Join Geoffrey Stern recorded on clubhouse on October 12th 2022 for Madlik Disruptive Torah. We explore Judaism’s unique concept of holiness of place, using the Sukkot prayer that God “raise up the falling tabernacle of David” as our point of departure.
Transcript: Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition. We also host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. In a previous podcast called Architecture in Time we’ve discussed Judaism’s unique concept of the holiness of time. This coming Shabbat is Shabbat Sukkot so find yourself a temporary booth and join us as we explore Judaism’s unique concept of holiness of place.
Well, welcome to Madlik. Rabbi Adam is we gave him off for the Jewish holidays! So here we are broadcasting as you know, on clubhouse and it gets recorded and published as the podcast on Madlik. So if you like what you hear, feel free to share it with your friends and family. So I thought tonight, as I said in the intro, it is going to be both Shabbat and Sukkot this coming Shabbat Sukkot. I thought I would start with a story. And the story is told by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin: So, two Hasidic Rabbi’s, the Kotzker Rebbe and the Vorker Rebbe were sitting in the sukkah on Shabbat. And they started discussing what was the most important, what was the most pleasurable commandment. And the Vorker Rebby says, well, I love Sukkot, because when you’re in the sukkah, you are surrounded by the mitzvah. And the Kotzker Rebbe, who was a little bit of a cynic said, Well, that’s true. But if you walk outside of the sukkah, you are no longer in the soccer. So, my favorite Mitzvah is the Shabbat, because you can’t walk out of Shabbat. And it’s a great story. But it really focuses on the difference between the holiness of time represented by the Shabbat and the holiness of place. And I want to imagine what the Vorker Rebbe would have responded, Because I doubt that the conversation ended there. And as I made reference to in the introduction, in a previous podcast, we talked about Heschel’s, great concept of the Shabbat, is a cathedral in time. And of course, what he meant by that is that we Jews do not have an edifice complex. We don’t focus on a place of finite latitude and longitude. And by making time holy, we have a taste of eternity. But nonetheless, I think the Vorker would have said yes, but we do live on this wonderful, glorious earth of ours. And we do have finite bodies and times and senses. So my sense is that he would have put up an argument, but he would have argued, in a sense that we have a unique concept of space and place and that’s what we are going to discuss today. So when you sit in the sukkah, you make a blessing over the sukkah as you do over every other commandment, but you also add a beautiful prayer in the Birkhat Hamzon; in the grace after meals, and the prayer is very short. But I want to read it to you in the Hebrew and the English it says הָרַחֲמָן הוּא יָקִים לָֽנוּ אֶת־סֻכַּת דָּוִד הַנּוֹפָֽלֶת may the Merciful One raise up Yakim, the Fallen Tabernacle of David, the Succat David Hanofelet. And it isn’t the sukkah David She’nafal the sukkah of David that has fallen, but it’s actually in the active present it is the fallen or the falling Tabernacle of David, the falling booth of David. And that’s why I named this episode Fallingsukkah with a nod to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater which maybe we’ll get to at the end of our podcast, but this has always intrigued me. This concept of this shaky booth, who those of us who build one in our backyard, we cringe at the idea of a strong wind or a hard rain, because we’re afraid that it’s going to fall down. I believe at MIT in the day the Jewish engineering students would go ahead and make different Sukkot all based on different very sophisticated laws of physics laws to see who could stand and who could fall. But surely part of the magic of the sukkah is it is a temporary a booth. It is transitory. And I think that is what this beautiful blessing is celebrating. But it’s always intrigued me as I said, so I wanted to use this time to find out what the source of it is. And as we did last week, every prayer that is in the prayer book comes from somewhere. And this particular prayer comes from chapter 9, in the book of Amos. And many things to do with our Sukkot, we shall see have to do with the end of days. And in this particular case, Amos says after a long liturgy of what will happen in the end of the days. He says, all the sinners of my people shall perish by the sword. Those who boast never shall the evil overtake us or come near us. In that day, I will set up again the Fallen booth of David אָקִ֛ים אֶת־סֻכַּ֥ת דָּוִ֖יד הַנֹּפֶ֑לֶת I will mend its breaches and set up its ruins anew. I will build it firm as in the days of old, (12) So that they shall possess the rest of Edom. And then he goes on and it says I will restore my people Israel, they shall rebuild ruined cities and inhabit them. They shall plant vineyards and drink their wine. They shall till gardens and eat their fruits. So surely what he sees in rebuilding this booth of David that has fallen is rebuilding the temple, coming back to the land, being part of the agricultural cycle, being able to plant and reap to have vineyards and drink wine. And it is an apocalyptic vision and it’s wonderful. But it still really doesn’t get into this concept of the sukkah hanofelet, it talks about what will be in terms of making that sukkah rebuilding that sukkahr, but it still doesn’t answer my intrigue of what is this sukkah that is constantly falling. And so I think what we need to do to really understand this is to step back and say the sukkah; the booth is actually one of the most unique commandments. We’ve come across something like this once before, when in a podcast called walk like an Egyptian, we noticed that the first time that God says write these words on your arm and between your eyes. Certain commentaries said he’s not commanding us to wear the phylacteries the tefillin, he’s talking in a metaphor. And of course, we have in Jeremiah write these words on your heart, this concept of writing things on your body. But that is a small metaphor. The metaphor of the booth of the sukkah is something that is so much bigger, so much