. And this whole question of eating Demai, it was really a major identifier of who you were in terms of the, the holiness, the separation of the Pharisees. So let’s get a little bit into since our verse is universally taken, as the hook upon which this is hung. Let’s go to a good buddy, the safer HaChinuch, who talks about every commandment, he had to include this because it literally says you are commanded from now and forever. So he says the roots of the commandment is the fixed foundation that we have said to aggrandize, the glory of the temple and all the activities that are done there. So there’s a little bit of a sense of another tradition, where this can’t be about purity, because the only way one can get pure is by immersing in the mikvah. So what is this, and the track that many of these commentaries take is, it’s giving honor, it’s what you would do, it appears from all this, that the intention of washing at the beginning is only for the aggrandizement of the glory of the temple. So there is a sense of this isn’t about necessarily purifying you, but it’s about uplifting the moment and uplifting you to the thing. And this is where we get into raising the hands. And the way that we wash our hands, he goes on to say, and that they do not put their hands into the water, but we pour it over their hands. And this is also the way of honor, he doesn’t say necessarily who pours the water, we’re going to talk a little bit if we have time, about the whole sense of the honor of pouring water on somebody else’s hands or somebody else’s feet. But clearly, the way that we have a cup with the two handles, you can’t put your fingers under the faucet, you have to pour the water onto it. And everybody talks about the blessing that we say עַל נְטִילַת יָדָֽיִם , which has a sense of raising up one’s hands. There is this sense of elevation here.

Adam Mintz  27:55

Yeah, that’s good. That’s very, very good. The word netila is the idea of raising your hands. Some people have the custom if you watch people on Friday night, wash their hands, some people wash their hands, and they pick their hands up a little bit. They actually recite a verse שאו ידיכם קדש , that you should raise your hands there is this idea that you’re elevated. The washing is a ritual that elevates you. There’s a lot to be said there,

Geoffrey Stern  28:25

elevate, raise your hands before performing something sacred. That is clearly a part of it. And so if we go on a little bit further, and we’re not going to have time for everything, this whole washing of the feet is something that was lost. The Rabbi’s didn’t do quite the job on the washing of the feet that they did with washing of the hands. The truth is that Christianity took that and maybe it was one of those instances where in a divorce, we divide things up and it was so associated with Christianity, and maybe even Islam, that we stopped doing it. In the story of Abraham. If you recall when the angels came to visit him, the first thing that he did was he went out and he washed their feet. He said in Genesis 18 Let a little water be poured bathe your feet and recline under the tree. In the Talmud. It says in Baba Metzia Rabbi Yannai, son of Rabbi Yishmael, said that the guests said to Abraham: Are you suspicious that we are Arabs who bow to the dust of their feet? Yishmael has already issued from him, i.e., your own son acts in this manner.  So first of all, it’s fascinating that the rabbi, is the son of Rabbi Ishmael about the children of Ishmael, but clearly the Talmud is too early to talk about Islam, but already associated with Washing of one’s feet is not something that elevated but either one’s feet were dirty or because maybe one worshipped the ground. In the Source sheet, I have a lot of a sources for where Christianity took this, I did find something fascinating in terms of the reform movement, have something called Brit Rechitza for those Jews that are have a problem with a Brit Mila, they have taken this where they do a little ceremony where they wash the feet. To me, it sounds very Christian. But again, that’s because we are so remote from this sense of washing. It’s just so fascinating. What I would like to leave everybody with is this sense, we’ve talked about bracha in the past, coming from the word Berech, which is knee (bowing – bending). But bracha also comes from the same word as berecha which is pool. And in the notes, I quote, The Malbim and others who really talk about this sense of a blessing being something that is poured from God to man and back and forth. He talks in some of the commentaries that I bring talk about when a patriarch like Jacob divides up the blessing, he’s scooping out the portion of the cup that belongs to each one. It’s a beautiful image when we say a baracha and when we give a bracha this sense of pouring the water, and I’d love to leave you with that image as we think about washing our hands.

Adam Mintz  31:54

That’s great. This was a great topic. Thank you, Geoffrey. Shabbat Shalom to everybody. Enjoy your weekend. Enjoy your week. We look forward to seeing you next week. Shabbat shalom.

Geoffrey Stern  32:05

Hey, Lauren, how’s it going?

Loren Davis  32:07

This was a really interesting topic, it came to mind this week, and I was doing some reading about the Parsha. And it talked about the Cohen Gadol that the requirement was to wash their hands and their feet. And it wasn’t necessarily that the hands were more important or less important than the feet. It was a it was a ritual that included both. And I was wondering whether or not now you’ve you’ve touched on it in your in your text here, but in going into the into the Holy of Holies. Why do you think they also included the feet in that?

Geoffrey Stern  32:47

So actually, in the very verse that we started with, which was not for the Cohen Gadol it was for the standard priest, it says in Exodus 30: 21, they shall wash their hands and feet that they may not die. And the classic commentaries all say that this had to be done. They even provide provisions for how it’s done. One places one’s hand over one’s foot, let’s say your left hand on your left foot, you watch that, and you do the same for the right. So washing the feet is something that’s kind of fascinating. And I kind of hinted at that, that that got lost between the cracks in rabbinic literature culture and kind of reimagining Judaism after the temple, it survived very much in Christianity. And obviously, it’s survived in Islam, but somehow, it preserved here. And most Jews would say that at the time of the temple, we’ll we’ll be washing hands and feet again, but it didn’t translate into any of the rituals that the rabbis created. And that we follow today. I will say, even the sense of taking off when shoes because you are on holy ground. Islam, I picked that up. Judaism for the most part not [ I should mention that for the priestly blessing, the modern day Cohanim do not wear their shoes) although there are some amazing synagogues in the Caribbean, who do not have wooden or stone floors. I think it’s called Curaçao.  It’s sand. It’s made of sand and I assume in those synagogues, maybe they did pray without shoes. In Judaism taking off one’s shoe is a sign of mourning or ultra hyper holiness. We do that on Yom Kippur. But again, I think you make a good point what happened to washing the feet?

Loren Davis  35:06

The distinction that you made this evening between purity and holiness was very, very interesting to me that there was the Holiness was in honor of, I guess, what you’re suggesting of God, purity was a way of being able to prepare yourself to participate in that is that the distinction?

Geoffrey Stern  35:30

So the Pharisees which were quoted in the New Testament, tonight, the Hebrew for a PhariseePerushim  means to be separate. They, they would say, קדושים תהיו ר”ל פירושים תהיו, you want to be holy, you have to separate yourself, and we always think of the Pharisees, as the people that said, An eye for an eye, lex talionis, its monetary. We saw them as very practical and taking Judaism along the path of evolving, but a very strong part of the Pharisees were these holiness laws, they distinguish between different types of food. You have a little bit of that in the Seder. One of the four questions is, every other night we wash once, tonight, we washed twice, they kind of captured a temple rite of washing one’s hands before we even ate fruit that might have had moisture on it and therefore could accept a certain level of unholiness. They were not like the Essenes; they didn’t go into the desert and segregate themselves. But clearly what they tried to do was to pack and ship some of the rules of the temple into ordinary life. And they were known for that and the term arm Haaretz which nowadays is a word we use for an ignoramus. In the Talmud, a times academics have shown that it actually had to do with the people who stayed in the land of Israel, when many of the Jews went into Babylonia, and it was in Babylonia and the Babylonian Talmud were many of these laws were made about purity in terms of eating and washing, they came back and resident Am Ha’aretz was not willing to accept these rules. It was a major point of division. And I think that’s part of why the washing part and the holiness part was monopolized and hijacked by the rabbi’s. And they’re, you see this other trend in it, this sense of not holiness in the sense of impurity, but holiness in the sense of elevating and giving grandeur to the temple giving grandeur to God being reborn, but I do think in and I’ll stop here, I do think what the rabbi’s did, by letting you wash your hands is they created a fast-food version of the holiness code. Whereas all of the commentaries say, if you look at the Bible, the only way you can purify yourself is taking a dip … going, going into the mikvah, the rabbi’s had to be more practical, and they permitted you to just wash your hands. So it was actually a practical innovation as much as anything else.

Loren Davis  38:33

That’s really That’s fascinating. I think the rabbi was right, this is a great topic and the issue of, of cleanliness versus holiness. I do so many things during the day where I wash my hands for one reason or another. And it’s interesting to trace back where that may have come from. So, thank you for your very interesting session.

Geoffrey Stern  38:52

Thank you and I’ll only end with one language. Text The Rabbi’s say when you wake up in the morning, and otherwise, before you pray, you have to wash your hands because your hands are busy. (The Rosh in the late 13th century says that we must wash our hands because “the hands are busy.”) You never know where they’ll be. And I love that expression. So anyway, let’s all stay busy. Let’s all stay clean and holy. And we’ll see you all next week.

Sefaria Source Sheet: https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/472460

Listen to last year’s Podcast: Architecture in Time

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Temple Politics

parshat tetzaveh, exodus 28

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on March 2nd 2023. We survey the prophetic and Rabbinic re-imagining of a Temple culture without a Temple but we also continue our discussion from last week where we noted how messianism, including Jewish Messianism includes an eschatological, often violent break with accepted practice, intentionally breaking moral and Rabbinic norms to hasten the end. We explore how after the Six Day War, but specifically after the Oslo Accords previous Rabbinic guidance relating to the sanctity of the Temple Mount has been cast aside.

Sefaria Source sheet: https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/470857

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. This week’s Torah portion is Tetzaveh. We survey the prophetic and Rabbinic re-imagining of a Temple culture without a Temple but we also continue our discussion from last week where we noted how Jewish Messianism includes an often violent break with accepted practice, intentionally breaking moral and Rabbinic norms to hasten the end. We explore how after the Six Day War, but specifically after the Oslo Accords previous Rabbinic guidance relating to the sanctity of the Temple Mount has been cast aside. So join us for Temple Politics.

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Well, welcome back another week in Madlik. And obviously, I think we’ve all been watching the news out of Israel and two, beautiful Jewish souls were killed in a terrorist attack. But afterwards, some of the video that we’ve all seen is as as I wouldn’t say, as disturbing nothing can be as disturbing as the loss of life. But some seemingly ultra orthodox Jews lit some Palestinian homes on fire. And as the sun set, decided to dive in, Maariv, and that juxtaposition of praying while people’s homes burned, was really a disconcerting to say the least. So as I said, in the introduction, we’re gonna continue the conversation of what the temple means and what it meant after it was no longer with us. But we are going to fast forward into the present in terms of how the temple has been politicized in terms of the change in halacha. And what more better subject for Madlik then to review how halacha is changing in front of our very eyes. And Rabbi Adam, how are you this week?

Adam Mintz  02:21

I’m really good. I mean, it’s not California, but we’re good here in New York, and I’m looking forward. This is a great conversation, and I’m looking forward to having

Geoffrey Stern  02:30

fantastic so in Pasha Exodus 28: 2 says make sacral vestments for your brother Aaron for dignity and adornment. Make בִגְדֵי־קֹ֖דֶשׁ  holy clothing for Aaron your brother, לְכָב֖וֹד וּלְתִפְאָֽרֶת  for Kavod and adornments, beauty, and maybe you are not aware, because we’ve really not discussed this tradition in Judaism many times before. But there is a tradition that there are a certain set numbers of commandments; 613 commandments, and at a certain time, Maimonides wrote a book called Sefer HaMitzvot. And this began a tradition of writing a book and counting the very different commandments. So the first thing that one does, when one looks at a innocuous pasuk like this, a verse like this, that simply says, do something, when wants to see did it rank to become one of those 613 commandments, and lo and behold, in safer ha mitzvah, the positive commandments, number 33. It says that is that he commanded the priests to wear special garments for glory and adornment, so they can serve in the temple. And that is his saying, and make holy garments for your brother Aaron from glory and adoration. So he quotes our verse, and he says that this is an actual commandment. And he goes on to say, and it already appears in the Sifra, which is a midrashic commentary that wearing these garments is a positive commandment. So we’ve been focused in the last week or two on building the tabernacle, the Mishkan and now we’re getting to the accessories if you will. And from this verse, we learned that wearing the clothing is an accessory. But Rabbi the first thing that struck me was the pasuk says make Sacred vestments   וְעָשִׂ֥יתָ בִגְדֵי־קֹ֖דֶשׁ  make them and all of the commentaries universally say that the commandment is to wear the special garments. Are you struck by that as well?

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Temple Politics | Sefaria

Parshat Tetzaveh – We survey the prophetic and Rabbinic re-imagining of a Temple culture without a Temple but we also continue our discussion from last week where we noted how Jewish Messianism includes an often violent break with accepted practice, intentionally breaking moral and Rabbinic norms to hasten the end.

Listen to last year’s episode: Why Blue and White?

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WHEN GOD gets small cont.

parshat terumah, exodus 25

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on February 23rd 2023. We continue a previous discussion concerning the emergence and almost universal impact, if not acceptance of the concept of tzimzum and tikkun on the Jewish concept of redemption. We explore the writings of Gershom Scholem and ask how this radical idea manifests in a new pernicious form of post-Zionism.

Sefaria Source Sheet: https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/469103

This is a continuation of last year’s Terumah podcast: WHEN GOD get small

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. This week’s Torah portion is Toldot. .  Last year when we discussed the creation of the tabernacle, we explored a powerful theological concept called Tzimzum where God creates the world by contracting his presence.  This year we continue the discussion from a historical, ideological and political perspective.  We explore how after the expulsion from Spain this concept profoundly impacted every aspect of the Jewish Journey into modernity and up until the current political crisis in Israel.

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So welcome, you know, every week, I have to make sure that I’m not talking about the same thing that I talked about in past years. So I wanted to talk about Tzimzum, I love Tzimzum, and I went back to last year’s podcast, and lo and behold, we talked about Tzimzum, and I listened to it. And I encourage any of you who haven’t listened to it recently to go ahead, because this is a continuation of that discussion, we are going to get into what tzimzum is, as I said before, in the introduction, it’s when God creates the world by contracting. And I think that at the end of last year’s podcast, to give you a sense of the direction we took last year, we asked the question of how is it possible that God on the one hand, can contract himself and withdraw from the world, but also be m’tzamzem make himself small and come into the temple. And I quoted if you remember, Rabbi, Shai Held, who said, it’s kind of like a relationship, sometimes you have to give the other person space by contracting yourself and moving away. And other times you have to get into their life and be a part of every aspect of it. And so that gives you a sense that last year, we were really talking on a very personal level, a theological level, but this year, we’re going in a whole other direction, we’re going to really look at history. And in a sense, it’s almost going to be a masterclass in Gershon Scholem, the the great historian, scholar of Kabbalah. And we’re going to use him as a guide. And I think we’re going to be kind of surprised by some of the ramifications that tzimzum had throughout history. So Rabbi, do you share even a little bit my my fascination with tzimzum?

Adam Mintz  03:11

It’s a really, really good topic. And I wasn’t sure you know, that “continued”, I wasn’t sure what angle you were gonna take in terms of in terms of tzimzum,

Geoffrey Stern  03:21

So what we’re starting with is the Parsha deals with the Israelites building God, a temple. And there’s one verse in Exodus 25, 8. And it says, And let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them. And the key word that we discussed really ad nauseam last year was וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם . And I will dwell (amongst them) and if you hear the word Shechina, in V’shechanti, you are on the money, “I will dwell within them”. And the whole question is what is “within them mean”? And we quoted one piece of Midrash in Shemot Rabbah, where the moment when the Holy One said to Moses, make me a tabernacle, Moses was dumbfounded, and said, The glory of the Holy One fills the upper worlds, and the lower and he said, to make him a tabernacle? And he said, “but will God indeed dwell on the earth?” So really, there is this question here of how the infinite can become part of our world of finitude, and at the end it says, The Holy One replied to Moshe, I do not see things the same as you do. I will come down and contract my presence within a space of one qubit by one qubit and it says in the Hebrew שֶׁאֵרֵד וַאֲצַמְצֵם שְׁכִינָתִי בְּתוֹךְ אַמָּה עַל אַמָּה  so this word that the Kabbalists went to town with is used very rarely. And this is one of the rare occasions that it is used in a Rabbinic, Midrashic text and earliest understanding of Tzimzum, which means really to contract is that God took his infinite presence and brought it inside of the tabernacle. And what we are going to discuss today is how the Kabbalists, in Tzfat in Safed in Israel, took this concept and made it into something that I am going to argue with the help of Gershom Scholom today, affected every aspect of Jewish life, affected the thoughts that everybody listening to this podcast probably has about Judaism, affected history, ideology, theology, and even nationalism. So the first thing that Scholem does, is he explains what this meant from a theological perspective, and then how it evolved. And he said that ultimately, this concept of God creating the world instead of emanating into the world, by slowly but surely materializing himself through these different Sefirot, which I described last year, as a sense of almost kicking the can down the road. Instead, he contracted himself, he says, “the doctrines developed in the schools of Safed, apparently embodied some fundamental and universal Jewish quality that’s transcended all local variations. And he says, what they did was they had recently been exiled from Spain. And you have to understand Spain in its day was, was like American Jewry. It was. It was like Berlin right before and the Holocaust, it was Jews were in every facet of life. And they thought they had arrived, and all of a sudden, a catastrophe occurred, and they lost everything. And the Kabbalists went to Safed. And for the first generation, they really felt that this cataclysmic event had occurred, and the Messiah would come. And when that wore off, they had to figure out what everything meant. And so what they did was they took this concept of God creating the world and contracting himself into God exileing himself. “They triumphed because they provided an answer to the great problem of the time, to a generation for which the facts of exile and the precariousness of existence in it had become most pressing and cruel. Kabbalism could give an answer unparalleled in breadth and depth and vision. The Kabbalistic answer illuminated the significance of exile in redemption, and accounted for the unique historical situation of Israel within the wider, in fact, cosmic context of creation itself. What Gershon Scholem is trying to prove is that they took something that previously had only related to the creation of the world, and they brought it home to the situation of the Jews in exile. And they took this concept of God in a sense coming out of his holy abode, or God contracting himself from the world because there was a little bit of both of them, and they projected that on to the Jewish people, so now all of a sudden, this idea of being exiled, became almost something that could be compared to the divine. I’ll finish this little introduction because Gershom Scholom is almost lyrical and when you read him, he’s almost poetic. He says, There is a ruthlessness towards himself (meaning God), for he exiled himself from boundless infinity to a more concentrated infinity. There is a profound inward galut exile, not the galut of one of the creatures but of God Himself, who limited himself and thereby made place for the universe. So this is where this idea of tzimzum becomes more than just how does God create a temple? Or how does God even create a world and that is what we we’re going to explore a little bit today. How does that resonate with you Rabbi?

Adam Mintz  10:05

Well, first of all, I mean, I’m so happy that you started with Gershom Scholem. Because he’s the master of understanding this and that’s why it’s so great that he call it a continuation, the idea that God, contracting himself becomes God going into exile was such an important pivot by the Jews. And we’re still living in that pivot. That’s what you said, you said, it applies to us. Even today, we’re still living in that pivot, we still see God as going into exile, and how that relates to us and how we relate to that. So I love that idea.

