With regret, God

parshat noach, Genesis 6

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

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


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


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

Adam Mintz  02:19

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

Geoffrey Stern  02:27

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

Adam Mintz  04:55

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

Geoffrey Stern  05:17

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

Adam Mintz  08:16

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

Geoffrey Stern  09:08

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

Adam Mintz  11:50

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

Geoffrey Stern  12:31

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

Adam Mintz  14:11

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

Geoffrey Stern  15:33

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

Adam Mintz  18:07

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

Geoffrey Stern  18:41

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

Adam Mintz  20:03

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

Geoffrey Stern  20:24

There’s there’s two sides

Adam Mintz  20:26

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

Geoffrey Stern  20:31

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

Adam Mintz  22:18

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

Geoffrey Stern  22:24

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

Adam Mintz  23:15

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

Geoffrey Stern  23:25

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

Adam Mintz  24:28

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

Geoffrey Stern  24:59

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

Adam Mintz  25:08

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

Geoffrey Stern  25:49

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

Adam Mintz  27:01

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

Geoffrey Stern  27:22

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

Adam Mintz  28:33

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

Geoffrey Stern  28:35

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

Adam Mintz  28:49

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

Geoffrey Stern  31:06

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

Adam Mintz  31:12

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

Geoffrey Stern  31:41

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

Adam Mintz  32:59

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

Geoffrey Stern  33:30

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

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

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

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Shared Beginnings

parshat bereshit – genesis 1 – 6

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

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


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


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

Richard Middelton 05:00

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

Geoffrey Stern  05:59

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

Richard Middelton 07:12

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

Geoffrey Stern  09:04

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

Richard Middelton 11:25

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

Geoffrey Stern  12:30

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

Richard Middelton 14:29

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

Geoffrey Stern  16:03

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

Richard Middelton 20:10

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

Geoffrey Stern  23:03

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

Richard Middelton 26:27

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

Geoffrey Stern  28:38

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

Richard Middelton 29:59

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

Geoffrey Stern  30:13

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

Richard Middelton 31:24

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

Geoffrey Stern  37:12

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

Richard Middelton 38:59

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

Geoffrey Stern  39:12

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

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

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

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

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shabbat Sukkah

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

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

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


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

Geoffrey Stern  29:45

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

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

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

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God Believes

parshat ha’azinu – deuteronomy 32

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on October 6th 2022. In Moses’ parting song to the Jewish people he mentions Faith (emuna) in two different ways, both of which don’t refer to man’s faith in God. We take the opportunity to explore the meaning of Faith in the Torah and latter Rabbinic thought.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/436267


Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. In Moses’ parting song to the Jewish people, he mentions Faith (emuna) in two different ways, both of which don’t refer to man’s faith in God. We take the opportunity to explore the meaning of Faith in the Torah and latter Rabbinic thought. So gather round you faithful Madlik listeners and join us for God Believes.


Well, I gotta say anyone who is here after being in synagogue all day and Yom Kippur, you must be Jewish addicts, or Torah addicts, because here we are, again, e just can’t get enough. And I thank you all for coming. You know, last week, I quoted a beautiful comment that that I got. And then I also said that there was the ticket lady at my synagogue who when I wanted to change my seating time said, No problem I listen to Madlik every Friday. So, this week, when I showed up to synagogue, and I saw the same lady, she goes, You know, I’m the ticket lady, and I have a name and my name is Susan. So Susan, I want to thank you, thank you for letting me into synagogue. Thank you for listening to Madlik for being one of our faithful. We also got a comment from Loren. And he said that, “The study of Torah as expanded by Commentary is indeed a remarkable yet nuanced journey. Geoffrey Stern in collaboration with Rabbi Adam Mintz each week focuses on thoughtful interpretation of the current week’s parsha and thereby bring exciting understanding and relevance to Biblical verse. There are good guides and then there are exceptional guides… Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Mintz are in the class of exceptional Torah guides. They offer credible yet creative textual foundation and in turn inspire the listener to continuing traveling roads of further study and examination. Try the podcast once…and then you too will celebrate the excitement of the gift of perspective they offer. This is a weekly study event both for the less experienced and also for the well-traveled students of Torah.” It is wonderful when we listen and we hear from our listeners, because there’s nothing worse than speaking into a vacuum. And there’s nothing better than teaching Torah and studying Torah with friends and family. So thank you, thank you all for being here. You know, Rabbi, you mentioned that next week, on Shabbat, we’re actually not going to be reading the Parsha. We’re ending the Torah but it’s not in the Sabbath cycle. Is that right?

Adam Mintz  02:59

Right. So let me just explain that since this is actually our last Thursday night of the cycle, even though there is one more parsha left. So next Shabbat, are the intermediate days of Sukkot called Hol HaMoed. And on Hol HaMoed, there’s a special Torah reading for that relates to Hol HaMoed to Sukkot and the Torah, we finish on Simchat Torah. That’s the tradition a week from Tuesday, we finish the Torah. So therefore, it’s an interesting thing. The end of the Torah is the only portion that’s actually read on a date. It’s not Shabbat. So actually, today, we’re talking about faith. Maybe we can, we can think a little bit about the fact that this is really where we’re going to end the Torah and the story of Moshe’s life,

Geoffrey Stern  03:45

And If faith means anything, at Madlik it means that we don’t have all the answers. And I want to share with all of you listeners, that we don’t have the answers of what we’re going to do next year, because for two years, we’ve been talking about the Parshat Hashavuah. And I think both Rabbi Adam and I are kind of on the same page that we maybe want to think about doing something differently. So, if any of you have any ideas, suggestions, go to Madlik.com. And write a comment, write a comment on any of the podcast platforms, we are open-eared to any suggestions and ideas that you have. But here we are. This is our last Madlik podcast of this cycle. And we picked a very, very small trivial title. We’re going to talk about faith. It’s about time; two years. What do you say Rabbi isn’t about time to talk about faith?

Adam Mintz  04:45

I’m ready. Fantastic. I love it.

Geoffrey Stern  04:47

So we are in the parsha of Ha’Azinu and it is literally the swan song. It is a song from Moses;  God through Moses to the Jewish people and it begins in Deuteronomy 32. And we’re going to read one through four and it says הַאֲזִ֥ינוּ הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם Give ear Oh, heavens, let me speak. Let the earth hear the words I uttered, may my discourse come down as the rain. My speech distill as the dew like showers on young growth, like droplets on the grass, for the name of God, I proclaim, give glory to our God, the rock whose deeds are perfect, yay. All God’s ways are just. A faithful God never faults true and upright in deed. And I am going to focus on the words of faithful God El Emunah. Because the word for faith the word for belief in Judaism is a Emunah. And it is rarely as we will see tonight used in the Toa, and this is one of the primary places that it’s used. And sure enough to our surprise, it is not talking about Moses, the man of faith. It is not talking about the people of Israel or people of faith. It is talking about אֵ֤ל אֱמוּנָה֙ a God of faith. And that’s why I call this episode God Believes. But before I open this up to the rabbis’ comments, I’m going to go down just a few more verses, because after Moses finishes talking about how God has given mankind every opportunity by giving His Word as dew and as light and all of that good stuff, it gets a little critical. And at 32: 20 It says, God said, I will hide my countenance from them, and see how they fare in the end, for they are a treacherous breed, children with no loyalty in them, לֹא־אֵמֻ֥ן בָּֽם the same word, no faith, you could say in them. So here we have in Oh, I don’t know, one small chapter, which is what our parsha ultimately is one small song. Faith is used twice, once to describe the God of faith. And the second time to describe a people with no loyalty in them. Rashi says לֹא־אֵמֻ֥ן בָּֽם, my training is not evident in them before I showed them the good way. And they have deviated from it. It doesn’t really smack of there are people lacking faith. There a people almost who have betrayed God’s trust. How do you take at least for the purposes of these few verses rabbi, the words Emunah and emun.

Adam Mintz  08:23

So, first of all, it’s really interesting to you know, to compare these two things, because what you see is that the word faith is not you know, you think that faith means what we have in God, that’s the one use of the word fake. And here you see that in both cases, that’s not exactly what it means. So let’s just say each El Emunah, a god we can count on. That’s a very important thing. You know, we just coming off of Yom Kippur, you need to be able to count on God. If you can’t count on God, you’re in big trouble. El Emunah. God is a trustworthy God. That’s a very important quality. We might argument we can discuss this, we might argue that it’s the most important quality of all; the fact that God we can trust God, that we know that God is going to take care of us from day to day we can trust God, but lo emun bam means they have no emunah, which means they can’t be trusted. What it means that God can trust the people. They’re not they’re not reliable. We have that term today, too. The worst thing you could say about someone who works for you is they’re not reliable, right? They’re not reliable. That’s terrible, not to be reliable. And that’s what he says about the people. They’re not reliable. So, God is reliable, and the people are not reliable.

Geoffrey Stern  09:53

You know, we haven’t done this for a while. But in modern Hebrew, an Ish Ne’eman is someone you You can count on it someone you can rely on. He’s reliable. And I think you kind of touched upon that in both of your explanations of the different permutations of emunah that we have in this pasuk. It says, A faithful God, what you your interpretation is a being that we can rely on. And when he talks about the children with no Uman in them, that you can’t rely on them. And I think that is you know, that has to be the most basic interpretation. And that has to be the most straightforward reading of the text. But because we’ve been spending so much time in synagogue, I like I said in the pregame once I decided on what we were going to discuss tonight, I started focusing on the prayers slightly differently and I said, How does this word Emunah appear in our prayers? And the most amazing thing is that when you wake up in the morning, even before you’ve washed your hands, and so therefore you cannot say God’s name befurash you can’t actually say, Hashem Adonoi. There is an amazing prayer that every child learns in cheder and it’s called the Modeh Ani. And it’s מוֹדֶה אֲנִי לְפָנֶֽיךָ I give thanks to you living and everlasting King. חַי וְקַיָּם שֶׁהֶחֱזַֽרְתָּ בִּי נִשְׁמָתִי that returned my soul to me when you wake up you’re actually the Talmud says 1/60 of coming back to life. בְּחֶמְלָה in great mercy? And then you pause and you say רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶֽךָ Great is your faithfulness. So here again, we have this word Emunah. But it doesn’t say in the sense of I am faithful, great is my belief. It is God’s faith in me, that we rejoice upon. And I look at that. And I go back to the verses that we just read. And I see a faithful God as a God who believes in us and I see children with no לֹא־אֵמֻ֥ן בָּֽם the way why she says My training is not evident God is in a sense disappointed because he had faith or he or she had faith in us, and we didn’t come through, but certainly Rabbi How do you take this רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶֽךָ great is your faith?

Adam Mintz  13:05

I mean, it’s a good question, but chemla raba,  means with kindness. rabba emunatecha , your faith in us isn’t that  really what it means it’s God’s faith in us. And I think there’s a very important point that the rabbi’s understood. And what the rabbi’s understood is that faith is one of those terms that’s multi-directional. If you’re going to have a relationship, you have to trust one another. By the way, that’s true about marriage also, right? If only one partner trusts the other one, but the other one doesn’t trust the first one, you’re not going to have a good marriage, the only way a marriage can work is if both trust one another. That’s a very, very important point. And here you have the same thing. If we’re going to have a relationship with God, it means that we have to trust one another.

Geoffrey Stern  14:02

I totally agree. I think you could make the argument that Raba emunatecha could be great is my faith in you, that you revived me I went to sleep, and I believed in it. But I don’t think that is the explanation. The amazing thing is like all of our prayers, it doesn’t come from nowhere. The Sanhedrin hagadola whoever wrote our prayers, took them from Scripture. And believe it or not, these two words come from Echa; Lamentations is the book that we read, on the saddest day of the year. And in lamentation chapter 3: 17. It says, And I am kind of coming in in the middle. If you look at the source notes, and you read it from the beginning of the chapter, it is just beautiful and poetic. but it is a whole litany of things of how we are bereft My life was bereft of peace. I forgot what happiness was. I thought my strength and hope had perished before the Lord, to recall my distress and my misery was wormwood and poison. Whenever I thought of them I was bowed low, but this do I call to mind, therefore I have hope. The kindness of the Lord has not ended his mercies are not spent. They are renewed every morning. Ample is your grace, Raba emunatecha The Lord is my portion, chelkei Hashem, God is my Helek, The Lord is my portion, I say with full heart. Therefore, I will hope in Him talk about how haTikvah talk about hope. Here is the prophet Jeremiah, giving voice to the forlorn individual, the forlorn people of Israel, and what gives them hope, is clearly not their faith in God. But the translation I read is ample is your grace. But the word is Raba emunatecha, I don’t think you can, other than give the interpretation that we are giving, which is great is your faith, even if it’s unfounded in us.

