the gospel geniza – final

the afikomen and the hidden messiah

The Hagadah was written at exactly the same moment as were the gospels, a generation or two after the destruction of the temple and as a major split in theology and power was underway. Seen from this perspective, the divide between the Wise and Evil sons sets the context.

The wise one, what does he say? “What are the testimonies, the statutes and the laws which the Lord, our God, has commanded you?” You, in turn, shall instruct him in the laws of Passover, [up to] `one is not to eat any dessert after the Passover-lamb Afikomen.

wise son

The wicked one, what does he say? “What is this service to you?!” He says `to you,’ but not to him! By thus excluding himself from the community he has denied that which is fundamental. You, therefore, blunt his teeth and say to him: “It is because of this that the Lord did for me when I left Egypt”; `for me’ – but not for him! If he had been there, he would not have been redeemed!”

evil son

If we ever had any doubts that in the hagaddah we are experiencing the institutionalization of sectarianism writ large.

Since when where any Jews left behind in Egypt?  In the Biblical account, the issue is always with the converse…. The Mixed Multitude as in Exodus 12:38.  The issue had always been that after the Ten Plagues and the Hebrew Slaves leaving with the riches of Egypt, there were opportunist hanger ons who joined the party.

And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle.

וְגַם-עֵרֶב רַב, עָלָה אִתָּם, וְצֹאן וּבָקָר, מִקְנֶה כָּבֵד מְאֹד.

It is only with the rise of sects, especially the Christians, that we get the absurd concept, that there were not a few…. Actually there were a majority of Jews that didn’t want to be redeemed from Egypt.  As Rashi writes on Exodus 13:18

that one out of five (חִמִֹשָה) [Israelites] went out, and four fifths [lit., parts of the people] died during the three days of darkness [see Rashi on Exod. 10:22]. — [from Mechilta, Tanchuma, Beshallach 1]

דבר אחר חמושים אחד מחמשה יצאו, וארבעה חלקים מתו בשלשת ימי אפילה

The Evil son, scripted by the Haggadah, claims that now that (Jesus) the Messiah has come, these rites, laws and traditions… the whole story of the Exodus is meaningless.

As Israel Yuval writes: The expression” to dull his teeth” is mentioned in Genesis Rabbah in two contexts, both of them explicitly anti-Christian, and in both cases the expression indicates a complete rejection of the Christian claim. (Two Nations in your Womb, p 76) *

So what is the Jewish Counter-Claim?  This brings us to the question of what does the wise son mean when he references the Afikomen and the rule “do not eat or add anything after the Passover {sacrifice} Afikomen”?

So much of the seder has been popularized and dumbed down for the benefit of our children, that we could be forgiven if we think that holding the matzah high, breaking it in half, hiding it, searching for it and ultimately taking it as the last taste of the Seder ceremony were just so much children’s theatre. The truth is that as the Wise son says… the Afikomen is central to the service, to redemption and to the break with Christianity.

The breaking of the matzah, it’s hiding and ultimate discovery and last taste are part and parcel of the Seder and it’s order.

Kiddush – Wash – Greens – Break – Recite – Wash – Blessing on Bread – Blessing on Matzah – Bitter Herbs – Sandwich – Meal – Hidden Afikomen – Grace After Meal – Hallel – Conclude

seder order

The Seder begins very dramatically with the leader raising the matzoh and saying in the vernacular of 2nd and 3rd century Palestine:

This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat; whoever is in need, let him come and conduct the Seder of Passover. This year [we are] here; next year in the land of Israel. This year [we are] slaves; next year [we will be] free people.

ha lachma

Robert Eisler in 1925 and after him, David Daube in 1966 from Oxford said the obvious:  “This is the bread of Affliction” comes too close to Jesus’s statement at the Last Supper not to be linked:

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” Luke 22:19

“This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” John 6: 50-51

… the lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me Corinthians 11: 23 – 25

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. Matthew 26:26

The authors of the haggadah and the participants in the seder through the middle ages were also certainly aware of the fact that this service, of eating “this bread” and “this wine” had become central to the daily rite of the Eucharist and Communion.

Clearly, some scribes felt uncomfortable with this concept of Transubstantiation, where the bread actually becomes something other than itself and changed the text to Ke’ha Lachma Anya.. this is “like” the bread of affliction. **

But for those who were willing to confront the clear parallel between the emphases on the Bread as something else… we have to admit that there clearly was an earlier shared tradition.  The question is what the Jewish version was?

While a lot of scholarship has been dedicated to this question and no final resolution has been achieved, it is clear to me that in the Rabbis version, not only has the Messiah not come, but… and this is the big “but”, even if and when he/she comes the liberation theology of the Exodus from Egypt will remain intact… nay … primary.

Ben Zoma explained it: “It is said, `That you may remember the day you left Egypt all the days of your life;’ now `the days of your life’ refers to the days, [and the additional word] `all’ indicates the inclusion of the nights!” The sages, however, said: “`The days of your life’ refers to the present-day world; and `all’ indicates the inclusion of the days of Messiah.”

all the days of your life

 

This is where the evil son (the voice of a Christian) went astray… not only in believing that the Messiah had already come, but worse… in believing that as a result, we should dial back the Exodus from Egypt to irrelevance.

