Tag Archives: Torah

this land is MY land

parshat behar, leviticus 25

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

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

Transcript:

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

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

 

Adam Mintz  05:17

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  06:12

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

 

Adam Mintz  07:22

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  07:38

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

 

Adam Mintz  09:28

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  10:51

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

 

Adam Mintz  11:57

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  14:21

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

 

Adam Mintz  18:57

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:26

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

 

Adam Mintz  22:41

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  22:52

Yeah, yeah.

 

Adam Mintz  22:53

Isn't that a great idea?

 

Geoffrey Stern  22:55

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

 

Adam Mintz  25:05

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  25:11

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

 

Adam Mintz  26:22

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  27:00

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

 

Adam Mintz  30:16

Its tension, which is built in.

 

Geoffrey Stern  30:19

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

 

Adam Mintz  31:54

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  32:03

Shabbat Shalom to you all.

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

Adam Mintz  05:17

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

Geoffrey Stern  06:12

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

Adam Mintz  07:22

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

Geoffrey Stern  07:38

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

Adam Mintz  09:28

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

Geoffrey Stern  10:51

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

Adam Mintz  11:57

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

Geoffrey Stern  14:21

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

Adam Mintz  18:57

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

Geoffrey Stern  20:26

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

Adam Mintz  22:41

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

Geoffrey Stern  22:52

Yeah, yeah.

Adam Mintz  22:53

Isn’t that a great idea?

Geoffrey Stern  22:55

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

Adam Mintz  25:05

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

Geoffrey Stern  25:11

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

Adam Mintz  26:22

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

Geoffrey Stern  27:00

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

Adam Mintz  30:16

Its tension, which is built in.

Geoffrey Stern  30:19

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

Adam Mintz  31:54

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

Geoffrey Stern  32:03

Shabbat Shalom to you all.

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of woman born

parshat tazria (Leviticus 12)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on Thursday March 31st 2022 as we use the Torah’s treatment of postpartum impurity to explore postpartum depression, gender definition and female sexual needs and rights, to name a few stimulating topics…

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/396094

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, I host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern, and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. Today, we use the Torah’s treatment of childbirth to explore postpartum depression, gender definition, and female sexual needs and rights to name a few stimulating topics. So put away your Masters and Johnson forget about your chosen pronouns, and ditch your favorite child rearing book and join us as we explore Of Women Born. Boy, did I fit enough in that intro?

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Adam Mintz  00:55

I don't want to miss it either.

 

Geoffrey Stern  00:58

I mean, you know, usually we focus on just a few verses, but I gotta say that this week, boy, oh, boy, there were so many topics and they all relate to the subjects that I described. So let's just jump in Leviticus 12: 1-5 "God spoke to Moses saying, Speak to the Israelite people. Thus, when a woman at childbirth, bears a male, she shall be impure seven days, she shall be impure as at the time of her menstrual cycle. On the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised, she shall remain in a state of purification for 33 days, she shall not touch any consecrated thing nor enter the sanctuary until her period of purification is completed. However, if she bears a female, she shall be impure (twice as long,) two weeks, as during her menstruation, and she shall remain in a state of blood purification for (not 30 days, but) 60 days." So there's so much to unpack here. Why is she impure? Why does she bring a sacrifice? And yes, why is there a difference between whether she has a boy baby, or a girl baby, and as a new father, grandfather of a baby girl who's today, four weeks old.... This is really pertinent to me. So Rabbi, what is the most interesting, stimulating, engaging question that comes to your mind from these verses?

 

Adam Mintz  02:52

So to me, the question of why the period of purification is different if you give birth to a boy or to give birth to a girl? To me, that's always the hardest question. And I don't know even after all these years, whether I have the perfect answer.

 

Geoffrey Stern  03:11

So I'm going to go out on a limb here, and I know that we are supposed to be having Disruptive Torah. And I'm always gonna be dredging and saying, "Why is this gender different? And why is this like this?" But I've got to tell you, that I actually believe that the issues that are raised are more important than necessarily the conclusions that are reached. So let's begin with your question about why is it different if you have a baby boy, and why is it different if you have a baby girl? So the most I think accepted answer comes from the Talmud in multiple places. I'm gonna quote Nida 31b. And it says and the students of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, not a small Rabbi further inquired of him. What reason does the Torah say that a woman who gives birth to a male is ritually impure for seven days, but a woman who gives birth to a female is impure for 14 days. Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai answer them. When a woman gives birth to a male. Everyone is happy, and she regrets her oath, that she will never engage in sexual relations with her husband. Already seven days after giving birth. She's so happy that she had a baby boy, she forgets about all the nasty things she said about her husband and having sexual intercourse with her husband. By contrast, after giving birth to a female, over which everyone is unhappy, she regrets her oath only 14 days after giving birth. So it takes her twice as long to get over the fact that every woman during childbirth, as they are living through the hevlei Leadah, the pangs of giving birth, and are saying, How did I get into this situation? Am I crazy? I'm never gonna touch my husband. Again. It's a question of how quickly she gets over it. So that is the traditional answer. Rabbi, how do you how do you take that, and I assume that you were as happy when you had a girl as you had a boy, so I'm putting you on the spot.

 

Adam Mintz  05:46

I don't know what that means. I'll tell you the way I always understood it. And we'll see if that's what the Talmud means. I always understood that the period of purity is longer for a girl. Because giving birth to a girl is actually more significant than giving birth to a boy, because a girl is herself going to have children. So actually, the period of purity is not only for your daughter, but for all of the generations that are going to come from her, which doesn't apply to a man.

 

Geoffrey Stern  06:20

You know, I have not seen that explanation in all of the traditional commentaries is that your own Hidush?

 

Adam Mintz  06:28

I heard it a long time ago from George Rohr. George Rohr runs the beginners service at KJ on the east side, you know, it's hard to run a beginner service on these kinds of weeks, because the beginners asked hard questions, because they don't have any background. And that's the way he always used to explain it. And of all the explanations, that explanation is the best explanation I've ever heard. I don't know if it's perfect, but it's the best explanation I've ever heard.

 

Geoffrey Stern  06:58

So we're gonna get to a bunch of explanations, but one of them is similar in terms of the compound nature of a woman having a woman. But I absolutely love George Rohr's explanation. I think that's fantastic. That is just beautiful. So what I take away from this is I focus less on the kind of the characterization of social norms of a time where everybody wanted a son to carry on their family name, everyone wanted a son to carry on the business, and I get it. But what I love about this is that it focuses on the psyche of the woman. And it focuses on the fact that having a baby is a major milestone. And that psychologically, it is difficult for the woman. I've been preaching since the beginning of Leviticus, that sacrifices are made to help us deal with pain, with pleasure, with joy with thanks. And if this isn't a case study, in a sacrifice being created to deal with postpartum with giving birth, you've been carrying this child inside, the pain of giving birth is traumatic. And here, the Torah is distinguishing between nuances. Forget about the gender issue. I just love the fact that it's focused on you got to deal with different people in different ways. And then you talk about I mean, again, and it engenders an explanation like George Rohr gave, which is, yes, I'm giving birth to a woman who is going to go through this. I just love it. So I in terms of my reaction that I just love, the fact that the Torah is seems to be really empathizing with the emotional impact. I want a quote from Tzeror Ha-Mor of R. Abraham Saba (1440–1508)  Oh, and by the way, I found some beautiful monographs and some very scholarly studies that were done on these verses, and they were all in the notes on Safaria. If you look at his he goes into this birth, Pang things. And he uses words lay like God היודע הלבבות, who knows the souls of people. And again, he's focused on the fact that in his milieu, having a boy was different than having a girl, but I'm focusing on that he goes on to say, היא עצובת רוח בעצב כפול that when the woman has a girl, she is doubly depressed. And again, I'm not focused on the girl, I'm focused on the depressed, I'm focused on the fact that a commentator is focused on עצובת  and עצב . On the fact that you can have a very strong dose of depression, and then he uses another thing, and he says, so therefore the total gives the woman two weeks to recover, התורה שירדה לסוף דעתה, it goes down and understands her mind. And that's what as lovely and as wonderful as I love to be the contrary guy, I also want to appreciate that whether it's in the actual verses themselves, or in the commentaries and the tradition, here, we're looking at something that has become recognized as a very important; postpartum depression, and focused on how you address it. And did they know how to address it perfectly. 1000 1500 years ago, maybe not, we can discuss that, but they wanted to address it. That's my takeaway.

 

Adam Mintz  11:10

So I like I love that point. That point that they wanted to address it, that maybe they didn't have all the tools that we have, you know, we are very sophisticated. Now we're educated, we have a lot, but they wanted to address it, I liked that idea that there are some things that are kind of built into the human psyche that people have been trying to deal with since the beginning of time. That's really a nice idea, isn't it?

 

Geoffrey Stern  11:35

I love it, I just absolutely love it. And, you know, this is typically a parsha that people have difficulty talking about. But I mean, here in these three, four verses, the fact that it distinguishes between gender bothers me less than the fact that I'm aware that it distinguishes between personal responses to similar situations. So let's drill down a little bit deeper. You talk about, maybe their understanding of science was limited. So in some of the monographs that I quote, it's fascinating that there was a concept out there in Greek medicine. And it goes to Galen, and it goes back to Hippocrates. In the fifth century, that a female fetus takes longer to develop than a male. So again, the rabbi's looked at the science, the best science that they had. And there were some traditional commentaries who go back to that and explain it based on that. And the fact that they explain it means they were bothered by it, too. And how great is that? That 1500 years ago, there were rabbis who we all like to say are the patriarchy and you know, men writing for men? And they were concerned about why does the Torah distinguish between men and women? And again, it was based maybe on a false thing. And you can you can give any kind of commentary; you want to why it would take longer for a female fetus to develop. But again, it was using the best science that they had, and asking themselves, why is there this difference, which is based on the premise that men and female are equal, and I love that too.

 

Adam Mintz  13:37

I love that too. I mean, that is interesting. Again, it doesn't really matter whether the Greek science is correct or not. The point is that they're addressing this topic. And I think that's great.

 

Geoffrey Stern  13:47

But as we continue this discussion, and it's kind of like when you have a challenging problem like this, it's kind of like a Rorschach test, every Rabbi brings to the question, his own baggage and his own perspective. So the most amazing monograph that I quote, is based on a few Rabbi scholars who similar to what you quoted about George Rohr, talk about this is a compounded issue, meaning to say, Why does a woman who gives birth to a woman need two weeks and a woman who gives birth to a man only one week, and one of the answers that they give is that not only is she suffering addressing, compensating for her own life, but she is addressing the life of the mother of all mothers, which is Eve which is Hava and it's very rare in Jewish tradition that we have reference to what the Christians call Original Sin and The Fall. But if you all remember when we studied Genesis, we know the punishment that Adam was given was that he had to work and toil by the sweat of his brow. But the punishment that Eve was given his that she would give birth under pain. And so they harken this back to the original sin, which again, you can interpret in in all different ways. Have you ever heard of this kind of connection? And how does it resonate with you, Rabbi,

 

Adam Mintz  15:38

it resonates, I liked that explanation. And I agree with you. I like the compound nature of the these kinds of explanations. And I think that's interesting. Now, it's an interesting question about whether Original Sin is ultimately a Jewish idea.