Adam Mintz  16:31

So that’s what it is God’s trust in us. And it’s exactly what you said, you know, it’s kinda a weird idea. But the idea in Modeh Ani is that every single morning God makes a decision. The decision is whether or not to give us back our life. That at night, we’re asleep, and God decides whether or not to give us back our life. B’Hemla;  Raba Emunatecha, that God is ultimately trusting, you know, he trusts us. And that’s why he gives us back our life. If he didn’t trust us, there’d be no reason to give us back our life. If he didn’t think that we were going to be good people, it wouldn’t pay to give us back our life. Raba Emunatecha isn’t that what it means?

Geoffrey Stern  17:17

I think if you’re looking at the liturgy, to give us an answer. The answer is when the liturgy talks about faith. It’s God’s faith in us. So to give you another example, the Shemona Esrei, the silent prayer, the 18 benedictions, the core of every prayer service from the simplest mundane morning service to the Ne’ela service. The second prayer, talks about Sustainer of the living with kindness Resurrector of the dead with great mercy supportive of the fallen and then healer of the sick releaser of the imprisoned and fulfiller of his faithfulness to those who sleep in the dust אֱמוּנָתוֹ לִישֵׁנֵי עָפָר again, it’s God’s faith in us. We come from a world where other religions and I’m gonna, I’m gonna prepare you for a question I’m gonna ask later Rabbi about conversion, but certainly in other religions, when you convert to Christianity, when you convert to Islam, you have to verbalize, I believe in this, I believe in Allah and Muhammad is the prophet, I believe in Jesus. And here we are encountering in the Bible and the Torah, and in our prayers, a totally different type of faith. I think it’s radical.

Adam Mintz  19:06

I think it’s radical that is really interesting. And you know, it’s interesting, just to jump ahead to your kind of question and that is, you know, statements of faith. Judaism doesn’t quite have statements of faith do they?. Right. We don’t have for us. Now we do have Shema Yisrael Hashem Elohonu Hashem Echad. we do say that God is one. But that’s about something else. That’s about that. There is no other God. It doesn’t talk about what our relationship is with God. All it says is there’s no other God. And just to jump ahead to your question, when somebody converts, we don’t make them explain what their relationship with God is. The question we ask is, do you reject the belief in other gods, that’s the key. So that’s just interesting the way we see theology, we see theology as the rejection of other gods, that’s what’s important.

Geoffrey Stern  20:12

So, so I think that’s fascinating, because so many times and again, I’m talking to the expert here, you know, Rabbi Adam, you’ve done countless conversions, you’re on the Jewish JCC of Manhattan, you’re the head of a whole agenda to explore a conversion. And we always think of conversion in terms of, okay, a Christian comes in, they want to convert, and a Muslim comes and they want to convert. And for the first time, as I’m reading these I goes, what happens if someone says, I don’t believe in God, I’m an atheist, but I fell in love with this woman, or I fell in love with this man. Oh, I fell in love with Judaism, with the rituals. We were talking about the rituals before? Do you even ask a potential convert? If they believe in God? It just struck me as a curious question.

Adam Mintz  21:09

Yeah, it’s very good. It’s a very, very good question. And especially good. Because the answer is “no”. And that’s just because we’re worried about something else. Seems to be that you know, that the history of Judaism was actually the rejection of idolatry. Now, that goes back a long way, because there’s no real idolatry anymore. But when that was an issue, that was a huge issue. And that’s what we reflect that so we refer to,

Geoffrey Stern  21:35

you know, I don’t go on Facebook all that much. But I have one young rabbi, he was a reformed rabbi, he made Alia doing COVID. And now he works for the Jewish Agency named Joe Schwartz. And he, two days ago, posted a string about the question of faith. And somebody asked him, What does faith mean to him? And he found the question to be very odd. And then he started to question himself and saying, Why is it odd? And so it elicited a bunch of comments, but one of the comments from Noah Millman and he has very learned followers, says, “the more I think about it, the more struck I am, but the number of injunctions against faith, faith in the wrong things. It’s not just idols, we all want to have faith, and it’s also people “Al tivt’chu bin’divim, b’ven adam she’ain lo teshuah.”, that kind of thing.” And that’s kind of what you were just saying, it’s so fascinating that on the one hand we have this aspect of faith, which is a God who has faith in us. And then the other aspect is misdirected faith, believing in the wrong things.

Adam Mintz  22:51

 The wrong thing. That’s very interesting. That’s correct. It seems to be the the history of Jewish theology is the fear of believing in the wrong thing,

Geoffrey Stern  23:03

Misplaced misplaced belief. So I really want to make sure that we don’t leave any stone uncovered. I think that faith or emunah is something that is used when you need it. So there’s a very famous verse in to Tehilim; in Psalms, and it says lלְהַגִּ֣יד בַּבֹּ֣קֶר חַסְדֶּ֑ךָ וֶ֝אֱמ֥וּנָתְךָ֗ בַּלֵּילֽוֹת to proclaim your steadfast love at daybreak, Your faithfulness each night. And again, getting back to our liturgy. When we finish The Shema every day, we are sign off in the morning, different than we sign off in the evening, at in the morning, we say אֱמֶת וְיַצִּיב. And at night we say אֱמֶת וֶאֱמוּנָה. Both of them have this word truth. And of course, you know, truth is part of all this. The one aspect of Emunah that comes through in all of our prayers is a simple word. It’s a word called Amen, when we say Amen, it comes from the same root as EmuNah. And what we’re saying is it’s true, or we can concur.

Adam Mintz  24:25

We believe in.

Geoffrey Stern  24:26

We believe in it. But again, in this nuanced sort of belief that we’re talking about, we can trust on it. We can rely on it. You know, I once got onto El Al flight, and I was sitting next to an old Hasidic and it was a cold day and I don’t have a lot of Yiddish but I said s’iz zeyer kalt, it’s very cold. And he said, it’s not as cold as Siberia.

Adam Mintz  24:57

That’s what he said?

Geoffrey Stern  24:58

That’s what he said…

Adam Mintz  24:59

That’s pretty funny.

Geoffrey Stern  25:00

So that was a conversation startup. And I said, Well, were you in Siberian? And he said yes. And he pulled out his passport and it had his picture front and center. And up in the upper right hand corner, it had a picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and he pointed to that, and he said, That’s why I survived in Siberia, and rabbi and listeners, if you know anything about me, you know, I’m not the one to start looking at a Rebbe and to say, oh, whatever he says is right. But I said to myself, you know, maybe in Siberia, you need a little bit of an image of somebody that you can totally believe in. So, there’s this concept of Emunah at night, Emunah in the dark times. And I think that’s kind of interesting and fascinating too.

Adam Mintz  25:52

That is really interesting. I mean, that you say that that point, I wasn’t thinking about that, but that point is really good. The וֶ֝אֱמ֥וּנָתְךָ֗ בַּלֵּילֽוֹת at night you need Emunah, and Emunah means that you trust. What you trust is that there’s going to be a tomorrow that requires trust, because that’s not based on knowledge. I don’t know that there’s going to be a tomorrow. So during the day, I don’t need Emunah because it’s already light outside. But at night, I need Emunah

Geoffrey Stern  26:23

And, you know, we got a sense of that in a Eicha; in Lamentations which certainly rates right up there with Siberia. And the word emunna was linked to the word hope; a light at the end of the tunnel. And you know, in that Facebook thread, and I quote it in my Sefira notes. This Joe Schwartz says, you know, at the end of the day, what does faith mean, to me? It ultimately means that not I believe in something that I believe that I believe it’s worth it, that I believe that there’s meaning that it’s okay. One of my friends came for the break-fast. And he said, What are you going to be talking about at Madlik this week? And I said faith. And they said, Well, how can you believe after the Holocaust? And I quoted probably something that you’ve may have all heard before, where they asked a believing Jew after the Holocaust? How can you possibly believe in God after the Holocaust? And his answer was, how can you believe in man after the Holocaust? And you know, at the end of the day, what his answer means to me is that it’s a combination of this sense of real faith is Faith in Our human predicament is faith in our human condition. It’s a faith in in our world. You know, maybe it is that we believe in a God who believes in us. But at the end of the day, it’s not faith in it’s just, it’s just faith.

Adam Mintz  28:15

 Yeah. So that’s also interesting. Faith in do you need faith in and what you’re arguing is by definition, faith is not the best kind of faith, because faith needs to be even without the faith just needs to be faith.

Geoffrey Stern  28:32

Faith that there’s a better day ahead faith that it’s worthwhile to get up in the morning. That’s what Raba Emunatecha means to me. So the other the other things that I left in this a few notes is a real discussion about faith and dogma. I mean, it wasn’t until Maimonides came and gave 13, a list of 13 things that Jews have to believe in. And the first was ani Ma’amin and it’s in the siddur. That God exists. And not not surprising for those of you who listen to Madlik on a regular basis. There are rabbis who argue with him, he claims that one of the 613 commandments is one of them. The first one is to believe in God. And the Ramban says Not at all. And of course, whether he says not at all because it’s the basis of everything, because it’s the assumption of anything, or whether we moderns can interpolate from that, that it is besides the fact or because it cannot be commanded, who knows? But it’s fascinating to know how late it was before we Jews got this sense of a dogma and things that we had to believe in. And for those of you who enjoy singing, Yigdal Elohim Chai, it’s really a musical version of Maiminides 13 attributes. But again, it’s fascinating to look at something so basic as faith, and to wonder what you know what it really means to us.

Adam Mintz  30:26

I just want to say that as we conclude this round of this cycle of the Torah readings, it’s amazing to end on the idea of faith because you know, it’s the idea that is at the foundation of everything of the Torah, but it’s something that really doesn’t come up all that often. And it’s interesting that now the last week that we kind of think about what Faith means and you know how it applies to our lives. So, thank you Geoffrey, for choosing an amazing topic. I want to wish everybody a Hag Sameyach, and enjoy this week’s Parsha Ha’zinu ve’zot Habracha. And we know that when we finish the Torah we say three words. Hazak Hazak Ve’nitchzek, which means let us be strong, let us be strong, let us strengthen one another. And I think Geoffrey, what we’ve tried to do over the past two years in clubhouse is to strengthen ourselves and to strengthen one another. And we look forward after a little break of coming back with new ideas for you and to continue to Hazak Hazak Venitchazek Shabbat Shalom, everybody. Hag Sameach

Geoffrey Stern  31:25

Hag Sameyach Rabbi, I thank you for every week for joining us on this conversation. And full disclosure, today is my birthday. And I couldn’t celebrate my birthday in a better way than with all of you here on clubhouse and on our podcast, if any of you have any suggestions or ideas of what we should do in the year ahead. Don’t be shy, let us know. But in the meantime, enjoy the end of the Torah. Enjoy Sukkot and we’ll see you all in the year ahead. Shabbat Shalom.

Adam Mintz  32:01

Shabbat Shalom be Well, bye bye.

Geoffrey Stern  32:04

And if anyone has any comments or suggestions, come on down. We are open.

Mathew Landau  32:12

Hey, Geoff, great presentation Happy Birthday. What I wanted to say was having read Ha’azinu many times, although not this coming Shabbat that I thought that the rest of lines. So the Emunah Word Appears in line four. And it says אֵ֤ל אֱמוּנָה֙ וְאֵ֣ין עָ֔וֶל         צַדִּ֥יק וְיָשָׁ֖ר הֽוּא And then five and six, or at least five certainly, I thought it explains what emunah means because it says basically a faithful God. Without injustice, he is righteous and upright. And then in five when he says, he says destruction is not his is it is his children’s defect. You crooked and twisted generation. So, it’s very interesting right there. He’s really explaining what, what it means to God for being faithful. And it further goes into like, what do you means when humans aren’t? That’s all.

Geoffrey Stern  33:22

Yeah, I mean, I think the most basic straightforward explanation of faithful is reliable, consistent, more than that ….elevated, it’s someone who does the right thing. And God, as you say, in those following verses, is the one who you can count on. He does all the right things, and then the verses very quickly go down on to, by contrast into the children of Israel, who …. are not so much. And so it’s really interesting, that the translation of faith and belief, to emunah, is probably a misleading because it has nothing to do with faith or belief. It has to do with trust. And even if, you know, there were times where it talks about the Jewish people, or the Israelites are crooked, God is straight. So that’s the most interesting thing. And if you do that, and if you follow that to its end, and you say, okay, so emunah does not mean faith and belief. Do we have a word for faith and belief? And that also becomes kind of interesting, but there’s no question that in Exodus when Moses is at the burning bush, and he says to God, you know, It’s great that you’re appearing to me. But that they may believe in God. He wants to know what will it take to have the Israelites believe in him. And then when he talks later about convincing Pharaoh and the Egyptians, he uses the word emunah. So that’s where I think it gets this nuance and only in respect to others. Only in respect, I wouldn’t say necessarily to polemics, but in the sense of interaction with other people, were the word emunah becomes believing it does have that aspect to it. But certainly, in our, in the verses in Deuteronomy Devarim that we’re reading now, it’s very far afield from faith in the way that we’ve grown up to believe. But I made I made reference to Joe Schwartz and his Facebook thing, he ended up by saying, and this I find this amazing, “I assume faith is the opposite of יאוש, which is despair. Giving up. Faith, I suppose, is an attitude toward all things of this world that resists the impulse towards nihilism. ….  So, I think that at the end of the day, whether it’s being able to rely on somebody, you know, that’s that, ultimately, at the end of the day, whether you’re in a concentration camp, or you’re in Ukraine, or wherever you are, you want to know that somebody cares, that there’s somebody else out there, that cares about you that hears you. And I think that at the end of the day, and that’s, I think, what my takeaway was, that when I was saying, it’s not faith in it’s just faith, that there’s something beyond you that matters, I don’t know. And I think that at the end of the day, those of us who get up in the morning and just, you know, go about our business, at the end of the day, we’ve got to have some sort of faith, especially in this crazy world that we live in.

