Tag Archives: Judaism

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

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. 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…

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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

Listen to last week’s episode: Attitude is Everything

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Attitude is Everything

parshat eikev, deuteronomy 8-10

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on clubhouse on August 18th 2022. Much in this parsha relates to the correct and incorrect attitude. The Israelites are described as “stiff necked” and “rebels” (mamrim). They are warned not to attribute their success to their own power and commanded to bless God even when satiated. Finally, they are told that all God wants from them is their fear. We explore the power of disposition and attitude in Jewish thought.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/425215

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. In this week’s Torah reading the Israelites are described as “stiff necked” and “rebels”. They are warned not to attribute their success to their own power and commanded to bless God even when satiated. Finally, they are told that all God wants from them is Yira… translated as fear, awe or wonder. We explore the power of disposition and attitude in Jewish thought. So welcome to Attitude is Everything.

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Well, welcome back rabbi from the holy city of Beer Sheva, it’s great to have you back.

Adam Mintz  01:08

It’s nice to be back in New York. And I’m looking forward to our discussion tonight about Eikev.

Geoffrey Stern  01:13

Absolutely. And next week, we’re going to do it at 12:00 Because you’re going to be in Paris

Adam Mintz  01:19

So we’ll see whether we can put a little bit of French Jewish history into it next week.

Geoffrey Stern  01:25

You should be called the Traveling Rabbi. But anyway, we are all traveling one portion one parsha at a time. And this week, we are in the portion of Eikev. And as I referred to it has a lot in it. But towards the end it says And now Oh, Israel in Deuteronomy 10: 12. What does your god demand of you? Only this, to revere your God, to walk only in divine paths to love and to serve your God with all your heart and soul? And the fear your God isכִּ֣י אִם־לְ֠יִרְאָ֠ה אֶת־ה’ אֱלֹקֶ֜יךָ. And so, you know, this kind of reminds you of these great closing lines. I’m thinking of Micha, but where the prophets really end up saying, and this is it all in a nutshell. And the rabbi’s took something profound from this verse. In the Talmud, Berachot 33b, it says Rabbi Hannina said everything is in the hands of heaven, except for fear of Heaven. הַכֹּל בִּידֵי שָׁמַיִם, חוּץ מִיִּרְאַת שָׁמַיִם man has freewill to serve God or not, as it is stated, and he quotes our verse. And now Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you other than to fear the Lord? So why don’t we stop right here we’re going to have a great discussion about orientation and disposition and we’re going to touch upon all of those other verses that talk about maybe the characteristics of the Jewish people. But let’s stop here for a second and just talk about Yirat Shemayim. you know, it’s a very basic term you introduce religious parents to a friend in New York. He’s a real Yirat Shemayim… it’s kind of the tagline for a religious observant. Personality. What does Yirat Shemayim actually mean? Is it fear and trepidation?

Adam Mintz  03:35

It’s a good question. I like to translate it as awe what is all mean, if you meet, I don’t know, if you’re a basketball fan, and you meet LeBron James, you’re not afraid of LeBron James, but you’re in awe of Lebron James. That’s the way we’re supposed to think of God, we need to be in awe of God. Now there is some fear, because God has the ability to punish. But if you’re in awe of God, then you behave in a certain way. Like if you’re in the presence of the Queen of England, you’re going to behave in a certain way, because you’re in awe of the Queen of England. So, I prefer the word awe to fear.

Geoffrey Stern  04:16

So you mentioned about fear of punishment. And I think if you start to look at the traditional texts, you start to sense this tension between fear of outcomes and fear of God. So, in Pirkei Avot, it says Antigonus a man of Socho received [the oral tradition] from Shimon the Righteous. He used to say: do not be like servants who serve the master in the expectation of receiving a reward, but be like servants who serve the master without the expectation of receiving a reward, and let the fear of Heaven be upon you. וִיהִי מוֹרָא שָׁמַיִם עֲלֵיכֶם So here it’s almost in a positive sense rather than fear of punishment, it’s looking for reward. But they seem to be all tied together. And you can’t but ignore this concept that I always heard in the Yeshiva, which is do something for its own sake do it L’shma. What is the tension here?

Adam Mintz  05:23

Well, you bring up the idea of doing it for its own sake. See, you also said this what you learned in the Yeshiva, you know, I see them and what you call the yeshiva people had a big dispute. Hasidim thought that you should do things. because they get you closer to God. You know, there’s a dispute about what time to daven, to pray in the morning. Yeshiva, people like to pray early, because that’s when the time the Rabbis say, That’s the proper time to pray. Hasidim, if you ever went to a Chabad shul, you know, they start at 10 o’clock in the morning, because they believe that it more it’s more important to pray in a way that will get you closer to God. And the way that will get you closer to God is if you get to sleep late, then you’ll be able to pray and get closer to God. So the idea of why you do something, are you afraid of punishment? Do you want to get closer to God? Or is it just l’shma? Just because is actually a fascinating discussion.

Geoffrey Stern  06:33

So I went to, I would consider Torah Vadaath a Hasidic Yeshiva. And so the explanation I heard for why the Hasidim can start services, even after the prescribed time of saying the Shema. They say if you go to a restaurant, and the food is mediocre, it better be served fast and on time. But if you go to a five star restaurant, you’ll excuse them if it’s a little late. That’s what they tell me. So it was the quality of the prayers, too. But I totally agree there is a tension, I wouldn’t say quality and quantity. But certainly when you talk about fear of God, it brings up this dialectic between what exactly are you afraid of? And what is your motivation? So Maimonides on his commentary on the Pirkei Avot  that I just quoted, he kind of gets into this tension too. And he says, And nonetheless, he did not exempt us from fear of God. So he talks about how important it is to be serving God not for reward. And he said, even as you serve from love, do not discard fear completely. And may the fear of Heaven be upon you serve from love, serve from fear, he quotes the Talmud in Berachot. And then he adds, he says, you know, Love is a great pathway for the positive commandments. And fear is a great pathway for the negative commandments. And all the more so for the irrational commandments. So again, I think there’s this sense that even though our text in our pasuk that we just quoted seems to imply or at least the rabbi’s took it this way, because if you read the whole verse, it says, you know, revere God and then it says, work in his pathways love to serve your God with all your heart and soul. The thread that we’re following tonight, focused almost in isolation on this concept of fear. And the commentary seems to try to, I don’t know, square it with all the other intentions that are so important, and it almost comes out to be a backstop. And that’s why tangentially This Antigonus Ish Socho said, do it for the right reason, do it for the right reasons, but never give up on fear. So it almost seems like a default. A plan B if everything else fear fails, there’s always fear.

Adam Mintz  09:20

Well, let’s go back to the pasuk that you quoted. It says what is God asked from you? He only asks fear. So actually, that’s what I think they’re playing on. Why is it that he only asks fear? What about everything else? God doesn’t ask you to fast on Yom Kippur. God doesn’t ask you to keep the Shabbat. God doesn’t ask you to keep kosher. What do you mean all God asks you is for fear of God. So the Rabbis say everything’s in Heaven’s hand except for fear but that’s kind of a weak answer.  I think that’s what we have to talk about. Why is fear qualitatively different than everything else.

Geoffrey Stern  10:02

So I love I love your focus. And I think really for the rest of our discussion, we are going to discuss the “only”. The total laser focus on this disposition. But before we do, I would like to bring this Yirah up into the more present. And I do want to say, because we’re going to be discussing this concept of a disposition, of an attitude as being so singular. I do want to bring Heschel into it, and Heschel writes in God in Search of man. He says, according to the Bible the principle religious virtue is yirah. What is the nature of yirah? The word has two meanings, fear and awe. There is the man who fears the Lord lest he be punished in his body, family, or in his possessions. Another man fears the Lord because he is afraid of punishment in the life to come. Both types are considered inferior in Jewish tradition. Fear is the anticipation and expectation of evil or pain, as contrasted with hope which is the anticipation of good. Awe, on the other hand, is the sense of wonder and humility inspired by the sublime or felt in the presence of mystery. … So, we’re going to talk a lot about this isolated disposition. But clearly, I don’t think we need to be cornered into talking about fear, certainly not fear of punishment. You said you think of it as awe. I love even going a step further with Heschel to wonder. And of course, he wrote a whole book on All I ask for is Wonder, which is actually a re-statement of what “only” God asks from us. So I love this wonder. And I think if I bring anything and maybe the two of us, if we bring anything every week, it’s reading the verses again, and thinking about it with an element of wonder.

Adam Mintz  12:03

I mean, it’s so great, that really what we’re talking about here is just the definition of one word, which is yirah. And it’s on it’s wonder, and it’s fear. And it’s all of the above. But isn’t it so interesting? How we’re looking for the right English word?

Geoffrey Stern  12:18

Absolutely, absolutely. So let’s get back to this concept of intentionality and attitude and disposition. Once I focused on this verse, and I reread the portion, and I couldn’t help and I said this in the intro. Notice that for instance, in Deuteronomy 8, where God is kind of bringing back the whole history of the travels in the desert. And he said, and when you get to the land, and when things start to look good, do not say to yourselves, my own power, and the might of my own hand, have won this wealth for me. The Hebrew is כֹּחִי֙ וְעֹ֣צֶם יָדִ֔י עָ֥שָׂה לִ֖י אֶת־הַחַ֥יִל הַזֶּֽה. And for those of you who know Hebrew, certainly rabbinic Hebrew. That’s a catchphrase. That’s a phrase for again, a disposition of someone who feels that the good that he has, is because of his doing, his merit. And that, again, it’s the opposite of hakarat haTov of recognizing that we are just a small little part and anything good that happens to us, we should be thankful to God to others to happenstance to circumstance for but certainly not proud. So it is a disposition. And it’s a powerful one, is it not?

Adam Mintz  13:46

Very powerful. I mean, that this idea is something that appeared in last week’s parsha. And something that appears again this week. And that’s the idea of humility, right? Don’t think that we’re so great. And I saw somebody today gave the explanation that the reason Moses goes through a whole kind of narrative at the beginning of this week’s parsha saying, you know, it was hard for you in the desert, and God took you out and God took care of you. Because what Moshe’s is most concerned about, …. you know, when you think about it, the Jews had it pretty easy over 40 years, it took 40 years, but miraculously, they survived. They were victorious. And every battle they fought, they won, you know, it’s very easy to get haughty to get arrogant based on that. And what Moshe says to them is, don’t do that. Don’t say כֹּחִי֙ וְעֹ֣צֶם יָדִ֔י realize that we need to be grateful to God and to one another for the fact that we were so successful.

Geoffrey Stern  14:45

The next very famous attitudinal characteristic is in Deuteronomy 9, where God says, I see that this is a stiff necked people עַם־קְשֵׁה־עֹ֖רֶף הֽוּא It’s not talking about something that an orthopedic surgeon can solve or a good massage can cure. This is again, it’s a disposition. God is really through Moses or Moses on his own is really focused on the dispositions of the people and in these particular two first instances, they’re not all that positive. But to say that someone’s עַם־קְשֵׁה־עֹ֖רֶף הֽוּא is again, it appears throughout the Bible does it not

Adam Mintz  15:33

It all the time, that is a description of the Jews a stiff necked people, a stubborn people. Now stubborn and ungrateful are not exactly the same thing. I think that’s important. They’re not the same thing. Right? They’re two different criticisms.

Geoffrey Stern  15:51

And I think that’s why it’s so important. This is not a broken record today. I mean, the narrative, the soliloquy by Moses is focused on different negative dispositions, orientations, attitudes of the people that come up so often that you’ve got to recognize them, and they’re different. And then the third one is in Deuteronomy 9: 24. And it says, As long as I have known you, you have been defiant toward God, מַמְרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם עִם־ה’. So you know, again, this is slightly different than just stiff necked, stiff necked is stubborn. It’s different than כֹּחִי֙ וְעֹ֣צֶם יָדִ֔י which is have ingratitude and to very quickly think that the world operates at your request. These are three, I love that you pointed out that they’re different because they I think, intentionally different.

Adam Mintz  16:51

I think that’s right. I mean, Moses has tried to say a lot of different things. And they’re variations on the same theme, because probably people who are stubborn, are ungrateful. That’s probably true. So they’re related to one another, but they’re not exactly the same thing. Moses is making a few different points, and מַמְרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם now the word my Mamrim, that they rebelled right Mei Meriva. The, the place where Moses hit the rock is called Mei Meriva.  is where you rebelled. The idea again, if you’re stubborn, you rebel. If you rebel, then you’re ungrateful. They’re all related ideas.

