parshat miketz, genesis 41-42
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on December 22nd 2022 on Clubhouse. The human act of bowing plays a major role in the dreams of the young Joseph. The people of Egypt actually call Joseph: “Abrek” a name shared by Hosni Mubarak and Barak Obama which means both blessed and bow-worthy. Join us as we explore the relationship between blessing and bowing; prayer, praise and body movement in the Bible and latter Rabbinic texts…. and on this festival of rededication, wonder how we can bring more physical movement back into our prayers.
Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/454638
Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. This week’s Torah portion is Miketz. The human act of bowing plays a major role in the dreams of the young Joseph. The people of Egypt actually call Joseph: “Abrek” a name shared by Hosni Mubarak and Barak Obama. The name means both blessed and bow-worthy. Join us as we explore the relationship between blessing and bowing…. prayer, praise and body movement in the Bible and latter Rabbinic texts…. and on this festival of re-dedication, join us as we wonder how we can bring more physical movement back into our prayers: Body Language
Well, welcome Rabbi and Happy Hanukkah.
Adam Mintz 01:14
Happy Hanukkah. Another good week and another good discussion. Good clubhouse discussion.
Geoffrey Stern 01:20
Yes. And as I said in the intro, we’re talking about a Hebrew root Abrek, which comes from Birkayim, which is knees and therefore means bowing. And also, Baruch which means blessing. And I just came from a Brit. And I was reminded by the rabbi and the mohel at the BRIT that you start a Brit in the same way as you start a wedding. You say Baruch HaBa. So, today is just full of blessings and in prayer for me, and I’m really excited about what we’re going to discuss. So, as I said, in Genesis 41: 41, we have Joseph now has come out of prison. He is the diviner of the dreams of Pharaoh, and he is put in second in command. Pharaoh put his signet ring onto Josef’s hand and in verse 43. He said, he had him ride in the chariot of his second in command, and they cried before him. Abrek וַיִּקְרְא֥וּ לְפָנָ֖יו אַבְרֵ֑ךְ Thus he placed him all over the land of Egypt. And so, the word Abrech is one that the rabbi’s they seem to struggle with a little bit Rashi quotes a bunch of rabbis who start using the different words in Abrech. It’s kind of like you see many times in the Talmud when there’s a Greek word, and they don’t exactly know what it means. And it says he says, Is it Av Reich? Is it Reich meaning the king, or the father of the King, the source of the king? Whereupon Rabbi Jose the son of a woman of Damascus said to him: “How much longer will you pervert for us the meaning of Scripture? The word אברך can only be connected with the word ברכים knees (i.e. “Bend the knee”), for all came in and went forth only by his permission, just as it states “and he set him [over all the land of Egypt]”. So what do you think, Rabbi? Do you think it’s, is it a foregone conclusion? What this Abrech means? Or is it open to discussion?
Adam Mintz 03:46
No, I think, you know, I liked that explanation of rake as the person before whom they bowed. I mean, why do you need more than that? Doesn’t that work perfectly?
Geoffrey Stern 03:59
I think it does. And maybe a subject for another podcast could be what was going on here? Because this, this piece of Talmud that is quoted is full of Rabbi Judah saying to these rabbis, what are you complicating life for the meaning of a word is simple. In this case, it’s a foreign word, but it’s a Semitic word, and he’s pretty sure about it. But I must say that if you step back for a second, bowing is definitely a big part of the Joseph story. I looked up Joseph and bowing there was one, even a source sheet that says that there were seven bows in Josephs life. There were obviously the dreams that he had as a youth of his family, being sheaves of wheat or of stars around the moon in the sun, but bowing down to Joseph, in the stories we have read is a big deal. And then obviously, as we go further Genesis 42. It says, Now Joseph was the visor of the land, it was he who dispensed rations to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed low to him, with their faces to the ground וַיִּשְׁתַּֽחֲווּ־ל֥וֹ אַפַּ֖יִם אָֽרְצָה. So, this, this, this thing of bowing, is clearly a part of the Joseph story. And here at the pinnacle of his coronation as the Sagan the second in command to Egypt, it’s clearly Abrech means to bow, but there also has to be another sense of blessing in it as well.
Adam Mintz 05:57
Well, Abrech is the one to whom you bow, and the one who was worthy of blessing. It’s the same word, which is, of course, why in the Amidah, that we say, every day, we bow, right, Baruch, we say the word Baruch, which is the same exact word Berech, right, Abrech and Baruch we bow because that’s birkayim that’s our knees. We bless with our body. That’s what you said. And that’s what we do with our knees because it’s the same word.