Mathew Landau  37:21

Well, I had two other comments. One is, the comment about radicalism was about not believing in you know, that you don’t believe in God was it was in the context of Christianity and Islam. But they came much later. So actually, it’s radical because of what came before it?

Geoffrey Stern  37:43

We don’t rehearse. And I know that the rabbi does many conversions. And I was fascinated by the question that literally just popped into my head. That was…. we all assume everybody is converting from something. But what happens if somebody shows up and say, you know, literally, I am not a believer. I’m not a religious person. But I just love Shabbat, and I love the community. And I love all that. And it was fascinating. And I kind of knew the answer, but I was fascinated to hear him say it, because you never hear of a rabbi who’s involved with that kind of thing. Who says, Well, do you believe in this? And do you believe in that? It’s, you know, are you are you on the one hand? Or what are you not going to Do? You know, can you give up your other faith options? But more importantly, do you embrace Jewish tradition in Jewish action and ritual? And do you want to join the community? And I just, it was fascinating to hear him say that, but I enjoyed asking the question.

Mathew Landau  38:52

Yeah, I remembered my last comment. I agree with everything you said. My last comment was, I think that Rabbi said, at one point, well, idolatry doesn’t really exist anymore, or something to that effect. And he may be right in the traditional sense if you’re looking for a traditional opinion, but there are many others who say for people who don’t believe in God, which we’re not seeing as a requirement anyway, that if they don’t, they generally fill it with some other belief whether it’s capitalism, communism, some ism in their lives that really, you know, motivates them, but in a way, these are all false idols. No?

Geoffrey Stern  39:30

Look, I’m a big believer in why we start cold Nidrei by saying any vows that I have are neutralized. Ultimately, at the end of the day. There’s a lot about Judaism which is saying, we don’t know what we can say yes to but we know we need to say no to we need to clean the slate. We need to clean our mind to open ourselves up and I think that’s a fascinating aspect of what faith is. It’s not misplaced faith more than what you believe in and opening one selves up. Anyway, it’s a fascinating discussion. And especially, you know, we can say, Oh, this these discussions only came up after the rise of Christianity and Islam. But again, that gives us a wonderful mirror to look at our own religion and to say, well, how different is it? So, anyway, that’s what we need to celebrate. So thank you. And if you have any ideas of what we want to do in the year ahead, let me know.

Mathew Landau  40:43

Okay, excellent.

Geoffrey Stern  40:45

Okay, Shabbat shalom, everybody. Bye bye.

Sefera Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/436267

Listen to last year’s podcast: Blame it on Dad

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Free at Last

parshat vayeilech – deuteronomy 31

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on September 29th 2022. As so often happens, the weekly parsha becomes particularly topical this year as we end the year of the Shmitah (Sabbatical Year). As the life of Moses comes to an end, he provides his last instructions which relate to the blowing of the Shofar on Yom Kippur and the public reading by the King of the Book or Deuteronomy on Sukkot.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/434397


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. In this week’s parsha Vayeilech the life of Moses is coming to an end, and so is our year. Moses provides his last instructions. So join us as we draw lessons for the new year ahead. Free at Last.


Well, the year is growing to an end. And I have come to be a firm believer that somehow the parsha always relates to what we’re going through and this week is definitely no exception. But before we begin, as you all know, Madlik is a podcast and we are published on all of the popular platforms are Apple and Spotify and all of the other podcasting platforms. And I always say if you like what you hear, share it, give us a star and give us a nice comment. And last week we got an amazing comment from Hava.  Hava wrote: “Dear Rabbi Mintz Dear Mr.  Stern. I have never liked cooking and found Friday somehow stressful until I discovered Madlik. I do listen to the late Rabbi Sacks his comments and we still discuss them with great joy at the Shabbos table. I follow JTS Torah commentary and often cringe. But Fridays are now my Madlik days. Thank you so much for this inspiring podcast. Shana Tova and Shabbat Shalom”, and boy did that warm my heart. There’s a woman at my synagogue Judy, who says that she also listens to the podcast religiously, every week when she cooks for the Shabbat. And I came to the my synagogue, The Community Synagogue of Westport, TCS. And I had switched the times that I was supposed to arrive, and I was about to apologize. And the lady who was in charge of the tickets as you don’t have to apologize, I listen to the Madlik podcast. So we might Rabbi, we might not be famous, but when it counts, there are faithful people who listened to it. And that puts the pressure on us. We gotta keep it up, I guess.

Adam Mintz  02:51

Fantastic. That’s really nice. That note was so beautiful. And it’s so nice that people listen to us, and that we share a little bit of the parsha each and every week.

Geoffrey Stern  03:01

Agreed. And those of you are listening, don’t be shy, give us a little support, you know. So, as I said, we are in parshat Vayeilech. I think last week, you said it was the shortest posture. And as I said, it’s really about the end of anera. And we’ll see it’s not only the end of Moses on the passing of the baton, but it also talks about exactly the moment that we are in right now, the end of the year, and to be very precise, the end of the Shmita year, the seventh year. So that’s the tease. Let’s begin Deuteronomy 31: 7 says, Then Moses called Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, be strong and resolute, חֲזַ֣ק וֶאֱמָץ֒ for it is you who shall go with this people into the land that God swore to their fathers to give them and it is you who shall apportion it to them, and it is indeed God who will go before you, God will be with you and will not fail you or forsake you. Fear not, and be not dismayed. Moses wrote down this teaching and gave it to the priests, sons of Levy, who carry the ark of God’s covenant, and to all the elders of Israel. And Moses instructed them as follows every seventh year, the year set for remission (Shmita) at the feasts of booths, (Sukkot), when all Israel comes to appear before your God in the place that God will choose, you shall read this teaching aloud in the presence of all Israel. Gather the people, men, women, children and the strangers in your communities that they may hear and so learn to revere your God and to observe faithfully every word of his teaching. Their children who have not had the experience shall hear and learn to revere your God, as long as they live in the land that you are about to cross the Jordan to possess, and have a literary point that has that {פ} in asterisks, we know this is the end of a literary segment. So as I said, we start with God telling Moses, it’s going to be Joshua, and he says “you” just a few times, and Rashi, picks up on this. And he says, there can be but one leader for a generation, and not two leaders for a generation (Sanhedrin 8a) quoting Sanhedrin. And so really, you know, we talked a few weeks ago when the Queen died, that it was God bless the Queen, Long Live the King.  You have that moment kind of here and that recognition that there cannot be more than one leader.

Adam Mintz  06:09

Good. It’s so great, because so many things that we’ve talked about revolved around the Queen dying and King Charles and you know, that was so smooth. There was nobody who said someone else should be the king, because everybody knew, right? That was the deal, that Charles was going to become the king. But when it came to Moshe, that wasn’t so clear. Nobody knew who the next leader was going to be. If anything, you would probably have guessed that it would have been Moshe’s sons, because Aaron is sons inherited the position of being the Cohen. So, you probably would have thought that Moshe sons would have inherited. The moment that it’s not Moshe’s sons, it literally is up for grabs.

Geoffrey Stern  07:02

What I’m kind of struck by reading it anew, as I do every year, is this tight weaving between on the one hand, Moses, dying and passing the leadership on to Joshua. And as I said, in the same breath, it says at the end of every seven years, the Shmitah, you should go ahead and renew you should go ahead and read publicly the Torah. And the rabbi’s and Rabbinic Judaism in general, really focus on three words here מִקֵּ֣ץ ׀ שֶׁ֣בַע שָׁנִ֗ים, the end of the seven years. So we just went through a Rosh Hashanah. And you would think that the end of the year would be on the first of Tishrei, the first day of Rosh Hashanah. And yesterday, which was the beginning of the new year would be the beginning of the new year. But in fact, it’s not quite as squeaky clean. Rashi says this means in the first year of the new Shmita year, in other words, the eighth year. So here we shall see that Yom Kippur, which comes 10 days after Rosh Hashanah, which we’re going to celebrate next week. And even beyond that. The Sukkot holiday is part of this dance between the end of the year and the beginning of a new year. It’s not quite so easy to make that transition. Am I putting too much into here or is there a question? I mean, the Ibn Ezra says  תחלת השנה, he’s saying it’s not the end of the year…. You know, how they have at the end of these wedding videos, where it says it’s not the end, it’s the beginning, we have kind of that moment here.

Adam Mintz  09:11

So the point you made is an interesting point. And that is that we actually have a ritual at the end of Shmita. That’s kind of odd, because we don’t usually have rituals at the end of holidays. Usually the rituals at the beginning, take Pesach for a minute, the ritual the Seder is at the beginning, right? It’s not the ritual is not wait till the end. But when it comes to Shmita, the ritual is at the end, which is Ha’kel. Why is that exactly? Why don’t we make the ritual at the beginning of Shmita?

Geoffrey Stern  09:46

That’s a great question. The other part of it is that you know, we do have Havdalah we make Havdalah at the end of Shabbat. So I think that might be the exception to the rule. Next week when we do Yom Kippur, we’re going to make a big deal out of Kol Nidrei. But we’re also going to make a big deal of Ne’ela. But what strikes me is that the end really encroaches on to the beginning, it almost, you know, reminds me of the custom to not make Havdalah not end the Shabbat immediately at sunset. But to have that third meal, let that melave malka spill over into the new week and stretch it out, stretch out that taste, you have a little bit of that here. Because somehow there’s this connection between not only the definitive end of Shmita, which happens on the first of the year. But then there’s ….. we’ll see in a second, Yom Kippur, which has a blast of a shofar, which becomes important for indentured servants. And then we have Sukkot which becomes important because of this Ha’kel, this gathering of all the people to hear the Toa once again, and you know, then we even call the last day of Sukkot Atzeret, which means “stop”. It’s finally an end to the end of the beginning, so to speak, but there is no question that it’s unique here, in the sense that it’s a drawn-out ending, but not simply an ending that kind of peters out or fades out in a very slow and regulated fashion. You have these peaks, you have the shofar blowing on Yom Kippur, you have this Ha’kel, this gathering reading the Torah, I think it makes it kind of interesting. And getting back to how we started about the end of Moses in the beginning of Joshua, I can’t help but make the parallel to to the end of an era in the beginning of a new one.

Adam Mintz  12:06

That got really good. I mean, and of course, this is the third to last parsha in the Torah, which is also actually the third to last chapter in the Torah. These last portions are very short. I’ll just explain that for a second. It’s a tangent, but it’s an interesting tangent, you know, last week’s portion, this week’s portion, next week’s portion, and they’re all very, very short. The reason for that is because we kind of ran out of parshas, right … there aren’t quite enough parshas for the cycle of the year. And we need to take it right Simchat Torah. So we kind of shorten the portions in the last few weeks to make sure that we lead into Simchat Torah, this is just one week. But that idea that this is the end, and it’s also the beginning and how you define the end and the beginning. And it’s the end of the Shmita. But it’s the beginning of Ha’kel and it’s the end of Moshe, but it’s the beginning of Joshua. Is it the beginning or is it the end?

Geoffrey Stern  13:08

Yup. And you know, this word, the Rabeinu Bechaya, one of the commentaries that I brings, he talks about this word Miketz. And he gives instances where it literally does mean at the end. And there were other instances where it means after the end, but he quotes the first time that the verse is used in Genesis, and it says, God said to Noah, I have decided to put an end to all flesh, קֵ֤ץ כׇּל־בָּשָׂר֙ it’s really Key’tz is the ultimate end its mortality. And you really do even in the choice of language and the references that the commentaries are making, somehow and of course, we cannot help but feel it. You know, the beautiful thing about the Jewish holidays is they are so linked to the change in season. The secular New Year is in the middle of the winter. You’d never have a Jewish holiday in the middle of something. On a daily basis, you have Shabbat come at dusk, it ends when when the sun sets, you have Passover in the spring, you have the Rosh Hashanah, at the end of the year, meaning the fall where you get that sense of mortality, you get that sense of the end of the cycle of life. Many times there were people that say that the three pilgrimage holidays the Shalosh Reaglim..  it’s almost one cycle and then you have this Rosh Hashanah which begins very not characteristically of do Which holidays on the first day of the month, as opposed to the middle of the month when the moon is bright. I think that somehow the Torah is actually mixing the two together in a very nuanced and a beautiful way. And you kind of make the transition from the first of Tishrei to Sukkot, which is one of those pilgrimage festivals. I just feel it for the first time reading these verses.

