The Circle of Life

parshat Pinchas – numbers 25-27

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

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

Transcript:

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

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

Adam Mintz  06:36

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

Geoffrey Stern  07:06

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

Adam Mintz  11:42

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

Geoffrey Stern  12:56

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

Adam Mintz  15:57

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

Geoffrey Stern  16:17

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

Adam Mintz  21:38

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

Geoffrey Stern  22:12

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

Adam Mintz  23:10

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

Geoffrey Stern  23:47

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

Adam Mintz  25:12

Very right. It’s right on the mark.

Geoffrey Stern  25:15

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

Adam Mintz  27:48

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

Geoffrey Stern  28:48

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

Adam Mintz  32:29

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

Geoffrey Stern  32:58

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

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

Listen to last week’s episode: God – What’s in a Name

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God – What’s in a name

parshat balak – numbers 22-23

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on clubhouse on Thursday July 14th 2022. We read the story of Balaam and note the selective use of the generic “God-Elohim” and the particular name of the God of Israel – “YHVH”. We wonder if it is simply stylic variation or does it have significance. In the process we compare traditional Rabbinic solutions to the so-called Documentary Hypothesis and consider whether the Torah is comprised of different literary voices edited together.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/418965

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform.  Today we discuss parshat Balak which has a great story about a talking donkey and contains a curse turned into an iconic blessing of the People of Israel.  But our focus will be on how God is referred to, both here and elsewhere in the Torah and what that teaches us about who wrote and how the Bible was written.  So Baruch Hashem you are here and let’s begin God – What’s in a Name

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Adam Mintz  00:58

Bararuch Hashem Nice to see you, nice to be part of this with you and we’re ready to roll. Let’s hear about God.

Geoffrey Stern  01:04

So as I said in the intro, the parsha is called Balak, who was a motorbike king who sees the people of Israel starting to make their way into the promised land. And guess what he’s in the way. So he hires a prophet for hire, named Bilaam. And the idea is that Bilaam will curse the Jewish people, the people of Israel. And during that, we’ll see there’s a there’s a story about a donkey. So we have a Disney moment, if you will, a talking donkey. But I want to focus on the words that are used specifically how God is referred to in the text itself, and see if there are any lessons to be learned. So we’re in Numbers 28. And I’m starting because I gave you the context, right from verse 8, which is after the messengers from King Balak come to higher Bilaam and ask him to Chris, the Jewish people. In verse 8, he said to them, spend the night here, and I shall reply to you, as Hashem may instruct me. So whenever God is referred to by Yud Hey Vav Hey which the witnesses referred to as Jehovah, and we are Jews referred to as simply the name I will say Hashem. So, he says, Stay the night, and I will reply to you, as Hashem may instruct me. So the Moabite dignitaries stayed with Balaam. God, the Lord, now it does not use the word Hashem. It uses Elohim, which is a generic name for the Godhead, God came to Balaam and said, what do these men want of you? Balaam said to God, Balak son of Tzipur king of Moab sent me this message. Here is a people that came out from Egypt and hides the Earth from view, come now and curse them for me. Perhaps I can engage them in battle and drive them off. But God said to Balaam do not go with them. You must not curse that people for they are blessed. Balaam arose in the morning and said to Balak’s dignitaries, go back to your country for Hashem will not let me go with you. The Moabite dignitaries left and they came back to Balak and said Balaam refused to come with us. Then the king sent more dignitaries to convince him to come. And again, Balaam replies in verse 18. Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything big or little contrary to the command of Hashem. So stay here overnight, and let me find out what else Hashem may say to me. That night, God came to Barlaam and said to him, if these agents have come with you, you may go with them. And then we segue into the whole story of Balaam being on the donkey, on the ass going to see the King, and this donkey appears in front of him. But let us stop right here. Rabbi, do you think it’s strange that whenever Bilaam is talking to the people, he wants to influence, the people he wants to impress, That he refers to God as Hashem, the Jewish God. And when he talks to God, the text and you assume him refers to God by the generic name. Is there a lesson there?

Adam Mintz  05:05

Well, you know, let’s take a step back and let’s try to evaluate what it means to be a prophet in the Torah, who’s not part of the Jewish people. It’s a unique situation. The prophets we know were all Jews, the prophets we know in the Torah, the prophets, we know in the later books of the Bible, they’re all Jews. What build on doing being a prophet? How can he be a prophet? Why does God choose to speak to Bilaam? And it seems to be and it’s hard to know, but it seems to be that the point of the tow HR is that God chooses people from the many nations of the world to spread God’s message to different people. And if that’s true, it’s not surprising that when Bilaam, speaks about God, he refers to God as the Jewish God, because his role is to spread the Jewish God’s word to other people. That’s a very, very interesting idea, just kind of theologically, that there is such a person to spread God’s message to the world.

Geoffrey Stern  06:22

In my mind, you give you give Balaam too much credit. In other words, he might have ended up as a prophet, and I refer to the beautiful blessing, the curse that became a blessing that he preached the famous מַה־טֹּ֥בוּ אֹהָלֶ֖יךָ יַעֲקֹ֑ב, how goodly are the tents of Jacob, that you find in pretty much every sanctuary. So he ended up being a Jewish prophet, or a prophet that spoke well of the Jews and delivered. And I guess if that’s the point, if he’s a prophet, he delivered God’s message. But I don’t think he did that intentionally. And so I think I take your question to be really, whether he was a prophet of the non-Jews. And of course, I think sometimes we confuse prophecy with someone who predicts the future, from the true prophet, which is the Jeremiah, that we’ll be hearing in a few weeks, in Lamentations, the conscience of God, the nagging guilt deliverer who puts you on the straight path, and can bless you. But I think that the first question you asked, and I took it to be, can a non-Jew be a prophet for his own people? For others, I do think that we do have examples of, for instance, a Job. We have an instance of a Jethro, where, in Jefro’s case, he’s presented as a very good guy who gives good advice to Moses. So my answer to the first part of your question is, yes, clearly there are non-Jews who are given accelerated access to the Divine and can provide insight. I mean, would you agree to me on at that level?

Adam Mintz  08:24

Absolutely. would agree with you about that. Yes.

Geoffrey Stern  08:27

So then I think the next question is: was he a prophet of God? Or another way of saying that is, how does the Bible use these non-Jewish prophets? And I think, if we exclude Job for a second, I think if you look at Jethro and you look at Bilaam, it’s kind of like we Jews today, when a Jew does well wins a Nobel Prize, or when there’s a character in a book, a tale, who’s Jewish, because we’re a minority, somehow it validates us. And I think a large function of the non-Jews, certainly in the typos of Jethro and Bilaam is ultimately to validate the Jewish people. There’s a there’s a commentator, actually a translator of the Bible called Everett Fox. And he says that one of the functions of this story of a curse turning into a blessing right here is because in Numbers in the in the stories that we’ve been reading of Korach, and of the water, the Jews have just been punished; of the spies. They’ve just been one punishment after another, one curse after another. If you take: you will not go into the Promised Land as a curse. And this is to give us a little respite. This is according to Fox to show that curses can change into blessings. But whether that’s the case or not, I think certainly that the non-Jewish figurehead or prophet who does good things for the Jewish people, validates us. And that’s why it’s worthwhile putting them into a sacred text.

Adam Mintz  10:19

I would agree that 100% Actually, I want to talk about both those things, you know, the idea that that those who you bless will be blessed, and those who you curse will be cursed, is actually a phrase that used twice in the Torah. It’s used concerning Bilaam. In this week, parish shot, and it’s used continuing Abraham at the beginning of the Torah, right, God says to Abraham, those who you bless will be blessed, and those who you curse will be cursed. That’s so interesting that the Jewish puppet and the non-Jewish prophet have the same power, that is that those who you bless will be blessed, and those who curse will be cursed. That’s a unique thing to this prophet. We don’t find that anyplace else. You talk about Job. You talk about Jethro, but we don’t have that idea, the idea that it flips, what they say, flips is an amazing idea, isn’t it?

Geoffrey Stern  11:19

Yeah, absolutely. And the idea of it flipping giving it power, giving it more power than had it not flipped. Because it was supposed to be a curse, and it became a blessing that makes it that much more effective. No question, no question about it. And it’s like, when you preach to the choir, that’s not necessarily such a great sermon. But when you preach to people who aren’t in the choir, and they listen, that’s a little bit, I think of what we have here. So, I want to get back a little bit to the choice of names of God. And when I first read it, my first impulse was, you know, it’s like, if you want to get access to the president, let’s use our present president as an example. And you say, Do you know the President, you go, Joe, Joe, and I go way back. When you go into the room, it’s Mr. President. And so I think there’s a little bit of that, it’s clear to me that Elokim is and we can, we’re going to talk a little bit about what we Jews do to these words, we say Elokim, we don’t say Elohim. But Elohim is God. It’s a generic word. We can refer to other gods as Elohim Aherim, other gods and it ultimately comes from the word power, El and some people make a case that the word Allah in Arabic, is similar. It comes from the same shoresh, if you will, and it means the Godhead, but Yud Hey vav Hey, those four letters put together that our tradition says no one, but the Cohen Gadol pronounces on the highest holy day of the year in the Holy of Holies. That’s clearly a reference to the particular god of the Jewish people. And I think at the most basic level, that’s what’s happening here. And it’s kind of fun from a literary perspective, because it’s giving you insight through the word choice of what Bilaam is trying to do. He’s trying to make himself like, yeah, I talked to a Hashem all the time, you know, and let me go in there, and you sleep on it tonight, and I’m going to talk to my buddy, Hashem. Do you think there’s part of that here?

Adam Mintz  13:45

There’s no question. As part of that. Let me just go back to the beginning of what you said. So first of all, the word Elohim, you’re right. It’s not a special word. You know, Elohim Acherim more than that. The Torah in Parshat Misppatim uses the word Elohim to refer to judges. Also people of power, judges are called Elohim. You know, what’s interesting about the yud hay vav hey name is that it’s not pronounced the way it’s spelled. It’s a mysterious name. You know, it’s that you’re not allowed to refer to them by their names. You know, that’s exactly what you said about Mr. President. I always think of that in terms of the queen. The queen doesn’t have a name. If I asked you what’s the family name of the royal family? Nobody knows the family name of the royal family because they don’t have a name. They’re just no known as royalty, Queen and Prince, all those kinds of things. Right. So the idea of having mystery in a name gives the name a certain amazing power to it, doesn’t it?

Geoffrey Stern  14:59

It does So on one level, it’s an amazing power. And on the other hand, it really has a sense of intimate friendship. And you know, I once heard and I didn’t have a chance to, to find this out if anyone in the audience knows for sure. The answer to this, I’d love to hear it. But I once heard that in Islam. The preference is when you speak a language other than Arabic, that you refer to who they refer to as Allah, you refer to as God, because they don’t want you to think that the word Allah is like a name they too believe that God has no name. But what that does in a sense, is it illuminates a strange fact that because we use the word Hashem, which, you know, and I know means the name, and is literally continuing on this tradition of he has no name. When we say Hashem, or when a kitd in cheder says Hashem is going to help me with my homework tonight. It’s our best friend. And in a sense, that is kind of defeated. The, the meaning and the purpose of God not having a name, …. now he has a nickname. Now he’s your closest buddy. But it’s an insight into what bilaam did. Bilaam used the ability to say the Hebrew word for the God as a way of trying to show his intimacy when the curtain closed. We know God knew, Bilaam them knew there was no intimacy there, we went back to God. Elohim

Adam Mintz  16:47

You’re really playing on a very interesting idea. And that is the tension between intimacy with God. And the fact that God is mysterious and scary, and far away. Isn’t that an interesting kind of tension. And maybe that’s the tension that we have with God. You know, when we when we make a bracha (blessing), we say Baruch atah hashem…. We don’t usually think about this, but actually the tense changes, Baruch, bless be Atah is you….  were talking directly to God, we refer to God as you, that’s personal. And then we go back to a HaShem, which is in the third person. So we talk to God both personally. And in the third person, we ourselves every single time we make a Bracha, we have that tension.