Geoffrey Stern 06:30
I love that you pick that example. Because it’s the perfect example. No question. The word implies both things. And of course, we’ve come across baruch in the past, starting with Abraham, where God promises that those who will bless you will be blessed. And it continues all the way up to to to Joseph. Last week, we focused on Hatzlacha; on his success, but you know, in Genesis 39: 5 it says, And from the time that the Egyptian put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, God blessed his house for Joseph’s sake, so that the blessing of God was upon everything that he owned in the house and outside, וַיְהִ֞י בִּרְכַּ֤ת ה’ בְּכׇל־אֲשֶׁ֣ר יֶשׁ־ל֔וֹ בַּבַּ֖יִת וּבַשָּׂדֶֽה. So we really have kind of with Joseph, these two parallel tracks these two parallel understandings of the word Beracha. And they come together, he’s got this bowing both to him, bowing in the sense of his arc of his life. And then we also have this blessing. And of course, if you think back now, with this background to Abraham, when it says, those who bless you will be blessed. Again, there’s this element of respect of others, there is this element of bowing down and recognizing somebody even early on in the Abraham usage of the word bracha.
Adam Mintz 08:19
So now you’re asking an interesting question. And that is, how far back does this connection of the words go? Now, it is interesting that in the Joseph story, bowing plays an important role. But the word is always Le’hishtachavot. It’s never the word berech. It’s never the word Baruch. So even though bowing is important, but they use a different word. I wonder what you make of that?
Geoffrey Stern 08:45
Yeah. And in the verse that I quoted before, where it talks about his brothers coming, and bowed low to him וַיִּשְׁתַּֽחֲווּ־ל֥וֹ. And that, of course, is a word that we all know from the Aleinu prayer: וַאֲנַחְנוּ כֹּרְעִים וּמִשְׁתַּחֲוִים וּמוֹדִים Rashi says implies stretching out the hands and feet when a person casts himself on the ground in the act of prostration. I think, and we might even get into the various choreography of these different postures. It almost sounds like a little bit of yoga postures, because yes, you’re absolutely correct. Baruch, is Berkayim, is a bending of the knee. Veyishtachavu is much more extreme. It’s going down and you mentioned the silent prayer. There’s a whole choreography there: on Baruch, you bend your knees, and then you go on Atah and you stay down. And then by the time you say God, you rise up. it’s kind of a beautiful thing. I mean, I think the message there is that, on the one hand while we’re supplicating, and we are putting ourselves down underneath the majesty of God, the other part of it is that God brings us up and raises us up. We shouldn’t think of berkayim necessarily as only bending the knees. It also means straightening the knees. There’s a whole choreography here.
Adam Mintz 10:30
Well, that’s a very interesting point you make; that the word bereck really just means knees. What you do to your knees, is… we’re used to bending our knees in prayer, but obviously it doesn’t say that.
Geoffrey Stern 10:44
Correct? Correct. So I think, and you can’t but look at these ways of prayer, without looking at other religions. Because I think what we’ll see is that in Judaism, some things were done more extremely at one time, and maybe fell into disuse. But it was a shared language of prayer, it is nothing particularly, necessarily Jewish about it. So, I mean, the word Baruch, as we said before, is blessed it it means to kneel. It talks about by implication is to bless God, but also to be blessed by God, to salute, to praise. The interesting thing is in Islam, Barach is blessing power, a kind of continuity of spiritual presence and revelation that begins with God and flows through that, and those closest to God. Baraka can be found within physical objects, places and people as chosen by God. This force begins by flowing directly from God into creation that is worthy of Baraka. These creations endowed with Baraka can then transmit the flow of Baraka, what I loved here, and maybe that’s what inspired me to talk about the bending of the knee, as well as the straightening of the knee, is this sense of this flowing? And I certainly got this sense of flowing, when I thought of the tradition of bending when you say Barber, staying bent when you say Atah, but then standing up, when you mentioned God’s name, it felt like that force field.
Adam Mintz 12:44
Thank you for bringing that up. Why do we bend the way that we bend? Right, who made that up? We take it for granted. But who made that up?
Geoffrey Stern 12:56
Yes. So I mean, the question is, and I kind of touched upon this, we are not necessarily thinking or touching upon something that is uniquely Jewish. In other words, I think you can safely say when it comes to sacrifices, the Bible never goes out of its way to explain. “And by the way, this is what a sacrifice is”. it was a common nomenclature, this common, sociological, anthropological aspect of life. And I think there’s no question that this bowing, prostrating and the other physical actions and movements that we’re talking about could be a common language. And that part of what we’re doing tonight is trying to uncover, rediscover and find it both within our tradition and others.