Adam Mintz  15:31

That’s good. What do you make about the fact that Joshua pops up here again, even though we haven’t heard from him in a long time?

Geoffrey Stern  15:40

Well, I mean, I do think, again, the emphasis is not on Joshua. But I think he almost becomes a foil. Joshua is the next one. And if anything, the Bible is emphasizing more the “you” in Joshua, we all have commented before that Deuteronomy is written in a different voice. But as Rashi picks up on it says, twice, you shall apportion it to them, You shall go with them. It’s you, I think, to exclude Moses, it really is the fall, the winter of Moses’, his life. And it’s all about transition here, which I find so, so fascinating.

Adam Mintz  16:32

And how kale is true, is transition, because that’s how you transition back to the six normal years.

Geoffrey Stern  16:39

I think so. And you know, the last verse, In this literary piece that we read, is the ultimate transition. Not only do you gather the people, the men and the children, but their children too, who have not had the experience shall hear and learn to deliver your God, as long as they live in the land. This is talking into the future as well. It’s a kind of a gift of this transition. But it definitely seems to me to be a very profound sense of transitioning from generation to generation, from time, from life to death to life again, all at the same time in the midst of seven odd verses.

Adam Mintz  17:27

I think that’s right. I think that’s great. I mean, in this little chapter you have you have all about transition. And let’s just talk for a minute. What do you think it was like for Moshe, this transition? I mean, this is an unfulfilled dream promotion, for us to say transition. What about if you’re the one who doesn’t go into the the promised land?

Geoffrey Stern  17:50

Yeah. And of course, we’ve, we’ve discussed this before, you know, we quote Perkei Avot that says, It’s not yours to finish לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמֹר, and all of that good stuff, no question. It is something that is a bittersweet moment for him. And I say bittersweet, because a successful leader creates a new generation of leadership. And that has to be satisfying to him, it has to be satisfying to him, that the God that, worked with him was going to work with the generation ahead. So I do think if anything, comes through in these verses, its ambiguity. There’s, gotta be this sense of continuity, and there’s got to be this sense of disruption of happiness and sadness, sweetness, and in bitterness.

Adam Mintz  18:50

I mean, I think that’s right. And I think that that’s really a nice way to look at it from your perspective, to say that this is a transition and at least if I’m not going to do it, but the guy who’s doing it is a good guy, right? Is someone who like trust.

Geoffrey Stern  19:10

Yep. So what I’d like to do is to get a little more tactile and really get a sense of what we’re talking about what happened. So, the Mishnah in a Sotah describes that what happened was on the first day of Tabernacles, of the eighth year, after the seven-year sabbatical, immediately after the closing of the seventh, a wooden stand would be erected in his sanctuary, where upon the king would sit, and the officer of the congregation would take a holy scroll, we’re talking about a scroll. Now we’re not talking about tablets. You know, we talked when we started Deuteronomy, that it was this scroll of Deuteronomy that was taken and discovered in one of the times that the Temple was not destroyed, but in Ill repair and found, and it gives this amazing, amazing talk about bit of sweet story about a certain King Agrippa, who was, I believe King Herod’s grandson. And even King Herod wasn’t totally Jewish. So it says, King Agrippa was accustomed to accept it while standing, and he would also read it while standing. And the rabbi’s praised him for this act. And when he would reach the passage and Deuteronomy 17: 15, thou mayest not set over thee a stranger, who is not thy brother, tears would roll down from his eyes. The Rabbi’s then said Do not be afraid king Agrippa, thou art our brother, thou art our brother, then he would read from the beginning of Deuteronomy up until chapter six. So you even have this bittersweet moment of the king of that moment, who was a good king, you can look him up on Wikipedia, fascinating story, a good friend of Caligula, but he did good by the Jews. And you have this moment of looking in the mirror when you read the ancient texts, and you get to evaluate how you stand up to it. But this literally would be happening in the next few weeks. We are literally at the end of the seven-year cycle. There were fields that are in Israel that have not been plowed or tended to for this past year. And now in this eighth year, we would be having this amazing ceremony. So it really brings the moment of the Jewish calendar that we’re in right now to a whole new light, I think

Adam Mintz  21:56

it’s great. I mean, you know, it’s by chance that we read this portion now, because of course, the idea that we have some has to really finish the Torah on, you know, this time of year is only …. there were two traditions there was an annual cycle. We finished it every year, and there was a triennial cycle. We finished it once every three years. In Israel, they had a triennial cycle. So they were they didn’t get to this until once every three years. But the fact that now that we have that this week and this transition, because it doesn’t talk about Yom Kippur, but let’s just let’s just segue to Yom Kippur for a minute. If you want to know what the theme of Yom Kippur is, in a lot of ways it is transition, you know, just to share a little thought, and that is on Yom Kippur, we say Yizkor. That’s a funny thing to say on Yom Kippur, you know, Yom Kippur is all about us, right? We ask for forgiveness. And us and us and us and we say we’re sorry, and all that kind of stuff. Now, all of a sudden, we then we have Yizkur right in the middle. And the rabbis say that, you know, in the Torah, the day is not called, Yom Kippur, in the Torah, the day is called Yom Hakipurim in the plural, it says it’s a day of forgiveness for the living. And for those who have died already, in a way, Yom Kippur is a transition. We’re supposed to take everything we learned from our parents, and we’re supposed to transmit it to our generation, and to the next generation. And of course, like you said, transition is complicated, and transition is hard. And we don’t know what you know, we don’t know what we’re supposed to transmit and what we transmit, we don’t know if we’re doing such a good job. So, transmission is hard, but transmission is the real thing. So I think that also is very relevant to what we’re doing now.

Geoffrey Stern  23:36

Well, I love that you you bought in Yom Kippur, because that’s exactly my next source. There’s the seven year cycle. And then there’s the seven times seven-year cycle, which is the Jubilee the Yoval. And it says on the Jubilee years, on the 10th of Tishrei, it says, Thou shalt you cause the shofar to sound on the 10th day of the seventh month on Yom Kippur shall you sound the shofar, and the Gomorrah asks in accordance with whose opinion is this. It is the opinion of the Mishna teaches: The first of Tishrei is also the New Year for Jubilee Years. The Gemara answers: In accordance with whose opinion is this Mishna? It is the opinion of Rabbi Yishmael, son of Rabbi Yoḥanan ben Beroka, as it is taught in a Baraita: What is the meaning when the verse states: “And you shall hallow the fiftieth year”? Since it is stated that the shofar is blown “on Yom Kippur,” one might have thought that the year is sanctified only from Yom Kippur and onward. Therefore, the verse states: “And you shall hallow the fiftieth year,” which teaches that the year is sanctified from its beginning onward, from the first of Tishrei, when the year begins.  Again from the first of Tishrei we have this ambiguity ambivalence between the first or the last but here’s what’s fascinating. From here, Rabbi Yishmael, son of Rabbi Yoḥanan ben Beroka, said: From Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur of the Jubilee Year, Hebrew slaves were not released to their homes because the shofar had not yet been sounded. And they were also not enslaved to their masters, as the Jubilee Year had already begun.  Rather, they would eat, drink, and rejoice, and they would wear their crowns on their heads like free people. Once Yom Kippur arrived, the court would sound the shofar, slaves would be released to their houses, and fields that were sold would be returned to their original owners. So we have one verse that’s says that the indentured servants go free on the first of Tishrei. But on the other hand, it says that you shall blow the shofar and shout freedom, the words that we have on the Liberty Bell. So it says and they were also not enslaved to their masters. So, you have these indentured slaves who neither here nor there. They are no longer slaves, yet they are not yet free. Rather, they would eat, drink and rejoice, and they would wear their crowns on their heads like free people for the whole 10 days. We call it the Aseret y’may teshuvah (The Ten Days of Repentance) the indentured servants were feasting, and drinking and rejoicing. Once Yom Kippur arrived, the court would sound the shofar, slaves would be released to their houses and fields that they were sold would be returned to their original owner. So really, you know, you talk about what Yom Kippur what the 10 days of repentance mean to us, this image of slaves going through the transition, the process of becoming free. My take away is that as we get rid of our sins, what we’re really doing is possibly getting rid of our dependencies, getting rid of those things that do enslave us, and that shofar that blows we’re all in a sense, kind of indentured servants who are being freed. But it really fits into the narrative of those people that rejoice us at the end of Yom Kippur that this is the most happiest day of the year. It really resonates to me.

Adam Mintz  26:44

You know, it’s such a striking Gemora because it really gives you the sense that you’re in prison between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. מֵרֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה עַד יוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים לֹא הָיוּ עֲבָדִים נִפְטָרִין לְבָתֵּיהֶן וְלֹא מִשְׁתַּעְבְּדִין לַאֲדוֹנֵיהֶם אֶלָּא אוֹכְלִין וְשׁוֹתִין וּשְׂמֵחִין וְעַטְרוֹתֵיהֶן בְּרָאשֵׁיהֶן כֵּיוָן שֶׁהִגִּיעַ יוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים תָּקְעוּ בֵּית דִּין בְּשׁוֹפָר נִפְטְרוּ עֲבָדִים לְבָתֵּיהֶן וְשָׂדוֹת חוֹזְרוֹת לְבַעְלֵיהֶן means they prepared for Yom Kippur. But they weren’t free yet? Isn’t that a weird thing? They celebrated the fact that they knew that they were going to be free.

Geoffrey Stern  27:20

Yeah, yeah… You know, you talk about different models, different metaphors, different ways of looking at what we’re doing now. And I think to look at it from the perspective of these engendered slaves servants, both from their eyes from their masters eyes is this becomes fascinating, and I could not but help notice that the word for them becoming free is נִפְטְרוּ…. It’s the same word that we talk about when somebody passes away, that he’s niftar. And I talked about this in an earlier segment when we talked about this concept of צְרוּרָ֣ה ׀ בִּצְר֣וֹר הַחַיִּ֗ים and I have to say that tonight’s learning is dedicated to a cousin of mine, a pillar of the Jewish community Sandy Gottesman, who passed away last night. And I think and this is so his Neshama can have an aliyah, but it’s also very similar in you can help us with this rabbi, that the time period between when somebody dies, to when they are buried to the Shiva, it’s all these transitions. And this the word for niftar, which can be will released if you’re a if you’re an indentured servant, but also released from the shackles the boundaries of the physical is is fascinating to me.

Adam Mintz  28:54

It’s fascinating. First of all, let me just say that, you know that we’re sorry about Sandy. Sometimes you say someone lived an amazing life. And you know, he, he valued every second of that life, and he made a difference every second of that life. And that’s a nice thing to say about somebody something that you know, you don’t say that about everybody. So we remember him as someone who made an unbelievable difference right? In the Jewish world in the New York World in the Israel world. He just made a tremendous difference. And you know, niftar, he is released to the world to come. Everything’s about transition. We go from being Onanim, where we don’t daven, we don’t put on tefillin, to being mourners where we put on tefillin. But we sit on the floor, then at the end of Shiva, the best transition ever. We walk around the block, and why do we walk around the block because it’s hard to go out after Shiva. Shiva is very comforting and when people come to visit you, you don’t have to go anywhere. It’s hard to go out. So they force you to go outside because that’s part of the transition. And I think that’s right. It’s all about transition. This is a week of transition. And the Torah Portion really says in the Torah portion, I think the Torah Portion better than any of these things highlight the fact that transitions are complicated. And I think that’s really what you’re supposed to remember around Yom Kippur is the transitions are really complicated.

Geoffrey Stern  30:21

Yeah, absolutely. And you know, I can’t think of these released slaves without also thinking. And we’ve talked about this verse before, about the slave who decides he wants to stay with his master. And the custom is that he gets taken to the doorpost, and his ear is pierced with an awl. And the Talmud in Kedushin says, The Holy One, bless it be he said, this ear heard my voice on Mount Sinai when I said, For to me the children of Israel are slaves, which indicates that they should not be slaves to slaves, כי לי בני ישראל עבדים ולא עבדים לעבדים. And yet this man went and willingly acquired a master for himself, therefore let his ear be pierced. So as we watch these slaves, and maybe as we put ourselves into the shoes of these slaves, even though we’re not talking about Passover, but this radical sense of freedom when you through the process of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Hakel, Sukkot, the end of Shmita, realize that you are not a slave to any other slave when you get rid of all those dependencies. That is true, true freedom. It’s so amazing to me that I’m the Liberty Bell is exactly this word that you shall ring freedom throughout the land. You know, as Americans, we can really get this too. But of course, we have to remember that it wasn’t a bell. It was a shofar, and that’s what I’ll be thinking of on on Yom Kippur

Adam Mintz  32:05

And of course that’s why we blow shofar at the end of Yom Kippur not because of the shofar of Rosh HaShana, but because of the shofar of Yovel; of that transition from one thing to the next. So that really is the perfect conclusion to this whole discussion. And we wish everybody Shabbat Shalom, you should have a meaningful and an easy fast. And next week we look forward Thursday night, we will talk about Ha’Azinu, the last poem in the Torah. Shabbat Shalom, Gamar Hatima Tova,  an easy fast everybody. Be well.