The Rabbis on the other hand, reacted to the Christian Claim of the arrival of the Messiah and the transubstantiation of the bread, into a new, and I believe, enlightened conception of the end-of-days.  In the Rabbinic view Egypt rules… the Exodus from Egypt never gets eclipsed or diluted into a metaphor.  Equally important, Israel and Jerusalem (where I write these words) can take on whatever allegorical meaning you wish, but the physical place never gets dislodged.

This IS the bread we ate in Egypt and… this year we are here and next year we are in the Land of Israel.

Both sects (Judaism and Christianity) shared the post-Temple transformation of The Pesach Sacrifice into the Matzah.  That is why the Matzoh bread became the focal point of their disagreement. For Christianity, the Bread became the body of Christ.  It was no longer the Bread of Affliction, but rather the body of the messiah, and just as Egypt became a metaphor, Jerusalem became an Idealized place.. the New Jerusalem.

According to Yuval:

The eating of the afikomen thus signifies the anticipation of the coming of the Messiah, according to the well know rule: “In Nissan we were redeemed, and in Nissan we shall be redeemed in the future.” In accordance with this rule, we may propose a new interpretation of the ancient halakhic prohibition “One does not conclude with an Afikomen following the Passover Sacrifice.” Assuming the messianic symbolism of eating the matzah, as suggested by Jesus’s speech at the Last Supper, this Rabbinic prohibition may have been intended to prevent a separation between eating the afikomen (symbolizing the anticipation of future Redemption) and eating the Passover offering (symbolizing the Exodus from Egypt). (p. 246)

The Rabbis have been burnt and so had Judaism.  The core response to the direction that Christianity has taken messianism, is for the rabbis (at least in the Hagaddah) to dial back their own messianism.

According to Eisler, Daube and Yuval, aphikomen comes from the Greek aphikomenos, that is, “the One who Comes”.  And what do we do with this “One that Comes”?  What do we do with the Messiah?  We bless him, break him, hide him, discover him (as if for the first time) and at the end-of-the day… at midnight…. We finish the seder ….. without him!  There is no Messiah after the Pesach.  The Exodus from Egypt and the return to the Physical land of Israel… is as good as it gets.

Nirtzah [cf Neilah] – the Seder is closed.

epilogue

 

 

dull teethke like

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the gospel geniza – part 3

the great sabbath – the great son, the great slaughter and the great polemic…

The Shabbat before Passover is widely referred to as Shabbat HaGadol, the Big or Great Shabbat. Surprisingly, no Jewish source refers to the Shabbat in this way before the year 1,000. The earliest reference to the Great Sabbath is actually in The New Testament (John 19:31) where the crucifixion occurs on the Friday before Passover which.. “was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a great Sabbath.” (The Greek word used is: megalē μεγάλη which means: large, great). In fact, in early Christianity, “The Great Sabbath” denoted the Sabbath before Easter.

The Machzor Vitry)., a 12th Century Jewish source claims that Jews call it the Great Shabbat, but they don’t know why because it is no greater than the other Shabbats. Rashi actually writes that the customary lengthy Shabbat HaGadol sermon makes this Shabbat drag. He suggests that this is why it is called Shabbat HaGadol – gadol in the sense of “long/protracted.” (if you’re a fan of my recent blog keep it short, enough said)

Leopold Zunz, the 19th century founder of Jewish Studies raised the possibility that the Jews had borrowed the term “Great Sabbath” from their Christian environment which makes little sense. What makes more sense, especially based on recent research by scholars such as Daniel Boyarin (The Jewish Gospels), is that Christian sources have preserved a common Jewish belief and custom which, once embraced by the Christian offshoot, was repressed within Judaism.

After close to 1,000 years, Shabbat Hagadol began to reemerge into Ashkenazi circles. “The uniqueness was expressed in the choice of a new Hafarah portion, Malachi 3, because of it’s fitting conclusion that anticipated the coming of Elijah and thereafter, “the great and terrible day of God.” Shabbat Hagadol thus took it’s place in Ashkenaz as a Sabbath equal to the four special Sabbaths designated in the Mishnah for the (prior) month of Adar.”

If you subscribe to the thesis offered in part 2 of this series, that there had originally been a 40 day period of preparation for the redemption in Nisan, then Shabbat Hagadol served the same function as Shabbat Shuvah before Yom Kippur… as an opportunity for Rabbi’s to preach an inspiring sermon.

Israel Yuval and others * argue that The Great Shabbat was originally a (2nd – 3rd century ce) Christian innovation and was only integrated into Judaism much later date and as a response to the Christian Holy Week also known as “Great Week”. Shabbat Hagadol as a polemic tool against Christianity is supported by the choice of prophetic readings and samples of sermons from medieval (especially Ashkenazic) sources. The focus is on the “great slaughter” and the “great son”.

The Haftora for Shabbat Hagadol is Malachi 3: 4-24 concluding with (23-24):

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD.
And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers; lest I come and smite the land with utter destruction.
הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי שֹׁלֵחַ לָכֶם, אֵת אֵלִיָּה הַנָּבִיא–לִפְנֵי, בּוֹא יוֹם יְהוָה, הַגָּדוֹל, וְהַנּוֹרָא.
וְהֵשִׁיב לֵב-אָבוֹת עַל-בָּנִים, וְלֵב בָּנִים עַל-אֲבוֹתָם–פֶּן-אָבוֹא, וְהִכֵּיתִי אֶת-הָאָרֶץ חֵרֶם.

The point of the Haftorah (bedsides containing a reference to a Great Day) is that God will redeem the Jewish people and take vengeance upon their tormentors. **

But the polemics did not stop there.