broader, so much more universal than the seven- or eight-day holiday that we’re in. So, for example, in the evening service, we say a prayer called Hashkeevenu. And it says, may God lie us down in peace our king raise us up again to life, spread over us the shelter of Your peace, וּפְרוֹשׂ עָלֵֽינוּ סֻכַּת שְׁלוֹמֶֽךָ, this concept of a tabernacle of peace is way more than just the holiday that we’re in. It’s clear that this booth, this protective layer, this shadow and shade from the elements is by far a bigger, a much bigger metaphor. We see in the Talmud that when it talks about this nofelet to this fallen thing, it doesn’t limited only to the temple. It’s bigger than just the temple. So RAV NACHMAN said to me, Isaac, have you heard when the Fallen son will come when בר נפלי And he said, Who is the Fallen son Mashiach answered RAV NACHMAN and the Messiah you call the befalling son? And he answered, Yes, for it is written (our verse in Amos) and that day, I will rise up the tabernacle of David. So, this concept of a tabernacle is more even than just a point, a place of a shade. It is actually the human condition. It’s actually a person. When they talk about the sukkah, hanofelet. They’re talking about man stumbling as well. And so I think that even to look at it as only place and space is to constrain it too much. It’s more than that. It is literally as I said before the human condition. Another piece of the Talmud says as follows that Robbie Itzhak said to him, this is what Rabbi Yohanan said, during the generation in which the Messiah, Son of David comes Torah scholars will decrease as for the rest of the people, that eyes will go fail, and it will be a hard time. And why is that? He says, because it is a time that is fallen, he quotes our verse again. So, it’s really this, this raising up the Sukkah that that is trembling, this sukkah that is hardly standing in the wind is really a much big metaphor. And there are two sides of it. On the one side, it seems to me there is the human condition, that we are so feeble, so open to the whims of nature and of destiny. And on the other hand, there’s this sense, as we saw in the prayer in the evening prayer of something that provides a shelter, and shade. So here is kind of the interesting thing that really puts this whole sukkah into a little bit more of context, this time of year, obviously, we all make fun of and we joke about when will the Jewish holidays, finally come to an end. And that’s because in Tishrei, we start with Rosh Hashanah, then we go to Yom Kippur. And then we end with this sukkah. And you really have to almost look at them as one literary piece, one experiential piece, and there’s one psalm that we say, from the beginning of Tishrei, until the last day of Sukkot, shemini, Atzeret and Simchas Torah, and it’s Psalm 27. And in it, it says, one thing I ask of God, אַחַ֤ת ׀ שָׁאַ֣לְתִּי מֵֽאֵת־ה’, and that is what I seek, to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. It says, לַחֲז֥וֹת בְּנֹעַם־ה’ וּלְבַקֵּ֥ר בְּהֵֽיכָלֽוֹ, and to frequent His Temple. So in a sense, you almost get a feeling of the high holiness, the steadfastness of the Rosh Hashanah and the Yom Kippur experience. This coming in as a stranger maybe coming in as someone who’s just visiting, and then to get access maybe, to the temple, but then it goes on, he will shelter me in his pavilion on an evil day כִּ֤י יִצְפְּנֵ֨נִי ׀ בְּסֻכֹּה֮ בְּי֢וֹם רָ֫עָ֥ה. So we get this sense of the sukkah as the refuge the sukkah as outside and a counterpoint to the Bayit and Hechal… to the temple. And again, you get this sense of the contrast between that sense of a cathedral, that sense of an edifice, that sense of something that is קבוע; which is permanent and Something that is ארעי that is temporary. There’s a beautiful phrase in Pirkei Avot and it says that אַל תַּעַשׂ תְּפִלָּתְךָ קֶבַע you should never make your prayers permanent. static without dynamism, you should make them temporary full of dynamism. So, you have that conflict you have that I would say dialectic between the two concepts, the two experiences of the High Holidays which are temple based. And then the sukkah, which is not only outside of the temple, and therefore has this dynamism to it. This sense of fleeting and temporality and also very being precious and in the moment. And then one also gets the sense of the sukkah being some sort of a shelter. But as I said before the Sukkah is used in so many ways as different metaphors for different things. So when the Ibn Ezra comments is on this, and it says B’sukkah, he says it’s Jerusalem. So you almost get the sense that the sukkah is a Rorschach Test where everybody projects on to it what it is they want to be rebuilt. And he bases this on Psalm 76, which says, וַיְהִ֣י בְשָׁלֵ֣ם סֻכּ֑וֹ וּמְע֖וֹנָת֣וֹ בְצִיּֽוֹן, Salem became his abode, Zion, his den, so whether it is Jerusalem, or Israel, here, we get into this sense of the holiness of place for the Jew, the homeland, the Temple. But again, what is compared to that homeland? What is compared to that temple? It’s this lowly humble, very tenuous, Booth, this Sukkah that is constantly falling, stumbling, and picking itself up again. And I just feel that it is a fascinating concept. It’s one thing to say as Heschel that we Jews focus on time and the holiness of time. And that’s all good and well. But at the end of the day, we also do live in space. And so, the question then becomes, how do we live in space? What is our affinity with space? How do we interact with space, and I think the rabbi’s or the metaphor more than any other seems to be this sukkah. And it seems to be almost a transitional, a bridging concept. So, I was thinking about who, who would have an insight into the sukkah more than anyone else. And the one thinker who has really focused on the brilliance of the Jewish people, the genius of the Jewish people, is that we transcend space, and we transcend place is a thinker that we might have mentioned a few times before. It’s Franz Rosenzweig, a good friend of many Zionists, including Gershom Scholem, who made Aliya, who emigrated to Israel at the turn of the century in the early 20s, and 30s, and was inspired stayed behind in Germany. And in his books, Star of Redemption, he really focuses on the genius of the Jewish people has always