Geoffrey Stern  32:36

Same to you Rabbi same to all you listeners. Gamar hatima Tovah…. a sweet, healthy, prosperous year. Let us all make all the transitions that we have to and we’ll see you all again next week. Shabbat shalom.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/434397

Listen to last year’s vayeilech podcast: The Aleph Bet Revolution


Filed under Bible, Hebrew

Steal This Book

parshat nitzavim, Deuteronomy 30

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

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/433106


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


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

Adam Mintz  03:35

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

Geoffrey Stern  04:15

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

Adam Mintz  05:21

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

Geoffrey Stern  05:53

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

Adam Mintz  06:39

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

Geoffrey Stern  06:50

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

Adam Mintz  07:52

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

Geoffrey Stern  08:13

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

Adam Mintz  09:32

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

Geoffrey Stern  09:56

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

Adam Mintz  10:04

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

Geoffrey Stern  10:08

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

Adam Mintz  12:58

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

Geoffrey Stern  14:12

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

Adam Mintz  17:12

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

Geoffrey Stern  18:11

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

Adam Mintz  18:25

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

Geoffrey Stern  18:36

Well, you’re the rabbi, you said it!

Adam Mintz  18:38

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

Geoffrey Stern  18:52

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

Adam Mintz  22:39

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

Geoffrey Stern  23:27

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

Adam Mintz  24:24

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

Geoffrey Stern  26:17

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

Adam Mintz  29:46

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

Geoffrey Stern  30:03

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

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/433106

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


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First Fruits – First Prayers

parshat ki tavo – Deuteronomy 26

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on clubhouse on September 15th 2022. As we approach the high prayer season we trace the evolution of the oldest prayer preserved in the Torah. The First Fruits Declaration, a once iconic prayer made by a farmer on Shavuot; the Harvest Festival. We see how this prayer was censored, repurposed and reinterpreted up until today and wonder what license it provides to us.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/431313


Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. As we approach the high prayer season, we trace the evolution of one of the oldest prayers preserved in the Torah. The Bikurim or First-Fruits Declaration, made by a farmer on Shavuot; the Harvest Festival. We explore how this prayer was censored, re-purposed and re-interpreted and wonder what license it provides to us. So grab a bowl of fruit and a siddur and join us for First Fruits – First Prayers.


Well, welcome back another week. And as we said, in the pre-show, the High Holidays are coming, they’re coming. They’re coming. They’re not waiting for us. And that’s what I meant when I referred to the “prayer season”, because isn’t that actually what it is, I mean, there’s no time of year that we pray more, that we are engaged with our liturgy. And before we get to the exact text from our parsha, that I want to discuss, and the Parsha is Ki Tavo in Deuteronomy, it just seems to me, Rabbi that Deuteronomy is the source of many prayers, much of our liturgy, I mean, the most famous Shema Yisrael is in Deuteronomy 6: 4. Last week, while not liturgy, we talked about the paragraph that says that you have to remember what Amalek did to you. And I referenced that there is a whole Shabbat called Shabbat Zachor, that we focused just on saying that little chapter in public, and some say, that’s one of the rare occasions that literally by Torah law, we have to make that declaration. So am I wrong here? There’s little avoid liturgy comes from the Chumash, The Five Books of Moses itself, but that that does, there’s a lot in Deuteronomy.

Adam Mintz  02:34

So you’re absolutely right. And the fact that Shema, not only the paragraph of Shema. But the second paragraph of the Shema Vehaya Im Shemoa  וְהָיָ֗ה אִם־שָׁמֹ֤עַ also comes from the book of Deuteronomy (11: 13), I think the reason is probably a simple reason. And that is Deuteronomy is the kind of the summary, the review of the Torah. So, it has paragraphs that have a lot of different ideas all together. Like in the paragraph of Shema, you have belief in God, you have study Torah, you have Tefillin and you have Mezuzah. Yeah, you have all these things, you have reward and punishment. It’s all there in one paragraph, you don’t have that in the rest of Torah. So actually, in terms of prayers, and in terms of kind of covering all the bases, Deuteronomy is a great place to get prayers from.

Geoffrey Stern  03:22

And you know, I would kind of add, and I’ve said this before, that, modern scholarship believes that Deuteronomy was probably written closer to when Ezra came back from the exile, we’re talking about a period where there was maybe no temple anymore, the synagogues were starting to be formed. But even if you don’t buy into higher criticism the whole angst of Deuteronomy is when you come into the land. And certainly, coming into the land, the central Mishkan was over. And there was this beginning of what we could see as decentralized Judaism. And certainly, it had a prophetic sense of there would be a time where Jews would need to pray and our religion would change. So, I think from all different perspectives, there is no question that Deuteronomy is a great source for later liturgy. I think we’re on the same page there.

Adam Mintz  04:28

Good. I think that’s 100%. Right. And I think you know, that just makes the point stronger, but you know, whatever the explanation is just making the point is interesting, right, just realizing that so much of our prayer service and the Shema itself comes from Deuteronomy is a super interesting point.

Geoffrey Stern  04:46

Great. So, we’re going to start with one of the most iconic little prayers; declarations if you will, certainly something that we’ll see ended up in our liturgy by way of the Haggadah. It is a farmer’s declaration of bringing the first fruits of the harvest to the temple. And it starts in Deuteronomy 26: 3 it says, You shall go to the priest in charge at that time and say to him, I acknowledge this day before your God that I have entered the land that God swore to our fathers to assign us. The priest shall take the basket from your hand, and set it down in the front of the altar of your God. You shall then recite as follows before your god, my father was a fugitive Aramean he went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there. But there he became a great and very populous nation. The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us they imposed heavy labor upon us. If this sounds familiar to any of us, it’s because it is quoted in the Haggadah. And what the Hagaddah does is literally take every one of the words that I just said, … when it says the Egyptians dealt harshly with us. When it says that we became לְג֥וֹי גָּד֖וֹל עָצ֥וּם וָרָֽב when it says they oppressed us וַיְעַנּ֑וּנוּ it has a standing commentary, which actually becomes the most fundamental core part of the whole Haggadah-Seder moment. And it says, We cried to God, the God of our ancestors, and God heard our plea. God heard our plea. You’ll see in the Passover Haggadah, it says, When God heard our plea, he understood what they were doing to us. Maybe he was separating men from women. It goes into this running commentary in the Haggadah, he saw our plight, our misery and our oppression. God freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, you remember in the Haggadah talks about what does it mean by בְּיָ֤ד חֲזָקָה֙ by an outstretched arm וּבִזְרֹ֣עַ נְטוּיָ֔ה and awesome powers and by signs and portents…. So, this is as far as the Haggadah goes, but the literary piece the parsha of Bikkurim continues, bringing us to this place, וַיְבִאֵ֖נוּ אֶל־הַמָּק֣וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה and giving us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Wherefore I now bring the first fruits of soil which you God have given me, you shall leave it before your God and bow low before your God, and you shall enjoy together with the Levite and the stranger in your midst, and all the bounty that your God has bestowed upon you and your household. And then if you were looking at this text in a Sefer Torah, there is an end of literary piece, the end of Parashat Bikkurim, we have finished. So this clearly is a very old piece. It is in a sense quoted, you are literally quoting what the farmer says in front of the Cohen. So Rabbi, how many prayers like this do we have that are verbatim? And what does it mean to you?

Adam Mintz  08:48

Well, you said a mouthful here. The first interesting thing is that this is probably the earliest prayer that we have, which means that this was said as a prayer. In the time of the Torah, when they brought the first fruits, they recited this as a prayer. We just a minute ago, talked about Shema. Now Shema in the Torah is not written as a prayer, meaning that Moshe tells the people to believe in God and to put on tefillin and to put up a mezuzah, but he doesn’t say recite this every day. It wasn’t a prayer. We took it to become a prayer. But this actually was a prayer. And that’s really interesting. It’s interesting because what you see is that we have prayers, from the very beginning of time we have prayers, there are very few prayers in the Torah. There’s one another example of a prayer when Miriam, Moshe’s sister is sick. So Moshe says to God וַיִּצְעַ֣ק מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֶל־הֹ’ לֵאמֹ֑ר אֵ֕-ל נָ֛א רְפָ֥א נָ֖א לָֽהּ (Numbers 12: 13) , God, please cure her. It’s the shortest prayer in history. But that’s an example of a prayer and here we have another prayer. So, it’s interesting that the Torah recognizes the value of prayers, and even gives us some prayers that we actually recite.

Geoffrey Stern  10:10

You know, you saying that reminds me of the key prayers of the High Holidays? הֹ’ ׀ הֹ’ אֵ֥-ל רַח֖וּם וְחַנּ֑וּן אֶ֥רֶךְ אַפַּ֖יִם וְרַב־חֶ֥סֶד וֶאֱמֶֽת. This is something we’re going to start saying Selichot on Saturday night. These prayers are not only old, but because they’re old. They almost seem to have power, don’t they? If you really can count on your fingers, whether their prayers like this one, or whether like the Shema we’re quoting verses, I mean, some of the other ones that come to mind is with Ballam מַה־טֹּ֥בוּ אֹהָלֶ֖יךָ יַעֲקֹ֑ב (Numbers 24: 5). We start our service every day with that we quote, How goodly are the tents of Jacob”, it’s maybe written over the ark. We have the prayer that maybe parents say on their children on Friday night, יְשִֽׂמְךָ֣ אֱ-לֹהִ֔ים כְּאֶפְרַ֖יִם וְכִמְנַשֶּׁ֑ה (Genesis 48: 20) which is what Joseph said. But you’re absolutely right. This is, along with רְפָ֥א נָ֖א לָֽהּ which is with Miriam is one of the few places where, at least in the Chumash, The Five Books of Moses, you have actually texts of prayers.

Adam Mintz  11:27

Yeah, that is interesting in the history of prayer. That’s interesting that prayer is biblical. That’s not the prayers we say. The prayers we say are basically rabbinic. The Amidah that we recite is not found in the Torah, the Amidah that we recite the rabbi’s made up. So, we generally think of prayer as being rabbinic. But the truth is a prayer is biblical. There is a biblical source for prayer.

Geoffrey Stern  11:51

I mean, I think if you look at for instance, the Shemoneh Esrey, the Eighteen Benedictions, the Amidah, the Silent Prayer, a lot of stuff is taken from Psalms, Psalms is a rich source of if not prayers, but at least phrases or expressions; ways of talking about the, you know, healing people or making them stand up straight or reviving them in the morning. But here, actually, it’s very few times that in our liturgy, we have stuff directly from the Five Books of Moses. But there are a few cases. And this is a very, very old prayer, no question about it.

Adam Mintz  12:36

Right that so so that’s, that’s the beginning of what’s interesting here. Now, the text of the prayer is also interesting, because what the prayer is, is it’s kind of a review of Jewish history, to allow us to be grateful to God, recognizing not only that God gave us new fruits, but that God gave us everything beginning with taking us out of Egypt.

Geoffrey Stern  13:00

I mean, isn’t it amazing if you step back for a second, and the two prayers that we’ve identified as biblical and old, one had to do with healing, and the other one had to do with thanks and gratitude.  And what more can you talk about thanks Then the harvest? You know, I think of he who sows in tears reaps in joy הַזֹּרְעִ֥ים בְּדִמְעָ֗ה בְּרִנָּ֥ה יִקְצֹֽרוּ (Psalms 26: 5), There is nothing more primal than the thankfulness and it comes all the way to the Puritans and the Thanksgiving festival and Sukkot that we’re going to have. You can almost track the three major festivals, the pilgrimage festivals, all around agriculture, which ultimately becomes that we are dependent on the earth we’re dependent on rain, we’re dependent on God. And the flip side of that is we are so thankful when we have a basket of fruit that we can we can bring to God to thank Him or Her.

Adam Mintz  14:09

Right. I think all that all that is exactly right. I think that’s, that’s wonderful here, and then the use of this prayer in the Seder also needs to be discussed. Why do we choose this verse? To make the question better? Let me ask it like this. The Seder on Passover, remembers the Exodus from Egypt. If we’re going to choose verses that talk about the Exodus from Egypt, why don’t we take verses from the book of Exodus that talk about the Exodus from Egypt? It seems kind of ridiculous that we choose verses from the book of Deuteronomy that talk about the Exodus from Egypt. We might as well choose to have the original story I might as well you know if I’m if I’m reading the story, I don’t know what your story the story of of the you know, of the I have the respect that they’re paying to the Queen. I might as well read it as it’s happening now. I’m not interested 10 years from now and they write a book about it, they IV the story in the moment is actually more accurate and more reflective of the way people are thinking later on, you kind of just have a perspective. So why do we choose the verses from Devarim? from Deuteronomy? And not the verses from Exodus?