Geoffrey Stern  10:45

And if I’m correct, we have had a previous podcast, where you have referenced this concept of Shechinta B’Galuta, that the Divine Presence went with the Jews into exile. That was not something that was created by this concept of Tzimzum, that like many things in the history of ideas that was existing, but it was, I think, kind of embellished and given more power, the idea of the Divine Presence also went into exile, or that even when Israel sins, God goes down with them, those are in the source sheet. We have texts; traditional texts, nothing to do with the Kabbalah that, that talk about that. And of course, we find that to be kind of a powerful. And I think it’s in a sense, these are the humanistic aspects, the Hasidic stories about how the simple little Jew or the the Jew who might not be knowledgeable in the Torah, God is with that person. I mean, that in itself is a powerful, a powerful message. But again, we’re gonna take it out of the realm of theology, and the personal and into the realm of ideology, and ideological movements and nationalism and politics. And that I think becomes kind of fascinating how that happened.

Adam Mintz  12:26

That is fascinating. Let me just say that that idea that that God is in exile is based on a very old rabbinic tradition, which is quoting a verse which says, עמו אנכי בצרה that I am with you in your suffering, and that God actually is with us in our suffering. And that’s really amazing, right? So when we go into exile, God goes into exile with us,  עמו אנכי בצרה

Geoffrey Stern  12:57

Absolutely. And I think you can even make the case that there was in rabbinic tradition, a sense of that a God would go into the exile. When it says, to make me a Mikdash. In Shemot Rabbah, it says, Make me a Mikdash, so that I not be on the outside שֶׁלֹא אֶהְיֶה בַּחוּץ . This, this concept of exile an Alien Nation, being a foreigner, being an alien, whether to oneself or in every aspect, again, it was all there. But the Jews from suffered in the tiny little town on the top of a hill, came up with an interpretation that really resounded so so strongly, that I think will show it really affected so many different occurrence within within Judaism. And that becomes kind of fascinating.

Sefaria Source Sheet: https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/467460

Please listen to last year’s Podcast: WHEN GOD gets small

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Shadows of Sinai cont.

parshat mishpatim, exodus 24

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on February 16th 2023. We continue our discussion of Sinai with a focus on the negative aspects foreshadowed even at the climactic moment of revelation. We survey the Rabbinic tradition as preserved in our texts and surprisingly in the Koran. Finally we wonder whether Israel and God have entered into a relationship at Sinai that neither one can resist?

Sefaria Source Sheet: https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/467460

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. This week’s Torah portion is Mishpatim. .  We continue our discussion of Sinai with a focus on the negative aspects foreshadowed even at the climactic moment of revelation. We survey the Rabbinic tradition as preserved in our texts and surprisingly in the Koran. Finally we wonder whether Israel and God have entered into a relationship at Sinai that neither one can resist? So join us for Shadows of Sinai continued

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Well, welcome back, I made you promise at the end of last week that we would return to this subject. Little did I know that we would return in the following week! I guess the giving of the Torah at Sinai is a big deal.

Adam Mintz  01:14

A very big deal. And they come back to it at the end of this week’s portion. And I mean, there’s a question exactly why this was placed at the end of this week’s portion rather than last week’s portion, but whatever it is, it’s like book-ended. So, the last story is about the giving of the Torah. So that’s exciting. We get to have it for two weeks in a row.

Geoffrey Stern  01:36

Absolutely. And before we begin, every so often, we get comments from people that listen to the podcast, and I thought maybe I would quote just a few comments that we got in the last week. And what I want to do is encourage all of you who listen to this as a podcast, to give us a few stars, and maybe to write a comment on whether it’s Apple or Spotify or whatever platform you use to listen to our podcast. So, Howard writes kudos another interesting Torah study. Although I wonder if left-handed individuals with agree with the rabbi, that to the right is always better. Rabbi, I think you pissed off the left-handed people.

Adam Mintz  02:19

Yeah, that’s funny. Okay.

Geoffrey Stern  02:21

I was happy to see the sketch of the shul at vote of it. My great-grandfather, Morris Knobloch, was born in Gwodziec in 1848. Imagine my dismay when I learned that there are two Gwodziecs:  the synagogue location is in now the Ukraine; in the Carpathian Mountains almost at the junction of Slovakia, Poland and Ukraine.  Thank you, Howard. Michael wrote, I woke up feeling the beauty of  “Encircling the Mountain” Like, Passing the Talking Stick in Circle, Holding Sacred Space, and May I add; climbing the Mountain to reach God’s outstretched hand as a metaphor for our lives….. and the “opposing force” Negdo Yes, there is that Always creating the Illusion of Separation, Split from the divine Thank you. Well, thank you, Michael. And thank you, Howard, and its loyal listeners like you that make this all worthwhile. So, we are continuing last week. And in this week’s Parsha, as you say, after the parsha is called mishpatim. It has many rules and laws that are relevant even till today. One of them has to do with hitting a woman who miscarries and lo and behold, that is the source of so much of the discussion about abortion and right to life and so forth and so on. But in Exodus 24: 4, it says Moses then wrote down all the commandments of God. Early in the morning, he set up an altar at the foot of the mountain וַיִּ֥בֶן מִזְבֵּ֖חַ תַּ֣חַת הָהָ֑ר with 12 pillars for the 12 tribes of Israel. Then he took the record of the covenant and read it aloud to the people and they said, all that God has spoken, we will faithfully do that is Everett Fox’s, translation of נַעֲשֶׂ֥ה וְנִשְׁמָֽע  the JPS says, literally we will do and obey. The Koren Jerusalem Bible says. They said all that the Lord has said we will do and obey. So Na’aseh V’Nishmah is something that I grew up with. You probably grew up with Rabbi. It was the crowning, I guess, bumper sticker of the Jewish people at Sinai, they said Na’aseh, we will do v’nishmah and we will listen or possibly we shall observe. And we talked last week about this sense of being underneath the mountain, we focused on the positive aspects of that. Today we’re going to focus on maybe some of the negative foreshadowing negative aspects of it. But if you go to the Midrash Tanchuma, it really does connect both the standing under the mountain and what the Jews said, underneath the mountain. It says the Israelites did not accept the Torah until the holy one bless it be he arched the mountain over them like a vessel, as it is said, and this is last week’s Parsha, and they stood beneath the mountain, The Israelites did not accept the Torah until the Holy One, blessed be He, arched the mountain over them like a vessel, as it is said: And they stood beneath the mountain (Exod. 19:17). R. Dimi the son of Hama stated that the Holy One, blessed be He, told Israel: If you accept the Torah, well and good; but if not, your grave will be there. If you should say that He arched the mountain over them because of the Written Law, isn’t it true that as soon as He said to them, “Will you accept the Torah?” they all responded, “We will do and hear,” because the Written Law was brief and required no striving and suffering, but rather He threatened them because of the Oral Law.  And the Midrash Tanchuma goes on to say, the first explanation that we have, of what exactly we will do, and we will hear is, we will do relates to the written law, and we will hear seems to point towards listening to the Oral Law going forward. But whatever it is, we talked about this kind of this ambiguity (conflict, ambivalence) about the giving of the Torah, whether it’s the ambiguity of being under the mountain, is it something that was more like a wedding canopy? Or was it something to be fearful of?  .. if you don’t accept it, I will destroy you this Na’aseh V’Nishma that we all think of in terms of, as we’ll see some of the positive commentaries as a very positive thing. It lends itself to so many explanations. So, what’s, what’s it all about? Rabbi?

Adam Mintz  07:04

Well, first, let me let me comment on the first explanation that you gave, Na’aseh V’Nishma, it’s going to be the Written Torah and the Oral Torah. That’s very interesting, just in the history of law, because law is a combination of the written and the oral tradition. It’s interesting that today, that’s not really true. If you want to know what is American law, if a lawyer goes to law school, they study the Constitution, then post-constitution, there are cases, case law about what the Constitution meant. And there are 250 years’ worth of case law, about the Constitution. Everything is written down just the question of whether it’s the Constitution, or whether it’s the explanation of the Constitution. But 4,000 years ago, 3,500 years ago, it didn’t work that way. You had a written tradition, then you had an oral tradition. The truth of the matter is that all three of the religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all have that idea. They have a written text, right? We mentioned the Koran before they have a written text, and then they have an oral tradition (Ḥadīth). The problem with the oral tradition is how can you convince people that the oral tradition is, you know, is is authentic, the way that the written tradition is authentic, and what the rabbi’s do is, and it’s a little trick because the rabbi’s are actually authenticating their own tradition. But what they say is not V’Nishmah. It’s the written tradition. And it’s the oral tradition. Our tradition was taught by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, it wasn’t written down for whatever reason, but it was taught to Moses on Mount Sinai, and therefore it’s just as authentic as the written tradition. That’s a very important kind of statement by the rabbi’s to authenticate the oral tradition, without that, the oral tradition, which is everything, right, there are 39 categories of work that are forbidden on Shabbat. That is not in the Torah. That is the oral tradition. How do we know that that’s true? There’s a certain amount of faith that goes along with it. The rabbis are reading it into the text.

Geoffrey Stern  09:23

So, I totally agree with you. I think the Rashbam says something beautiful that takes this concept of oral tradition out of the very technical sense of what we call the Mishnah and the Talmud, and he says that we will do what God has said already. And we are also prepared to listen/obey to what he will command from here on in נעשה מה שדיבר וגם נשמע מה שיצונו עוד מכאן ולהבא ונקיים . And I think what that is saying more than anything else, is it’s not so much that the oral tradition was given in parallel to the written tradition, but the oral tradition shows that whatever was given was the beginning of a conversation. And that if we take away anything from last week, and this week, it is that revelation did not happen in just a moment and just a place, but that it was a beginning of a conversation. And I love that concept of it. And I think that kind of really jives very well with what you were saying, because the old tradition was always living and always developing. And we’ll see that about the oral traditions about the giving of the Torah at Sinai.

Adam Mintz  10:39

Yeah, there’s no question that That’s right. I mean, and we understand why that’s so important. I mean, the whole Torah is important, and the whole Torah is interesting. But somehow when you talk about the Written Torah, and the Oral Torah, you’re talking about something that really is at the foundation of all of the traditions that we have.

Geoffrey Stern  10:58

So let’s get to the traditional interpretation of Na’aseh V’nishmah. Because definitely, it is that bumper sticker that I described before, which is used as an accolade for the Jewish people. And the truth is, the simplest explanation comes not as an accolade, but almost as an insult. In Ketubot 112a, it talks a story about Rabbi Zeira was going to come back to the Land of Israel, and he needed a ferry, to cross, so He took hold of a rope that was strung across as a makeshift bridge and crossed the Jordan. A certain Sadducee said to him: Hasty people who put your mouths before your ears, when you said at the time of the giving of the Torah: “We will do” before “we will hear” (Exodus 24:7), you remain hasty to this day.  So basically, he was cutting line he was in our hurry to get across the river. And the Sadducee said to him: Hasty people who put your mouths before your ears, when you said at the time of the givi says, You guys are hasty. You put your mouths before your ears. And what he meant to say was that when the Jews accepted the Torah they said Na’aseh. Let’s do, and we’ll listen afterwards. You know, it’s like, shoot, first ask questions later. I think that is the typical explanation of why the Jews are pride themselves with saying Na’aseh V’nishmah, they were had such faith in God, that they said, We’re gonna do it. And then you can tell us the fine print where in! we are committed!

Adam Mintz  12:29

Yeah, I mean, I’m with you. 100%. On that I think that’s 100% Correct. I mean, that’s really, it needs both pieces. Without both pieces, something is missing.

Geoffrey Stern  12:40

You could however, see it as criticism. I mean, Sadducee definitely saw it as critical, where he was saying, what sort of an acceptance is that when you accept a contract without reading it. So even here, it’s a backhanded compliment, if you will, but let’s just finish the traditional explanation of it being a compliment in Shabbat 88a, it says Rabbi Simai taught: When Israel accorded precedence to the declaration “We will do” over the declaration “We will hear,” 600,000 ministering angels came and tied two crowns to each and every member of the Jewish people, one corresponding to “We will do” and one corresponding to “We will hear.”  but then it goes on. And when the people sinned with the Golden Calf, 1,200,000 angels of destruction descended and removed them from the people, as it is stated in the wake of the sin of the Golden Calf: “And the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments from Mount Horeb onward” (Exodus 33:6).  So, talk about backhanded compliments. On the one hand again, this is seen as an amazing showing of faith. But we will now go through multiple Midrashim multiple oral traditions that talk about the hypocrisy almost of Na’aseh V’nishmah here this people say we will do and then we’ll understand later, and then 15 minutes later, maybe it’s 30 days later, they sin with the golden calf and maybe that proves that the Sadducee was right, maybe their acceptance was very superficial,

Adam Mintz  14:22

Good that that is an interesting point. And that is why are they sinning so quickly after they are saying Na’aseh V’Nishmah we will do when we will listen something’s wrong with, we will do when we will listen. So you started by saying what’s the traditional explanation? Clearly the traditional explanation is that it shows total commitment to God to be able to say we will do and we will listen even though they didn’t have it yet. That’s what you just called the traditional explanation But what’s interesting is that the rabbi’s don’t seem to be satisfied with the traditional explanation. They understand that it’s kind of the double-edged sword. And they emphasize that which is interesting, because they understand that the Jews in the desert are not just a simple law abiding, God abiding people. They are a very complicated people. And they try to see that in the phrase, Na’aseh V’nishmah.

Geoffrey Stern  15:32

Complicated people and a complicated moment. It really punctures the myth of this importance of the giving of the Torah at Sinai, as this hyper important moment that began and ended at Sinai, even at the end of this Talmud, it says, In the future, the Holy One, blessed be he will return them (the Crowns) to us, as he is said. And it talks about quoting Isaiah that בְּרִנָּה וְשִׂמְחַת עוֹלָם עַל רֹאשָׁם that with joy and singing Zion, I will return this to your heads, it’s almost as if the rest of Jewish history is trying to make up and to fulfill the promise of the revelation at Sinai.

Adam Mintz  16:23

And if that’s so that would be a good thing. You know, it says that every day you’re supposed to feel as if you receive the Torah that day, you’re supposed to wake up, and you’re supposed to have the energy and the excitement as if you’re receiving the Torah that day. And what you’re doing is you’re adding to that and you’re saying it’s not only you received the Torah, but that your part of this evolution of the tradition that goes from generation to generation that continues. So, it’s not only that you receive the Torah, in the sense of the Ten Commandments, is it you received the written and the oral tradition together?

Geoffrey Stern  17:02

The oral tradition, and maybe even the written tradition wasn’t fully accepted. There’s a real there’s a real challenge here, I think that the giving of the Torah at Sinai becomes almost a challenge. And if we go to the most traditional account of this sense that the mountain was held over them, and it says, If you accept the Torah, excellent, and if not, this will be your burial. Rabbi Avdimi bar Ḥama bar Ḥasa in Shabbat 88a says, this is a major caveat, a major, a puncture a major dent in this sense of having the Torah given at Sinai. And then and this is the punch line. And I don’t know if it’s because of this year, we have the holidays are late or early. But we are what two weeks away three weeks away from Purim. This is the famous piece of Talmud and as far as I can tell, it only really occurs once

Adam Mintz  18:10

Right

Geoffrey Stern  18:11

and it says that in the Megillat Esther, it says in Esther 9: 27 that Jews undertook and irrevocably obligated themselves and their descendants and all who might join them. קִיְּמ֣וּ (וקבל) [וְקִבְּל֣וּ] הַיְּהוּדִים֩ ׀ עֲלֵיהֶ֨ם ׀ וְעַל־זַרְעָ֜ם וְעַ֨ל כׇּל־הַנִּלְוִ֤ים עֲלֵיהֶם֙ וְלֹ֣א יַעֲב֔וֹר of course, then it goes on to say: “to observe the two days in the manner prescribed”, but the rabbi’s say and this is radical, that it was after Purim. And you can either say Purim is just a holiday like any other. Or you can say that Purim in the book of Esther is the last book of the Written Torah. They accepted the Torah, in full without a mountain held over their heads. So, this Rava says, Finally at the time of Ahasuerus, it says The Jews ordained what they had already taken upon themselves through coercion at Sinai. So I think at the most basic level, what it really proves is what we started out by saying is that accepting the Torah it doesn’t happen in one day. It’s a process it happens over time. And what they say is that the this the caveats and the dents in the acceptance of the Torah at Sinai, were finally somehow resolved at the last book of the Torah when the Jews קִיְּמוּ וְקִבְּלוּ הַיְּהוּדִים accepted upon themselves. And that’s kind of the end of this story of this mountain held over their head. What do you make of that?

Adam Mintz  19:57

So you know, you’re emphasizing the fact that the verse comes from the book of Esther, you could say that that’s just out of convenience. You know, the rabbi’s are looking for a verse to kind of hook this on. And they find a verse in the book of Esther. So that’s interesting. You know, I never made much of that verse in the book of Esther, because they kind of take that verse out of context, but you’re actually saying something that’s even better. And that is that because the book of Esther is the latest or a late book, in the canonization of the Bible, we were talking about, you know, the Bible from 900. And here you have the canonization, the decision that the Bible looks the way it does that there are 24 books in the Bible, and no more that this is the end. And only at the end, did they actually accept the Torah willingly. Like, you know, let’s be honest, that’s the way we are as people, right? Sometimes you have to be pushed to do something, and only later, are you happy about it. And maybe that’s what happened with the Jews. Maybe that’s the point. That’s the point that you’re making. Maybe that’s the point of this piece of of Talmud, and that is that at the beginning, they had to be pushed. But the key is that later on at the end, they came to appreciate, how about that?

Geoffrey Stern  21:25

I love them all. And I think as we always say, אלו ואלו דברי אלוקים חיים these and these are the words of the living God. If anything is the message here. Last week, we talked about the words of how the Jews were oriented. There’s another word that is used, and that is that they stood Yetziva, and it says From here we learn that in three places the Torah was given in the tent of meeting, at Sinai, in the plains of Moab. My point is that the rabbi’s clearly saw revelation as something that happened in every generation in every human being’s life at every moment at every time. It was an ongoing process. And I think that’s the most important thing. And, and this is a big “and”. And that the it’s not as though we are trying to somehow parallel to somehow duplicate a perfect process that happened at Sinai, because guess what, it wasn’t perfect. To the contrary, it was fatally flawed. I think that comes through almost every piece of Talmud that we will study and the Midrash that we will study tonight. There is no one who quotes Na’aseh V’Nishmah who doesn’t say But afterwards.

Adam Mintz  22:54

Yeah, that’s correct. And I mean, and what you’re saying is, I think correctly, so is that that’s part of the tradition to say Na’aseh V’nishmah then to say “but”.

Geoffrey Stern  23:05

I mean, even last week, I was trying to keep the conversation very positive about the mountain being held over. And I said, you know, it’s kind of like a huppah. And it even had l’crat in it like we have l’crat to greet the Sabbath bride. Rabbi Shimon, Ben Khalifa said, wretched is the bride who sins under the wedding canopy in this regard. There was no rabbi who could look at what they said, and not see a level of hypocrisy and not see a level of superficiality and be critical. And that’s an amazing part of our tradition. I think, if you have to think in terms of revelation at Sinai, that is our Jewish aha moment. That is the moment that we were exposed to the divine message that gave us the Torah that is going to go on sale at Sotheby’s for $50 million. I mean, that was the moment. It’s not sugar coated. I think that’s amazing. The other part of that moment that we can never forget, was it wasn’t a singular moment between God and a single individual. It was the whole expanse of the Jewish people with all their flaws. And I think this is helping us understand, I think, the magic of that moment.

Adam Mintz  24:31

 Yeah, that’s an important point. You know, the Rabbis say, that the entire world was quiet, when God gave the Ten Commandments to the Jews. And that’s an important point. God gave it to the Jews, but everybody else stood back and watched so that everybody knows that God has chosen the Jews. That’s a very powerful moment.