been created in the Galut, the genius of the Jewish people is that we have not been anchored to a particular land. So it’s clear that he had a, I wouldn’t say challenges, but he was challenged by this concept of a homeland. So I wondered what he would say about Sukkah. And what he does in the Star of Redemption is he talks about the calendar, the Jewish calendar, and he tries as does the psalm that we just read to bridge between the Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah experience and the sukkah experience, and he says he calls the chapter “The way back into the year”. And he says, “For after them” meaning after Yom Kippur and Rashanna “comes the Feast of Booths, which is a feast of redemption founded on the base of an unredeemed era and other people yet within the pale of history, in the common unity of man, the soul was alone with God to neutralize this foretaste of eternity. The Feast of booth reinstates the reality of time.” So as someone focused on time, Rosenzweig is focused on time on this Jewish concept of cycular time that constantly moves forward. And we are experiencing that at this very moment, because in a sense, we’re coming to the end of the year, both in the calendar, as well as the reading cycle of the Torah, we’re about to begin it all over again. And he senses that transition in the transition from Yom Kippur, and Rosh Hashanah, to coming down into the cycle of the Torah reading into the cycle of the pilgrimage holidays into the cycle of agriculture. And he sees that it reinstates the reality of time within space. He says, Thus, the Feast of Booths is not only a festival arrest for the people, but also the festival of ultimate hope. Redemption is only a hope, only something present, expected in the source of wanderings. So I take his interpretation, as again, a wonderful reflection on what nofelet means it’s this dynamic movement between eternal, eternal time and historic time, and temporal time. And we on this upcoming Shabbat will be experiencing all of that. And I find that to be again, all based on this word, nofelet which is falling in the active present. It just seems to me so dynamic, so exciting. And it takes a very, a universal metaphor of the hut, of the refuge provided by shade from the elements. When I was in synagogue last week, on Ha’azinu. The Haftorah is another great poem/song that was written, and it was written by David, and it is in Samuel II 22. And because I was already thinking about Sukkot, my ears picked up and I read something that I had never read before. He’s talking as David could only talk as the one who was hiding the one who was constantly afraid of his enemies. He says In my anguish I called on the LORD, Cried out to my God; In His Abode He heard my voice, My cry entered His ears. (8) Then the earth rocked and quaked, The foundations of heaven shook— Rocked by His indignation. (9) Smoke went up from His nostrils, From His mouth came devouring fire; Live coals blazed forth from Him. (10) He bent the sky and came down, Thick cloud beneath His feet. (11) He mounted a cherub and flew; He was seen-h on the wings of the wind. (12) He made pavilions of darkness about Him,. So here he says, וַיָּ֥שֶׁת חֹ֛שֶׁךְ סְבִיבֹתָ֖יו סֻכּ֑וֹת. So as opposed to a Sukkah that provides shade here, David seems to be living in a Sukkah that is shade. That is the darkness. And so this too gives a whole other aspect to what that Sukkat Hanofelet is; that sukkah that is constantly falling. It’s not only falling in the sense that it is potentially rising, but it’s falling in this sense that it’s going down. And here he is describing his situation where he’s hiding from his enemies. He’s hiding from despair, and he’s in the sukkah of darkness around him. So it kind of puts a different aspect on this. nofelet, but to me, it simply manifests once again how that Sukkat Hanofelt, that constantly falling sukkah is actually the human condition. And it’s the condition of both one getting up. But it’s also the condition of that person going down. It’s the condition of being protected. It’s also being the condition of being depressed and ensnared. And to me, that makes the fact that we call this holiday Simchateynu, our joy, gives it new meaning because it is the joy emanating out of the human condition that I celebrate. I started by saying that this week, we’re calling it with a nod to Frank Lloyd Wright, who built a beautiful home over a waterfall called Fallingwater. And we are calling it Fallinsukkah. Because I think if anything, to say that time is fleeting, and Time moves, that’s easy. But to talk about space, place, nature, the human condition that that is constantly in flux, I think is something that becomes even more magical. And in the notes, I have a picture of Fallingwater. And if you haven’t seen it or been there, I’ve not yet been there, I definitely want to go. It gives you this sense of this combination of not so much the permanent with the temporary, but that all that is permanent, is actually the temporary. And that’s how I’d really like to end up. There was a great pre-Socratic philosopher called Heraclitus. And you know many of us have heard his adage that you can’t put your foot into the same river twice, because the river is always moving. All entities move and nothing remains still. He’s quoted as saying everything flows and nothing stays. And I think to me, the message of the Sukkah Hanofelt is that what is the most important to us what we celebrate in at the end of this month of Tishrei is the only thing that is in fact permanent. And that is change. The only thing that is permanent is growth. And I think that at the end of the day, the only thing that can’t be destroyed and certainly if there is one word that is associated with a cathedral or with a Jewish Temple, it always seems to be the word destroyed temple and the one thing that can never be destroyed permanently is that which is temporary. It is permanently temporary. It is constantly falling. And that constant flux is I think what we celebrate on Sukkot. When we sit inside of our Sukkah, hanofelet. S with that I thank you I wish you Shabbat Sukkah Samayach. Because what is sukkah about if we can’t sing a song or hear a song, I’m gonna play Shlomo Carlebach’s rendition for the prayer that we have been talking about.