Geoffrey Stern  15:24

So that is an amazing question. And I think that also will give us an insight into some prayers of the High Holidays. So, one of the commentaries on the Haggadah, that that I love, he claims he says that the Mishna wanted that …. and by the way, the Mishna in Pesachim actually dictates that these verses are said in Pesachim 10: 4 it says that, when teaching his son about the Exodus, he begins with the Jewish people’s disgrace, and concludes with their glory, מַתְחִיל בִּגְנוּת וּמְסַיֵּם בְּשֶׁבַח, וְדוֹרֵשׁ מֵאֲרַמִּי אוֹבֵד אָבִי,  and he expounds from the passage an Aramean tried to destroy my father, which is our verse with a new translation we’ll find out in a second, the declaration one was cites when presenting his first foods at the temple. And here the Mishnah says until he concludes explaining the entire section. So the Mishna says you have to read it, עַד שֶׁיִּגְמֹר כֹּל הַפָּרָשָׁה כֻלָּהּ. The Mishna, in fact says to answer your question, not why, but that you have to say this whole section about bringing the first fruits on the night of the Seder from beginning to end. But the commentaries and modern scholarship, argue that the Mishna wanted to find a text and integrated commentary that was well known to the Jewish masses. And when we say well known to the Jewish masses, remember, there were many centuries, generations of Jews who did not even speak Hebrew, they spoke Aramaic, they spoke other languages. Because this prayer of giving the Bikkurim was so iconic, these scholars argue, we pick the one that people knew they not only knew the words in Hebrew, but they also kind of knew in a singsong way, the commentary on it. So, there was a great scholar named David Tzvi. Hoffman, who wrote a book called The First Mishna. And he actually uses the Haggadah and the way it goes from וּבִזְרֹעַ נְטוּיָה, and it gives an explanation, בְּיָד חֲזָקָה and gives an explanation. He says, this is a prime example of Midrash Halacha, and the earliest use of reading the written law and adding ongoing explanatory Midrash and interpretations. So, his answer to your question is, there are many other verses that talk about the exodus of Egypt, that might do it in a more poetic way, in a more discursive way, but the rabbi’s of the Mishna picked these because as we started by saying, it was an old prayer that everybody knew. And clearly, this is a prayer unlike the Shema that is not household to every Jew nowadays. But there was a time …. you knew The Bikkurim, and that we could we could talk about…

Adam Mintz  18:50

Well, everybody had first fruits, everybody had a harvest. We don’t we don’t live in agricultural life anymore. But if everybody lived in agricultural life, you would all have it.

Geoffrey Stern  19:00

so so again, I think that it’s fascinating that when we look at prayers, and some prayers are so well known, and we don’t even remember the reason that we know them. I mean, I think, and I’d love your take on this. We come to services on the night of Yom Kippur, the holiest night of the holiest day of the year. And this service is named after a prayer that we all sing in the same tune, and we probably all get choked up over; it’s called Kol Nidrei. And it is basically a prayer that has to do with a legal formula for canceling your oaths that you made. And we might not even know the meaning of the words we might not know the meanings of a lot of words of prayers, but this one has lived way beyond its expiration date, but it still has all the power and the meaning. And that’s a fascinating insight, I think into prayer.

Adam Mintz  20:00

Yeah, that is an interesting point, the power of the prayer and you raise the power of the tune of Kol Nidrei. You know exactly what its history is not clear. The key is that everybody has been doing it. Right. And everybody sings the same tune. And that’s what’s so powerful.

Geoffrey Stern  20:22

Do you know if the Sefardim, the Mizrachim also have the same tune?

Adam Mintz  20:26

I don’t know if they have Kol Nidre, I think Kol Nidrei is an Ashkenazim thing?

Geoffrey Stern  20:31

Well, it’s certainly for the for the Ashkenazi him. And again, it’s a little bit like the beginning of the Seder, where we sing the Seder itself. It’s like singing the table of contents of a book. You’re right, it is the music. But I think the rabbis and the scholars who say that the reason Bikkurim was bought into the Haggadah are touching upon this aspect of some of our prayers, that a prayer can be more than the words that are written in it becomes like a mantra, it becomes something that we share with each other. And it goes beyond the meaning of the words or the original context. And I think that if we stopped right here, that would be a fascinating lesson about the power of prayer, or how prayer is used, or what its power on us is, don’t you think?

Adam Mintz  21:28

I think that that that really is a very interesting point. Now, I’ll just compare for a minute Kol Nidrei. And this prayer for the first fruit, you know, this prayer for the first fruit is biblical Kol. Nidrei is actually in Aramaic, right? I mean, it’s not even in Hebrew. So, some of the power is and you know, Aramaic is like English. That was the language that people spoke. So, you know, sometimes prayer in the vernacular is what’s so powerful. And obviously, we have that, especially in the kind of in the more liberal movements that you know, prayer in the vernacular has a certain power to it.

Geoffrey Stern  22:12

Yeah. And so there’s definitely this issue of lack of language. And those, those scholars who say that Bikkurim was something that people who didn’t speak Hebrew and Aramaic was their language, still new because it was so popular. That’s one message and what you said a second ago, which is to walk into a synagogue, where most of the services for the rest of the day are going to be in Hebrew, and you see something you hear something that’s in Aramaic is welcoming the codices in Aramaic. So the language is an important part. So I said in the beginning, that this was going to be a history of the censorship, and the reinterpretation of a prayer. So when I read the verses in in Deuteronomy itself, and I said, אֲרַמִּי֙ אֹבֵ֣ד אָבִ֔י. The translation was my father was a fugitive, Aramean. Oved is typically translated as someone who is lost and we’ll get a little bit into it for a second. In the Haggadah, however, it introduces before we get into this first fruits declaration, it says as follows and those of you who have been at a Seder will remember וְהִיא שֶׁעָמְדָה לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ וְלָנוּ, and this is what stood for our ancestors for us, since it is not only one person that has stood against us to destroy us, but rather each generation they stand against us to destroy us. But the וְהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מַצִּילֵנוּ מִיָּדָם, God rescues us. So that’s the introduction to this prayer of the farmer. And then lo and behold, it changes the meaning. And in the Haggadah, it says, An Aramean was destroying my father Avood. I guess, when Esther was about to go in front of Achashveros when she wasn’t beckoned. She says וְכַאֲשֶׁ֥ר אָבַ֖דְתִּי אָבָֽדְתִּי (Esther 4: 16), Avood definitely can also mean, not lost, but lost in the sense of my life is in danger. And the rabbis in a sense, re interpreted this, this whole Parshat Bikkurim, this whole declaration of the first fruits in a different way. Do you agree? Before I asked that question Rashi in his interpretation on the Chumash actually goes out of his way to bring the Haggadah’s as interpretation, but if you look at the source sheet, most of the classical commentary say it’s clear that what he was talking about is we were wandering, landless people. And here I am a farmer living in my land, bringing my crop. So how do you account for this change of interpretation?

Adam Mintz  25:20

I mean, that that’s easy, because the change the interpretation, because the new interpretation works out better within the Haggadah,

Geoffrey Stern  25:30

Especially after that introduction,  Right, meaning the simple explanation, which is that we were wandering and now we’re in the land of Israel, and now we have our own fruits etc.  and all that kind of stuff. That makes a lot of sense, given the context of the Chumash, but that’s not relevant to the Seder. The Seder wants the big picture, which is that Laban tried to destroy us אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי, the word Avad, means from the word … tried to make us disappear, and therefore tried to get rid of I think, and we’ll see this comes up in another aspect of what the rabbi’s did. That there was a an evolution in the Haggadah itself. There is the Haggadah that was written and used in the land of Israel. And then when the Jews were exiled, it almost became a Haggadah of the exile. And so, the commentary that I have in the source sheet, it’s a by Joseph Tabori, he says as follows. He says while the temple existed, they understood the whole passage as truly representing their radical change in status. Remember, you’re in the land of Israel, you’re talking about the Exodus from Egypt, you actually parallel that farmer in a very profound way. The people had started out as fugitives, wandering nomads, and now they stood in their permanent home. But he says, After the destruction of the temple, there was no longer any parallelism between the lowly beginnings as nomads and their present status as people saved from persecution. And therefore, they talk about oppression rather than landlessness. So what he is saying and you can either buy it or not, is that the prayer itself evolved based on the needs of the time, and that when the mission of might have said say these verses of the first fruits, it might have been talking to people that their patriarchs, their ancestors had been in Egypt. Now they were in the land. They were spot on, like that farmer and the Seder was a question of being thankful just like the farmer, but when they were exiled, that message almost missed its mark, and therefore the rabbi’s put this introduction about how in every generation, they come to kill us, and it changed the interpretation of the verse. What do you think of Tabor’s theory?

Adam Mintz  26:12

That I love the idea that the that the interpretation of the verse evolves, and being grateful for it to having our own first fruit may not make sense if we don’t have our own land. I liked that a lot. That’s a really good explanation. Thank you.

Geoffrey Stern  28:37

So that explanation explained something else that I mentioned when I read the verses from our parsah, which is that in the Haggadah, it quotes are from our verses, but it doesn’t follow the advice of the Mishnah. It doesn’t read it till the end. It stops at verse 8. Verse 8 says, God freed us from Egypt with a mighty hand you will remember, that’s where the Haggadah says, What’s a mighty hand by an outstretched arm by awesome Power by signs and portents? There’s at least two pages in the Haggadah that talks about each one of these words, but get to verse 9, it says bringing us to this place. וַיְבִאֵ֖נוּ אֶל־הַמָּק֣וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה no interpretation, giving us this land, no interpretation a land flowing with milk and honey, no interpretation, all the way till the end. And I’ve spoken about this before the last verse, it says, And you shall enjoy together with the Levite the stranger in your midst, all the bounty that God gave you. So, in the introduction, I talked about censorship, in a sense and Tabori goes on to say this for people that were once more in exile. You It would be almost too much to pretend that they weren’t, it would be almost too much to talk about coming into the land, a land of milk and honey, and therefore the Haggadah decided not to quote those verses, and not to provide this singsong commentary about it. And if we step back and we look at prayers, that means that the prayers do evolve based on our condition where we are. But it’s also an open question. And I would say an invitation, is it not?

Adam Mintz  30:36

I think that that’s 100%. right. I mean, I really liked to Tabori’s explanation, I think he got it right. It also is good for us. Because what it does is it links the Torah portion to the Haggadah. Usually, the Haggadah just borrows these verses, but they’re not really relevant. And what he does is he really connects one to the other. So, I like that also.

Geoffrey Stern  31:01

So at the end of my source sheet, I quote just one, one section from a whole Google Doc, which comes out of Israel from young scholars in Israel. But literally, there is a revival in the Haggadah today, where they continue and they say וַיְבִאֵ֖נוּ who brought us in, and they say then is now as it is said, How I bore you on eagles wings and brought you to me in the same kind of tradition, this singsong thing they quote another verse, and אֶל־הַמָּק֣וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה this place refers to the temple, and it comes from Rabbi David Mishlove, supplement for Seders in Israel. So here we have an example of a prayer that starts in the Five Books of Moses in Deuteronomy, that was changed, maybe censored out of sensitivity to people living in exile, and is today being rewritten, and re-positioned for a new generation of Jews who are in the land. And I just find that to be so. So fascinating.

Adam Mintz  32:14

I think that’s great. I think this was really the sources I give you credit, Geoffrey, because the sources tonight were really, really good.

Geoffrey Stern  32:20

Well, and I think it’s an invitation to all of us as we, as we begin this prayer season, as I call it. There are different ways to approach the prayers. You know, many of us just focus on what does this prayer mean. But I think tonight, we’ve really seen that there were so many other reflective and reflections that can have meaning to us beyond just the simple meaning of the words, and we’re gonna be in synagogue for so many hours. We need all the tools we can get.

Adam Mintz  32:50

Fantastic. And we still got one more next week. So well, Shabbat Shalom, everybody, and we’ll see you next Thursday. Looking forward. Be Well, everybody.

Geoffrey Stern  32:57

Shabbat shalom. Thank you, as always, Rabbi. And for any of you who have a comment. Oh, Miriam, I’m going to invite you on

Miriam Gonczarska  33:08

I posted something a little comment that we have another prayer in our siddurs from the Torah. Not from Deuteronomy but from Numbers and its יְבָרֶכְךָ֥ יְהֹוָ֖ה וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ (Numbers 6: 24)

Geoffrey Stern  33:32

Of course, the Priestly Blessing, the Cohen’s benediction. That’s, that’s perfect. We did miss that.