The Jewish tradition addressed the Christian claim to be the younger brother (see part 1 of this series), with the counter claim that Rome was Edom in the Bible and that the progenitor of these Christian Edomites was the older or great brother Esau.

The Pesikta deRav Kehana ties the Shabbat Hagadol to the victory over the Great Brother…

And it came to pass, that when Isaac was old, and his eyes were dim, so that he could not see, he called Esau his elder (lit. great) son, and said unto him: ‘My son’; and he said unto him: ‘Here am I.’ (Genesis 27:1)
וַיְהִי כִּי-זָקֵן יִצְחָק, וַתִּכְהֶיןָ עֵינָיו מֵרְאֹת; וַיִּקְרָא אֶת-עֵשָׂו בְּנוֹ הַגָּדֹל, וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו בְּנִי, וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו, הִנֵּנִי.
And Rebekah took the choicest garments of Esau her elder son (lit. great), which were with her in the house, and put them upon Jacob her younger son. (Genesis 27: 15)
וַתִּקַּח רִבְקָה אֶת-בִּגְדֵי עֵשָׂו בְּנָהּ הַגָּדֹל, הַחֲמֻדֹת, אֲשֶׁר אִתָּהּ, בַּבָּיִת; וַתַּלְבֵּשׁ אֶת-יַעֲקֹב, בְּנָהּ הַקָּטָן.

These two verses are referenced in the Pesikta de Rav Kahana in an explanation of Exodus 12:6 which deals with the preparations taken from the 10th of Nisan when a lamb is taken:

and ye shall keep it unto the fourteenth day of the same month; and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at dusk.
The Pesikta, was compiled by the 8th century is thought to be based on substantially older texts similar to Genesis Rabah. It identifies the lamb with Edom, who it claims, God will make “small”:

The vision of Obadiah. Thus saith the Lord GOD concerning Edom: We have heard a message from the LORD, and an ambassador is sent among the nations: ‘Arise ye, and let us rise up against her in battle.’
Behold, I make thee small among the nations; thou art greatly despised.
חֲזוֹן, עֹבַדְיָה: כֹּה-אָמַר אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה לֶאֱדוֹם, שְׁמוּעָה שָׁמַעְנוּ מֵאֵת יְהוָה וְצִיר בַּגּוֹיִם שֻׁלָּח–קוּמוּ וְנָקוּמָה עָלֶיהָ, לַמִּלְחָמָה.
הִנֵּה קָטֹן נְתַתִּיךָ, בַּגּוֹיִם: בָּזוּי אַתָּה, מְאֹד.

And will slaughter:
The sword of the LORD is filled with blood, it is made fat with fatness, with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams; for the LORD hath a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Edom.
חֶרֶב לַיהוָה מָלְאָה דָם, הֻדַּשְׁנָה מֵחֵלֶב, מִדַּם כָּרִים וְעַתּוּדִים, מֵחֵלֶב כִּלְיוֹת אֵילִים: כִּי זֶבַח לַיהוָה בְּבָצְרָה, וְטֶבַח גָּדוֹל בְּאֶרֶץ אֱדוֹם.

Can one assume that the author of this midrash was also aware that Jesus was thought to be “great” (Luke 1”32; Hebrews 1:3-4)

In any case, we can assume that when Shabbat Hagadol (re-)appeared in medieval times, it was used as a polemical tool against Christianity. Similar to the evolution of the removal of leaven, the emphasis for the week before Passover, including the Shabbat before Passover was changed from self reflection to retribution on our external enemies.. with an emphasis on the last plague, the smiting of the First Born (the Big son). (see Yuval p. 218 where he cites tosafot b. Shabbat 87b on connection between Shabbat Hagadol and the first born in Egypt). ***

Israel Yuval argues that Shabbat Hagadol did not exist in Judaism until medieval times. I side with Daniel Boyarin’s argument, that if the synoptic gospels refer to a Jewish Great Sabbath, it is unlikely that it was their innovation, they were certainly claiming an existing Jewish religious/cultural institution as their own.

So what was the nature of the original Jewish (Pre- Christian) Shabbat Hagadol?

According to a response from the thirteenth century a certain Menachem ben Yaakov writes that the Haftora read on this Shabbat was originally Jeremiah 7 (the Haftora we now read for parshat Tzav) but, says Menachem,  since that Haftora contains a rebuke by the prophet that God doesn’t want the Jewish People’s hypocritical sacrifices, it would be too insensitive to use this reading “on the day the they [the Jews] they slaughter the Passover sacrifice. (Yuval p. 223)

It is clear to me, that this is precisely the right Haftora to read when we celebrate the newly created Passover Seder…. after the destruction of the temple and without a Passover sacrifice.

It is also clear to me, that it became impossible to read this Haftora once the competition with Christianity began.   Jesus, after all modeled himself after Jeremiah when he overturned the tables of the money changers in the narrative of the Cleansing of the Temple.

But now that the competition is over… maybe we can read Jeremiah again… it’s powerful stuff for the Great Shabbat before Passover, and in my humble opinion, no one, said it better than Jeremiah.  Here’s a sampling… but you should open up a Bible and read it for yourself…

Have a Great Shabbat…..

Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place.
Trust ye not in lying words, saying: ‘The temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, are these.’
Nay, but if ye thoroughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye thoroughly execute justice between a man and his neighbour;
if ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt;
then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever.
Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit.
Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and offer unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye have not known,
and come and stand before Me in this house, whereupon My name is called, and say: ‘We are delivered’, that ye may do all these abominations?
Is this house, whereupon My name is called, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it, saith the LORD……
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD: Behold, Mine anger and My fury shall be poured out upon this place, upon man, and upon beast, and upon the trees of the field, and upon the fruit of the land; and it shall burn, and shall not be quenched.
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Add your burnt-offerings unto your sacrifices, and eat ye flesh.
For I spoke not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offerings or sacrifices;
but this thing I commanded them, saying: ‘Hearken unto My voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be My people; and walk ye in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’
But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in their own counsels, even in the stubbornness of their evil heart, and went backward and not forward,
even since the day that your fathers came forth out of the land of Egypt unto this day; and though I have sent unto you all My servants the prophets, sending them daily betimes and often,

——————

* For a full treatment of the repression and reemergence of Shabbat hagadol see: Passover in the Middle Ages, Israel J. Yuval in Passover and Easter – Origin and History to Modern Times Vol 6 pp127 – 160 and The Great Sabbath and Lent: Jewish Origins? By Lawrence Hoffman Passover and Easter – Origin and History to Modern Times Vol 5 pp. 15 – 35.

** Not coincidentally, Malachi 3, 1 -3 is not included since it makes reference to a messenger, which Christians would take to mean; Jesus.
Behold, I send My messenger, and he shall clear the way before Me; and the Lord, whom ye seek, will suddenly come to His temple, and the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in, behold, he cometh, saith the LORD of hosts….. And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver; and there shall be they that shall offer unto the LORD offerings in righteousness.

*** here are the original sources quoted above:
Pesikta

 

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the gospel geniza – part 2

removing leaven – preparing for the redemption

It is widely known that in Judaism there are actually two New Years.  The first month; Tishre, and the seventh month: Nisan. I

What is not as widely known is that there is a similar calendrical dialectic regarding when The Deliverance will arrive  in the time to come.

According to Rabbi Eliezer ‘In Nisan they were delivered’, as Scripture recounts. [but] ‘In Tishri they will be delivered in time to come’. This is learnt from the two occurrences of the word ‘horn’. It is written in one place, Blow the horn on the new moon, and it is written in another place, In that day a great horn shall be blown.

‘R. Joshua says, In Nisan they were delivered, [and] in Nisan they will be delivered in the time to come’. Whence do we know this? — Scripture calls [the Passover] ‘a night of watchings’, [which means], a night which has been continuously watched for from the six days of the creation. (Rosh HaShana 11b). II

Given the solemnity of Rosh Hashanah (the Tishre New Year), it is no surprise that preparations begin a month before at the beginning of Elul with the daily Selichot prayers and blowing of the ‘horn’.  The days of preparation and repentance culminate on Yom Kippur when the Shofar horn is blown one final time and the judgment has been sealed and the gates closed – Neilah.  All in all, there is a 40 day period between the beginning of Elul wherein the Jewish People prepare for the Day of Judgment, and according to Rabbi Eliezer for deliverance.

What is surprising is that there is not a similar 40 day period preceding Passover.

There seem to be artifacts for such a long preparation period in the four special Sabbaths (Shekalim, Zachor, Parah and HaChodesh) which create a roughly 40 day preparation period to Passover. III But where is the sense of angst and spiritual growth, the repentance and increased sense of expectation and spiritual frenzy that one would expect to lead up to deliverance and that one finds in the Tishre parallel?

It’s not as if the Bible does not allude to such preparation.  There are probably more references to the removing leaven than there are to any other aspect of the holiday.

3 Thou shalt eat no leavened bread (חָמֵץ) on it; seven days shalt thou eat unleavened (מַצּוֹת) bread therewith, even the bread of affliction; for in haste didst thou come forth out of the land of Egypt; that thou mayest remember the day when thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of thy life.

4 And there shall be no leaven (שְׂאֹר) seen with thee in all they borders seven days; … (Deuteronomy 16: 1 – 4)

לֹא-תֹאכַל עָלָיו חָמֵץ, שִׁבְעַת יָמִים תֹּאכַל-עָלָיו מַצּוֹת לֶחֶם עֹנִי:  כִּי בְחִפָּזוֹן, יָצָאתָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם–לְמַעַן תִּזְכֹּר אֶת-יוֹם צֵאתְךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ.

וְלֹא-יֵרָאֶה לְךָ שְׂאֹר בְּכָל-גְּבֻלְךָ, שִׁבְעַת יָמִים; וְלֹא-יָלִין מִן-הַבָּשָׂר, אֲשֶׁר תִּזְבַּח בָּעֶרֶב בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן–לַבֹּקֶר.

I would argue, that as a result of Christianity monopolizing the Passover deliverance narrative, Judaism dialed down both the preparations and build-up to Passover as well as the inherent messianistic overtones of the holiday. (see my previous post: the gospel geniza and Daniel Boyarin’s  Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity) IV

What was lost or at least de-emphasized from Judaism was the connection between removing leaven and cleaning one’s soul in preparation for redemption.