Geoffrey Stern  17:36

So I think that what this raises for us, especially if we end up at the only thing I asked for you is to have this disposition, variously known as fear, or wonder, is that unlike so many other places in the Torah, this particular parsha is absolutely laser focused on you’ve got to have the right disposition. Because if you have the wrong disposition, it doesn’t matter how many of the commandments you keep, and how many of the prohibitions you keep away from your you’re not getting the message. And again, that gets back to what you focused on, which is the word “only”. This is כִּ֣י אִם. This is the holy grail. So I ended up at a yeshiva in Israel called Be’er Yaakov. And the head of it (Rav Shlomo Wolbe) was one of the last of the great mussarniks. The Mussar movement I might have mentioned it before, was started by Israel Salanter. And the whole focus was on understanding what Yirat hashem is understanding what the disposition is. And if you had to pick the textbook for the Mussar Movement, it would have been the one written by a name that we’ve heard before Luzzato.  But not Shmuel David Luzzatto. Shadal. But Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, the Ramchal and it was called Melilat Yeshurim which is The Path of the Just and they were related. The Ramchal lived in the 1700s and Shadal lived in the 1800s. They were cousins once removed. And what he did in this book and I have the introduction or parts of the introduction in the notes on Sefaria., he says, you know, there are so many of us that study creation in nature, we study astronomy, mathematics, there are those of us who study the holy Torah among those occupy themselves with halakhic and analysis, others with Midrash he says, but there are few who devote thought to this study of fear, clinging in a The branches of piety. And then he goes on to say, and most of us who are educated think of those who have a focus on fear as almost superstitious. They’re saying psalms over and over again, they’re holding their prayer beads or twiddling their, their prayer shawls. And he really created a revolution, in the sense that he wanted to focus in a laser-like fashion in trying to understand: , we truly examine the matter, we will discover the truth and benefit ourselves. He quotes King Solomon, and it says, if you will seek it as silver and search for it as buried treasure, then you will understand the fear of God. And he ends by saying, and I’ll end quoting from him here…  Why shouldn’t demand set aside for himself at least fixed times for this study, if he is forced for the rest of his time to turn to other studies or affairs? So what happened in the Mussar Yeshiva? We were talking in the pregame about us study partner at high school. The most unique thing about studying Mussar for half an hour a day in a mussar Yeshiva is you don’t do it with a study partner. You do it totally alone. And you read these books and you try to understand what is this disposition? And it really focuses on everything that we’ve been talking about till now. Which is yes, there is fear of punishment. And yes, there is fear that protects you from doing wrong and the bad things, but at the crux of it, is what is this only thing that we have? And I just find that so, so fascinating?

Adam Mintz  21:47

That is absolutely fascinating. And it’s interesting, you bring in the Mussar Yeshiva. You said you went to the last Mussar Yeshiva. What’s happened now is that everything is kind of been put together like a stew, like a cholent. The Hasidim are with the non-Hasidim, the Mussar with the non-Mussar there’s a little bit of everything. So that idea of Mussar, that idea what is fear of God, it’s still there, people still learn Mesilat Yisharim, which is an interesting thing. And you know what he says in Mesilat Yesharim in the introduction that you quote, is that this world is like an entryway to the world to come. That the whole purpose of this world is to get us ready for the world to come. So the purpose of this world is to fear God so that we can be ready for the world to come. It’s all God-centered. That idea that we’re focused on the World to Come means that everything is God-centered. It’s a very interesting notion, which really is found in the Mussar movement, but you don’t find it in traditional Jewish literature.

Geoffrey Stern  23:01

So, the only thing that I would, you know, kind of try to at least parse slightly differently, is because you can translate fear as awe, as Wonder, the what strikes me is and doesn’t have to apply to the world to come a world of punishment or reward. It just strikes me that what the Ramchal, Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto was trying to do, was trying to, in a sense, create an interpretation or an outcome from our verse. If all that God asks of us to is to fear him, or hold him in awe, or to have this disposition of wonder, then shouldn’t we kind of focus on it a little more? And, to me, what is fascinating is less the content or the answers to that question, as it is the focus on the question itself, this laser like focus on the disposition, and I think the thinker that I’m going to bring in now, I’m not sure he has ever been brought up in the same breath, as Yisroel Salanter, but I’m talking now about a psychologist named Viktor Frankl who survived the Holocaust. And he wrote a book called Man’s Search for Meaning. And what he said in that is, yes, the primary motivational force for an individual is finding meaning in life, he found that if you had meaning, your chances of surviving were better. It didn’t matter if you were communist or a Bundist or a Chasid. As long as you had something to hold on to, you could find a reason to survive. But you know, he went further and he says life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones. And that, I guess, is baked into that. But then he goes one step further, we have freedom to find meaning in what we do and what we experience, or at least in the stance we take, when faced with a situation of unchangeable suffering, what he said is basically, that the most evil empire in the world could take anything away from you, but it can’t take away from you, your will to life or your will for meaning. And so what he took away from his interpretation, I believe, of the only thing you have is Yirat Hashem awe of God mystery of God is the only thing you have is attitude. And that’s why I named this week’s session, attitude is everything. You can take anything away from anybody, but not your attitude. And I think if you look then backwards, I really do believe you can start connecting the dots in the sense of not whether this person was religious or a philosopher or whatever. But ultimately, at the end of the day, what God could be at or Moses could be saying here is, you know what, at the end of the day, what you got is your attitude. Do I make too big of a leap here?

Adam Mintz  26:25

I love it. So, the I love it. So, let’s just take it, let’s parse it, as you said, you know, Viktor Frankl says, No one can take away your meaning, your self-definition of what’s important to you. And obviously, to a religious person, that meaning is awe of God, it doesn’t have to mean that. I don’t know if it meant that to Frankl. But the point is that it could mean that to people who are religious, they define their religion awe of God. So therefore, they would apply what Frankl said. And they would say, That’s right. You can’t take away my awe of God. It’s related since Frankl lived through the Holocaust, and he was talking about the Holocaust. It’s related to the people who went to the gas chambers with you know, saying Shema Yisrael, or saying Ani Ma’amin. They wanted to show that you can take away everything from me, even my life, but you can take away the meaning you can’t take away the Ani Ma’amin, you can’t take away the Shema. Which is exactly what Frankl, meant.

Geoffrey Stern  27:28

Absolutely, absolutely. And as a psychologist, the other paradigm shift that you see is he was less focused on what was out there. And more focused with what is in here, meaning in your mind. And I think that too, is an unbroken connect your dot type of trail back through the Mussarniks back through the Talmud that says, all you have is a year right Hashem, that the ultimate thing is that it’s in your it’s in your mind. And because it’s in your mind, you are the creator of it. And you can almost look at that verse and the Rabbis is saying הַכֹּל בִּידֵי שָׁמַיִם, חוּץ מִיִּרְאַת שָׁמַיִם, we haven’t really focused on that so much, which is to say, almost like God can do anything. God can predict anything. God can control anything. But God has a singular limitation, he cannot control what’s in your mind. And that aspect of it, I think, to me, is the mirror image of a Frankel’s saying that it is truly in your mind. And because it’s in your mind, it cannot be in any way diminished by outside circumstances. And I think that’s a it’s a total trail.

Adam Mintz  28:58

So I love it, I would just change the smallest little thing you know what I would say? What I would say is, I don’t know that God can’t do it. Maybe God doesn’t want to do it. Maybe the meaning your meaning needs to be defined by yourself. And that’s exactly what the Torah says that everything’s in the hands of God except for fear of God. That’s God’s choice. We believe that God can do anything, but God chooses not to do that. Isn’t that interesting?

Geoffrey Stern  29:34

I think so. And I think you would probably agree with me at the end of the day that we might be splitting hairs.

Adam Mintz  29:41

I’m sure we are but since you brought up Frankl I want to kind of fit Frankl in. Now he wasn’t intending to be fit. You know, he wasn’t thinking that he was going to be brought up in the Parsha class on the Parsha Eikev, but it’s interesting to think about him because Jewish thought is Jewish thought and if he gives us some insight into what the rabbi’s mean? They’re not that valuable.

Geoffrey Stern  30:03

So I’ll finish with one insight I had sitting in my first introductory to philosophy class and the founder of modern philosophy as many times thought of René Descartes, who started Cartesian philosophy, which is, I think, therefore, I am “cogito, ergo sum”. And what he said sitting in his room is, how does he know anything is actually out there. And I can’t do justice to that in two minutes, but you can understand how it was all in the mind. And so philosophy almost becomes the study of the mind. But what he based it on was a theologian. 100 years, 200 years earlier, named St. Anselm, and St. Anselm says, you know, you can’t imagine two plus two equal five. So not everything that you can imagine can be true, but you can imagine God we have this concept of God. And God is a being of which there is nothing greater. So, what is greater an imaginary God or a real God. And you can look at the notes, you could spend years studying this, whether it was a good proof or not a good proof. But my point is that the ontological proof for God made by St. Anselm said ultimately, it’s all in your mind. And it’s all your attitude. And I think that is where you and I are maybe splitting hairs, because at the end of the day, it’s the God that we imagine and the imagination that God gives us. And we do have these dispositions. Some of them are good, and some of them are great, and some of them are not so good. But I think what this week’s parsha makes us focus on is those things that only we have, and that are not in the hand of God. And those are our thoughts and our dispositions, and it’s a powerful poem, to the power of our own self realization.

Adam Mintz  32:08

I love it. I think this is great. This idea and Frankl and the idea of fear of God, and putting together a lot of things very much in the spirit of what Moshe tried to do in the parish of Eikev. So, thank you so much. Shabbat shalom, everybody. Looking forward to seeing you all next week from Paris be well, and Shabbat Shalom,

Geoffrey Stern  32:26

Shabbat Shalom, I’ll see you all next week. And make sure you listen to us on the podcast and if you like it, give us a review or a star and share it with your friends. So with that, I wish you a great parshat Eikev.  Parshat Mevorachim, and I’ll see you all next week.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/425215

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The United States of Israel

parshat matot-masei, numbers 33-36

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on July 28th 2022 as we look at the configuration of the Israelite tribes through new eyes… the eyes of modern scholarship that suggests that the conquest of the Land of Israel by the freed slaves from Egypt also included the uprising of local tribes. Together they formed a confederation of tribes, united in their rejection of the existing class structure and the sovereign-vassal subjugation of Egypt and later empires.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/421369

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform.  Today we look at the configuration of the Israelite tribes through new eyes… the eyes of modern scholarship that suggests that the tribes were distinct peoples including freed slaves from Egypt but also regional disrupters who formed a confederation of tribes. Independent states united in their rejection of the existing class structure and the sovereign-vassal subjugation of Egypt and later empires. So, take out your musket and join your local militia as we explore the United States of Israel.

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So welcome to Madlik, as we were saying, in the pre-show, it is a very long portion, it is two portions combined. And we are finally going to be catching up with Israel. So that we’ll be on the same page, so to speak. But the portion as you were saying, Rabbi starts with kind of following up on what happened last week with the Midianites that we are going to surround it really talks in very brutal terms about killing, destroying their towns, even killing the women who were of age. And it’s very hard to swallow. And we’re not going to focus on that, but we might have some insight into it. And then it goes into the cities of refuge that need to be set up now as we’re about to cross the Jordan. And then finally, it revisits something that we could have all thought was a minor, little question of law. If all of you remember back in the day, we had the daughters of Zelophehad, whose father had passed away, and they had no brother, he had no sons. And they asked Moses, what’s going to happen with our inheritance in terms of the continuity of our dad’s name, and Moses consulted with God, and God came back and said, the daughters of Zelophehad can have the portion. And we thought that was behind us. But it reappears today. And that’s where we’re going to start, we’re going to kind of look at the portion backwards to forwards it, there’s an expression of אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה there’s no chronology. And we’re going to take that, we’re going to start with the daughters Zelophehad And we’re gonna work our way back. So, we are in Numbers 36. And we’re going to pick up in verse 3, where are the members of the same tribe, the tribe of Joseph, it’s called, that the daughters of Zelophehad’s father was a member of say, Now, if they become the wives of persons from another Israelite tribe, their share will be cut off from our ancestral portion and be added to the portion of the tribe into which they become wives, thus, our allotted portion will be diminished. So we’re really starting to get a very strong sense of this tribalism, but also how particular we Jews like to think of ourselves as homogeneous, there are Ashkenazim, there were Sephardic, Iraqi Jews, US Jews, but we’re starting to see that they took the tribal division of the land very seriously. And Moses comes back and says, and he sounds a little bit like Henry Ford here. He says they may become the wives of anyone they wish, provided they become wives within a clan of their father’s tribe. So, I’ll make the car in any color as long as it’s black. So the solution is that there is no intermarriage between the tribes. So here again, we have this emphasis on really the division between the tribes and I had really never focused that much on that. But Rabbi, am I correct in saying that from the viewpoint of Jewish history, I mean, we all know about the lost tribes and all that but ultimately, maybe being a Jew is so much determined by what others think. We’ve kind of coalesced into a Jew as a Jew is a Jew. But here we have to kind of change our lenders a little bit and really think more tribally, am I correct?