 

Geoffrey Stern  15:56

Well, I think it's definitely an idea that Christianity took from us. And as a result, we raise our eyebrows when we see commentaries that reference it. But there was no question that the book of Genesis is not a storybook, that things in it are very important, and that the story of Adam and Eve explains our mortality. It explains the struggle of earning a livelihood that we've talked about when we talked about Lechem and Milchama, and now we're talking about childbirth. It explains the struggles of life. So I don't think there's anyone who takes the Bible seriously. Who would ever say, nah that's just a fairy tale? It was, we're talking about chapter two, of the Bible. And so the change of man, mankind leaving Eden.... You can call it The Fall, you can call it Original Sin. But whatever you call it, it's, it's if you take your Bible seriously, it's important.

 

Adam Mintz  17:05

There is no question that that's right. And it was interesting what you just said, and that is, it doesn't really matter what you call it. The question is how it helps you understand some of these complicated laws in the Torah.

 

Geoffrey Stern  17:19

So I want to go in a completely different direction now. We've kind of looked at the gender issue a little bit. Now I want to look at the question of why is a woman who gives birth to a beautiful child giving a sacrifice in the first place? What did she do wrong? What does she have to ask penitence for? And we've kind of focused on it a little bit, in terms of she made an oath, but let's hit the nail on the head, it needed the masechta the Tractate Nida 31b. It says the students of Rabbi Benue Hashem and when I asked him, Why does the toe say that a woman after childbirth brings in orphaning. He said to them at the time that a woman crowd to stick of birth. Her pain is so great, that she impulsively takes an oath, that she will not engage in intercourse with her husband ever again. So that she will never again experience this pain. Therefore, the Torah says that she must bring an offering for violating her oath, and continuing to engage in intercourse with her parent, her husband. So now we're talking on a whole different level. We're starting to talk about marital relationships, and we are focused on the woman in terms of what she might say during the pangs, the struggle of childbirth to her husband, but before I ask for your opinion, I want to quote the flip side of this discussion, because the flip side is much more radical. What I just told you now again, comes from the patrimony that guy's upset, his wife won't touch them. She gave birth and you know, he wants his conjugal waits. Here's what the mission in q2 boat 61 B says, with regard to one who vows that his wife may not derive benefit from marital relations with him. Beat samurai says he may maintain this situation for up to two weeks. But beyond that he must divorce her and give her the payment for her marriage contract. Paid Hillel says he must avoid sir, if he continues beyond only one week and the Gomorrah continues. Where do they learn this from Big surprise from our verses. So now we're not talking about the husband rights to conjugal rights. We're talking that any woman can say to her husband who wants to be either holier than thou, or he, he's not looking at her. He's not smiling at her. He's not caressing her. She can say, Listen, buddy, the verse that we just quoted from Viagra, whether you go like beit shamai or beit Hillel, it's one or two weeks, and if you can fulfill my sexual desires, I have a right to divorce you and you have to make full payment. How many documents do we have that provides such a representation of women's rights? To conjugal rights? Are you blown away like I am

 

Adam Mintz  20:53

blown away? That's amazing. That's actually amazing.

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:57

I mean, you know, I started by saying in the intro, throw away your Masters and Johnson

 

Adam Mintz  21:04

So let me just say that the Torah in the in the book of Exodus, when it talks about a husbands responsibility to his wife, conjugal rights are seen as the husband's responsibility to his wife. It's not this explicit, but the Torah does. Say She-era Kesuta lo dibra, Ona'ata means conjugal rights, so that he has the responsibility to give her conjugal rights. So the idea that that's the woman's right is actually there in the Torah, but it's not this elaborate.

 

Geoffrey Stern  21:39

But I mean, think of how radical the Fear of Flying and the Kinsley study, and all of this stuff was in the 60s. And here you have the rabbi's talking about a wife's right to sexual fulfillment.

 

Adam Mintz  21:59

Crazy, totally crazy.

 

Geoffrey Stern  22:01

So that's why I find this verse and these three verses and the discussions that are currently about them. So mind blowing. So let's move on a little bit. There are some commentaries who notice something interesting about our verses, if you remember, it says when it's talking about a male, that you shall be impure seven days. And then for another 30 days, you're going to go through this other cycle. But in verse three, it says, On the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. And that, of course, we all know is Brit Milah, is circumcision. And normally, we take that to be something that relates to Abraham, and it relates to a covenant, so forth and so on. But you don't have that parallel on the female side. And so I quote, a wonderful study called Gendering a child with Ritual by Dr. Christine Hankinson Garraway, where she talks about the importance in ancient societies and she goes back to Akkadian and Hittite things about announcing the gender of your child, clearly, if we've learned anything so far, and I say so far, because we're going to go in a different direction in a few minutes. But so far, gender matters. If you have a boy, you feel one way, if you have a girl, you feel another way. But what she does is she takes the double week as something that balances the Brit Mila. So for the male, the way of introducing it to the community, as I had a male son, you have this milestone this, this rite of [passage], of circumcision. And if you have a girl, you show that by the two week period, by the 60 day period, she takes it to be something along those lines, which again, to me, I kind of back away and say it's not so much about gender, but that everybody has the right and the ability to announce their child joining their family, their community, the world in different ways. But she takes it as a positive and that's kind of fascinating.

 

Adam Mintz  24:40

That's very fascinating. I mean, that's, that's interesting to take it as a positive. Who is she,

 

Geoffrey Stern  24:48

You know, it's in if you look at the source, there's this wonderful blog, it's Torah.com I believe, and the level of this scholarship is extremely high. But she's a either a rabbinic student or something. And, and look, I love the source sheets that we always include with our podcast. And if you go there you can, you can do like I do, which is Hafoch bo v'hafoch bo de kulo  bo, you can, you can dig in them, there's so much learning there. But again, see uses as a as a way of distinguishing and announcing the gender of your child.

 

Adam Mintz  25:32

It's very interesting. I think that that that's all you know, sometimes you say that when there are so many different suggestions about the reason for something, it's because nobody really knows the reason. It's not like, Yeah, I know, this is the reason I know, this is the reason everybody's all over the place, because nobody really knows the real explanation.

 

Geoffrey Stern  25:55

Absolutely. And it opens itself up for new interpretation.

 

Adam Mintz  25:59

You know, we haven't discussed one possibility that this was just part of the culture of the ancient world that all religions had.

 

Geoffrey Stern  26:09

Well, and to a degree, if you read her monologue, she says, yes, there was at least in the ancient Near East in the in the Hittite, and the Acadian communities, there was this sense of announcing and bringing into the community.

 

Adam Mintz  26:23

Oh, so she does raise that as a possibility.

 

Geoffrey Stern  26:26

She does. So what I'd like to take away in the next last segment, because we have so many segments to this discussion, is she talks about gender announcing. Now I want you to listen to the Talmud in Nida 40a. And the Gomorrah asks, and what do the rabbis derive from the superfluous expression, so the rabbi's are torn over every extra word in the Torah. And if you notice, when I read about if a boy is born, it says the following, and then it goes says and ve'im nekeva teled which means and if a girl child is born, and all of this commentary say, Why does it need to say if it's a girl? Why does it have to say "was born"? So the Talmud, and Anita says as follows why, for this superfluous expression, the Gemora answers, in their opinion, that expression is necessary to include the birth of a child whose sexual organs are indeterminate, which in the Talmud is called a tum tum, or a hermaphrodite an androgenous, which has a child that has both sexual organs, as it might enter your mind to say that the words male and female are written in the passage to only talk about them, therefore, it teaches she "gives birth", that is the birth itself, not the sex of the offspring that matters. Are you kidding me? This sounds like don't give me labels. If a child is born, I don't care what sex he is, or she is, I don't care what pronouns she/he/it's going to have. I mean, this, this verse blows me away. And in bottom line, what it says is, if you have a child whose sexual identity is in question, you do two weeks, and you do 60 days, but we learn it from the fact that "it is born". It's a child that is born, and it doesn't have to be male or female. I'm blown away that.

 

Adam Mintz  28:40

I love that.  I mean, that is really amazing. I mean, you know, they derive it in, you know, in kind of classic rabbinic way. But what is the message that it gives us such an amazing thing isn't?

 

Geoffrey Stern  28:51

It is and, and again, it's the way we moderns read it, because we can read it differently than either they meant it or that it's been read for 1500 years. But I do believe that the way I just read is true to the text.

 

Adam Mintz  29:13

I think when you read it is fantastic. I love that.

 

Geoffrey Stern  29:15

So the last thing that I'm going to bring up is the question and I called this discussion of woman born. And for those of you who know your Shakespeare, you know that at the beginning of Macbeth, he is told he will be killed by someone who was not of woman born. And of course the punch line was that he was killed by someone who was born via cesarean and there was not of woman born. So the rabbi's also bring that into the discussion and they talk about where it says that from this, we learned that if you are born from cesarean, we all know those of us who have had cesarian births or children have had cesarian births. You don't do, for instance, the redeeming it from the Cohen, it wasn't literally Peter Rechem. It didn't open up the womb, the rechem but all other things that have to do with being a firstborn, whether being responsible [a double portion]  or whatever, is still there. And the word that it uses for cesarean is Yotsei dophen. And today in modern Hebrew, when you say that something is Yotsei dophen what do you mean is it's exceptional? It's out of the ordinary. And I just love the fact that everything that we've been teaching, so the Mishnah in Berachot 47b says Rabbi Shimon says the first son is a firstborn with regard to inheritance, if he is his father's first son, and then it goes on to say but if she bears a girl, again, they're focused on this extra word "teled" that the apparently superfluous term "she bears" serves to include a child born by cesarean section, yotzei dophen. So I would conclude by saying that these verses that have struggled and been difficult for many people, especially people that are very gender conscious, you can read them in a way that absolutely opens up our minds and makes us think yotze dophen, which is out of the box, and to explore things that obviously intrigued our forebears and continue to intrigue us today. But ultimately, just love and admire the miracle of childbirth and everything that it means for us.

 

Adam Mintz  32:19

I think that's beautiful. This was a great topic. Thank you so much. Enjoy this this amazing stuff this amazing topic, everybody. Have a happy Shabbat and a happy Rosh Chodesh and we look forward to seeing you next week. As we will tackle Metzorah and get us ready closer for Passover. He well everybody.

 

Geoffrey Stern  32:40

Shabbat Shalom to everybody. And I just want to say that tonight is the week of my father's Yotzei he passed away five years ago Yehuda Leib ben David Shmuel, and this learning is dedicated to him and to Don Lebell who is if my stepfather who is an amazing person and was a very loving friend of my father, and it's dedicated to birth and the cycle of life so Shabbat Shalom to everyone. And see you all next week. Shabbat Shalom

 

Adam Mintz  33:15

when we remember your father so fondly, and we look forward to many years of studying together in his memory.

 

Geoffrey Stern  33:21

Thank you so much.

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Oops I did it again

parshat Vayikra (leviticus 4)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz for a discussion on Clubhouse recorded on March 10th 2022. With the first mention of the Hebrew word for a mistake (Shegaga) we explore the Biblical and Rabbinic idea of the stain, intention and the etiology of sin either as a deficiency in character or treatable condition.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/390805

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform.  Today we start the book of Leviticus which deals primarily with the sacrifices.  At the end of the day, the temple sacrifices fulfilled religion’s primary function.  How do we deal with our shortcomings, our guilt, and yes, our joy.  How do we deal with the human condition.  We encounter the first mention of the Hebrew word for a mistake: Shegaga….  Which comes from the same word as Meshuga.  So join us today, with all your imperfections and idiosyncrasies as we say: Oops I did it again!