Geoffrey Stern  24:55

So I want to prepare us for something that that’s rather unique. And that is that while many of us have never heard of this Midrash, that God held the mountain of Sinai over the Jewish people as almost a threat, it figures a rather large within the Quran, and we are going to go to the Quran in a second and quote it. But before I do, I want to go over some of our Midrashim who really twist and turn and go into all of the different ways that one can understand what happened there. In Midrash Tanhuma   stood at Mount Sinai, Hos. 9:10): I HAVE FOUND {YOUR ANCESTORS} [ISRAEL] LIKE GRAPES IN THE DESERT; [I HAVE SEEN YOUR ANCESTORS LIKE EARLY FIGS ON A FIG TREE IN ITS FIRST SEASON]. < The text > speaks about Israel. When it stood at Mount Sinai, it resembled grapes. Just as grapes are beautiful on the outside and ugly on the inside, so was Israel when it stood at Mount Sinai and responded (according to Exod. 24:7): WE WILL DO AND OBEY. Note that < the response was > with their mouth, but their heart was not steadfast.  , there is other Midrashim that compare the Jewish people to a lover/wife, we’ve kind of seen that when we talk about the הָר כְּגִיגִית  this mountain held over their head, as a huppah. And there are a verses that said that God picked the Jewish people. And it says, In Eichah Rabbah, I am the man who has seen affliction by the rods of his fury. And that is from Lamentations. And it says, No Woman except you other than me. So it kind of talks about this dialectic between God and you’ve kind of hinted about this, God offering the Torah to all the peoples and none of them would say anything close to Na’aseh V’nishmah we will, we will do and we will hear but the Jewish people did. And then God realizes that this woman who he just (as if to say) Married has cheated on him, because she has built this, this golden calf. And God says, you have been impudent. And at the end of the day, like lovers/a married couple, who is destined to be together. The Midrash continues that almost in a sense, and I talk about this in the in the in the introduction about how they’re almost destined to be close together, they she lied in order to get him, he fell for the lie, but he fell in love. And here they are destined to dance this dance of, of faithfulness and infidelity. (a co-dependent relationship)  It’s, it’s really amazing. If you look at the source sheet, and look at all of the different ways that the Israelites by saying Na’Aseh V’nishma, but then sinning right afterwards are crafted. But I think what ultimately, remains is that nonetheless, there is this (co-dependent) relationship between the two, whether a god was fleeced or not, ultimately, the two of them stick together. And I think that also is a message of this story of the revelation at Sinai.

Adam Mintz  28:44

I think that that is true. Now you’re here, you’re raising an interesting question. And that is you’re kind of introducing God as you know, as the player here. What did God decide what did God want? You know, God, let’s go back to the first Gamora… we’ll end where we started, you know, the first Gamora about holding the mountain over them. Did God feel like that was a you know, that was a necessity, but it wasn’t ideal, or the God think, no, that’s okay. That’s what the people need the same way a parent might need to be a little firmer with a child to make sure they do the right thing, but they understand that’s just what the child needs. It’s not a bad thing. So how do you understand that about holding the mountain out over them? Was that what God wanted to do? Or that was a necessity that God felt he was forced to do?

Geoffrey Stern  29:37

You know, we don’t have an answer for that. I promised last week that i would talk about the Quran… I’m gonna do it this week.

Adam Mintz  29:46

Here you go, take it away.

Geoffrey Stern  29:47

I read an amazing article that was written, oh my goodness, it was written in 1941. It’s called Koran and Agada: The Events at Mount Sinai by Julian Obermann , and literally he brings the Koran says Sura 5: 7, remember Allah’s favor upon you and His covenant which he made with you when he said, We have heard and we obey, in Sura 24: 51 He says the only response of the true believers when they are called to Allah and His messenger. So he may judge between them is to say, we hear and obey. Then in Sura 2: 63, it says in remember, when we took a covenant from you, and raise the mountain above you saying, hold firmly to the Scripture, in Sura 4: 154 We raised the mountain over them as a warning for breaking their covenant. So clearly, and the point of the article is that Muhammad whenever he quotes from the Bible, always quotes typically from the Five Books of Moses, which is what traditional Jews do when they were in synagogue on a typical Saturday. And for the most part, he doesn’t quote, the literal verse, he quotes the Midrashik the Aggadic interpretation. And the thesis is that he hung out with Jews. And in a sense, we almost get a sense of what he heard. This was no, this is something that clearly made a great impression on him. And as he was starting a movement, he wanted to make sure that his revelation was accepted in the proper way. He says in Koran 446, some Jews take words out of context, and say, we listen and we disobey. Now, that is not something that I found in the Midrash. Although if you look in the source, sheet in Avodah Zara, there is something similar. The fact is that the Koran then becomes not only a source for us of the Midrashim that were quoted by typical Jews in (Medinah) Saudi Arabia or wherever he was, but it gives us a sense of our tradition. It gives us a sense of this ongoing  revelation, that clearly in a sense, it’s only natural that a movement like Islam, a movement like Christianity, would take upon itself to make a new sermon on the mount a new revelation, we Jews clearly took it to mean that in every generation, whether it’s in Shushan, or even up to today, this is the Jewish problem. And that’s why and I talk about two thinkers and you I draw you to look at the source sheet. One is Herzl, who was trying to solve the Jewish problem. And what he considered the Jewish problem was, yes, there was anti-semitism, but how does a Jew live with his Judaism when he loves it, and his first solution, believe it or not, was a mass conversion similar to standing at Mount Sinai, but in front of the cathedral. And then of course, the second solution was to start the State of Israel, and Harry Austyn Wilson, had wrote a whole essay called leaving Judaism, and he struggles here’s a Jew who studied at Slobodka, who ended up not being religious anymore. But clearly, he couldn’t get out under the shadow of Sinai. And he spent the rest of his life pursuing the philosophy of Judaism and how it went through the medieval period up to Spinoza. But he talks about this challenge. And I think that is ultimately the challenge of Sinai, that we are constantly being provoked by the fact that we had in our DNA in our peoplehood, this mass revelation of something that has affected us that we’ve rebelled against, but we’ve tried to master throughout the ages. And I think that ultimately is the magic of the shadow of Sinai.

Adam Mintz  34:14

I think that’s great. That’s a great end. That’s I mean, that’s, that’s an end with the Quran. That’s an end with Herzl that’s an end with Wolfson. I mean, that’s just amazing there’s so much and if you look at Wolfson, you’ll see that he has a great discussion about the role of the minority, right? And he says, all the all these religions that three religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, were all minorities, and how did they deal with being minorities and they needed that moment of revelation where God spoke just to them, even though they were a minority? God spoke just to them. Thank you so much, Geoffrey. These are great sources. You know, we got two weeks in a row of Mount Sinai sources and trying to understand the tradition it deserves a whole semester worth. But these were great sources. So thank you, GeoffreyShabbat Shalom to me. Everybody, we look forward to seeing you next week, it’ll already be Hodesh Adar and we’re gonna start to talk about the tabernacle Geoffrey, we’re gonna have our work cut out for us next week.

Geoffrey Stern  35:09

Shabbat shalom, have a Shabbat Shalom every any of you who want to make a comment or provide an impression, I would love for you to come up ….

Sefaria Source Sheet:

Shadows of Sinai cont. | Sefaria

Parshat Mishpatim – We continue our discussion of Sinai with a focus on the negative aspects foreshadowed even at the climactic moment of revelation. We survey the Rabbinic tradition as preserved in our texts and surprisingly in the Koran. Finally, we wonder whether Israel and God have entered a relationship at Sinai that neither one can resist?

Listen to last year’s Mishpatim podcast: What’s New with Moses’ Code?

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Shadows of Sinai

parshat yitro, exodus 19

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on clubhouse on February 9th 2023. The Torah uses two words that describe the orientation of the Israelites towards Mt. Sinai. We survey the interpretation of these words in the Rabbinic tradition, and surprisingly in the Koran, to shed some light on revelation and the long shadow cast by Sinai.

Sefaria Source Sheet: https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/465646

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. This week’s Torah portion is Yitro.  The Torah uses two words that describe the orientation of the Israelites towards Mt. Sinai: נֶ֥גֶד and תַחְתִּ֥ית. We survey the interpretation of these words in the Rabbinic tradition to shed some light on revelation and even to critique synagogue architecture. So join us for The Shadows of Sinai.

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Well, welcome back to Madlik. It’s the beginning of spring, we are looking at the shadows are changing. And tonight, we are going to be talking about the shadows of Sinai, and really focusing on just two verses and a few words in those verses that all relate to the disposition, the position, the orientation of the Israelites, when they accepted the Torah. So, in Exodus 19: 2 it says having journeyed from Rephidim them, they entered the wilderness of Sinai, and encamped in the wilderness, Israel encamped there in front of the mountain. And the Hebrew is וַיִּֽחַן־שָׁ֥ם יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל נֶ֥גֶד הָהָֽר. In front of the mountain, opposite the mountain, neged is a word that we’re going to explore. So as usual, we’re going to go first to Rashi. And Rashi says that naked means to the east. For wherever you find the word neged, referring to a locality, it signifies with the face towards the east of the place mentioned. Now, I don’t know how you extrapolate facing east from the word neged. But I certainly see this as a clue that we’re going to be talking about tonight, more than just facing the mount of Sinai. Any Jew knows that when we Jews pray, we face east, any Jew knows that when we construct and set up a synagogue, we place the Torah as the focal point of the synagogue is facing east. So I don’t know if you have an insight into why neged means east. But I do feel and I’m curious whether you agree rabbi, that here he’s giving us a little bit of a hint of what layout lies at stake here and what we’re going to be talking about,

Adam Mintz  03:03

there’s no question about that East, you know, East of Eden, it you know, the idea of being east, that seems to be the main direction in the Torah. So neged haHar means that they faced east, that meant that that was the right direction to face, Mount Sinai was to their east, I guess was to their right. The reason that East is considered to be the premier direction, is because if you face north, that East is to your right. And you know, in the tradition to your right is always considered to be the more powerful or the better direction. So that’s where the idea of turning East comes from,

Geoffrey Stern  03:46

Well, indefinitely. The sunrise is in the east.

Adam Mintz  03:49

Right

Geoffrey Stern  03:49

So it’s a place of New Birth, of positivity. And as you say, this kind of sense of the Garden of Eden and beginnings there. But as usual, Rashi is only one opinion. And the Ibn Ezra comes in, and he says na, I don’t really agree with you. He says there is a verse in numbers 2: 2 that says round about the tent, מנגד סביב לאוהל So again, like Rashi, he kind of understands what’s at stake here. We’re not simply talking about a moment in history, the revelation at Sinai, there is a clear connection between that revelation at Sinai that happened in a place in a time and the movable temple. And then ultimately, I guess you could extrapolate and talk about the Temple and the synagogue and this is a major moment. And what he’s saying is that since the same word MiNeged is used with the tabernacle and there another word is used in addition to it מנגד סביב they were pitched round about the tent. So we surely have established for at least with these two commentaries, we’re talking about more than Sinai.

Adam Mintz  05:16

Right… That’s for sure.

Geoffrey Stern  05:18

So now we go to our old buddy Shadal. Shmuel David Luzzatto. He focuses on another word in our verse. So if you recall, when I started, I said וַיִּֽחַן־שָׁ֥ם יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל נֶ֥גֶד הָהָֽר , that the people encamped opposite the mountain, and he is now focusing on the word וַיִּֽחַן  and וַיִּֽחַן , Israel וַיִּֽחַן  is in the singular. So he says that Ibn Ezra and Ramban who we haven’t quoted, but we’ll take Shadal’s word for it, say they should have said ויחנו that they camped there. But the reason according to the Ramban and the Ibn Ezra that it says For econ is because the yehidim the elites, the heads of the tribes, the elders encamped around it. And the Shadal  says, and Boy oh boy, he says, and that is hevel, that is hot air. Pretty strong language. He says, because all those speaking about the people in a singular language, it is not intended to speak about a few of them. But on the contrary, the intention is to speak about the whole people in terms of there being all as one body. And then he goes on to say that they camped against the mountain, which means that the mountain was a center for them all. And they all turned to it. And here they were one association and one body.

Adam Mintz  07:10

Go on.. they All had their eyes and hearts on that mountain.

Geoffrey Stern  07:17

Beautiful.

Adam Mintz  07:18

That’s a good end. You didn’t it is. But that’s a good end.

Geoffrey Stern  07:21

Yeah. And the Hebrew אגודה אחת וגוף אחד . Agudah means a circle if I’m correct.

Adam Mintz  07:30

Correct

Geoffrey Stern  07:31

They were one circle and one body. And he goes on if you want to talk about a verse where every word has significance. It says  וַיִּֽחַן־שָׁ֥ם יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל נֶ֥גֶד הָהָֽר and he says the name of Israel as opposed to the people of Israel, or a Bnai Yaakov is used, because all the people were as one man against the mountain. So Shadal does a very good job of tying up these last five words of a verse

Adam Mintz  08:10

But he doesn’t really explain the word neged

Geoffrey Stern  08:13

I take it that he does, because he talks about that they were around it אגודה אחת . So, I am going out on a limb here. But I am taking,

Adam Mintz  08:27

You’re saying he assumes it.

Geoffrey Stern  08:29

Yeah, so if I had to bet what he is doing is he’s combining the sense of the Ibn Ezra that we came across in the Ibn Ezra that they were around the mountain with the fact that they were as one as you beautifully quoted their eyes and their hearts were focused on the mountain of God. So he does in my mind, kind of tie it up really, really nicely into something that is rather beautiful.

Adam Mintz  08:59

That is nice. That’s really nice. So neged is וַיִּֽחַן־שָׁ֥ם יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל נֶ֥גֶד הָהָֽר , means they were around the mountain, not opposite, opposite creates a distance, but around means you’re really close to it. That’s really your point. It’s very much different than Rashi.

Geoffrey Stern  09:20

It’s different than Rashi, who says it’s easterly. But what I take from Rashi. And what I take from the Ibn Ezra, who comes up with the concept of around is we’re all talking about more than Sinai. That’s where I think they all agree that we’re talking about Sinai, we’re talking about Mishkan, we’re talking about temple. We’re talking about our places of worship, even up to today. So, whether you faced east in a synagogue, if that’s one orientation, or whether you surround something in the middle, and you’re all facing it together, whether it’s a conflict between the two of positions or It’s a kind of refraction of the two dispositions, I don’t know. But I do think that it’s amazing how in these five words, we’ve come across so much, just in the sense of where things are oriented, where intentions are. What was happening at that magical moment.

Adam Mintz  10:25

Fantastic. The Shada is fantastic.

Geoffrey Stern  10:27

So at the end of last week’s segment, where we talked about dissonance, really, we really talked about the beginning of division within Israel. My good buddy Yochana came on. And he told and I did put it in the I left it in the podcast, he talked about a great Hasidic rabbi who actually quoted this verse, how, at the moment of revelation, Israel was one and the rabbi in a very beautiful, cynical, but smiley fashion that only a Hasidic Rabbi could say, is, you know why it said they were together as one then because the Torah wasn’t given yet. Once the Torah was given, all hell broke loose, everybody was a rabbi, everybody had a different opinion. So, this was this verse that he was commenting on that I think it’s, it’s it rigged it obviously rings very, very, true.

Adam Mintz  11:25

I love it.

Geoffrey Stern  11:26

So as long as we’re talking about dissonance, and we’re talking about the word neged I bring in two different references that I would love to add, to give context to what was happening at that moment at Sinai. And I want to go back to Genesis 2: 18. When God creates woman, and he says, it’s not good, that man is alone, I will make him a help meet. And the word that is used is עֵ֖זֶר כְּנֶגְדּֽוֹ . Ezer is like Ezra it is help and keNegdo the commentary or the translation that I have from Everett Fox is a counterpart for him. But as we all know, the famous Rashi says, זָכָה – עֵזֶר; לֹא זָכָה – כְּנֶגְדּוֹ לְהִלָּחֵם , If a man is merited, his wife will be a help to him. And if he doesn’t merit him, she will be opposed to him and fight him. And I love this sense of KeNeged, that neged is obviously in counter distinction, it can mean facing the mountain neged the mountain, but obviously neged also has a flavor of opposing and Rashi brings out that opposition. And I think if you take that Rashi and then you look at the giving of the Torah, and maybe what should or does happen in a synagogue, you have this potential for dissonance. You have this sense of agreement under some circumstances, but maybe either because you have shortcomings or possibly because you take the word so seriously. You have an opposition to it.

Adam Mintz  13:31

I like it. I want to make it even stronger, according to the Rashi  לֹא זָכָה – כְּנֶגְדּוֹ לְהִלָּחֵם   Neged actually means opposite in a sense of distance וַיִּֽחַן־שָׁ֥ם יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל נֶ֥גֶד הָהָֽר , that because of the holiness of the mountain, they needed to create distance from the mountain…  it’s the opposite of shutdown.

Geoffrey Stern  13:59

I believe that and I think it’s great you know, it reminds me of the Alter of Slabodka I believe a great Musernik… and I think I’ve told this story before, but he came over to a student and the student was about to say the Kriat Shma… the Shema where you accept the Ol malchut Shamayim.. where you accept the Ol Malchut shamayim the yoke of heaven? And he says have you ever said Shema and the student looked at him in dismay, and said Rebbe, I’m just about to say Shema, I say it twice a day I say it before I go to bed and the Alter returned to him and says and you accept upon yourself, the Ol Malchut Shamayim; the yoke of heaven and he goes of course Rebbe and he says and have you ever felt like rebelling? And there was quiet and then the Rebbe says well then you’ve probably never said the Shema in your life. And I think the lesson here that I take away is keneged HaHar there has to be a level of dissonance if you accept everything, just completely and without any struggle or tribulation or a reflex, then what are you really accepting? And I think that comes out.

Adam Mintz  15:16

That’s a great story. Yeah, that really says it. I think that’s great that you need to have some dissonance you just have to do. And that’s what Keneged means.

Geoffrey Stern  15:25

So the other reference, I think of is and you know, we started talking before the podcast about Purim is coming and Passover, is coming. And one of their key points in the Seder is the four children. And it says כְּנֶגֶד אַרְבָּעָה בָנִים דִּבְּרָה תוֹרָה , that the Torah spoke….  in my translation, it says “corresponding” to four sons, but certainly if one thinks of the wicked son, and some people even think about the wise son, or certainly the son who does not know how to speak, it’s clear that the Torah is speaking in a way to create a reaction, especially if you look at the son who does not know how to speak it says “At” you talk to him, maybe it’s the mother, somehow or other, the Torah is trying to elicit a reaction. And in that regard keneged can have another nuance. Yes, it is one of dissonance. But it’s also one of positive kind of triggering a conversation bringing on a difference of opinion so that you move forward. It’s a conversation.

Adam Mintz  16:41

It’s great. I mean, that’s absolutely great. כְּנֶגֶד אַרְבָּעָה בָנִים  Neged I mean, neged there means that you look someone in the eye, I think the word you use is you engage them. Right?

Geoffrey Stern  16:55

Absolutely. And I think what’s fascinating is if we take it back to Sinai, and that’s what I’m trying to do, I’m trying to take back, there’s no question, Rabbi, I think you will agree with me that this verse in and of itself, doesn’t merit a whole lot of discussion. I mean, we all know וַיִּֽחַן־שָׁ֥ם יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל נֶ֥גֶד הָהָֽר , that they can encamped opposite the mountain ..  move on. But it’s, it’s the rabbi’s and our tradition, who saw this as an opportunity to bring all of these are the discussions that impact our life till today, and maybe and we’ll see if we’re successful, maybe one of the messages of tonight’s discussion is that Sinai has to impact you, at every moment at a at a personal level, at a historical level, for it to be a real revelation.