Geoffrey Stern 29:45
We’ll see you all next time on Madlik Disruptive Torah.
This is a continuation of a previous podcast: Architecture in Time
parshat vayigash, genesis 46
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on December 29, 2022. Even if you are not a proponent of numerology you cannot ignore the repeated claim of the Torah that seventy souls went down to Egypt. The implied significance of the number 7 and its variants 70 and 49 provide a unique lens to view the Biblical narrative. Join us as we explore Gematria, rules of Biblical interpretation and the number Seventy in the Bible.
Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/455577
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 Vayigash. Even if you are not a proponent of numerology you can’t ignore the repeated claim of the Torah that seventy souls went down to Egypt. The implied significance of the number 7 and its variants 70 and 49 provide a unique lens to view the Biblical narrative. So join us as we explore Gematria, rules of Biblical interpretation and the number Seventy in the Bible. Seventy Faces.
Well, welcome back to Madlik and just as we have finished Hanukah where we added a candle every night and counted to eight, we are going to spend a half hour today doing something that I typically don’t like to do, I am not into numerology, I am not into this gematria where you assign a value to each letter of the alphabet and you build high mountains of interpretation based on those types of things. Typically, I look at those things and I find them artificial, I find them impugned and ultimately, I feel that they’re almost an insult to the text itself, which has so much richness, why would you need to add numerology to it Rabbi is your take on gematria and numerology before we take off here?
Adam Mintz 01:58
I’m with you. I’m an old-fashioned traditionalists just like you. I don’t really like numerology. But numerology is one of those things you have to understand because it’s so much a part of our tradition. Now, there’s numerology. And then there’s some times where the Torah gives us numbers. I would also make that distinction. If the Torah gives us a number 70. Probably that number 70 means something.
Geoffrey Stern 02:25
So that literally was my point of departure. So in Genesis 46: 27, it says, And Joseph’s sons who were born to him in Egypt, were two in number. Thus, the total of Jacob’s household who came to Egypt was 70 persons. כׇּל־הַנֶּ֧פֶשׁ לְבֵֽית־יַעֲקֹ֛ב הַבָּ֥אָה מִצְרַ֖יְמָה שִׁבְעִֽים. And, as I said before, it is repeated in Exodus, it says, Exodus 1: 5 the total number of persons that were up Jacob’s issue came to 70, Joseph being already in Egypt, שִׁבְעִ֣ים נָ֑פֶשׁ. So again, when it repeats it twice, and of course, in the reference in our parsha. In our portion, it is preceded by what we found many times before a genealogy, and the genealogy has this is a child of Leah. This is the children of, of Rachel, these are the children of the two handmaidens. And then it says, and therefore everything added up to 70. So you can’t ignore the fact that it was important to the text that it added up to 70. And this actually is the most obvious most in your faced version of this, but it actually, according to the rabbi’s has happened before. At the end of the story of Noah, in Genesis 10. It gives all of his genealogy, he had three sons Shem, Ham and Japhet, and then in the beginning of Genesis 11, it says everyone on Earth had the same language and the same words. And the rabbis learned from this, first of all the rabbi’s go ahead and they count up each one of the members of Noah’s house, and lo and behold, in our source sheet I have quoted the Chizkuni, but he is not alone, where he adds them all up. And sure enough, there are 70 and from this comes the tradition that there are 70 nations, and that those 70 nations spoke one language before the Tower of Babel. And they spoke 70 languages after the Tower of Babel. So it’s seems to me if you look at both the Jews coming down from Canaan into Egypt, and you look at the end of the, the portion of the flood, and you talk about moving into a new basis for humanity at both of those junctures you have this group of 70. And you have a wonderful implication, I think the idea that there were 70 nations, and that they were 70 languages, had beautiful implications for us. The most beautiful is that according to the rabbi’s in the tractate of Shabbat, 88b, when the Torah was given, each utterance of God’s mouth was divided into 70 languages. So, I’ll stop here, do you believe as now we start to explore the texts or the Bible’s sense of 70? Does it have to do with transition? What do you make of 70 Languages? What was the implications for the generation of the Exodus?
Adam Mintz 06:11
Well, I mean, there are so many different pieces of this. First of all, seventy comes from seven, and seven is the number in the Torah of a cycle, because that’s seven days. How do I know that? I know that from the story of creation, the very first cycle in the history of the Torah, in the history of the world, is the cycle of seven, God works for six days, and he rests on the seventh. So, I know from Genesis chapter one, that the key number in the Torah is going to be the number seven, and therefore 70, and therefore 49. And all of those variations of seven, sorry, so right that we know from the beginning. So therefore 70 languages, and 70 people fit in. Now, we’re not talking about this yet. But Rashi points out that if you count the numbers, the numbers are wrong, that actually, it’s only 69. And that, we have to get a 78 from somewhere. And Rashi suggests that number seventy is Yochevet, Yochevet is the mother of Moses, the daughter of Levi, who’s a grandson of Jacob, and the Rabbis say, she was וְנִתּוֹסְפָה לָהֶם יוֹכֶבֶד בֵּין הַחוֹמוֹת she was literally born on the way between Canaan and Egypt. Now that that is very important in its own, because she’s the mother of Moses. Moses is the one who took the Jews from Egypt to Canaan, he asked to have been born from a mother, who also knew both cultures, she was born between Canaan and Egypt.