Adam Mintz 13:53
I think that makes a lot of sense. I think the idea of using our body to bless power or God is something that cuts across all religions. It kind of makes sense, right? You don’t just use words, but you want to use your body. Now we do something in Judaism, which itself needs its own, you know, history lesson, we do something called shukling. Shukling means that we move back and forth when we when we daven. Where does that come from? Is that part of the same tradition or is that something else?
Geoffrey Stern 14:31
So, in researching this, I did come across a another Sefaria source sheet that was really about all things body related in terms of a prayer. And it did mention some… I wouldn’t say they were early sources, but certainly sources that are in the Teshuvot, in the Responsa literature that talk about this concept. And there is one Teshuva that says if it does something for you, you should move. And if it doesn’t, don’t. So, the first thing is yes, it recognized, I think the ancient nature of moving one’s body when one prays, I think it also made reference to someone who stands straight and still. it says whatever works for you. I think the key is that it recognized that there were different ways of praying and that moving the body can be an important ingredient in doing that. But I think yes, for sure. I, as a student of the Yeshiva, I cannot literally I cannot stand still, when I’m in Shul; whether I’m praying, whether I’m reading from the Torah. I just have this, this movement inside of me. And it comes very natural. And it becomes almost a sea. I think I have in my life experience been in the company of Hasidim, for instance, where it’s almost extreme. There is a sect of Hasidim called Stolin Karlin and we’re gonna get to sound in a second. But when you walk into their shoes, no one has in the history of Stolin Karlin. No one has ever said. We’re praying because you can hardly hear yourself think they scream so loud when they pray. They cup their hand over the ear to accentuate the sound. But there is swaying and it is something that is I think, very, very beautiful.
Adam Mintz 16:59
That is interesting. You always have the extremes. But what’s interesting is that shuckling. that moving during services is something like you said, it’s pretty much been standardized, hasn’t it?
Geoffrey Stern 17:15
It has and I was thinking, as you said the word shuckling that when we shukle, a lullav and an Etrog, we shake. And I was once in, I think, Cambodia, and people were praying and they were shaking leaves. And I heard that sound … I just think that the toolkit of prayer that we Jew’s have or had, is much larger than maybe all of us are aware and needs to be rediscovered. But shuckling is definitely …. movement is definitely part of it. And, and you know, the choreography. You mentioned the first blessings that you say during the Shemona Esrei. Most of us know that when you say Kaddish, or even when you finish the silent prayer, you take three steps back and you say O’seh Shalom Bimromov, you turn to the left, and then you turn to the right. And if you recall, when we started reading the Parsha, the Talmud who said that it clearly means Abrech means knees, it says for all came in and went forth only by his permission, just as it is said. And so, the implication was that when you leave a king, when you leave a holy space, you back up, you don’t God-forbid, turn your back to the place of holiness. And then you go to each side. And there’s a beautiful choreography there as well. that I find fascinating.
Adam Mintz 19:12
I think that’s great. And you know, the Talmud has that already. That’s an old Jewish tradition, also, to backup and never to turn your back to the shul, to God, to the ark. We have that traditional so.
Geoffrey Stern 19:26
So if you’ve ever watched a Muslim prayer, there is a prayer called the Salat. And at the end of it, you turn to the left and you go: Al-Salamu alaykum wa Rahmat Allah wa Barakatu So you say Sholom Aleychem and you talk about the blessing Barakatu that we have, and if you’ve ever done Kiddush Levana blessing the new moon There is this strange choreography and verbiage that literally parallels that you turn to the left. And you say Shalom Aleikhem, and you turn to the right and you say Shalom Aleikhem. It just seems to me there are a lot of synergies between the different prayer cultures.
Adam Mintz 20:19
I’ll just say something about that the idea of turning to the right and turning to the left is fantastic. Because in a sense, we’re imagining God in front of us, aren’t we? Right. And that’s kind of cool to think of, you know, it’s not only that we know we pray to God, right? So, we stand and we pray to God, but actually, even in our body motions, we imagined somebody and as if there’s somebody in front of us, I always was struck by that.
