Tag Archives: prayer

Imaginary Prayer

parshat vayechi, genesis 48

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on January 5th 2023. Jacob, upon his reunion with Joseph exclaims: לֹ֣א פִלָּ֑לְתִּי “I had never imagined” that I would see my son again. The word he uses for imagining is the same word we use for praying, so we imagine what prayer would be as a form of imagining.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/456805


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 vayechi. Jacob, upon his reunion with Joseph exclaims: לֹ֣א פִלָּ֑לְתִּי “I had never imagined”.  He had never imagined that he would see his son again. The word he uses for imagining פִלָּ֑לְתִּי is the same word we use for praying להתפלל, and for prayer תְפִלָה  so join us as we imagine what prayer would be as a form of imagining. Imaginary Prayer


Well, welcome. Rabbi Mintz, you and I are both are headed to the Middle East. You’re going to be in Dubai next week, and I will please God be in Israel. So this is a bon voyage podcast. But welcome

Adam Mintz  01:15

And the end of the book of Genesis. So it’s perfect.

Geoffrey Stern  01:18

It is perfect. So, I think about two podcasts ago, I did it on body language. I really talked about prayer. And what if any aspect of physical movement was a part, could be a part of Jewish prayer. And today, as you could tell from the intro, we’re also going to be talking about prayer imagination in prayer. And I’m starting to think, you know, you question yourself, why you pick a topic. And I think, ultimately, and this is a confession at the beginning of the podcast, that I must feel when I go to my synagogue, that I am not getting the type of nurturing the type of stimulation that I want. I find that prayer in the typical American synagogue is grossly wanting. And I think that is the only way I can explain why when I read a parsha, I focus on something that has to do with prayer. So that’s my that’s my confession to you. Do you ever feel that your prayer needs recharge or reboot? You pray a lot more than me!

Adam Mintz  02:33

That’s right. Yes. I think that prayer needs a recharge or reboot, rethinking re reimagining I think that’s a great term you used.: imagination…  we need to think about it a little bit.

Geoffrey Stern  02:45

Well, great. So, in Genesis 48: 11, as I said, it says, and Israel and of course, we know that is Jacob, who had a name change after wrestling with an angel. And Israel said to Joseph, I never thought to see you again. And here God has let me see your children as well. So he’s looking at his son Joseph, who was a sold as a slave, but his kids told him that he had been torn to pieces and died. And here he is seeing that son, with grandchildren to boot. And he goes, and this is the translation. לֹ֣א פִלָּ֑לְתִּי I never thought another explanation. Another translation that you see is I never expected. So, we have thinking and expectation. But as I said in the introduction, פִלָּ֑לְתִּי comes from the same root as להתפלל to pray, and that we have come across previous times in Genesis in Genesis 20. It says, therefore restore the man’s life since he is a prophet, he will intercede for you, after Abraham pimps off Sara as his sister, and then the Pharaoh gets leprosy. And he says, why did you do this to me? Abraham says, I will pray for you I will intercede is the translation. In Genesis 20: 17. It says Abraham then prayed to God, and God healed. Avimelech, interesting that both of these referred references are to a prayer of healing. But nonetheless, להתפלל is typically taken as something that means to pray. And if you look at your typical concordance in the Sefira notes that go along with this podcast and are posted on this clubhouse. It talks about it’s a primitive word that means to pray, to entreat judgment, prayer, supplication and finally only one time, it means thought. So in our parsha, it is seemingly a very unique angle, a very unique way of taking this word to Palal. What do you think rabbi? Is it thought? Is it expected? Or is it something else?

Adam Mintz  05:21

I mean, both of those are good. And of course, the question is how it relates to prayer, להתפלל. And the amazing thing about the word להתפלל. להתפלל in grammar is called the reflexive, meaning it reflects back on you. So, prayer really means to think about yourself, or to imagine yourself, right. And I think that’s really interesting. By the way, the same word Pelilut is used later in the Torah, at the end of the book of Devarim it means to judge. To think into judges the same thing. But it’s an interesting idea that prayer might be that we judge ourselves.