Geoffrey Stern  17:49

Absolutely. And I think the word I was looking for is the word you chose personal. It’s a personal name. So let’s move on a little bit. For anyone who has ever studied the Bible at academic levels. They all know that there was this theory called the Documentary Hypothesis, and that was in broad strokes that the Bible was edited at the time of Ezra probably, and combined multiple manuscripts. And the names for those manuscripts. One is E for Elohim, and the other is the P , the priestly code. And the they make a distinction between texts that use the word Elohim. And J is the other another text that is Jehovah is Hashem. And we’re gonna get to them in a second. But for those of you who have listened to the podcast before, you know that I believe heartily, that modern scholarship has never discovered anything that the rabbi’s didn’t already recognize. So if I would normally say to you, Rabbi, when the Torah speaks, in and uses the term Elohim. And when it uses the word Hashem, is it referring to something different? Or are they synonyms? What would your typical response be?

Adam Mintz  19:21

My typical response is that they’re synonyms.

Geoffrey Stern  19:23

(laughs) So you didn’t fall for my trap.

Adam Mintz  19:31

We can discuss it on, you know, on a deeper level. But you asked me what my first instinct is, my first instinct is that God has different names, Shadai is the name of God, HaShem is the name of God. Elohim is the name of God. Sometime it’s Hashem Elohim. There are different ways to refer to God. It’s all the same name. Okay, so I actually I think I ended up in your place, but I want to go through the rabbinic traditions and One of the rabbinic traditions and it’s all over, but I’m going to quote Sifrei Devarim כל מקום שנאמר ה’ זו מדת רחמים, and כל מקום שנא’ אלקים זו מדת הדין whenever the word God is used as Hashem the personal name of the Jewish God, it is the attribute of mercy. And whenever it is used as Elohim, just God, it is the attribute of strict justice. And that segues a little bit into what we were saying before that even Bilaam was aware of when he wanted to show that he had an inside track to the Godhead, He would use Hashem, which is the Midat HaRachamum, because you come from the rechem, because you come from the womb, because you have a relationship. And when he was in the room, and the facade came off, he knew he had to speak with God, and God was going to tell him the straight truth, Din, and you know, if you look at the first chapters of Bereshit and this is why the biblical critics that are documentarists will say that there are different accounts of creation, that were coming from different texts from different collections, the beginning of creation is Elohim. Midat HaDin or the E document, and then it moves into Yud Hey Vav Hey. And so in Bereshit Rabbah, it says as follows. So to the Holy One of blessing said, If I create the world with the attribute of compassion alone, no one be concerned with the consequences with the attribute of justice alone, how would the world stand rather Behold, I created with both the attribute of judgment and compassion. So if you remember in our segment on Challah, first Gods creates it with the Midat ha’din, strict justice, and then Man is created, and we mix the two together. So it seems to me that the rabbi’s 100% was sensitive to ways in which the representation of God and I’ll agree to you, Rabbi that they might be synonyms. But I think you’ll agree with me that Say what you will, the Yud Hey Vav hey is personal to the Jews, it would never be used to describe other gods, it would never be used to describe gods of other nations. So that you’ll give me. Yes, I’ll give you that.

Geoffrey Stern  22:30

And so there we do have contiguity here, and to answer the biblical critics will say, yes, it’s conscious. You can learn lessons from it, you don’t have to ignore it. Whether that means that there are different documents or the texts are written in slightly different voices, from a different perspective, which the same author could obviously do, that you can discuss amongst yourselves.

Adam Mintz  23:23

I will accept that. I think that that is probably right. You know, it’s interesting that we’re having this conversation regarding Bilaam. You know, you talk about how he refers to God, it’s Bilaam. You know, how does Moshe refer to God, when he talks to God? You know, the Torah tells us that Moshe had a unique relationship with God, Pe el Pe b’mareh v’lo bechidot says that Moshe talked to God. Like we talk to one another. We look at each other in the eye, we look at each other, mouth to mouth Moshe spoke to God. Now Bilaam didn’t have that relationship with God, I don’t think and therefore, it was a whole different kind of experience, wasn’t it?

Geoffrey Stern  24:16

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And again, I think that that comes through when he has to change the way he talks when he’s in the inner sanctum so to speak. He might make it sound like he can speak to God like a Moses or an Aaron. But when we get privy to the private conversation, it’s a one way conversation. And when he addresses it’s Elokim. It’s God. So I think it’s there and I think it helps us understand the text. I looked up some of the great scholars who addressed things like the documentary theory, and they say, there are those who then come to a portion like ours, and they Try to figure it out, they actually try to make the case that all verses that I talked about the inside and the outside ones are different texts combined. And I think if anything, our story here shows the fallacy of that, it does confirm that you can make a distinction based on how God is referred to about the situation. I mean, I must say in the source sheet, you will find Shadal, Shmuel David lezzato and he takes this historically to Rome. And he says many nations when they conquer another nation, they not only take their God, but they bring it back to Rome, and they set up a temple for that god. So he puts it into the context of, of a Bilaam, trying to colonize to hijack to, engage in cultural imperialism….  without permission, the Hashem, the Jehovah so to speak, and I think that’s a fascinating insight as well, but at least Shadal was focused on the question that I had. Not a lot of other traditional commentaries comment on this back and forth ping pong between the use of the two names of God, which I, I must say surprised me.  I think, you know, in terms of what you said that your sense is that they were used interchangeably. If you look at Psalms 47, 6 it says, עָלָ֣ה אֱ֭לֹקִים בִּתְרוּעָ֑ה ה’ בְּק֣וֹל שׁוֹפָֽר God ascends amidst acclamation the Lord to the blasts of the Horn. That is your position. They are you they are synonymous, they are used interchangeably. And even in our own portion, when Bilaam, finally gets around to a blessing the Jewish people he, he does the following. He says in 23, No harm is in sight for Jacob, No woe in view for Israel. Their God ה’ is with them,. So he interchanges Yaakov with Yisrael, we would totally get that. And then he says Hashem Elokav, he puts them together. So I think you’re absolutely right. That’s why I say at the end of the day, I agree with you that ultimately they are synonyms. But there are nuances involved with being synonymous one with the other. And I think that is kind of fascinating. The really fascinating thing that I’d like to discuss is that the Talmud believes that all Parsha, especially the part that deals with a Bilaam is a book in of itself. In the Talmud in Baba Batra, it says The baraita now considers the authors of the biblical books: And who wrote the books of the Bible? Moses wrote his own book, i.e., the Torah, and the portion of Balaam in the Torah, and the book of Job.  It says מֹשֶׁה כָּתַב סִפְרוֹ וּפָרָשַׁת בִּלְעָם And the book of Job. So we’ve discussed this before, we always think of a parsha, as what you read in the Torah that week. But the Parsha here is not parshat Balak  It’s parshat Bilaam. It’s a literary segment. And the rabbi’s for whatever reason, and that’s one of the reasons I chose this story, to talk about documentary theory and the belief that the Torah is a combination of different documents, is for whatever reason, maybe because, as you started by saying, What’s a non-Jewish prophet doing in a book like this, they made this into a separate book. What do you make of that? What did they accomplish? What did they achieve? And does it relate at all to our wider discussion?

Adam Mintz  24:16

It might, because I think that the rabbi’s who said that the book of Bilaam is a separate book are bothered by how you can have a non-Jewish prophet. You see, you talked about Job, and you talked about Jethro, Job and Jethro, are not portrayed as prophets. They may have spoken to God. Here Bilaam is a prophet. He is called on by the king to curse the Jewish people. He is plugged into God, we would say the following we would say that he somehow has God’s cell phone number, right? That he knows how to access God and Balaam knew that and because Balak knew that he wanted to take advantage of Bilaam. Isn’t that right? Yeah. Isn’t that what it’s all about? It’s about having someone’s cell phone number. If you have God’s cell phone number, then you’re really in good shape.

Geoffrey Stern  30:03

I think so. And the manifestation that we see it in the text is this use of God. And I want to get back as we finish up to to that kind of concept when we Jews use the word Hashem, which really just means we don’t know his name, he’s not my best friend, I don’t have his cell phone number, I call him the name. But what it means in reality is he is my best friend, he’s my, I call HaShem. And we do G-D, as something that is specifically what Jews do. Again, the G-D should be removing us from saying that this word means more than it is. And in a sense, we make it into something that is very personal. And I think that is a kind of a fascinating takeaway into the use of God’s name in real life. And in reality, where do you stand with the G-D?

Adam Mintz  31:06

I don’t think that’s necessary. I mean, plenty of people do it. But you know, the idea is that it’s only Yud Hey Vav Hey  that’s not allowed to be written. That’s the special name of God, the translation of God’s name doesn’t really have sanctity in the same way. Yeah, means I got it. I understand why they do it. But I think that that’s an unnecessary stringency.

Geoffrey Stern  31:27

And I think possibly to a degree when the other monotheistic religions were born, and they were basically talking about the same God, we had to find out or make a way of keeping that distinctiveness nonetheless, and maybe that had something to do with it. I couldn’t find it. But I’ve got to believe in the last year, I actually saw an article written by evangelical Christian and it used G-D. I don’t know whether that’s a thing or not. But it is kind of fascinating how we try to parlay the way we use God’s name to translate into a representation of our relationship to God. And I think that’s kind of a fascinating takeaway of our story. I think the other fascinating takeaway from the story is all their different voices in the Torah, I think the answer is yes. You can say whatever you want about why the rabbi said that, our Pasha, or parts of our Pasha, were a book by themselves. It’s fascinating that Moses wrote them anyway. Moses, it says, wrote his book, Moses wrote, The Balaam and he wrote the book of Job, and then Joshua wrote his book. But I do think that we can all agree there are different voices. And it doesn’t matter if it’s from the same author or multiple authors, whether it was written at one time or over time, whether part of that is reflection on our voice and our hearing. But as I always say, the most academic reading of the of the Bible and the rabbinic reading of the Bible in traditional reading the Bible don’t need to be at odds.

Adam Mintz  33:26

I think that’s right. This is a great topic. And I think it really you know, adds a lot of different levels to our understanding of the parsha. So enjoy the parish everybody we look forward to next week, joining you again as we start the three weeks and we start with Parshat Pinchas be well everybody Shabbat Shalom, enjoy

Geoffrey Stern  33:45

Shabbat shalom. B’ezrat Hashem, we’ll see you all next week. Looking forward

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Murder in the Desert

parshat Chukat, numbers 20

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on July 7th 2022 on Clubhouse. In a parsha dedicated to death and with much attention on the enigmatic law of the Red Heifer we also witness the death of Moses and his siblings; the primary protagonists of the Exodus. Miriam dies in two verses and Moses and Aaron are sentenced to death with Aaron quickly dispatched. Which leads to the age-old question: Who Done it and why?

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/417920

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 parsha is dedicated to death and with much attention on the enigmatic law of the Red Heifer. But we also witness the death of Moses and his siblings; the primary protagonists of the Exodus. Miriam dies in two verses and Moses and Aaron are sentenced to death with Aaron quickly dispatched. Which leads to the age-old question: Who Done it and why? So welcome to Murder in the Desert.

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So, this year, as I’m going through the parshiot the second time, I tend to go to the second half and realize that there’s a sequence and there’s a connection, as tenuous as it sometimes is. And as I said in the intro, last year, we talked about this enigmatic law of the Red Heifer for which is used when any Israelite comes into contact with death in any aspect. And we discussed it last year. It’s fascinating. But then the very next chapter Numbers 20 Verse number 1 says, and the Israelites arrived in a body at the wilderness of zin on the first moon, and the people stayed at Kadesh. Miriam died there and was buried there. And then it begins with the next crisis, which is there was no water. But Rashi on that verse says, Why is this section narrating the death of Miriam placed immediately after the section treating of the red halfa? And he answers to suggest to you the following comparison, what is the purpose of the sacrifices, they affect atonement, so too does the death of the righteous effect atonement, מִיתַת צַדִּיקִים מְכַפֶּרֶת. So we’ve been spending a lot of time on sacrifices. And of course, that is the segue; the red heifer is part of the sacrificial cult, and Rashi is disturbed by why is the death of Miriam and we’ll see in a second the death of Aaron, put right next to this story of the Red Heifer. I think the question is as good as any answer you could give. The question is telling us that there is a connection, that you don’t just have a death without there being meaning to that death, you don’t have a death in terms of its placement without there being lessons to be learned. And his particular lesson is that just as when we sacrifice an animal, we are trying to somehow parlay that into acceptance of repentance. When we lose somebody very dear or in this case a Tzadik or Tzadekus, a female righteous person, that kind of bodes well for us. But what intrigues you more the question or the answer, Rabbi?