Adam Mintz  05:06

Absolutely. Right. Well, I mean, you know, that in the Middle East generally, you know, in the Arabian Peninsula even as late as the time of Mohammed, that the Arabs lived as tribes means tribalism was something that was very familiar. And the Jews had tribes, you know, today, it’s not really fair, because we read that before the destruction of the First Temple around the year 700 BCE, the 10 tribes the 10 northern tribes were actually dispersed, and they disappeared. So, we actually are all part of the tribe of Judah, Judah and Benjamin, which are called Judah. So that whole tribalism disappeared. But when they entered the land, everything was the tribe, you had to be part of your tribes. That’s the story of the daughters of Zelophehad, but they said, We want to inherit our Father, we have no brothers, we want to inherit our father, they were from Menasha. If they didn’t inherit their father, then their land would be lost. So what Moses tells them … your good will, you can inherit your father, but you need to marry within Menasha. If you marry outside the tribe, then you’re going to lose the land. It’s all within the tribe. I mean, it makes the shiduch market difficult, you know, who you can marry, you can only marry within the tribe, which is fascinating.

Geoffrey Stern  06:27

Well, it gives the word intermarriage, a whole new meaning.

Adam Mintz  06:30

Isn’t that right? Intermarriage had a huge, you know, a detriment, because, you know, your power was dependent on the amount of property that you had as a tribe, there was a lot of influence that was very much dependent on the tribes on the different tribes. So, you are this Shabbat Rabbi, I always ask you in the pregame, what you’re going to talk about, and you’re going to talk about Tisha B’Av, the ninth day above, and I believe that tonight is Rosh Chodesh Av… So, we are really talking this evening, at the beginning of a new month, and everybody does focus on the ninth of Av but I want to focus on a Mishnah that talks about the 15th. Day of Av, and in the tractate of Ta’anit, which deals with fasts. It says Rabbi Shimon, ben Gamliel, said, there were no days as joyous for the Jewish people as the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur as on them, the daughters of Jerusalem would go out in white clothes.  And later in the Talmud, it asks, you know, I get Yom Kippur, your pure, your purified, you go out in white, you feel it’s a new beginning, I can understand why the daughters of Israel will rejoice. But what about the 15th of Av…. What makes it special? And Rabbi Yehudah said that Shmuel said this was the day on which the members of different tribes were permitted to enter each other’s tribe by intermarriage. And it goes on to ask and how do we know that and it quotes the verse I just read from our weekly portion. And it says, this is the matter that the Lord had commanded concerning the daughters of Zelophehad. It says, this matter shall be practiced only, for this generation, the generation when Eretz Israel, the land of Israel was divided among the tribes, but afterwards, members of different tribes were permitted to marry. So somewhere and it doesn’t quite say when, you know, we have an instance. And I think we’re going to come across this, we’ve already come across this many times, where there’s a law on the books, but the law on the books doesn’t appear or doesn’t end up being what it appears to be. So even according to this piece of Talmud, the prohibition on one marrying someone from another tribe was either I can’t say it was while of the daughters of Zelophehad were alive. It was maybe while they were dividing up the land, and that could have been a generation or two, we’ll see. But certainly, there was a point and of course, because there’s a celebration on the 15th of Av, you’ve got to believe there was a precise point where that was no longer the case. And it was a time for great celebration. So Rabbi, what is your read on this? It’s not something every Jew probably has heard of the ninth of Av not so much the 15th of Av. Maybe because when you live in a period where the ramifications of the destruction of the temple might still be here. You can mourn it, but when you feel that Jew can marry a Jew, you’ve forgotten this time and place when we were divided into 12. So, I think that that amazing piece of Talmud has a couple of things. The first interesting thing is that the time that they were married, allowed to marry one another was a time of great celebration. That’s fantastic. Because that actually has to do with what I joked before about the shiduch market. You know, once you once you open up who you can marry, so it’s it, you know, it makes a huge difference. All of a sudden, your pool of potential husbands and wives is not only within your own tribe, but it’s open to everybody. That’s why they celebrate. And that’s interesting. The way we celebrate the 15th of Av is the women go out in white clothing to find husbands. It’s all about finding husbands. And this is what it was, because the tribes were able to marry one another. So, you know, so that’s interesting that that specifically was a celebration. Now, the idea that, once the land is divided, so the borders between the tribes was set, once the borders between the tribes was set, so then they could intermarry and go back and forth, because the borders within the tribes were set. It was only in the first generation when they were establishing those borders, that they had to be strict in terms of marrying one another. Now, what’s interesting about that piece of Talmud is that it doesn’t exactly tell you the story, right? It doesn’t exactly tell you how it worked. So what happened, if it turns out that the grandchildren of Zelophehad, you know, married outside the tribe? So what happened to the land? What happened to the property that belongs to Zelophehad? Did it move? Or did it stay where it was, but the daughters moved, but their land stayed where it was. And I think that’s probably what happened, there was movement of people, but there was no longer movement of land. And that’s what they wanted to establish.

Geoffrey Stern  12:06

 I mean, you definitely could make that case, I think you could also make the alternative case that over time, because the boundary of marriage was no longer there, the strict division between the tribes started to wear away, and you would have somebody from the tribe of Benjamin living in Yehudah, so to speak, or whatever. I think you could go either way on this. But definitely, what you were saying is that once the borders were there, so in other words, it’s kind of like you had a stake in the ground, you didn’t need to protect the concept as much. I like to think about it as, and I call this episode, the United States of Israel. You know, once you establish the state of New York, you can let people from Connecticut in, you already have your, your identity. And maybe that was part of it. But I want to continue with the Talmud in Ta’anit, because the next reason for why it was a joyous day is even more striking, who have Joseph said that Rob Nachman, said the 15th of Ab was the day in which the tribe of Benjamin was permitted to enter the congregation. And, and it is stated the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpah saying, none of us shall give his daughter to Benjamin as a wife, none of us, but our children could. So I’m going to let you all in on a little secret, you know, that I am an ex Bachur Yeshiva. I’m someone who studied in a traditional Jewish Academy. And I think this it’s safe to say that Rabbi Adam did as well. And unfortunately, many times in the Yeshiva, the only way you read stories of Tanach of in the book of Samuel, in the book of Chronicles in the book of Judges, is because you have a reference, as we just saw here, and then you go ahead and you read it. So you understand the text of the Talmud. And it’s a real shame. And I think Rabbi Adam, the organization that you’re involved with that reads a chapter from Tanach, is it every day or every week,

Adam Mintz  14:30

Every day, and it tries to solve this problem that you’re describing?

14:34

I’m actually studying Tanach with somebody. We’re already on the 10th Chapter of Joshua. Every week we study one chapter of tanach. It’s funny, amazing, important. It’s very important.

Geoffrey Stern  14:34

Maybe, you know, we always have to decide what we’re going to do next year. Come Simchat Torah and maybe we should start looking at different…. So here’s a story that if you’ve never I heard it will absolutely blow you away. There is a gentleman from the tribe of Levi, and his wife runs away, and she runs back to her father’s house. And after a while he goes to fetch her. And he goes to the Father’s house and the Father continually day after day, wines and dines him and tries to convince him to stay another day, stay another day, you don’t know what the situation is, clearly his daughter ran away, and he preferred that she’s under his roof. Maybe there’s an issue with this guy from the tribe of Levi. But finally, he takes this. And it’s a concubine. Not sure even if it’s his full wife, but they go in the direction of Jerusalem. But they don’t go to Jerusalem, they go into an adjoining town. And there’s no one who wants to give them a place a manger to stay in, so to speak, and then in the courtyard. And finally, and this gets a little bit to the comment I made earlier about people from different tribes living within those other tribes. Someone outside of the tribe, and I believe they’re in the tribe of Benjamin, that’s the area they’re in. But someone outside says, come into my house. And then the story starts to sound identical to the story of Sodom and Lot. A crowd forms outside, and they want to sodomized this Levite, this stranger, and the person who owns the house says, take my daughter, and the Levi says take my concubine. And finally, he throws his concubine out. And she gets raped multiple times. And in the morning, he sees her. We don’t know if she’s dead yet, but soon to be dead body. And he takes her and then he cuts her up into 12 pieces. And he sends a piece to each one of the 12 tribes and says, Look what has been done. And as a result, all of the other tribes mount an army they have I said in the intro, you know, go join your militia. Well, every one of the states have their own militia, and that is in the parsha as well. And they attack the tribe of Benjamin multiple times. Until finally, they are able to persevere and the language that they use, I ask you all if you’re interested at all, look at the notes in Sefaria that we published along with our podcast. And you will see that the language that they use about killing every male killing every female, who is childbearing age, is exactly the same as what we have in the beginning of our parsha to this week. And to the point where now they have an issue about who are these people going to marry. And I won’t get into all of the long story there. It’s very gruesome, it’s very brutal, but they decide two things which is to go ahead and attack other members of tribes who didn’t actually participate in the military action. And they force them to marry so that the tribe of Benjamin does not go extinct. But they keep to their guns, and they say there is no marriage between any of the tribes, none of us will marry the tribe of Benjamin. And it is referring to this story. When it says on the 15th, of Ab there was rejoicing because again, we don’t have a sense of why the 15th of Ab was picked, that it was a particular deadline. But in any case, there too this was behind us and what both these stories have is clearly about the tribalism and Israel working through the tribalism, what do you make of this story, Rabbi,

Adam Mintz  19:33

I mean, Israel working making, you know, working through the tribalism and somehow the realization that if we don’t allow intermarriage between the tribes, that Israel will disintegrate. To me that’s the more interesting part of it, meaning the story of Pilegesh of Givah the story of what went wrong there is its own story. But what the 15th of Ab celebrates is the realization that to make it as a nation, we have to allow marriage between the tribes. That’s interesting. Both stories are exactly the same. it’s realization that tribalism doesn’t work for us. That’s really what it is.

Geoffrey Stern  20:25

And I totally agree with you. But I also think that there’s a flip side of this, which is both recognize that the origins of our people were, in fact very tribal.

Adam Mintz  20:39

Well the story with Benjamin is extremely tribal. They blame Benjamin. That’s not the way we would do it. Today, we would blame individuals, Why do you blame the whole tribe? Where does that come from?

Geoffrey Stern  20:55

yeah, absolutely.

Adam Mintz  20:58

 And again, it’s other Jews, so to speak. I mean, we consider them Jews, I will argue that our concept of we’re all Jews, maybe doesn’t so much apply at this period of our history, where the association in an identification with the particular tribes was so strong, that you were Benjamites, or you were from the tribe of Manasseh, or Dan, it was total identification with your tribe. But one of the things I said that we were going to look at it through the eyes of modern scholarship as well. And one of the things that the modern scholars have said, is that they believe, looking at it, even from the perspective of the same identical language is used here as in our portion, where our portion we’re talking about exterminating, so to speak, the Midianites. Here, we’re talking about doing the same thing to the tribe of Benjamin, the argument is that Israel was formed from many tribes. And yes, we have a wonderful story about the 12, sons of Jacob. And of course, Jacob had concubines too, and it wasn’t all homogeneous. But the scholars really go back. And they say, that it could very well be that this amazing story of Egypt became the primary story of our people, but that ultimately, there were other peoples in the land of Canaan. Some of them were not friendly, the Midianites and we decimated them, some of them the Benjamites, we had to go through a process. You know, it reminds you this story, a little bit old, so of the rape of Dinah, and the story that we studied in Genesis of Shechem, where they’re she’s raped first, then they are required to circumcise, and then they get killed, if you just change the chronology slightly. And you have a situation where they become part of the tribal area, this Shchemites decide to convert and be part of our mission, and they circumcise, and then they rape, similar to what happened here with the Benjamites, then you have a very similar story. But you definitely have paradigms of different people joining up in modern archaeology shows that there were there was a real disruption in Canaan at this point, and that you can go look at cities, not only Jericho, but you can look at other cities that in this 100 200-year period, there was a revolution going on. And it could very well be that the Jews coming out of Egypt, joined a revolution, but also brought this amazing concept of one God and all that. And slowly but surely, this confederation of different peoples different tribes joined together. And there were definitely some speed bumps as we see in this tribe of Benjamin.  But it’s a different kind of model, I think that becomes kind of fascinating. And again, I get back to the rejoicing, that we ultimately rejoice our ability to accept all of these tribes and to break down the boundaries between all of these tribes, and whether you buy into there were other peoples or you really limit it to tribes. I think the message is similar. And I think we can all agree upon that. But that certainly is a little bit of what’s happening here.  There’s no question it’s a it’s a celebration of the nation of Israel. And you know, you suggest something which you’re right, you can’t prove, but you wonder about, where the 12 tribes like the 50 states. It’s interesting you call it the United States of Israel was elected 50 states which basically meant that they were one country and 12 tribes and 12 states, or were they really 12 countries more like Germany was, you know, in the, in the 1800s, where they actually were separate countries, in this kind of confit and this federal Federation, and what you’re suggesting, and I don’t think there’s any way to prove that you’re wrong, what you’re suggesting is that they actually were 12 nations. And you know, that’s why the story of Pilegesh at Givah, the story that you told about Binyamin is such an important story, because actually, there were there was, there were battles between the tribes, these were battles between nations. And then when they were allowed to marry one another, that was important, because that really says that we decided that that model is wrong, we need to be the United States of Israel. So I think the title of tonight’s class really tells us a lot about what was at stake in all of these things.