Adam Mintz  17:50

Good. I like it. I think that’s great. And I think that seeing it in the word neged is really good. KaNeged right? There’s some kind of conversation and some kind of dissonance. The tension here is how much dissidence there is how close is it like Shadal says, and how far is it like the Keneged idea, right in לֹא זָכָה – כְּנֶגְ ? That’s the challenge

Geoffrey Stern  18:19

Yep. So, as I said in the intro, there were two words that relate to the orientation of the Israelites to Sinai, and the second one occurs in our parsha at Exodus 19: 17. And it says Moses led the people out of the camp towards God, and they took their places at the foot of the mountain. So it says וַיּוֹצֵ֨א מֹשֶׁ֧ה אֶת־הָעָ֛ם לִקְרַ֥את הָֽאֱלֹקִ֖ים מִן־הַֽמַּחֲנֶ֑ה וַיִּֽתְיַצְּב֖וּ בְּתַחְתִּ֥ית הָהָֽר Well first of all, if you think about it, לִקְרַ֥את הָֽאֱלֹקִ֖ים , if we go to synagogue tomorrow night, and we listen to the words of the Lecha Dodi we will surely pick out לְכָה דודִי לִקְרַאת כַּלָּה  .        m לִקְרַ֥את means to greet to go out and greet Moses led the people out of the camp likrat Elohim to greet God. And one of the translations and I love some of the translations that you get in Sefaria. It’s THE RASHI CHUMASH BY RABBI SHRAGA SILVERSTEIN  says most people towards God in parentheses he writes, who was coming towards them as a groom to a bride from the encampment they stood at the foot of the mountain. So here already, and I assume there are commentaries that make this parallel that pick up the sense of likrad but in a sense, we quoted Rashi a second ago about using neged to describe familial relationships, relationships between a couple here we pick up on that. And because we said a second ago that they were at the foot of the mountain tachtit really means underneath Mitachat, the mountain, l’havdil, the word for touchus.. is tachat. This is underneath the mountain. So here we almost have an image of the mountain being a Chuppah and the Jewish people being married to their ezer kenegdo under the mountain.

Adam Mintz  20:46

It’s a great image. Obviously, they’ve made a lot of this image, but it is a great image, right, that we were under the mountain. So you say it’s a Chuppah. But obviously, the other tradition is that there’s some fear of being under the mountain. Because if you’re under the mountain, then bad things could happen.

Geoffrey Stern  21:04

You’re sounding a lot like ezer kenegdo….

Adam Mintz  21:09

It might fall on your head, so you better be careful.

Geoffrey Stern  21:14

So the Rashi that we have, I don’t know what Rashi THE RASHI CHUMASH BY RABBI SHRAGA SILVERSTEIN was referring to, but our Rashi picks up on the Midrash that you refer to Rabbi and it says a midrashic explanation is that the mountain was plucked up from its place. שֶׁנִּתְלַשׁ הָהָר מִמְּקוֹמוֹ וְנִכְפָּה עֲלֵיהֶם כְּגִיגִית  and was arched over them as a cask. So they were standing Metachat beneath under the mountain. And this comes from the Mechilta and from the Talmud in Shabbat. So, in Rashi’s short little take-away from that Midrash, he doesn’t get into what the story was between picking up the mountain above them, …. you Rabbi have gone a little bit further on in this story. But if you just look at Rashi, and you put it in combination with the previous explanation, you could make a sense that there’s nothing scary about this. There’s nothing threatening about it, that he hold, he held over them, like a Gog really,  וְנִכְפָּה עֲלֵיהֶם כְּגִיגִית  KeGigit is very similar to the word Gog (roof). And that’s another image that we have, very quickly after we move and segue from opposite now we have underneath.

Adam Mintz  22:55

That’s right. kegigit. It’s the idea of a gag, you know, yeah, held it over them as a threat. Now, that’s a whole different thing. You know, one thing is keneged. The other thing is the idea that actually, you know, God is threatening us that if you accept the Torah good, and if not, I’m going to drop the mountain on your heads.

Geoffrey Stern  23:21

So you are referring to the Talmud in Shabbat 88a.  I promise I am going to get to that.

Adam Mintz  23:29

Okay. I wanted to make sure.

Geoffrey Stern  23:31

Okay, you wanted to keep me honest tonight. So, so I wanted to stop here, because I think there’s a possibility that Rashi is picking just this part of the story and letting us let us savor it for a second. Now, if you look at the notes, there is a wonderful article that I quote, on the synagogue that was built by Frank Lloyd Wright, in 1954. And the article compares it to synagogues from Poland that were built hundreds of years before. And please go look at the source sheet to see this article. And to see the images

Adam Mintz  24:15

That is actually fascinating that that’s so.  that it’s so similar. That’s a great article.

Geoffrey Stern  24:20

Well it’s not only similar,

Adam Mintz  24:22

The Jewish Review of books. great!

Geoffrey Stern  24:22

Especially if you look at the at the synagogue from Poland, right? It is truly there’s no question about it. And it doesn’t it photographs like it’s massive as if it was the Frank Lloyd Wright. I understand it isn’t even that large. I really believe that some models have been built of it. And I believe even in the new museum in Poland, called Polin. They have a model of the synagogue but you are truly as you walk in, you are walking under Sinai. The synagogue itself is Built like Mount Sinai. And I think from an architectural translation of the verses that we just discussed, there’s not only that you are underneath this, it’s not a dome. It’s a mountain, no question about it. But the other aspect that comes out clear in the article was that the Bima was in the middle. Now Rabbi, you were once a rabbi at Lincoln Square synagogue, and that was called the Shul in the round. … it was all around that center Bima. But I would love you to confirm I wasn’t able to find a source for this. But when I grew up in the Yeshiva world, we think that the Orthodox movement in Europe, especially Eastern Europe, argued with a form about theology and they did, argued about women’s roles and they did, but one of the most major arguments that they had was where is the Bima? Where is the Torah read from? Because in the reformed congregations, they follow the model of the churches, and they put all of what the clergy was doing up on a stage up front. And the rabbi’s. Again, I’d love to hear what you have to say, Rabbi, were as vehement against that change as anything else.

Adam Mintz  24:55

You’ve just told the story. It’s amazing because tomorrow morning, I give a class at Maharat, and I’m learning the laws of Shuls; of synagogues. And we’re talking exactly about this exactly what you said in 1840. They built a synagogue in Hamburg called the Temple. And one of the changes in the Temple was that they moved all the action to the front, they moved the Bima to the front, because that’s the way the church had it, that everything happens in front. And the rabbis. The Orthodox rabbis were vehemently opposed to that. I mean, you think it’s not a very big deal, but they basically said that it was absolutely prohibited from going into that Shul. The other thing they changed was that the sermons were delivered in German. Now it’s not like the sermons used to be delivered in Hebrew. The sermons were never delivered in Hebrew. The sermons were delivered in Yiddish, but Yiddish was a holy language to them. And they thought that it was totally disrespectful to deliver the sermons in German.

Geoffrey Stern  27:27

But I want to talk about the language of the architecture and the form. And the rabbi who was working with Frank Lloyd Wright. The one thing…. and everybody knows that Frank Lloyd Wright did not listen to the people he was building his edifices is for. But he asked that the Bima the where the toe would be read, would be deep in the heart of the congregation. And that’s a quote, and Wright referred to the place where the congregation was as an auditorium. And Rabbi Cohen said, that where the bimah would be, would influence synagogue architecture for years to come. I do not know if that’s the case, if it was the Wright synagogue that influenced it. But I can tell you and my synagogue in Westport, Connecticut has just gone through a renovation. And yes, as in the Wright synagogue, you can move the Bima to the middle of the synagogue, but it’s not permanently there. And I can tell you that one lesson that we learned from today and from the portion, and we’re not going to have time rabbi to get to the mountain above their heads was a threat, we’re only going to talk about the mountain above, and the Bima in the middle as the standard that was set by Sinai. And I can tell you that there is nothing more important than having the Torah as the centerpiece, where those eyes that you described from Shadal are all focused on the same place in the center, where every congregant is at the same level, and they are no Yechidim, where there is this healthy dialogue, sometimes even dialectic and debate between us and the Torah up. But it’s all there in these two verses.

Adam Mintz  29:29

And in these two words and I think that’s great. Thank you very much, Geoffrey. The sources were amazing today. And I think it gives us a new perspective on the experience of revelation of receiving the law. Want to wish everybody a Shabbat Shalom, it’s an amazing parsha an amazing story, and we look forward to seeing everybody back next Thursday night. Shabbat shalom, everybody.

Geoffrey Stern  29:54

Sabbats Shalom and Rabbi you have to keep me to my word. We will come back to the mountain over the head of the Israelites

Adam Mintz  29:58

It’s a great Gamora… we won’t miss it…

Geoffrey Stern  29:58

Shabbat Shalom to everybody.

Sefaria Source Sheet: https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/465646

Listen to last year’s Yitro Podcast: Is Judaism Inclusive or Exclusive?

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High Five

parshat beshalach, exodus 13 – 17

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on clubhouse on Thursday February 2,2023. The Torah declares that the Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt “Hamushim” חֲמֻשִׁ֛ים , a word related to the number five. According to many commentaries this word implies that only some of the Israelites left Egypt and that they were armed and ready to fight. As divisions begin to surface within the ranks of the Israelites, we raise our hand to identify and call out the birth of Jewish sectarianism.

Sefaria Source Sheet: https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/463446

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. This week’s Torah portion is Beshalach. The Torah declares that the Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt “Hamushim” חֲמֻשִׁ֛ים , a word related to Hamesh, the number five. According to many commentaries this word implies that only some of the Israelites left Egypt … armed and ready to fight. This is the first time that distinctions are made between one set of Jews and another. So, as divisions begin to surface within the ranks of the Israelites, we raise our hand to identify and call out the birth of Jewish sectarianism. So join us for High Five.

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Well, welcome to the Madlik podcast. Rabbi Adam, welcome back. from Dubai. As I said in the introduction, we’re going to focus on really one word that many of the commentators have a challenge with. And it has to do with when the Jews came out of Egypt, it’s in the first two verses of our Parsha. So in Exodus 13: 17, it says, Now when Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines. Although it was nearer, for God said, the people may have a change of heart when they see war, and return to Egypt. So God led the people round about by way of the wilderness at the Sea of Reeds. Now the Israelites went up armed, went out of the land of Egypt. So this went up armed out of the land of Egypt, is the crux of our question tonight, because the Hebrew is וַחֲמֻשִׁ֛ים עָל֥וּ בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם  And if you look at your standard in translation, for instance, the JPS puts a little asterik and it says the meaning of the Hebrew ḥamushim  is uncertain. Everett Fox in his translation says, armed Heb. (hamush) unclear.  he says, there are some that even say the possibility of groups of five or 50. So it’s a word that I think all of us have heard before, if you’ve even seen a hamsa, which is that iconic hand, you know that Hamesh means five. And here, we have just popped into the verse, a word coming from that show us from that route, and everybody is scratching their head. And of course, the flip side of scratching your head, if you’re a rabbi is coming up with an interpretation. So we will be exploring some of those interpretations. And seeing where they do lead us. Rashi, who is always our go-to guy, he combines the two verses, and we’re gonna see a lot of that, obviously, when you study pesukim, it should be in context. So, he says, because God led them by a circuitous route through the wilderness, he brought it about that they went up from Egypt, well provided. So there’s a certain logic and at one level Hamushim, which comes from the word five as in five fingers, you can make the case it means armed, which is kind of nice. And the English, the word armed is related to the word hand, it’s provided for. And he also goes on to say, this verse is written only with the view of making the ear understand in parentheses (preparing you for later statement that you should not wonder with regard to the war of Amalek.) So, at the end of our Parsha, we have a walk with Amelek, how do you fight a war without arms? And finally, he says that the word Hamushim has been used before he quotes Joshua. And he says, if you recall, there were two and a half tribes who decided to stay on the other side of the Jordan. And it says when you pass over the Jordan, you should do so Hamushim – armed so rabbis, what is your sense of Hamushim? It’s not actually a word that you can kind of ignore. I mean, it’s right in the in the pasuk. How rare is it that we get a word that really baffles pretty much everybody?

Adam Mintz  04:54

Yeah, I mean, let’s start from the beginning. The fact that the word Hamushim is related to the word Hamesh is what’s most interesting about the word? Because the question is, what is the what is the idea of being prepared for battle have to do with the word Hamesh? Right? They couldn’t use any word. Why is the word Hamushim that always interested me?

Geoffrey Stern  05:19

I mean, I think the English is kind of helpful here, because the word armed, literally comes from something that you bear in your hand. I mean, I did a Google search.

Adam Mintz  05:32

So, you know, that’s interesting, if that’s true, meaning that’s an English phrase. The question is whether the Chumash has the same use of the word arm, that we say that in English, but we don’t say that in Hebrew, I don’t think. Right?

Geoffrey Stern  05:49

Yeah, yeah. And that’s why you get variations like, wow, she kind of, he talks about arm but he also talks about being provided for, you know, you look up in Google, for instance, handshaking. And in Wikipedia, it says people would shake hands to make sure the other person wasn’t armed. It is kind of natural, when you get arrested when you hold up your hands, to show that you’re unarmed. So I think it’s more than just linguistic. I really do think that in a world where people are fearful for their lives the way most animals are, their ears perk up, they want to know if someone is a friend or a foe…. You look at the hand. So, I mean, it’s it is kind of interesting. It doesn’t answer all the questions, but it is fascinating that the rabbi’s at least some of them jump to that kind of a conclusion.

Adam Mintz  06:45

Yeah, it is interesting. I agree with you. That is interesting. I don’t know what to make of it. But that’s interesting.

Geoffrey Stern  06:51

So, I started by talking about this is the beginning of divisions within the Jewish people. And so Rashi says, and there was another explanation. He gets away for a second from being armed. And he says commotion is only one out of five went forth from Egypt, four parts of the people died during the three days of darkness, because they were unworthy of being delivered. So here’s what I was referring to. And of course, the most interesting part here is if you look at this word, which defies a straightforward translation, and it does become a Rorschach test What pushed the rabbi’s to read into it, something that would say that not all Jews merited or deserved or chose to leave the land, all of a sudden, for the first time, the Birth of a Nation, five seconds into the birth of the nation, we already have divisions within that nation being imposed upon them.

Adam Mintz  08:01

Yeah, that mean? Well, first of all, you know, the idea that four out of five didn’t make it out. That’s a wonderful kind of Midrash. Because that’s clearly not what it means. But that the Torah is trying to hint to us something, I think, is really fantastic.

Geoffrey Stern  08:22

Well, you know, the, we’ve gotten a few different explanations so far, you know, why not throw a bunch out there. And then we can start maybe to think in terms of, on the one hand, what the verse means, which I think probably is above our pay-scale, seeing as no one has come up with a complete solution. But the other interesting part about it is, how do people react to it? How do rabbis react to it? So the first interesting thing that you pointed out, was, it’s one thing to say, as I did that, four fifths stayed in Egypt, why are we creating these divisions? The next thing is, we’re starting to see this trend that we get in the Haggadah, also, where you multiply numbers, because, you know, we all know that the Jews left Egypt, traditionally, there were 600,000 men, so you figure another 600,000 women, and then you figure it children. And so you know, you think it’s maybe a million two, a million four. But if this is the case, think of what those numbers could possibly be. And there are other commentaries like the Rabenu Bachaiya, who even goes further and he says it was one in 50. It was one in 500. It is this tendency, I think, to exaggerate, which is is kind of interesting, especially because is the miracle of a million two is a pretty big miracle by itself.

Adam Mintz  10:07

Yes, That is that is absolutely true. I mean, let’s go back to the idea that four out of five didn’t make it. I mean, so you say we’re exaggerating, but the exaggeration says something, it really tells you that the Jews were not worthy,

Geoffrey Stern  10:24

or that some Jews were not worthy.

Adam Mintz  10:26

But no, but a majority, that’s 80% weren’t worthy.

Geoffrey Stern  10:32

That is a big number.

Adam Mintz  10:34

That’s a big number. I just want to point out. That’s a huge number.

Geoffrey Stern  10:39

And so from that perspective, I guess you could take it in a different direction. And you can say that what it’s trying to show is, don’t ever take this Exodus for granted. Yeah, a bunch of slaves, few plagues got out of Egypt, started a nation. Don’t ever think that this wasn’t the most amazing story that has occurred in history. Don’t ever think how daunting this was for the participants; you’re focusing on the four fifths that didn’t leave. The commentaries are kind of interesting. When they focus even on the 1/5 that did leave. They make this connection between God taking them in a circuitous path and giving them arms and almost in a sense saying, but even though I gave them the arms. It still didn’t happen. It still didn’t work. The Seforno says they did not have the courage to face the Egyptians in combat, in spite of their being armed. There’s another Chiba Yeterah says נפל לבם Their heart felt. So, it’s almost saying that God did everything in his power to make this happen. But it was an amazingly large challenge. And I think from that perspective, that kind of makes me more in awe than any raw numbers.

Adam Mintz  12:12

Yeah, o what you’re saying is that the raw numbers, even 80% could ultimately be misleading.

Geoffrey Stern  12:23

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, because you focus on the ones that were left behind, and you forget the ones that left how daunting it was, and how, you know, as much preparation as there was to take a people from slaves and a slave mentality. And to give them the ability to stand on their own two feet and defend themselves is something that we should never, you know, kind of take for granted. So that’s kind of one of the stories that one of the lessons that I take from this. The other interesting thing is, and I mentioned that we were starting to see now different groups. Now we have a group that didn’t leave, and a group that left at the end of last week’s Parsha, we had the mixed multitude, they a lot of love. So now we have not only people that left, and they were armed, and they believed or at least they were closer to believing than anywhere else. But we also have this mixed multitude. And this comes up even later, there’s another word for them. They’re called the Riff Raff in numbers, the soft stuff Eek, there are, all of a sudden, we see this is not the plagues were kind of easy. You had darkness, it was dark. For the Egyptians, it was light for the Jews. But now as we get out there, we’re starting to see different types of Jews, quasi-Jews, maybe Jews. It’s very early in the story. And all of a sudden, this is starting to happen to us. And I think that’s kind of fascinating. We don’t even get a honeymoon.

Adam Mintz  14:09

Yeah, that that. Now, that is an interesting point. The fact that we don’t get a honeymoon means it just seems to go from one to the next. Right. The question is why we don’t get a honeymoon. Why didn’t God just let everybody out? What Why was there this, this decision to only let out say 20% of the people means was it a punishment? What was it about?