Adam Mintz  03:27

Well, the answer is very interesting that the death of the righteous somehow atone. I mean, that sounds very Christian to me. Right. So, I think we I think I think we need to, to own it, to kind of call it as it is, and say the idea the answer is really problematic, unless we say that the Jews had it first, that that’s our idea that the death of the righteous somehow atones. And the Christians took it from us. Now first of all, that would be interesting, historically. But I think religiously, we have to figure out what does that actually mean? What does it mean, the death of righteous atone? I mean, that’s a pretty harsh statement, …. there’s a big question, obviously, about why bad things happen to good people. And you know, there’s no good answer to that question. One of the bad answers to that question is that the death of the righteous atones, and because the death of the righteous atones, so therefore, you know, somehow there’s a reason for the righteous to die. So, you know, that’s, where that’s coming from. The question is whether we’re satisfied with that approach.

Geoffrey Stern  04:37

So I’m willing to discuss that I love the connection that you made with Christianity, and I would go even further and make a connection with Islam as well. In terms of the founding fathers, the seminal leadership is taken away and look at it from that perspective as well. Yes, we can talk about somehow, we’ve always accepted as a Christian notion that the death of the Savior somehow redeems all of mankind. And we talked a little bit about that, even when we discussed the Akedat Yitzchok (The Sacrifice of Isaac). Then there are those Midrashim that says he was actually sacrificed and brought back to life. We’ve had this sense of where the tribe of Israel put their hands on the Leviim וְסָמְכ֧וּ בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל אֶת־יְדֵיהֶ֖ם עַל־הַלְוִיִּֽם and gave them certain powers, we have that with the Sir L’Azazel, the goat that on Yom Kippur gets thrown over the rugged mountain with the sins of the Jewish people, you get this kind of sense of transference, where somehow you can transfer your liability on to something or somebody else. And that’s a very strong tradition. And I think you’re absolutely correct. That probably, or for sure, Christianity took that from us. And I would also say on the rebound, almost for sure. We sublimated it, we made that kind of concept. “Oh, that’s Christian. That’s not us.” But what I want to talk about because it kind of follows the story a little bit, is that when we get to Aaron, we’re gonna find out that Aaron and Moses did something wrong. And that’s why Aaron is told his life is at an end. In the case of Miriam, you really have to dig, you have to go back way back to the earlier Numbers. 12, where if you recall, Miriam and Aaron, are speaking against Moses and his Kushite wife. And they basically said, Has God spoken only through Moses? הֲרַ֤ק אַךְ־בְּמֹשֶׁה֙ דִּבֶּ֣ר ה. And that resonates with us a little bit from Korach’s argument last week, there seems to be two things that bother the Jewish people in the desert. One is food, or drink. And we have that in this week’s parsha. But the other thing is רַב־לָכֶם֒, you’ve taken too much upon yourself. It’s kind of like we benefit from our leaders, and then we destroy them. Do you think there’s that thread as well here?

Adam Mintz  07:38

You know, that’s interesting that we benefit from our leaders and then we destroy them. That you know, that’s a lack of gratitude. That’s a very interesting idea that we don’t appreciate what we have. Now, the Jews of the desert. This is a little a little far afield, but it’s important for the general discussion. The Jews of the desert, don’t appreciate God, and they don’t appreciate their leaders, right? They complain about God, you know, God splits the sea. And the first thing they do is they complain that we don’t have water. When we don’t have water. Obviously, if God splits the sea, he can give them water, but it doesn’t matter. They don’t appreciate what they have. And they don’t appreciate Moshe that’s the story last week of Korach, that they don’t appreciate Moshe. So, they have these leaders, they benefit from the leaders, but then they complain about the leadership. That’s an important thing. Now that’s not exactly the same thing as the fact that their death atones. Let’s take a step back. Who does the death atone for? Geoffrey, you mentioned the rabbinic statement then מִיתַת צַדִּיקִים מְכַפֶּרֶת Who exactly does it atone for? Does it atone for the person who dies? Does it atone for the people? What exactly is it? You should know that there’s some Midrash, I don’t know where it is that says that in every generation, there are 10 children, innocent children who died and that that atones for the entire generations. I mean, that’s a very hard statement to make. Because how could you say that that there should be some kind of justifications for the fact that children would die.

Geoffrey Stern  09:16

What makes the Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer such an enigma is typically said in the following phrase שתטהר הטמאים ותטמא הטהורים, it makes the impure pure, and it defiles the pure; the priest who’s in charge of doing it, he himself becomes impure. And one of the takeaways that I took from that is that somehow this sense of kapara (purification) is a zero-sum game meaning to say that it’s like the transfer of energy, of pouring water from one glass to another. You know, we love to say The reason why Torah is compared to a light; is a light you can light and you can spread it without diminishing from the flame. But the way it treats purity, in a sense almost feels like it’s zero sum that if I have it you don’t. And if I give it to you, there’s a vacuum with me and I become impure. And my read on those 10 tzadikim, the ten pure children my read on the the sacrifices that they do in the temple and my read certainly on the tzadikim who are Michaperet, is that there is this transference. And we’re going to talk a little bit about Freud later, but it is a psychoanalytic concept where you transfer what you have, you expiate somehow on to something else, and then somehow you feel pure. And I do think that’s the basis of it.

Adam Mintz  10:58

Well, of course, that’s the idea of the of the goat that sent to Azazel, that’s sent to the desert and thrown off the cliff. And then the Jewish people are relieved of their sins on Yom Kippur war? Obviously, that’s the source of this whole idea. But that’s a goat. That’s not a person.

Geoffrey Stern  11:18

Well, absolutely. So let’s tack back a little bit to this concept of killing our leaders after they give us something and you said it lacks of Hakarat Tov of recognition of the good that we’re getting. So Rashi on Numbers 20: 2 says as follows There was no water for the congregation. Since this statement follows immediately after the mention of Miriam’s death. We may learn from it that during the entire 40 years, they had the well through Miriam’s merit. הַבְּאֵר בִּזְכוּת מִרְיָם. And of course, we nowadays have many songs with Miriam, the prophetess, and the relationship that she has to song and the timbrel, but also to the water. And unlike Aaron and Moses, that have someone to take up the charge, Moses famously has Joshua. And Aaron we’ll see in a few verses, has his son; Eleazar, Miriam, as I said, in the intro she dies in two verses. That in itself is tragic. But what’s amazing is that she when she dies, there’s something missing. When Aaron dies, they mourn. When Moses dies, they mourn, but when Miriam dies, they lose water, they lose water. And I think that is kind of fascinating because the next whole narrative in our parsha deals with the ramifications of them complaining about not having water, losing the water and then we’ll see in a few verses what Moses and Aaron did that got them into such trouble.

Adam Mintz  13:08

I think all this is good. I think that that’s good. I love the transference I love I love the Freudian transference idea. I think that if we can really prove that the toe rough where the rabbis have that idea of transference I think we can we can move Freud back about 3,000 years we’ll really have accomplished something today.

Geoffrey Stern  13:26

[Laughs] Very good. I liked that. I liked that a lot. So, in Numbers 20:  7 – 13. It has another famous story. And it says And God spoke to Moses saying you and your brother Aaron take the rod and assemble the community and before their very eyes order the rock to yield its water. Thus you shall produce water for them from the rock and provide drink for the congregation and their beasts. Moses took the rod from before God as He had been commanded. Moses and Aaron assembled the congregation in front of them and said to them, Listen, you rebels. Shall we get water for you out of this rock and Moses raised his hand and struck the rock …. twice with his rod. Out came copious water in the community and they are beasts drank. But God said to Moses and Aaron because you did not trust me enough to affirm my sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead the congregation into the land that I have given them. Those are the waters of Meribah meaning that the Israelites quarreled with God, whose sanctity was affirmed through them. And this is why I put the title of this podcast as Murder on the Desert, because it’s starting to sound a lot like Agatha Christie. First Miriam dies. Now we have Aaron and Moses within seconds and associated with the same issue of water, and they are told they too will die in an untimely fashion, if you consider not going into the promised land, which was their whole mission, an untimely fashion. So that’s why it seemed to me and I was struck by the key protagonists of the Exodus from Egypt, are given a death sentence in this parsha, and within a few verses of each other, it’s like the whole leadership of the whole people in one fell swoop in one chapter is knocked out. Well, don’t forget that last week, their leadership was questioned. So, you know, when your leadership is questioned, and that’s interesting, just in terms of, you know, today, Boris Johnson resigned, you know, when your leadership is questioned, that’s often the beginning of the end, right? You read the stories about Boris Johnson, you know, it started with a controversy, and then all of a sudden, he’s not the Prime Minister anymore, you know, and Korach questions, Moshe’s leadership, and all of a sudden, the next parsha they sin and they lose their leadership. It’s not by accident, it just didn’t just happen. Now, maybe Moshe and Aaron are frustrated, because their leadership was questioned, and therefore they lose their cool in a way that they would not have lost their cool had their leadership not been questioned. That in itself is a possibility and interesting, but I think the connection between these two parshas is very, is very, you know, significant. And again, we always look at the Kodak story, thank you for bringing it up. As what was wrong with Korach, what did he say that had no merit. But here we go. We have the same argument with Miriam and Aaron, questioning Moses, leadership in the in the beginning of the book of Numbers, we have it through the mouth of Korach. And here, we have basically God questioning their leadership to the extent that for whatever reason, and we can get into the minutiae of was it that he hit it was it that he hit it twice. But ultimately, the bottom line is that Moses and Aaron, were told, you’re not going to finish this job. You know, you can, you can take so many lessons from this, you can say, You know what it says in Perkei Avot,  לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמֹר, וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה, the job is not on each one of us to finish. And I think Martin Luther King Jr. made this case the most, he says, I’ve been to the mountaintop, and I might not finish it. And that’s always been one takeaway. And you could say what I said earlier, which is somehow we kill our leaders, maybe to expiate, in the sacrificial tradition. And maybe just because we have this, I don’t know, a difficult relationship with our leaders, we respect them, but in a sense, we feel they detract from our own identity. It’s kind of all here, and I’d love to hear your comments on that. But I’m gonna go right from here into what Freud actually did say about the death of Moses in the desert. But do you agree with me that it sounds so many different levels here?

Adam Mintz  18:19

I agree with you. I think this is the time to transition into Freud. Let’s see what Freud says, let’s try to pull the whole thing together. Good.