Geoffrey Stern  25:53

And I think that maybe you know, there were many times that we moderns have a problem understanding an ancient text. But in this particular case, as many of us are Americans and understand this dialectic between a federal government and states, clearly, we have an insight into this in our short history. Clearly, they had their own militias. And that’s pretty powerful in those days, they collected their own taxes. So, it is kind of fascinating. So, I promised that I was going to work my way backwards in the Parsha. So now I think is a wonderful segue to talk about the Cities of Refuge. So here too, clearly, you’re coming to a land. And of course, it’s fascinating that they already are talking about cities, the urban, you know, he you’re coming out of the desert. And you’re not talking about farmlands and all that you’re talking about people living in a very concentrated way in cities, but it’s there’s town planning going on. And there are two things that need to be done that are different from the current infrastructure in Canaan, you know, they can move into the city of Jericho, but they’ve got to modify it in a way. And the ways that they have to modify it a one, they have to have the Cities of Refuge, there were six of them, and three of them are in the mainland of Israel, and three of them are going to be on the other side of the Jordan. And we’ll get into that too. But then they will also 48 towns for the Levites. And we’ve talked about this multiple multiple times. So again, what it looks like is an archaeology proves this is that at this time, there was a confluence of all of a sudden turmoil and change, and cities were falling down and their infrastructure was being changed. And maybe we have situations of treaties, where the vassal, and the Pharaoh were being broken, there were rebellions going on. And here we formed the Cities of Refuge. But to the point that we were just discussing, the real function of the cities of refuge is to stop blood feuds, and blood feuds we know about it even till today, if someone in your family gets killed, the only way to redeem their blood is to kill somebody in the family or the tribe that did it. And it goes on and on. And so talking about this kind of arc of history that we’re seeing with tribalism is strong. And then come the 15th, of Ab it celebrated, that it’s not so strong. I think you can make a case I wonder, Where do you think, Rabbi, that the Cities of Refuge are again, a another chip away at this tribalism? And this this, this blood feuding and blood is thicker than water, so to speak.

Adam Mintz  29:12

So tribalism ….. here’s another term that we use, and that’s clans. You know, tribes are sometimes tribes and tribes are sometimes just large families. You know, you read about the the Saudi Arabia, you know, Saudi Arabia today is made up of these ruling families. He talks about the UAE, you know, they’re basically just ruling families. They’re not tribes, they’re just families. But the families are so large and so important that they become their own tribe. And I wonder whether that’s really what the Torah talks about when it talks about blood feuds. You know, you have these powerful families, which are themselves tribes, and that leads to this idea that they’re going to take revenge and that’s why you need your protection. So, there’s no question that that’s true. It’s just that the Torah sets it up as they’re being tribes, as opposed to families. But I think obviously that you know, that’s not so simple that really there were probably very, very big, powerful families. And we know that kind of, and this also relates to what’s in this week’s parsha. We know that from the story of Zelophehad, Zelophehad was a family. The father was clearly very prestigious, and he dies and he has no sons and the daughters are nervous because our father is prestigious our father is important, and he’s going to lose his land and they’re not worried about the tribe. They’re worried about the family. And that’s why it says it says it in this week’s parsha they have to marry within the tribe, which really means they have to marry within the families, לִבְנֵ֥י דֹדֵיהֶ֖ן לְנָשִֽׁים the Torah says they should marry their cousins, they should marry their first cousins very literally. So it’ not the tribes so much. It’s really the family. That’s interesting. I didn’t think about that. But what the Torah says לִבְנֵ֥י דֹדֵיהֶ֖ן לְנָשִֽׁים 

Geoffrey Stern  32:06

Absolutely. I think I mentioned that there were three cities of refuge on in the mainland of Israel, and three on the what we would call today the West Bank. And Rashi asks, why is that? And he says, because in Gilad and the East Side murderers were more numerous דִּבְגִלְעָד נְפִישֵׁי רוֹצְחִים. So here too, it wasn’t homogeneous. They had certain issues with some of the tribes, whether they were children of Jacob, or they were other people that had come in. Again, it gives you a sense of the real challenge of uniting this. And I think the flip side of that is that the United monarchy, and all of that didn’t last very long. But it this was something that was unique in history also, that for a shining moment, these disparate peoples were kind of United, I want to go back to the beginning of the parsha, which is the one that gave me the hardest time where we read about a conquering the conquest of the land, and much of it is very hard to read. And I think one of the comments of the those who read all of Tanach understand that it’s not altogether clear whether this actually happened. Whether, in fact, the Canaanites were ever totally exterminated from Israel, it might be kind of wishful thinking. And I think we have an example of that even today, when the ultra-orthodox Haredi are trying to recreate a Europe where everybody studies Torah, guess what, there was never a Europe where everybody studied Torah, they’re trying to recreate an ideal that never was. And I think that there’s no question that part of what’s going on in this rendering, because if you look at Joshua, and if you look at the later books of the Tanakh, in no way in form, does it say that everyone was exterminated. This is one kind of wishful opinion. I quote, a source in the notes, which is just absolutely, I think, rich and fascinating. And it’s from a guy named Moshe Weinfeld. And he actually goes all the way through the rabbinic period, how they dealt with this, quote, unquote, the harem and extermination. And there was no consensus on this. One of the most fascinating things that I’ve read, and I think I’ve mentioned this before, is it talks about killing the וְה֨וֹרַשְׁתֶּ֜ם אֶת־כׇּל־יֹשְׁבֵ֤י הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ (Numbers 33: 52) and we normally talk about יֹשְׁבֵ֤י הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ as the residents, the citizens of the land. But as everyone knows, when we bring the Torah back to the ark on Shabbat, we go ה’ לַמַּבּ֣וּל יָשָׁ֑ב וַיֵּ֥שֶׁב ה’ מֶ֣לֶךְ לְעוֹלָֽם The LORD sat enthroned at the Flood; the LORD sits enthroned, king forever.  And so יֹשְׁבֵ֤י הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ can also mean the rulers or the ruling class or those in charge. And that fits very well into this [theory of a] rebellion that went on. So, I don’t know, I think we all do have to struggle with it. But I think if you look in the context of this very long portion, you can see other threads very strong threads that we’re dealing with, which have to do with how do you make disparate people one, and I think that, to me, is the most positive, exciting and joyful aspect of this parsha and of the 15th of Ab which comes in a month full of tragedy.

Adam Mintz  34:46

I think that’s a great way especially on Rosh Hodesh Ab the first of the bad month, yet you talk about the positive that’s really beautiful. Enjoy the Parsha , this is a Hazak week. so to everybody we say Hazak Hazak Vnitchazek. We should be strong. We should be strong we should strengthen one another and we look forward to seeing you all next Thursday night. Shabbat Shalom everybody

Geoffrey Stern  35:07

Shabbat Shalom

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Joining the Tribe

parshat beha’alotcha, numbers 9

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

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

Transcript:

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

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

Adam Mintz  05:52

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

Geoffrey Stern  08:28

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

Adam Mintz  10:06

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

Geoffrey Stern  11:04

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

Adam Mintz  11:50

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

Geoffrey Stern  12:15

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

Adam Mintz  15:01

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

Geoffrey Stern  15:47

It’s kind of like finding this hidden connection.

Adam Mintz  15:50

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

Geoffrey Stern  17:52

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

Adam Mintz  18:55

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

Geoffrey Stern  24:26

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

Adam Mintz  27:17

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

Geoffrey Stern  32:08

Shabbat Shalom and Rabbi Keep up the good work.

Adam Mintz  32:11

Thank you so much be well.

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

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this land is MY land

parshat behar, leviticus 25

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

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

Transcript:

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

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

 

Adam Mintz  05:17

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  06:12

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

 

Adam Mintz  07:22

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  07:38

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

 

Adam Mintz  09:28

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  10:51

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

 

Adam Mintz  11:57

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  14:21

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

 

Adam Mintz  18:57

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:26

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

 

Adam Mintz  22:41

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  22:52

Yeah, yeah.

 

Adam Mintz  22:53

Isn't that a great idea?

 

Geoffrey Stern  22:55

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

 

Adam Mintz  25:05

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  25:11

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

 

Adam Mintz  26:22

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  27:00

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

 

Adam Mintz  30:16

Its tension, which is built in.

 

Geoffrey Stern  30:19

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

 

Adam Mintz  31:54

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  32:03

Shabbat Shalom to you all.

more

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

Adam Mintz  05:17

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

Geoffrey Stern  06:12

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

Adam Mintz  07:22

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

Geoffrey Stern  07:38

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

Adam Mintz  09:28

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

Geoffrey Stern  10:51

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

Adam Mintz  11:57

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

Geoffrey Stern  14:21

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

Adam Mintz  18:57

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

Geoffrey Stern  20:26

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

Adam Mintz  22:41

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

Geoffrey Stern  22:52

Yeah, yeah.

Adam Mintz  22:53

Isn’t that a great idea?

Geoffrey Stern  22:55

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

Adam Mintz  25:05

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

Geoffrey Stern  25:11

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

Adam Mintz  26:22

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

Geoffrey Stern  27:00

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

Adam Mintz  30:16

Its tension, which is built in.

Geoffrey Stern  30:19

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

Adam Mintz  31:54

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

Geoffrey Stern  32:03

Shabbat Shalom to you all.

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Moses’ Code of Law – What’s New

parshat mishpatim (exodus 21- 24)

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

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

Transcript:

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

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

 

Adam Mintz  05:03

I can't wait, take it away.

 

Geoffrey Stern  05:07

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

 

Adam Mintz  06:31

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  06:55

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

 

Adam Mintz  08:07

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  09:10

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

 

Adam Mintz  09:16

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  09:39

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

 

Adam Mintz  10:43

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  11:07

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

 

Adam Mintz  11:35

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  12:12

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

 

Adam Mintz  15:29

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  16:10

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

 

Adam Mintz  18:25

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  19:22

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

 

Adam Mintz  19:38

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:09

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

 

Adam Mintz  23:55

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  25:21

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

 

Adam Mintz  29:14

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  31:52

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

 

Adam Mintz  33:29

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  33:39

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

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Sefaria Source Sheet:

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

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

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

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The Miraculous Birth and Resurrection of Isaac

parshat Vayera – genesis 18-22

A live recording of Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse October 22nd 2021as they ask: Was it the Binding of Isaac or the Sacrifice of Isaac and what difference does it make? We use the seminal story of the miraculous birth of Isaac and the hints at the sacrifice and subsequent resurrection of Isaac in the biblical and later Rabbinic texts to explore the meaning of these themes in Judaism and Christianity.

The Miraculous Birth and Resurrection of Isaac

A live recording of Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse with Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz as we ask: Was it the Binding of Isaac or the Sacrifice of Isaac and what difference does it make?

Link to Sefaria Source sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/356011

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:00

Welcome to Madlik disruptive Torah. I should say we’ve been doing this every week at four o’clock eastern on Friday. But because the nights are coming sooner, we are going to move to 8pm on Thursday. And I hope that all agrees with you. But if it doesn’t fit into your schedule, do remember, I’m going to try to publish the podcast now on Friday, so you will have it before Shabbat. So what we mean by disruptive Torah is that we hopefully look at the ancient texts through new lenses, new angles, and share those insights with you and invite you to introduce your own. But hopefully walk away thinking about these texts a little bit differently. Sometimes it’s a little unsettling, but that’s all good, because it means that the ancient texts remain live and vibrant with us. And today, my friends is no exception. We are in Vayera, it is, I believe, the fourth portion that we’ve read in the book of Genesis, and it contains some really repetitive themes that we’ll touch upon. And one theme that maybe it’s unique, and maybe it’s not. And that’s one of the things that we’re going to discuss. The repetitive theme is a miraculous birth. A barren mother may be in today’s portion, because we’re talking about Abraham and Sarah. maybe even an impotent Father, we don’t know he was 100 years old, and a miraculous birth of a child. And that is a theme that actually does appear over and over and over again, and we’re going to get to that. But there’s another…. I won’t call it a theme, because it might be a theme. But it also might be a unique incident. And that is what is called by the Jews, typically the Binding of Isaac, and what is many times called by Christians, the Sacrifice of Isaac, and we will actually get into the question of is it the sacrifice? Or is it the binding of Isaac? And does it make a difference? But in any case, let’s start with the biblical account in Genesis 22. And it says, “And it was after these things that God put Abraham to the test. He said to him, Abraham, and he answered, Hineni, here I am. And he said, Take your son, your favorite one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah Lech L’cha el Eretz haMoriah.   and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you. So early the next morning, Abraham saddled his ass and took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac, he split the word for the Burnt offering, and he set out for the place of which God had told him. And on the third day, Abraham looked up and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his servants, you stay here with the ass, and the boy and I will go up there, we will worship and we will return to you. Abraham took the wood for the burn to offering and put it on his son, Isaac.” And we’re going to look a little bit further into the story. I don’t think I need to read it all at this point, because so many of you know this iconic story, and possibly are troubled by it. But as you know, Abraham and Isaac walked silently up to the mountain together. And at certain point Isaac says to Abraham, Hey, Dad, I don’t see that you have a lamb with you. And Abraham says, enigmatically. God will provide the lamb. And then he binds Isaac, and has the knife raised above his throat, if you will. And an angel calls down from heaven, Abraham, Abraham, don’t touch the boy. And that is this story. So the question that I pose to all of you, and you’re all welcome to raise a hand and come up and discuss, I’m sure we all have opinions. But first to you rabbi, is this a unique incidence? Or is this part of a theme? This sense of sacrificing your child? Certainly, if you take it literally, Judaism is against in the Bible is against child sacrifice. Maloch is famous for that. But whether in the literal sense or in a larger sense, the sense of giving up to prove one’s faith or to prove something? Is this unique, or is this part of a general theme that I’m missing?