Geoffrey Stern  06:05

So I think that there’s almost universal consensus that in  להתפלל, whatever Palel means the fact that it’s reflexive is fascinating. And so, and that really relates to what does it mean? Because whatever it means, you’re almost doubling over you’re doing upon yourself. So, I’m going to quote a few classical commentaries as we explore what it does mean, or what it could mean. So, the Hizkuni. He’s obviously troubled by the fact that if this means something different than elsewhere, how does it relate to prayer? So he says, It means he had not even prayed to see Joseph again. And at least a few commentaries say there is this concept in halacha. In Jewish law, that you can’t make a bracha l’vatala. You can’t make a prayer, especially one that uses God’s name. If you don’t have a justification to say it. In other podcasts, we’ve talked about just the idea of praying, you need permission, you almost need God to tell you, I give you permission to pray. But you can’t make a prayer over fruit if you’re not going to bite into and eat the fruit. According to the Hizkuni, because he’s struggling to connect it to prayer, is that this was so far from my mind from reality, that I didn’t even permit myself to pray, because I didn’t feel that there was any positive outcome that could happen. And that’s how he kind of relates it to this other concept of it hadn’t entered my thought, or it hadn’t entered my imagination. But I think he’s struggling with it. Do you agree?

Adam Mintz  08:01

I agree. I mean, it’s not clear exactly what it means. It’s a font. I mean, what the reason that you picked it out, it’s a funny use of the word in the context in this week’s parsha. It’s not the word you would expect. And that’s why it’s something that’s worth talking about.

Geoffrey Stern  08:19

Yeah. So I mean, like the Ibn Ezra says, and again, he this is in line with what you were saying. He says, it comes from the same root as פלילים, judges. And he says, So, in a sense, my mind never judged that I would ever see you. So, we have now two commentaries, who are trying somehow to link it to the traditional term of either prayer wouldn’t enter my name to make the prayer or to judge, I would never have judged rationally that this would be the case. And so, again, the Radak very similar to what I said before it says that he was afraid that he was saying that he had not prayed to God concerning being reunited with Joseph in this life, as he had considered it as forbidden, vain prayer. He was afraid of praying in vain. And that’s a fascinating concept as well, this concept of praying in vain. How does that strike you?

Adam Mintz  09:34

That’s a great concept; that praying in vain, because we generally feel that prayer is always good. Praying in vain. The Talmud is a great thing. The Talmud says if a woman who’s pregnant, it doesn’t pay to pray, whether it’s going to be a boy or a girl, because it either is a boy or a girl or not, your prayers are not going to change anything. So, a prayer in vain means a prayer to change something that is already reality.

Geoffrey Stern  10:04

I mean, but if you think in terms of kind of the audacity of prayer, the question of what sort of a prayer is a prayer in vain. And I think it’s pretty obvious when it comes to the example that I gave before, which is when you make a blessing, over doing something, and you don’t do it, but here, you kind of wonder, and I think this might touch on the crux of the issue here. You know, can we not pray for the impossible? Can we not pray for something that is not totally rational? And I think that’s kind of what they’re also struggling with. Where, what is this prayer that Jacob says he didn’t dare to make? I think when we go to Rashi and usually, I start with Rashi, but I think that Rashi is so much on the money here. I left him for last. And of course, all the other commentaries, saw Rashi first, Rashi says I had never dared to cherish the thought that I would again, see his face לֹא מְלָאַנִי לִבִּי לַחֲשֹׁב מַחֲשָׁבָה to think a thought. He says Politi is an expression for thinking. So now we’ve had Politi is for prayer. Politi is for judging. And now with Rashi we’re starting to come for prayer is just to think and I would dare say “imagine”. Because what he’s really saying is that I couldn’t bring myself. I was so…  I had given up I had been Me’ayesh on ever seeing my son, let alone grandchildren that I wouldn’t dare. This is a whole new level.

Adam Mintz  12:03

That’s a whole new level. That is absolutely a whole new level. That he admits that he had given up hope from ever seeing them again, is a very personal statement. Right? I mean, and it’s a statement of thanksgiving to God, like, I can’t imagine this happen and look what just happened.

Geoffrey Stern  12:24

So, before we follow up a little bit on what Rashi has instituted here, that פִלָּ֑לְתִּי is not necessarily judging, which is certainly a form of thinking. And it’s definitely not praying. It’s just It hadn’t entered my thought, or my imagination. What I did is I pulled out all my books on my shelf ….  I guess, I’m kind of a prayer aficionado,  I have Eli Munk’s book on prayer, I have Hayim H. Donin’s book To Pray as a Jew, the first thing that I realized is so much of the books on Jewish prayer have to do with less with prayer, and more on the siddur, less with prayer, and more on prayers. And each of them. And I’ve quoted a Donin in my notes. I’ve also quoted some other sources. They all seem to be focused on our prayers on the Siddur, and particular prayers. And you know, a few weeks ago, we did Nishmat Kol Chai, there are some amazing prayers. But the actual concept of praying, there’s typically one paragraph that addresses the issue that we’re discussing. And almost universally, it focuses on the fact that להתפלל is reflexive. And most of them say it means to judge oneself: introspection. If you followed most of these books, you would assume that Jewish prayer is all about introspection. That’s certainly a part of it. And of course, we have to say that in the rabbinic tradition, Tefilah is generic prayer, but it’s more specifically the silent prayer the Amidah, the Shewmona Esrai, the 18th benedictions. So am I right there.

