Tag Archives: zionism

Make Challah

parshat shelach, Numbers 15

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on June 23rd 2022 on Clubhouse as we ignore the headline story of the nearsighted spies and leave the Sabbath Gatherer of sticks to his fate. We even pass up a chance to enjoy the blue indigo of the tzitzit. Instead we focus on the lowly loaf of challah and explore how it defined and saved the Jews.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/415522

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 at 8pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform.  Today we discuss parshat Shelach and we ignore the headline story of the spies who lacked vision. We overcome the urge to defend the מְקֹשֵׁ֣שׁ עֵצִ֑ים the gatherer of sticks on Shabbat.  We even pass up a chance to enjoy the blue indigo of the tzitzit. Instead, we focus on the lowly loaf of challah and explore how it saved the Jews. So join us as we Make Challah!

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Well, welcome. As I said at the introduction, I was looking through the parsha. And it brought back a lot of memories. But we’ve already discussed the spies last year, and we can wait to discuss the guy who gathered sticks on Shabbat and was stoned. I said to myself, let’s discuss Challah and sure enough, hidden in the parsha is the story, the origin of the concept and the ritual of Challah. But again, nothing is in a vacuum. And it does follow the story of the spies. And it follows I would say the worst punishment that the Jewish people ever got. It was a sin greater than the Egel, The Golden Calf and a whole generation was to die in exile, to die in the desert. And then after that story, it says in Numbers 15: 2 peak to the Israelite people and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you to settle in, כִּ֣י תָבֹ֗אוּ אֶל־אֶ֙רֶץ֙ and Rashi says the reason why we’re going to study two laws that relate to going into the land is God brought them good tidings that they would enter the land. He wanted to sweeten up the worst day of their life. And he says there will be a time where you will go into the land. And the first law that he gave them had to do with a sacrifice that you bring when you make a vow. But the second law starts as follows. And it’s numbers 15: 17 And it says God spoke to Moses saying speak to the Israelite people and say to them, when you enter the land to which I am taking you. Now it doesn’t say כִּ֣י תָבֹ֗אוּ אֶל־אֶ֙רֶץ֙ it says בְּבֹֽאֲכֶם֙ אֶל־הָאָ֔רֶץ When you come into the land, and you eat the bread of the land מִלֶּ֣חֶם הָאָ֑רֶץ, you shall set aside as a gift to God. As the first yield of your baking you shall set aside a loaf as a gift חַלָּ֖ה תָּרִ֣ימוּ, you shall set it aside as a gift like the gift from the threshing floor. You shall make a gift to God from the first yield of your baking throughout the ages. And similar to the first Rashi that we quoted here to Rashi is focused on the fact that this law is associated with coming into the land. But he says it uses a different word than anywhere in the Bible. It doesn’t say when you come כִּ֣י תָבֹ֗אוּ אֶל־אֶ֙רֶץ֙ it says בְּבֹֽאֲכֶם֙ אֶל־הָאָ֔רֶץ This statement about their “entering” into the land is expressed differently from all other statements about their “entering” made in the Torah, and he explains that everywhere else. It has the implication that you have to complete the entree, you have to complete the taking over the full possession the ירושה of the land, but this law has to do when you just come in. He says in this case however it is stated בבאכם and your coming, implying that as soon as they entered it they ate of its bread, they became subject to the law of Challah so already I feel a little bit fresh. I feel like “epis” there’s a taste of Challah in my mouth. What about you Rabbi?

Adam Mintz  04:42

i love it. I mean, you made a great point and that is you know it’s so it’s so psychological of the Torah that just at the lowest point where the Jews of the desert are told to dig in a wanderer for 40 years. The next thing God says to them, but don’t worry, I’m gonna give you two laws relating to the land of Israel, you’re gonna make it right, just when you’re frustrated, and you think you’re never gonna make it God promises, you’re gonna make it. Isn’t that nice?

Geoffrey Stern  05:10

I think it is. And I think if one of the questions that we discussed in the pregame was this mystery, how did Challah become so iconic? How did it become so associated with the Jewish people and with a meal and with Shabbat? I think we’re starting to feel the taste already. Here. It was, it was something to savor, after the most bitter, bitter day of their life, and you already have that. But I think it is a good question. I mean, if you think of the icons and the iconology, of the Jewish people, you know, there’s the Menorah. That’s, that’s very late. Start with David, you know, very late. And Challah is maybe that along with two candles, and you know, both of those associated with women, so we can talk about that a little bit later. But certainly in terms of what represents, what unites us, what brings us together. I think Challah is right up there. And here it is buried in this innocuous law. So what is the law of Challah?

Adam Mintz  06:18

So the law of Challah and it’s still practiced today, that when you bake bread, you take off a little piece of that bread. What’s the significance? I think the significance is it even a thing as basic as bread, that you need to remember that all of our blessings come from God? I think that’s really a very good point. And a very important point.

Geoffrey Stern  06:52

It is, there’s no question about it. If you had to think of all the sacrifices of all of the observances that we have in the temple, the Mishkan, the tabernacle, and finally, the temple. This is probably the only one and I’ll go even further, even laws that have to do with beautiful law has to do with the Land of Israel, where you have to leave the corner of the field, Peah, Leket, if you drop a few straws, you can’t pick them up, you have to leave them for the poor. But of all those laws, whether we’re in Israel or outside of Israel, it seems that this one ritual of taking out that little piece has survived. And I think that is … it’s amazing to me, and maybe it comes down to this בבאכם this entry into the land. It’s not a status. It’s not a state of being. But it’s this little moment that we went in, and we might have gone out and we might have not been fully there and we might not have been there forever. But it does seem from all the stuff in the temple. This is it. This is the one thing that’s universally celebrated. Am I wrong?