Adam Mintz  04:59

Good question. I mean, obviously, this is the most important question in the entire Bible. So the answer is it’s a unique story. And let me just back up a minute. You started by saying, Geoffrey, that the there’s a difference between the way the Jews refer to it and the way the Christians refer to it. The Christians refer to it as a sacrifice of Isaac, the Jews refer to it as the binding of Isaac. The Binding of Isaac is actually the translation of the biblical word Akeda, which is the word that we find in the Torah. “L’akod” means to bond. Now the first amazing thing Geoffrey is that that word to bind “L’akid” is a unique word in the Torah.  It only appears once in this context. So even in terms of the word, we know that this is an exceptional story. And the story is exceptional. There’s no other story like it. The question of course, is what’s the lesson of the story and again, we invite everybody to raise your hand that will bring you up to you can share. So very famously, there was a Danish philosopher by the name of Soren Kierkegaard. Most people don’t know Soren Kierkegaard except for his view about the Akeda. He says that the story of the Akeda is that God asked Abraham to sublimate the ethical which means to squash his ethical behavior of treating his son well, for the sake of listening to God. Recently, there was a book written by a professor at Yeshiva University, by the name of Aaron Kohler. And Aaron Kohler took issue with Kierkegaard. He said, You’re right. That’s what God says to Abraham, sublimate your ethical to listen to me. But then the angel comes, and the angel says, Don’t kill him. And what Professor Kohler says is that the lesson that the angel is trying to teach Abraham is that: Know, the ethical is the most important, what’s most important is how you treat your children, even at the expense of listening to God. And that’s the lesson we should walk away with. [Unbinding Isaac: The Significance of the Akedah for Modern Jewish Thought Hardcover – 2020 by Aaron Koller] But I think that’s an amazing dispute is the lesson of this story, that we need to listen to God above all else, even if he tells us to do something unethical, or no, is the punchline of the story that the ethical is the most important.

Geoffrey Stern  07:45

I think that’s a great insight. And of course, part of your resolution of the problem is how it ends. In other words, the story may or your explanation, or that of the rabbi would be different. If in fact, Isaac was sacrificed but as you say, the punchline is that he wasn’t sacrificed. And that teaches us something. And that teaches us that the ethical, is more important, but I want to I want to pick up on Kierkegaard, because Kierkegaard  believed that this was a test of faith, but the faith that Kierkegaard believes that the faith that God was testing in Abraham was Do you believe when I told you, that your children, you would have children and that they would be like the stars of the heaven and the sands and all that, do you believe that I will be able to fulfill that promise. And because Kierkegaard was Christian obviously, the way he tweaked that slightly was, Do you believe that even if I kill Isaac, I will resurrect him and you will still have him? Do you believe that I am capable of asking you to, in a sense, physically end my prophecy, and that I can still fulfill my prophecy? And I want to, to quote a verse that actually supports Kierkegaard a little bit, and this is Genesis 22. I read it during the introduction. And if you recall, it says, then Abraham said to his servants, you stay here with the ass, the boy and I will go up there, we will worship and we will return to you. We will return to you. So what the commentary would say that Abraham was a man of faith. He knew that God was asking him to sacrifice his son. But somehow, he knew in his heart of hearts, either that there was going to be an angel at the last moment, the deus ex machina, or that even if he killed him, he some how would rebuild, we birth, Isaac, and give it back to him? If you look at Rashi on that verse, Rashi says he prophesized that they would both return. So he understands the intent of this verse, and Rashi’s explanation is in the middle of being tested. He also knew that somehow it was going to work out. In a sense, you could say that Rashi and Kierkegaard are on the same page. Another Rabenu Bahia says and we will return to you. At that time Abraham intended to bring back Isaac’s bones for burial. And this is why he said we will come back. I mean, the commentary are very sensitive test to this. And you could also say clearly, that he was fooling them because he didn’t, as we discussed last week, he figured if he told these guys, he was going up to kill his son, they might stop him. But this notion that in fact number one, that the challenge here and I think Rabbi Avraham Bronstein mentioned it last week, Was this an ethical question that was confronting Abraham in the Akeda? Was it the emotional question of losing his son? You certainly don’t feel that in the text. There’s no angst here? Or was it this question of God promised he was going to give me progeny? Now he’s asking me to destroy the possibility of that promise? Do I still believe in the promise?

Adam Mintz  12:10

Yes, there’s so much there to build on. Let’s let’s talk about Rashi for a minute. I’m just trying to parse all the different things you talked about. Let’s talk about Rashi. You think that Kirkegaard and Rashi are saying the same thing. That what Rashi saying is that God asks Abraham to do it, even though it’s unethical. You think Rashi’s sensitive to that? That’s interesting.

Geoffrey Stern  12:41

I’m not sure that part of it, I what I was picking up on was another part of Kierkegaard that I discovered that Kierkegaard identifies the question of faith, and the question of faith has to do with this promise of future generations. And what Rashi is ultimately saying, and what Kierkegaard was saying is that that was the faith part that was being questioned.

Adam Mintz  13:05

Oh OK, good,  I like that.

Geoffrey Stern  13:09

 What Rashi is saying is that this man who is now being tested for his faith prophesizes is that everything is going to work its way out? That he prophesized that even if he listened to God, somehow, and you can conjecture that it was because there was going to be an angel to stop it. Or there was going to be something else like a resurrection. And I’m going to read a text now about the resurrection, …. because that is the critical difference, I believe, between the term the sacrifice of Isaac, and the binding of Isaac. So listen to Perkei d’Rabbi Eliezer. “Rabbi, Jehuda said, when the blade touched his neck, the soul of Isaac fled and departed. But when he heard his voice from between the two Chrubim, the two angels saying to Abraham lay not thine hand upon the lad, his soul returned to his body, and Abraham set him free. And Isaac stood upon his feet. And Isaac knew that in this manner, the dead in the future will be quickened, he opened his mouth, he said, blessed art thou our Lord our God Mechiyeh Hameytim, who brings back the dead. So here is a source that looks at this as part of a bigger theme. And the theme is that God who gives life God is capable of re giving life. And this kind of concept of resurrection of the dead, finds its first instance, in the story of the sacrifice of Isaac.

Adam Mintz  14:55

Good. I mean, that medrish is playing with an idea that Abraham actually killed Isaac, and that  Isaac was brought back to life. I didn’t know that Midrash, Thank you, Geoffrey. Because it says it pretty explicitly. I will tell you that the tradition in Judaism not in Christianity, in Judaism, the place where that tradition really evolves, that Abraham killed Isaac. And then he came back to life was actually something that Jews in Germany and France during the crusades, when Jews were given the choice, whether to die or to convert to Christianity, and they chose death, over conversion to Christianity. There were some people who saw that decision of death, rather than conversion to Christianity as an experience of th4e Akeda.  And there’s a professor in JTS by the name of shalom Spiegel, who wrote an entire book called The Last Trial, in which he collects all of the sources that suggests that Abraham actually killed Isaac. I didn’t know that Midrash but that Midrash says it’s so explicitly Baruch Ata Hashem Mechayeh Hameytim that Isaac is brought back to life. My problem, Geoffrey, with that Medrash is that it’s not explicit in the text. The text doesn’t seem to say that Abraham killed Isaac. Mechayei Hameytim doesn’t seem to be in the spirit of the text. I’ll tell you another text. On Rosh Hashannah in the Mussaf prayer, we also talk about the Binding of Isaac. And there we say to God, God, have compassion upon us. The same way that Abraham was willing to give up everything, in order to listen to you to sacrifice his son, as a reward for that mayyou God have compassion upon us. And that’s an interesting idea. What we say to God is just like Abraham, sublimated the ethical, he was willing to kill his son, because you said it, you should sublimate your desire to punish the people and be nice to us. But even that midrash even that, that quote, from the prayers doesn’t suggest that Abraham actually killed Isaac, that’s in the preliminary part of the story, that Abraham was willing to do it, not that he actually did it. And I think that’s an important point that Professor Kohler makes. And that is we need to distinguish between what the beginning of the story says, and what the punchline says.

Geoffrey Stern  18:13

So I just want to comment on Professor Spiegel, but also the fact that we are living right now in a golden age of Christian Jewish Studies. And by that I mean that the notion that many times that Christianity took ideas from Judaism. But now scholars like Daniel Boyarin  John Levinson and others are saying, Yes, but this gives us license to look into Christianity, and through looking at Christianity possibly understand some of our texts and traditions. And this is based on the assumption that Christianity was trying to convince the Jewish people to accept this new Messiah. And they argued from existing traditions. Making something up would not have gotten them very far. So scholars like Spiegel and Levinson are now looking through our texts, and they’re coming up with amazing material. So for instance, we read in Genesis 22, 6, Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering, and put it on his son Isaac. Here’s what Bereshit Rabbah said, Robert says, And Abraham took the word of the burnt offering, like one who carries his own tzlav, his own stake on his shoulder, he literally says, like carrying your own cross. So again, according to this way of looking at some of these texts, it’s not as though when the New Testament describes Jesus as carrying his own cross, it might have been very conscience to, in a sense, type. into and latch into these existing traditions. You mentioned the mussaf service of Rosh Hashanah there’s even a bigger parallel with Passover and the pascal lamb. With Rosh Hashanah we have the ram’s horn and that’s important, but with the pascal lamb listen to what the the Bible in Exodus 12 says. If you recall the Jews are leaving Egypt the firstborn sons are being killed. Everybody is an Abraham in Egypt killing their Isaac, and the blood on the houses where you shall be staying shall be a sign for you. When I see the blood I will pass over you so that no plague will destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. The Mechilta d’Rab Yishmael  says, What is the intent of this and I shall see the blood, I shall see the blood of the binding of isaac as it is written and Abraham came to the place, the Lord will see Hashem yiraeh.  But he was about to destroy the Lord said, and he repented himself of the evil. What did he see? He saw the blood of the binding of Isaac. So there are two issues that are fascinating here. One is that he makes the connection to a very powerful theme of the pascal lamb to the sacrifice…. sorry, I misspoke to the binding of Isaac. …And second, he talks about the blood of Isaac, so you can try to answer that Rabbi and say that maybe Isaac was nicked before the angel interrupted. But where does the blood of Isaac come all of a sudden. And so you have in this week’s parsha , at the end, it says Abraham then returned to his servants, and they departed for Beer Sheba. So the commentaries pick up on saying, why does it say Abraham then returned? Why doesn’t it say Abraham and Isaac returned. So the Ibn Ezra says, Isaac is not mentioned because he was under Abraham’s care. Those who say that Abraham slaughtered Isaac and left him on the altar. And following this, Isaac came to life are contradicting scripture. The point that I’m making is, Ibn Ezra would not say this, if there weren’t people arguing the case and you’re right, it might have been Christians. But again, we’re talking about levels of texture and tradition that are clearly part of this story. In the classical rabbinic texts, they certainly become more profound as history goes forward. This Levinson talks about the Maccabees, were the first to really begin this concept of the Techiyat Hameytim , the resurrection of the dead in Judaism. And if you read the book of the Maccabees time and time again, when they are sacrificing themselves to the Greeks, rather than break the law, they reference Akedat Yitzchak . So there is something there. And that’s why I raised my original question. Is it the binding of Isaac? Or was it the actual sacrifice of Isaac? And does it make a difference?

Adam Mintz  23:38

So I think all those points are amazing points. You took us on a journey through rabbinic literature. And the answer to your question, Geoffrey is yes, it makes a difference. The sacrifice of Isaac is one thing, the blood of Isaac as part of the sacrifice of Isaac. The Binding of Isaac suggests that there was a binding but they didn’t actually kill it. But Michael is up here. So Michael, why don’t you take it away?

