Tag Archives: Messianism

Thank the Donkey of the Messiah

parshat vaera, exodus 8-9

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

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

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. This week’s Torah portion is Vaera.  The Rabbis learn from Moses the importance of Hakarta HaTov; recognizing good and showing gratitude, even to inanimate objects. We explore this character trait gratitude as it relates to personal conduct and current Israeli politics. So join us as we Thank the Donkey of the Messiah.

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

Adam Mintz

03:03

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

Geoffrey Stern

03:20

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

Adam Mintz

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

Geoffrey Stern

06:41

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

Adam Mintz

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

Geoffrey Stern

09:34

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

Adam Mintz

11:05

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

Geoffrey Stern

12:36

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

Adam Mintz

14:21

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

Geoffrey Stern

15:15

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

Adam Mintz

16:52

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

Geoffrey Stern

17:18

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

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

Adam Mintz

19:11

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

Geoffrey Stern

19:38

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

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

Adam Mintz

22:59

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

Geoffrey Stern

23:16

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

Adam Mintz

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

Geoffrey Stern

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

Adam Mintz

Todah, of course.

Geoffrey Stern

Hodu L’shem, Ki Tov.

Adam Mintz

25:00

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

Geoffrey Stern

25:08

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

Adam Mintz

26:26

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

Geoffrey Stern

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

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

Adam Mintz

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

Geoffrey Stern

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

Adam Mintz

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

Geoffrey Stern

31:52

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

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

Listen to last year’s Vaera Podcast: Holy Crap

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