Adam Mintz  14:26

You are definitely right there.

Geoffrey Stern  14:28

And so, what is how does that strike you? That prayer is about introspection. Is that an aspect of it or do you think that’s the whole story?

Adam Mintz  14:35

When you jump to the idea that it’s the eighteen benedictions;  what we call an Hebrew The Amidah. I think that’s a term they use in English too. You have to understand something. Prayer didn’t start off that way. Prayer started off that everybody prayed their own prayer. It was only because Maimonides says it was only because people lost the ability to articulate their feelings in words that the rabbi’s instituted a standard prayer. So when you talk about what prayer is, it’s hard to say that prayer is, you know, the 18 benedictions. Because actually, that’s too rigid. Prayer is much beyond that. It’s just that when people stopped being able to express themselves, they started expressing it through the 18 benedictions. I think it’s much better to say that prayer is the way that we kind of, say introspection that we kind of imagine ourselves standing before God, and what does that mean about us? And what does that mean about our relationship with God?

Geoffrey Stern  15:51

So I totally agree, I did a Google search for prayer, Jewish prayer, and imagining, and I came up with one hit. It was how to pray well by Rabbi David Rosenfeld, and he literally quotes our passuk. And he says, the word Jacob uses for imagine, is “filalti” of the same root as the word hitpallel. Prayer is thus not only asking God for something, it is imagining, becoming, whom I’d like to become. So, he kind of combines the concept of imagining with this reflexology that we’ve been talking about. So, it’s imagining about myself. Prayer is envisioning myself becoming a greater person, and asking God for the divine assistance to help me get there. Now, I totally agree. On the one hand, I have to say that I was surprised how few people that talked about להתפלל, quoted our verse and understood our verse was saying something slightly differently. I love what he says, the only criticism that I would have is if you put it back into context. This was not a prayer about Jacob or Israel, envisioning himself becoming a greater person. This was a Jacob an Israel, saying, I never imagined, you know, my daughter married a guy whose grandmother was a Holocaust survivor. And the first time I met her, she says, I’ve taken every one of my grandchildren to Auschwitz. And I said, if you ever go, please take me. And she was in her 90s. And she says, I’m going, my kids weren’t even married then. We went with her. She went on a trip of survivors from a single town in Poland, I never knew this. Every town has a group of people all around the world survivors, and now more and more children of survivors who stick together. So not only was my wife and I, the only people who were not related to a survivor, we were the only people not related to this town. And she goes into Auschwitz and her grandchild, got his guitar inside. They said no musical instruments, he said, this is going to be an exception. And he played Ani Ma’amin. And then she spoke, and she says, the only thing that kept me alive, was that I one day, and I have no justification for why….  I imagined that there might be “you” that there might be children and grandchildren. And this is exactly what Joseph… what Israel is doing right now.

Adam Mintz  18:48

That’s an amazing story.

Geoffrey Stern  18:50

It came to my mind when I read it.

Adam Mintz  18:54

Oh my God, that’s exactly the story! Jacob, looking at his son and his grandchildren. And I never imagined…  If she knew how to say a devar Torah, she would have said this Dvar Torah. She’s saying exactly what Jacob said,

Geoffrey Stern  19:10

Trust me, she knew. But in any case, that doesn’t come out here. I would like to pursue a little bit further, this concept of imagining, but not in imagination that is necessarily introspective, not an imagination that says, oh, if I could become a better person, because that wasn’t the imagination she was talking about in Auschwitz. It was an imagination of just ….. call it a leap of faith, call it believing in something that’s not rational that has no basis but gives you hope. That’s the type of imagination I think that Jacob and Israel was talking about. And that’s the type of imagination I’d like to pursue in terms of prayer. Are you with me?