Geoffrey Stern  18:25

Good. So, in a book that he wrote in 1956, it was the last book that he wrote, it was called Moses and Monotheism. And he made two radical statements, I would say, three radical statements in it. The first thing that he did, and we’ve touched upon this before, is in the tradition of all of Greek and Roman mythology, where Romulus and Remus are, the children of the king, or exiled, have to fight their way back like Odysseus does. And then re-claim they’re titled, he said, something doesn’t work with the Moses story because Moses is not brought up by royalty and exiled to live with the slaves. He’s raised as a slave and then exiled to live with royalty. So, I think that makes our Bible unique Freud says that you don’t break any rules of mythology. He says, number one, Moses was an Egyptian. Number two, he was an in very enlightened Egyptian, and he was the one who came up with the idea of monotheism. And he took this rabble of Israelites into the desert. And like any good leader, he taught them these rules of against idolatry and all that and all they wanted to do is to go back to Egypt and eat their watermelons. And at the end of the day, what he preached was too much and they murdered him. And I want to focus on the murdering him part. Because usually as radical as a statement as you’ll make about, our texts, you’ll normally find a tradition like that in the text itself. And you really have to scratch your head to find something along those lines. We’re jumping a little bit ahead. But in our Parsha, after Moses and Aaron are condemned to death, it actually says that they took Aaron up out Aaron gathered his kins. And he told him I can’t go into the land of Israel. I’ve disobeyed Him. And they went with his son Elazar to the top of Mount Har. And it goes on and it says, And all the congregation saw that Aaron had died. And Rashi says, when they saw Moses and Elezar decending and that Aaron was not descending with them, they said, Where then is Aaron? He replied to them, he is dead. They thereupon said, Is it possible that a man who stood up against the angel and stayed the plague should die? And that’s why it says “in front of all the congregation”, Moses at once offered prayer, and ministering angels showed him (Aaron) lying upon the bier, and they believed, so I don’t want to drive the stake too low in this. But certainly, what it shows is that there was controversy over Aaron dying, all of a sudden, there were questions that were being asked here, Moses and Aaron go up, and only Moses comes down. So, it’s not, I think, outlandish to say that questions could have been asked by those of less faith, as to why Aaron, died. And of course, we all know putting on our Agatha Christie hats again, that Moses died in an unmarked grave, there was no habeas corpus they never produced the body for Moses. So, I think what the theory is, is something that potentially you could argue on a literary level as well, if you’re writing a book, or you have a series, and all of a sudden you do away with one of the characters. Okay, so you’re not murdering them. But you’re terminating them. And I do think that we have a right, with the suggestion of Freud to look at our texts. And think in terms of why was Miriam, Aaron, and Moses terminated? And that’s how I would like to rephrase Freud’s question, if you will, or statement, if you will, saying that they were terminated.

Adam Mintz  22:45

Right. Okay, so that’s really good. I mean, what you’re really doing is you’re saying, usually, when we think about Freud, Moses and Monotheism, you kind of get caught up in the fact that he says Moses was murdered. And it Torah doesn’t say Moses was murdered. So therefore, he’s making up the story. So, who cares about Freud’s story, but what you are saying is, leave that aside, don’t get caught up in that. Let’s talk about the fact that Moses is terminated, an airman is terminated and Miriam is terminated. Why are the leaders terminated? Why is it important that they’re they don’t reach their goal, and that they’re terminated? Now, this question is more complicated, because in the book of Devarim, Moses asked God, at least twice to be led into the land, you know, Moses, who put his life on the line so many times for the Jewish people, he asked God a little favor? And the answer is, he can’t even get that favor. And if you want to even go further than that, Moses wasn’t even buried in the Land. Right? At least you would say, you know, today when somebody dies, and they want to be buried in the Land, we put them on El Al, and they’re buried in the Land. But Moses didn’t even get that there was no El Al, but they didn’t take Moses into the land. Joseph, who dies in Egypt, they take him into the land, they carry him through the desert, they take him into the land and Kever Yoseph you know, the grave of Joseph is somewhere there on the West Bank, there is a grave of Joseph so that He was buried in the Land, Why did Moses get that benefit to be buried in the Land. So, he really is terminated, if you want to use the word in a cruel kind of way.

Geoffrey Stern  24:14

So picking up on this termination from a literary sense that he was dropped from the sequel, so to speak, in our portion and now portion contains a lot but this is kind of fascinating. In the next episode, the Jews are moving on and they reach out to the king of a Edom. And they say that we’d like to pass through you. We are going to stay on the Kings Road. We’re not going to take any food or water. And in his introduction, what Moses says by way of introduction, and he says as follows in Numbers 20: 15-16, He says our ancestors went down to Egypt that we dwelt in Egypt for a long time. And then he says, and we cry to Hashem who heard our plea, sending a messenger who freed us from Egypt. And it says, וַיִּשְׁלַ֣ח מַלְאָ֔ךְ וַיֹּצִאֵ֖נוּ מִמִּצְרָ֑יִם. So, Rashi says, a messenger, this was Moses. From this, we may learn that the prophets are termed angels. Iban Ezra was said, this is to be taken literally, it’s actually a real angel. And for those of you who know the Haggadah, the Haggadah in the first fruits decoration, we say and the Lord took us out of Egypt, not through an angel, not through a Seraph and not through a messenger, but directly by the Holy One, blessed behave, it goes on, I will pass through the land of Egypt, I am not an angel. And that of course always elicits the discussion. Why is Moses not mentioned in the Haggadah? So, I am making a case rabbi, that even in the beginning of this conversation, where we start repeating to other nations and people and then to ourselves, all of a sudden, we start to lose Moses, all of a sudden, now a discussion is being made, when you say, a messenger took us out, was that angel? Was it Moses, and the Haggadah maybe the result of a response to Christianity and Islam that had charismatic leaders, and they wanted to downplay the role of Moses, but in a sense, he was terminated in history too. And I think that is absolutely fascinating.

Adam Mintz  26:43

That is absolutely fascinating. And your connection to Christianity and Islam is also fascinating that the Jewish people moved away from charisma. Charisma became a bad word. It’s interesting in today’s world, you know, charismatic leadership, people are kind of suspicious of charismatic leadership, they’re worried that you know, what’s behind charismatic leadership, but what you’re going back is to is the ancient religions, and what you’re saying is that the charismatic leadership was problematic, or at least the Christians in the and the Muslims, they picked up on charismatic leadership. So, what Judaism did was they kind of tempered it, and Moses ism becomes less important. And the fact that Moses is not in the Haggadah is fascinating. And that is an attempt by the Rabbi’s, or the editors of the Haggadah, whomever they happen to be to temporal. Moses, his leadership, because it can’t be about Moses, because if it’s about charismatic leaders, then we’re all in big trouble.

Geoffrey Stern  27:39

So, in researching Moses and Monotheism and I love that book, from the first time that I read it, I found it so stimulating, I discovered that no less than Moshe Chaim Yerushalmi he wrote a book critiquing Freud’s whole approach on every level. But there is a guy named Mark Edmondson and I found an old article from the New York Times that I stuffed in my version of the Moses and Monotheism that I have in my library. And he talks about the third point that Freud makes. And the third point is that because the message that Moses gave was just too profound, too extreme for the Jewish people that he was, he was, yes, he was terminated. But then many years later, this enabled him the strength of that message, and the contrast to all of the cultures enabled to Jews to rediscover it. And at certain points in his book towards the end, he talks about this was the beginning of the power of ideas, that not only did we not have idols, we didn’t even have these charismatic, these icons of people that were bigger than life. And in a sense, that was his takeaway. And of course, Freud himself at the end of his days was starting to feel a little bit like Moses, because he had followers who will already started to eject his theory. So, I guess this was very personal for him. autobiographical, Moses is our father-figure at the end of the day, there is this deep-seated need, whether it’s Oedipal, and we want to kill our father or we want to distance ourselves from our parents and stand on our feet. This is as basic and as primal as it gets. And it’s all here in this this parsha that is dedicated to finding out how do we purify ourselves from the pull, the threat of death.

Adam Mintz  29:58

I think that’s great; I think Murder in the Desert. I think the idea of terminating I think connecting it to Freud. There’s a lot of, there’s a lot of food for thought here. And thank you, Geoffrey for these for these topics for these ideas. I wish everybody a Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem. I look forward to being back next week in New York back to our regular scheduled time at 8pm. New York Time Eastern Daylight Time, New York time and Shabbat Shalom to everybody and thank you, Geoffrey.

Geoffrey Stern  30:25

Shabbat Shalom, Nesia Tova, enjoy!

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/417920

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Milk and Money

parshat korach, numbers 16-18

Join Geoffey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on June 30th 2022 on Clubhouse as we take a fresh look at Korach’s rebellion. Dathan and Abiram refer to Egypt as a Land Flowing with Milk and Honey and defy Moses even were he to offer fields and vineyards in a land flowing with milk & honey. What does the Biblical “Flowing with Milk & Honey” mean?

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/416706

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform.  Today we we take a fresh look at Korach’s rebellion. Dathan and Abiram, Korach’s sons refer to Egypt as a Land Flowing with Milk and Honey and defy Moses even were he to offer fields and vineyards in a land flowing with milk & honey. What does the Biblical “Flowing with Milk & Honey” mean? Join us today’s episode: Milk and Money

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Well, welcome. You know, every week I try to figure out what am I going to talk about that we didn’t talk about last year. And last year, we talked about, the Midrash that said that cholera and all of the 250 Levites, showed up in a Talit She’kulo Techelet, in a garment that was all blue. And this year, I read the text afresh without any Midrashim, and I discovered, as you could tell in the intro, that there was something I had never noticed before. And it was a reference to what everybody knows is a namesake of the Land of Israel, “a land of milk and honey”. So we are in Numbers 16 and Korach obviously comes in front of Moses, and he started to rebellion. And the punchline of his rebellion is You have gone too far. רַב־לָכֶם֒. And he says, when did you raise yourselves above God’s congregation, מַדּ֥וּעַ תִּֽתְנַשְּׂא֖וּ עַל־קְהַ֥ל ה’ and Moses fell on his face. And Moses made a test that everybody should gather the next day with pans of incense. And whoever’s offering would be accepted, that would prove that God was on their side. And then we get to verse 12. And it says Moses sent for Moses sent for Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab. But they said, We will not come. So Moses asked for these guys to come and they wouldn’t come and the said as follows. Is it not enough that you brought us from a land flowing with milk and honey, to have us die in the wilderness, that you would also lord it over to us? Even even if you had brought us to a land flowing with milk and honey, and even if you had given us possession of fields and vineyards should you gouge out the eyes of those involved? We will not come.  So had you ever noticed this? I’m sure you had. But what do you make of the textual argument? Number one, I had never realized that the land of Egypt that you know we always refer to as the fleshpots of Egypt, where you could have watermelon and all of this stuff that it was referred to as a land flowing with milk and honey. And I never heard this argument where, it almost sounds like the lady does protest too much. When somebody says even if you offer me this, I will come you kind of get a sense of what bothers them. And they said even if you were to give us fields and vineyards and gouge out our eyes, we wouldn’t come. What do you make of all this?

Adam Mintz  04:11

Yeah, so that’s kind of funny. You know, when you rebel against somebody, sometimes the arguments aren’t logical. It’s interesting that you mentioned last year, how the rabbi’s try to make Korach’s argument very logical, you know, he says, You know, does, does a garment that’s all blue need tzitzit that are blue. That’s a house that’s fulfilled with Jewish books need a mezuzah? That’s very logical. But actually, if you look at the text, the text is the opposite. The argument that they make is not really very logical, because the argument that they make is really that, even if you would have given us good things, we still wouldn’t have come and you know what, that’s a lie. That’s just a lie. It’s not true. They want good things. What they don’t want is they don’t want Moses telling them what to do. So I think it’s interesting just to play the text against the rabbinic interpretation.

Geoffrey Stern  05:17

So I totally agree with you. But I literally am stepping back and I am just listening to what they say. And you know, I kind of joked and said, maybe the lady protest too much Me thinks from Shakespeare. But if you remember back when Abraham wanted to buy a burial place for his wife, Sarah, and he’s talking to a Hittite Prince called Ephron. And Ephron says, you know, take it for free, we want to give it to you. And Abraham’s constantly says, No, I want to buy it, I want to buy it. So Ephron finally says, My Lord listen to me a piece of land worth 400 shekels of silver, what’s that between me and you? And of course, that was a hefty sub, not a bargain. And Abraham settled for that amount. And I really think that the text in a literary fashion and historic fashion, is doing the same thing with Dathan and Aviram. And when they say, let’s forget about the reference to milk and honey, but when they say, even if you had given us possessions of fields and vineyards, we would not come. I learned from that, that that’s what’s bothering them. And of course, we’ve touched upon this many times on the podcast, that what makes the tribe of Levi and the Kohanim subset unique is that they did not have fields and vineyards, their portion was God’s. And I think that once you look at the argument from that perspective, and then you go back and even read רַב־לָכֶם֒ maybe that’s their arguments, they are protesting that Moses and Aaron made this ridiculous decision, in their mind, to forego the possession of fields and vineyards. And they’ve taken on too much. And they are holier than thou. And these guys want to have fields like everybody else. I’ve not seen anybody give this explanation. But what do you think of it? Rabbi?