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Well, welcome to another week of Madlik. It is great to have you all here. It's just a few days before Purim. And we are starting the book of Vayikra, as I said in the intro, and I think we will touch upon both subjects. So let me dive in. We're going to focus on really just one verse actually one word that occurs for the first time in the Bible, we've been reading it for a bunch of months and two volumes, and we've never had this word and Leviticus for two it says, "Speak to the Israelite people, thus, when a person unwittingly incurs guilt in regard to any of God's commandments about things not to be done, and does one of them." And then of course, it goes on and describes what you do to bring a sin offering when you make a mistake. And as I said in the introduction, it says "ki techte b'shegaga", someone who sins "'Het" we've had before "B'Shegaga" means, by mistake, inadvertently, in error. And it's a Hebrew word. And it hasn't really occurred till now, which is kind of interesting. And it struck me as fascinating rabbi, what are your thoughts on Shegaga?

 

Adam Mintz  02:24

Well, the first thing you point out is that the idea that it hasn't appeared yet, is very interesting. It does appear later "Ki L'chol Ha'am B'Segaga", that one of the one of the ways that you kind of whitewash a sin is to say that it wasn't intentional, but rather it was by accident. Now, I think that the idea of by accident, is really an interesting idea. What does it mean by accident? You know, there are different types of accidents, you know, someone who violates the Shabbat, or let's take a different example, someone who eats a Hametz;  bread on on Pesach. Now, they didn't know that it was Passover. So they knew that you weren't allowed to eat meat on Pesach. But they didn't know that it was Passover. That's what you call a Shegaga. It was a mistake. But you know, when I hear about that, you know what I think to myself? Silly, why didn't they know it was Pesach That was their mistake. So actually, it's a mistake, but it's an avoidable mistake. And I think we have to make a distinction between mistakes that are avoidable, and mistakes that aren't avoidable.

 

Geoffrey Stern  03:49

So I love the fact that you started with that verse that resonates from the Yom Kippur service. He was B'chol Ha'am Besegaga" if I recall

 

Adam Mintz  04:00

Its from the Kol Nidre Service

 

Geoffrey Stern  04:01

Yes. And in a sense, it takes this concept of "it was a mistake", as the ultimate defense. And when all is said and done when all the briefs and the arguments have been made, if all else fails, you say it was a mistake. And I get where you're coming from where, how many mistakes can you make? You forgot that you're not allowed to eat Hametz on Pesach, you forgot that it was Pesach, you forgot that you were eating. But at the end of the day, this is a very powerful arguments that we are given. And I started by talking about the human condition. And I think to a large degree, the the Bible is recognizing the human condition in have enough a board sense with all of the sacrifices that we give, let's face it, you know God doesn't need our sacrifices. But somehow people turn to religion, when bad things happen to good people when there are inadvertent circumstances, when tragedy occurs, or when they fail. And this concept of on Yom Kippur on Kol Nidrei, it says, you know, we're human at the end of the day. There's there's two verses, and I just basically looked at a concordance. For those of you who don't know what a concordance is, you can look up a biblical concordance and look at the occurrence of every word in the Bible. And that's why I felt confident in saying that this word hadn't occurred till now. And it does occur occur later in places like Ecclesiastes; Kohelet. It says, "Don't plead before the messenger that it was an error, but fear God", and that's kind of in line, the way you were talking, you shouldn't have to fall onto this crutch. But nonetheless, it does say that is the ultimate crutch where you say to God, you know, we're clay in the hands of the potter, You created us, we are imperfect. In Ecclesiastes 10. And again, the word Shegaga, is not used all that much, other than in reference to this sacrifice. It says, "There's an evil I have seen under the sun as great an error as committed by a ruler." So that somehow rulers are permitted to make mistakes. You know, we all hope that Putin wakes up one day and says, I made a mistake, I control the press, I can call this thing of victory, and walk home. And we would love if he would take advantage of that loophole. But in a sense, the Bible by giving us this sacrifice of Shegaga, by recognizing that we can commit mistakes, is making us all of those rulers and maybe this is a no a new interpretation of a kingdom of priests and a Holy nation.

 

Adam Mintz  06:28

I mean, I think all of that is true. And it's interesting, you say you looked at the concordance. I mean, it's it's an interesting thing, how the Torah looks at sin. You know, whenever you look at sin, you're gonna have the idea of Shegaga, because that's obviously the way you define sin is either intentional sin, or unintentional sin. What's interesting about the first two books of the Torah, is they don't really look at sin. Now, the Jews did sin when they worship the golden calf. But there was no issue there that it was Shegaga. Moshe doesn't say to God, hey, forgive the people. Because you know what? They didn't mean it. They did mean it. Right. That wasn't that wasn't a good, I wasn't a valid argument to say they didn't mean it. So I think Geoffrey, sometimes we have to take into consideration the fact that Shegaga is not always a good excuse.

 

Geoffrey Stern  07:58

You know, I think you're right. And I think the words that we've had till now, describe the action. So an "Averah" is when one is "over" one passes over the line. One breaks the rule. "Het has the same kind of connotation. Shegag is less involved with the action, and more involved with the intention. And that's why I think it's so fascinating because it reflects more on who we are, and what brings us to the kind of the etiology of sin. And that's why I think it's so fascinating. But you're right, it appears only here. And it appears only now that we have this institution, this vehicle that somehow enables us to deal with the sin. I want to quote on Nachmanides this verse, and he picks up on the fact that it says, If a soul shall sin in error, "nephesh ki tecta b'shegaga", and it says, Since the process of thinking is centered in the soul, and it is the soul which commits the error, Scripture mentions here "nephesh" soul, the reason for the offerings for the erring soul is that all sins even if committed, unwittingly, produce a particular stain "Mum Ba", and of course, I was reminded of Philip Roth's novel called The Human Stain. But we've kind of moved from the Act, which is the activity which is the Avera or the 'Het and the Shegaga, which is the intention and now we're talking a little bit about the outcome of sin. And I'm wondering what your thoughts are in that regard, forgetting about sinning against somebody or breaking a rule? What does it do to our soul is what I think Nachmanides brings on to the discussion table.

 

Adam Mintz  10:02

So that is an interesting question. And that is that sin, Nachmanides says, sin is bad for the soul, even if it's B'Shegaga. And that's why you need a sacrifice. We've got a bit all around this. But we haven't actually talked about how it comes up in our parsha. It's that something B'shegaga also requires a sacrifice. That, in a sense, is surprising. Why should something that's B'shegaga require a sacrifice? I would think actually the opposite, that if it's B'shegaga there shouldn't be a need for a sacrifice, because you didn't do it on purpose. But the answer is no, you still have to give a sacrifice, because it does something bad to the soul. That's an interesting idea. I don't know if that idea is so obvious, but that's an interesting idea.

 

Geoffrey Stern  11:02

But I think it raises our consciousness to a degree because if you sin on purpose, it's almost less likely that you're going to have the anguish and the psychological challenges of someone who is otherwise pure and well intentioned, who does or is forced to do, or finds themselves in extenuating circumstances. So I think you're right, it is strange, but if you think about it a little more deeply, it actually makes a lot of sense. You know, there are many verses and rules that we've come across already, that say, if you break the Sabbath, here's your punishment, you get the lashes, you know, whether you've ever repented or not, is another question, maybe you're even forced to bring a sacrifice. But it seems to me the real anguish is that middle market of people who find themselves in extenuating circumstances, who have a very high code of conduct, but then it comes to a family member that they had to help, or it comes to providing food or saving themselves, and you can't do it all. And that is the area to me of shegaga and it can make you crazy, and that's where Meshuga comes from.

 

Adam Mintz  12:25

That's funny, because we need clarity, things need to be clear, they either are or they aren't, the minute the minute, you're not quite sure, then you get crazy

 

Geoffrey Stern  12:37

And this this sense of the stain of sin. So yeah, you know, you could kind of think in terms of the easy stuff. So if you eat non kosher food, and you believe that non kosher food almost creates a filter it dulls the soul. So yeah, you can go on a diet, you can purge, you can say, I'm not going to eat that non kosher food anymore. But maybe the residue is there. It's like, you know, smoking that pack of cigarettes or being exposed to a virus or a toxin, it has an effect, whether you wanted it or not. And that also is part of the anguish, even if you are 100% well intentioned. And again, it back gets back to when when bad things happen to good people, we always think of that in sense of, they get punished, or they lose their money or their house burns down. But what happens if that bad Is these the circumstances that force them to to do things against their moral code? There, you bring up something else? And that is, what does it mean to sin? Is to sin to violate a ritual? Or is to sin to violate a moral code? Or both? When it says shegaga, have you violated a moral code? Or have you just violated the Shabbat? And and to pick up on your original example of eating the Hametz on Pesach? And maybe not knowing it's also the sin of ignorance enters into it as well. But I mean, from a technical point of view, the the sacrifice of the shegaga is brought what, by volition, or is it assigned? How does that all work?

 

Adam Mintz  14:33

How do you define whether it's a Shegaga? The court actually has to define whether it's a shegaga  and a lot of it has to do with your own admission. Because again, you eat hametz on Pesach, but you say it's a shegaga, because I forgot it was Pesach. Now, that's really in your own head. You could be lying, but the Torah seems to take your word for it. Isn't that interesting? I didn't think of that ,bBut isn't that interesting?

 

Geoffrey Stern  15:04

Absolutely. And that's where the intentionality comes up. So there's a karban hatat, which is a sin offering. And then there's the one that we're talking about, which is for a mistake or an unintentional.

 

Adam Mintz  15:17

Now, there are a lot of different mistakes in this week's portion, there's a mistake of the individual, there's a mistake of the Nasi of the head of the people. There's a mistake of the Cohen Gadol, there are a lot of different kinds of mistakes. Not all mistakes are the same. Now, that is super interesting. We also understand that. You know, if the President makes a mistake, that's different than an average person making a mistake. Think about Ukraine, think about the pressure on President Zelinsky. Right. I mean, if he were to make a mistake, that would have catastrophic, consequences. But a regular person makes a mistake. It's much less catastrophic. So there are different kinds of sacrifices, depending on what the mistake is.

 

Geoffrey Stern  16:03

So, you know, I come back to looking at the institution of the temple and looking at the institution of the sacrifices in a whole new way. Looking at them almost from the perspective of a psychoanalyst, where, this is where people come to deal with the different issues that they've encountered. Some are forced to come some come of their own. And that I think, is fascinating to me, because many people find the whole book of Vayikra, of Leviticus as a nonstarter. It's so far removed from us, it's so remote from the world that we live in. So that's that's kind of an insight I walked away a little bit with as I started focusing on this one concept of Shegaga. But But I would like to move forward a little bit in terms of this dynamic between; is it better not to have ever sinned not to have what Nachmanidis has called the stain of sin, or this other concept that is so part and parcel of Judaism which is to tshuva, which is returning.  And the Gemara  in Berakot 34b relates as follows. "That Rabbi a Abbahu holds that penitentes are superior to the righteous as rabbi or Abbahu said in the place where penitent stand, even the fully fledged righteous do not stand. B'makom she'baale teshuva omdin tzadikim gemurim aynom omdim"  It's a radical statement and he brings a verse to prove that it's true, because it says "Peace Peace upon him who is far and for him who is near" (Isaiah 57: 19) "Peace in greeting is extended first to the one who is far the ba'al Teshuvah, the penitent and only thereafter is peace extended to him who is near; the full fledge righteious.. So this really hits on their head, this concept of the stain of sin. And according to this one rabbi rabbi Abbahu , it would almost be you know, if it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger. If you've lived a life where you might have failed, but you've done Teshuva, you've come back. Even the most righteous pietic person who's never encountered any sin can stand in your fur amos.