The New Testament mentions “the leaven of malice and wickedness”

Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened [bread] of sincerity and truth. [Corinthians 5:8]

This view is shared by the ancients:

“Leaven itself comes from corruption, and corrupts the dough with which it is mixed . . . and in general, fermentation seems to be a kind of putrefaction” (Plutarch, Quaest. Rom. 109). Plutarch records that the Roman high priest (Flamen Dialis) was forbidden even to touch leaven (ibid.). To be sure, all of the above-cited references stem from late antiquity (Christian, rabbinic, and Hellenistic sources), but they undoubtedly reflect an older and universal regard of leaven as the arch-symbol of fermentation:’ deterioration, and death and, hence, taboo on the altar of blessing and life. [pp 188-9 Leviticus 1-16: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary Anchor Bible, Vol. 3, Jacob Milgrom]

Listen to what (Pre-Christian) Philo of Alexandria (representing the Jewish Hellenistics) wrote:

Leaven is forbidden because of the rising which it produces. Here again we have a symbol of the truth, that none as he approaches the altar should be uplifted or puffed up by arrogance; rather gazing on the greatness of God, let him gain a perception of the weakness which belongs to the creature, even though he may be superior to others in prosperity; and having been thus led to the reasonable conclusion, let him reduce the overweening exaltation of his pride by laying low that pestilent enemy, conceit. …. For naked you came into the world, worthy sir, and naked will you again depart, and the span of time between your birth and death is a loan to you from God. During this span what can be meet for you to do but to study fellow-feeling and goodwill and equity and humanity and what else belongs to virtue, and to cast away the inequitable, unrighteous and unforgiving viciousness which turns man, naturally the most civilized of creatures, into a wild and ferocious animal! (Philo,The Special Laws, Book I, 293-295 quoted in The Passover Anthology, Philip Goodman).

It is surprising that the symbolism of the purging of leaven as a metaphor for introspection and repentance seems not to appear in the Haggada directly itself and is relegated (if at all) to the commentaries as meta-interpretation.  In fact, the removal, nullification and prohibition to own leaven is not mentioned during the Seder service at all… surprising since at least half of the effort in preparing a seder goes into making the home hametz-free! (“On all other nights we eat Hametz and matzo .. on this night we eat only matzoh” does not count.. since the emphasis is on commandment of eating matzoh, not clearing and nullifying hametz.)

If we enlarge our search for spring spiritual cleaning, beyond Christianity, we should note that Persians at the outset of the Iranian Norouz, (the Persian new year, which falls on the first day [Rosh Hodesh) of spring) continue the practice of “khooneh tekouni” which literally means “shaking the house”? Everything in the house is thoroughly cleaned, from the drapes to the furniture.

Back to the Christian geniza, we should note that Lent comes from the word length.. as in the longer days of spring. Instead of Ash Wednesday, the Eastern Church celebrates Clean Monday, otherwise known as Ash Monday. According to Wikipidia:

The common term for this day, “Clean Monday”, refers to the leaving behind of sinful attitudes and non-fasting foods. It is sometimes called “Ash Monday,” by analogy with Ash Wednesday (the day when the Western Churches begin Lent). …. Liturgically, Clean Monday—and thus Lent itself—begins on the preceding (Sunday) night, at a special service called Forgiveness Vespers, which culminates with the Ceremony of Mutual Forgiveness, at which all present will bow down before one another and ask forgiveness. In this way, the faithful begin Lent with a clean conscience, with forgiveness, and with renewed Christian love. The entire first week of Great Lent is often referred to as “Clean Week,” and it is customary to go to Confession during this week, and to clean the house thoroughly.

The fact that so many other competing religions, especially Christianity, retained the spring-purification rites may explain why it’s symbolism became muted in Judaism.

But the New Testament preserves another sense of leaven, namely the polemical - vindictive tool of calling one’s enemy leaven.

“the leaven of the Pharisees,” which is “hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1; d. Mark 8:15).

It would seem that in Judaism, the inward-looking cleaning of sin in preparation for redemption was de-emphasized, just as the outward-looking cleaning of one’s enemies was emphasized.

“Sovereign of the Universe, it is well known to You that it is our will to do Your will. Who prevents us from doing so? The leavening agent in the dough (the evil inclination within us) and our subservience to the nations. May it be Your will to save us from these so that we can return to fulfilling Your commandments wholeheartedly.” Prayer of Rabbi Alexandrai (quoted by Milgrom ibid).

See also the kabalistic kavanah recited before the bedikat HaChametz (searching for the Leaven):

May it be Your will, Lord, our G-d and G-d of our fathers, that just as I remove the chametz from my house and from my possession, so shall You remove all the extraneous forces. Remove the spirit of impurity from the earth, remove our evil inclination from us, and grant us a heart of flesh to serve You in truth. Make all the sitra achara, all the kelipot, and all wickedness be consumed in smoke, and remove the dominion of evil (Memshelet Zadon – Christians [?])  from the earth. Remove with a spirit of destruction and a spirit of judgment all that distress the Shechina, just as You destroyed Egypt and its idols in those days, at this time. Amen, Selah.

bedikat Hametz kavanah

As long as Christianity and Judaism were in conflict, I can understand why the month long  spiritual cleaning was relegated to the day before the holiday and does not appear in the Hagaddah. I can also understand the institutionalization of “a comprehensive religious ideology that sees vengeance as a central component in its messianic doctrine. (Yuval p. 123).

With the Christian embrace of Lent and Holy Week and the heightened levels of expectation, spiritual frenzy and expectations of rapture approaching their Pascha (Easter), we Jews de-emphasized our own versions of these same expectations for Passover.  We did this for philosophical but also practical reasons.  The Easter period was historically a dangerous one for the Jewish minority.

It seems to me that the only part of cleaning the leaven to survive in our Hagaddah was in the “Pour out your Wrath on the nations”.