Geoffrey Stern 20:50
The thing is, that your physical body and the posture, that the pose that you strike, can have an effect on your inner disposition. I think that’s probably one of the critical lessons I take away from all of this, and how that ultimately gets accentuated in our prayers and in our ritual. I think if I had to, quote, the most famous verse in Psalms that is quoted in this regard, it Psalms 35: 10. And it says, כׇּ֥ל־עַצְמוֹתַ֨י ׀ תֹּאמַרְנָה֮ ה’ מִ֥י כָ֫מ֥וֹךָ all my bones shall say, Lord, who is like you. And it’s taken. And we’re going to see how it really gets expressed in one of the most beautiful prayers. But it’s always quoted, because it’s almost the structure of your skeleton, it’s the pose that you strike. I have a son who’s an actor, and he gave me a book, and it’s called the Lucid Body. And I when I was preparing for the essay said, I’ve always wanted an excuse to look at it. And it talks about something called the Alexander Method for actors. And part of it is just feeling your bone structure, your skeletal structure is a way of centering yourself and giving you a certain neutral sense. But we’re going to see that it comes through in actual prayers and in Tehillim. How one prays with one’s body.
Adam Mintz 22:36
Yeah, there’s no question about that. And the verse כׇּ֥ל־עַצְמוֹתַ֨י ׀ תֹּאמַרְנָה֮ ה’ מִ֥י כָ֫מ֥וֹךָ that’s a verse from Psalms, that verse, needs a rabbinic interpretation, because it’s hard to know what that verse means. On the surface, all my bones shall say, or all my parts of my body shall say, I mean, what exactly shall they say, and the rabbi’s use that as the source for the fact that we have to use our body, our body parts, we pray with our body parts, you know, the idea that we pray, even though we don’t speak is of course, something that relates to shofar. So, you see that there are other ways to pray other than with words, you see that from shofar.
Geoffrey Stern 23:19
And a shofar at the end of the day is a breath is created by a breath. And I think the that’s a wonderful segue to, to me the most preeminent prayer in our liturgy, that talks about using the body movement for prayer, and it’s Nishmat Kol Chai and most of us think that that appears in our weekly Shabbat service. And as an aside, it happens also to be in the Haggadah. My research shows that actually the first time we have a record of it is in the second century in the Haggadah, and then it came into our daily prayer, but I’m going to read a little bit of it because this Shabbat when you’re in shul, please take a look at this amazing prayer. And you were saying something about blowing the shofar, it starts with one act of the body that we haven’t really discussed and that is breath. It says נִשְׁמַת כָּל חַי תְּבַרֵךְ אֶת שִׁמְךָ. So, it has that word blessing. It says the soul of every living being shall bless your name וְרוּחַ כָּל בָּשָׂר תְּפָאֵר וּתְרוֹמֵם זִכְרְךָ and the spirit of all flesh, shall glorify exalt and your remembrance, but you and I both know that nishmat and Ruach could just as easily be your breath. That with your breath כָּל חַי תְּבַרֵךְ אֶת שִׁמְךָ, it could be that every living being shall bless your name. And it could be every breath shall bow down to your name. It could be two physical actions. And that just blows me away. But that’s just the beginning. Because then the prayer goes on. We’re our mouth as full of song as the sea, and our tongue, as full of joyous song, as the multitude of waves, and our lips as full of praise as the breath of the heavens, and our eyes as sparkling as the sun in the moon, and our hands as outspread as the Eagles of the sky, and our feet as swift as the deers we still could not thank you sufficiently, and then it ends. Therefore, the limbs that you set within us and the spirit and soul that you breathed into our nostrils, and the tongue that you placed in our mouth. verily, they shall thank and bless and praise and glorify, and exalt and revere, and sanctify and coronate Your name, our King. For every mouth shall offer thanks to You; and every tongue shall swear allegiance to You; and every knee shall bend to You; and every upright one shall prostrate himself before You; all hearts shall fear You; and all innermost feelings and thoughts shall sing praises to Your name, as the matter is written (Psalms 35:10), “All my bones shall say, ‘Lord, who is like You? and it ends by the lips of the righteous shall you be blessed by the tongue of the devout shall you be exalted, and among the holy shall you be sanctified. WOW… Did you count how many body parts I mentioned in that one?
Adam Mintz 26:49
That was amazing, isn’t it? The prayer Nishmat is very interesting. And the fact that you traced it and it comes originally from the Haggadah, and it was such a good prayer that we actually put it into our weekly service is a great thing also.
Geoffrey Stern 27:02
I think it’s about transition. And did you notice that not only did it talk about prostrating and all that, but it said, and all our innermost feelings and thoughts shall sing praises to your name…. and that was close to the end, that which we associate with the beginning of prayer actually almost comes at the end. It’s after all of these bodily parts have been aligned and used… and it reminded me of this Alexander Method that again, believes and I think this is a very Jewish thought that outside activity affects inward thought, or psychophysical unity. The body’s physical patterns are in direct correlation to emotional and mental patterns. It’s all there.