Geoffrey Stern  14:35

So fascinatingly, there are different opinions about what went on? One of them…., it’s up pseudo Philo says “the children of Israel were split in their opinions according to three strategies. For the tribes of Reuben, Issachar, Zebulun and Simeon said: “Come let us cast ourselves into the sea. For it is better for us to die in the water than to be killed by our enemies”. The tribes of Gad, Asher, Dan and Naftali said: “No, but let us go back with them, and if they are willing to spare our lives, we will serve them”. But the tribes of Levi, Judah, Joseph and Benjamin said: “Not so, but let us take up our weapons and fight with them, and God will be with us! So, this becomes kind of fascinating because we and I am right there…. we always assumed when forfeits left behind, that they were left behind by, by God’s choice by Moses, his choice they were rejected. But what this interestingly, in given the whole arc of Jewish history suggests that maybe they didn’t want to leave, you cannot help but think back to Europe, in the 30s, when some Jews were leaving for Israel, or Palestine, and others were did not want to go. So so now we have differences of opinion as to what the right course was. And we’re starting to see opinions that in fact, there is one in our source notes, which I should post and I’ll put them up in a second. There’s an amazing article about Who with a Mixed Multitudes. And it’s by a professor called Professor Bar. And he makes the case that even some of those who are saying that the Hamushim means groups of 50. He makes the argument that the Erev Rav and these groups of 50 were paid mercenaries, were whether they were paid mercenaries, or they weren’t fighters is irrelevant in my mind. But what you’re seeing is there were those who took charge those who took the impetus. They even use the words that were later used in Yehoshua’s time, which I think is a terrible translation. They translate Halutzim as shock troops. But they talk about these armed Hamushim also referred to as Halutzim, we’re the ones who decided to leave Egypt. And there were those who did not have enough self-confidence, or as we would see later, will dream about the fleshpots of Egypt and always want to go back Datan and Avirom  there were these different groups. And according to this opinion, the Hamushim were a certain type of Jew who led the charge. Not all of them necessarily were armed. It starts to become kind of fascinating.

Adam Mintz  17:57

That is fascinating. Yeah, that is fascinating So the question is, … based on what the different explanations of  Hamushim are. If Hamushim means armed, so the question is who exactly was armed? Right? And where did the Jews get these arms from? וַחֲמֻשִׁ֛ים עָל֥וּ בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם Where did you get the arms from?

Geoffrey Stern  18:26

According to all of those who say that Israelites were left in Egypt, they were killed during the plague of darkness. That is the tradition. And of course, we also have a tradition, that during the plague of darkness, it was pitch black for the Egyptians, but the Jews could see. And there are various traditions that say that the Jews, the Israelites, would go into the houses of the Egyptians and stake out weapons; stakeout property that they would later ask for as they left when they were provisioned. We’ve talked about that before.

Adam Mintz  19:10

right.

Geoffrey Stern  19:10

But the interesting thing to me is that in Exodus 10, when it talks about the plague of darkness, it says לא ראו איש את אחיו . And that one could not see one’s fellow. But if you take that metaphorically, again, if if this is when the allegory the myth, the concept of some Jews were left behind comes up in the plague of darkness. It’s this division started to occur when one Israelite could not see the other. The Division started to occur even within the land of Egypt. So, it’s almost a recognition of the text that this all began. And I guess, you know, I can’t say this hasn’t occurred before. When Moses came the day after he killed the slave master, the two Jews, said to him, what are you going to do? You’re going to kill us too. But so there always were divisions, there were divisions in every people and God for sure they have divisions within the Jewish people. But this is on a much larger scale.

Adam Mintz  20:27

Yes, I think that’s right. I mean, I think you know, and that’s what you talked about the numbers. It makes a difference how many Jews left Egypt in this discussion? What did it look like? I don’t even know what 2 million people leaving Egypt look like. Right? What did that look like?

Geoffrey Stern  20:46

So so we get to, I believe I’m on safe ground to say that the reason why Hamesh was related, and maybe you don’t agree with me on this, but the reason why her Mace was related to arms was for the same reason that the English word for armaments comes from the word arm. This is where power is exerted. And I think that if you start then to look at the story of the Exodus, and look at how Yad is used as a metaphor, it starts also to make sense, I was talking to you before about how I was preparing with my grandson who’s going to be Bar Mitzvah in a few months. And we were discussing tephilin and of course, fill in his first referenced as an וְהָיָה֩ לְךָ֨ לְא֜וֹת עַל־יָדְךָ֗ וּלְזִכָּרוֹן֙ בֵּ֣ין עֵינֶ֔יךָ לְמַ֗עַן תִּהְיֶ֛ה תּוֹרַ֥ת ה בְּפִ֑יךָ כִּ֚י בְּיָ֣ד חֲזָקָ֔ה הוֹצִֽאֲךָ֥ ה מִמִּצְרָֽיִם , a sign on your arm, and it references that outstretched arm. [also וַיְחַזֵּ֣ק ה’ אֶת־לֵ֤ב פַּרְעֹה֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ מִצְרַ֔יִם וַיִּרְדֹּ֕ף אַחֲרֵ֖י בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וּבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל יֹצְאִ֖ים בְּיָ֥ד רָמָֽה׃ ה’ stiffened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he gave chase to the Israelites. As the Israelites were departing defiantly, where yad rmah is according to Ibn Ezra: They didn’t leave the impression of fleeing but rather had all the weapons of war [and so did not go out like fugitives.] ]And we have to note that the Hebrew word Yad, we always talk in terms of a hand, but I think if you look at the text of the Bible, Yad can just as easily mean arm, as it can mean hand. So now you look at all of the verses that we’re very well acquainted with, about God out stretching his arm, about the power of the hand of God. And it puts that the where it talks about whether it’s כִּֽי־יָד֙ עַל־כֵּ֣ס יָ֔הּ , whether it is the בִּזְר֣וֹעַ נְטוּיָ֔ה the out stretched arm, it is a metaphor for power, for changing, for progress. You know, when it talks about the plagues, in so many of the cases, it talks about raising up the hand. So I think that this is a major kind of part of this story. And it makes us think differently about you know, what is going on here, and what is the power of this Hamsa of this hand?

Adam Mintz  20:47

Good. You know what, I’m willing to go with you? I don’t know that we could prove it necessarily. But I’m willing to go with you that, that that what we’re talking about here is that we’re talking about here is some something based on the fact that armaments are related to the hands. I’m good with that. Let’s run with that.

Geoffrey Stern  23:30

Great. So if we look back in the story, and we look all the way back to Genesis 41, where Joseph is advising the king, it says, Joseph says to the king, and let Pharaoh take steps to appoint overseers over the land and organize the land of Egypt in the seven years of plenty. And there it says let him make וְחִמֵּשׁ֙ אֶת־אֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם . So here, Rashi says that they shall prepare, and he says similar to Exodus 13: 18 and be prepared for war. So now this is another nuance. We talked about provisioning, preparing the Jews that are going to be taken on a circuitous mission. Maybe it takes a little bit away from the military nature of this, but certainly it focuses as Hamesh as something that is preparing somebody for something. It’s interesting that the word comes up and it’s not a word that falls off your tongue easily. Even when you look at that verse. You need a Rossi to explain what’s going on.

Adam Mintz  24:51

Yeah, I think that’s right. The simple explanation of the verse doesn’t really mean anything. All right. I mean, it needs an explanation. I think that’s a very smart point. We’re running to different kinds of explanations. What is the simple explanation is and I don’t know what the simple explanation means.

Geoffrey Stern  25:16

No, and, and we probably will not know. But one thing that did come to my mind is that it’s strange that while the commentaries do talk about Hamesh as being prepared, and being armed, they don’t talk so much about being armed by God, which is kind of interesting. And if I had to say, one small, little Hidush, one small, little innovation in Genesis, where it talks about what we said a second ago, that you should organize the land of Egypt, it uses Hamesh in Genesis 47, it says, “And Joseph made it into a land law in Egypt, which is still valid, that a fifth should be Pharaoh’s; only the land of the priests did not become Pharaoh’s.  So here, Hamesh, it belongs to Pharaoh.” And maybe and this is my small innovation at Pharaoh was the king Pharaoh was the god of Egypt. And so it’s almost as though the fifth the Hamesh the Yad, the mover, the shaker, that’s what belongs to God. And so it seems to me it’s a little strange that the rabbi is don’t insert God into this Hamesh when the Yad of God is all over, but instead use it to look for the differences between some Jews and another that kind of struck me, especially if my if my explanation has any soil to it at all.

Adam Mintz  27:05

That’s good. So the יד חזקה  is is actually the opposite of Hamushim, even though it both means the same thing. That’s your question really?

Geoffrey Stern  27:19

Well, I think that the Hamushim means to be prepared and protected in a very profound way. And if I had to argue from Jewish superstition, Jewish ritual objects, from Jewish tradition, if you think of that Hamsa, which, you know, people are not sure whether it come it came from Islam, or predated Islam, and it came from Judaism, in our superstitious tradition in Yemen, it’s the Yad of Miriam. But the idea is, I’ve seen pictures of hands, almost I wouldn’t say they were put in blood, but they are put on the wall as a sign of protection. They just recently discovered a hand impregnated into the wall around Jerusalem. This idea of God protecting us with his hand, to me seems to be where the Jewish people might have taken this concept of God’s hand. And from that perspective, it gives a new insight into what God gave these people, they still didn’t stand up to the task. But they were appointed by God, they were armed by God, they were prepared by God. That certainly is one way to look at it.

Adam Mintz  28:47

I have a question to ask you.

Geoffrey Stern  28:48

Yes.

Adam Mintz  28:49

When did they use these armaments that they were prepared with? There’s a war with a Amalek at the end of our parsha, there’s a war with Amalek, but it’s a miraculous war. Moshe raises his hands and they win Moshe lowers his hands, and they lose.

Geoffrey Stern  29:06

So the Rashi on Exodus 13: 18, which I cut short, says that the reason why they have arms is that you should not wonder with regard to the war with Amalek. And then he continues, and the war with Sihon and Og and Midian where they obtained weapons, since they smote them with the sword.

Adam Mintz  29:22

So good. So that’s what I’m saying. It’s interesting that the pasuk here says that they’re armed. But basically, they only use the arms 40 years later.

Geoffrey Stern  29:35

And I guess once you have your first battle, there’s always an explanation of how you got your arms…  you captured them from the enemy.

Adam Mintz  29:43

But I’m saying isn’t that interesting means that they’re actually preparing to enter the land of Israel. Now before the sin of the spies. They thought they were entering the Land of Israel immediately. So therefore, they needed the arms because they had to fight these battles. And the answer is they didn’t fight them for 40 years.

Geoffrey Stern  30:03

Yep. So, yep, yep. So so the question is, you know, is is, is the, the answer worse than the question? You know, they’re clearly looking at this word and trying to figure out, you know what it means. But in the Haggadah, we have so many elements that we’ve kind of touched on today, we have this element of exaggerating, of multiplying the numbers, but to me, the most challenging one is the wicked son, because it’s the wicked son that now takes on a whole new meaning. When they say, you said, “you” had you been there, you would not have been worthy to ever be redeemed. Now we have a tradition of four fifths of the people (did not get redeemed).. But let’s forget about numbers; about a portion of the people decided or were forced not to be redeemed. And I would argue what makes this fascinating, especially for recent history, in terms of the establishment of the State of Israel, where you almost flipped the coin, where it was the God-fearing who, for many reasons, said, We are going to wait to be saved, we will stay in where we are. And it was the Halutzim, and it’s amazing that it uses the same word as these forward troops, who were the humashim, who went out and had the confidence to create a new land, which just goes to show that, you know, everybody has a lesson to take away from the portion and everybody should be struggling and bothered by the questions that are raised as we read the weekly portion, and this week is no exception.

Adam Mintz  32:01

I think that’s great. We I mean, we looked at a word you know, sometimes we look at an idea today, we looked at the word, it’s no question. It’s the best word in the parsha. It’s my favorite word in the parsha. It’s one of my favorite words in the Chumash. Just because I love that Rashi. So, we really tried to get to the bottom of it. And whether we did or we didn’t, we at least had an interesting conversation, something to think about the Shabbat. So wishing everybody a Shabbat Shalom, enjoy, and we look forward to seeing you next week.

Geoffrey Stern  32:26

Shabbat shalom. Great to have you back high five to you from one street on the Upper West Side to another and look forward to next week. Well, thank you for listening. And for all of you who listen to this as a podcast tonight, we have an extended version, because as you know, this is recorded on clubhouse live. And we have two amazing Hasidic stories from my buddy Yochanan, who is the Rosh Kollel of clubhouse. And we also have some interesting comments from my buddy Lauren. So you are welcome to leave now. You still get all of Madlik points, and all of the benefits that come with those Madlik points. But if you want to get a sense of what happens on clubhouse, stay tuned. Yochanan how are you today?

Yochanan Lowen  33:21

Hey, hey, Rob, is it’s a pleasure to be here. And Rabbi Adam said that Hamushim is his most favorite word in the Humash. Did I hear correctly?

Adam Mintz  33:31

Yeah, I like that word.

Yochanan Lowen  33:32

But Hi, how is it possible to be differently? If Hamushim is actually the same word as Humash. So obviously, this would be your most favorite word in the Humash.

Adam Mintz  33:45

That’s fantastic. Of course, they’re related words.

Yochanan Lowen  33:48

Exactly. It’s actually the same term, it’s the same route. It’s the same, you know, it’s the same word, it’s the difference in the conjugation, whatever what you call it in English.

Geoffrey Stern  34:00

And I will say that in my research of the Hamsah, the this iconic hand that we see some of the Sephardic customs are is that it represents the Hamesh Humsheh Torah the five books of the Torah. And the same goes for וְהִיא שֶׁעָמְדָה, which is the Heh, in the וְהִיא שֶׁעָמְדָה, is there Heh, of the Five Books of Moses, which will save us. So it really I think Yochanan you’re just adding another aspect to how this tree these traditions that we’ve talked about have kind of been recycled and grown and ruminate one with the other. Humash is a perfect, perfect example.

Adam Mintz  34:50

Yeah, that’s great. Thank you very much. Appreciate it. Shabbat shalom, everybody. Enjoy.

Sefaria Source Sheet: https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/463446

High Five | Sefaria

Parshat Beshalach – The Torah declares that the Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt “Hamushim” חֲמֻשִׁ֛ים , a word related to the number five. According to many commentaries this word implies that only some of the Israelites left Egypt and that they were armed and ready to fight.

Listen to last years Beshalach podcast: God;s Gracious Ruse

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Hard Hearts

parshat bo, exodus 10-13

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on January 26, 2023. God hardens the heart of Pharaoh. We ignore the question of free will and God’s omnipotence and instead we ask: What makes a man’s heart so hard that it can’t be softened?

Sefaria Source Sheet: https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/462193

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. This week’s Torah portion is Bo.  God hardens the heart of Pharaoh. We will survey, but largely ignore the question of free will and God’s omnipotence and instead we will ask: What makes a man’s heart so hard that it can’t be softened? So join us for Hard Hearts.

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Well, welcome rabbi from Kuwait. It’s so great to have you. I am back in in Connecticut. And we are doing this early in the morning. I have a confession to make when we do it at night. Sometimes I have a scotch on my side. But today I have I have water. So, we’ll see how that goes. How are you, Rabbi.

Adam Mintz  01:08

I’m doing great. We’re having we’re having a great time here next week; we’ll be able to go back to our usual APM time, but it’s great to do it here. And I’m looking forward to talking about hard hearts.

Geoffrey Stern  01:17

Fantastic. So, the first verse of our parsha Exodus 10: 1 it says, Then God said to Moses, go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart, הִכְבַּ֤דְתִּי אֶת־לִבּוֹ֙ and the hearts of his courtiers in order that I may display these my signs among them. And the word that is used is הִכְבַּ֤דְתִּי , which is to be made heavy, we’ll get into that a little more. But this concept of hardening God’s heart, it’s not using a single technical term. If we look at Exodus 7: 3 looking back a little bit, it says but I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I might multiply my signs and marvels in the land of Egypt. There it says וַאֲנִ֥י אַקְשֶׁ֖ה  . I will make I would say “hard”. If I had to distinguish between the two הִכְבַּ֤דְתִּי might be heavy, and אַקְשֶׁ֖ה  might be hard in Exodus 9: 12. It says but God stiffened the heart of Pharaoh and he would not heed them just as God had told Moses. And there it uses, I would say the more the use term throughout וַיְחַזֵּ֤ק ה’ אֶת־לֵ֣ב פַּרְעֹ֔ה . He made strong.

Adam Mintz  02:41

interesting, that Sefaria translated but Hashem stiffened the heart of Pharaoh. That’s a good word stiffen.

Geoffrey Stern  02:50

In Sefaria, and by the way, I’ve posted the notes both on our podcast, but also on clubhouse above, you can look at them, you can pick the translation that you’re using, and I chose to use Everett Fox. And so that is the way that he has translated it.

Adam Mintz  03:11

Isn’t that a good word? That’s not That’s not usually the way you would think of the words Hazak , but it’s a good it’s a good word. I mean, you can you can imagine that word stiffening?

Geoffrey Stern  03:20

Yes. Although I would think that Kashe is more like stiffened, you know, Hazak, I was about to say, when we finish a book of the Torah, we go Hazak, Hazak Ve’nithazek,  and there, it kind of means strength, you should have strength. You know, because we’re looking at all these words. If I was to say, Hazek in a negotiation, I am bolstering I am giving credence, I am strengthening your position. That to me is the the way I read Veyithazek. And of all of these, it almost feels it’s more in a transaction, I could see it in terms of a legal transaction, where this guy’s case was maybe strengthened. But it’s fascinating, nonetheless, that we have so many different terms for what ultimately happened, which is somehow or another, God and Moses were able to take advantage we’re able to maybe manipulate, we’re maybe even able to exploit and encourage a reaction from pharaoh that had all of these various facets involved. And that I think is really interesting to me.

Adam Mintz  04:43

It’s fascinating. I mean, absolutely fascinating and the fact that you have identified the fact that a different word is used. You wonder you wonder whether there was a different experience or you wonder whether the Torah is not quite sure you know what that means; how you express a hardening of the heart. Because it’s not something that we see anywhere else in the Torah, this you’ll get to in a minute. The fact of course, that the idea of hardening a heart, and therefore preventing him from repenting is something that you don’t find anywhere else in the Torah. So, you know, it’s almost as if the Torah itself is struggling to express it properly.

Geoffrey Stern  05:24

Well, that’s a perfect segue….  in the introduction, I said, we were going to try to survey but nonetheless stay away from the polemics and the philosophical question of how can Pharaoh have freewill, and nonetheless, God be omnipotent. But you have to mention it. And I think the truth is that because the rabbis were so sensitive to that question of how can you judge Pharaoh, if you’re in fact, manipulating him? How can you expect him to repent if you’ve closed the gates of repentance? Because they were so sensitive to that question, it made them focus on all of the various nuances that we’re going to discuss. So, we kind of ourselves can exploit it. So, Rashi starts right from the beginning, and he is clearly sensitive to this issue, and he says in Exodus 7: 3 is commentary. He says, מֵאַחַר שֶׁהִרְשִׁיעַ , that I will allow Pharaoh’s heart to harden, since he has already wickedly resisted me. Rashi and many of the commentators are trying to say that making Pharaoh’s heart hard was a progression. And it started from Pharaoh himself, that he was evil. He had a heart that was insensitive, and was pushing him in the direction that he went. And God simply exploited it. But it started, the precipitation was from Pharaoh himself. Last week we talked about the first three plagues, and how they related to Aaron and Moses. Now the rabbi’s look at the first five plagues. And he says in the case of the first five plagues, it is not stated, The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, but Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. So again, sensitivity to this issue, made them look into the weeds and come up with this thing that the first five plagues, Pharaoh hardened his own heart, if you will. And then afterwards, God took advantage of that. What How does that sound to you? Good.