Adam Mintz  07:36

I liked that explanation. Let’s go one step at a time. Who were they rebelling against? Are they rebelling against Moses or rebelling against Aaron, or rebelling against the whole system? I think there are three options.

Geoffrey Stern  07:51

Well, I mean, I think even if you say that we’re building against the whole system, since Aaron and Moses and God are part of the system, they’re rebelling against the whole shebang.

Adam Mintz  08:05

Right. I’m in agreement with you. I think that they’re rebelling against the whole shebang.

Geoffrey Stern  08:12

And I think for us moderns and even not so moderns even those under the influence of Greek democracy it’s very easy to say רַב־לָכֶם֒, you’ve taken too much, which is you have special rights and privileges and we should have that too. And of course for a Levi to make that argument it’s not as strong as an argument as with a Yisrael making it for a Levi saying to a Cohen you’re taking too much …. correct me if I’m wrong… yes, for Cohen has certain obligations and also privileges that outrank a LEVI So even if a Levi is eating food that is holy in sacrifice to him, he might take off Terumah …  a 10th and give it to the Cohen, but ultimately, he’s part of the same system so it’s kind of tenuous for a Levi to argue to a Cohen you know, why are you is so exclusive. I want to have all the privileges you have but God forbid I will be a Pushut Yisrael, a simple Israelite

Adam Mintz  09:21

Well, that’s that’s what’s interesting. They really want they want Aaron’s position, or Korach wants Aaron’s position. It’s almost as if he says Moshe, it’s okay. Moshe got when Moshe got but why did they why did they get two in the family? That’s not fair. See, what I’m really arguing is the nepotism comes in Aaron, not in Moshe. That’s my argument. Moshe is chosen by God. That goes back to the burning bush Aaron It sounds like maybe he’s chosen by Moses. And that’s not fair because Aaron’s his brother, I’m just raising that as an option.

Geoffrey Stern  10:09

Okay, so now I continue leading the posture, and for the rest of chapter 16 that we started with. And so the whole of chapter 17, it goes into what happens. So just to review quickly, the earth opens up, and the earth swallows, Korach, and his 250 co-rebels. And then God is still angry and says enough already with these people, and a plague begins. And now we’re getting hundreds and 1000s of other Israelites who are guilt by association… and then we get, and this blew me away to Numbers 18. And starting with Numbers 18: 8, it says God spoke further to Aaron. And he starts delineating exactly what privileges the tribe of Aaron gets. In verse 9, he says, this shall be used from the Most Holy sacrifices, the offerings by fire, every such offering that they render to me as most totally sacrifices, namely, every meal offering sin offering guilt offering of their shall belong, he says זֶֽה־יִהְיֶ֥ה לְךָ֛ מִקֹּ֥דֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁ֖ים. Same, basically, he’s saying, all of those things that I promised you, you still get. And then he goes on in 11. And he goes, This too shall be us the gift to offerings, the elevation offerings I gave to you and your wives, your sons into the daughters that are with you, as a due for all time, every one of your household. And then it continues in verse 13, the first fruits the Bikurim of everything in their land that they bring to God shall be yours, every one of your household who is pure may eat. And he goes on and he says, their meat shall be yours, it shall be yours, like the breast of elevation, so forth and so on. And it shall be an everlasting covenant of salt before God for you and for your offspring. And then he goes on to say in verse 20, and God said to Aaron, you shall, however, have no territorial share among them, while own any portion in their midst. I am your portion, and your share among the Israelites, and to the Levites. I hereby give all the types in Israel as their share in return for the services they perform the services of the tent of meeting. And finally, in verse 23, he says, but they shall have no territorial share among the Israelites לֹ֥א יִנְחֲל֖וּ נַחֲלָֽה. So I’m reading this from the context of this throwaway comment that that Datan and Aviram said, we’re even if you were to give us land, even if you were to give us vineyards, we wouldn’t come. And I interpret that to be the crux of their their complaint. And here at the end, the parsha ends with a formal delineation not only of what they have, but that they have no territory. To me. It’s a complete literary unit and it absolutely bakes the whole argument from beginning to end.

Adam Mintz  13:42

Yeah, that’s interesting. So what do you make of it? I like that. What do you make of that? So what is that? What happens to the argument?

Geoffrey Stern  13:51

So it seems to me that the argument is basically one of crass materialism that the Levites and Korach are saying you gave away too much, you were too holy. We also want territory, we also want vineyards, what have you done to us? And God Moses, Aaron rejects their claim. And we learned about the whole thing, as we will find out later on. There is a tradition that Datan and Aviram survived. We’ll get to that later. But for now, after all of that is done. This is the formal legislation about this amazing concept that we talked about for many times. Where in Egypt. The priests were the gods. The priests were the ultimate power. They had material power. They were the ones that Joseph didn’t take taxes from them. They had the honey; they had the milk. And they owned the afterlife, which is ultimately the final arbiter of power, especially if you look at the Catholic Church where it’s all about getting into the pearly gates. And here, the revolution of our people in the desert at Sinai was it took them from them, Moses and Aaron gave it freely. And Korach is giving one final rebellion against that. And here we have it resolved. So what do you take of my argument, Rabbi?

Adam Mintz  15:38

I think you say I think you argument is interesting. First of all, the rebellion, let’s kind of take a step back. I like your argument a lot.  The rebellion, so I raised the question whether the rebellion was against Moshe, or the rebellions against Aaron. My next question is, rebellions always reflect a weakness in the leadership? You only have a rebellion when the leader is weak? How does your argument relate to that? Are Moses and Aaron weak? And is that what Korach and Dotan and Aviram  are pushing they do they see a weakness? Do they see a problem? What do you think?

Geoffrey Stern  16:23

Look, I’m going to cut it short, because I want to hear from Nachum. But I think whenever you have a revolutionary movement, ultimately, you get to a point where there’s a falling out. And the inner group breaks apart, whether it’s a Trotsky and a Lenin. And I think this is a revolutionary idea. I think the weakness of the idea is how radical it is. And I think that Korach is showing us ….. that’s the importance of cola. He is the straw dummy, who shows us just how radical a move it was, by God, by the Toba, by by Moses and Aaron. Nachum, welcome to the Bimah!

Neil (Nachum) Twersky  17:09

So as I’m saying, I don’t totally agree with your interpretation, Geoffrey. I feel that really Korach was trying to usurp first the power of Moshe and that he had the right as, if you will interpreter of Humash  its legacy and Jewish decisior. And therefore, the reason I raised the question of two miracles, is the second rebellion was really against the priesthood. And that, that was relegated to Aaron, in the level of that he convened, which was spirituality. Hence, the first miracle is what happened. You know, the earth swallows up a bunch of people then he was spared because Moses intervened the second miracle, which you didn’t relate to, when you’re going through your verses comes afterwards. It’s when God commands that they set up their staffs and see what happens. And the only staff that blossoms is Aaron. That’s a symbol that his staff blossom, convincing people that the rebellion against Him was one of spirituality. In fact, Rav Aaron Soloveitchik, interpreted that the reason that his staff was made of shaked, I’m not sure what shaked is….

Geoffrey Stern  18:43

is it not an almond. Is it an almond?

Neil (Nachum) Twersky  18:48

Right, but etymologically, supposably, at least according to Rav Aahron Soleveichik an almond anyplace it’s planted, it can be blossom. So in any event, there are two miracles. There are two rebellions, … not that they weren’t against both of them, but one against Moshe, because of his interpretation of Torah was a threat to his leadership. And the second one against the spiritual leadership of Aaron, hence his staff blossomed, maybe, indicating spirituality can grow any place.

Adam Mintz  19:36

So let’s go back Geoffrey to your interpretation. So at the crux of my interpretation, and I said it’s all about the money. I want, I went into the rabbinic texts. And you know, we don’t know a lot about Korach. One of the rabbinic texts in the Talmud, Pesachim 119a says that he was one of the richest men of all times. So the rabbi’s took it upon themselves to say, you know, he actually worked for Joseph. And he found out where the riches….. , it’s kind of reads like Raiders of the Lost Ark, you know that there were these riches that were brought down from Canaan into Egypt. And they came back to Israel in Solomon’s time we know from my talk with the Reverend how they went to Kush. And they went to so Korach is targeted as a very rich person. And you know, the other rich person that disappears by the rabbinic tradition at this time, is our old friend Nachshon. Who the legend has it also was the only one disappears.  He should have been part of the spies last week and he wasn’t

Geoffrey Stern  20:56

Correct. And the Rabbi’s, you know, they only have good things to say about him. But one thing that they say that’s not so good, is that when Nachshon brought his offering, it says he bought his offering on the first day and the rabbi’s interpret this to mean that whereas the other nesi’im, the princes got the offering from their tribe Nachshon was rich, and he got his own, he had his own money. So I think one of the takeaways even that made it to the rabbinic tradition is that again, feeding into what I was saying that Korach was actually interested in having…. he didn’t want the whole Cohen thing. He didn’t want the whole Levi thing. He wanted a possession. He wanted a nachla in the land. And it’s all about crass capitalism. And I just wonder, do you feel that there was a thread in rabbinic tradition that had an issue with wealth? I mean, we certainly see plenty of instances where there were certain great scholars who were very wealthy and all that,

Adam Mintz  22:09

In the Torah is very important. Nobody is wealthy in the Torah. Avraham as a lot of flocks, and actually it gets him in trouble. Because with Lot he has a problem, because they’re both wealthy and they fight with one another. Wealth is not a value in the Torah.

Geoffrey Stern  22:29

So certainly, in the beginning, I stayed away from the rabbinic interpretations. And I said, Let’s just read the text. And I gave an interpretation. And now looking at the rabbinic there is a little bit of a reference to that, that he was a wealthy man looking out for his vested interests. So I think that’s one thing. And I think, in a sense, his interpretation of a land flowing with milk and honey, he compared the land of Egypt and the land of Israel. Talking about what you were saying Nachum about the spiritual aspect, he didn’t see the spiritual aspect. He saw Egypt as a rich country, as crass as it was, how it had slaves and how it took advantage of people… No he looked back with great nostalgia and when he said, If you promise me the land of Canaan is a land flowing with milk and honey, he saw it as a parallel, and he wanted a piece of it. So so that’s how I see it. And that’s, I think, the first interpretation that we get of a land flowing with milk and honey, and for the remaining time,  I thought we would talk about what actually a land flowing with milk and honey has been taken to mean. And I think, you know, the most obvious is, it’s a sign of fertility. If you look at Exodus 3: 8, where God says, I have come down to rescue them from the Egyptians and to bring them out of that land to a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey, the region of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. This concept of fertility, this concept of flowing which almost has a sensual aspect to it, I mean, if you think of the word Zav, normally when we come across the words of it has to do with almost with, with issues and bodily functions and sensuality and sex. So I think that the way that we take it is one that’s very central if you look at the Song of Songs 4: 11 It says Sweetness drops From your lips, O bride; Honey and milk Are under your tongue; And the scent of your robes Is like the scent of Lebanon. So I think that in our tradition, not in Korach’s tradition, we saw a land oozing, flowing with milk and honey as something that was set aside and was a differentiator from a land of Egypt. And I think that’s the most basic interpretation. What does land flowing with milk and honey mean to you?

Adam Mintz  25:31

So, though it’s different than Egypt, even though Egypt was clearly a very prosperous land, milk and honey, Egypt is never described as milk and honey, but Egypt, actually, the Nile River is what makes Egypt successful, isn’t that right? Everything’s around the Nile. Pharaohs around the Nile. He’s always at the Nile. It’s not milk and honey, it’s water, it’s River. It’s something like that. But milk and honey represents a flowing, You say flowing like Zab is sensual or sexual. I think flowing is continuous.