Geoffrey Stern 08:07
So how does that relate to the number seventy?
Adam Mintz 08:11
Well, that’s number 70. If you just count up the numbers in this week’s Parasha, you don’t get to 70 You need a seventy. So, Rashi has this idea that these 70th is someone who was born on the way, so she didn’t make it into the genealogy in the Torah, but she’s counted as number 70. But obviously, that’s significant because you need 70. So where are you gonna get 70 from?
Geoffrey Stern 08:38
So that’s, that’s amazing. They really had to work at it. And I think what’s interesting about coming to this number of 70, for the generation of the Exodus, is it wasn’t all that neat. They make a point, the verse makes a point of saying, and you have to add Joseph who was already there, or you have to add Joseph and his sons who were already there. So although it’s this sense of 70 came down, it’s not as if they came down all at once. And even a few verses earlier in Genesis 45: 7 it uses the word וַיִּשְׁלָחֵ֤נִי אֱלֹהִים֙ לִפְנֵיכֶ֔ם לָשׂ֥וּם לָכֶ֛ם שְׁאֵרִ֖ית בָּאָ֑רֶץ וּלְהַחֲי֣וֹת לָכֶ֔ם לִפְלֵיטָ֖ה גְּדֹלָֽה, which means in later Judaism, we would have congregations who were formed that left Spain, and they were called like the one in New York City Shei’rit Yisrael the leftover the remnants of Israel, Pelatah, has the same meaning. You almost get a sense that maybe there were more people in Canaan left behind who, as would happen in a famine didn’t make the boat, weren’t so lucky. But here was this remnant who reunited with their estranged son/brother and became this whole. But it was it’s part of survival too, which is fascinating to me. And that’s the בֵּין הַחוֹמוֹת you we’re talking about between the walls.
Adam Mintz 09:46
I think all that’s true. By the way, when the Jews left Egypt, they didn’t leave with a number that was a multiple of 70. 600,000. Jews left Egypt. It’s not connected to 70. I can’t explain it. I’m just telling you that that’s a fact.
Geoffrey Stern 10:20
So that that becomes kind of interesting.
Adam Mintz 10:22
I can’t explain it. I’m just telling you that that’s a fact.
Geoffrey Stern 10:27
Yeah. I want to pick up a little bit on what you were saying about the number seven. Obviously, seven times 10 is 70 times seven is 49. We count that for the years of the Shemita, the Sabbatical Year that in the 50th year then becomes the Jubilee Year, the Yovel. When I was looking at the texts, I came across a comment by Everett Fox, who we’ve come across before and he says shivim; 70. Related to sever, it has to do with completeness with something that is perfection. And then he says, I’ve written more on this, but also see a certain scholar named Umberto Cassuto and Umberto Cassuto was an Italian Jewish scholar, who, because of the persecution moved to Israel, and join the Hebrew University, and because of Everett Fox’s reference, I went ahead and I opened up my book on Genesis by Cassuto. And for someone who doesn’t like numbers, this was like a mind opener to me. And he lists, I think, seven or eight ways in which the number seven plays a part in the creation of the world. And obviously, the most obvious one is seven days of creation. But he talks about the fact that the divine name in one of its forms occurs 70 times in the first four chapters, he says, And there was evening and there was morning, is seven times he says there were seven chapters who the Masoratim, the people that gave punctuation to the Torah scroll, if you look at a Torah Scroll, there is no punctuation. They created seven paragraphs. He said, The Seven times you have this divine fiat “let there be”. Then he talks about the terms light and day are found seven times in the first paragraph, and seven references to light in the fourth paragraph, he goes on water is mentioned seven times in paragraphs two and three. He says the expression good appears seven times. The first verse of the Torah about a set has seven words, the second verse contains 14 words. And at the end, he says, to suppose that all this is a mere coincidence is not possible. Full disclosure, I think that Cassuto, was arguing with what’s called high a biblical criticism, or form criticism, which implies that the Bible, especially the first chapters of Genesis, were written by different sources. And what he is arguing is, if you believe that the numerology of seven, and seven, and 14, and what built into the text, it’s pretty difficult to assume that the multiple edited texts would be able to convey this, it’s almost looking more like a Shakespearean sonnet that has certain rules to it, the rules are followed exactly, and his seven is pulling that up. But as a byproduct, …. if we buy into what Cassuto is trying to say, he’s trying to say that the original author of these texts was very mindful of the power of this seventh. And that, in the words of Cassuto, is very hard to believe is a mere coincidence. Have you ever seen this stuff from Cassuto? Before? This was the first I mean,
Adam Mintz 14:36
I’ve never seen it from Cassuto. But I’m very familiar with the idea. I mean, and you’re 100% right, because Cassuto was a scholar in the first half of the second half of the of the 1900s. And, you know, there was a big push towards scholarship, you know, Bible Scholarship, which says that the tau res, you know, written by multiple authors, and it’s a work of literature, and then what they I always do is they point out all these things that can’t be coincidence coincidences? And he points out that one of those big things is the number seven, seven is everywhere. You see, the Torah, even as God’s book has to be built on, you know, based on certain principles. And one of the principles, his argument is that one of the principles is seven. And he likes the fact that one of the principles is seven, because since there were seven days of creation, and that’s the first number, and that’s the first cycle. So it makes perfect sense that that should be the cycle around which the entire toe is creeping.