Adam Mintz  07:45

I mean, that sounds exactly right. But what I find interesting, of course, when you get to get to this in a later source, is this is the idea of what we call Midah Keneget Midah…  and that is that Pharaoh deserved it, since he had wickedly resisted me. And it has manifest to me that the heathen nations by no spiritual satisfaction, and setting their whole hearts return to me, it is better than his heart should be hardened should be hardened, in order that my signs may be multiplied against him, so that he may recognize my divine power. The idea that this is the punishment, you know, this is something that I say every week in my parsha class that I give in shul before davening and that is that Rashi has the following view in terms of people in the Chumash. Rashi divides the people in the Chumash into two very binary categories. You’re either good or you’re bad. There’s nobody in the middle. All the people in Bereshit, right? Yaakov is good. Esau is bad. Yitzchak is good. Ishmael is bad. And here Rashi is very clear. Pharaoh is bad. The reason that God hardens his heart is because Pharaoh is bad. And therefore he deserves it.  That’s a strong term. Know that this is the way God punishes him. He deserves it. But I think that’s something especially because you have the Ramban and you have some other views that I think that’s important to say here, Pharaoh is a bad guy and he deserves.

Geoffrey Stern  09:18

So you mentioned the Ramban, and I think what the Ramban and the other commentaries flush out are different kinds of nuances and ways of looking at this. So on Exodus 9: 12, one of these verses that said that ויחזק ה’ את לב פרעה  Ramban says the following the magicians hardened Pharaoh’s heart in order to pride themselves in their wisdom.  החרטומים מחזקים את לבו להתפאר אצלו בחכמתם and then he goes on to say, afterwards once the magician’s gave up, and said hey, we can’t do that. Then his iniquities ensnared him עונותיו אשר ילכדונו . So this is kind of fascinating because we tend to think that it is God who is hardening Pharaoh’s heart. But clearly, it was the circumstance that he created for himself in this particular case, and I cannot not and we’ll get to this later on, think in terms of what’s going on in Russia and Ukraine. Today, in terms of Putin, you know, you have a leader, he’s surrounded, maybe he’s in a bubble, he’s surrounded by advisers. And you cannot not blame him for who he surrounds himself by. So, he is to blame. But nonetheless, the magician’s in the beginning. And here we get this sense of pride. I love pride as an explanation of what was going on here, because we’re gonna get into the words but Kaved can be heavy, but it can also mean pride Kol Hakavod, all the honors should be to you I say, l’chavod HaRav the kavod of somebody is their power, one of the Greek words that is used, is their gravitas? Gravitas is a perfect word, like Kaved, it has both gravity and weight in it. And it also has this sense of who I am and power. So here we have a struggle may be between humility, and pride. And the pride is one of pride of knowledge, the Hartumim, the magician’s feel. And they gave to Pharaoh this, this this sense of false sense of power through knowledge. But that’s a fascinating dynamic as well, is it not? And it takes the discussion a little bit away from just God hardening Pharaoh’s heart to the circumstance and the etiology of how you get into a position that Pharaoh ended up in. Where he had a hard heart that could not be softened anymore. It’s fascinating. The Ramban is completely different than Rashi. If this was a class in medieval biblical commentaries, we would say that they couldn’t be more different, because the Ramban completely ignores God, you know, giving Pharaoh what he deserves, and says that it’s really an internal Egyptian phenomenon. Isn’t that fascinating? It has to do with the magicians and how the magicians dealt with Pharaoh, what the magicians thought of themselves. I mean, you wonder what led the Ramban. And this is an interesting question, what led the Ramban to give this kind of explanation? Because I think in this case, Rashi’s explanation is more to the point, the Ramban is a little more fanciful, because you don’t see that anywhere in the text. So there’s one refrain that keeps on coming up every time or pretty much every time God says I’m going to harden his heart, he typically will say, in order that I may display these my signs among them, that I will multiply my signs and Marvels. God has an agenda, it would seem, and I think what Ramban is focused on is how God kivi’yachol (as if to say) is exploiting the situation for his own ends. So in the Ramban Exodus 10: 1, it says that God is hardening his heart, not in order that I can punish him more on account of hardening his heart, but in order so that I can give my message so that I can publicize my power. So that’s kind of interesting to where God has an agenda and is taking advantage of the situation. And at a certain point when God takes over on the sixth plague, and starts actually, whether it’s hardening Pharaoh’s heart, are creating a situation that inevitably forces Pharaoh deeper into the corner, he’s exploiting it for something.

Adam Mintz  14:42

Yeah. And that relates to another question, and that is that in this week’s Parsha we have the last three plagues. We have locusts, we have darkness and we have the death of the first born. The question is asked by the commentators and the Ramban has a very specific view on this one What was the purpose of the plagues was the purpose of the plagues to prove to the Jews that God was God? What was the purpose of the plague to prove to the Egyptians, that God was God? And it sounds from the Ramban, as if the purpose was to prove to the Egyptians, that God was God? Right. That’s interesting. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Geoffrey Stern  15:23

Yeah, it is. It is interesting. You know, the fascinating thing is, because what lies at the source of your question is Why didn’t we just fast forward to the last plague? That’s ultimately the plague that hit at the heart of Pharaoh.

Adam Mintz  15:40

He’s God. He could have snapped his fingers and done it in one second. What did we need? I mean, let’s assume that the rabbinic interpretation is right, that it took a year for the plagues. What do you need a year for? That’s a year of slavery for the Jews. I mean if you were a slave, a year’s a long time, right. It’s international Holocaust Day this weekend, you know, a year could you imagine a year, God forbid, in a concentration camp, you say, another day in a concentration camp, you’d do anything to avoid?

Geoffrey Stern  16:10

And so the year enables us to really look at this as a process. And then the question becomes, what is the process? One of the fascinating things is, you mentioned today is Holocaust Day, it’s also a day that that Germany announced that it was going to permit tanks to be given to the Ukrainians. Imagine what would have happened if they had said that on day one. They that would have made Putin react in a totally different way, I believe then he is hopefully going to react now. Because it was so incremental. First, it was only body armor, then it was defensive weaponry. Now, all of a sudden, it’s almost like the plagues, and we’re gonna get to Erich Fromm at the end, who really did make a parallel between the Cold War and this whole process, this year process, if you will, with Pharaoh, but you can really see it, you can see that God in a sense, the text is threading a needle, and it is going somewhere. And I do think that that is absolutely fascinating. And in our Parsha in 8: 28, it says גם בפעם הזאת also this time. And what Rabbeinu Bachya says is that there is clearly up progression here that the first few plagues you had the magician’s, then it was Pharaoh all alone, and it was Pharaoh hardening his own heart, then it was God starting to harden his heart again, and what it shows us and I think this is the crux of the message of one of the messages that we have to take away and is that wonderful saying and Pirke Avot that says that one good deed leads to another מִּצְוָה גּוֹרֶרֶת מִצְוָה  and one transgression leads to another in Avot 4: 2 עֲבֵרָה גוֹרֶרֶת עֲבֵרָה  there is an etiology of sin, there is an etiology of once you pick your path and you go down it, yes, initially, it can be the influence of the Hartumim; the magician’s. And then next, it can be your own pride. And then ultimately, whether it’s God forcing your hand or you’ve dug yourself so deep, you can’t get out anymore, you actually do lose your free will. And that is where I think psychology and our own experience can parallel so much of what the rabbi’s have been saying, which is there was a transition here from having free will on the part of Pharaoh to not having free will, and then having other parties who are able to exploit the situation for their own ends. It’s a fascinating studying in how we can I can can put ourselves into a corner.

Adam Mintz  19:14

I think that’s right. I mean, I think that progression, you know, this goes back to your question, why didn’t God just snap his fingers and just take the Jews out of Egypt? Go to plague 10? The answer is that it’s all in the progression. And that’s the question what the progression is the Ramban’s view is that progression was to convince the Egyptians that God was God, that can’t happen in one second. You know, basically, I think what the Ramban says whether he says it explicitly or not, is had God just done the 10th plague? You could have written it off; you would have said, you know, it was in the water or something happened to the first born, whatever you would say, you would explain it away. But a whole year of this, you can’t you can’t explain that away. That That must be something.

Geoffrey Stern  20:01

So it as the rabbi’s of evaluating this, they come up with some fascinating insights as well. And again, I think I’m not a big fan of polemics. I’m not a big fan of apologetics, which are both terms used when others say Ha-ha, you see, you’re a hypocrite you say you believe in one God, and that God permits you free will and you can do teshuva, something that a Polytheist doesn’t have to worry about because he can play one god off of another. But when you have this, this structure that Judaism introduced into the world, you have Talmudic chapters that talk about the non-Jews will point their finger at you and say, aha, you see, this is wrong, you’re not consistent. But that forces the rabbis to then look at these texts in a new way. So, you might forget about the polemics. You know, we mentioned a Hebrew University professor a few weeks ago, called Umberto Cassuto. And he says, if you read the text, just the way it was written, none of these philosophical questions come up. If you look at this as an act of war, where Moses and God are fighting for the freedom of their people, and Pharaoh is holding it back. hardening the heart is just another way of saying It’s another tool. It’s like a battering ram to knock it down. And he hardened his heart, he manipulated the situation. But nonetheless, because they were apologetics around here, it forced the rabbis to look at it in a new way. And, and one of the insights that Rashi gives is, he says, and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened in 7: 22. He says, You are doing this by witchcraft: “You are bringing straw to Afarayim”— a city that is full of straw; thus you bring sorcery to Egypt, a land that is full of sorcery (Menachot 85a; Exodus Rabbah 9:6-7). He is saying that God sunk down to the level of the Egyptians and was playing with them. Because it was kind of like selling ice to the Eskimos, since they had magicians, since they were at the top of the world in terms of the technology of magic, God could have taken a totally different route. But instead, he played by their rules. And of course, that just pulled them into it. So he threw down the staff, they threw down the staff turn the water into blood. This is a fascinating analysis of why we had to go through these 10 plagues. He took advantage of their weakness, of their hubris and of their pride, and he took it to the nth degree.

Adam Mintz  22:54

I think that’s right, that’s correct. And he made the point that your hubris, your arrogance is what gets you in trouble. Because if you realize that God is the one who controls everything, then you need to be humble, not arrogant, right. It’s all related to belief in God is the opposite of hubris.

Geoffrey Stern  23:16

So in Exodus 10: 3 it says, So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him, Thus said God, the God of the Hebrews, how long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go that they may worship Me, and the Hebrew is עַד־מָתַ֣י מֵאַ֔נְתָּ לֵעָנֹ֖ת מִפָּנָ֑י , “anot”is to be poor. It is to be very humble. We all know that Moses in Numbers 12: 3 says, Now Moses was very humbled more so than any other human being on Earth. עָנָ֣ו מְאֹ֑ד . So here this is fascinating, because we normally think of humility, as something that a very pious person is. But if you take humility, and you contrast it to this heavy heart, this heart full of hubris, this hot, full of rigor mortis, this stiff, heart humility, becomes something that opens you up to other ideas that opens you up to think differently. It becomes a powerful strategy, as well as something that is a characteristic thought of highly. That to me this, this kind of, if only you Egyptians would humble yourself, you would be able to take advantage and you would be able to take stock of this situation. That to me is a fascinating insight into the power of Moses, the leader, who was this humble person, as counterposed to Pharaoh, this person who was closed and rigid and stiff.

Adam Mintz  24:58

And let me make that point even stronger… it’s interesting עַד־מָתַ֣י מֵאַ֔נְתָּ לֵעָנֹ֖ת מִפָּנָ֑י . How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? That’s not the way you should say it. How long will you be arrogant? But no, it’s not how long will you be arrogant? It’s that he refuses to be humble. It’s not that he’s arrogant, but that he has the ability to be humble, but he refuses to be humble. And that’s exactly what you’re saying. And that is that the process is to force him to be humble, because he’s refusing to be humble.

Geoffrey Stern  25:35

Absolutely. You know, a year or two ago, we did an episode on bathroom ethics. Because the first plague started with Pharaoh going down into the Nile, because he thought of himself as a God who doesn’t defecate, and in Shemot Rabbah 9: 8 in which it tells that story. It starts by saying that Pharaoh’s heart is stubborn Another interpretation of PHARAOH’s HEART IS STUBBORN (KABED). God said to him: Wretch! With word with which thou showest thy stubbornness, will I glorify Myself (mith-kabed) over thee, as it is Said: And I will get Me honor upon Pharaoh   So here, it all comes together, God is taking advantage of the stubbornness of Pharaoh to honor himself. The rabbis in this one are taking this sense of Kava aid, which can mean to honor somebody, and also bring somebody down. And typically, you think of the negative side of honor that a person thinks too highly of themselves, they have too much gravitas, that weight weighs them down. But here in a flip of words, they are saying that God strategically is taking advantage of pharaohs, perception of himself as a God, to turn that into honoring God through these miracles kind of a fun play with words, but one that shows how aware the rabbis were of what was the dynamic going on here, in terms of the power play?

Adam Mintz  27:12

I love that. I think that’s really nice. And I think that’s what it is. It’s a power play that relates to refusing to humble, it’s a power play, right? I mean, each side is trying to get the other side to budge. I think that that’s interesting, now, God wins at the end. That’s a very important point, because from the Egyptian’s perspective is you have to remember this, and that is the Egyptians have many of their own gods. So for God to win, means God wins over the ancient gods, and that the people have to recognize that God is not just one of the gods, but God is a special God. That’s a very important point. It’s not one against one, it’s one against many, and God is recognized as being the one God.

Geoffrey Stern  28:03

Absolutely, I love that the fact that we’re talking about this power plane. So Martin Luther King, Jr, two years after, on the anniversary of the rule that was passed, that permitted everybody to have a fair education. He wrote a book and in the book, he had a chapter called The death of evil upon the seashore. And it was all about the Exodus. And we talked about this a few weeks ago in terms of the power of the Exodus story. But he, like us is not focused on this dynamic of free choice. He’s focused on this dynamic of power. And he writes, “The Pharaohs stubbornly refused to respond to the cry of Moses. Plague after plague swept through the Pharoah’s domain, and yet they insisted on following their recalcitrant path.”  And here’s the punchline. “This tells us something about evil that we must never forget. It never voluntarily relinquishes its throne. Evil is stubborn, hard and determined. It never gives up without a bitter struggle and without the most persistent and almost fanatical resistance.”  I love what Martin Luther King Jr. Does with our discussion. He says, if it’s a year, if it’s a lifetime of struggling with these plagues, it’s to show us that evil doesn’t go away so easy. And that is the crux of our story here. And that is the crux of the hard heart of Pharaoh to tell you; don’t think that this is just gonna go away. And this is even more, I think, powerful coming from a man who believed in nonviolent resistance, but it is such a powerful take on this whole subject that we’ve been discussing.

Adam Mintz  29:56

It’s beautiful, it really pulled puts the whole thing kind Given perspective and you’re right the fact that he was against violence really makes the point all that much stronger I think.

Geoffrey Stern  30:07

So I want to finish up with Eric Fromm um one of my favorite books if I haven’t said it before, really impacted me in my in my journey into Judaism was You shall be as gods by Erich Fromm And Erich Fromm, clearly was a psychologist. He was a thought leader, but he was a totally engaged in his Judaism and in his texts. And if you read that book, you’ll see from his footnotes and notes, he studied these texts. And he glosses over the difference between I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and Pharaoh hardened his heart, it’s all the same. He says What the biblical text stresses here is one of the most fundamental laws of human behavior. Every evil act tends to harden man’s heart, that is, to deaden it. Every good act tends to soften it, to make it more alive. The more man’s heart hardens, the less freedom does he have to change: the more is he determined already by previous action. But there comes a point of no return, when man’s heart has become so hardened and so deadened that he has lost the possibility of freedom, when he is forced to go on and on until the unavoidable end which is, in the last analysis, his own physical or spiritual destruction, and then he goes on to bring it to history that he thought in the 60s was the past, but it’s still here. He says, Anyone who reads the story attentively will recognize that the miracles Moses and Aaron perform on behalf of God are not miracles intended to change man’s heart. In the first place they are from the very beginning meant only to impress both the Hebrews and the Egyptians. They are in their nature no different from what the Egyptian magicians are not able to do, except that eventually the Hebrews’ secret weapons prove to be a little more effective. The irony of the story is that the all-powerful God chose miracles which repeat, or only slightly improve on, Egyptian magic.  So here Fromm is saying literally what Rashi said a few seconds ago, which I called selling ice to the eskimos, that God is talking and arguing with Pharaoh, in a very infantile way, to show us that this is not a story about God. It’s a story about humanity, and how we fall into a pit and into a rut. Indeed, he says, Indeed, perhaps never in human history has it been possible to understand this part of the biblical story as well as today. Two powerful blocs of mankind are attempting to find a solution to the threat of weapons – weapons compared to which the ten plagues appear harmless. Until now both sides have shown better sense than did Pharaoh; they have yielded …. So, he goes on, and I suggest you look at the notes. But what is so fascinating as we see Putin, and Russia and Ukraine play out, and America is number one, the open question which we didn’t discuss is, is even Moses and God on the same page? God, is trying to exploit the situation to bring pride to him, Moses is trying to get out of the country, and Pharaoh is trying to protect his pride in his regime. So there were actually three actors here. And I suggest to all of you that nowhere has current events served as a better prism, to look at our Torah reading, then we are living through today.

Adam Mintz  33:53

I think that’s really beautiful. And the fact that at the very end, you brought up the fact that Moshe is not necessarily on the same page as God, and that God is worried about proving, God’s value in the fact that God should win among the gods. And Moshe doesn’t really care about that at all. But Moshe cares about is getting out of the country. I think it’s a really good topic. And I think we can look forward maybe next year in Parshat Bo to dealing with that topic. Shabbat Shalom from Dubai. I look forward to being back in New York next week on the same time zone 8pm New York Eastern Standard Time. I hope the weather is nice and Shabbat Shalom to everybody. Shabbat shalom, Geoffrey and regards to everybody.

Geoffrey Stern  34:32

Shabbat Shalom Rabbi, Shabbat Shalom to all of us. And all of us should have a soft heart, an open heart and open mind. I’ll see you all next week.

Sefaria Source Sheet: https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/462193

Listen to last year’s Parshat Bo Podcast: Walk Like an Egyptian

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Thank the Donkey of the Messiah

parshat vaera, exodus 8-9

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on January 19th 2023. The Rabbis learn from Moses the importance of Hakarta HaTov; recognizing good and showing gratitude even to inanimate objects. We explore this character trait as it relates to personal conduct and current Israeli politics.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/460393

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. This week’s Torah portion is Vaera.  The Rabbis learn from Moses the importance of Hakarta HaTov; recognizing good and showing gratitude, even to inanimate objects. We explore this character trait gratitude as it relates to personal conduct and current Israeli politics. So join us as we Thank the Donkey of the Messiah.

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Well, Rabbi, welcome you are in Dubai, I’m in Tel Aviv. As I said in the intro, we are going to talk about gratitude, which is a wonderful subject to talk about. And it occurs in a very strange place. So in Exodus 7: 19 it says, And God said to Moses, Say to Aaron, take your rod and hold out your arm over the waters of Egypt. And this was the first plague, it was the plague of turning the Nile, which was the heartbeat of Egypt, into blood. In Exodus 8:1 we get to the second plague. And here it says, And God said to Moses, Say to Aaron, hold out your arm with the rod, over the rivers, the canals, and this was plague number two; the frogs. And then we get to the third plague in Exodus 8:12. And then now God said to Moses, Say to Aaron, hold out your rod and strike the dust of the earth, and it shall turn to lice throughout the land of Egypt. Now, besides being miraculous plagues, there is nothing particularly interesting about what I just read you. And if we didn’t have the sages, we might just pass over this and move right on to plague number four. But starting with plague number four, going all the way to the last of the 10 plagues, all of the plagues are executed by Moses, and the rabbis were very quick to notice that the first three plagues were not executed by Moses, but they were executed by Aaron, at God’s request. And so they were struck by that, and I say kudos to them. But how they answered it is kind of really surprising. They could have gone in many directions, don’t you think, Rabbi Adam?