 

Adam Mintz  18:39

So that of course is a very, very famous Gemara. I always wondered about that Gemara does that Gemara mean that we should all try to sin. Because if we sin and then we do tshuva, then we repent, then we're in a higher level than the person who never sins. It can't mean that. It just can't mean that. It means you know, it's it's kind of written as a way to make the person who's the penitent feel better, that they're on a higher level. But I can't believe that they really think that if you're perfect, that you're on a lower level, I'll just tell you, just talking about the idea of sinning. There's a very, very famous Midrash that talks about perfect people. And it says that there were only four perfect people in history, only four perfect people. Benjamin was the brother of Joseph Amram, who was the father of Moshe Yishai, who was the father of King David and Kilav who was the son of King David. Now that's an interesting Midrash to begin with. Because what you see is that great people can never be perfect But great people need to be connected to perfection. So Moses, his father was perfect. Moses had to know perfection. But Moses himself couldn't be perfect. David was connected to perfection, his father was perfect, but he himself couldn't be perfect. So the idea is more a statement of reality. Nobody is perfect. And therefore you should know that where the penitent sits, that's the highest level, I think that's an important thing to keep in mind when you quote that Gemara.

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:33

So my take from what you just said, is that, you know, we can talk about who is far who is near, but for having peace, and it does say peace, peace, you need both, you need the benchmark, and then you need the one who might stray and in return, so to speak. You know, you said that it can't possibly be the golden rule that you sinned first, then you repent, I believe it was St. Augustine who once uttered  his famous "insincere prayer", "Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet." And so I think he nodded. He nodded to that, which is the experience of the world. And again, that talks to the different stages of life, and that maybe we do need to go through the stages. So you said that you thought this Berachot Talmud was written to assuage the guilt or the bad feeling of the repentant. And this kind of gives you a motivation, where somebody says, I'm so down in the hole, how can I ever, you know, make my way back up? And then you bring Abuhuhu's whose opinion and you say, no, no, no, you're going to be right next to the pearly gates so to speak, because God loves penitents.  There was a great Hasidic rabbi, whose job in life was not make people feel comfortable. He was the Kutzke Rebbe and he was known for saying things that were very harsh and abrasive. The Kutzke Rebbe was asked, so why can't that Tzadik Gomer stand in the four cubics of the ba'al Teshuva? The Kutzke Rebbe said, "because it stinks too much". And, and he was getting back to this concept of the stain of sin, that we can give all these consoling words. But ultimately, you know, at the end of our lives, we're battered we're torn and yes, we are maimed by some of the the moral failings that we've had in the mistakes that we've made. And I just love this Talmud because it engenders this kind of conversation. And it does have you know, two totally different aspects that you could read into it. But again, it focuses on the stain of sin, which I would like to call the the Human Stain and I love it for that.

 

Adam Mintz  23:14

That's a great Kotzke.  I didn't know that Kotzke, but that Kotzke is what I'm saying. He's known for turning everything on its head. So that that Talmud from Berakot suggests that the Ba'al Teshuva is on a higher level. And the Kotzke kind of cynically says can be right. That's not what it means and reinterprets it, so that's nice. I like that Kotzke. I'm gonna use that Kotzke.

 

Geoffrey Stern  23:43

I'm happy. So so another source and another concept in Judaism and especially in Rabbinic Judaism is "Onus Rachmana patrei"  That if you are forced to do something, if someone holds a gun to your head, or Let's call a spade a spade, the worst possible situation a rape, a sin is committed on her. And so, Robbie Bahama said that the Merciful One exempts a victim of circumstance beyond his or her control for punishment, as it is said with regard to a betroth woman who is raped. So actually the use case the primary case, that is brought for that is the one of rape and that's an important situation to know as long as we're talking about the stain of, of sin, because there are many places in the Torah where whether it's the bastard child or it's whatever where we find that stain of sin and it becomes very troubling. And I think as troubling as it is, I think the the gold standard Is that ultimately? No. If it's under duress, if it's beyond your control, we give you the sacrifices, we give you all the help, but you need to know the stain isn't there.

 

Adam Mintz  25:14

Yes, I think that, you know, can we go back to that Nachmanides, the idea of the stain of sin? What does that mean the stain of sin? How do you understand the stain of sin?

 

Geoffrey Stern  25:30

I mean, the word he uses his "Moom", which literally is an imperfection. But he's talking about the soul. And it really gets to the core question, which is, is the soul of humanity, which is ultimately God given? Is it something that can be misdirected? Is it something that can be kind of bruised? But is it ultimately pure? Or can the soul itself become something that is less than holy? And I think that's that's the real issue here. He focuses over us on the fact that it says, If a soul shall sin, and he talks about this is all about the soul and ultimately, the soul can be corrupted. But I think that's that's the real question here. You know, we're all given the same soul but we're not necessarily given the same chances in life and stuff like that. And it comes down to a really basic question why they're evil people. Or they're just people that act evily, I don't know, is the soul ultimately pure? Or can the soul become stained and blemished?

 

Adam Mintz  26:48

Good question. So Nachmanides was a Kabbalist. And Nachmanides as a Kabbalist believe that the soul can become stained. There's a direct correlation between the two things, right, the capitalists believe in this kind of mystical view of the soul, and the soul can actually become stained. And when the soul is stained, so what do you do? You bring a karban hatat and then that unstains soul, it's like it gives the soul a shower. But you know, that's an interesting idea. Maimonides doesn't accept that. Maimonides doesn't think it has anything to do with the soul. Maimonides was a rationalist. He says you need a sacrifice. Because if you violate something, then that's a bad thing. You did something wrong, you may not have intended it, but you did it wrong. And if you do something wrong, you need to bring a sacrifice. So my Maimonides has a whole different view. He has kind of the rational legalistic view and Nachmanides has the Kabbalistic view that your soal is stained. Interesting, both are legit. I think both make a lot of sense. But you have to know they're two different arguments.

 

Geoffrey Stern  28:09

So I think from the Talmud, the greatest argument against Nachmanides, is given in Sota 3a by Resh Lakesh. And he says, A man commits a transgression only if a spirit of folly enters him, "Eyn adam over avera ela im kein nichnas bo ruach shtut" those of you who know Hebrew, when your child starts doing silly little things in doodling, you say stop with that "Shtuyot" stop that silliness. And I think what he's saying is that at the end of the day, we're all pure. And if we sin, some craziness, ..... we get back to this Meshuga aspect of Shogeg. And this is a very important argument. For instance, here's where the rubber hits the road. In Israel today. I'm knowledgeable in an organization that's fighting drug addiction. And till today in the Israeli healthcare system, drug addiction is looked at as a shortcoming in character and not a medical condition that can be cured. And it comes down to this. Is it a Shetuyot is it something where something happened to this person, Thank God I'm not sitting in his shoes or haven't been in his situation, and I just have to cure it. I have to take away that Shetyot. I have to take the way that that stain and I think it's a it's a beautiful approach with regard to drug addiction. I think it's a driving mandate that we have to have. We can't look at certain people as sinners that have failed. We have to look at them as brothers and sisters who need our help and need to be given the same chances that we have,

 

Adam Mintz  30:02

I think that's beautiful. I mean, that's actually a nice way to kind of pull it around. And that is you know, nichnas bo ruach shtut"  That's interesting. You've connected it to Shetuyot to silliness. I always thought nichnas bo ruach shtut is not silliness but stupidity. Right, you're being stupid. to sin is to be stupid. It's  nuanced. But there's a little bit of a difference between being silly and being stupid. You don't say to your kids, you're stupid. You say you're being silly. But you know, but nichnas bo ruach shtut" is more critical than that. It says you're being stupid,

 

Geoffrey Stern  30:45

Or ignorant. But I hear what you're saying.

 

Adam Mintz  30:48

I'm saying all these words are interesting. But I think they're interesting, because each one of them should right Geoffrey's a little different.

 

Geoffrey Stern  30:54

Yep, they are nuanced. So I promised that we would tie this into Purim. And here's where it ties into poram. Esther is going to save the Jews. But in order to save the Jews, she has to sin. She has to, for the first time of her own volition, lie with the king. And that means two things. The rabbi's learn as she goes to Mordechai and says I want you to assemble all the Jews who live in to Shushan and fast on my behalf do not eat or drink. She says Then I shall go to the king through it is contrary to the law. And if I perish, I perish. Ka'asher Avadati Avadati, the most chilling words to my mind in the whole Purim story, and the rabbi's interpret that to mean since I am going now by my own volition, I'm not being forced to lie with this king. And since I am married to Mordechai, I will now not be able to return to Mordechai. So they say Why does it say Avadati twice the first time is because I'm going to sin against God. And the second is because the stain of what I'm going to do is going to impact my life. We don't need to even comment on it. The profundity the power of that statement drives home I think some of the issues that we've been, I wouldn't say playing with but dealing with this evening.

 

Adam Mintz  32:26

That's really nice. That's a beautiful way to end it. I wish everybody a Shabbat Shalom and a Happy Purim. I will look forward to seeing you next week which will be right after Purim which will be super nice,

 

Geoffrey Stern  32:37

Shabbat Shalom Hag Samayach, let all our bad turn to good wishing you all well.

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Moses’ Code of Law – What’s New

parshat mishpatim (exodus 21- 24)

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

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Transcript:

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

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

 

Adam Mintz  05:03

I can't wait, take it away.

 

Geoffrey Stern  05:07

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

 

Adam Mintz  06:31

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  06:55

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

 

Adam Mintz  08:07

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  09:10

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

 

Adam Mintz  09:16

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  09:39

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

 

Adam Mintz  10:43

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  11:07

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

 

Adam Mintz  11:35

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  12:12

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

 

Adam Mintz  15:29

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  16:10

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

 

Adam Mintz  18:25

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  19:22

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

 

Adam Mintz  19:38

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:09

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

 

Adam Mintz  23:55

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  25:21

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

 

Adam Mintz  29:14

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  31:52

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

 

Adam Mintz  33:29

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  33:39

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

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Sefaria Source Sheet:

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

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

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

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The Miraculous Birth and Resurrection of Isaac

parshat Vayera – genesis 18-22

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

The Miraculous Birth and Resurrection of Isaac

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

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

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:00

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

Adam Mintz  04:59

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

Geoffrey Stern  07:45

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

Adam Mintz  12:10

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

Geoffrey Stern  12:41

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

Adam Mintz  13:05

Oh OK, good,  I like that.

Geoffrey Stern  13:09

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

Adam Mintz  14:55

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

Geoffrey Stern  18:13

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

Adam Mintz  23:38

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

Michael Stern  24:07

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

Geoffrey Stern  25:49

Thank you, Michael.

Adam Mintz  25:50

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

Geoffrey Stern  26:01

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

Michael Stern  30:06

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

Adam Mintz  30:30

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

Geoffrey Stern  30:37

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

Adam Mintz  32:43

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

Geoffrey Stern  33:04

Shabbat Shalom.