Adam Mintz  08:10

No, I think you’re right. The other interesting thing here is that it says תָּרִ֥ימוּ תְרוּמָ֖ה לַה. It doesn’t seem to say that it goes to the Cohen.  It seems to be that it’s an offering to God, you know, most of the offerings are given to the Cohen or to the Levi. But here we have an offering that’s given directly to God. That also seems to be interesting to me.

Geoffrey Stern  08:35

So I’m looking at the verses now. We know the outcome was that it was given to the Kohanim….

Adam Mintz  08:48

I know but look at the verses וְהָיָ֕ה בַּאֲכׇלְכֶ֖ם מִלֶּ֣חֶם הָאָ֑רֶץ תָּרִ֥ימוּ תְרוּמָ֖ה לַה’׃ (כ) רֵאשִׁית֙ עֲרִסֹ֣תֵכֶ֔ם חַלָּ֖ה תָּרִ֣ימוּ תְרוּמָ֑ה כִּתְרוּמַ֣ת גֹּ֔רֶן כֵּ֖ן תָּרִ֥ימוּ אֹתָֽהּ׃  מֵרֵאשִׁית֙ עֲרִסֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם תִּתְּנ֥וּ לַה’ תְּרוּמָ֑ה לְדֹרֹ֖תֵיכֶֽם׃  Isn’t that interesting?

Geoffrey Stern  09:13

It’s it’s absolutely. It’s interesting…  by itself it’s interesting and the fact that it was totally identified that you gave it to the Kohanim. And you know, I think the best parallel or analog to how this system work was. If you look at Buddhist monks who live off, people giving them food offerings. The Kohanim we’ve said this before I had no land inheritance, they were separated from agriculture. And they literally lived off of these types offerings, givings and sharings. And one of the sources that I bought is a source called Panini halacha. And it says that a donation of Challah to the Cohen, and the Cohen and his family can prepare from it breads and cakes and eat in purity, in order to fulfill their spiritual mission to teach Torah to Israel.  כדי שיוכלו למלא את שליחותם הרוחנית ללמד תורה לישראל So it was also this aspect of elevating our lives that we had a priestly class and maybe later on we’ll talk about a class of scholars that literally would come to the table and be given these handouts these, the dough in order to make themselves bread and cakes.

Adam Mintz  10:54

So the Torah says you give it to God, practically speaking, you give it to the Cohen. This is one of those gifts that you give to the Cohen, because the Cohen as we know didn’t have any land. So they needed these gifts. And you remember, see, we sometimes forget this. Today, we live in America, you know, you’re not supposed to eat too much bread, bread, …  breads bad for you bread, you know, makes you gain weight. So we don’t eat much bread. But if you go to Europe, every meal is around bread. And of course, in the old days when they didn’t have very much to eat, everything was around bread. Right? They didn’t have silverware, because there was like, you know, like the hummus, they used to have bread that used to, you know, slurp it up with the pita. So bread is the main staple. So it’s not surprising that this is the gift that’s given to the Cohen.

Geoffrey Stern  11:57

So I have to say, and I think we’re going to jump between what Challah means to us today and what it means to the Jewish people, and what it meant back then. And when I read this about giving the holler to the kohanim, who were the educators, I thought of when I was a student at the Yeshiva and I studied at two Yeshivot that this happened to me at where I was a Shabbos Bachor. And that meant that on every Shabbat I would go to a family who lived in the neighborhood and they would feed me and I’d bring a little Devar Torah with myself not to sing for my supper, but to maybe give Torah for my supper. And this is I don’t know if you know a guy named Ivan Berkowitz.  I was in Torah Vodaas in Flatbush and I went to his and his wife’s house in Ocean Parkway, where I was their Shabbos Bachor. And then when I was in the Yeshiva in Long Beach, I actually had a relative who lived there (Ed and Judy Steinberg). And I did a Google search for Shabbos Bachor and I couldn’t believe that I couldn’t find anything. And I really spent a little bit of time. So the one thing I did find, and it’s in the Sefaria notes, is I looked up the word Bachor. And there’s a language dictionary. And it gives an example “we hosted a 15 year old Bachor for Shabbos”.

Adam Mintz  13:31

So they had it .. not exact words…

Geoffrey Stern  13:35

And then the other thing that I did is I remember to in the end told the movie, how Yentl was eating at the house of the girl that her Avigdor had had given up. And sure enough, I have the text there. It was during the week, it wasn’t even Shabbat. But the custom of having a scholar, come to your table and break bread goes back, I think all the way to this. And imagine how enriching it is for the family, and how enriching in another way it is for the scholar. It’s just a beautiful custom that I think still exists in the Hasidic and Orthodox world, but probably doesn’t exist as much as it should in our worlds.

Adam Mintz  14:33

In Eastern Europe before the Second World War. So you know, the Yeshiva … you talked about Torah Vodaas, you talked about Long Beach. The origins of the yeshiva go back just around 200 years, around the year 1810 or so. They had the first yeshiva in a place called Vologen in Lithuania. And what made that yeshiva special is that it was the first time they had a Yeshiva, where boys came from out of town. It used to be this used to learn in the local place, and you went home every night. But Rabbi Haim Velozener introduced the idea of boys coming from out of town. And they had exactly what you said a Shabbos Bachor, and that you used to go to people’s homes for Shabbos. And people used to take care of you. Sometimes not only Shabbos, but during the week, they didn’t have dormitories, they didn’t have public kitchens, you went to their house.