Geoffrey Stern  26:21

And what I should have emphasized when I said sexual, I was getting back to fertility, it’s very fertile.

Adam Mintz  26:28

I think that’s part of it. When you flow, it continues to go when the river flows, it continues to go.

Geoffrey Stern  26:37

And the flipside of fertility is infertility. So whereas the Nile was dependable, and didn’t give rise to a nation that prayed for rain, and was dependent on the heavens and the spiritual, I think that again, is part of what makes milk and honey so important and the flow. If you take milk to mean cow’s milk or goat’s milk, and if you take honey, and we’re going to get into whether it’s bees honey, or honey, from dates, fruit juice, you could also maybe say that, it’s a lamb that combines agriculture, with herding

Adam Mintz  27:23

Oh, that’s interesting. I didn’t think of that. You could explain it that way that it covers both.

Geoffrey Stern  27:30

So let’s talk about a little bit about honey devash, which I think most people on the street if you would ask them, they would say, oh, It’s bee’s honey, right. So as fascinating as it may seem, we need to go to the Talmud to confirm that bee’s honey is kosher. Because there is a principle that what emerges from a non kosher animal is non kosher. And that is in Bekorot 5b.  And the Gemora in Bekorot 5b and the Gomorrah in 7b raises the question, and it says, what do the sages say about honey of bees?  Is it permitted? And they give two reasons that it’s, it’s permitted. One is because they bring the nectar from the flowers into their body, but they do not excrete it from their body. So the first is that all the work of the bees are worker bees, so they process the nectar. And so it you’re not eating something that comes from a bee. And then Rav Sheshet stated his answer in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Ya’akov, who says that with regard to honey, the Merciful One permits it as an exception to the principle that a substance that emerges from a non-kosher animal is non-kosher. who said that actually, we have a special verse. The verse says In Leviticus, yes, these may you eat of all winged creatures. Why does it say these, and the rabbi’s say you may not eat a non kosher winged creature, but you may eat that which is non kosher when creature discharges. And what is that? That is the honey of bees. So it’s fascinating. If you think about it, especially if you think of Rosh Hashan or you think of when a child starts to study Torah that they lick each word covered with honey, that bee honey is kosher, by way of either some biological knowledge on the part of the rabbi’s or by a special verse that permits us to eat it. And I think that is kind of fascinating.

Adam Mintz  29:32

That is absolutely fascinating. That’s so interesting. Well, first of all, it’s interesting, just the discussion about bee honey, and the fact that something that comes from a non-kosher animal is not kosher. Why bee honey is an exception. That itself is fascinating, right? Just the Talmudic discussion is fascinating.  And I think it’s not the subject matter of today’s talk… But if you want to talk about a woman’s right to her body what most of Talmudic law states is what is in the womb of a female animal or person is part and parcel of that female mother. And if she’s tameh she’s tameh… if a cow is shechted, slaughtered with an embryo inside, the embryo doesn’t need to be slaughtered. We have a very strong tradition of identifying what’s inside of a mother, with the mother, just as an aside. But in any case, that’s honey. And I think that it’s fascinating to think that something as we associate so strongly with our religion, is nonetheless something that needs to be debated. And it’s true if you if you do a Google search about vegans, vegans are debate whether they can eat honey, That’s correct. There are some vegans who do eat honey and some vegans don’t eat honey and that’s basically the two opinions in the Gomora.

Geoffrey Stern  31:03

So the other opinion is that Devash is a from a date. And in Deuteronomy, for instance, when it lists the famous Shiva minim, the seven species, the last one is “and honey”, and it certainly doesn’t mean bee’s honey.

Adam Mintz  31:20

Correct… that’s definitely date honey.

Geoffrey Stern  31:22

 So if that’s the case, then certainly we have something about agriculture and the milk that I think is very nice.

Adam Mintz  31:32

,And I think we just we can finish off with Nachum’s point, the fact that the staff blossomed, also has to do with agriculture.

Geoffrey Stern  31:43

Absolutely.

Adam Mintz  31:44

I think your point is, right, and the fact that the symbol, you know, that that, you know, that that Moses and Aaron were right, was the fact that the that the staff blossomed, that’s part of this whole thing.  So the way that I want to finish, and I told you in the pre story I was going to mention this is there is a tradition that the two sons of Korah actually survived. And there’s also a tradition that there’s a special Psalm that we say, every day, and on the psalm of Monday, which in the creation, narrative, God does not say “it is good”. We all know on Tuesday, he says, Pa’amiyim ki tov, on Monday, he doesn’t say ki Tov once, because that’s when God made a division. And he made a division between heaven and earth. And Korach is associated with trying to make a division. And on Monday, we say Psalm 48, which is one of eight I believe, Psalms that are in the name of l’Bnai Korach the children of Korach, who the tradition feels somehow are in a unique position from down in that pit that was swallowed by the earth, to sing the praise of God and try to bring the parts back together. And I think the takeaway from that, and the fact that we have honey from a bee who might not be all together kosher is that as Shlomo Carlebach said, “you never know”. You never know where purity can come from. And that at the end of the day, is this sweetness that comes out of a very bitter story of Korach.  Fantastic. I love the end. Shabbat shalom, everybody. Next week, I’ll be coming to you from Jerusalem. We’re going to do it at 4pm New York Time 11pm Israel time, can’t wait to speak to you from Jerusalem. Shabbat shalom. Enjoy the Parsha be well.

Geoffrey Stern  33:35

 Shabbat Shalom to everybody have a great one.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/416706

Listen to last week’s episode: Make Challah

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Make Challah

parshat shelach, Numbers 15

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

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

Transcript:

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

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

Adam Mintz  04:42

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

Geoffrey Stern  05:10

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

Adam Mintz  06:18

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

Geoffrey Stern  06:52

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

Adam Mintz  08:10

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

Geoffrey Stern  08:35

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

Adam Mintz  08:48

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

Geoffrey Stern  09:13

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

Adam Mintz  10:54

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

Geoffrey Stern  11:57

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

Adam Mintz  13:31

So they had it .. not exact words…

Geoffrey Stern  13:35

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

Adam Mintz  14:33

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

Geoffrey Stern  15:29

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

Adam Mintz  15:43

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

Geoffrey Stern  16:05

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

Adam Mintz  16:48

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

Geoffrey Stern  17:07

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

Adam Mintz  18:17

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

Geoffrey Stern  18:44

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

Adam Mintz  20:14

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

Geoffrey Stern  20:28

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

Adam Mintz  23:38

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

Geoffrey Stern  24:27

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

Adam Mintz  24:35

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

Geoffrey Stern  24:55

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

Adam Mintz  27:27

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

Geoffrey Stern  27:51

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

Adam Mintz  28:53

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

Geoffrey Stern  29:09

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

Adam Mintz  29:13

right That’s correct. Yeah.

Geoffrey Stern  29:15

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

Adam Mintz  29:31

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

Geoffrey Stern  29:34

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

Adam Mintz  29:35

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

Geoffrey Stern  30:25

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

Adam Mintz  30:35

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

Geoffrey Stern  30:44

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

Adam Mintz  30:51

I think it was great.

Geoffrey Stern  30:53

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

Adam Mintz  30:57

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

Geoffrey Stern  31:01

Enjoy the Challah and see you all next week.

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

Listen to last week’s episode: Joining the Tribe

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Joining the Tribe

parshat beha’alotcha, numbers 9

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

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/414358

Transcript:

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

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

Adam Mintz  05:52

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

Geoffrey Stern  08:28

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

Adam Mintz  10:06

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

Geoffrey Stern  11:04

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

Adam Mintz  11:50

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

Geoffrey Stern  12:15

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

Adam Mintz  15:01

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

Geoffrey Stern  15:47

It’s kind of like finding this hidden connection.

Adam Mintz  15:50

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

Geoffrey Stern  17:52

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

Adam Mintz  18:55

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

Geoffrey Stern  24:26

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

Adam Mintz  27:17

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

Geoffrey Stern  32:08

Shabbat Shalom and Rabbi Keep up the good work.

Adam Mintz  32:11

Thank you so much be well.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/414358

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Rashi, Women & Wine

parshat Nasso, Numbers 5-6

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

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/412925

Transcript:

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

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

Adam Mintz  01:46

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

Geoffrey Stern  02:11

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

Adam Mintz  02:48

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

Geoffrey Stern  03:07

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

Adam Mintz  03:42

Wow, that’s amazing.

Geoffrey Stern  03:43

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

Adam Mintz  08:04

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

Geoffrey Stern  08:41

If that’s the correct translation,

Adam Mintz  08:44

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

Geoffrey Stern  08:47

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

Adam Mintz  14:32

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

Geoffrey Stern  14:56

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

Adam Mintz  16:10

So there they’re definitely consistent.

Geoffrey Stern  16:12

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

Adam Mintz  18:23

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

Geoffrey Stern  18:29

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

Adam Mintz  19:00

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

Geoffrey Stern  19:21

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

Adam Mintz  20:10

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

Geoffrey Stern  21:21

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

Adam Mintz  22:29

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

Geoffrey Stern  23:06

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

Adam Mintz  23:52

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

Geoffrey Stern  24:54

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

Adam Mintz  24:58

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

Geoffrey Stern  26:07

Neil, welcome to the Bima.

Neil (Nachum) Twersky  26:08

So I prefer to be called Nachum. Technically, my name is Neil. And I just wanted to say that Rabbi MICHAEL J. BROYDE, has a long, extensive, I would call it seminal article on the whole subject of covering one’s hair (Further on Women’s Hair Covering: An Exchange Tradition, Modesty and America: Married Women Covering Their Hair https://www.broydeblog.net/uploads/8/0/4/0/80408218/tradition_modesty_s.pdf)

Adam Mintz  26:31

And Nachum, what’s his punch line?

Neil (Nachum) Twersky  26:33

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

Adam Mintz  27:38

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

Geoffrey Stern  28:33

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

Adam Mintz  31:14

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

Geoffrey Stern  31:27

Okay, well Shabbat Shalom to everybody.

Adam Mintz  31:29

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

Geoffrey Stern  31:34

Shabbat shalom. Enjoy your Chumash and Rashi

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Nachshon

parshat bamidbar, numbers 1

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse recorded June 2nd 2022 as we meet a man named Nachshon ben Aminadav. A man with only an insignificant walk-on role in the text of the Torah but an iconic presence in Jewish religious and secular thought, culture and mythology.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/410450

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.  Join us today as we meet a man who is hardly mentioned in the text of the Torah but whose singular action, on one day in history has kindled the imagination of scholars, rebels, social activists and leaders alike.  So take of your shoes and prepare to dip you toe into a stream called Nachshon.