Adam Mintz

03:03

They sure could have it’s a fantastic, you know, rabbinic tradition about what makes the first three plagues different. And you’re right, it’s kind of a typical rabbinic thing to notice. You know, the difference when everything is the same, the rabbis noticed the difference.

Geoffrey Stern

03:20

And, you know, if I was keeping to the narrative, I think it would be very easy to say that throughout the narrative last week, Moses says, אני לא איש דברים. I am not a man of words. Moses is portrayed as somebody who is very shy, you could very well come up with an explanation, that until Moses got the hang of it, until he warmed up, God said, Let Aaron do it. But what seems also unique about the answer that the rabbi’s give is, there’s only one kind of string that poses the question, and there is really, as far as I can tell one answer that they give. And that’s kind of rare that you have that kind of unanimity. The answer I’ll give, and then I’d love your comments, is that Rashi in Exodus 7:19 says, “Say unto Aaron”, because the river had protected Moses when he was cast into it, therefore it was not smitten by him, neither at the plague of blood, nor at that of frogs, but it was smitten by Aaron. And then in Exodus 8:12 he says, that again, quoting “say unto Aaron”, he says the dust did not deserve to be smitten by Moses, because it had protected him when he slew the Egyptian for he hid him in the sand, and it was therefore smitten by Aaron. So he quotes a singular Midrash which says in the name of Rabbi Tarfon. Who said that, again, the dust protected Moses. If you recall, he struck the Egyptian slave master, who was beating up his two fellow Jews, he looked here, he looked there, and he buried him in the sand and he escaped. And because of that, we are told he could not strike these inanimate objects, because they saved him. What do you make of it, Rabbi?

Adam Mintz

First, the first interesting thing is that the three verses have the same punch-line that they were done by Aaron. But the explanation is different, I think we need to notice that the first two has to do with water and water protected Moses. The third it has to do with the dust, and the dust protected Moses. Though, it’s kind of funny to say the dust protected Moses. Because the dust didn’t really protect Moses; the dust was just the way in which Moses buried the Egyptian so that nobody would see. Now the truth of the matter is that somebody did see. Because the Torah says he went out the next day, and two people were fighting, and they were: “are you going to do to me like you did to the Egyptian?”. So clearly, people saw. So, to me, the third example of the dust, is actually a stretch, the idea of the water makes a lot of sense, the dust is kind of once you were already, going down that path, they kind of looked for a way in which the dust helped him out.

Geoffrey Stern

06:41

So I, as you were talking, I started looking at the Hebrew to see what exact language was used to describe “protected”, and the word it uses is הֵגֵן Hagen. And because in the intro, I said, I promised we will get to Israeli politics, you can’t but miss the word הֵגֵן is to protect in the same way as the Haganah was the early troops of Israel was to protect and the modern day Haganah Tzava L’Yisrael (Israel Defense Forces), so they protected him, but as you point out, they didn’t really do anything. I’m not sure I caught the nuance between the water and the dust. Because in both cases, the water and the dust were just that…. they were water and dust, you know, they were passive. And they were just there. And from a tradition that doesn’t believe in worshipping inanimate objects that has almost a single refrain, a one-liner, a broken record about idol worship, and that is don’t worship something of stone and clay that you made a few seconds ago. It does strike me as a little strange that here, Moses, and really, as one of the commentaries points out, and this is kind of fascinating to me. It doesn’t say that Moses said to Aaron to take over. In all three of the verses, it says God commanded that Aaron execute this, and the Birkat Asher, who’s a fairly recent commentary says as a result, we can learn that Hakerat haTov, which is kind of the universal word used to describe this particular message. Recognizing good gratitude is not simply a good character trait. It is a commandment from God. Now, I don’t think he’s really saying it’s one of the 613 commandments, but he’s certainly saying that the Torah goes out of its way to say that this is a command from God. But it is odd that we are thanking an inanimate object for us Jews that are so adverse to thanking inanimate objects.

Adam Mintz

I would agree with you. I mean, you know, sometimes we exaggerate to get support. And that, of course, that needs to be pointed out thanking inanimate objects. But I want to tell you, gratitude is so important. Look how far the Torah goes to express gratitude. It doesn’t really mean that you need to express gratitude to inanimate objects, but it’s over-exaggerated, did that teach us how important it is?

Geoffrey Stern

09:34

You know, I totally agree. It’s kind of like a Rorshaw Test . I mean, it’s funny, we’re going to come across some verses, where it’s pretty clear that the message of the Torah is gratitude. I don’t think anyone would say that it’s clear from these verses that that is the message here. But nonetheless, and maybe it’s because you know, you talk about where the rabbi’s come up with their explanations. I’m almost imagining that just as you and I kind of both know, this is the traditional reason. I’m just wondering whether this was something that was passed down from father to son from mother to daughter. That yeah, that’s the reason why because there’s such a sense of unanimity. It’s so far away from the simple meaning of the text. It’s kind of not even there, that it’s an amazing Rorshaw test …. if we’re going to make a case that Hackarat HaTov, that gratitude; that recognizing one’s sources, recognizing those things that helped one get through the quagmire of life is something that’s very basic to Judaism. I think that the fact that there’s unanimity coming about some kind of verses that just simply feature Aaron kind of tells us as much about us as much as about the rabbi’s as it does about the text that we’re looking at.

Adam Mintz

11:05

I would agree with that. That’s so interesting that you say that we went from kind of father to son or mother to daughter, meaning that these kinds of traditions, which are so outside the simple meaning of the text, these were things that people grew up with the same way we grew up with this story, we went to school, we went to yeshiva, and this is what we were taught. It goes all the way back. This is the way they explain the story. So yes, understand that for most people in the ancient world, these stories were oral, yes, they had a written Torah. But these stories were oral. What do I mean, they were oral, most people couldn’t read. And even the people who could read had no access to books, like there could have been a written Torah, but no one had access to it. And so it took a long time, it takes a whole year to write a Torah. Nobody has access to these books. So these are stories, Geoffrey and parents tell their children around the table. And you know, and these are the kinds of things some of them stick and some of them don’t, this is the kind of thing that sticks the same way we remember it from year to year. This is the kind of thing that sticks. So that’s why there is unanimity here. Because these are those kinds of stories. It’s not Peshat, it’s not literal, where you can argue I can tell you this is the literal explanation, or this is the literal explanation. No, it’s a tale and tales generally are passed down just like this.

Geoffrey Stern

12:36

I couldn’t agree more. So now, let’s go to some verses where the message of gratitude is a little more obvious. So in Deuteronomy 23: 8, and this relates to our story in a way, it says You shall not abhor an Edomite for such is your kin כִּ֥ י אָ חִ֖ יךָ ה֑ וּא, you shall not abhor an Egyptian, for you were a stranger in that land כִּ י־ גֵ֖ר הָ יִ֥י תָ בְ אַ רְ צֽ וֹ, and Rashi says: Thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian. And he adds the word. And we’ve discussed this before מִ כֹּ ל וָ כֹ ל, utterly, you can utterly hate them, although they cast your male children into the river. And what is the reason that you shall not abhor him utterly, because they were your hosts in time of need, during Joseph’s reign in the neighboring country suffered from famine, therefore, although they sinned against you do not utterly abhor him. And I think in this verse, in this pasuk, you cannot think of a reason other than recognizing, admitting the good of the Egyptians, even though they’ve done some terrible things to us. I mean, that takes this to a whole new level. But at least you can see that Rashi is not stretching here, in terms of that’s the kind of crux of this verse, you know, the Edomites might be related to you somehow, but the Egyptians, they took you in when there was a famine, and that you always have to remember and be grateful for it.

Adam Mintz

14:21

So I think that you talked about inanimate objects. Actually, the Egyptians are the opposite. Not only are they animate, are they people, but actually they’re bad people. And even though they’re bad people, we still need to be grateful because they did something nice to us. So it’s interesting, the here were thanking inanimate objects, and there we’re thanking bad people. But if somebody does something good to you, you need in fact you need to be grateful. That’s also an extreme of gratitude, it seems to me and we can look at the other verses you have have to quote. But it seems to be that when it comes to gratitude, because gratitude is so important, therefore, this there’s an exaggeration element in the examples that the rabbis bring.

Geoffrey Stern

15:15

You know, it doesn’t say so but I think and correct me if I’m wrong, there’s almost an implication here, that it’s not simply you can’t abhor them. But somehow it might have to affect not only the way you think, but maybe the way you act, it’s, it’s hard to say, but certainly the two examples that we have are both surprising. Inanimate objects that you should have any sort of relation with them. And of course, the answer there would typically be, it’s not the sand, it’s not the water, it’s you, you need to develop that muscle, you have to exercise that muscle of gratitude. But here we’re talking about not just any enemy, we’re talking about the Egyptians were quoting this while we’re in the middle of the Exodus story, and it cannot not, but impact us, that you still have to remember the good parts of them. And it seems to imply that somehow that might even affect how you act, I don’t know. But clearly, it’s fascinating. You know, you think of, of Christianity, turning the other cheek, so to speak. But here definitely, there is this sense of you need to exercise this muscle of gratitude to the extent that you can even find something to thank something, to appreciate something to be thankful for in your enemy. And that’s kind of powerful.

Adam Mintz

16:52

That’s great. Now, let me just say turning the other cheek is the opposite. turning the other cheek means you have to turn the other cheek, even to one who doesn’t deserve it.  Our whole point is you have to express gratitude to someone or something who deserves it. The Christians say, you have to be good to people, even if they don’t deserve it. That’s a whole different religious value.

Geoffrey Stern

17:18

I get what you’re saying. But clearly, in the middle of this, it says, even though they threw your babies into the water to kill them, they are an enemy. But it’s saying that you can parse it. And I think what you’re saying is true that you cannot overlook the injustice and the bad of the Egyptians. You have to be able to recognize the good nonetheless because of that, but not whitewash it and I think turning the other cheek you’re probably correct has more of a sense of just forget about the bad and that’s not just and that’s not right. So, the Talmud in Baba Kama says the following Rava said to Rabba bar Mari, from where is this matter derive where people say, if there is a well that you drank from, do not throw a stone into it.    בירא דשתית מיניה לא תשדי ביה קלא

Rabba bar Mari said to him that the source is as it is written: “You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother; you shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you were a stranger in his land” (Deuteronomy 23:8).. So this is a fascinating little pitgam; a little expression, a well that you drank from do not throw a stone into it. Is that simply gratitude? Is there a sense here also of precedence; of chronology? You drank from it yesterday. You might not need to drink from it any more. But the good that it gave you perseveres, it seems to me this is kind of adding a little bit of texture to the discussion.

Adam Mintz

19:11

So that’s really interesting that the question here is, will you need it in the future? Maybe, maybe it’s not exactly gratitude. Maybe it’s, planning for the future. You know, when you use a well what will happen in the future., but you’re wondering whether that’s the same message or a different message. I think that’s fair. I don’t think you can know the answer.

Geoffrey Stern

19:38

But it adds it adds some texture. So, I think part of gratitude, the flip side of gratitude is obviously ingratitude; an ingrate. And I think I can make the case Rabbi, here on Madlik that in a certain sense in Judaism, Original Sin was ingratitude. So where do I get this from? If you look at Genesis 3:12 Adam and Eve have eaten from the apple, of course, Eve takes it first and gives it to husband to eat. God comes through the Garden of Eden asks where Adam is? Hineni, “I’m here”. And he says, What have you done? I gave you one commandment. What did you do? In Genesis 3:12. Adam said, “The woman you put at my side, she gave me of the tree and I ate”  עִ מָּ דִ֔ י     הָֽ אִ שָּׁ ה֙  אֲ שֶׁ֣ ר  נָ תַ֣ תָּ ה. She was the one and of course Rashi says here he showed his ingratitude כָּ פַ ר   בַּ טּוֹ בָ ה. He uses this language of Kofer which …. when we say that the wicked son says “You” we said he is “Kofer B’Ikar” he rejects a primary principle. Even in Arabic, Kofer is an apostate, an infidel. A total rejection of everything that is right. And here he was kofer b’tovah, and the Rashi gets this as he gets everything that he says from the Midrash or from the Talmud. And this comes from the Talmud in Avodah Zara 5a and the Gomorrah is talking about times where the Jewish people were had ingratitude, such as when they complained about the manna from heaven, you know, they go it every day, and complained it doesn’t taste so good anymore. And it says, The Sages taught with regard to the verse: “Who would give that they had such a

heart as this always, to fear Me, and keep all My commandments, that it might be good for them, and with their children forever” (Deuteronomy 5:26). Kivi Yachol (as if to say) God is dreaming of what would happen if the Jewish people were really good and appreciated everything that he did. And he says, And Moses said to the Jewish people, you are Ingrates, children of ingrates! כפויי טובה בני כפויי טובה  who are you children of you are children of the original Adam, the original man who after sinning and eating from the Tree of Knowledge said to God, the woman you gave me made me sin. So here we have Kafui b’Tov, the opposite of Hakarat hatov; of gratitude. Ingratitude is the original sin! That might have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. What do you think, Rabbi?

Adam Mintz

22:59

That’s so interesting that you connect the two cases to one another. You’re right. I mean, I don’t know whether this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. But there definitely seems to be a connection between all of these cases. I liked that a lot.

Geoffrey Stern

23:16

Well, you know, we don’t know exactly why they were punished. We all know that if our kids do something wrong. Half of it is how they own up to it. Half of it is what happens after the crime. We know that Adam and Eve weren’t supposed to eat of the tree. But what happened if he had been a little more diplomatic when God caught him in the act? Certainly, this didn’t help his case. Whether it was the straw that broke the camel’s back, you’re right, we have we have no clue. But it is kind of fascinating.

Adam Mintz

That how you read it. You know that’s what’s so beautiful about it is you could read it anyway. And that’s the way you’re reading it. I have no response other than I like that read. I can’t tell you you’re right. But I liked that reading.

Geoffrey Stern

Well, thank you. That means a lot to me. So, we’re talking today about gratitude. And this is a Jewish podcast. And I started to think about what, makes us Jewish and realized that it might be this sense of graditude. I started thinking about Yehudi and Yehudah.  If you look at Genesis 29 It says that when Leah conceived again and bore a son and declared this time, I will praise God. Therefore, she named him Judah, then she stopped bearing. So the word Yehudah comes from the word same word as Modeh like in Modeh Ani or Modim Anachnu Loch.  We Thank God.

Adam Mintz

Todah, of course.

Geoffrey Stern

Hodu L’shem, Ki Tov.

Adam Mintz

25:00

The most popular word that you’re using this week in Israel is the same word: Todah

Geoffrey Stern

25:08

Todah Rabah! So, in Berakot 7a it says Rabbi Yoḥanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai: From the day the Holy One, Blessed be He, created the world, no one thanked the Holy One, Blessed be He, until Leah came and thanked Him, as it is stated:, and he quotes our verse. So now, this is fascinating, because not only is this sense of being thankful, clearly important, (you could argue that Jews are those who are [or need to be] thankful to God.  Not only is ingratitude the source of sin, but here are poor God Kiviyachol, God has to wait until Leah has her fourth child before He gets thanked for anything! It’s almost a piece of Talmud that has you feeling for the Kadosh Baruch Hu (the Holy One Blessed be He). And I think if you just took this as an introduction to the Torah, and then read the Torah, from this perspective, in terms of being grateful to God, you would go through a lot of it and say, Boy, oh, boy, whether it’s mankind or the Jewish people, we certainly don’t give enough thanks, do we?

Adam Mintz

26:26

I would say that that is correct. And I think going back to the beginning, I think that that’s why the rabbi’s exaggerate the need for gratitude. It’s because human beings tend not to be grateful enough and that the rabbis have to exaggerate the need.

Geoffrey Stern

I think absolutely. And I think that if you look at the Torah from this lens it changes everything.

And let’s talk a second about gratitude, you know, we’ve given a few examples till now, it’s not simply gratitude when you give me something I am grateful. But there’s an element of moda, of Hoda, of Hicar a Tov… of recognizing it. And this gets back to our first example of an inanimate object, that inanimate object can do nothing with your gratitude. But the recognition on your part, people talk about many of the laws that we have like sending away the mother bird before the child, there is this, I said it before I’ll say it again, this muscle that we need to exercise of recognizing, from where comes our current situation. Thankful, recognizing it. There’s in the Talmud, it talks about Modeh B’mikzat, Acknowledging a little. When you’re in a litigation, just recognizing that maybe there is something to what the other said, you know, we’re coming to the end, I think this concept of Jews, and we find this in the Talmud all the time, quoting their sources, gets to what I was touching upon before, which is this antecedence. There’s this. What is the provenance? What is the history of an idea? It’s so important in Jewish choices, there’s a whole monologue that I quote in our source sheet titled: “Why Jews quote”, but we do quote, that’s why I put together a source sheet every week, because if we Rabbi were just talking about things that entered into our head, it would be meaningless, but we quote our sources, we recognize our sources. We’re thankful for our sources. It is absolutely very Jewish.

Adam Mintz

Very, very Jewish. So why don’t we finish the last two minutes… you said we’d talk about Israeli politics…, let’s talk about Israeli politics.

Geoffrey Stern

Fantastic. So there is in Israel today, we have what I would call hyper Zionists and ultra-Orthodox. And the hyper Zionists, whether they were a Kipa Seruga, a knitted yarmulke, or whether they are Haredim, they looked at the last election as between the Jews meaning themselves and the Israelis, they look at secular society, whether it is the Hagana (the IDF) who is protecting them, whether it is early Zionists, who were totally secular, who founded the state, [or the secular population] and in a sense, they ignore them (if not patronize them). And there is a line of thought there was actually a book written about 10 years ago, called Hamoro shel Mashiach, the donkey of the Messiah. We all know that picture of the Messiah riding in on his donkey. What they did is they quoted Rav Kook, one of the great thinkers of religious Zionism and Rav Kook looked at the early Zionists who were clearly very secular and he had to explain to his co-religionists how anything good could come out of them. And in the process, he developed a philosophy that we, the Messianic Jews, the Jews that are going to bring the final redemption, are riding on what the secular Jews created. You can call it a Hamor, a donkey, or he actually had a play on words where he called it החומר, the material, we’re getting back to the sand now, but the material that the land of Israel is built on. And I don’t want to get into a deep philosophical discussion about what I agree with, or what I don’t agree with (with regard to the recently elected Israeli government). But one thing that I think comes clear from our parsha is that one, we are taught to recognize our antecedents, we are taught to recognize what came before us and the importance; and more to the point we have to have gratitude. And if we don’t, we don’t know who we are. And I think whether that was the intent of Rav Kook, or whether it is a misinterpretation of Rav Kook, my one blaring critique of what is happening in the world of ultra-religious Zionism and Ultra-Orthodox Judaism today is a lack of recognition and of Hakarat HaTov, for the antecedents of the Jewish state. And I believe everything begins there.

Adam Mintz

I think that’s a really good lesson to end with. So, what we wish everybody Shabbat Shalom from Israel from Dubai next week, we’ll do another Lunch & learn the same time works for me and Geoffrey I hope it works for you. And hopefully we’ll see everybody.