Geoffrey Stern  15:29

My guess is more people know about the shabbos goy than people know about the Shabbos Bachor. And I think they’re both two fascinating institutions. Where you ever a Shabbos Bachor?

Adam Mintz  15:43

I come from Washington DC. And I both went to high school in New York, Rabbi Riskin’s High School. And then Yeshiva University. And I used to go to people’s houses for Shabbos. Because the most depressing thing was not having a Shabbos invitation and having to stay in the dormitory. So you always got an invitation. And I was the Shabbos Bachor.

Geoffrey Stern  16:05

So So I do think it’s amazing. And of course, I would, I would be remiss if I left out the third element, which is the poor people, you would leave the synagogue on a Friday night. And you might argue over who gets to bring the poor person home. But there certainly was this aspect of sharing the meal. And I think the real definition of Challah is not the plucked up beautiful bread that we have. But the act of separating the part that is given as a gift from the part that we eat. And I think that tradition is is a fascinating one.

Adam Mintz  16:48

Yeah, that is most definitely a fascinating one. So what you really have if you want to draw a line, Geoffrey, is you’re drawing the line from the Cohen all the way to the common practice of providing for the poor for by providing for the Yeshiva Bachor, but it’s really a direct line isn’t.

Geoffrey Stern  17:07

It is a it is a direct line. And I would go even further, there’s two other lines I want to draw. You know, the custom when you hold up the two, Challas, before you make Hamotzi, it reminds us a little bit of Bikkurim of the first fruits. And I think again, as I said before, in this color is the remnant of pretty much the only remnant we have of that whole temple tradition of celebrating the first fruits and celebrating the bread. It is kind of fascinating that it talks about its dough, and it’s not the threshing floor. So you know, the threshing floor is united and connected to the land of Israel. It’s connected to an agrarian society. But the dough and this is probably part of how it survived and served us so well. That’s done in the kitchen that’s cooked. And you don’t give out the bread as much as give out the “taig” the dough to let somebody else make an ugga, make a cake or make a bread. I think that’s kind of fascinating, too.

Adam Mintz  18:17

That is actually very fascinating. I like that. Now you know that having Challah baking has become a tradition as a time of prayer. If somebody’s sick, they have a Challah baking to pray for that person who’s sick. And I always wondered about that. Where does that jump come from?

Geoffrey Stern  18:44

So before we even get there, and I think it is an interesting question. I have a little bit of an insight of the answer. But the other part of Challah is become associated with women. And you could easily say well, because it’s dough because it’s cooking a woman’s place is in the kitchen. But even in some of the some of the texts that I bring, it just nonchalantly says and you might think you do Challah even for a small piece of dough. No, she must remove …. it talks in the “she”. And I think that there are two pieces of Talmud, at least, that associate Challah with the three Mitzvot, the three commandments that are most associated with woman, but I might argue are most associated with the home. And again, that’s that line between the temple, the tabernacle and the home …. the traveling home that belongs in each house and I think that there’s no question that it’s the Rechem…  the womb that gives birth and possibly, maybe the womb is also connected to healing, maybe that has something to do with it. Or birth, I’m gonna quote something in a second that just blew me away. But what do you think of that connection?

Adam Mintz  20:14

That’s an interesting connection. You know, also when someone is sick, we use their mother’s name. Somehow our prayer for sick people is connected to women, to mothers.

Geoffrey Stern  20:28

So when I look for sources, and this week, I couldn’t find a whole lot on Challah in the old texts in the Midrash in the Talmud, besides the ones I’ve quoted, I look everywhere. And I happen to look at [Marcus] Jastrow, this amazing scholar who was I believe, at the Jewish Theological Seminary, who wrote a dictionary of Aramaic and of the Talmud that when you study in a traditional yeshiva, you keep hidden under your Shtender, because he wasn’t in the Orthodox world, and you consult it. And in his listing for her lab, he always brings examples of how it’s used. And he brings the following example from Bereshit Rabba it says, I. THEN THE LORD GOD FORMED MAN, etc (II, 7). The king by justice establisheth the land, but a man of gifts (terumoth) overthroweth it (Prov. XXIX, 4). He’s quoting proverbs. The king refers to the supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He; By justice establisheth the land’ means that He created the world on the basis of justice, as it is written: In the beginning Elohim (E.V. ‘God of Justice’) created (Gen. I, I); But the man of gifts overthroweth it refers to Adam,  who was the hallah, the completion of the world, while hallah is designated terumah, as it is written, Of the first of your dough ye shall set apart hallah (E.V. a cake’) for a gift terumah (Num. xv, 2o). quoting our verse   R. Jose b. Kezarta said: Like a woman who mixes her dough with water and separates hallah from the very centre, even so, at first, There went up a mist from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground, and then THE LORD GOD FORMED MAN OF THE DUST OF THE GROUND. Now it doesn’t say just the lord of justice, but the Lord God of mercy formed man of the dust of the earth. So here is a metaphor of God creating man out of the Butz …. the mud out of the dough of the primal material. And it compares God to the woman who is making the Challah. And so you might take away that it’s took out the best and that was man, what I take away is that woman, Rechem, Rachmanut, Mercy is compared to God. And that in a sense, it is a reenacting of the God of creation, the God of mercy, who created us that woman does when she makes the Challah, maybe that relates to why the Challah is so important in terms of sickness and health.