Geoffrey Stern 15:43
But it really I mean, it kind of you don’t have to buy one of his arguments, or two of his arguments, you can say, Well, that’s obvious. The weld was great in seven days. So, it says I was good seven times. But the cumulative power of all of these things, is fascinating. And it makes one say, okay, in our, in our profession, we have this, this sense of 70 people in the genealogy, it makes you look back at Noa where it doesn’t point out that it’s 70. And read it differently. And that’s my point. My point is that this then these numbers become a tool, a way of listening to the narrative in potentially a new way, which is kind of interesting.
Adam Mintz 16:34
Really interesting. And to think about why seven should be such an important number. So, I’m making a big deal about the fact that seven is the first number in the Torah; seven days of the week. But why is seven completeness? And why is 70 completeness. And why is 49 completeness. You know, it’s all based on God’s cycle. God determined that seven was the number. Since God determined that seven was the number, everything revolves around Gods sevens.
Geoffrey Stern 17:09
Yeah, and again, it’s not as though the tradition was not aware of 10. I mean, I think you can assume 10, and I’m no scholar in this regard. But 10 is 10 fingers, it’s the easiest way to count. We talk about the digital revolution, where everything is associated with a number digits come from our fingers. If you look up the word digit, it is a finger. So that I get and that is interesting, because that does appear we do have 70 is 10 times seven, which is fascinating. The Rabbi’s talk about the world being created in 10 phrases. And of course, Cassuto says well, he sees a combination there of the seven that he has identified, and three others, but I don’t have an answer to why seven is important other than the week and the importance of time. But that almost begs the question, how did we get to a seven-day week? It’s certainly one of the Jew’s greatest contributions to civilization, especially in terms of the seventh day, which is the holy day of rest, but I don’t have an answer. All I know is that this little exercise that we’re having today is sensitizing me and hopefully you to the numbers and the associations that the biblical author and or the rabbi’s later had with, with number associations.
Adam Mintz 18:49
I think I mentioned on this clubhouse Class A while ago, that there was a book written last year called The week. (The Week: A History of the Unnatural Rhythms That Made Us Who We Are by David M Henkin) And in the book, he traces this idea of the seven day week. And what I couldn’t believe but seems to be true, is that there have been attempts as recently as the 18 hundreds after the Civil War, to try to make the week simpler, you know, the week doesn’t work out with the month because the month is either 30 or 31 days. We all know, therefore it’s confusing. So, in December, December 10 was whatever day of the week it is. January 10 is going to be another day of the week and February 10 will be another day of the week. We’ve taken that for that we figure that out and we look it up on calendars. But before they had calendars that was complicated, one did have been easier had the week, and the month didn’t synch, meaning that the week been five or six stays. So that wouldn’t that have been easier? Yeah. And the answer is they tried it. And it didn’t work, because seven has been the number since the time of creation. And that really is interesting. You see, sometimes the fact that something wins, even though it doesn’t make sense, shows you the power of it. So, seven doesn’t make sense, it would have been better to do it the other way. But nevertheless, seven one, and I thought that was great.
Geoffrey Stern 20:32
And it speaks to the power the meaning that we humans also imbue something with it takes on a life of its own, which I think is fascinating. So, I wanted to take the discussion in a slightly different direction, because I did say that I had a kind of a bias against Gematria. And I did a little research the most preeminent scholar in Greco Roman influences on Judaism is Professor Saul Lieberman. And he wrote a book actually called a how much Hellenism in Jewish Palestine. And in it he talks about a Mishneh in Shekalim were they availed themselves the utility of putting Greek letters on jugs. The word Gematria itself… if it sounds like the word geometry there’s a reason. it’s a Greek word. we’ve all might have been exposed to the different forms of hermeneutics of Yishmael in terms of rules of interpretation, but there is a lesser-known rules of, interpretation for the Agada …. for the narrative portions, the moral the ethics, and that’s 33 Midot. There were 33 ways of doing it. And it was the first to cite one of these Midot is the numerical values of the text. And according to Lieberman, this was by Abulwalid ibn Ganah, and as you can tell by his name, this was anything but the rabbinic period. And in terms of our experience of Gematria. Here’s an interesting one, if you remember when we did our episode on Aramaic, and we talked about Eliezer, who was Abraham’s servant going down to find a bride for his son,….And I said, if you will call, while the Rabbi say it was Eliezer. The truth is, it never says Eliezer but the rabbi’s learn it and Rashi quotes from a gematria from the numerical value of 318, servants of Abraham, but it’s rare and late. And the interesting thing that Lieberman talks about is that this sense of even ascribing numerical value to letters comes very late. It’s he quotes in the Talmud that they got it from the Greeks in terms of a Mishnah in Shekalim, where they availed themselves the Greek alphabet. to put numbers on different jugs, the word Gematria itself, if it sounds like geometry, there’s a reason it’s a Greek word. So the first interesting thing is, the value of numbers is important. We’ve pointed that out. But giving these num numerical values to each letter is something that was much later as a tool of interpretation. What’s fascinating, is, we’ve all heard the Sofrim. Sofer is an author in modern day Hebrew, and the Sofrim were one of the earliest interpreters of the Bible. But if you know Hebrew, you know the word l’saper can mean to tell a story, Lispor can mean to count, and here Lieberman says something that after reading Cassuto, we all of a sudden, can recognize. And he quotes two pieces of Talmud, where they talk about the lost art of counting verses, counting words, and that they ascribe to the Sofrim. So on the one hand, Gematria might be something late, but I think doing something along the lines that we just saw Umberto Cassuto do with some maybe a lost art.