Michael Stern  24:07

Thank you, Rabbi. Thank you, Geoffrey. I understand that sacrifice is giving up something for the sake of something else or giving up something you want to keep. They say no sacrifice is too great when it comes to children. So binding is for me like a straight jacket. And sacrificing is giving up something. And when it comes to children, I think in this golden age, there is a liberation from old belief systems from the shoulds  and shouldn’ts, and the young generation today and every young generation questions, the traditions and the ways of the forefathers. And so a father has to, as I understand fatherhood, bless his children, and sacrifice his own. My children, I don’t like that my children, I understand that children are there to raise as best you can, and then send them off and bless them and be wind under their wings. And then there is the prophecy of return. When you do come home alone, like Abraham came home alone, but he, like parents go home alone, empty nesting, and then maybe, and I bet the children come home. And they come home with their own stories, and their own new traditions and their own new ways that they’d fought hard to birth.

Geoffrey Stern  25:49

Thank you, Michael.

Adam Mintz  25:50

Michael, thank you so so much. I mean, I think that’s a whole different way of looking at children. And I think that is something that if you bring that out from the story, I think that’s beautiful.

Geoffrey Stern  26:01

So the question is, what now becomes the takeaway? One of the scholars, who I’ve read, who’s fascinating here, talks about this break of natural birth, meaning to say, and I started by talking about this week’s parsha, we have two themes. One is, we can now call it this potential sacrifice of Isaac, and his rebirth, and the other is miraculous birth. And by miraculous birth, I should say that every parent group from Abraham forward, it didn’t occur before. As far as I could tell Adam and Eve did not have a problem conceiving. But from Abraham and Sarah going forward, every patriarch and great prophet, is born out of miraculous situations. And in fact, Abraham and Sarah had to even change their name. They were a Abram and Sarai had to change their name in order to give birth, changing one’s name is being reborn. Yes, in the Bible, it means being reborn already in the Old Testament. And then they have at 90 for Sarah, and 100. For Abraham, they have this miraculous birth. And you can look at the language which is fascinating. It says, and God visited Sarah veHashem pakad et Sarah, like he said, Now, there’s a great movie with Woody Allen, and it’s called The Front and he’s being grilled to see if he knows any communists. And finally, he says, Do you mean in the biblical sense, and of course, what he’s talking about is something called carnal knowledge, which is that the word know, Adam knew Eve can mean carnal relations. Well, there’s also something called a conjugal visit. And the word pakad is used mostly in Rabbinic Judaism. And many times as a euphemism for a conjugal visit, meaning to say if someone is about to go on a trip, Hayav adam lipkod et ishto lifei nesiato.. a man has to visit his wife before he leaves. So what I’m trying to get at is not to necessarily say we have a story of a virgin birth here, or the alternative, which is a barren mother past menopause, and an impotent father in his hundreds have a baby. The point is that it’s miraculous, and that it is an absolute break with natural birth. And that’s how I’m kind of taking your comment, Michael, which is that there is a big theme in Judaism that you need that break, let’s not forget that when Abram began his journey from Haran, it says, you leave your father’s house, you’ve got to leave your parents to find yourself. And according to that interpretation, that’s what happens if Isaac gets sacrificed. He is being brought up to this mountain by a man newly reborn as Abraham who was given a child, a miraculous child. And now he himself is having to go through this miraculous transformation of of dying and being reborn. So you could argue that both themes that we’re seeing here Michael, are very along the lines that you are talking that redemption, liberation, full actualization can only come when you break possibly and it doesn’t have to be forever, it might be momentarily the umbilical cord of natural birth.

Michael Stern  30:06

And that is the pain in suffering and sacrifice and pain in the binding. Because wearing straitjackets I can attest is painful. So real unbinding and sacrificing is painful and sacrifice and releasing the pain in the  unbinding.

Adam Mintz  30:30

That’s nice. You’re taking the other side, not the binding, not the binding Geoffrey, but the unbinding …. an  interesting twist

Geoffrey Stern  30:37

But that’s what happens when you talk about the sacrifice of Isaac, you’re ultimately talking about the resuscitation and rebirth as a new person. You know, the takeaways are kind of fascinating. And the takeaways make this less of extra ordinary incident. And actually, something very apart of what a Judaism I turned out to be. This guy who I quote, says that it doesn’t stop here. He says, if you think about all of the patriarchs, whether Jacob going to sleep, and the angels coming down and going up, which could be a metaphor for dying and being reborn, whether it’s fighting with the angel to the last moment. So it seems to be a very basic theme. But as we started rabbi, and you talked about the key is how the story ends. I do believe that if we benefit a little bit from reading those rabbinic texts, through new lenses, with a little bit of help, from the way Christianity took this motif, it does become something that becomes both thematically important, but also, in a sense, edifying in the sense that we all need to be reborn. And the question is what we do with our life, and that more to the point that all of our births have to be miraculous. And that in a sense, God is the third partner in our in our births. And that is something that is a very famous rabbinic text. So maybe that is a little bit of the takeaway of what otherwise can be a very challenging, depressing and rattling story in the Bible.

Adam Mintz  32:43

Thank you so much, Geoffrey, amazing conversation today. We look forward Enjoy your Shabbat everybody. We look forward to seeing everybody this Thursday night 8pm Eastern Daylight Time and we will discuss the portion of Hayei Sarah. Geoffrey, have a great trip to Israel. And we will see you from Israel on Thursday night. Everybody Shabbat shalom.

Geoffrey Stern  33:04

Shabbat Shalom.

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Friday October 22nd at 4:00pm Eastern

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Link to Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/356011

Listen below to last week’s Clubhouse meeting: Abraham’s Epic Journey and Our Own

Abraham’s Epic Journey and our Own

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

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Filed under Bible, divine birth, immaculate conception, Jewish jesus, Judaism, miracle, Passover, resurrection, Torah

Why do Jewish women Rule?

Why and when did matrilineal descent become the norm within Judaism?

In this Mother’s Day episode of the Madlik Podcast we explore the emergence and stature of matrilineal descent within Judaism, an otherwise male dominated and patrilineal religion and legal society.

Recorded live at TCS, The Conservative Synagogue of Westport Connecticut we come to the surprising conclusion that the introduction of matrilineal descent might have more to do with removing any stigma attached to a captured and redeemed single-mother and less to do with the status of the child.

Listen to the madlik podcast:

Featured Links:

Yael Deckelbaum / Prayer of the Mothers – Official video https://youtu.be/YyFM-pWdqrY

Three Part Series by Rabbi Ethan Tucker of Hadar Institute on

MATRILINEALITY AND PATRILINEALITY IN JEWISH LAW AND COMMUNITY, PARTS 1-3

https://www.hadar.org/torah-resource/matrilineality-and-patrilineality-jewish-law-and-community-part-1

https://www.hadar.org/torah-resource/matrilineality-and-patrilineality-jewish-law-and-community-part-2

https://www.hadar.org/torah-resource/matrilineality-and-patrilineality-jewish-law-and-community-part-3

Podcast Notes:

  1. Breaking News

As part of the historic handover of Japan’s imperial throne on Wednesday, the incoming emperor, Naruhito, will receive a sword, a jewel and official seals in a sacred ceremony that dates back thousands of years.

But the new empress, Masako, Naruhito’s wife of 26 years, will not be allowed to attend — another illustration of the diminished status of women in the imperial family, and of the challenges women face more broadly in Japanese society.

Under the Imperial Household Law, which governs the line of succession as well as most matters of protocol related to Japan’s monarchy, women in the royal family are not permitted to be in the room when the new emperor receives the sacred regalia signifying his rightful succession to the world’s oldest monarchy.

But the prohibitions go much further. Women are not allowed to reign. In fact, women born into the royal family must officially leave it once they marry, and none of their children can be in line to the throne.   NY Times April 29, 2019

  1. In the Torah

You shall not intermarry with them: do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. For they will turn your children away from Me to worship other gods, and the LORD’s anger will blaze forth against you and He will promptly wipe you out.

Deuteronomy 7: 3- 4

וְלֹ֥א תִתְחַתֵּ֖ן בָּ֑ם בִּתְּךָ֙ לֹא־תִתֵּ֣ן לִבְנ֔וֹ וּבִתּ֖וֹ לֹא־תִקַּ֥ח לִבְנֶֽךָ
כִּֽי־יָסִ֤יר אֶת־בִּנְךָ֙ מֵֽאַחֲרַ֔י וְעָבְד֖וּ אֱלֹהִ֣ים אֲחֵרִ֑ים וְחָרָ֤ה אַף־יְהוָה֙ בָּכֶ֔ם וְהִשְׁמִידְךָ֖ מַהֵֽר

  1. In Tanach

Now then, let us make a covenant with our God to expel all these women and those who have been born to them, in accordance with the bidding of the Lord and of all who are concerned over the commandment of our God, and let the Teaching be obeyed.

Ezra 10: 3

וְעַתָּ֣ה נִֽכְרָת־בְּרִ֣ית לֵ֠א-לֹהֵינוּ לְהוֹצִ֨יא כָל־נָשִׁ֜ים וְהַנּוֹלָ֤ד מֵהֶם֙ בַּעֲצַ֣ת אֲדֹנָ֔י וְהַחֲרֵדִ֖ים בְּמִצְוַ֣ת אֱ-לֹהֵ֑ינוּ וְכַתּוֹרָ֖ה יֵעָשֶֽׂה

  1. In Rabbinic Judaism

Wherever there is [a valid] betrothal and no sin, the child follows the male [with regard to familial status].

Which is this? This is a Kohenet, a Levite woman, or an Israelite woman who married a Kohen, a Levite or an Israelite.

Wherever there is [a valid] betrothal and there is a sin, the child follows the defective one.

Which is this? This is a widow married to the Kohen Gadol [High Priest], a divorcee or a chalutzah [the widow of a childless man released from the obligation of levirate marriage by a ceremony performed by her brother-in-law] [married] to an ordinary Kohen, a mamzeret [the female offspring of certain prohibited relationships who may not marry into the general Jewish population] or a Netina [female Gibeonite] to an Israelite, a female Israelite to a mamzer or Netina.

[With] any [woman] for whom there is no betrothal to him, but there is betrothal to others, the child is a mamzer.

Which is this? This is one who has sexual intercourse with any one of the forbidden sexual relations [mentioned] in the Torah.

Any [woman] for whom there is no betrothal either to him or to others, the child is like her.

Which is this? This is the child of a [non-Jewish] maidservant or a non-Jewish woman.

Mishna Kiddushin 3: 12

כָּל מָקוֹם שֶׁיֵּשׁ קִדּוּשִׁין וְאֵין עֲבֵרָה, הַוָּלָד הוֹלֵךְ אַחַר הַזָּכָר

וְאֵיזֶה, זוֹ כֹהֶנֶת, לְוִיָּה וְיִשְׂרְאֵלִית שֶׁנִּשְּׂאוּ לְכֹהֵן וּלְלֵוִי וּלְיִשְׂרָאֵל.

וְכָל מָקוֹם שֶׁיֵּשׁ קִדּוּשִׁין וְיֵשׁ עֲבֵרָה, הַוָּלָד הוֹלֵךְ אַחַר הַפָּגוּם.

וְאֵיזוֹ, זוֹ אַלְמָנָה לְכֹהֵן גָּדוֹל, גְּרוּשָׁה וַחֲלוּצָה לְכֹהֵן הֶדְיוֹט, מַמְזֶרֶת וּנְתִינָה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, בַּת יִשְׂרָאֵל לְמַמְזֵר וּלְנָתִין.

וְכָל מִי שֶׁאֵין לָהּ עָלָיו קִדּוּשִׁין אֲבָל יֶשׁ לָהּ עַל אֲחֵרִים קִדּוּשִׁין, הַוָּלָד מַמְזֵר.

וְאֵיזֶה, זֶה הַבָּא עַל אַחַת מִכָּל הָעֲרָיוֹת שֶׁבַּתּוֹרָה.

וְכָל מִי שֶׁאֵין לָהּ לֹא עָלָיו וְלֹא עַל אֲחֵרִים קִדּוּשִׁין, הַוָּלָד כְּמוֹתָהּ.