Adam Mintz  23:38

That’s nice. I mean, I think that’s a nice Midrashic kind of explanation, you know, some of these cultural things, you know, there’s no real explanation. It might just be that someone in a community once had this idea that when people are sick, let the women get together and let them bake Challah. So it’s hard to know, either, I should just explain that to this very day. We still take Challah, when Sharon bakes Challah, she takes a little piece of the dough. She wraps it up in aluminum foil, as she puts it in the toaster oven. And, you know, it burns there, you know, kind of symbolically that’s the Challah that she takes. And that’s been practice basically for 3000 years.

Geoffrey Stern  24:27

And when I was reading the sources, it made a distinction between how much dough you were baking. Does she make that distinction?

Adam Mintz  24:35

Yes, there is absolutely true. It’s only if you bake a certain amount. She makes a lot of Challahs at once. So she doesn’t have to do it every week. She would know in a second. It has to do with how much flour you have? Only a certain amount of flour Do you start taking Challah.

Geoffrey Stern  24:55

But again, it just seems to me it’s kind of you know, it’s all rabbinic, that’s what the texts start to say right from the get go. When it says when you come into the land, they say, Well, you know, if we’re not in the land, it’s only rabbinic and, and all of these things, to me it’s rabbinic is another way of saying it was a mitzvah made to travel. It was a mitzvah on the go a mitzvah that developed over time, but it just seems to me that it is so associated with community. And maybe that’s has a little bit to do with the fact that it has to have a little oomph to it, it’s not just making a roll, but you’re making for a community or for a larger audience. But it just kind of symbolizes to me, the table, and, and the home. And one of the things that I started thinking about is that, in Jewish law, there are actually law upon law upon law about how you have to act as a guest in someone’s house.  I bought the paragraphs in the Shulchan Aruch, and it starts by saying, and there were 22 paragraphs here, and it’s in the Orach Chayim. And, you know, it talks about two individuals who are eating out of the same plate, if one pauses to take a drink his friend should also pause until he is finished. It says you should not be stingy, when it comes to food. It says don’t look at someone eating and not at his portion in order not to embarrass them. I mean, it almost reads like Emily Post’s Etiquette. And not for knights of Shining Armor,  it’s for everybody. It just seems to me that this tradition of so much focus on the table, so much focus, I mean, even the fact when we get back to the Challah is your koveah Seudah. You only have a real meal, if you have bread. It just seems to me that that’s what the Challah kind of personified, and maybe that’s why it became so universal.

Adam Mintz  27:27

I think that’s nice. I mean, I think sometimes these customs are bigger than the texts, you know, they just kind of took on a life of their own. And Challah is one of those things that took on a life of its own. It might also be Geoffrey, that the fact that Challah is so central to the Jewish week to the Jewish home, to Shabbat, it kind of elevates its importance.

Geoffrey Stern  27:51

Yeah, I mean, I think the association with Shabbat came and I do have an article in the source sheet that says that came fairly late. You know, in this article, it says it came in the 15th century Rabbi Joseph bar Moshe, and basically the association is to the manna to the mon. And on Friday, obviously, because you could not gather manna or sticks. As we learned in this week’s portion. You had two portions, you had what they call Lechem Mishneh. And as a result, the two Challos became part and parcel of the meal. But I mean, so much of what we’ve talked about tonight has nothing to do with Shabbat. But at a certain point in time, that focus definitely came to that moment at the Shabbat table. When you raise up those two Challot in thanks. And you and you make the blessing.

Adam Mintz  28:53

I think that’s right. It’s also interesting that actually in you know, in the Torah portion, it’s only five verses. It’s a very, very short little subsection, which you know, has come to mean so many things.

Geoffrey Stern  29:09

Well, it’s not only short, but it’s in a blockbuster Pasha and

Adam Mintz  29:13

right That’s correct. Yeah.

Geoffrey Stern  29:15

You have the story of the spies that overwhelms everything. But I love lashes connection, that after all those terrible things happen. You’re going to come into the land and you’re going to eat Challah.

Adam Mintz  29:31

Okay, don’t worry, it’s gonna be okay.

Geoffrey Stern  29:34

Now, one thing I’m curious if you have an insight into is in most of the literature, the focus was on Ashkenazi Jewry when it came to Harlem and you know, the idea of course was that if you go to a typical Mizrahi, Iraqi, Syrian home, it looks more like Pita there is no challah but I’m sure that they take the challah. And I think maybe it’s just a nuance or am I missing something?

Adam Mintz  29:35

No, I think you’re 100%. Right? I think that’s absolutely right. Every tradition has the tradition of Challah. It may look different, but everybody has the tradition of Challah.

Geoffrey Stern  30:25

Well, all I can say it was very refreshing me to me to pick …. maybe a topic that was not disruptive.

Adam Mintz  30:35

No…  you know, what was disruptive about it is you didn’t choose the usual topic …. that was disruptive.

Geoffrey Stern  30:44

And it was disruptive to pick five verses that normally fall through the cracks like crumbs…

Adam Mintz  30:51

I think it was great.

Geoffrey Stern  30:53

So anyway, I’d love to wish everybody a Shabbat shalom.

Adam Mintz  30:57

Shabbat Shalom, everybody should feel good. Enjoy the Parsha. We look forward to seeing you next week.

Geoffrey Stern  31:01

Enjoy the Challah and see you all next week.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/415522

Listen to last week’s episode: Joining the Tribe

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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.

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

Listen to last week’s episode: Life After Death

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Jerusalem is the capital of Israel

Jerusalem is and will always be the capital of Israel – my thoughts.