Miriam Gonczarska  33:39

Yeah, and I wanted to add that because I think it’s fascinating, although it’s not from sefer Devarim. But the beautiful part is it’s about Cohanim. It’s about temple, temple rituals.  And we say it every day, every morning, but this is a beautiful, beautiful player.

Geoffrey Stern  34:07

Thank you for that. It is fascinating how few of our prayers come from the Torah itself, the rabbi kind of mentioned that. But those that do obviously have great power. And again, you look at Bikkurim It’s a prayer of a farmer being thankful with a historical memory. You look at the priestly blessing that you just mentioned, you know, it doesn’t talk about ritual, it talks about that God should bless you and keep you and shine his light upon you and give you peace. I mean, they’re just powerful.


Yes. And what is very interesting that apparently, archeologists in Israel found this prayer on a very early materials and there is this concept of biblical criticism, which we might like or not like, but they say that this is one of the oldest texts in   the five books of Moses. It’s beautiful words, and that the entire idea that Hashem should bless you and keep you and turn his face and shine upon you and be graceful into you. I mean, there’s different translations, and there’s so much in this play of words, because it’s the וִֽיחֻנֶּֽךָּ, you can translate it as chinuch (education), and Hanukkah, and there’s just so much written here plays so much, so much in this prayer. And again, it’s not from first book of Moses, it’s that from the fourth one. But the observation that you write I really liked that is that most of our prayers are from the sefer Devarim. That’s a fascinating observation and, and there is something very deep about it. Even if I found to be prayer here, taken from Bamidbar (Numbers)

Geoffrey Stern  36:05

So Miriam, if I remember you are a graduate, you got smicha Maharat, is that correct?

Miriam Gonczarska  36:10

Yes. And Rabbi Mintz is my teacher. I took all his classes.

Geoffrey Stern  36:15

And you serve the Polish community, if I remember correctly. So, what do you do during the High Holidays? Are you conducting services?

Miriam Gonczarska  36:26

No, it’s kind of public knowledge. So I can tell you I’m struggling right now with cancer. So I am in New York, but I am not able to be insured in a long you know, for long periods of time. So, I’m undergoing chemo right now. So, I’m laying low on the days themselves, but I teach online before I’m preparing my class, and I actually I want to teach this material to my students. So, I was so excited I need the source Sheet. I want to teach them in Polish. I’m going to translate parts of what you taught and teach it in Polish

Geoffrey Stern  37:07

Amazing!  I wish you a life and vibrance and Refuah Shelema and all those good things that were included in Miriam’s Refa Na La

Miriam Gonczarska  37:23

So actually, definitely means knows about my illness, and it was extremely moving when he actually said it knowing that I’m in the audience and my name is Miriam. And I love this moment and it’s like, it’s my teacher, but it’s like this this you know, I was warm and fuzzy.

Geoffrey Stern  37:41

As you should have been.

Miriam Gonczarska  37:43

Yeah. It might be just accidental, but I love that type of accidents.

Geoffrey Stern  37:47

Yeah, there are no accidents. Right? Anyway, Shana Tova, Shabbat shalom. Thank you all for joining us. Thanks  Miriam for coming on.

Miriam Gonczarska  37:56

And it was fantastic. Fantastic to talk to you and thank you for all the Torah that you’re sharing with Rabbi Mintz this is this a beautiful class and I’m so happy that there such a zchut for clubhouse to have such a high level Torah on this platform.

Geoffrey Stern  38:14

Thank you so much. Shabbat Shalom Thank you. Bye bye.

Miriam Gonczarska  38:17

Bye bye.

Sefaria Source Sheet: http://www.sefaria.org/sheets/431313http://www.sefaria.org/sheets/431313

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Remember to Forget

parshat ki teitzei – deuteronomy 23- 25

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

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


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


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

Adam Mintz  04:58

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

Geoffrey Stern  05:01

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

Adam Mintz  05:51

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

Geoffrey Stern  06:06

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

Adam Mintz  06:59

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

Geoffrey Stern  07:25

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

Adam Mintz  09:26

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

Geoffrey Stern  09:30

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

Adam Mintz  10:47

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

Geoffrey Stern  11:25

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

Adam Mintz  12:45

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

Geoffrey Stern  12:55

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

Adam Mintz  14:12

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

Geoffrey Stern  14:21

You can be in their place.

Adam Mintz  14:25

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

Geoffrey Stern  14:29

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

Adam Mintz  14:43

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

Geoffrey Stern  14:56


Adam Mintz  14:58

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

Geoffrey Stern  15:00

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

Adam Mintz  16:57

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

Geoffrey Stern  17:11

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

Adam Mintz  17:56

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

Geoffrey Stern  18:15

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

Adam Mintz  20:11

And what kind of answer would you get?

Geoffrey Stern  20:13

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

Adam Mintz  20:32

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

Geoffrey Stern  20:49

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

Adam Mintz  21:36

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

Geoffrey Stern  21:46

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

Adam Mintz  22:05

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

Geoffrey Stern  22:20

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

Adam Mintz  23:19

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

Geoffrey Stern  24:39

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

Adam Mintz  30:40

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

Geoffrey Stern  30:45

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

Adam Mintz  31:23

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

Geoffrey Stern  32:17

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

Michael Posnik  32:57

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

Geoffrey Stern  34:31

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

Michael Posnik  35:32

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

Geoffrey Stern  36:50

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

Loren Davis  36:56

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

Geoffrey Stern  38:32

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

Loren Davis  39:43

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

Geoffrey Stern  40:05

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

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

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

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Restore our Judges

parshat shoftim, deuteronomy 16 – 17

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

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


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


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

Adam Mintz  03:20

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

Geoffrey Stern  04:08

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

Adam Mintz  06:04

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

Geoffrey Stern  07:41

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

Adam Mintz  11:17

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

Geoffrey Stern  12:20

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

Adam Mintz  14:20

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

Geoffrey Stern  15:27

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

Adam Mintz  18:48

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

Geoffrey Stern  20:59

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

Adam Mintz  23:39

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

Geoffrey Stern  24:09

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

Adam Mintz  27:57

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

Geoffrey Stern  28:40

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

Adam Mintz  28:56

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

Geoffrey Stern  29:16

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

Adam Mintz  29:25

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

Geoffrey Stern  29:57

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

Adam Mintz  31:07

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

Geoffrey Stern  31:37

Shabbat shalom. Thank you, everybody.

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

Listen to last week’s episode: A time that never was

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A time that never was

parshat re’eh – deuteronomy 12-13

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse August 25th 2022. The Torah prohibits us from adding or detracting to its directives and also against rewriting history. It even predicts that there might be a time where our leaders will try to reinvent our past. We discuss.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/426413


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. In this week’s Torah reading is Re’eh. The Torah prohibits us from adding or detracting to its directives and also against rewriting history. It even warns that there might be a time where our leaders will try to reinvent our past. So hop into your time-machine and join us as we discuss…. A Time That Never Was…


Well, welcome. We are broadcasting from the Franco-American timeline. The rabbi is in Gay Paree, and I am in Connecticut. Thank you all for joining us. And we are getting towards the end of the Torah here. And as I said in the intro, the parsha Re’eh and it really covers a lot of good stuff. It starts with a little tease about a blessing and a curse and the whole Mount Grezim him and Har Ebel thing that we’re going to have soon, but doesn’t really go there. Then it starts talking, as it’s thinking about coming into the land, of destroying the altars that are there. And it’s focused on centralizing Judaism so that the idea is that you should only worship God in the designated, appointed place and destroy all of the altars of the non-Jews. And then it talks about how do you eat meat outside of that designated place, talks about false prophets gets into kosher rules, gets into tithes, the sabbaticals and holidays. So, it’s really got a lot of stuff. But we as is our custom are going to focus on something that could literally fall through the cracks. And that is in Deuteronomy 12: 29 It says, as follows. “When your have God has cut down before you the nation’s that you are about to enter and dispossess and you have dispossessed them and settled in their land, וְיָרַשְׁתָּ֣ אֹתָ֔ם וְיָשַׁבְתָּ֖ בְּאַרְצָֽם beware of being lured into their ways after they have been wiped out before you do not inquire about their gods saying How did those nations worship their god? I too will follow these practices” you will say, “You shall not act thus towards your God, for they perform for their gods every abhorrent act that God detests. They even offer up their sons and daughters to fire to their gods.” So, this is very strange, it really struck my attention. Because we’ve heard so many times about being influenced by the Canaanites by the idol worshipers that are in the land. But here it’s talking about a situation where you’ve already dispossessed them, and you’ve settled in the land. And it really is talking about don’t start looking kind of like an archaeologist It would seem or, or maybe a theologian curious about ancient practices, beware of being lured into the ways do not inquire about their gods, it says to וּפֶן־תִּדְרֹ֨שׁ לֵאלֹֽהֵיהֶ֜ם. And the commentaries are either very silent, or there’s one commentary that I found Rabbeinu Bahya who really does point this out. He says, you know, what’s the logic here, you’ve already destroyed them. When you beat somebody and they lose a war, you hardly want to imitate them. So what’s going on here and he says, This prohibits “Even the inquiry into details of the former inhabitants’ religious worship is forbidden” So it’s almost forbidden to do what we do so many times here at Madlik wishes, we look into context in history and practices of other people.

Adam Mintz  04:37

So, your point is a very important point. And that is that, chronologically, the way the Torah is set up. This is Moses speaking to the people before they enter the land. But because Moses is not going to enter of the land. He talks to them as if they’re already in the land. And they have all the challenges of being in the lands. Now, the idea of Kosher is a very interesting thing, just to take one thing that you mentioned, the idea of Kosher is not mentioned here for the first time, it’s mentioned in the book of Leviticus. But in the book of Leviticus, it means something very different. Because in the desert, the only time the Jews were allowed to eat meat was if they sacrificed a sacrifice, they sacrificed the sacrifice, and then they ate meat as part of the sacrifice. It was only when they entered the land when the borders became too great too wide and they weren’t able to get to Jerusalem every night where they wanted to have hamburgers, that they were allowed to eat from the meat even without, even without sacrifices. So even something like that, Jeffrey, I think that’s an interesting point that you make even something like that, you know, the laws of Kosher which we know from before, but they have a completely different meaning now, because they’re talking about a different situation, a situation that’s not limiting, but actually is expanding.

Geoffrey Stern  06:13

So, I totally I totally agree, everything is now focused on going into the land. But what I took away from this is this was one step further, this imagined prophesizes, if you will, a time where you’re successful, where there aren’t no pagans in the land, either they’ve converted or they’ve left or what else could have happened to them, but they’re not there. And the commentaries kind of focus on this is what what exactly is being prohibited here. And I think either looking at the few commentators like I did, like Rabbeinu Bahya or just looking at it as we do, you gotta think it’s strange. The question is, why would you number one, one to inquire about the gods of these unsuccessful inhabitants? And what is the concern about inquiring…..  that I do think we have an inkling, it says, If you inquire, then you might start acting like them. And keep in mind, they go so far as to offer their children to their gods. But it is, to me anyway, it struck me as strange. And I think that for once the rabbinic authorities either didn’t have much to say about it, or when they did, the best they could really come up with is, maybe don’t be curious. Don’t be looking back. But I want to continue on this thread in our parsha. Because if you go to verse 13, the next chapter right after this, it says, Be careful to observe only that which I enjoin upon you neither add to it nor take away from it לֹא־תֹסֵ֣ף עָלָ֔יו וְלֹ֥א תִגְרַ֖ע מִמֶּֽנּוּ. And this, of course, is a little bit of a parallel, because you would think from the earlier statement, that you might be tempted to say, well, exactly how did they pray? And how did they deal with their tabernacle architecture, maybe we should take some of the beauty that we can see in the fallen structures around …. this idea of adding to the Torah, and clearly of taking away where we have requirements. As you mentioned, kashrut, Shabbat, all of the things that are mentioned. Don’t take those away. In historical perspective, I think this has been used as a double edged sword, correct me if I’m wrong, not adding, would really protect us from zealots who want to increase …..  I think Rashi is example that he gives is, for instance, “to place five chapters in the Tephillin, to employ five species of fruit and plants in the fulfilment of the command of Lulab”. So, Rashi is focused on a quantitative addition. But the idea is, don’t be a “Machmir”, don’t be a fanatic and crazy and start adding certain things and detracting would be the typical argument against the reformers, the enlightenment, where they would take away from the commandments and say, this is not necessary. It’s the Spirit of the Law. But do you see this? There’s kind of a correlation, a train of thought here between the two statements that we’re working on so far.