וְאֵיזֶה, זֶה וְלַד שִׁפְחָה וְנָכְרִית

  1. Rabbinic Judaism (more) 
  2. Aha Sar Ha­Birah and R. Tanhum bdR Hiyya from K’far Akko redeemed captive women… one of whom had been impregnated by a Gentile. They came to R. Ami, who said to them: R. Yohanan, R. Elazar, R. Hanina all say: When a Gentile or a slave has intercourse with a Jewish woman, the child is a mamzer. Said R. Yosef: Is it a great trick to mention many names? Rav and Shmuel in Bavel, and R. Yehoshua b. Levi and Bar Kappara in Eretz Yisrael… all say that when a Gentile or a slave has intercourse with a Jewish woman, the child is kasher! … When a Gentile or a slave has intercourse with a Jewish woman, the child is a mamzer. R. Yehoshua b. Levi says the child is mekulkal. Abaye said to him: Why do you rely on R. Dimi [to establish that Rabbi [Yehudah Ha­Nasi]’s position was that the child is a mamzer], rely on Rabin! For when Rabin came, he said: R. Natan and R. Yehudah Ha­Nasi rule permissively… Babylonian Talmud Yevamot 44b­-45b[i]

רבי אחא שר הבירה ור’ תנחום בריה דרבי חייא איש כפר עכו פרוק הנהו שבוייתא דאתו מארמון לטבריא הוה חדא דאעברא מעובד כוכבים ואתו לקמיה דר’ אמי אמר להו ר’ יוחנן ור’ אלעזר ור’ חנינא דאמרי עובד כוכבים ועבד הבא על בת ישראל הולד ממזר

אמר רב יוסף רבותא למחשב גברי הא רב ושמואל בבבל ורבי יהושע בן לוי ובר קפרא בארץ ישראל ואמרי לה חלופי בר קפרא ועיילי זקני דרום דאמרי עובד כוכבים ועבד הבא על בת ישראל הולד כשר

אלא אמר רב יוסף רבי היא דכי אתא רב דימי אמר רבי יצחק בר אבודימי משום רבינו אמרו עובד כוכבים ועבד הבא על בת ישראל הולד ממזר

רבי יהושע בן לוי אומר הולד מקולקל למאן אילימא לקהל הא אמר רבי יהושע הולד כשר אלא לכהונה דכולהו אמוראי דמכשרי מודו שהולד פגום לכהונה

מק”ו מאלמנה מה אלמנה לכהן גדול שאין איסורה שוה בכל בנה פגום זו שאיסורה שוה בכל אינו דין שבנה פגום

מה לאלמנה לכהן גדול שכן היא עצמה מתחללת הכא נמי כיון שנבעלה פסלה

דאמר רבי יוחנן משום רבי שמעון מנין לעובד כוכבים ועבד הבא על הכהנת ועל הלויה ועל הישראלית שפסלוה שנאמר (ויקרא כב, יג) ובת כהן כי תהיה אלמנה וגרושה מי שיש לו אלמנות וגירושין בה יצאו עובד כוכבים ועבד שאין להם אלמנות וגירושין בה

אמר ליה אביי מאי חזית דסמכת אדרב דימי סמוך אדרבין דכי אתא רבין אמר רבי נתן ורבי יהודה הנשיא מורים בה להיתירא ומאן רבי יהודה הנשיא רבי

6.   Reform Responsa

The concept of paternity as the determining factor in progeny being considered as having Jewish descent is a constant in the Hebrew Bible, as the authors of the Report elaborated: “both the Biblical and the Rabbinical traditions take for granted that ordinarily the paternal line is decisive in the tracing of descent within the Jewish people.” Numerous examples in the Hebrew Bible determine a child’s status by the father’s tribe. The Report further asserts, “in the Rabbinic tradition, this tradition remains in force,” citing as prooftexts examples of Priestly status–“the child of an Israelite who marries a Kohenet is an Israelite” and the Talmudic precept, “the most important parental responsibility to teach Torah rested with the father (Kiddushin 29a; df. Shulchan Aruch, Yoredeah 245.1).” Only in the case where “the marriage was considered not to be licit, the child of that marriage followed the status of the mother (Mishna Kiddushin 3.12, havalad kemotah).” The Report offers a sociological interpretation of the reason for matrilineal descent in illicit unions: “the woman with her child had no recourse but to return to her own people.[ii]

  1. In Contemporary Israel – The Problem

Lev Paschov, an Israeli soldier who immigrated to Israel under the Law of Return from the Former Soviet Union, was killed while on active duty in Southern Lebanon in 1993, and buried twice. He was first interred in a regular Israeli military cemetery, but after it was discovered that his mother was not Jewish, his body was exhumed, and Paschov was buried a second time, in a cemetery for non-Jews.

For many Israelis, the macabre end of Paschov’s brief life journey was deeply disturbing. How was it possible that someone could be welcomed to Israel under the Law of Return, serve the Jewish state’s army, and die defending his adopted homeland, and still not be considered Jewish enough to be buried alongside his comrades?[iii]

  1. Return to Patrilineal descent in Israel

Responsa of Rabbi  Ben­Zion Meir Hai Uziel, the chief rabbi of Israel in the 1940s and 1950

…From here we learn,that a patrilineal Jew brought by his father for a conversion should be accepted by the beit din. Even though this child is called the child of the Gentile woman, he is still considered zera yisrael (of Jewish stock)… everyone agrees that children of a Jewish man born to a Gentile woman are called zera yisrael, therefore, when the father brings him to convert, the child reverts to his original lineage. Responsa Piskei Uzziel Be­She’eilot Hazeman #64[iv]

 

…מכאן אנו לומדים במכל שכן כשגוי זה הוא בן ישראל מנכרית ואביו מביאו להתגייר שבי”ד נזקקים לגרותו משום דאע”ג שהוא נקרא בנה של הנכרית אינו יוצא מכלל זרע ישראל… הלכך כשאביו הביאו להתגייר חוזר הילד לעיקר זרעו, … הא למדת דבן הבא מן הנכרית נקרא זרעו של ישראל ועובר עליו משום ומזרעך לא תתן להעביר למולך, הלכך אם בא לגיירו מצוה עלינו להזדקק לגרותו כדי לכפר עון האב מאחרי הגרות ולבל ידח ממנו נדח. ואין לחוש שמא יגרר אחרי אמו דאדרבא אם דוחים אותו ועוקרים אותו ממקור חייו וזרעו שהוא אביו ודאי שיטמע בין הגויים ויכפור באלהי ישראל, וישנא תכלית שנאה את היהדות ותורתה…

 

  1. Feminist Response – Irony

I hope it is not impertinent, for someone writing thousands of miles distant from the great country in which the women’s liberation movement has made such rapid strides, to express astonishment that the clamor to change an ancient law which makes Jewish status depend on the mother should have originated in that very country.

There is no problem of Descent, Lous Jacobs[v]

10. Feminist Response – The Jewish Community’s “Need” to Punish Men Who Intermarry

Judith Hauptmann, a Talmud scholar widely known for her work in advancing feminist scholarship of Judaism … proceeds to argue that the modern Jewish community should not rescind matrilineal descent because doing so would have the effect of removing a punishment against Jewish men who intermarry.[vi]

  1. Matrilineal descent Redux

Hence a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, so that they become one flesh  Genesis 2: 24

 

עַל־כֵּן֙ יַֽעֲזָב־אִ֔ישׁ אֶת־אָבִ֖יו וְאֶת־אִמּ֑וֹ וְדָבַ֣ק בְּאִשְׁתּ֔וֹ וְהָי֖וּ לְבָשָׂ֥ר אֶחָֽד׃

Rashi  ONE FLESH — Both parents are united in the child.

לבשר אחד. הַוָּלָד נוֹצָר עַל יְדֵי שְׁנֵיהֶם וְשָׁם נַעֲשֶׁה בְשָׂרָם אֶחָד

 

Genesis 17: 21

וְאֶת־בְּרִיתִ֖י אָקִ֣ים אֶת־יִצְחָ֑ק אֲשֶׁר֩ תֵּלֵ֨ד לְךָ֤ שָׂרָה֙ לַמּוֹעֵ֣ד הַזֶּ֔ה בַּשָּׁנָ֖ה הָאַחֶֽרֶת׃

But My covenant I will maintain with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year.”

A certain man of the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman[vii]. Exodus 2: 1

וַיֵּ֥לֶךְ אִ֖ישׁ מִבֵּ֣ית לֵוִ֑י וַיִּקַּ֖ח אֶת־בַּת־לֵוִֽי

[i] MATRILINEALITY AND PATRILINEALITY IN JEWISH LAW AND COMMUNITY, PART 1 Rabbi Ethan Tucker

[ii] 1 “Reform Movement’s Resolution on Patrilineal Descent,” Report of the Committee on Patrilineal Descent, adopted on March 15, 1983. Can be accessed at http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/source/Judaism/patrilineal1.html

[iii] WHAT, NOT WHO, IS A JEW? Daniel Gordis March 1, 2011

[iv] MATRILINEALITY AND PATRILINEALITY IN JEWISH LAW AND COMMUNITY, PART 2, Rabbi Ethan Tucker

See also: https://books.google.com/books?id=MlImAQAAIAAJ&focus=searchwithinvolume&q=Irregular+marriages

[v] Originally published in Judaism 34.1 (Winter 1985), 55-59.

[vi] Patrilineal Descent–an Examination of Non-Lineal Descent.” Judaism, Winter 1985, pp. 46-50.

[vii] Laws regarding a Bat Levi as relates to the redemption of the first born son: If the father is a kohen or a levi, or if the mother is the daughter of a cohen or a levi, there is no mitzvah of pidyon haben (Shulchan Aruch 305:18).

If a boy is born from a non-Jewish father and a bas levi, there is also no mitzvah of pidyon haben since his mother is the daughter of a levi. However, if a boy is born from a non-Jewish father and a bas kohen, a pidyon haben is performed. Since the daughter of the kohen has violated her kedusha by having relations with a gentile, she loses her hallachic status as a bas kohen (Shulchan Aruch 305:18). Similarly, if a bas yisroel has a child with a non-Jew, a pidyon haben is performed. The Aruch Hashulchan comments that in this scenario it is difficult to ascertain who is obligated to perform the pidyon haben. The father, who is not Jewish, is obviously not obligated to perform this or any mitzvah. The mother is exempt as well, as this mitzvah is never the obligation of the mother (as we shall explain). Rather, in this case the child should perform his own pidyon when he reached the age of thirteen. Other poskim disagree and feel that the beis din should perform the pidyon right away- see Igros Moshe Y.D. 195 and Sheilas Yeshurun page 140.

 

The mishna taught that Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said: There were no days as happy for the Jewish people as the fifteenth of Av and as Yom Kippur.

However, what is the special joy of the fifteenth of Av? Rav Yehuda said that Shmuel said: This was the day on which the members of different tribes were permitted to enter one another’s tribe, by intermarriage. It was initially prohibited to intermarry between tribes, so as to keep each plot of land within the portion of the tribe that originally inherited it. This halakha was instituted by the Torah in the wake of a complaint by the relatives of the daughters of Zelophehad, who were worried that if these women married men from other tribes, the inheritance of Zelophehad would be lost from his tribe (see Numbers 36:1–12).

What did they expound, in support of their conclusion that this halakha was no longer in effect? The verse states: “This is the matter that the Lord has commanded concerning the daughters of Zelophehad, saying: Let them marry whom they think best; only into the family of the tribe of their father shall they marry” (Numbers 36:5). They derived from the verse that this matter shall be practiced only in this generation, when Eretz Yisrael was divided among the tribes, but afterward members of different tribes were permitted to marry. On the day this barrier separating the tribes was removed, the Sages established a permanent day of rejoicing.

 

א”ר שמעון ב”ג לא היו ימים טובים לישראל כחמשה עשר באב וכיוה”כ: בשלמא יום הכפורים משום דאית ביה סליחה ומחילה יום שניתנו בו לוחות האחרונות

אלא ט”ו באב מאי היא אמר רב יהודה אמר שמואל יום שהותרו שבטים לבוא זה בזה

מאי דרוש (במדבר לו, ו) זה הדבר אשר צוה ה’ לבנות צלפחד וגו’ דבר זה לא יהא נוהג אלא בדור זה

Women Rule

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Sinning for God

Esther’s Purim message and how women save the world

Using Esther and other Biblical heroines we explore a feminist take on a Rabbinic theme of women sinning for the sake of heaven and for a greater good….

Listen to the madlik podcast:

The podcast was recorded in front of a live audience at a Kavanah session at TCS – The Conservative Synagogue of Westport, CT.

——————————–

notes:

Esther

Esther sent a message to Mordecai: “Go, gather together all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night and day; I also and my maidens will fast likewise, and so will I go in to the king, not according to the custom” (Esther 4:16). Rabbi Abba said: It will not be according to my usual custom, for every day until now when I submitted myself to Ahasuerus it was under compulsion, but now I will be submitting myself to him of my own free will. And Esther further said: “And if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). What she meant was: Just as I was lost to my father’s house ever since I was brought here, so too, shall I be lost to you, for after voluntarily having relations with Ahasuerus, I shall be forever forbidden to you. (Babylonian Talmud Megillah 15a)[i][ii]

לך כנוס את־כל־היהודים הנמצאים בשושן וצומו עלי ואל־תאכלו ואל־תשתו שלשת ימים לילה ויום גם־אני ונערתי אצום כן ובכן אבוא אל־המלך אשר לא־כדת וכאשר אבדתי אבדתי עד אשר לא כדת אמר רבי אבא שלא כדת היה שבכל יום ויום עד עכשיו באונס ועכשיו ברצון וכאשר אבדתי אבדתי כשם שאבדתי מבית אבא כך אובד ממך

Tamar

Ulla said: Tamar engaged in licentious sexual intercourse [with her father-in-law, Judah (see Genesis, chapter 38),] and Zimri ben Salu also engaged in licentious sexual intercourse [with a Midianite woman (see Numbers, chapter 25).]  Tamar engaged in licentious sexual intercourse and merited that kings descended from her and she also merited to be the ancestor of prophets [e.g., Isaiah, who was related to the royal family]. Conversely, with regard to Zimri, several multitudes of Israel fell due to him.