I despise the concept of Intersectionality, which at its core holds that if you believe in one thing you must believe in another. For example: If you object to the discrimination of people based on sexual preference and you support LGBT rights then you must also support the delegitimization of all Israelis as oppressors and colonialists… and support BDS.

As a student of the history of ideas, nothing could be more regressive and repressive than suggesting that if you hold one truth, you must hold another. Innovation occurs not only when new ideas are conceived but also when existing ideas are combined in novel ways. I love nothing more than when women’s rights groups include both pro choice and pro life feminists. I dream of the day when fundamentalists embrace environmentalism and global warming because, after-all, God created the world and left us humans as custodians.

Which brings me to Jerusalem, the de facto and historical capital of Israel.

Here is something that both those Jews and Israelis on the right and on the left can and should agree upon. We should savor such opportunities.

Those of us on the left (I am guilty as charged) should welcome the opportunity to join all informed Jews and Israelis in acknowledging the historical and unbroken ties of the Jewish people to Jerusalem as our capital. As in… Next Year in rebuilt Jerusalem… ירושלים הבנויה (not necessarily… greater Jerusalem).

The fact that Trump has spoken this truth is actually a blessing in disguise since it sugar-coats this truth to our Palestinian brothers and sisters in the most light-handed way possible. Trump is not known for speaking the truth, so when he does speak the truth (even a broken clock is right twice a day) it is arguably easier to swallow.

We in the West, on the left and the Palestinian leadership do our Palestinian brothers and sisters no favor by reinforcing an unattainable belief that a united Jerusalem will be the capital of the Palestinian State.

West Jerusalem was liberated by the Jewish State of Israel in the 1948 war initiated by the surrounding Arab States and supported by the indigenous Arab population (aka the Palestinians), and is not up for negotiation as long as the State of Israel exists.

There are other truths that we (Jews and Israelis on both the right and left) can and should embrace.

Notwithstanding the proclamations of another institution which has a problem with the truth (UNESCO), the Temple Mount was first and foremost…. the Ancient Hebrew’s Temple Mount. The fact that from time immemorial conquest of a foreign nation entailed the conquerer erecting their Temple on the ruins of the vanquished’ temple erases historical truth no more than does the piss of a dog marking territory previously inhabited by a prior canine.

The Jewish claim to the Temple Mount, and other historical facts are not negotiable. As far as I am concerned the Muslims are welcome to keep their mosque on the Temple Mount and maintain the status quo as long as they respect and protect the right of all religions to pray there (which, regrettably, they don’t.. another un-truth).

So does truth-telling destroy the non-existent peace process? Or should we ask whether treating our Palestinian brothers and sisters as children who cannot handle the truth destroys any chance for compromise and realism?

Does truth-telling undermine the honest-broker status of the West? Or should we ask whether propping up a Palestinian leadership which profits from and feeds it’s people ahistorical and unattainable untruths promotes conflict resolution?

I can say and ask all of the above and still believe in a Two-State Solution and mourn the injustice (as in אי צדק) of the Occupation. So much for Intersectionality…..

[Sorry for the picture, but it got your attention.]

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wear big tzitzit and follow a rebbe whose not afraid

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach on parshat shalach

Earlier this week I was randomly browsing SoundCloud and I came across an audio recording of a young  Shlomo Carlebach.   There are only three audio files posted and one,  from a late 80’s Ruach Retreat in upstate New York was on parshat shalach.  Ok, Ok,.. so when it comes to Reb Shlomo, maybe there’s no such thing as random….

Carlebach, known as “The Singing Rabbi” who wrote melodies that have enhanced every aspect of every denominational liturgy also wrote Am Yisroel Chai;  the anthem of the Soviet Jewry movement.  You may have also heard his stories preserved in a CD set.  But he was much more than a singer or story teller.  Carlebach was an original thinker and charismatic leader who affected thousands of change makers in the Jewish world.

The audio talk that you are about to listen to is brilliant in its audacity and passion and surprisingly timely.  It relates to those living outside of Israel who criticize Israel.  It relates to “small” and fearful rabbinic authority and leadership and, with a little extrapolation, it relates to a modern Israeli trend of secular Jews (hilonim) taking back Judaism on their terms.

I am pleased to share this audio file on Madlik and in the tradition of the Yeshiva, I provide below the imagined sources (mareh mekomot) and context of Rabbi Calrebach’s talk below.

 https://soundcloud.com/carlebach-legacy/reb-shlomo-on-shlach-how-does-one-make-it-in-this-world