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Friday October 22nd at 4:00pm Eastern

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

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

Abraham’s Epic Journey and our Own

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

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

Abraham’s Epic Journey and our Own

parshat lech lecha (genesis 12)

Abraham’s Epic Journey and our Own

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

Join Geoffrey Stern, Rabbi Adam Mintz, Rabbi Avraham Bronstein and friends as they explore various ways of viewing Abraham’s epic journey and how it reflects our own. Recorded on Clubhouse on Friday October 15th, 2021

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:00

So everybody, welcome to Madlik. This is our weekly clubhouse where we do what we call disruptive Torah, which means that we look at the Torah through slightly new lenses from a new angle, and hopefully inspire all of us to do the same and to think freshly about our ancient texts. And we do record and we post as a podcast on Sunday. And so if you enjoy what you hear, go ahead and listen to the podcast, give us a few stars, say something nice and share it with your friends. And with that we are literally beginning a journey because today’s Parsha is Lech Lecha, which is the beginning of the epic journey of Abraham. And the words Lech Lecha are open, as is his journey to multiple interpretations. And I’m sure we’re going to get into them all. But basically, in Genesis 12: 1, it says, “And the Lord said to Abraham, go forth from your native land “Lech Lecha Meartzecha” , from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you, I will make of you a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those that curse you. And all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.” And certainly we know that the Abrahamic families are far and wide. Both Islam and Christianity all account their faith and their journey to Abraham. So this is a man who began a wild adventure. So let’s start by asking you in the audience and our panel? What is striking to you about the onset of this epic journey and Lech Lecha?

Adam Mintz  02:00

I’ll start by saying that what strikes me about Lech Lecha more than anything else, is the fact that the background is not there. We don’t know anything about what led to God saying to Abraham leave your father’s house, and, you know, go to this land. And I wonder why that is? If the Torah tells you something, there’s a reason for it. And if the Torah doesn’t tell you something, there’s a reason for it. And I wonder what the reason that the Torah doesn’t tell you is here.

Geoffrey Stern  02:36

I think that’s a great question, Michael?

Michael Posnik  02:41

Yes, it’s a wonderful question. Having worked in the theater for so long, when anything happens on stage, you try to find out from the actors, where they came from, so that when they walk in, they walk in with a bit of history. So I got an opportunity, as I said, to study the Zohar with my friend Misha Shulman, a rabbi, and I’ll share with you some of what we found. It begins with a principle. It says nothing is aroused above, before it is first aroused below, so that what is aroused above rests on it. So the indication is, the work below has to be done first. Before anything can happen from above, there has to be an awakening. So it says here, the secret behind the words Lech Lecha is that Hakadosh Baruch Hu (the holy one blessed be he)  inspired Abraham with the spirit of wisdom. Abraham knew how to judge the spirits and the winds of the civilized world. He observed them, weighed them in the scales, and knew how to connect them to the powers and trusted to govern the inhabited places of earth. And he measured and observed very carefully. And he realized that the whole middle point of the inhabited world is the point from which the whole world moves out to all its corners. Then he discovered, continuing to observe in weigh, in an effort to determine the nature of that central point of the creation, but he was unable to understand it. So he could not cleave to it. It says, he saw the strength of that place, HaMakom, and realized that he could not understand it. Abraham knew and checked all the governors and rulers of the world that had dominion over the entire civilized world. And he was examining all those who governed and ruled over directions of the inhabited world. And he learned how to exercise their power over one another. But he still when he reached the place, the point of Malchut (Rulership), he saw the force of those depths that he couldn’t understand it. As soon as Hakadosh Baruch Hu noticed his awakening and his passion. He immediately revealed himself to Abraham said, Lech Lecha, go learn perfect yourself. So those other words of the Zohar in translation. So you want to know what he was doing before? He was learning everything there was to know about the entire creation and the Center, the core of it was this mystery that could only be filled by Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

Geoffrey Stern  05:46

So so I’m not sure whether what you’re saying is an answer. Or it begs the question, because it seems to me that as you look through the commentaries, you’ve given a beautiful commentary from a mystical point of view. So a mystic feels free to project on to Abraham, what he imagined him going through the this story that most of us learn in cheder, in Hebrew school, is the famous story of Abraham’s father who had a store where they sold idols. And he let Abraham be an idle sitter, if you will, to take care of the store while he went away. And one after the other people came in, either to buy an idol or to give an homage, some food to the idol. And similar to Michael, when you were talking about Abraham, somehow, it doesn’t really in this regard, say where he came to these revelations. But he engages in almost a Socratic dialogue, saying, Well, why are you feeding this idol? If it was made just yesterday? Why are you worshiping Him? If he has eyes and he can’t see if he has he is if he can’t hear. And again, I’m not sure that this midrash, which most kids walk away thinking as part of the text, but it’s not, begs the question or answers it or maybe what it says. And we can discuss some other perspectives on what led Abraham to this moment. Maybe what it says is that Abraham’s journey is our journey, and that all of us, therefore have license or maybe an obligation to project on to Abraham, that journey of discovery of the hidden mystery, if you will, as you put it, of the universe.

Adam Mintz  08:07

I like that. I like the idea that Abraham’s journey is our journey, the Sefat Emet, one of the Hasidic masters, says that God says Lech Lecha to everybody, it’s just Abraham was the first person who actually heard

Geoffrey Stern  08:28

If you join Madlik a few minutes before four, we always ask Rabbi Adam, what he’s going to speak about in synagogue on the coming Shabbat. And he intimated that it’s not altogether clear that what we just read, is actually the full story, even from the text. I’m not sure who divided up the Torah into portions, who divided it up into chapters, maybe one day we’ll spend a session going over that. But if you look a few lines before the beginning of our Torah reading of Lech Lecha, it actually has either a variant or a supplemental account of what actually happened in Genesis 11. It says, “Terach, took his son Abraham, his grandson, Lot, the son of hawan, and his daughter in law, Sarai, the wife of his son Abraham, and they set out together from Or of the Chaldeans for the land of Canaan. But when they had come as far as Haran, they settled there.” So just as in Genesis 1 and 2, we have two stories of the creation of Adam and Eve. Here too. It seems almost as if we have two stories of leaving Haran. In chapter 11 of Genesis. It doesn’t give credit to Abraham. It doesn’t say that Abraham left his father this To Rebel Without a Cause this rouser of breaking of the the loaded idols of his parents here, it says that his father took him and his grandson and his wife, and maybe they didn’t make the whole trip. But certainly from this text, it looks as though his father was involved. And I’m wondering, not only do we have a license to look at this story through our own eyes, but we have a license to say, Abraham could also envision it with his own eyes. How many times do we as children envision certain things that we believe we’ve come up with on our own, and in the second telling, maybe we realize, we got that from dad, or we discovered that for mom, and I’m wondering if a little bit of that is going on here as well, what thinks you?

Michael Posnik  10:55

Clearly, we all receive a good part of our personality from parents, there’s no doubt that it may well be that the man who made idols, made idols but didn’t believe them. It’s possible that that was his business, and he knew it was a good business. I don’t know, the question that comes to my mind is, when they left, where did they think they were going? And how many times in our lives do we have a destination in mind, but something wonderful or not so wonderful happens, and our destination has to change? In Abraham’s case, it seems to me they were headed towards Or of the Chaldeans or whatever that was, where they were headed. And then God says, I’ll show you where to go. So it’s completely open. It completely impromvisatory, if you will, spontaneous, he asked to just go and follow that son. whatever direction they were going, that’s, that’s been my experience in life, actually, I lived my life where I was intending something or nothing, and suddenly, I hear a voice to go in that direction. ….I met wonderful people.

Adam Mintz  12:17

I just want to point out Geoffrey, you know, this story of the family of Abraham, traveling from Or Chasdim  to Haran all of that, you know, this is really the first time in the Torah. And this is already the third portion where people travel. Each of the two, previous Parshot has talked about genealogies talked about different people. And it almost never says they started here, they went there. So what you see at the very least is the Terach is exploring. And I think you get credit for exploring, even if you have bad intentions, the idea that you want to explore, is it itself something that we encourage. And I think that’s an important point.

Geoffrey Stern  13:23

Well, I mean, a little bit later in the portion, we get into some fights and interactions between Abraham and other people. And obviously, it’s only when you interact with other people, that people get to name you and you get to name yourself.

Michael Posnik  13:39

Just jump in for a second. I’m thinking about Cain who is Nad veNad, who is constantly in motion from place to place with no direction.

Adam Mintz  13:51

Correct and that was God. That was the punishment. he had to travel. Here is the first time we have traveled where he chooses to track.

Geoffrey Stern  14:01

So but let me let me go a little bit later on, you know, Abraham strikes to be defined and to define himself and he gets involved in some battles with other kings, and his brother gets kidnapped. And in Genesis 14, it says “And a fugitive brought the news to Abraham, the Hebrew who was drilling at the terebinths of Mamre”, and this is the first time to my knowledge that Abraham is actually called a Hebrew. “L’Avram HaIvri”  and Rashi quite rightly says, the one who came from the other side of the river “Mever HaNahar”. And so in one verse, not only is Abraham defined as this traveler, as this person who’s defined by not where he is but where he is coming from, but it is kind of interesting that a fugitive is the one who is giving him a message. We almost are in a world that is populated in a different way. And it’s not simply one heroic person, but we’re surrounded by a world in flux. And it gives I think, more emphasis to this whole concept of Lech Lecha, in terms of a journey, I do believe that we’re all kind of on the same page here. In terms of this process. There is this trite saying where “life is a journey and not a destination”. And whether it is literally Abraham, beginning on this journey, or whether it is the fact that maybe he didn’t quite start it all by himself, but his father started it, but didn’t finish it. And that kind of echoes this concept of we never finish our journey. And our journey is only the beginning of a bigger journey. It’s just so emblematic of what Abraham created, and what the story values, I think. So what what makes us of “God” here? Because I think so many of the interpretations revolve around the birth of monotheism. Michael, you were talking from a kabbalistic point of view, that it was clear that what instigated this departure was some eureka moment or some lifelong struggle for identifying the mysteries of the universe. But if you look at the text itself, you know, I don’t think there would have been our person in that ancient world who would have done anything unless he was inspired by the Spirit. The fact that God said to him make this journey, you know, God spoke in the Epic of Gilgamesh to…  the gods was speaking all the time. There’s nothing inherent in this tale that leads one to believe that Abraham created some revolution in theology. And I’m just wondering if that is something that resonates at all with you? Or is it clear that this man began his trip because of some theological inspiration?

Adam Mintz  17:37

I don’t think anything is clear. And I don’t even know what a theological revelation means. What you just said was right. We talk about Abraham as being the first Jew. The truth of the matter is that scholars all say that’s not technically correct. Jews are related to Judah. It only came later. Abraham is the first monotheist

Geoffrey Stern  18:06

Well, he’s the first Hebrew he’s the first Iviri.

Adam Mintz  18:09

right Ivri. He’s separate from everybody else. He recognizes God. There’s a very famous Rashi. Rashi says that when they were traveling, it says that Abraham, “converted” is the word Abraham megayeret et ha anashim veSara mgayeret et aha nashim” and Sara was converting the women, “converting” does it mean converting like we have today. It means the day actually we’re teaching monotheism. They believed that monotheism was something that needed to be taught, that needed to be spread to all different people. And I think that’s really interesting.

Geoffrey Stern  18:56

You know, I could make the argument that Abraham was the first atheist. And what I mean to say is, if you look at Abraham from the perspective of Terach, or if you follow the story of Nimrod, who puts him into a fiery furnace? Here is a guy who’s saying that everything the world believe was a God does not exist. He says, No, the sun has no power, the stars have no power, this Totem, this animal, it has no power. And and what he was claiming, was, in fact, of a power and of course, this is all a projection of the Midrash, or of Maimonides or of the Zohar was this hidden this unseen, untouchable thing from the perspective of the landed powers that be he was denying God, he was denying all that they believed in and from that perspective it leads all the way to Spinoza, who was excommunicated by saying God is no way but God is everywhere. Maybe he was the first secularist.