Adam Mintz 24:55
That selection from the Talmud. Sofrim, shows that there are actually was an entire profession of people who counted the words and the letters of the Torah, exactly what Cassuto did. That’s what they did. Now you understand, in those days, they didn’t have books, the only book they had was the Torah, and the Torah was a holy book. So, if you have a holy book, you might as well turn it over and turn it over and turn it over again. And turning it over means reading it, and reading and reading it all the different ways you can read it. And they believed that counting the letters and the words of the Torah was a holy pursuit, I think that’s an important thing that needs to be said that in itself was a holy pursuit.
Geoffrey Stern 25:37
And it probably as Cassuto points out, helped with punctuation, helped with structuring the text. So when Cassuto says that there are seven paragraphs of creation, and Sofrim were great, the Mesoratim were great in terms of putting those little brackets. It fed itself. They were, you know, the question was, is how much were they projecting onto the text? And how much were they uncovering some rhythms, some patterns of the tax that were helpful in other regards, that to me, is kind of fascinating. And as much as it goes against my grain to admit this numerology, there is something there that makes it makes it fascinating. I think about 10 Years Ago, there was a book called the Bible Code. And that went a little a little bit far, and made almost a ……
A mockery of it
I think that’s exactly it. And so you have to walk a very interesting line here. And maybe you need to scholars like a Cassuto, who see it that way to listen to them to help that enrich your experience of reading the text, but not overcome it.
Adam Mintz 27:02
I think you’re making a very interesting point about the Sofrim. We know that they counted. What exactly did they count. So the Bible Code took the Sofrim and kind of exploded it. And everything was allowed, because Cassuto limits it. But it’s interesting to think about the fact that the minute you start counting things, it’s hard to create limits. And basically, to say it a little cynically, but probably truthfully, your ability to count is as good as your ability to come up with a Devar Torah. If you’re counting will give me a good Devar Torah, that I’m willing to count. But if you’re counting is not going to give me anything. What’s the point? And I think that’s what the Bible Code got, The Bible Code has these crazy things, you know, they predicted World War Two, and all these kinds of crazy things. So, the minute that they actually were able to predict things, people took them seriously now it was wrong to take them seriously. This goes back to the very first thing you said today, and that is your kind of hesitation towards these kinds of numerologies. I think that’s our general 21st century view of that the numerology is we’re not afraid to say what Cassuto said, what we’re afraid to do is to get carried away. That’s dangerous. And that’s what the Bible Code did.
Geoffrey Stern 28:38
So yeah, I totally agree. But now I want to focus out what we can learn from this number 70. And this sense of how the rabbi’s took it. You already described this sense of between the walls and I love that it becomes part of the birth of our nation at that exact moment of transferring from Canaan to Egypt, where people were born. We had that number 70. I talked about Noah having 70 children and then having this story about languages. And from this, the rabbis learned that there are 70 languages. I also mentioned that when the total was given, there’s this beautiful Talmud that says, Every utterance emerged from the mouth of the Almighty divided into 70 languages. What I didn’t give you is the metaphor that they took from that. And they said that each word was therefore like a hammer that shatters a rock, just as a hammer breaks a stone into several fragments. So every and each utterance that emerged from the mouth of the Holy One, blessed be He divided it into 70 languages ״וּכְפַטִּישׁ יְפֹצֵץ סָלַע״ and נֶחֱלָק לְכַמָּה נִיצוֹצוֹת so now we’re starting to see this kind of dynamism this kind of dialectic between 70 being a sense of complete, and perfection, and 70 being something that breaks outside of the boundary of completeness and perfection.. The Sparks when the hammer strikes the rock or the anvil. You know, this sense of language, we all know that you can’t translate perfectly, which maybe says something in a negative sense about translating. But the positive sense is that whenever you do translate, you’re seeing the original text in a new way, you’re taking it with new nuances. I’ll finish by saying that when the Bible was translated into Greek, the word that it was called, is this Septuagint for those of you who know Greek that comes from the word 70, because by rabbinic tradition, there was 70, scholars put in 70 different rooms, and they all translated the Bible the same, I would love to say that maybe they translated it the same, but by translating it, there was this spark this diversion and the rabbi’s understood that and that was manifest in this word. 70. Once again,
Adam Mintz 31:29
I think that’s great. And obviously, that legend about 70. It’s the same thing, you know, 70 is the round number 70 is the holy number. 70 is the special number. If you’re going to have it translated, obviously, it’s going to be 70. Right? It’s like if I were to wake you up in the middle night and say how many people translated the Torah, you will say, of course, it’s seventy.