  1. Meraglim – These are the 12 biblical “spies” appointed by Moses to scout out the land of Israel (Eretz Yisroel) in Numbers 13.  Ten of these scouts returned with a negative report which resulted in a 40 year delay in entering the land of Israel.
  2. Carlebach talks about the positive commandment to wear ritual fringes (tzitzit) and he talks about the morality play of the biblical scouts.  These two themes adjoin each other in the text of Numbers 13 – 15 and Reb Shlomo, like Rabbinic scholars before him provides an explanation for the connection between the two seemingly unrelated subjects.The traditional answer relates the word  “to EXPLORE (la-tur) the land… TO EXPLORE the land of Canaan” (13:16-17) with “You shall not EXPLORE AFTER (lo taturu acharei) your hearts…” (15:39) (for more see: “You Shall Not Explore After Your Heart and After Your Eyes…” By Rav Amnon Bazak).  The scouts sinned by what they observed, the fringes are meant to correct one’s moral vision. Carlebach takes this implicit connection further by contrasting “little” tzitzit to small vision (see below)
  3. Reb Shlomo talks about little ztitzit and big zitizit and compares them to the little Shabbos and the Big Shabbos.  This is based on a statement in the Talmud Berachot 57b that our weekly Shabbat is one sixtieth of the world to come.  This concept is the source of the prayer in the Sabbath grace after meals “May the Merciful One grant us a day that shall be entirely Shabbat and eternal rest.הָרַחֲמָן הוּא  יַנחִילֵנוּ לְיוֹם שֶׁכֻּלּוֹ שַׁבָּת וּמְנוּחָה לְחַיֵּי הָעוֹלָמיםand the sixth stanza of Ma Yedidiut, a song sung at the Shabbat Table: Meayn Olam haba Yom Shabbat Menucha
    מעין עולם הבא יום שבת מנוחהI believe that Carlebach’s extension of this concept to another commandment, such as tzitzit is novel.  In any case, his point is that the spies or scouts could only see the small fringes, and we need leaders or rebbes who have the large tzitzit.
  4. Reb Shlomo tells an outrageous miracle tale typical of Hasidic stories about a student (talmid) of the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of the Hasidic Movement).  You can hear the smile in his voice and laughter in the background. The Zanser Rebbe is reputed to have said of such miracle tales, “If you believe them, you’re a fool (“tippish”). If you don’t believe them, you’re a heretic (apikoris).”
  5. Baal Teshuva – A Baal Teshuva is literally a master of repentance and is traditionally a term applied to a sinner who changes his ways and returns to a life of observance.  In the 80’s, in large part through the efforts of Chabad and outreach yeshivot such as Eish HaTorah, many young Jews (yiddin) who were searching for their spiritual roots returned to Judaism and gave birth to what has been called the Baal Teshuva Movement.  Shlomo Carlebach and Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi  both started as Chabad emissaries but as they addressed the spiritual needs of the children of the ‘60s they broke out of the constrains of Orthodoxy and created a Jewish Renewal that has enhanced all aspects of Judaism.  There is a tension between these newly inspired Jews and the pre-existing Orthodox community that Carlebach makes reference to. (his quote that Baal Teshuva is a nechtiga baal avera and a hyntica Am Ha’aretz Yesterday’s sinner is today’s ignorant Jew; is priceless..)
  6. Hayim Nahman Bialik (1873–1934), Israel’s national poet, famously exclaimed, “we will be a normal state only when we have the first Jewish prostitute the first Hebrew thief, and the first Hebrew policeman.” Carlebach uses this quote as if he is quoting a traditional Jewish text.  This is radical in and of itself.  What is more radical is where he takes it.  Reasons Carlebach, if we will be normal when we have secular Jewish thieves and a Jewish Underground, then we will really (mamash) become normal when we have our own [secular Jewish] Rebbes.  I’m not sure Carlebach envisioned the secular (hiloni) movement in contemporary Israel to take back Jewish texts and learning spearheaded by Bina, Elul, Beit Hillel and Ein Prat and other organizations, but his Bialik proof text works for me.
  7. Shietal is a wig for head covering
  8. Majority decides – see Exodus 23:2 “after a multitude to pervert justice”
    אַחֲרֵי רַבִּים—לְהַטֹּת
    and Babylonian Talmud Hulin 11a “From here we learn we go after the majority”. See also the story of The Oven of Akhnai (Babylonian Talmud Baba Metzia 59b) which ends with the punchline  “the Torah was already given on Mt. Sinai, and it says in it, “Follow the majority’s ruling” (Ex. 23:2). So we do not obey voices from Heaven.”Carlebach argues here, that when it comes to big decisions like going to the Land of Israel and seeing it’s potential, or …. Choosing a mate… or women learning Torah… we should not follow the majority, nor any rebbe, but follow our inner voice.
  9. “Thousands of Jews would have stayed alive if they had not listened to their Rebbes” Carlebach’s family fled Germany and where spared the Holocaust.  Carlebach is here squarely putting the blame for the death of thousands of faithful Jews on their rabbinic leaders who advised them not to emigrate to the secular yishuv in Israel.  Those same Rabbis are advising us on whether women can study Torah, and I would add are advising us (on the left) to take part in BDS boycotts of Israel and (on the right) to indefinitely occupy land located in Greater Israel.  I think that Carlebach is saying that we learn from the meraglim that we cannot be governed by fear, rebbes or majority opinion … we need to consult our conscience.

I believe that this SoundCloud recording was posted by the Shlomo Carlebach Foundation which can be supported with a tax free contribution via PEF Israel Endowment Funds here.

young shlomo

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Operation Nachshon and the street jews

Parshat B’Shalach

Nachshon, was a biblical character associated with the splitting of the Red Sea, in whose name a record three Israeli military operations were named.

The most well known Operation Nachshon was a Haganah operation in the 1948 War of Independence. The Arabs had succeeded in blockading the road to Jerusalem, preventing essential humanitarian supplies as well as ammunition from entering the city. At the end of March, convoys were no longer able to get through, and the situation in Jerusalem became critical. On April 3rd David Ben Gurion insisted on the largest possible operation, forcing Haganah commanders to plan and execute the first brigade sized operation they had ever undertaken. The operation involved about 1,500 troops taken from the Givati and Alexandroni brigade and some others, including the Gadna youth cadets. (see Operation Nachshon).