Pour out Your wrath upon the nations that do not acknowledge You, and upon the kingdoms that do not call upon Your Name. For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation. Pour out Your indignation upon them, and let the wrath of Your anger overtake them. Pursue them with anger, and destroy them from beneath the heavens of the Lord.

sephoch hamatcha

This is actually a high-point of the Seder dinner; when we open the door to welcome Elijah and before we drink the Fourth Cup which is traditionally the cup of redemption.  At this pivotal moment we beseech God to clean the world of our external enemies (leaven).

Now that the competition is over, it is time to replace the “pour out your wrath” and it’s emphasis on external polemics and vengeance, with a reference to the internal cleansing that must precede redemption.

In fact, a “Rabbi Shimon ben Yitzhak wrote a poem cursing the “evil impulse” that was stylistically similar to the curse against the Gentiles. This liturgical poem continues alphabetically; the verbs used to curse later on are “sweep him away, hurl him, compel him, banish him, sacrifice him” (see A. M. Haberman quoted in Two Nations in Your Womb: Perceptions of Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages by Isræl Jacob Yuval. Pp 123-4) (ed note.. I am looking for this piyut)

As long as we’re re-introducing and re-emphasising the internal removal of leaven, let’s note that most haggadot, don’t start with kiddush, but rather retain the home ceremony of searching for the leaven… even though the search and nullification of leaven takes place before the onset of the holiday and holiday service.

The message is clear: The nullification of the leaven/decay is critical for the freedom that is to follow. Let’s use this text and a revised, internalized “pour out thy wrath” to discuss how we need to prepare for redemption, in whatever form we envision it…. by removing the leaven from our hearts, including the outdated religious ideology of redemption through polemic and vindication.

Leaven-Logo official-200

—————–

I Tishre, the first month in the Fall and Nisan the seventh month in the Spring.  Tishre, because the world was created in Tishre and Nisan because the Jewish people were created in Nisan and because the Bible in Exodus 12:2 says so “This month shall be unto you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you.”

II See also Megillah 6b: Where Rabbi Gamaliel argues that in a leap year, Purim is celebrated on the 2nd Adar: “R. Simon b. Gamaliel again reasoned: Just as in most years [we think of] Adar as adjoining Nisan, so here [we keep the precepts] in the Adar which adjoins Nisan. …. The reason of R. Simon b. Gamaliel is that more weight is to be attached to bringing one period of redemption close to another.” Purim and Passover are times of future redemption.

III Or if one counts from Purim, a roughly 40 day period between Purim and the end of Nissan (which marks the end of when the deliverance will come).

IV In an ironic use of replacement theology, the Rabbis elevated an agricultural holiday (Shavuot) into a holiday of revelation (of the Torah) and similarly modified the 49 day Omer period between Passover and Shavuot, into a new period of purification and preparation.

end note -

Just as the Kol Nidre nullification of vows prior to the onset of Yom Kippur is forever connected to the service to follow, so too, the Kol Hamirah is critical to the seder to follow. Both nullification (Bitul) formulas are legal in form and in the Aramaic vernacular. Both are combined with an invitation for others to participate, and both are intrinsic to the holiness of the coming day. The ironic difference is that Kol Nidre is famous and Kol Hamirah is not… but that the nullification of Hametz is of biblical origin (and requires a blessing) while Kol Nidre is of unknown origin. Most unfortunatley, Kol Nidre has a soulful tune and Kol Hamira has none….

 

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the gospel geniza

getting ready for passover

In the category of Jewish-Christian Dialogue, the award for the best back-handed compliment goes to Pope John Paul II who in 1986 went to a Rome synagogue to pray with the city’s Jewish community. Noting Christianity’s unique bond with Judaism, he said, “You are our beloved brothers … you are our elder brothers” in the faith of Abraham. (see: Catholic News). More recently, Pope Francis described the Jewish people as the “big brothers” of his Roman Catholic flock in words of solidarity marking the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht.

Why a compliment? Because we Jews are raised to believe our little secret… that Christians cannot possibly understand their religion without understanding Judaism, the religion of Jesus. We may be a minority and have been oppressed, but when all is said and done, our religion preceded and gave birth to Christianity… the two popes exploited this conceit.

Why a backhanded compliment? For those familiar with the Hebrew Bible, you know that the God of the Jews favors the younger brother.. from Cain and Abel until King David and on….

and the elder shall serve the younger. (Genesis 25: 23)
וְרַב יַעֲבֹד צָעִיר

For a complete analysis of the history of this birth-order election tug-of-war see the brilliant: Two Nations in Your Womb: Perceptions of Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages by Isræl Jacob Yuval.

Why the Award and why now? Now that Christianity and Judaism are getting along so well, we can both agree that neither religion can achieve self-awareness without understanding the other. Both religions can lose their conceits and sense of election and need to admit that they both do not have a well thought out theology which includes the other. *

As Daniel Boyarin argues in his book Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity, both Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity were created in the chaos formed by the loss of the temple and the Jewish Commonwealth in the first centuries of the Common Era. And…. it turns out, both “religions” increasingly defined themselves in counter distinction to the other.