Rav Naḥman bar Yitzḥak said: Greater is a transgression committed for its own sake, i.e., for the sake of Heaven, than a mitzva performed not for its own sake.

The Gemara questions this comparison: But didn’t Rav Yehuda say that Rav said: A person should always occupy himself with Torah and mitzvot even not for their own sake, as it is through acts performed not for their own sake that good deeds for their own sake come about? How, then, can any transgression be considered greater than a mitzva not for the sake of Heaven?

אמר עולא תמר זינתה זמרי זינה

תמר זינתה יצאו ממנה מלכים ונביאים זמרי זינה נפלו עליו כמה רבבות מישראל

אמר ר”נ בר יצחק גדולה עבירה לשמה ממצוה שלא לשמה והאמר רב יהודה אמר רב לעולם יעסוק אדם בתורה ובמצות אפי’ שלא לשמן שמתוך שלא לשמן בא לשמן

Yael

Rather say: A transgression for the sake of Heaven is equivalent to a mitzva not for its own sake. The proof is as it is written: “Blessed above women shall Yael be, the wife of Hever the Kenite, above women in the tent she shall be blessed” (Judges 5:24 Etz Hayim p 425), and it is taught: Who are these “women in the tent?” They are Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. Yael’s forbidden intercourse with Sisera for the sake of Heaven is compared to the sexual intercourse in which the Matriarchs engaged.[iii]

Rabbi Yoḥanan said: That wicked one, Sisera, engaged in seven acts of sexual intercourse with Yael at that time, as it is stated: “Between her feet he sunk, he fell, he lay; between her feet he sunk, he fell; where he sunk, there he fell down dead” (Judges 5:27). Each mention of falling is referring to another act of intercourse.

אלא אימא כמצוה שלא לשמה דכתיב (שופטים ה, כד) תבורך מנשים יעל אשת חבר הקני מנשים באהל תבורך מאן נשים שבאהל שרה רבקה רחל ולאה

א”ר יוחנן שבע בעילות בעל אותו רשע באותה שעה שנאמר (שופטים ה, כז) בין רגליה כרע נפל שכב בין רגליה כרע נפל באשר כרע שם נפל שדוד

Lots Daughters         Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Avin said that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korḥa said: A
person should always come first with regard to a matter of a mitzva, as in reward of the one night that the elder daughter of Lot preceded the younger for the sake of a mitzva, she merited to precede the younger daughter by four generations to the monarchy of the Jewish people. The descendants of Ruth the Moabite ruled over the Jewish people for four generations: Obed, Yishai, David, and Solomon, before the reign of Solomon’s son Rehoboam, whose mother was Naamah the Ammonite. (Babylonian Talmud Tractate Nazir 23:b)

א”ר חייא בר אבין א”ר יהושע בן קרחה לעולם יקדים אדם לדבר מצוה שבשכר לילה אחת שקדמתה בכירה לצעירה

זכתה וקדמה ארבעה דורות בישראל למלכו’

Eve

Starting with Eve and that damned apple, women have been depicted (and mostly condemned) as the willful and wily seducers of men: …Even the daughter of the patriarch Jacob, a woman who is the apparent victim of rape, is blamed by some of the more misogynistic rabbinical sages for provoking her rapist. And a minority tradition in the rabbinical literature reaches a similar conclusion about Lot’s daughters: “Lot is a warning example to men to avoid being alone with women, lest [they] should entice them to sin, as did Lot’s daughters.”

However, “an open-eyed reading of the Bible reveals that women play a crucial and dynamic role in the destiny of humankind, in both Jewish and Christian tradition. Inevitably, a woman figures decisively in the recurring theme of “the birth of the chosen one,” starting with the matriarchs of the Hebrew Bible and culminating with the Virgin Mary in the Christian Bible. As we have already seen, Lot’s daughters and Judah’s daughter-in-law are examples of how the bearer of the “chosen one” is not passively impregnated with the seed of a patriarch; rather, these women take it upon themselves to defy the will of powerful men and sometimes God himself in order to bring about the crucial birth. Indeed, the Bible frequently singles out “the woman as initiator of events,” as Ramras-Rauch puts it. “From Eve through Sarah and Esther, women have shaped sacred history through word and deed.””[iv]

Contemporary Feminist Interpretations of the “Sin” of Eve [v]

Mieke Bal[vi] does not see the action of eating the fruit as sin. Rather, Bal views the woman’s choice to eat as a way to gain the wisdom that will make her like God. Ironically, her choice also fulfills God’s intention of humanity made in the divine image (Gen. 1:27). By choosing to eat and gain knowledge, including sexual knowledge, the woman makes the continuance of the species possible, even though the individual will not be immortal. Her choice is a choice for reality. Her choice puts an end to the fantasy of individual immortality. It opens up reality as we know it.

Lyn Bechtel asks, why, if humans were created immortal, were they also created sexual? If they were created immortal, why were they made of finite clay? Why after eating the fruit do the humans fear their nakedness rather than death? Why is it considered punishment for Adam to be sent into the world to be a farmer, when Genesis 2:5 tells us that humans were intended to cultivate the ground? Bechtel interprets the Adam and Eve story as the story of human maturation…. Thus it is better to interpret this to mean that those who eat will become aware of the reality of death. That is what gradually happens as we mature. … After the humans mature, they are ready to enter the world where they will take up their life’s work, the work God intended them to do from the beginning. Although Bechtel sees the story as androcentric, she does not believe it is sexist. In addition, her reading has the advantage of placing life in the real world in a positive light. It is not a punishment for sin, but the world God created for mature men and women to share as partners.

Dutch scholar Ellen van Wolde discusses this problem in her treatment of the Adam and Eve story, which is similar to Bechtel’s. She sees the clue to the whole story in Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” She writes: As man leaves his father and mother to become independent, so man, male and female, leaves YHWH God by means of his transgression of the prohibition in 3:1–7 to become independent. . . . The realization that verse 2:24 presents man’s process of development in a nutshell and the realization that a similar behavior can be observed in man’s attitude towards YHWH God, makes the reader aware of the fact that Gen 2–3 is really one extensive description of this growth.  Van Wolde sees the transgression as a necessary disobedience, because freedom is the one thing that God could not build directly into the universe. Freedom cannot be conferred. It can only be grasped.

Carol Meyers, one of the most important recent interpreters of the Adam and Eve story, treats Genesis 2–3 as a narrative of human origins, as a story that explains why certain human conditions are as they are, and as a parable or wisdom tale.  … The prominent role of the female rather than the male in the wisdom aspects of the Eden tale is a little-noticed feature of the narrative. It is the woman, and not the man, who perceives the desirability of procuring wisdom. The woman, again not the man, is the articulate member of the first pair who engages in dialogue even before the benefits of the wisdom tree have been produced. This association between the female and the qualities of wisdom may have a mythic background, with the features of a Semitic wisdom goddess underlying the intellectual prominence of the woman of Eden.

[i] See also Tosefot Ketubot 3b “Lidrosh”

[ii] According to Rabbinic tradition, Esther was married to Mordechai: The verse states: “And when her father and mother were dead, Mordecai took her for his own daughter” (Esther 2:7). A tanna taught a baraita in the name of Rabbi Meir: Do not read the verse literally as for a daughter [bat], but rather read it as for a home [bayit]. This indicates that Mordecai took Esther to be his wife. (Babylonian Talmud Megilla 13a)

ובמות אביה ואמה לקחה מרדכי לו לבת תנא משום ר”מ אל תקרי לבת אלא לבית

[iii] Alternative reading in Babylonian Talmud Tractate Horayot 10b: Who are these “women in the tent”? They are Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, and Yael is more blessed than they are. Apparently, a mitzva performed not for its own sake is a negative phenomenon.

אמר רב נחמן בר יצחק גדולה עבירה לשמה ממצוה שלא לשמה שנאמר (שופטים ה, כד) תבורך מנשים יעל אשת חבר הקיני מנשים באהל תבורך מאן נינהו נשים באהל שרה רבקה רחל ולאה

[iv] Kirsch, Jonathan. The Harlot by the Side of the Road (pp. 58 and 251-252). Random House Publishing Group.

[v] See: Helpmates, Harlots, and Heroes – Women’s Stories in the Hebrew Bible by Alice Ogden Bellis, 2007 chapter 2 The Story of Eve

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The Choice Challenge

Every week I am reading Shai Held’s The Heart of Torah and in his second essay on parshat Va-’era’ Held once again demonstrates the depth of his scholarship and the breadth of his reading.  In discussing the age-old question of how the biblical God could harden Pharaoh’s heart yet maintain Judaism’s belief in our God-given right to freedom Held makes a suggestion.

Held suggests that freedom is not so much:

… a fact, but it is also—and perhaps primarily—an aspiration. Real freedom requires, R. Joseph Soloveitchik (1903–93) writes, “a continuous awareness of maximal responsibility by man without even a moment’s inattentiveness.” [Soleveitchik, On Repentance p. 143] Mindfulness and constant, exquisite attention are necessary for freedom to flourish. Freedom needs to be nurtured and attended to, not taken for granted.

R. Shlomo Wolbe (1914–2005) adds that “freedom is not at all part of humanity’s daily spiritual bread. It is, rather, one of the noble virtues which one must labor to attain. It is not lesser than love, and fear, and cleaving to God, acquiring which clearly demands great effort. We can acquire freedom, and therefore we must acquire it.” [Wolbe, Alei Shur p 155]

Freedom is, in other words, a spiritual project. In order to thrive, it must be brought into awareness (Soloveitchik) and actively cultivated (Wolbe). Then, and only then, can we soften our hearts. Shai Held. The Heart of Torah, Volume 1: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion: Genesis and Exodus

Joseph Soloveitchik is widely known, especially within the modern-orthodox world as the head of Yeshiva University and scion of a famous Lithuanian Rabbinic Dynasty, but R. Shlomo Wolbe is hardly known outside of the haredi (ultra-orthodox) world which he joined at the tender age of 19.  Wolbe transferred from the University of Berlin and ended up at the Meir Yeshiva in Poland. Wolbe, who passed away in 2005 was considered the last of the great mussarniks, he was also my rebbe during the two years I studied at Yeshivat Beer Yaakov where he was the mashgiach ruchni (spiritual guide).

Rabbi Wolbe lectured and wrote extensively primarily for the “yeshiva world” on subjects such as a progressive approach to education for children and adolescents and intense introspection for adults. But there was one singular point of departure that ran through all of Wolbe’s teachings. Never take the easy road.

If he saw a yeshiva bachur (student) who had previously concealed his tzitzit, wearing them exposed, or a previously clean-shaven student, sporting a pious beard, he would call the student over and ask: “What happened to you… did you become a tzadik (saint)?” For Wolbe there were no shortcuts to piety, certainly not by a superficial change in outward appearance. The higher level of spiritual consciousness of the mussarnik could only be reached by the hard work of the heart (hovot halevavot) and the sweat of the soul.

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe once asked a pupil: “Did you ever say the Shema Yisrael?” “Of course!”, said the student. “Did you say it with kavana (intention and attention)?” The pupil replied, “Yes, of course, Rabbi.” Said Rabbi Wolbe, “Tell me, while you were saying the Shema did you follow the teaching of the sages and accept the “yoke of the kingdom of heaven?” “Of course” answered the exasperated student. “And did you feel a hint of rebellion against God?” “Chas v’shalom,” replied the pupil, “God forbid, of course not… never.” “Then you have never said the Shema” replied the Rabbi. [This is how I remember the story… for a more toned-down version see a Nice Patch of Grass by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair]

Such an unvarnished challenge to religious caution and timidity lies at the heart of Rabbi Wolbe’s concept of choice insightfully cited by Rabbi Held.

But the few pages allocated to his weekly essay  does not permit Held to expand on the depth of Wolbe’s challenge and his explicit critique of his coreligionists.

I have posted the complete text below from Wolbe’s book Alei Shur, and you can follow the Hebrew text and listen to Rabbi Yoram Bogacz read and translate here (start at minute 10:38) with a great South African accent!

Permit me to provide a further excerpt.

Wolbe writes:

“It is possible that an individual can live out his days and never make a choice! Imagine a person with a pleasant disposition, who has not moved from the upbringing that he received at his parents home, he fulfills the commandments … as he was taught, his predispositions strengthen him in his [rote] behavior (he is considered a tzadik – righteous person) and no trials occur [to shake him up]. Amazingly, he could live out his days, with  good name and without him having actually chosen a path through independent intellectual review!”

Wolbe continues:

“Its an extreme example, but if we are honest with ourselves, it is on rare occasion that we make choices in our lives.  “Everything is foreseen, and freewill is given” [Ethics of the Fathers 3:15] but in truth we are governed by our natural disposition, our education, habits and biases both in terms of the fateful decisions in life and also the small day-to-day decisions… and where is the choice?” ואיה הבחירה

Between Rav Wolbe and Rav Held, we are fortunate to have teachers who challenge us to choose… and now the choice to choose is all ours!


ale shor 3

aleih shor 2

aleih shor 1

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