The second, lesser known, Operation Nachshon, documented in Six Days of War by Michael Oren (p. 168) and named Operation Nachshon 1, was commanded by Moshe Dayan and initialized “the conquest of the Sinai front … the opening of the Abu ‘Agheila – Rafiah-al-‘Arish axes, and the destruction of the Egyptian army in this sector.”

The third Operation Nachshon .. called Nachson 2 included the second phase of the Six Day War and was created by the IDF General staff to influence the final outcome of the post war borders. (ibid p. 237)

For some reason, the founding father of Israel, its most decorated generals and one must assume, the citizens and soldiers of Israel, had a visceral understanding of what Nachshon represented. So did HaShomer HaTzair, the Socialist-Zionist, anti-religious, youth movement who in 1950 founded Kibbutz Nachshon in Central Israel.

What was it about this biblical Nachshon that so captured the imagination of these secular Zionists?

The Nachshon we meet in the Bible bore an unflattering name (lit. snake), and as the descendent of Perez, the son, out of wedlock, of Judah and the harlot, Tamar… didn’t have the most prestigious provenance. Nachshon is nonetheless associated with the critical moment of life or death at the banks of the Red Sea.

The story of the original Operation Nachshon is the uniquely Jewish version of the iconic “Crossing the Rubicon”. (Ironically, The Latin word rubico comes from the adjective “rubeus”, meaning “red”.) It is a story that defines how we Jews chart our course and draft our destiny.

We all know the story… Pharaoh had second thoughts about letting the Israelites go and the Egyptian First Army were positioned to push the Jews into the sea …. Moses exhorts his flock to have faith in God and prepare to be delivered, whereupon he begins to pray. “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to Me? Tell the Israelites to go forward.” (Exodus 14:5 – 20). The Biblical Text does not actually provide an account of Moses’ prayer, nor does it provide a record of Moses’ answer to God’s rebuke.

Surprisingly for such a well known legend.. the Biblical text does not mention Nachshon. Nachshon enters history in one opinion cited in the Midrashic Literature. (Nice to know that there was a time, not so long ago, when all Jews, knew their Midrash!)

R. Judah said to [R. Meir]: …. each tribe was unwilling to be the first to enter the sea. Then sprang forward Nachshon the son of Amminadab and descended first into the sea; ….  At that time Moses was engaged for a long while in prayer; so the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, ‘My beloved ones are drowning in the sea and thou prolongest prayer before Me!’ He spake before Him, ‘Lord of the Universe, what is there in my power to do?’ He replied to him, Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward. And lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thy hand etc. For that reason Judah (of which Nachshon was a Prince) was worthy to be made the ruling power in Israel, as it is said: Judah became His sanctuary, Israel his dominion.  Why did Judah become His sanctuary and Israel his dominion? Because the sea saw [him] and fled. (Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 37a)

Nachshon was not only a man of action. His action represented a repudiation of Moses, and, by association, his brother Aaron. A repudiation of the entrenched leadership and the prayers and rituals of the Clergy. Nachshon was neither a scholar nor a saint, he had a humble name and lineage to match. He is mentioned rarely in scripture. He is not known for a lifetime of piety or fealty. Nachshon is a one act wonder.. he is the proverbial dog who has his day.

For generations, Nachshon represented a popularist myth in Judaism that the future of our people does not depend on the scholars or clergy, but rather on one man or woman, at the right place, at the right time who does the right thing.

Was not this the message of the most secular story in the Hebrew canon? Ester, the beauty queen… the original sleeper cell … also known as Hadassah (Megillah 2:7) is living in the Palace with a Persian king and she’s having a ball. She has been told not to reveal her true identity. At the critical moment when only Ester can intercede with the King on the Jew’s behalf.. Ester has a Nachshon moment. Mordecai, her mentor tells her: “Don’t imagine that you will be able to escape in the King’s palace any more than the Jews. For if you persist in keeping silent at a time like this, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from some other place…. And who knows whether it was just for such a time as this that you attained the royal position.” Megillah 4: 13-14

Note: If the malicious software program, known as Stuxnet, designed to disable Iranian centrifuges was created by Israel then the fact, as reported by Symantec, the virus specialists, that the worm/trojan creates a directory called myrtle or Hadas, it means that the Israelís who named it, were following in the Operation Nachshon tradition and honored Ester, the original Jewish Virus in Persia by nameing a software virus after her. Every virus has its day!

In recent times, the popularist Nachshon tradition reapeared with the Baal Shem Tov and the Hasidic Movement.  The Hasidim rejected the elite scholars of the Lithuanian Talmudic Academies and celebrated the simple faith of the common Jew of the shtetl street. The great Hasidic Rebbes taught that every simple Jew could merit redemption and the world to come in a single act, at a single moment.

According to Hasidic thought, when the Bible writes: “Surely, this Mitzvah (singular) which I command you today, is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach” (Deuteronomy 30:11) it means that God promises us that we, like Nachshon, can find our single mitzvah at a single moment and find salvation. Or to quote Mishneh Avot “Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov taught: When a person performs a single mitzvah, he acquires an advocate for himself…”, (4:13) “This was a favorite teaching of his: Repentance and good deeds in this world, even for one hour, are better than eternal life in the world to come…” (4:22).

Or as the Talmud says:

A person should always perceive himself as though he were half-guilty and half-meritorious. If he performed one Mitzvah, he is fortunate for he has tipped the balance for himself toward the side of merit. If he committed a single transgression, woe to him – for he has tipped the balance for himself toward the side of guilt … R’ Elazar the son of R’ Shimon says: because the world is judged on the basis of the majority of its inhabitants, and the individual is judged on the basis of the majority of his deeds, if he performed a single Mitzvah, he is fortunate for he has tipped the balance for himself and for the entire world toward the side of merit, if he committed a single transgression, woe to him for he has tipped the balance for himself and for the entire world toward the side of guilt” (Kiddushin 40a).