Adam Mintz  19:15

I’m with you. Let’s go

Geoffrey Stern  20:00

So I want to start with, the Maharal…. I don’t think I’ve ever quoted the Maharalo on the Madlik podcast, but the Maharal reads Isaiah, and Isaiah 56 says, I will bring them to my sacred mount, and let them rejoice in my house of prayer. And the Hebrew for House of Prayer is בְּבֵ֣ית תְּפִלָּתִ֔י. So now we have an additional problem. Now we have not only do we not totally understand what prayer is, but we’ve got to understand what God’s prayer is. Because it says, בְּבֵ֣ית תְּפִלָּתִ֔י as though it was…..  if I was Orthodox, I would say kivi’yachol (as if to say) “God’s prayer”. And so, then you have classic rabbinic tests asking, whence do we know that the Holy One praised be, he prays.  מנין שהקב״ה מתפלל  And one lesson that the Ayn Yaakov brings from here we learn that amazing Hasidic lesson that prayers from the mouth of Brabes, prayers from the pure, those are as valuable as any other prayers, because ultimately, they are the prayers of God. And that is one of the lessons that is quoted in the in the Eyn Yaakov which brings us down Berachot,  And there were others that asked the same question of how is it that God can pray, and this is when we get to the Maharal, in his book called The Be’er HaGolah, and it’s where he is defending and exploring what Judaism is. And he says that the key is that is prayer. שהוא לשון מחשבה. Prayer is a language of thought. So what unites the previous interpretations of prayer is to judge prayer is to hitpalel is to pray. He says, it all comes from a לשון מחשבה and he says that God is as much a thinker as we are, you could even say, and he adds one additional thing, he says that it is ומה שאמרו לשון זה ‘שהקב”ה מתפלל’, ולא אמרו ‘שהקב”ה חפץ’, או ‘מבקש’, דבר זה יתבאר בסמוך למה אמרו בזה הלשון דוקאe, it is audible Machshava if you will. It’s important, we’re finishing the book of Genesis today, we have to remember how the world was created. It was created by God thinking and God saying, so it’s almost creating reality. So in a sense, the interpretation of Palel to be imaginative comes back to what Herzl said .. If you imagine it…. it is no dream. it, and we’re hoping that God will pray and enunciate in a similar fashion. There’s this kind of reflexivity, which I think is captured in the word lehitpalel. But you know, it really started me thinking about what I find it most inspiring in synagogue when I think back to the times that I have prayed the best. It’s when I’ve heard a rabbi give a drasha that inspires me. And it’s typically right in front of Mussaf. And you hear this, this, drasha, this sermon, and it inspires the way you think. And then you move it into prayer. It reminds me of before a yoga class or a meditation with a leader will give you an intention….  will kind of stroke your imagination. Today, it’s cold out let’s think of this. Today this has happened in the world think of this. And it reminded me of the Mishnah in Berachot that says that in the earlier times the rabbi’s would spend an hour before they actually prayed. So they would focus their hearts toward their father in heaven. And it’s always translated as kavanah, which is intentionality. But I’m starting to think in terms of our imagination. It’s an intention that when we pray, we need to be thinking, imagining something. That’s how I took it this week. And what do you think? Do you think it matters what we imagine, or it’s the experience of allowing ourselves to imagine whatever we imagine? What dawned on me is that the struggle that we choose have that is represented in all the books that I described, that talk about the siddur, the set prayers, is that the prayers stay the same. But their intentions can be totally different. And I imagined these rabbis an hour before prayers, fixing their intentions for that day. And I think based on one’s intentions, the same prayer can be 360 degrees different. That’s what kind of It struck me as?

Adam Mintz 

Yeah, that’s a really sophisticated point, that prayer means something different, depending on where you are. That’s why the institution of the Amidah, actually makes prayer less than it really is. Right?

Geoffrey Stern

Yes, and no, You know, it’s kind of like a Rorschach test. What do you see in it today? What does that tell me about you, but I really felt that this hour before a prayer establishing one’s intention was a game changer. And it even reflects upon a little bit of the body language at the end of that Mishnah in Berachot. It says, You have to focus your hearts towards the Father in heaven. And if the king greets him, he should not respond to him. And even if a snake is wrapped on his heel, he should not interrupt. There’s almost that you move….you take those three steps forward, and you’re in a different space, your mind is in a different space.

Adam Mintz 

So it’s so funny. You’re talking about the three steps forward. In the introduction to the ArtScroll siddur, Rabbi Saul Berman, you talked about Rabbi Riskin and Rabbi Saul Berman, who was the successor of Rabbi Riskin in Lincoln Square Synagogue. He wrote the introduction to the ArtScroll siddur. And he says that the most important part of the Amidah is the three steps forward, you’re supposed to take three steps into your own world. It’s a different world. That’s really a good a great idea.