For the purposes of the present discussion, what this means is that both faiths jettisoned beliefs held by the other. So in his more popular book, The Jewish Gospels, Boyarin argues that if the early Christians were looking to convince Jews of their authenticity, it would hardly make sense to cite unheard of concepts and novel ideas to prove that they were the true heir to the throne. If they claimed that Jesus was divinely born and/or needed to be sacrificed, Boyarin argues, that must have been the expectation of the general Jewish population of the day. Similarly, if early Christian Jews claimed that the Godhead had multiple manifestations, then this belief must have been resident among fellow Jews. And in his writings, Boyarin proves that these beliefs were in fact, held by Jews of the time.

As the break between the two religions grew over time, the border lines became less porous. Previously common beliefs, rituals and traditions were divvied up as in a zero sum game.

So the two Popes have my appreciation for reminding me of a once important thread in my tradition, the election of the younger brother, which we jettisoned at the border and had forgotten about to the point where most of us smile with appreciation when we’re referred to by the leader of the Catholic Church as the older brother.

The two Popes get my appreciation, because in our new world where hostilities have ceased and Jewish Christian dialog is fashionable, we Jews are now free to roam around the Gospels (and the rest of Christian scripture, liturgy and literature) to reclaim customs, traditions, rituals, expressions, beliefs and even polemics that we discarded and buried long ago in what I call the Gospel Geniza.

In my next post we’ll explore this treasure trove, hiding in plain sight, for Jewish artifacts that impact the Passover celebration.

Here are some entrées to whet your appetite:

Shabbat Hagadol – see John 19:31 (megalē μεγάλη which means: large, great)
Hametz – See Mark 8:15 “the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod” and the connection between purging leaven and repentance.
Afikomen – broken and hidden, a symbol of the messiah and a lost polemic

fish

* i.e Christians, especially Catholics, have not fully worked out how their older brother need not be rejected and replaced by the younger brother for their new testament (covenant) to be valid, and Jews have not expanded their rudimentary category of natural religion (Noachide Religion) to include other eschatological monotheistic religions such as Christianity which have valid but alternative conceptions of the Godhead and end-of-days.

 

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kavanah – modeh ani

Madlik goes to shul …

My favorite prayer is the first prayer of the day.  The prayer goes as follows:

modeh-ani

Here’s a nice melody for Modeh Ani:


What’s not to like?
The prayer starts with gratitude.
It is  לפנך …. in the moment.
The prayer does not reference God.
It is a prayer of gratitude, in the abstract, without an address… just gratitude.
It is imminently personal, in the first person (unlike the prayers to follow).
And finally, the first reference to belief (emunah) every day, is not to our faith in…. , but rather in a higher being’s faith in us.

Here’s the source in Lamentations 3:22-23

Surely the LORD’S mercies are not consumed …… They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness.

….חַסְדֵי יְהוָה כִּי לֹא-תָמְנוּ

חֲדָשִׁים, לַבְּקָרִים, רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶךָ.

What’s the back story to this gem of a prayer that comes too early in the day for anyone to notice but sets the tone for the whole morning service?

It turns out that the modeh ani prayer was not written by a humanist. The simple reason that God’s name is not mentioned, is that the awakening individual has not yet washed his/her hands so God’s name cannot be spoken. Not surprisingly, the next prayer is the prayer on washing one’s hands. Which begs the question; why not wash one’s hands and then say a proper prayer?

Unlike the simple washing of one’s hands before prayer or study, this first morning wash is done with a blessing.
One is washing one’s hands after a night’s sleep and a night’s sleep was profoundly important to the Rabbis of the Talmud:

Five things are a sixtieth part of something else: namely, fire, honey, Sabbath, sleep and a dream. Fire is one-sixtieth part of Gehinnom. Honey is one-sixtieth part of manna. Sabbath is one-sixtieth part of the world to come. Sleep is one-sixtieth part of death. A dream is one-sixtieth part of prophecy. [Berachot 57b and See: On Prayer: I Thank You by Rabbi Avi Stewart ]

sleep 1 60th
I’ve always enjoyed thinking of Shabbat as a taste of Olam Haba’ah (the world to come), unfortunately, thinking of sleep as a taste of death doesn’t give me the same lift.

But the Rabbis are doing something quite remarkable here. Death lies at the heart of all impurity (tumah) טָמְאָה. Whether one comes into contact with a corpse, menstruates, gives birth to a child, has a nocturnal emission or is afflicted with leprosy, in one form or another one has been separated or deprived of life or exposed to decay. In biblical times, the opposite of tumah was access to the temple upon becoming clean.
The rabbis introduced a radical dogma to post temple Judaism.. the belief in the resurrection of the dead. And in the prayerbook they have an agenda to weave their belief in the ressurection of the dead (techyat Hametim) into our prayers. They start with Modeh Ani.

But here’s the punch line: If sleep is a taste of death, then waking up is a taste of resurrection!

…..or as R. Alexandri interpreted it: From the fact that You renew us every morning, we know that great is Your faithfulness to resurrect the dead.

I’m not a big believer in the resurrection of the dead, but even I consider resurrection of the dead, diluted to 1/60th (batel b’shishim) to be kosher! If when the Rabbis woke up they got a taste of resurrection, when I get up and read the same prayers, I am refreshed with a taste of the possibility of being re-born on a new day… every day!

With this resurrection-lite in hand, I can follow the rabbis through the morning prayers with new insight and gratitude.
If the Shabbat is a taste of a better world, the morning prayers, starting with Modeh Ani become a taste of being reborn…. radical renewal.

Washing our hands and face when we first wake up and again before prayers (something that has remained more within the ritual and sanctuary architecture of Christianity and Islam) should refresh us.