Many Hasidic stories celebrate the simple, many times ignorant and unobservant Jew who through the simple purity of a single word or deed reaches the highest rung.

See for example the very typical story of: A HEAVENLY PARTNER
where the Baal Shem Tov finds that his future study partner in heaven lives in a city without Jews, observes not one commandment and on Shabbat eats, drinks, smokes, dances and generally whoops it up with his friends. Not able to contain himself any longer the Baal Shem Tov asks this player to explain his actions to which his future havruta responds: “When I was a small child, I was taken away from my Jewish home and brought here. I know absolutely nothing about Judaism. I only remember that my father used to always teach me that we are commanded to rejoice on Shabbos. I still remember the many people that came to our house every Shabbos. So to follow in the tradition of my family, I have the custom of making a great feast every Shabbos and inviting my neighbors to rejoice with me.”

Today, the Nachshon approach to Hasidism is most closely followed by Chabad. It is accepted wisdom that Chabad is successful because they are non-judgmental.. and this is probably true.. but the reason that Chabad Rabbis do not insist that their followers perform every mitzvah and refrain from all that is forbidden, is not, in my opinion because they are so tolerant. It is because the Rebbe z’l understood the power of a single mitzvah at a single moment: “Every Jew has a mitzvah to which he finds an affinity. Don’t argue with him. Find that mitzvah and encourage him in it.” — Rabbi Schneerson, Chabad.  That’s why putting on tephilin on a stranger or lighting candles on the eve of Shabbat are so important to Chabad… they represent the Nachshon moment that we, the street Jews, can all achieve.  (Ever get the feeling that Chabad Shlichim would rather mix it up with street jews then hang out in Monsey or Bnai Brak… that’s why.)

Returning to the secular Israeli pioneers who lived and breathed Nachshon and who are justly credited for the rebirth of the Jewish nation …

To these secular Zionists, and the rest of us street Jews.. before we turn over the high ground and pass the keys of statehood and public policy to the so-called religious camp.. the self proclaimed modern-day Zionists and latter-day pioneers… let’s remember that it was the street Jews, not the religious ideologues who created Zionism and began to rebuild the Land. It was the followers of Nachshon who saw the signs of the Holocaust and acted on their own rather than listened for a sign from God or a proof text before they acted.

So as for me, I may go to Moses and his students to study Talmudic texts, and I may follow Aaron and his latter day clergy for advise in ritual choreography, but when it comes to issues of security, peace and the future of the People of Israel.. I’ll follow Nachshon’s example and join other street Jews who know what it means to be a Jew in their gut and are willing to seize the day whether to fight a war or sue for peace.

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A hint at a Jewish Popularist Movement in the Rabbinic Period

A precursor to a Jewish popularist movement may have appeared not among any of the well know sects around at the emergence of Rabbinic Judaism. Not by the Rabbinic Pharisees, not by the Priestly Seducees, not by the ascetic drop-out Essenes and not by the early Christians. Rather a radically anti authoritarian popularist platform was held by the Am HaAretz… literally, people of the land, but pejoratively translated in Rabbinic sources as ignoramus.

The mutual intolerance and animosity between the simple Jew of the land and the Rabbis were no less extreme in the 2nd – 4th Century Rabbinic period then they are today.

Our Rabbis taught: Let a man always sell all he has and marry the daughter of a scholar. ….. but let him not marry the daughter of an ‘am ha-arez, because they are detestable and their wives are vermin, and of their daughters it is said, Cursed be he that lieth with any manner of beast. …. R. Eleazar said: An ‘am ha-arez, it is permitted to stab him [even] on the Day of Atonement which falls on the Sabbath. Said his disciples to him, Master, say to slaughter him [ritually]? He replied: This [ritual slaughter] requires a benediction, whereas that [stabbing] does not require a benediction. R. Eleazar said: One must not join company with an ‘am ha-arez on the road, because it is said, for that [the Torah] is thy life, and the length of thy days: [seeing that] he has no care [pity] for his own life, how much the more for the life of his companions! R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in R. Johanan’s name: One may tear an ‘am haarez like a fish! Said R. Samuel b. Isaac: And [this means] along his back. (Babylonian Talmud; Pesachim 49b)

It is clear from this text that the Am Ha’aretz was not simply an ignorant Jew.  he was a Jew who had a strongly anti-Rabbinic bias and opinion.  It is no surprise that strong feelings of animosity became mutual… The most famous ex-Am HaAretz; Rabbi Akiva is reputed to have said: “When I was an ‘am ha-arez I said: I would that I had a scholar [before me], and I would maul him like an ass.”

Clearly the Am Ha’aretz were not apathetic, detached Jews.  To the contrary.. they appear to be extremely opinionated and opposed to Rabbinic controls and opinions.  Unfortunately, we have, to my knowledge, no record of their opinions, other than recorded in the rabbinic sources.  Just goes to prove that it’s easier to pass on to the next generation.. an answer, rather than to pass on a question! No one said it was easy being an Am Ha’aretz.  (possbily… The great Zionist thinker Ahad HaAm aimed to reinvent the thought of the Am Ha’aretz.. will have to research further….)

We are seeing this type of bifurcation between ideological Jews and street Jews today.. I fear… maybe it’s time for still another operation Nachshon….

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