Geoffrey Stern 31:51
What’s interesting is in the actual text, it says, it says some texts say 72, and some say 70.
Adam Mintz 32:00
We call it the Septuagint, which means the translation of the seventy. Yes,
Geoffrey Stern 32:05
And I would like to argue from that, that the word 70, was also taken in as a form as an expression. The other place that you have it, one of the reasons given for it being called the Septuagint, besides the 70 rooms, is that the text of the Greek translation was then sent to the Sanhedrin. How many people are members of the grand Sanhedrin? Rabbi?
Adam Mintz 32:34
Of course, 70, because that’s the only number it can be.
Geoffrey Stern 32:38
So here, too, we have this Sanhedrin, and that by the way, Kim was out of Numbers 11: 16, then God spoke to Moses gather to me 70 men of the elders of Israel, to whom you know that they are elders of the people and its officers. And that’s where he appointed his judges, you cannot mention the 70 members of the Sanhedrin without mentioning the unbelievable, mind-blowing piece of Talmud in Sanhedrin, 17a that says, if you have a Sanhedrin in a capital case, that has unanimity, each of the 70 judges says that this individual is guilty. He goes free. If there’s one or two of them that say no, I’m not convinced you can convict him of death. But I’d love to know what your takeaway is, my takeaway has always been in 70 people let alone 70. Jews can all agree about something there’s something wrong
Adam Mintz 33:45
There’s something wrong with the case. That’s correct. And that’s the way we’ve always interpreted it, right means you can have unanimity. There has to be some debate, There has to be a way to see it the other way. If you don’t give you can see it the other way. You haven’t tried hard enough to find the other argument. Isn’t that a great way to kind of pull the whole thing together?
Geoffrey Stern 34:06
It really speaks to this sense that seven might be complete and perfect. But perfection can never be unanimous. Universal. there has to be an outlier. There has to be something that’s open to discussion, whether it’s a translation or a judgement. And, you know, maybe if I knew more about numbers, I would be able to understand how seven is unique. It’s clearly not. It’s not divisible by whole numbers. So there’s something there, but I just think that the Sanhedrin and the Septuagint. And that a hammer hitting the anvil and making Sparks as a metaphor for Torah is a beautiful message of what those 70 individuals going down to Egypt had in store for themselves when they launched our nation.
Adam Mintz 35:04
What a great topic. So, thank you for talking about numerology, Shabbat Shalom, everybody enjoy 70. And think of all the other examples of seven and 70 and 49 that we have in our tradition, our tradition is full of them happy new year, and we look forward to continuing it’ll be 2023 but next Thursday night, we are going to continue with Vayechei and then we will bring it in to the book of Bereshit, the book of Genesis, Shabbat Shalom, everybody, Shabbat Shalom, Geoffrey, and everybody. And we look forward to next week be Well, everybody,
Geoffrey Stern 35:35
Shabbat Shalom that the force of 70 be with you all. And if any of you have any comments or suggestions or something that you want to share with us, please go ahead and raise your hand. And I would love to invite you up to the Bima. Hey, Michael.
Michael Stern 35:55
Hey, Geoffrey, thank you, I What a blessing to come on today. I’m driving, but I just wanted to add to the mix. That the year 2023 numerologically, adds up to seven.
Yeah, so I didn’t want to overlook it. And, of course, I believe and feels numerology. And I think that it’s very deep. And so I think there’s something going on, this is going to be a powerful time of alignment. Hanukkah and Christmas were also the same crescent moon rising. I check that out the last day of Hanukkah and the day of Christmas. So there’s something going on that I just wanted to share, and thanks for great Madlik today.
Geoffrey Stern 36:47
So Michael, I think that’s amazing that you are link our discussion today of Shivim of 70 the New Year, which adds up to seven because one of the sources that I had wanted to bring but I had neglected to bring was right out of the Haggadah. It says web Eliezer Ben Azaria said Behold, I am like a 70-year-old man, yet I have not merited to understand why the Exodus from Egypt should be said at night until Ben Zoma explained it to me. And from this, we learn that Shivim can also be related to time and more specifically years. And whether it means that he felt like he became an old person, which is the mainstream explanation because he was very young, when he was appointed to be the head of the Sanhedrin. Or maybe because he was from another generation. There was 70 years that the Jews were in captivity. in Babylonia there was 70 years plus or minus where the Second Temple was being rebuilt. So maybe he was saying, I I’m a man of a different generation of the generation of the galut of the destruction. And I didn’t know whether we should remember the Exodus from Egypt only during good times i.e., during the day, but also during bad times, but I love that he associates 70 with years, and we are about to celebrate a new year. And I’m also reminded of the Chinese that give every year a face every year is associated with a different animal. And that was why I called the podcast 70 faces Shivim panim because there is a tradition that every verse has 70 faces 70 different explanations at least. So, for this coming year, let us discover the face of the year let us discover the different textures of our texts and aspects of our friends and family and wishing you all a very happy New Year. Shabbat shalom.
Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/455577
Listen to last year’s fantastic Vayigash episode: Joseph – Tool of a Repressive Regime?
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Tagged as gematria, numerology, Torah