Geoffrey Stern

And that’s totally amazing. So here’s what I did. I googled “imagination in prayer”. And I came up with Ignatius of Loyola who was the founder of the Jesuits. And there is a whole practice based on him in the source notes, but I am going to read you seven examples and seven ways he believes that you can use imagination in prayer. So he says, imagine the sights and sounds of a biblical story, either as an observant or as a participant in the scene. So the first is, again, exactly kind of what I was discussing before when you hear a great sermon, and he’s talking about feeding the hungry, that colors the way you pray. So think of a biblical story. He says to take inspiration from an object that sparks your imagination, focus on something, have a conversation with God is number three that kind of reminded me of the Bresovers, but definitely reminded me of this taking three steps forward as a sign of kind of meeting with God. Here’s a cool one….  4 imagine another person’s point of view. Ignatius suggests that we always try to put a good interpretation on another person’s actions. Can you imagine trying to step into somebody else’s mind as the reflexivity of the hitpalel? Then he talks about giving thanks. Bring to mind a series of pictures of people, relationships, communities, pets, or others, for whom you are grateful. He really focused on just this sense of what Jacob, Israel said he could not do. I couldn’t imagine it. And he’s saying, When you pray, try to just imagine somebody, and it will change your praise for the day. The he goes. Remember the Tzadikin…., he says saints. But remember that Tzadik… think of great people. The last, he says, let go of old images of God allow new ones to emerge. I mean, you know, you talk about trying to expand our horizons with prayer. This absolutely just blew me away that he was a religious thinker, that focused on combining imagination, with prayer, and what happens when you do that.

Adam Mintz 

That’s fantastic. That’s a great way to end the whole thing. It’s great that we started with Jacob, Jacob says, you know, he uses the word, the same word for prayer to mean imagine or think or contemplate or judge or whatever it is. And what we did is we showed how that same idea that same use of the word has kind of worked through the ages. And that the prayer that we have today, and like you said, the you know, the sermon or the drasha that we have today before Mussaf you know that that allows us to reflect a little bit better is really the same experience that Jacob had which is really beautiful. So you know, when we finish Vayetzei, we finished a book appreciate we worked really hard on it all the way since Bereshit. We say Hazak Hazak veHithazek. We should be strong, we should be strong, and we should strengthen one another. And we look forward to moving ahead. The book of Shemot it’s a whole different book Geoffrey, no more family now it’s all about the nation; nation-building. Next, thursday, I will be in transit. But Geoffrey has some treats and surprises for everybody. So enjoy. I look forward to catching up when I land. Shabbat Shalom, and enjoy the last parsha of the book of Bereshit.

Geoffrey Stern  32:28

Shabbat Shalom Rabbi and I just want to finish because in the pregame I said I was going to mention Harry Austryn Wolfson.

Adam Mintz 

Yeah, let’s hear

Geoffrey Stern 

I was reading an essay that he wrote called Escaping Judaism. And in it, he says many amazing things you can look in this source sheet, but he talks about our prayers. And he is not a religious Jew. He is a graduate of Slaboka. He is the most knowledgeable Jew in the ideas and in the history of ideas of Judaism. And he criticizes Reform Jews of his time for changing the prayer book. And he says, Do you not think that when Maimonides read about Mechay’yeh Hametim, about bringing the dead back to life….And he had a more sophisticated view of it, that he did not find it offensive. But and here’s where he talks about imagination. He says if you just change the word, where is the imagination? He calls them cowards. He says pray from a prayer book that has been written and stood the test of 2000 years and challenge your imagination to find new meaning in it. And that just blew me away.

Adam Mintz 

That is beautiful.

Geoffrey Stern 

So with that… Genesis if anything is imagination. We finish the book Rabbi, it’s been an absolute pleasure to do it with you. I wish you a nesiah Tova.

Adam Mintz 

You too and we look forward to doing it from the other side of the world a week from now. Shabbat Shaom.

Geoffrey Stern 

Thank you. And next time we speak, next Thursday, I hope to be in the Holy Land of Israel. And either I will do it alone or I will find somebody in Israel who wants to do it with me. But in the meantime, enjoy the last Parsha, the last portion of Bereshit. Shabbat Shalom to you all.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/456805

Listen to last year’s vayechi podcast: Members of the Tribe

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body language

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

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