Avraham Bronstein  20:13

You remind me of Peter Brown. So Peter Brown, the great historian of the Roman Empire, and one of his books about religion in the ancient Roman Empire, or the classical world, talks about how the Judeans, the original Jews were seen as atheists by the more polytheist, pre Christian Roman Empire at the time, because they couldn’t comprehend how Jews maintain the belief not in their God, but in a god. It didn’t make any sense to them.

Geoffrey Stern  20:44

Fantastic. Yochanan welcome to the bima

Yochanan  20:48

Thanks, thanks. Thanks so much for having me. By the way, Rabbi Maza, the Chief Rabbi of Moscow, 400 years ago, he says what you just said. So he says that Abraham was a kultur b’kalim . He was like, like you said, he was the first secularist or atheists to to deny all the deities, all the old the religions of the environment.

Geoffrey Stern  21:14

I think that’s fantastic. We forget sometimes, because Judaism is 3000 years old, that there was a time where it was the rebel in the room, and it was offering ideas that seemed to break all of the accepted beliefs. So we’re moving along, I want to talk a little bit about Lech Lecha the words itself. And I think if you had to translate it, simply, you would say lech means to go. And lecha means to yourself. And in Rashi, his interpretation is for your benefit. L’hanatcha, l’tovatcha for your good. But as any good researcher will do. One, will look to see where else these two words come together. And I know of one other place where they come together, I don’t have the confidence to say it’s the only other place where they come together. But it is certainly a very prominent place. And it is in Genesis 22. And similar to our text God comes forward and says Abraham, and he says who I am. And he says take your son, your favorite one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. He says ulech lecha el eretz hamoriah. And so iconically. In Perkai Avot it says that Abraham had been given 10 tests in his life. And the commentary say the first and the last test both began with lech l’cha. And so the two are certainly connected. But it makes one wonder if Rashi’s interpretation is correct. Because certainly it’s a hard sell to say that as you’re asked to take your son, you only son that this is for your benefit. Another parallel and then I’ll open it up to discussion is that notice the cadence in both of these renderings. In both God steps it up. God says in our parsha, he says to go from your land, from your father, from your home. And on the Akida, the The Binding of Isaac, he does the same thing. And of course, the commentaries say, well, it’s a test. So it’s to give him more benefit, to give him more credit for the different steps that he’s taken. But what makes all of you about this connection between the Lech l’echa of leaving a land a temporal place, and this lech lecha of this amazing, challenging, tragic test towards the end of his life?

Adam Mintz  24:31

Well, let me ask you, you know, Geoffrey, the question is, which was more challenging, right? Was it harder for him to leave everything that he had grown up with? Or was it harder, not knowing what God’s stood for? Or maybe at the end of his life, he learned to trust God already. And even though God said sacrifice your son, maybe he had enough trust in God to believe that, I don’t know how it’s gonna work out okay, but somehow is gonna work out Okay.

Geoffrey Stern  25:05

One of the commentators says that it relates to this testing that in lech l;echa we come literally to our essence to find out to discover who we are. And one can make the argument that one only knows who one is when one is tempered with the test and the experience of life, another commentary and I kind of love this and this, maybe he resonates a little bit with what Michael was saying about the esoteric texts of the Kabbalah. Emek Davar says that it is Lecha (only to you) a secret. So Lech Lecha, this is something that was hidden only to the recipient. This is a private journey. And so he says, when it comes to the binding of isaac, he says to Abraham, keep it quiet, because if anyone else knows this crazy mission that you’re on, they are going to resist. So Lech Lecha it’s a hidden message. But I do believe that the, the fact that this iconic term was used in both instances is certainly fascinating. Uri welcome to the bema

Uri  26:30

Thank you so much.

26:30

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz as they explore various ways of viewing Abraham’s epic journey and how it reflects our own.

Recorded on Clubhouse on Friday October 15th, 2021

https://www.clubhouse.com/event/MzrkWw0a

Link to Sefaria source sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/354270

Listen below to last week’s Clubhouse meeting: Noah’s Rainbow

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noah’s rainbow

parshat noach (genesis 1)

We follow a less traveled path down Noah’s family tree.

Join Geoffrey Stern, Rabbi Adam Mintz and Pastor Dumisani Washington of IBSI – Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel and Christians United For Israel for a live recording of a discussion on Clubhouse Friday October 8th, 2021 with the Pastor regarding his book Zionism and the Black Church: Why Standing with Israel Will Be a Defining Issue for Christians of Color in the 21st Century. We follow a less traveled path down Noah’s family tree. We discover the Biblical Mission of Africa and the bond between the Children of Shem and the Children of Ham.

Noah’s Rainbow

Parshat Noach – Join Geoffrey Stern, Rabbi Adam Mintz and Pastor Dumisani Washington of IBSI – Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel and Christians United For Israel for a live recording of a discussion on Clubhouse Friday October 8th with the Pastor regarding his book Zionism and the Black Church: Why Standing with Israel Will Be a Defining Issue for Christians of Color in the 21st Century.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/352058 

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:00

[To Reverend Dumisani Washington] Thank you so much for being with us. On our clubhouse when you come up to the platform, we say first of all that you’re coming up to the bimah [the podium or platform in a synagogue from which the Torah and Prophets are read from]. And then second of all, when we make you a presenter, we give you smicha… So that means that you are ordinated. So instead of Reverend, we’ll call you Reb. Is that okay?

Dumisani Washington  00:20

That sounds good to me. Sounds good, no problem.

Geoffrey Stern  00:23

So anyway, welcome to Madlik. Madlik is every week at four o’clock, and we do record it and post it as a podcast on Sunday. And if you listen to it, and you’d like what you hear, feel free to share it and give us a few stars. And what we do is disruptive Torah. And what we mean by disruptive Torah is we look at the ancient text of the Torah, with maybe a new lens, or to see a new angle. And today, I’m delighted to say that we’re not only looking at it through a new lens, but we’re looking at it through another lens, a lens of a pastor, of a man of God, who we will learn about his mission. I heard about it on clubhouse one evening, I was scrolling, and I stumbled upon you Reverend, and you’re on a mission and you see Judaism and you see Zionism from a whole new perspective. So I want to thank you for coming on. And I want to say that, as I told you, in my email that I sent you that you know, every week about Saturday on Shabbat, on Sunday, I start thinking about what I’m going to pick as a subject matter for the coming Madlik session. And I purchased your book maybe two months ago, and it was sitting by the side of my bed, and for some reason, and of course, I’m sure there are no coincidences in this world. I picked it up this Shabbat. And it starts with our portion of Noah, it starts by talking about the line less traveled by us Jews of Shem’s son Ham. And I should say that nothing is written for no reason in the Bible. And when it gives you a genealogy, it’s because of what comes in the future. And many of us Jews will look at the genealogy in Genesis 10. And focus on Shem… with Semites. And that’s where the name comes from. And we go down that path, and your book starts. And of course, I should say that your book is called “Zionism and the Black Church, Why Standing with Israel will be a Defining issue for Christians of color in the 21st Century”. And it begins by traveling down this path less taken, of Ham. Welcome to Madlik.  But if you could begin by touching upon our portion of the week, no off and and and discussing what you see in it, and maybe your mission.

Dumisani Washington  03:06

Absolutely. And thank you, again, Rabbi for having me on. Yes, there are six chapters in “Zionism in the Black Church”. And the first chapter is entitled The African Biblical Tie to Israel. And so we as I say, in the book started the beginning, right, we start at the beginning of the Scriptures, and so as you know, between the two portions of “Bereshi”  I believe whether the towards the end is when Noah was first introduced, but of course in “Noach” there’s the explanation of the nations where all the nations of the earth come from, from Noah’s three sons Shem, Ham, and Jafet. And so we recognize that in the Scriptures, it is said that Ham has four sons. And there’s a couple of unique things as you know, you read the book, that the scriptures that in the law of Moses deals, Psalms and some of the prophets, there’s a term that’s given several times in the scripture about Ham’s descendants harms the sentence differently, then either Jafet or Shem.  The land of Ham is actually something that’s in the scriptures. And I don’t know what that Hebrew word is … “Aretz Ham” … I never looked at that part of it, Rabbi but it talks about that, which is really interesting because there’s not, to my knowledge, and I’ve kind of looked at for a little while, a similar rendering like the Land of Japhet or Land of Shem. Right? We’re obviously the genealogy is there, right? But there’s not the same thing that deals with the land and the peoples …. interesting and we’ve come to know that of the four sides of Hem, which are in order Kush, which you know, is where obviously the Hebrew for later on Ethiopia I believe is a Greek word, but from that region Mitzrayim, which is Egypt. Fut or Put which is Libya, and then Canaan, which is Canaan, right? So those four sons who come from him. But interestingly in the scriptures when it says land of Ham, it almost exclusively refers to Egypt and Ethiopia, what we would call today, Africa, right? This region. And again, you’re talking about an antiquity these regions were much broader in size. And they are today if you look at the map today, you see Egypt as a small state and go down to the south, west, south east, and you’ll see Ethiopia then you see Yemen, you see Kenya, well, obviously all those states weren’t there that happened much later in modernity is particularly after the colonial period where those nations were carved up by a few states in Europe, and they were given certain names everything right, but these were regions in the Bible. And so Kush, the land of Kush, and the land of Mitzrayim, they’re actually dealt with many, many times. Right? After the words obviously “Israel” and “Jerusalem”. You have the word Ethiopia, I believe one of the Ethiopian scholar says some 54 times or something like that the word Ethiopia actually comes up in the Bible, obviously not as many times as Israel or Jerusalem but more than virtually any other nation other than Egypt. Right? So Egypt obviously that we know too. Africa plays a huge role in Israel’s story right? The 430 years in slavery is in Africa, right? The Torah was received at Sinai: Africa. All these things happen in Africa. At some point God tells Jeremiah during the time of the impending doom, the exile that will happen at the hand of of Nebuchadnezzar and God says to to the Israelites to the Judeans, and “don’t run down into Egypt, Egypt won’t be able to save you.” Why does he say that? Well, because historically the Israelites would go to Egypt when it until it got safer, right? For those Christians who may be on the call, you’ll know that in the New Testament, Jesus, his parents take him down into Egypt because Herod’s gonna kill him. Right? So there’s this ongoing relationship between Ham and Shem, that’s very intertwined. Moses, his wife, or his second wife, depending on how you interpret it….  Some of the sages. She’s Ethiopian, right? She’s kushite. So you have this interchangeable thing all the time, throughout the scriptures, but actually starts with the genealogy. And I’ll say just one last thing, rabbis ….. we’re opening up. This is also unfortunately, as I mentioned, the book as you know, the misnomer of the quote unquote, “Curse of Ham”, as we know in the text, Ham is never cursed for what happens with Noah it is Canaan that is cursed. And he actually says, a curse that Canaan become a servant of servants shall he be, even though it was Ham who however you interpreted…. I’ve heard many different interpretations of “uncovered the nakedness he saw his father, naked,” but somehow, for whatever reason, Noah cursed Canaan, not Ham.  Who is Canaan…  is one of him so’s, his fourth son, as we know those who are listening, you may know that it is The Curse of Ham, quote, unquote, that has been used sadly, unfortunately, among many other things as a justification of the slavery of Africans. Right? That somehow, Africans are quote, unquote, “Cursed of Ham”, therefore, the transatlantic slave trade, the trans Saharan slave trade, those things are somehow…  God prescribed these things in the Bible, the curse was making him black. That’s why he’s like all those things that are nowhere in the text whatsoever, right? skin color is not in the text. slavery as a descendant of Ham. None of those things are in the text. What’s in the text? Is that Canaan is cursed for that? And so we start there, Rabbi, and from there trying to walk out this whole Israel Africa thing.