Adam Mintz  09:54

I think that’s all really good. Let me just deal with two points you just made. The first point is why people would be tempted towards idolatry. It’s interesting. The Talmud says that there are two big Yetzer Hora’s, two things that people desire. One thing is sexual, you know, sexual promiscuity, and the other is idolatry. And the Gemara says that the Yetzer Hora for idolatry has already disappeared, but the age of horror for sexual promiscuity that’s still there. But the question is, why is that so? Why is it that? Nowadays we’re not interested in idolatry, but then they were interested by Idolatry. And I think you have to understand something about what idolatry offers, that that monotheism that one God doesn’t offer. You know, when somebody’s sick, we pray to God, when we go on a trip, but we want to be safe, we pray to God, when we want to be successful in business, we pray to God. It’s the same God we pray to, in idolatry, everything has its own god, you know, like the Greek god Poseidon. When they went on a trip across the ocean, they weren’t going on planes then, when they had a trip across the ocean, they went to Poseidon. When they got married, they went to the God of love, when they got sick, they went to the god of healing. And there was something extremely, you know, desirable about this idea that everybody had a personal God, it’s kind of like the way you feel when you’re sick. You know, God forbid, if someone has a specific, problem, they don’t want to go to the general practitioner, right, Geoffrey, that was in our parents or grandparents of generation that everybody went to the to the GP, and he or she solved all the problems. Now you want the specialist, you want the specialist, who’s the specialist of the specialist of the specialists, who only deals with exactly what your problem is, the truth of the matter is that that’s the same thing with gods, we want a god who was a specialist, and naturally why there was a Yetzer Hora. And that’s why the Torah says don’t go after their gods, that, you know, they looked at these people, and they said, hey, you know, maybe something’s right, because they seem to be living in good life, and they have very specific gods. That’s number one. Number two, is the idea of not to add and not to subtract, obviously, that is at the core of everything Jewish, because that’s the whole tradition of the evolution of the law. You know, obviously, the law has been added to and has been subtracted from just take the littlest things, right, the fact that we sell our Hametz (leaven), before Pesach, is in addition to the law, the fact that we avoid the laws of the Shmita, the seven sabbatical years by selling the land to a non-Jew is an addition to the law. It’s subtraction from the law. So, what is it exactly this acceptable and what’s not acceptable? And why when the reform movement came around? And they said, you know, we’re going to cut out some the prayers and these kinds of things. How did everybody know that was unacceptable? Maybe that was part of the acceptance. And this law of don’t add it don’t subtract is really about rabbinic authority. That’s what it’s all about. It’s about who makes the rules. And the amazing thing is that according to tradition, the Torah was written 3,300 years ago, and we are still in 2022. arguing about that point, who makes the rules? I’ll just tell you a funny Paris story, Sharon, and I were walking down the street this afternoon. And we overheard some young woman who was on her cell phone….. And of course, we Americans always talk too loud…..  So, she was on her phone. And we heard her say, Maharat for Shabbos. I like, we stopped and say what, what are you talking about Maharat in Paris, and it seems to be that there is a Maharat in Paris, and she’s on of my students. And we’re going there for Shabbos lunch. And this young woman is invited, and she was telling her mother that she’s going to Maharat for Shabbos lunch. Now, that’s just kind of funny, this small world that we live in. But you know, that’s an example, who says that women can’t be rabbis? Why is that an addition to the law that the Orthodox won’t accept, while you know selling your Hametz is something that they will accept. So this idea of adding and subtracting to the law is something that we’re still fighting about this every day.

Geoffrey Stern  14:10

I love the fact that you’re all the way in Paris and you heard about Maharat the school that you teach that that trains women rabbis in the Orthodox tradition. Small world is the only term that comes to mind. So I think you’re right. And I love the fact that you bring in things that are across the border, because in Deuteronomy 13: 7, it repeats kind of with a new nuance, the prohibition about taking customs and worship rights from the pagans. It says “If your brother, your own mother’s son, or your son or daughter, or the wife of your bosom, or your closest friend entices you in secret, saying, “Come let us worship other gods”—whom neither you nor your ancestors have experienced — from among the gods of the peoples around you, either near to you or distant, anywhere from one end of the earth to the other: do not assent or give heed to any of them.” So again, I believe this is totally new territory. Because up until now, we’ve been concerned with the pagan practices that they are being exposed to, don’t let your kids marry someone from the Canaanites, all of that stuff. And here, the field of vision is so much larger, there’s this issue of secret, which we’re going to have to deal with. But even before we get there, it’s a movement of people. But it has stuff that not even your ancestors, this isn’t even the paganism that Abraham rejected, or that you might have seen maybe in Egypt. The field of vision is so much larger. And I’m going to ask you to comment, and then I’m going to give you what I believe, is, is the historical context for these paragraphs. But do you agree with me that there’s something strange and different in this prohibition than other ones that we’ve seen here to four?

Adam Mintz  14:12

Yes, I think it’s right. And I’m gonna I’m going to pause for a second to listen to your historical analysis. Because I think that’s what it’s really all about here. What’s the background for this paragraph? So why don’t you shoot with the history and then we’ll talk about,

Geoffrey Stern  16:40

so thank you. So as you know, when we started reading Devarim (Deuteronomy), we really said it is a totally different voice, a totally different book. The Torah itself talks about it being discovered. And in the books of Tanach. There are those that say that it was written/discovered during the reign of King Josiah. But in any case, it has a different vision. And I am reading what is the first popular history of the Jewish people by a guy named Heinrich Graetz. We Jews love history, but we don’t necessarily study history. And he has two things that struck me that I read recently that really kind of put this into context. The first is a king called Jeroboam. And he ruled 977 to 955. And what he did is that he started to take control, and he’s used religion as a way of gaining control of all the people. I’m gonna read a little bit from greats. “He was the only man of ability and daring and an Ephraimite. From the tribe of Ephraim. They readily fell into his scheme and he introduced other tribes to join them. To obviate the need of pilgrimages to the temple.” Remember, we just came through the Torah, saying you have to make the pilgrimage to the set centralized temple, to which the people had been accustomed and in which their lurked a political danger, Jeroboam hit upon a mischievous scheme, which was to lead Israel back into idolatry. During his sojourn in Egypt, Jeroboam became acquainted with the animal worship of the Egyptians and learn the stupefying effects that had upon people. The introduction of Apis worship in Egypt, in effect on the Israelites would render them more tractable, and in addition would raise Jeroboam in the favor of the Egyptians.” So, there was domestic politics involved, and there was a foreign politics involved. “Moreover, Jeroboam determined to pose as a restorer of the ancient religion of Israel, and not as the creator of a new one. In Egypt and later in his own countries. They worshipped sacred bulls, and it goes into detail how this king drove them. You consolidated political party by leading a false movement of returning to a past that never existed, and he was successful. There was another king Manasha of Judah who was 200 years later, who did very similar things. He promoted idolatry again, I’m reading from Greitz throughout the kingdom, built pagan temples and Egan sacrificed on his sons and the fires of my life. He There’s a tradition that he killed Isaiah. So I think as you read these, and I would love you to go to the Sefaria notes and read in detail what Greitz wrote, and others wrote, I think that puts a totally new face on what we just read. This wasn’t pure speculation if you’re a traditional Jew, and you believe that Devarim was spoken by Moses, it was prophesizing, this period where these dastardly kings would go ahead and manipulate the past, and try first in secret amongst friends and family and then move it out where they would consolidate power, and use a religion that they imported from afar to do this. It seems to me that if you get a sense of history, and you know the history of for instance, these two kings, who by the way, preceded the King, who found (the book of Devarim) under his role, he did a true return Tshuvah, a true return to our religion. And he is responsible for bringing the book of Devarim to the fore.  I feel like I’ve been robbed, I had never realized this part of Jewish history. And once you read it, and then you read the verses that we just read in Devarim, it puts them in a totally different context. It’s talking about real situations that will happen prophetically, that did happen?

Adam Mintz  21:27

So that’s first of all, thank you to Greitz, I’m happy that you’re reading Greitz. Because, you know, the history of the prophetic period or the Kingdom is really the history of monotheism, the belief in the one God, the Jewish God, in the case of the prophets, and idolatry. And what you see is, and unless you read it Geoffrey, you can’t really believe it. You see the pull that idolatry had on people. It had on people it had on Kings, and then how complete societies were actually idol worshipers. I’m gonna tell you something else. That’s interesting. I don’t know if Greitz mentioned this. But you know, we have the tradition, the Torah, that the golden calf was the worst sin of the Jewish people. We know from archaeology now that during the time of the first temple, the Jews, the committed Jews, the Jews committed to God committed to the temple committed to the Prophet committed to the king, they actually had little idols, little golden calves at home, and they use them to worship God, the Jewish God. So, what you see is that idolatry was so strong, that even the good guys used idolatry, sometimes to help them with their religion. So, you see exactly what you said, what the pull of idolatry was all about. And you kind of understand, you know, during the end of the First Temple, the 10 tribes, they went north, and they basically broke away, and then they were captured by Sennacherib, and then they were dispersed, and we don’t know anything about them. And what we have is really the tribes of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin. So, we only have, two out of the 12 tribes have remained for everybody, maybe three because Levi also was there because idolatry gobbled up the other tribes. Yep, that’s an amazing thing. Think about that. Idolatry literally gobbled up 9 of the 12 tribes.

Geoffrey Stern  23:27

It is it is totally amazing. And the other parallel aspect of it is how closely linked politics and religion were. It’s not a modern phenomenon. Certainly, anyone who studied the papacy knows that. But the point is that if Graetz is even 80%, correct, in the in his treatment of these two kings, and he, by the way, does not make the connection to the book of Devarim. It was just that kind of small world moment where I’m reading the parsha and I’m reading Graetz, and it just leapt out of the page, that in fact, you couldn’t get a better explanation of the strange verses that we just started with, then to understand that there were going to be leaders who were going to reach near and far who were going to pretend that this was an earlier religion, that they were reformers, so to speak, and we’re going to use it and yes, the outcome is tribes were lost the whole tapestry of the Israelite tribes was broken over this. And as we as we end, what I would like to do is to bring this up to date, because I think it’s very clear that on not only from the beginning has politics and political power, diplomacy and religion been very united, we see it even today there are two books that I quote in the in the in the notes on Sefaria. One is it’s called Changing the Immutable: How Orthodox Judaism Rewrites Its History Hardcover – May 1, 2015 by Marc B. Shapiro (Author). And of course, you Rabbi talked about the Halachic aspect of this. And the book is written by a real deep scholar. And the other book is The Uses of Tradition: Jewish Continuity in the Modern Era (Jewish Theological Seminary) Paperback – February 1, 1999, by Jack Wertheimer (Editor). And it brings an amazing story there. And it’s the story that in Israel, there was a great scholar named The Hazon Ish and this story is called The lost kiddush cup. And he decided that there was a particular shiur, there was a particular measurement that the kiddish cup had to be to be yotze, to fulfill the obligations of making kiddush and one of the students took his words very seriously. And he went home. And he brought back the kiddish cup that his great grandfather who was a major scholar in Poland used and guess what, it didn’t have the right shiur, it wasn’t large enough to hold the wine that the has a nice wanted. And he uses this as an example. And it goes on to say there was a whole to-do because they found the kiddush cup of the Chafetz Chaim and it also wasn’t large enough. And the scholar who wrote the book uses this to explain how we constantly are rewriting history. And we have to be careful of it. And first of all, you have to identify it. And then you have to be careful of it because as the verse said, you can’t add or detract from these things. But I think the most important thing is we have to be aware of it. And it’s so important to understand not only what’s added and what’s not, but sometimes what the motivations are. And I think that becomes very powerful and in the State of Israel, where religion at the end of the day is playing a very large role, we can definitely see how secular leaders are a able to use tag words of religion and to sway people and it’s something that I think needs to be to be studied and at times called out that to me is how up to date these warnings are and not simply about adding a few laws here and there but changing the whole fabric.

Adam Mintz  27:47

That is fantastic. So I think what you see here and it’s really more true in Devarim, these portions in Divorim than anywhere else is that the issues that affected the Jewish people 3,000 years ago were still the issues that affect us today. And we can learn both from the mistakes that were made in the past and the you know the things that people did right and you talk about the Hazon Ish and the Hazon Ish’s kiddish cup and you talk about women rabbis, and all of these kinds of things. It’s really amazing to see how we still argue about it. But we should gain strength just to end on a nice note we should gain strength and the fact that the Jewish tradition is alive. And then on clubhouse we can still argue about argue and discuss the same issues and that makes us stronger and that makes us better. So whether you’re in Paris, none on the East Coast or anywhere in between have a Shabbat Shalom, enjoy the Parsha Chodesh Tov. It’s the beginning of the month of Elul.  Rosh Hashanah is right around the corner. Enjoy everybody and we look forward to seeing you next week at our regularly scheduled time. Eight o’clock on the East Coast Eastern Daylight Time. Shabbat Shalom Shabbat Shalom Geoffrey

Geoffrey Stern  28:55

Shabbat shalom. Au revoir rabbi and enjoy and take notes from Paris and for the rest of us. Yes, let’s realize how up to date, the Torah is always and keep our focus on strange little pictures and visions that occur and try to get to the bottom of them. Be sure to look for the Madlik podcast, give us some stars say something nice. And with that I will say Au revoir from Connecticut. Shabbat shalom.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/426413

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