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So welcome to Madlik. And you might all be wondering; we are starting a new book. It’s called Bamidbar, and it’s called Numbers. And we are going to be talking about the Exodus from Egypt and the splitting of the Red Sea. And you might be saying to yourself, why are we going to do that? And it’s because one of the most famous stories of the Exodus doesn’t actually appear in the text, as I said in the introduction, and we learn about it only by things that happen in the book of a Bamidbar. So without further ado, let’s discover the source of this amazing story. So in Numbers 1, it talks about very specifically on the first day of the second month in the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt. God spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai in the tent of meeting saying, take a census of the whole Israelite company of fighters by the clans of its ancestral  homes, listing the names every male head to head, you and Aaron shall record them by their groups from the age of 20 on up, so basically what we’re doing is we’re working on the draft, and they go through this and in verse 5, it says, These are the names of the participants who shall assist you: These are the names of the participants of each tribe that will assist you.The head of each tribe was going to assist in taking this census. From Reuben, Elizur son of Shedeur. (6) From Simeon, Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai. From Judah, Nahshon son of Amminadab., Our boy, this is the first actual mention of him in the Torah. And then it continues and he’s not at the top of the list. Then on in numbers 2, it says they camped in the front or east side of the standard division of Judah to by troop chieftain of the tribe of Nahshon son of Amminadab., , his troop was 74,600. So again, it mentions with no great gravity no great sense of literary or legendary merit. He’s mentioned as the head of the tribe. And then in number 7, which will read in a few weeks is the fourth mention and there it says, And for His sacrifice of well being two oxen, five rams, five he goats and five yearling lambs. This was the offering of Nahshon son of Amminadab. In Numbers 7: 12, we get the only point where he is singled out. And it says in 7: 12, the one who presented his offering on the first day was Nahshon son of Amminadab, of the tribe of Judah. So clearly, Rabbi, there are two things that we already have to take note of. One is the tribe of Judah is a pretty important tribe, you’re going to be talking about the story of Ruth, and what conversion is all about on Shavuos night. That’s the tribe of Judah. That’s the tribe of King David, it starts with Judah, and it ends for those who believe in the Messiah with the Messiah. The other thing that we notice is that while in a few places he’s not mentioned at the top of the list, in 7: 12, of numbers, it says on the first day, Nahshon son of Amminadab gave the sacrifice, and this I believe, is one of the main triggers to explain how did this guy get to the front of the list? Am I right in saying we don’t know a lot about Nahshon?

Adam Mintz  04:44

You are 100% Right? The Rabbi’s really like Nahshon. Maybe that’s something we’re gonna talk about. Why do the rabbi’s like Nahshon so much? But he made them into a hero. There’s nothing in the text that makes him into a hero but They make him into a hero.

Geoffrey Stern  05:02

So for those of you who don’t know why he became a hero, this story about Nahshon, I think is right up there with the story of Abraham smashing the idols, where so many people have heard this story, they probably believe it is part of the text of the Torah, but it’s not. And in short, the story is, and we’re gonna read the text of it in a little bit, but I want to give it away so we can understand the importance here is that Moses and the children of Israel are at the Sea of Reeds, the Egyptian army is to their rear, and there is a sea in front of them. And the Egyptian army is coming fast. And Moses is praying, and nothing is happening. And all of a sudden, this guy Nahshon, so the story goes, puts his toe into the water, and it splits. And he’s responsible for getting us across. And that’s, I think, the common sense, the common way that we probably know this pretty Pinnacle story. And you’ve got to ask you’re question, unlike Abraham, that the story of the idols is one of many stories and we know him intimately. This guy, Nahshon we know nothing about, except that he was the head of this pack. And that’s a little bit of one side of the question we’re going to delve with tonight. And the other is so what did they make of this Tabula rasa? What did they make of this ink blot? What did we project onto this guy Nachshon that made him so important? Do you think, Rabbi that Nachshon, if you if you had to get the five great stories of Judaism? Is it right there?

Adam Mintz  06:59

No question become the most famous story that I’m sure you’re going to talk about? How in Israel, you know, they play on the story, right? I mean, it’s just such a well-known story.

Geoffrey Stern  07:13

So unlike the story about Abraham, where there’s no one who says no, that didn’t happen. If you go to Sota 36b, which is where this whole story comes from. Actually, no one even agrees about this story. It says what was the incident with Judah sanctified God’s name in public. Rabbi Mayer would say when the Jewish people stood at the Red Sea, the tribes were arguing with one another, this one saying, I’m going into the sea first, this one saying I’m going into the sea first, then in jumped the tribe of Benjamin, and descended into the sea first. And the princes of the tribe of Judah was stoning them for plunging in first and not in the proper order. Therefore, Benjamin, the righteous was privileged to serve as the host of the Divine Presence. It seems the temple is on the land of shevet Benjamin. And then Rabbi Yehuda said to Rabbi Meir, that’s not what happened. Rather, this tribe said, I’m going to go into the sea first and that one said, I’m gonna go into the sea first. Then in jumped, the prince of Judah, Tabula rasa. Notice with Benjamin it didn’t have a person’s name. They just the whole tribe jumped in. Well here with Judah, we got a guy Nahshon son of Amminadab, and he descended into the sea first accompanied by his entire tribe. And it says that Nachshon prayer at that moment was: Save me, God; for the waters are come in even unto the soul. I am sunk in deep mire, where there is no standing…let not the water flood overwhelm me, neither let the deep swallow me up” (Psalms 69:2–3, 16) And that’s a quote from Psalms. And then I think we get to one of the biggest punch lines. At that time, Moses was prolonging his prayer, he was מַאֲרִיךְ בִּתְפִלָּה and the Holy One, blessed be He said to him, My beloved ones are drowning in the sea, and you prolong your prayer to me, the conversation goes on. But from even the source text, we learn two things. One is that there’s no consensus that this is actually what happened. And 2 this Nachshon is someone who clearly has a presence and has been picked out as a personality as opposed to the other story, which is just about a tribe. And he is counter distinct from Moses. What he did was the opposite of what Moses did. Moses was מַאֲרִיךְ בִּתְפִלָּה. He was praying long and hard, and Naloxone made a short prayer And did the deed, do you think and I read this story afresh this week? And I was struck by those kinds of facts. When you look at the text,

Adam Mintz  10:09

The first interesting thing, is that Nachshon is the individual, while the tribe of Binyomin is the tribe, why did they move from tribe back to individual?

Geoffrey Stern  10:23

I think it’s part of the story became one of leadership for sure. And I said that in the intro,

Adam Mintz  10:30

Something like that you can’t have a tribe being a leader, you need to have an individual being a leader, that, to me is super interesting, that tribe wasn’t, wasn’t courageous enough to do it on its own. But you came to the individual and Nachshon shown as the first one.

Geoffrey Stern  10:48

So that’s one thing. And but of course, by having an individual, it focuses on both as an individual, but it permits this kind of ….

Adam Mintz  10:58

Of course, what you said was right, and that is that it’s his tribe, and his tribe is Yehudah. And Yehudah, is the famous tribe. And that’s what King David comes from. And that’s where the story of Ruth comes from. And that’s the important tribe. So that’s not by accident, that the hero is probably the most important tribe.

Geoffrey Stern  11:15

But you also get this dialectic now this conflict between individuals, because Moses is Moses and Moses is מַאֲרִיךְ בִּתְפִלָּה. I mean, typically מַאֲרִיךְ בִּתְפִלָּה,, someone who spends his time carefully at prayer. That would be something that would be to their credit, would it not, but here it is clearly, in a sense, derogatory, it’s not the right time.

Adam Mintz  11:40

Why is that? Why does it say that Moshe is מַאֲרִיךְ בִּתְפִלָּה? And why is it no good?  I have a different question, why is that an important part of the story? It’s that Moshe doesn’t take the leadership, Moshe thinks, just pray and everything will be okay. And Nachshon is the counter to that, that you need to actually take leadership and jump in. Right? Isn’t that the point of the story?

Geoffrey Stern  12:09

I think that’s why this story has kind of touched so many people, we’re gonna see how it touched secular Jews, and Zionists and historians. But the fact that here, unlike Korach, and unlike other people who have taken a different route than Moses, here, the guy is put at the front of the list. And here, Moses, in a sense, is told either what you are doing now, or the leadership qualities that you have are not the right, leadership qualities for this moment. And there’s a time to act. And there’s a time to pray. And this clearly was a time to act. And I think that’s part of what makes this story. So, so powerful.

Adam Mintz  13:00

I think that’s right. And praying is the opposite of acting. You see, that’s not always true, by the way, you don’t think about when you pray that you’re not acting, you said there’s a time for prayer, there’s a time for action. But in this story, they’re competing with one another. Either you pray or you act, praying is wrong, what you need to do is you need to act. So we That’s great. By the way, that’s great.

Geoffrey Stern  13:28

So we are going to touch upon different aspects of how this hardly mentioned character is so flushed out by the text, but one thing that we can’t disregard is his name. Nachshon itself is very similar to nachash, which is snake and for those of you who remember the story of the Garden of Eden of the so-called Fall, snakes are not typically associated with the good guy, even in the tribe of Judah, who naturally is a direct descendant of, we have the story of Yehuda and Tamar, the harlot at the side of the road that we’ve touched upon. So there’s an aspect of Nachshon, which not only does he disagree with Moses, but his name and his tribal heritage. He is kind of an outlier. He is kind of a contra. And again, he’s only featured in this story. So you have to focus a little bit on well, maybe there’s a time and a place for such a being, but what do you think of his name?

Adam Mintz  14:42

The nachash is kind of cunning and shrewd and dishonest, right? Nachshon actually doesn’t have that. You don’t. Right. He’s not dishonest in any way. He’s not true. He actually has a different kind of personality. He’s kind of courageous. He’s aggressive he does. You know, it’s I wonder about the connection to the name.

Geoffrey Stern  15:10

So you find very few connections to nachash that I’ve seen there is clearly the connection to the storied history. of Yehudah the patriarch, the person, and Tamar and all of that stuff. But what you do get is a lot of question about the name, it seems to strike the biblical commentators as a strange name. So if you look at Bamidbar Raba. And remember, we’re talking about a guy who features in the Exodus, but all of the material on him is in our parshiot here in Barmidbar it says Nachshon the son of Aminadav of the tribe of Judah. Why was he called by the name of Nachshon, because he was the first to plunge into the Nachshal of the sea, the billow of the sea, I guess a billow is what you pump to light a fire or a furnace, Rabbi Shimon Ben Yohai explained the holy one blessing me he said to Moses, he was sanctified My name by the sea shall be the first to present his offering. And that was Nachshon. So there is this play and this explanation that you allow to change one letter for another so Nachshon can become a Nachshal. But again, there’s this effort to link his name back to this story. And to turn it into a good, it’s fascinating. I was looking at a wonderful series of books, Louis Ginsberg, The legends of the Jews and in a footnote, he writes the following. The story of naloxone is derived from the similarity of the named Nachshon to the word Nachshal, billow. Hence, this legend does not reflect the self-sacrificing character of the patriarchal house during the second century, as suggestion by Oppenheim, in HaHoker. Now I’ll admit to you folks, I only have one week to prepare for this. So I didn’t have an opportunity to research Oppenheim and HaOker. But I can assure you that he was one of 1000s of historians and academics who have tried to understand this story, this Midrash from the politics of the day. And what Ginsburg is saying is he’s arguing with that. And he’s saying, actually, the story was derived from the name and not the name from the story. But the point is that we have a little bit of an insight into everywhere, Nachshon Ben Aminadav is mentioned. There is a projection of what we believe was responsible for this story, for his fame, and for his longevity, in our legend, I just find that fascinating.

Adam Mintz  18:24

Well, let’s, first of all, it’s fascinating. And the Ginsburg series is amazing. I, you know, I find that interesting, because it seems to be like there’s a very conscious attempt to say, and his name is not like nachash. He looks for another word that similar but it’s not nachash Because somehow the story from the Garden of Eden doesn’t seem to reconcile well with the story of Nachshon.

Geoffrey Stern  18:53

I think you’re right. When I think of NAC shown, I think of the y son and the evil son of the Haggadah, where, if you look at some hagadot, the, the wise son is dressed in a suit and tie and the evil son is dressed like a bum. And then if you go to the kibbutz, you see that the wise son is dressed like a farmer, and the wicked son is dressed like a capitalist in a suit and tie. There’s a little bit of a switch here as to whether he was good or we was tainted. And here’s something as unbelievably fascinating that I found the Vilna Gaon on Seder Olam Rabba says, Nachshon Ben Aminadav died in the second year, because he was not mentioned except on the first journey. במסע שניה לא הוזכר on the second journey he was not mentioned, but died in the graves of Lust because he was one of the officers in the camp. We all remember the series that we did on the meat of lust. But this is an unbelievable diyuk. I can call it anything else that the Vilna Gon is saying not only is this guy mentioned just very rarely, but even in terms of the procession of the princes, he only appears in the first one, he must have died. And maybe you can help me rabbi. He was one of the officers in the camp. I mean, did every officer in the camp die? And was he held responsible for what happened at the the graves of lust? Or is there an insinuation here that maybe he succumbed to the basar Te’eva,

Adam Mintz  20:48

such as simulate attenuation? I’ll just tell you something for one second, the tau LRA. At the beginning of the of the story of the tribes, tells you who the different heads of the tribes are, who were the who were the spies, and the heads of the of the tribes went L’matehYehudah Caleb Ben Yefuna? Now, that’s just 13 chapters later, all of a sudden there’s a new head of, of Judah. And I think what that tradition is saying is what happened to Nachshon ben Aminadav. He must die because all the heads of the tribes got the guy got the position, but he didn’t get the position. It must be because he died.