Adam Mintz  08:47

First of all WOW… thank you so much. I just want to clarify in terms of color, I think that’s a very interesting thing. It’s very possible that in the biblical period, everybody was dark.

Dumisani Washington  09:00

Yes, sir. I mentioned that in the book as well. But yes, sir. Yes, yeah. All right. Sorry,

Adam Mintz  09:04

I didn’t see that in your book. But that’s important, you know, because a lot of people are caught up in this color thing. Did you know that there’s a distinction, we don’t know it for sure but it makes sense that everybody was dark in those periods. So that the difference in color was not significant. So when, when Moses marries goes to Ethiopia, maybe is king of Ethiopia, and marries an Ethiopian. And the idea is that he marries a foreigner. The fact that she’s darker may or may not have been true.

Dumisani Washington  09:39

Yes, absolutely. No, thank you Rabbi. And I do touch on that, as well. We say in the terms in this modern term, even in my book, I use the term Christians of color and I don’t usually use those terms just in when I’m speaking. I did it that way in the title so that it would be presented in a way that is going to deal with some provocative things but hopefully the people that they read it they’ll see what I mean by that and if you’re talking about the Israelite people, the Hebrew people they are what I call an afro Asiatic people. Israel is still at that at the point of where those two continents meet right Southwest Asia northeast Africa is landlocked with Egypt I tell people God opened up the Red Sea because he wanted to right … He’s big and bad and he can do what he wants to do but you can literally; I wouldn’t recommend it obviously, but you could literally walk from Egypt to Israel and you always have been able to for 1000s of years that has always been the case and so you have a people that in terms of skin tone or whatever… Yes, absolutely, they would be what we would call today quote unquote people of color right and so unfortunately particularly in our country we all know race and colorism is such a huge topic and it’s often so divisive and it’s used in so many different ways and we know much of that goes back to whether slavery, Jim Crow, people being assigned work obviously based on how dark or light they are all of those things but the problem as you all know is that those things aren’t in the Bible right? There’s no God likes this person doesn’t like this person, this person’s dark this person’s like, that type of thing. But again, that’s what men do, we are fallen creatures, we read what we want to read into the text, and then we use it unfortunately, in a way that’s not helpful. Let me just say and pause here, I can tell you that as a Christian pastor, over the years of my just delving into what we often call the Jewish roots of our faith, by studying Torah with rabbis and with other Jewish scholars, my faith has been more important to me than ever in that it helps me understand even more so right, what is the Hebrew in this word here? What do the sages say about that, that’s been a fascinating journey for me, over the last 30 some odd years since I’ve been doing this particular work.

Geoffrey Stern  11:58

So I just want to jump in, you said so many things. But there is in this verse that we are reading today, the word “ashkenaz”, he was one of the children of of Shem, and you quote, an Ethiopian Rabbi named Ephraim Isaac, and this is a sample of some of the humor in your book or the sense of discovery. And somebody said to him, You don’t look Jewish. And he said:, “Ethiopia is mentioned the Bible over 50 times, but Poland not once.” And I feel like that was, that was a great line. And what it really talks to is our preconceptions, and your book, and your vision, and your mission breaks preconceptions of what it is to be a Jew, what the mission of a Jew is, but most importantly, what the relationship is between the Jewish people and the African people. And one of the things that you touched upon was the sense of Mitzraim and Kush , and in your book, you really talk about how many times they’re interchangeable, because really, it is the same area and those of us who think about Mitzrayim, or Egypt, we focus on the Exodus story, we focus on the pharaoh story. But as you mentioned, the prophets later on, we’re having to talk to the Jews about not going back, because ultimately, the experience in Egypt was always favorable, it was our neighbor, and it was our place of refuge. Abraham goes down there with Sarah twice, Jacob sends his kids down there during a time of famine. The relationship and the reference to a Ham and to Mitzrayim  and to Kush is a very positive one. And yes, it does say in our week’s parsha of all of the children, it says, “b’artzetam v’goyehem” , that they have a special language, and they have a family and they have a land. So the fact that we are neighbors is so important in the biblical context. So I said if we were going to walk down this wonderful path, and I would love for a second to talk about your mission about reuniting our two peoples and some of the challenges that you have. Clearly you don’t speak to groups like us very much, although I think that I’m going to have an opportunity later to say that I think you should, because there’s so much that we can learn. But what is your mission? How did you discover it? And what are your challenges?

Dumisani Washington  14:40

Well, I’ll do it concise, just because I don’t want to take up too much time to firstly touch as much as we can. I am the founder and CEO of an organization called The Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel. I started it in 2013 but for about nearly seven years, I was not as active I started it. I did a lot of touring and a lot of speaking throughout the United States, churches, sometimes synagogues as well. And with this mission, it was a mission that was really placed in my heart. Actually in 2012, my first trip to Israel, I went as a guest of Christians United for Israel, I would come later on to join the staff with CUFA. But I was a guest pastor, I knew some friends who were part of the organization. And the short version of that story was my first tip ever, I’m in Israel, I’m at the Western Wall of the kotel. And I have a very intense experience in which I feel although Africa and Israel were passions of mine already, but the fusing of those two things together and a real work in which we continue to strengthen the alliance between Israel and Africa. And then obviously, in the States in the black and Jewish community. And there and finished the first edition of the book now, what you have there Rabbi is the second edition. And we started this organization for that very purpose to do both of those things continue to strengthen the black Jewish relationship, and also the Israel Africa Alliance. And so the challenges have been probably more than any other thing disinformation, right? There’s a lot of false information that’s there, when it comes to those things that would seek to divide and separate when you’re talking about whether Africa Israel, now we’re talking about the modern state of Israel, obviously, the rebirth of Israel in 1948. Israel’s close ties with African nations throughout the continent, starting especially with Golda Meir, the foreign minister, all the way up into the 70s, where you have, as I mentioned in the book, Israel has more embassies throughout Africa than any other nation other than the United States, African economy, some of them are thriving, a great deal. You have a lot of synergy between the African nations and Israel. And after the Yom Kippur War in 1973, like never before Israel’s enemies target that relationship between Israel and its African neighbors for different reasons. One of those is voting in the United Nations, right? And that became very much of a challenge. So one of the greatest challenges is, is information. What we share in the book and when we do our organization, we teach what we call an organization “Authentic History” is really simply telling what happened, how did something [happen]. Whether we’re talking about biblically, whether we’re discussing the parsha or we’re talking about historically, right? We’re talking about what the relationship was, and is. Why those connections there? And I’ll just give one quick example if you’re talking about black Jewish synergy in the United States, not just Dr. King’s relationship with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in the civil rights community, not that it happened, right? But why, what was that synergy about? Right? So we’ve delve into that. We share from the documents from the Rabbinical Assembly; Dr. King’s most famous words regarding Israel that were recorded 10 days before he was killed, right, why? And as a pastor, what we call a prophetic moment. Why 10 days before he’s taken from us, is he telling the black community in the world to stand with Israel with all of our mind and protect its right to exist? Why is he saying these things? What’s so important about it. And even the generation before? Why was it a black and Jewish man who changed the trajectory of this nation, Booker T. Washington, and Julius Rosenwald; millions of now first and second generation, slave; free slaves, right? but who had no access to education, not in a broader sense, and why that synergy saw some 5400 Rosenwald schools built throughout the segregated south. We touch on those historical points, and we delve into why that black Jewish synergy has been so powerful for so many people for so long. So that is our mission to strengthen those ties, because we believe that there’s a great future ahead.

Geoffrey Stern  19:05

You did such amazing research. I mean, I can tell you I never knew that Herzl said about Africa, “that once I have witnessed the redemption of Israel, my people, I wish to assist in the redemption of the Africans.” And that is taking a small quote out of a full paragraph where the histories of the two people are so similar. I mean, it comes to us as a pleasant surprise, these synergies but it shouldn’t because both our peoples have really traversed and continue to reverse the same pathway. And you quote Marcus Garvey and even Malcolm X and William Dubois. Malcolm X says “Pan Africanism will do for the people of African descent all over the world, the same that Zionism has done for Jews. All over the world.” there was a sincere admiration for this miracle of a people returning to its land, we were talking before you came on about this whole kind of image of an ark. And it reminds you of Odesyuss… and it reminds you of all of these stories of man going on this heroic journey to find their their roots to come back, gain, experience and come back to their homeland, to their Aretz.. On the one hand, your job should be very simple. I guess, like any other fights, the closer you are, the bigger the friction can be. And there’s nothing bigger than the friction between brothers. But it’s such a challenge to address, as you say the misinformation.

Dumisani Washington  20:51

Absolutely. And this is, again, why that’s our primary goal. And then as part of what our mission is, we have launched here just recently, an initiative called The PEACE initiative. And PEACE is an acronym for Plan for Education, Advocacy, and Community Engagement, and the short version of that, again: We recruit young, black American and African young people from certain cities throughout the United States, a group of them, they go to a 16 week study course having some of the same conversations we’re having now, including the modern state of Israel, ancient Israel, the United Nations, all these things that intersect when it comes to the black Jewish relations, then they will travel to Israel for about 10 days, and returned to the cities from where they’ve been recruited, and be the hub of black Jewish synergy in their communities. We believe with our organization that one of the reasons for the synergy that we’ve seen in the past, whether it was at the turn of the century with Booker T Washington, and Julius Rosenwald, or the mid part of the century with Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel, right now we are in different challenges, there are challenges that face particularly the more vulnerable black communities. And we see that that synergy could really address so many issues, whether it’s education, whether it’s jobs, those types of things, they can be really be addressed in a very holistic way. And really harnessing that synergy between the black and the Jewish community. And this is what we are doing. An Israel advocacy that is also rooted in these communities. And it’s amazing. We see already rabbis and black pastors are working together all over the country. So that continues to happen. But we want to highlight those things even more and go even further in meeting some of the challenges what we call MC ambassadors will be leading that in different cities across the country.

Geoffrey Stern  22:02

That’s amazing. I want to come back to this sense of self-discovery and pride. And we always talk about it from our own perspective. So if you’re African American, you want to make sure that your children believe that black is beautiful, that they come from an amazing heritage to be proud of who they are. And if you’re Jewish, you want the same thing. But it seems to me, and you kind of cage the question in this way, “Why standing with Israel will be a defining issue for Christians of color”, when we as Jews can see ourselves in the black community as we did during the civil rights movement that redeems us. And that empowers us. And I think what you’re saying, and I don’t want to put words into your mouth, but the same thing works in reverse. That in a sense, when the African community can recognize in Israel, its own story. It also can find a part of itself. Is there any truth there?