Geoffrey Stern

31:52

Fantastic. We will do a lunch and learn next week. And the main message of today is for God’s sake, be thankful. Be thankful of what we have. Recognize who we are, and that we stand on the shoulders of others. There’s a history there. Shabbat shalom, whether you’re in Dubai, Morocco, or Israel, Shabbat Shalom!

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/460393

Listen to last year’s Vaera Podcast: Holy Crap

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Liberation Theology – for Jews

parshat shemot – shemot 1 -3

Join Geoffrey Stern broadcasting live from Jerusalem and recorded on Clubhouse on January 12th 2023. The Exodus from Egypt is not simply an episode in the script of the Jewish People; it is The refrain. The fact that it represents the essence of the Jewish people is captured in every commandment that is זֵכֶר לִיצִיאַת מִצְרָיִם to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt. Modern liberation movements have taken their inspiration from the exodus as a paradigm so we what does the Exodus Liberation paradigm look like for Jews and for Israel?

Sefairia Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/458913

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  We host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. This week’s Torah portion is Shemot. The Exodus from Egypt is not simply an episode in the script of the Jewish People; it is The refrain. The fact that it represents the essence of the Jewish people is captured in every commandment that is זֵכֶר לִיצִיאַת מִצְרָיִם to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt. Modern liberation movements have taken their inspiration from the exodus as a paradigm so what does the Exodus Liberation paradigm look like for Jews and for Israel? Liberation Theology – for Jews

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Well, welcome to Madlik. Rabbi Adam Mintz is actually traveling today, and I am broadcasting live from Yerushalayim, the holy city of Jerusalem, I’m actually looking out of my hotel window right now, and seeing the hills of Jerusalem. So as I said in the introduction, this is the beginning of the book of Exodus; of Shemot. And Exodus is the refrain of the Jewish people. It’s not simply another episode, you never say zaycher l’akedah, …. You don’t say when you do a commandment in remembrance of creation, in remembrance of the binding of Isaac even in remembrance of the giving of the Torah or the entering into the land. But in terms of zecher l’tziyat Mitzrayim. We all know it from the Haggadah, which obviously, commemorates the Exodus from Egypt, but we have in mechilta d’Rabbi YishmaeliIt says that tefillin is zecher L’tziot mitzrayim to the outstretched arm. We have in Midrash Lech Tov  מלמד שאף הסוכה זכר ליציאת מצרים. That even building and living in the sukkah is in remembrance of leaving the land of Egypt. Couldn’t say it better than Midrash lekach Tov שהרי כל המועדים על שום יציאת מצרים all of our iconic Jewish holidays, and many commandments are for remembrance of the leaving of Egypt, which leads us to ask the question, what is in fact, the message of leaving Egypt. And it also should not surprise us that we are not the only ones to recognize in the leaving of Egypt, something that becomes iconic to the Jewish people, and frankly, something that becomes almost a legacy, a gift to the world. I called the name of today’s episode liberation theology for Jews. The term liberation theology, as we shall learn shortly, was coined by the Catholic and Protestant churches of South America in their struggle to depose the ruling powers and to lead an uprising of the poor and the dispossessed. And clearly, they got their model from leaving Egypt. So, I think we stand on solid ground. When we say, what is this theology of the Exodus? What is this liberation theology? If we look in our parsha, it begins talking about God seeing hearing, feeling the suffering of his people, and even in there we start to see that this is not only a national story, but it is a universal story. In Exodus 2: 23, he says, God heard their moaning and God remembered the covenant. In Exodus 3: 7-10 It says God says, I am mindful of their suffering. He says, I have heard my people in Egypt and I’ve heard their outcry, because of their taskmasters I have come down to rescue them from the Egyptians, and to bring them out of that land to a good and spacious land flowing with milk and honey. Now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, moreover I have seen how the Egyptians oppress them, Come, therefore, I will send you (speaking to Moses), to Pharaoh, and you shall free my people, the Israelites from Egypt. And I think just based on these two passages, we can kind of see that on the one hand, the Exodus certainly has to do with a covenant that God had with a particular people. But there is also this universal “I heard there moaning”, וַיִּשְׁמַ֥ע אֱלֹקִ֖ים אֶת־נַאֲקָתָ֑ם. And I think that is very much the basis of what makes this a universal story and a universal paradigm for liberation and revolution. Michael Walzer is a world-famous political scientist, and he wrote a whole book called Exodus and Revolution, saying how of all of the myths of all of the origin stories of a new nation, it is the Exodus story, whether for the African American, the black slaves, and Martin Luther King’s metaphor of I’ve been to the mountaintop, or, as I’ve mentioned before, the liberation theology of the South American peasants who uprose. The Exodus story, because it contains words as see the oppression, heard, the suffering is so universal. In Exodus 3; 16-18, it says, I will take you out of the misery of Egypt, to the land of the Canaanites and Hittites to a land flowing with milk and honey. So, it is not only seeing and hearing the oppression and the pain, it is also a redemption story. It is a repatriation story. It is a story of God working through history, to help the dispossessed and the alienated. He says, they will listen to you, meaning the people of Israel, and you shall go to the elders of Israel. And you shall say to them, God; the God of the Hebrews, became manifest to us now therefore, let us go a distance of three days into the wilderness, to sacrifice to our God. So really in these three or four different paragraphs that are in our parsha, you get all of the ingredients that would make this such a powerful image, a powerful paradigm, and therefore easily understandable that Exodus and revolution have been so intertwined. So what exactly is this liberation theology? It is, in the words of its creators, and you’ll hear as I read some of them how really they nail to a large degree, what the Exodus means to us Jewish people. So I’m reading one, and Enrique Dussel, Exodus as a Paradigm in Liberation Theology The Exodus was the experience which created the consciousness of the people of Israel. The people formed in the structuring centre which determined its way of organizing time and space. Note that I am not saying simply that the Exodus is part of the contents of the consciousness of the people of Israel. If that were the case, the Exodus would be one item of information among others. More than an item of information, it is its structuring centre, in that it determines the integrating logic, the principle of organisation and interpretation of historical experience. That is why the Exodus does not persist as a secondary experience … It has come to be the paradigm for the interpretation of all space and all time. So truly this understanding where we begin Shemot just as we finish Bereshit by saying this was the formation of a nation. The Hebrew word for the book of Exodus is Shemot, which means names and what that means is we’re seeing the metamorphosis of names and tribes and individuals into a corporate whole, in that, too, is the story of the Exodus that is the paradigm of the Exodus, quoting another, Revd. Mathew N. Musyoki “the exodus is central within the Old Testament…the key to Israel’s understanding of both God and itself. It is repeatedly re-interpreted throughout the Bible,‟ making the hermeneutical possibilities of the exodus unique for liberation theology. Thus, its actual historical happening leaves serves liberationists as a model, done with a reading of the texts on the basis of present reality. Similarly, The Exodus…became the founding event not only for the course of Israelite history, but also, through its kerygmatic appropriation, for other oppressed communities. Hence, its foundational character is continually being reinforced through so many re-readings, a sure sign of its richness as a source. Hence this source is eminent to liberationists as a contact point.  Even when there is no reasonable ground exegetically it seems liberationists continue following this model. For instance, Croatto seems insistence by asserting that, “The creative and varied re-expression of the Exodus theme within the Bible indicates the pre-eminence of the meaning of the Exodus over the event, and this in return becomes a norm of interpretation for us.‟ Thus, Exodus can be imported to a given context, e.g. the poor, the sick and the oppressed.” So again, what we see is the fact that the exodus is referenced so many times, not only within our liturgy, but much more importantly, within our Bible itself, almost leads it to beg for interpretation, beg for reimagining. And that is what these theologians said, we are going to encounter some thinkers who felt that they maybe took too much of a license in exporting the Exodus paradigm to their own moments of repression, and revolt. But I think you can at this point, agree with these theologians, that the fact that the exodus was used and referenced so much throughout our Bible, it almost gives you that permission to do so. And in fact, one of the questions that we are going to explore today is, with all that saturation of messaging, what actually does the Exodus then become for the Jewish people and for the people of Israel. But let’s continue a little more in the history of liberation theology, as it surfaced, in the 20th century, in South America, it was involved with, with the Castro revolution, Castro compares himself to a Moses. In fact, some liberation theologians like Segundo Galilea actually prefer Moses as a model of the political leader over Jesus. So Moses is then taken to be this leader, who goes down and faces truth to power. And of course, this brings back that image of Martin Luther King Jr. and his speech of I’ve been to the mountaintop. And it’s important that it’s not one of pride in terms of his comparison to Moses or arrogance, he is comparing himself to that aspect of Moses, who doesn’t make it, who suffers with his people who is beaten up and scarred by the liberation. So really, you can understand that we, as readers of the Hebrew Bible can benefit from how other peoples have read it as well. So here’s where the story gets a little bit interesting. After the revolutions in South America, and they had a very strong Marxist bend to them, what happened was, in many cases, the people that took over were the new Pharaohs of the day. And when, in 1985, the Poles began their own exercise in self-determination. And as a very strongly Catholic country, they read their Old Testament as well. And they had a real problem because while they believed in the message and the relevance of the Exodus paradigm and story to theirs, they couldn’t help but note that they were trying to exercise themselves from the same Marxist forces that coined the term liberation theology. So they stopped using the word liberation, a fascinating insight into the history of ideas where the liberation which you could make a case was something that the theologians kind of took a little bit of liberty with, and projected on to the whole story of the Exodus, which was really, at its core, a story of redemption, if you want to look into a theological perspective, or one of being able to leave oppression, they, they took it to mean and overthrow and to re-build a society. So, the Poles came back and they started calling it redemption. And the church has followed suit, it made an interesting turn, it says this, and this is coming from the papal instructions in 1984, that started to deal with a Polish Pope, with the Pole’s revolution, and it says that is why the liberation of the Exodus cannot be reduced to a liberation, which is principally or exclusively political in nature, moreover it is significant that the term freedom is often replaced in Scripture, by the very closely related term redemption. So, in an interesting turn, in order to explain that, the, the secular antagonistically, atheistic Marxist regime that had promised happiness to everyone, and forced everyone to be “happy”. Now, their liberation became a someone else’s oppression. Now, the liberation theology started to take a little bit of a modification, in that it became a liberation to a redemption to and the focus was on the sense of maybe a spiritual redemption, maybe something more related to religious. And before we get into what the Jewish commentators, will say, we cannot if we are talking about liberation theology, not mentioned the struggle and successful fight for Soviet Jewry, where the banner was let my people go. So here it was the Jews themselves that stood up to the USSR to Mother Russia. And clearly, using the story of the Exodus, as a story of liberation, turned to Brezhnev and the Soviet regime, and said, Let my people go. So, it is a powerful political paradigm, that we as Jews, as readers of the Hebrew Bible, can only be proud of in terms of the solace and in terms of the motivation, and that light at the end of the tunnel that it has given and it will continue to give to people who are subjugated, to people who are alienated to people who are disenfranchised. But when you go to the Jewish commentaries, and I will start with, we’ve come across John D. Levinson, before profound thinker, an academician at Yale. And he has a monograph on Exodus and liberation. And he goes through all the texts, and while he certainly gives much, much respect, and enthusiasm for the way that our Exodus story has been used, he also tries to bring it back to its source. And of course, the key theme of Exodus is this sense of from slavery to freedom. The story of the Exodus, at the end of the day, is the story of emancipation of slaves. And what Levinson argues is that the truth be told that there are provisions within the Bible after Exodus after Sinai that provide for having slaves. He brings and I certainly suggest that you take a look at the Sefaria notes on today’s podcast. Because in his article, he shows how the exodus was used by both the abolitionists and by the slave-owners. To prove their case, the abolitionists would say that clearly the Bible is trying to limit slavery, you have to free your slaves after a certain amount of time, during the sabbatical year, you can’t work your slave. When you release your slave, you have to make sure that your slave has payment for the work that they have done. If a slave works hard, he can buy off his freedom. And so those that bring these arguments will say that it condones the institution of slavery as it was. But it is showing a direction in terms of where it should be, and severely limiting it. And of course, the slave-owners would say, yes, but don’t sleight-of-hand, pass over the fact that it condones slavery, it has jurisprudence for slavery the same way it has jurisprudence for marriage. And for other institutions, that means it recognizes it. So Levinson wishes to argue if you want to be really honest to the texts, you can say that the story is simply about freeing the slaves. And the direction that he goes is based on the key line that starts to appear in our parsha and gets developed more and more as the story progresses. And that is, in Exodus 3: 16 How God says, Now therefore, let us go a distance of three days into the wilderness to sacrifice to our God. And you can say that their being diplomatic or strategic. They’re saying to Pharaoh, that they simply want to go into the desert to worship their god, they don’t want their freedom. Later, it says, In Exodus 5: 1, Let my people go that they may celebrate a festival for me in the wilderness. Maybe this is why we have so many references to the Haggim; the festivals and Yetziat Mitzraim. And then it gets to the punch line in Exodus 9: 1 and there it says, And God said to Moses, go to Pharaoh and say to him, Thus said God, the God of the Hebrews, Let my people go to worship me. שַׁלַּ֥ח אֶת־עַמִּ֖י וְיַֽעַבְדֻֽנִי  And, of course, the important thing of the word וְיַֽעַבְדֻֽנִי. And worship me is that EVeD, slave, and worship (serve), or in this case, do the holy service is the same word. And so John Levinson makes the argument that if you really want to be true to the text, you have to admit that we’re not talking about pure freedom, we are talking about taking away Pharaoh, an evil taskmaster, an evil slave owner, and replacing him with the ultimate Master, which is God. But it is not a freedom if you want to be true to the texts. You who could make the case. And I think that this is a case that if you want to make a larger message out of this, you can say, the term :This idea of liberation through a change of masters shows how misleading it is to summarize the exodus through the popular slogan, “Let My people go.” The full form of the challenge is actually sallab ‘et-‘ammi w[ya’abd3ni, “Let My people go that they may serve Me.”  The term “liberty,” therefore, can indeed describe the result of redemption of the sort typified by the exodus, but only if some crucial semantic distinctions are maintained.’ One of the several meanings of “liberty” in Western thought is government by law rather than by a tyrant. If this is what we identify as the result of the exodus for Israel, then “liberty” and the process that produces it, “liberation,” are appropriate terms for the biblical process.” So as you can see, Levinson severely limits the extent of what this liberation is, but in doing so, he does make a profound case that I think because he is an academic scholar that you can really say is serious. And that is that whether the Jews were freed, or the Israelites were freed from Pharaoh, an evil, slave master, to serve God, the ultimate master, but ultimately, how do they serve that God, they serve that God by keeping His law. And at the end of the day, it is the laws, the book of laws of the Hebrew Bible. That is what ultimately provides the liberation in the Jewish mind. And I think he brings one kind of interesting example. And that example is, again, from law. If you remember, I mentioned a little bit earlier, that one of the things that he promised the Jewish people is that when you leave, Exodus 3: 21 says, and I will dispose the Egyptians favorably toward this people, so that when you go, you will not go away empty handed. Each woman shall borrow from her neighbor, and the lodger in her house objects of silver and gold, and clothing, and you shall put these on your sons and daughters, thus stripping the Egyptians. This occurs at least five times in the biblical narrative. And one wonders, what is the meaning of this? They were getting their freedom? Why is it so important that they were given the wealth of Egypt and what Levinson does, following a great theologian named David Daube, is saying here they are following the law of freeing a slave, when one frees a slave, as I said a little bit before one is required to provision that slave. So here, too, this fits very neatly into Levinson’s concept, that redemption and liberation in the Jewish sense of the Hebrew Bible is much more, I would say, pedestrian, much more limited, but nonetheless profound, and that is it is the law. And to give an example of that, we are saying to Pharaoh, you had to release these slaves, you had to follow the laws of the Hebrew Bible, and you did not. And therefore God is releasing them, taking them to worship Him וְיַֽעַבְדֻֽנִי, and he is provisioning them. This serves as an amazing segue into the thinker that I want to finish with and leave you with. And that is a thinker whose liberation theology if you will, is, as as fascinating today as it’s ever been. The name of the thinker was Yeshayahu Leibowitz, you might have heard of his sister Nechama Leibowitz, who are taught Old, Old Testament studies at the Hebrew University. But Yeshayahu Leibowitz was known as being a firebrand; a thinker, who shocked a who loved to shock. And he was a firebrand, a maverick who marched to his own drumbeat.  And he was particularly struck by the Six Day War. And he was particularly struck by the fact that the in a sense, the people of Israel were making of the victory of the Six Day War into something that was miraculous, and something that was eschatological, was messianic, and he felt that by doing that we’re actually engaging in idol worship. And he issued a bunch of articles. The first one was published (prior to Passover 1971) in Jeshurun, which is a synagogue in Jerusalem, which had the intelligentsia of the religious Zionist movement there. And he wrote a number of articles. One of them was actually called the Dis-Kotel. He said, When we have a Kotel, we will make it into a Diss-Kotel. He was very much against this celebration and worship of place. He thought that was very un-Jewish. And what he wrote about was that in fact, the Passover was an incomplete redemption first and foremost. And along with Levinson, he says that the key to the Redemption was to keep the law (to accept the Ol Malchut Shamayim… the yoke of God’s kingship) everything in Yeshayahu Leibowitz’s philosophy of Judaism was that we are a legal community, and that we achieve perfection and we worship God by keeping his laws, the dalet amot of Halacha, the four cubits of the Law. And that is ultimately along with Levinson What Let my people go to serve Thee is all about. And he said that all of those commentators and thinkers, whether they are Rav Kook, or whoever, who were trying to imbibe both the war and the victory of the Six Day the occupation of our territories to make that into this grand scheme of redemption. We’re not reading history and a God into our history. But we’re actually repudiating the whole message of the Exodus. And he too brings an example from the law. His holiday was Hanukkah, because on Hanukkah, we, the Jewish people stood up for their keeping of the Law. And he says, and this is built out in the law that says on Passover, you can only read half of the Hallel prayer, whereas on Hanukkah, you read the full Hallel. So again, it’s a trivial example. But both him and Levinson are looking at Jewish thinkers who see the book of the Torah as a book of rules, and use those rules to limit these theological flourishes. And these messianic tendencies, which they see more as idolatry than the true religion that was a given to us by Moses, and experienced with the Exodus. So it’s a fascinating read on what the message of the exodus is. And I think one that deserves further study.  I’ve listened to some podcasts written recently with the election of the new government in Israel. And one of the most interesting thinkers to listen to is someone named Yossi Klein Halevi, who is at the Shalem Center, and he’s a very open-minded liberal thinker, but he used to be a student of Maer Kahana. And he says, If you want to understand this new government, you should read a book called 40 Years by Maer Kahana. And I encourage all of you to do it. And you’ll see literally that he is saying everything that this new government is saying and what I would like to suggest today is, if you would like to see the flip side of what alternative philosophy; a Jewish philosophy would be, to that which is being espoused by what Yeshayahu Leibowitz would be calling these religious Zionists who have lost their way. is Yeshayahu Leibowitz. And maybe we will have an opportunity to explore more of his writings and to learn from him at least, who really wrote them at the time of the Six Day War, but literally was able to prophesize a time when land, occupation and Messianism  were more important. So with that, I wish you all a Shabbat Shalom. And we’ll see you all next week with Rabbi Adam Mintz back. Thank you so much.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/458913

Listen to last year’s Shemot episode: Moses – Reluctant Magician

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