Adam Mintz 28:05
It’s amazing. It’s all there. It’s a such a great prayer. And of course, the entire prayer…. you want to talk about prayers. The entire prayer is basically a commentary on the verse כׇּ֥ל־עַצְמוֹתַ֨י ׀ תֹּאמַרְנָה֮ which is quoted in that prayer.
Geoffrey Stern 28:22
It really is.
Adam Mintz 28:23
It’s an elaboration of that verse.
Geoffrey Stern 28:26
It is it’s just an unbelievable. You know, we talked about this prostrating falling on to your face. We’ve all seen that, potentially on Yom Kippur, when the typically the rabbi and the cantor will get two people to stand on either side of them. It’s a big honor. And they will literally prostrate themselves the way Rashi described it when I quoted him earlier on where you put your hands out, your face is lying down. I’ve kind of seen this when the Pope swears in some new bishops, you see that? You see it in, obviously in Islam… kneeling is all over the place. We see it rarely. But if you look in the Talmud… Megillah 22b, for instance, it talks about Rav, once happened to come for a public fast. And when he did the blessing, everyone else fell on their faces. But Rav did not fall on his face. And they talk a little bit about the only prohibition…. because so many of us think that Jews do not bow Jews do not pray like that. We’re conditioned. The only prohibition is on stone. And I know in Curaçao they have synagogues where the floor is sand and some people theorize that maybe so they could bow but the bottom line is the only prohibition ever was against a stone floor because maybe I guess you could be worshiping the stone.
Adam Mintz 30:05
Right… that’s what they were worried about
Geoffrey Stern 30:05
It talks about this falling on the face. And it talks about Rav didn’t want to fall on the face. He didn’t want to trouble the congregation. We have pieces in the Talmud that talk about Rabbi Akiba, who, when he was alone and praying, he would start on one corner and end up in another corner. Because he was so physically active with his bows and prostrations. I mean, it really is an aspect of our religion that I think clearly can be rediscovered, and we can take real ownership with it, especially with so many Jews who are knowledgeable in both our religion and in yoga and body movement. It’s just seems to me that if we talk about as we do on Hanukkah, about rededicating ourselves and finding that which was hidden, that certainly rediscovering some of this body language, in Judaism, for some people, it really might appeal to it might make a difference exposing us to like these emotions. I just wanted to add that we started the class with the idea of Abrech. The fact that an important person was someone you bowed to. Now in the story of Esther, you have exactly that description. Because Mordechai refuses to bow to Haman. And Haman takes that as an insult, right? That’s the same story. And when I was reading pharaoh putting his signet ring on Joseph and dressing him in the robes, I also was thinking…. there was a lot of symmetry there. And no question about it.
Adam Mintz 32:10
Does the word Abrech appear there? Everybody I know we’re past our time. But we have to look for one second, whether the word Abrech appears there in chapter three. Hold on,
Geoffrey Stern 32:23
While you’re looking, I will talk about something else that occurred to me, and I talk about Hanukkah as being where we rededicate ourselves and find things that are missing. It also seems to me that many of us consider Hanukkah as that battle between the Hellenists and the Maccabees. And one of the things that were told that the Hellenists were criticized for was worshipping the body. And I think that has also kind of fallen onto us where maybe as a result, as a reflex reaction, we’ve gotten away from using our body in the way that Nishmat Kol Chai describes it. So I think that, you know, when we celebrate Hanukkah, we can also find those things that we lost as a result of conflict. And I just think that this is a book and this is a practice that definitely needs to be written. And now did you find whether Abrech occurred there?
Adam Mintz 33:29
No, it does not. But they in in the story, they refer back to the story of Joseph they say what is the relationship between the story of Haman and the story of the Abrech? They do have that so it’s right there. Our idea is perfectly right. Bingo. We got it right on the head. So, thank you so much. This was a great, great class. Such a fascinating discussion. I look forward next week. We’ll do a lunch and learn for the holiday weekend. Happy Hanukah everybody; Shabbos Hanukah is a always special for everybody. And we look forward to seeing everybody next week. Be well.
Geoffrey Stern 34:06
Shabbat Shalom Hanukkah Sameyach. Look forward to next week. And I tell you what I’m going to do I’m gonna put on a recording of Nishmat Kol Chai in the Moroccan tradition and listen if you understand the Hebrew to all of the body parts and the beauty here…… Shabbat shalom. See you all next week.
Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/454638
Listen to last year’s Miketz podcast: Food Fights and Gastro Diplomacy