Dumisani Washington  23:50

I believe so Rabbi. I believe that that’s exactly as a matter of fact, what we saw was the synergy. So let me use the example and go back to the early 1900s with Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald. The way that story happens, as you may know is that Booker T Washington writes his seminal book “Up From Slavery”. Julius Rosenwald, who lives in Chicago at the time, is very active in his community. As a matter of fact, he was active, using his wealth; of those of you who don’t know of Sears Roebuck fame, he is the one who took his company to this whole different level, economically and everything. And so with his wealth as a businessman, he’s helping the Jews who are being persecuted in Russia. And one of his own testimony, I don’t say this part of the book, but I kind of alluded to it, that here he is driving to work from the suburbs to where his factory is where his store is, and he’s passing by throngs of black people who’ve left the South, right? looking for a better life, but they’re living in very, very bad conditions, a lot of poverty and everything. And he says to himself, basically, if I’m going to do all of this to help Russian Jews right, way over the other side of the world, and I have this human crisis right here, where I live, I want to be able to do that and his, his Rabbi was Emile Hirsch, one of the founding members of the NAACP. Right? So his Rabbi encourages him. And we see this with our Jewish brothers and sisters all the time, see yourself, do help, do use your wealth, use your ability, right? To help. And so he reads Booker T. Washington’s book he’s taken with him, they begin to correspond. And Booker T. Washington says, Here’s how you can help me I’m trying to build schools for my people who don’t have access. And Rabbi to your point. Here is this man, this Jewish man who is very well aware of his history, he knows his People’s History of persecution and struggle and triumph, right? Very much sees himself in that black story, and then he uses his ability. It’s amazing even what he does; there’s a Rosenwald film about Rosenwald schools, I believe his children were the ones who produced it. And they were saying that what he actually did was pretty ingenious, he put up a third of the money, the black community raised a third of the money, and then he challenged the broader white community to partner with them and bring the last third and that is how those Rosenwald Schools began.  Because what he wanted to do, he wanted to see people come together, he wanted to see them all work together. Even though Booker T. Washington passes away only three years into that, right, that venture continues on Julius Rosenwald goes and sits on the board of the Tuskegee college, Tuskegee University, right? There’s this long connection that’s there. So in that struggle, the black American community, and he connected with this black American leader, the one of the most prominent of the time, Booker T, Washington, and they, like I tell people, changed the world. Like, can we imagine what the United States would have been if you had those millions of now freed slaves, right? with no access, and particularly those who are living in the Jim Crow South, no access whatsoever to education, Would the Harlem Renaissance have become what it become, with the black Wall Street, whether it was in Tulsa, whether in Philadelphia, these things that explode because of the access to education to now these first and second generations of people coming out of slavery, right? So I believe that that’s the case and which is why I’ll say again, here today, some of those challenges are there, some of the challenges are different than they were, obviously 50, 60, 70, 80 years ago, but we believe in organization that those challenges can be met with that same amazing synergy between the black and the Jewish community.

Geoffrey Stern  27:26

A lot of people would argue that the rift or the change of the relationship between the African American community and the Jewish community was when the Jews or Israel stopped being looked at as the David in the Goliath story and we won the Six Day War. And how do you ensure that the facts are told, but also as you climb out of the pit, and as you achieve your goals, you shouldn’t be necessarily punished for being successful. Success is not a sin. It’s an inspiration. But it seems to me that’s one of the challenges that we have, especially in the Jewish community for our next generation of children, who really do see ourselves not as the minority and don’t see ourselves anymore mirrored in the African American community.

Dumisani Washington  28:25

But one of my favorite things about the Jewish tradition of the Seder, is that you all lean and recline in the Seder today, and you tell your children, when we had the first one, we sat with our sandals on, our staff, in our hand, our belts ….because we were slaves leaving slavery, but now we are no longer. And that whole ethos of telling children, right? There’s a strong parallel in the black American community, right? The whole point of going from struggle to a place where you can live in peace or at the very least, you recognize and realize the sacrifice of the people who came before you right? And I won’t step into the controversial for lots of different reasons, we’ll be able to unpack it, but let me just say this, for the black American experience when you’re talking I often teach this in our sermons and other things that arc …. and let me say again, no, people are monolith. Obviously we just kind of put that on the table, all the Jews arent’ alike all black Americans aren’t alike….. Having said that, there is an overarching story when you talk about black Americans, who, from slavery to Jim Crow, segregation, black codes, all of those types of things to the modern era. And that story cannot accurately be told without talking about God and His people. In other words, when you’re talking about the spirituals “Go Down Moses”. “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” and I talked about that in the book, these songs that are rooted in the scriptures, most of the time in, in the Tanakh, our Jewish brothers and sisters’ side of the Bible. I mean, sometimes in the New Testament, most of the time, these songs are being sung in hope. And that hope was realized, right? It’s not an Negro spiritual song technically, but I put it in that category, part of the greatest one ever. I mean, how it culminates would be “Lift Every Voice and Sing” us a song that today has all these political things connected to it for lots of different unfortunate reasons. But when James Weldon Johnson wrote that song, wrote it as a poem? Those stanzas and anybody listening to this, I want to tell Google that Google Lift Every Voice and Sing”; just read the words. And this was a very powerful, very, very much God and God’s love, and our hope and our faith and our trust, and our honoring the people who came before us; all of those things. And he talked about being free. Now, it’s written in 1899. Right? You still have questions. I mean, there are no laws against lynching there going on, it’s still crushing racism. However, he as a father in the black community is not only acknowledging what God has done, there’s amazing things that are happening. One of the economist’s that I quote, in my book, Thomas Sol said that the black community after slavery, and less than 50 years after slavery went from 0% literacy to almost 50% literacy, in that half a century, something economic historians say has never happened before. And now you’re later on, you’re talking about the black Wall Street, you’re talking about black oil barons and landowners and factory owners, right? You’re talking about this black middle class emerging. There’s been no civil rights bill, right? There’s been no Pell grants for school. These things don’t even exist yet. We’re talking about the 19 teens and the 1920s. You’re talking about black people who had previously been slaves for hundreds of years. Why am I saying all that we as a people know full well; if we know our history, know full well what it is to come from all of those dire situations into a place of blessing, even though there may be struggles just like our Jewish brothers and sisters. We are convinced an organization that as we know, as a black community, particularly younger people that we are talking with, and teaching, as we know and appreciate our history, not the history that’s regurgitated in terms of media and, and for political purposes. But truly our history, there is a great deal to be proud of about that. And to see, as I said in the sermon a couple of months ago, not only does it not a victim narrative, I descended from superheroes, my people went through slavery, Jim Crow, and still build on Wall Street still built the Tuskegee Institute. Still, we’re soldiers who fighting for their own freedom in the Civil War. I mean, you’re talking on and on and on things that they should have never been able to accomplish. When I consider what they accomplished with not very much help often. I recognize the greatness of the heritage that I come from, then that allows me to see an Israel rise like a phoenix from the ashes and not spurn that but recognize that our Jewish brothers and sisters have gone through millennia of this and Israel then to be celebrated, not denigrated.

Adam Mintz  33:12

Thank you. We want to thank you. Your passion, and your insight is really brought a kind of a new insight to our discussion here. We really want to thank you, you know, we at Madlik we start on time and we end on time, Shabbat is about to begin in just a little while. Hopefully we’ll be able to invite you back in the future as we continue this conversation. But I know I join Geoffrey and everybody on the call and everybody who’s gonna listen to the podcast. Thank you for joining us and for really your insight and your passion. You really leave us with so much to think about as we begin the Shabbat.

Dumisani Washington  33:51

Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Adam Mintz  33:53

Thank you Geoffrey, Shabbat Shalom, everybody,

Geoffrey Stern  33:55

Shabbat Shalom. And Reb Dumisani, you mentioned the songs. There’s a whole chapter in your book about Negro spirituals. And as the rabbi said, w are approaching the Shabbat. And as you observe the Sunday we observed Saturday, but you know that the secret of living without a land or being on a difficult mission is that Sabbath, the strength of the Sabbath, and the connection between Noah and the word Menucha which is “rest” is obvious. And there was a great poet named Yehuda halevi. And he wrote a poem about the Yona; the dove that Noah sent out of the ark to see if there was dry land. And he he said that on Shabbat. Yom Shabbaton Eyn L’shkoach, “the day of Shabbat you cannot forget”  Zechru l’reach Hanichoach”  He also uses Reach Nichoach which is a pleasing scent,Yonah Matzah Bominoach, the yonah, the dove found on it rest v’shom ynuchu yegiah koach  and there in the Shabbat , in that ark of rest on that ark of Sunday or Saturday is where we all gain strength. So I wish you continued success in all that you do. And that this Shabbat and this Sunday we all gather the strength to continue our mission. But I really do hope that we get another chance to study Torah together. And I really hope that all of the listeners go out and buy your book, Zionism in the Black Church because it is an absolute thrill. And I understand you’re coming out with a new book that’s going to talk more about the Jewish people and the various colors and flavors that we come in.

Dumisani Washington  35:55

Hopefully to put that out next year sometime. Absolutely.

Geoffrey Stern  35:59

Fantastic. Well thank you so much so Shabbat Shalom and we are we are in your debt.

Dumisani Washington  36:05

Thank you. Shabbat Shalom and looking forward to bye bye

Music: Lift Every Voice and Sing – Melinda Dulittle https://youtu.be/6Dtk9h1gZOI 

Join Geoffrey Stern, Rabbi Adam Mintz and Pastor Dumisani Washington from Christians United For Israel on Clubhouse Friday October 8th at 4:00pm (ET) for a discussion with the Pastor regarding his book Zionism and the Black Church: Why Standing with Israel Will Be a Defining Issue for Christians of Color in the 21st Century. We follow a less traveled path down Noah’s family tree. We discover the Biblical Mission of Africa and the bond between the Children of Shem and the Children of Ham.

Please make every effort to attend to show Dumisani your appreciation for his mission.

Friday October 8th at 4:00pm Eastern Time

https://www.clubhouse.com/event/m3GGZBZv

Link to Sefaria source sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/352058

Listen below to last week’s Clubhouse meeting: Exile and Return…. from the Beginning

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exile and return… from the Beginning

parshat bereshit (genesis 1-4)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse Friday October 1st at 4:00pm (ET) as we discover the quintessential Jewish theme of Exile and Return …. at the very beginning of creation. We explore this theme, normally associated with Exodus and the national narrative of the Jewish People as primal to the Bible’s presentation of the human condition and our heroic struggle.

Friday October 1st at 4:00pm Eastern Time

https://www.clubhouse.com/event/M4o7Balx

Link to Sefaria source sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/348859

Listen below to last week’s Clubhouse meeting: turn! turn! turn! i hope it’s not too late

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turn, turn, turn

kohelet (ecclesiastes)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse Friday September 24th at 4:00pm (ET) as we use the book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) to explore the fundamental difference between Torah (given at Sinai to the Israelites) and Wisdom (which we inherited from our neighbors in the Ancient Near East). We wonder what each tradition has to teach us and why traditionally we read/need Wisdom after the High Holidays and during Succoth.

Friday September 24th at 4:00pm Eastern Time

https://www.clubhouse.com/join/Madlik/Xq7dfNkP/PADByo17

Link to Sefaria source sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/348859

Listen below to last week’s Clubhouse meeting: Blame it on DAD

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Blame it on DAD

parshat ha’azinu (deuteronomy 32)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse Friday September 17th at 4:00pm (ET). With the Yom Kippur liturgy fresh in our minds we explore a disturbing, persistent and infantile argument for forgiveness… that God forgive us for His sake. Using equal measure of Chutzpa and shaming, we argue that God, as our Father and as our Creator is ultimately responsible for our sins, the sins of his children/creations. We ask: How does God Respond? How should we respond?

Friday September 17th at 4:00pm Eastern Time

https://www.clubhouse.com/join/Madlik/yiMkpaob/Pr4EX7GVhttps://www.clubhouse.com/join/Madlik/yiMkpaob/Pr4EX7GVhttps://www.clubhouse.com/join/Madlik/yiMkpaob/Pr4EX7GV

Link to Sefaria source sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/347781

Listen below to last week’s Clubhouse meeting: The Aleph Bet Revolution

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