Geoffrey Stern  21:39

So our story… This is getting more complicated. But right now there’s one aspect of it that has tickled my imagination, and I sense the imagination of Jews over history. And that was he stood up to Moses, he acted when Moses prayed. But there’s another element here that we can’t disregard, and that is that he’s a one hit player that I said in the intro on a certain day in a certain place, he acted and went down in history. And this Vilna Gaon Diyuk supports that, that not only did the act at the splitting of the sea only occur once, but his part of our story was short lived as well. And maybe he wasn’t capable of more great deeds. But it definitely reminds you of these great pieces of Talmud that says, and I’ll quote, the most famous one in Avbodah Zora that says Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi said There is one who acquires his share in the World-to-Come only after many years of toil, and there is one who acquires his share in the World-to-Come in one moment. , יש קונה עולמו בכמה שנים ויש קונה עולמו בשעה אחת. And I think that also is something that is so fascinating and empowering by the story of Nachshon.

Adam Mintz  23:26

I would agree with you, And you’re right. I mean, if we think about Jewish history, we think about biblical history. The Bible is literally filled with these people who have one moment. And if you think about the story of Ruth, that whole story is one moment. We don’t know about those people in Ruth any other time. They have one story about them. Most people have one story. The number of people who have careers of greatness are very few and far between. Because that’s really what you’re talking about. You’re talking about Moses who has a career of greatness, and Nachshon ben Aminadav who has a moment of greatness.

Geoffrey Stern  24:09

I didn’t realize you were gonna take it that way. But that’s really an interesting way to take it. And that is that Nachshon has a moment. Now, he obviously was an important person, because he was the head of the tribe of Judah. But the Gemora that says that he didn’t make it until the second year suggests that he was the head of the tribe of Judah, he was recognized, but he was recognized for such a brief moment that he didn’t he didn’t have what I’m calling a career of greatness. He just really had a moment of greatness. And you know, there are similar Midrashim that talk about Rob Eliezer Ben Yaakov in Perkei Avot says, He who performs one commandment acquires for himself and advocate and he who commits one transgression acquires for himself when accuser. It says he used to say more precious is one hour of repentance. I mean, you know, some of us who know the gamut of Jewish life, kind of snicker when we see the Chabad mitzvah tank putting Tephilin on people. But the basis of that is it’s one mitzvah, the Rebbe used to say let women light the candles, take that one mitzvah, and I think it comes from this concept as well. As yes, there’s this 613 mitzvot, but that can become overwhelming. And then there are those that can get it in one mitzvah. And I think that’s a beautiful lesson from Nachshon as well, So I want to go into the, into the into the present, I want to move forward in time. And as you know, one of the things I love to do on Madlik is look at Israeli vernacular, look at the language spoken in Hebrew. And the word Nachson means a daring pioneer Nashanut means pioneering Nachshoni means someone who is adventurous, you know, some people become a verb, Nachshon ben Aminadav became a verb. And so there was this adventurous spirit too. This is casting away concerns maybe, maybe living on the wild side, maybe taking a risk. And that too enters into it. And I respect the genius of our language. And you’ve got to respect that as a commentary as well.

Adam Mintz  26:41

That is fantastic. I mean, it would be interesting to trace it, you know, there’s the famous Hebrew dictionary. It’s a Hebrew only dictionary that I bought many, many years ago. It’s the Ben Yehuda dictionary, you know that Eliezer Ben Yehuda was famous we know he’s famous because it’s an important Street in Jerusalem. It’s called Ben Yehuda Street. And there’s an important Street in Tel Aviv that’s called Ben Yehuda Street. Ben Yehuda was the father of modern Hebrew. He was the one who really introduced the idea that Hebrew was not just a biblical language, but it needed to be a spoken language. And it would be interesting to see the history of the word Nachshon, when exactly did it become, as you say, a verb? When did it become part of the language? And I think there are military efforts that are called Nachshon, isn’t that right.

Geoffrey Stern  27:33

Well, that’s a great segue. And before I get into those military actions, I just wanted to say that I decided this week that if I ever went back to academia and got myself a  PhD, It would be the history of Nachshon.

Adam Mintz  27:53

Tat’s the most important part. You have a dissertation topic. Yeah, everything else is easy.

Geoffrey Stern  27:58

There you go. So here’s the military campaigns. The most well known operation Naloxone was a Hagana operation in the 1948 War of Independence, The Arabs had succeeded in blockading the road to Jerusalem, preventing essential humanitarian supplies as well as ammunition from entering the city. At the end of March, convoys were no longer able to get through, and the situation in Jerusalem became critical. On April 3rd David Ben Gurion insisted on the largest possible operation, forcing Haganah commanders to plan and execute the first brigade sized operation they had ever undertaken. The operation involved about 1,500 troops taken from the Givati and Alexandroni brigade and some others, including the Gadna youth cadets. and it was called Operation Nachshon. So I won’t say that Ben Gurion was not a scholar, he was just a prime minister and a general because he was a scholar. But here we have a general who understands the moment and understands that if this is what he’s going to do, if he’s going to risk it all, it needs to be called Nachshon. But there were two other operations. I mean, you know, we know Israelis are pretty creative when they call names of operations. They couldn’t get away from this word in in a six day war commanded by Moshe Dayan and initialized “the conquest of the Sinai front … the opening of the Abu ‘Agheila – Rafiah-al-‘Arish axes, and the destruction of the Egyptian army in this sector., and there was another one to operations in the Six Day War. This tickled, this piked the imagination of the design is soldiers. You know, HaShomer HaTzair” the most secular far left organization, the Socialist Zionist anti-religious youth movement in 1950 founded Kibbutz Nachshon in central Israel. There was also a Moshav started by Yemenite immigrants but now sparklingly beautiful homes called Aminadav overlooking Jerusalem, as well as an area called Nachshonim, and a town called Nachshon. My God, this infatuation with a name.

Adam Mintz  30:21

That is infatuation. That’s I didn’t know all that really there’s a town called Nachshonim.

Geoffrey Stern  30:26

Yes, absolutely. And if you if you Google Nachshon, you get the Nachshon project.com, which is training youth leaders. So really, this this resonated, I’m running out of time. But in many cases, what I do is I look for a fact that I know is there and then I find it. And in this particular case, I knew that the early Zionists had to be arguing about Nachshon. So one thing that I found and it’s in the source notes, unfortunately, it’s all in Hebrew, I didn’t have a chance to translate. But in the writings of Achad Ha’Am, he uses Nachshon, and he almost uses it in a Talmudic fashion. He says everybody wants to just jump on a boat and go to Israel, we have to plan for it. And then he goes into detail. And he says, and they are using Nachshon as an example. He already knew that Moses staff was able to open up the sea, but they were just afraid to go in. He didn’t do it on blind faith, it was a calculated risk. But it gives you an insight into how Nalchshon was used by the early Zionists to turn 2000 years of Jewish history and say there’s a time to pray. And there’s a time to act. And now is a time to act. And I’ll finish with the most amazing discovery that I had. And that is there was a writer who wrote a book his name was Elchanan Leib Lewinsky, and he wrote a book in 1892 about a journey to Eretz Yisrael and it was a journey in the future. And in it he has a chapter on going to a Moshav a farm and the farmers name is Mr. Nachshon Ben Aminadav and he portrays him as the perfect mix between a lover of the land a love of labor, and a person versed in the Torah and the tradition. And that to me is just so amazing.

Adam Mintz  32:41

I love it. This was a great one today a great way to go into Shabbat into Shavuot. Everybody should have a Shabbat Shalom a Hag Sameach. Geoffrey, enjoy your fantastic Hag. I can’t wait for report next Thursday.

Geoffrey Stern  32:54

Shabbat Shalom and Hag Shavuot Sameach let’s all meet at the foot of Sinai and get the Torah together. Enjoy

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Listen to last week’s episode: as a driven leaf

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Filed under Bible, Hebrew, Israel, Judaism, prayer, Religion, social commentary, Torah, Zionism

As a driven leaf

parshat bechukotai, leviticus 26

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

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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.  Last week the Torah taught us that only God owns the land and we felt the liberation of not being tied to the land. This week we see the flip side of not owning our land. We are exposed to exile and alienation, both physical and emotional in very visceral terms. So pick up you walking stick and pack you bags as we become a driven leaf.

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

Adam Mintz  07:24

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

Geoffrey Stern  08:23

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

Adam Mintz  09:49

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

Geoffrey Stern  10:57

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

Adam Mintz  11:17

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

Geoffrey Stern  11:29

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

Adam Mintz  12:04

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

Geoffrey Stern  12:18

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

Adam Mintz  14:24

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

Geoffrey Stern  15:28

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

Adam Mintz  16:12

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

Geoffrey Stern  16:35

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

Adam Mintz  18:26

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

Geoffrey Stern  19:06

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

Adam Mintz  21:52

you’ll love that phrase,

Geoffrey Stern  21:53

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

Adam Mintz  24:03

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

Geoffrey Stern  25:00

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

Adam Mintz  26:35

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

Geoffrey Stern  26:49

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

Adam Mintz  28:04

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

Geoffrey Stern  28:35

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

Adam Mintz  29:09

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

Geoffrey Stern  29:38

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

Adam Mintz  31:39

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

Geoffrey Stern  31:52

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

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

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this land is MY land

parshat behar, leviticus 25

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

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

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or traditional. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz we host Madlik disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. Today is L’ag B’ Omer so I’m hoping that the sparks and flames of disruptive Torah will be particularly strong today. The earth is the Lord’s so it is written in the Good Book. Nowhere does this more loudly resonate than in the laws of the sabbatical and Jubilee years. On the other hand, we Jews have serious ownership issues with our land. So let’s explore what a Promised Land means when land ownership is only temporary. This land is MY land.

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

 

Adam Mintz  05:17

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  06:12

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

 

Adam Mintz  07:22

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  07:38

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

 

Adam Mintz  09:28

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  10:51

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

 

Adam Mintz  11:57

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  14:21

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

 

Adam Mintz  18:57

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:26

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

 

Adam Mintz  22:41

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  22:52

Yeah, yeah.

 

Adam Mintz  22:53

Isn't that a great idea?

 

Geoffrey Stern  22:55

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

 

Adam Mintz  25:05

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  25:11

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

 

Adam Mintz  26:22

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  27:00

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

 

Adam Mintz  30:16

Its tension, which is built in.

 

Geoffrey Stern  30:19

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

 

Adam Mintz  31:54

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  32:03

Shabbat Shalom to you all.

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

Adam Mintz  05:17

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

Geoffrey Stern  06:12

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

Adam Mintz  07:22

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

Geoffrey Stern  07:38

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

Adam Mintz  09:28

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

Geoffrey Stern  10:51

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

Adam Mintz  11:57

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

Geoffrey Stern  14:21

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

Adam Mintz  18:57

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

Geoffrey Stern  20:26

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

Adam Mintz  22:41

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

Geoffrey Stern  22:52

Yeah, yeah.

Adam Mintz  22:53

Isn’t that a great idea?

Geoffrey Stern  22:55

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

Adam Mintz  25:05

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

Geoffrey Stern  25:11

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

Adam Mintz  26:22

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

Geoffrey Stern  27:00

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

Adam Mintz  30:16

Its tension, which is built in.

Geoffrey Stern  30:19

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

Adam Mintz  31:54

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

Geoffrey Stern  32:03

Shabbat Shalom to you all.

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