The next place we encounter rejuvenation is Elohie Neshama

elohaineshama2
The prayer is beautiful, but if you have said it before, you may not have noticed the ending.. “who restores souls to dead bodies”. Armed with our understanding of rising in the morning as an exercise in rising from the dead, not only does the prayer make sense, but, as only a taste of rising from the dead, it retains its beauty but with new empowerment.

The other morning blessings also take on new meaning. The whole list of blessings that thank God “who made me “in His image”, “a Jew”, “free” make more sense if we are newly created … each morning.

“Clothing the naked”, “releasing the bound” מתיר אסורים and “straightens the bent” זוקפ כפופים relate directly to the steps of rising in the morning… but also the steps of being born again, and tie directly into  the Ashrei (Psalm 145 and Psalm 146) and the second blessing of the Silent Prayer (amidah). We are beginning to see how central to the theme of the morning service, this thread of reviving the dead becomes.

The climax of the early morning blessings is the last one… Thank you God for giving strength to the weary…which is what I ask of my morning coffee, revival of the dead and which, it appears, is the goal of our morning prayers, if said properly.

As we move on, in the Psalm of Shabbat we pick up this theme again (Psalms 92: 3)

To declare Thy lovingkindness in the morning, and Thy faithfulness in the night,
לְהַגִּיד בַּבֹּקֶר חַסְדֶּךָ; וֶאֱמוּנָתְךָ, בַּלֵּילוֹת
Here again… the faithfulness that is referenced is God’s faith for man…

With Psalm 90 “A Prayer of Moses” we catch up again with earlier, Biblical themes of morning as rebirth and night as sin, decline and death.

For a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.
Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep; in the morning they are like grass which groweth up.
In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth.
For we are consumed in Thine anger, and by Thy wrath are we hurried away.
Thou hast set our iniquities before Thee, our secret sins in the light of Thy countenance.
For all our days are passed away in Thy wrath; we bring our years to an end as a tale that is told….

O satisfy us in the morning with Thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

כִּי אֶלֶף שָׁנִים, בְּעֵינֶיךָ– כְּיוֹם אֶתְמוֹל, כִּי יַעֲבֹר;
וְאַשְׁמוּרָה בַלָּיְלָה.
זְרַמְתָּם, שֵׁנָה יִהְיוּ; בַּבֹּקֶר, כֶּחָצִיר יַחֲלֹף.
בַּבֹּקֶר, יָצִיץ וְחָלָף; לָעֶרֶב, יְמוֹלֵל וְיָבֵשׁ.
כִּי-כָלִינוּ בְאַפֶּךָ; וּבַחֲמָתְךָ נִבְהָלְנוּ.
שת (שַׁתָּה) עֲו‍ֹנֹתֵינוּ לְנֶגְדֶּךָ; עֲלֻמֵנוּ, לִמְאוֹר פָּנֶיךָ.
כִּי כָל-יָמֵינוּ, פָּנוּ בְעֶבְרָתֶךָ; כִּלִּינוּ שָׁנֵינוּ כְמוֹ-הֶגֶה.

שַׂבְּעֵנוּ בַבֹּקֶר חַסְדֶּךָ; וּנְרַנְּנָה וְנִשְׂמְחָה, בְּכָל-יָמֵינוּ.

As mentioned above, we encounter the sources of the early morning blessings in Psalm 145 and Psalm 146

The LORD upholdeth all that fall, and raiseth up all those that are bowed down.

סוֹמֵךְ יְהוָה, לְכָל-הַנֹּפְלִים; וְזוֹקֵף, לְכָל-הַכְּפוּפִים.

Who executeth justice for the oppressed; who giveth bread to the hungry. The LORD looseth the prisoners;
The LORD openeth the eyes of the blind; the LORD raiseth up them that are bowed down; the LORD loveth the righteous;

עֹשֶׂה מִשְׁפָּט, לָעֲשׁוּקִים–נֹתֵן לֶחֶם, לָרְעֵבִים; יְהוָה, מַתִּיר אֲסוּרִים.
יְהוָה, פֹּקֵחַ עִוְרִים–יְהוָה, זֹקֵף כְּפוּפִים; יְהוָה, אֹהֵב צַדִּיקִים.

Clearly there are other themes besides waking in the morning and rebirth which the curator of the siddur is weaving into our prayers, but this radical renewal is certainly the first theme and one that is sustained until the Silent prayer; the Amidah.

Here’s the second blessing of the Amidah which recycles many of the terms we have been seeing and adds “those who sleep in the dust לישני עפר to our repertoire:

You are mighty forever, my Lord; You resurrect the dead; You are powerful to save.

He sustains the living with loving kindness, resurrects the dead with great mercy, supports the falling, heals the sick, releases the bound, and fulfills His trust to those who sleep in the dust. Who is like You, mighty One! And who can be compared to You, King, who brings death and restores life, and causes deliverance to spring forth!
You are trustworthy to revive the dead. Blessed are You Lord, who revives the dead.

2nd blessing of amidah

Our theme ends with Modim Anachnu מוֹדִים אֲנַֽחְנוּ, the public version of the very private Modeh Ani מודה אני which which we began our morning. It is not only in the plural, but since the Amidah is chanted morning, afternoon and night, it covers our whole waking day, and besides repeating the sense of dependency it introduces the wonder and awe we have for the miricle that is life.  It ends, as Modeh Ani began; with gratitude (Thanks – הוֹדוֹת).

We thankfully acknowledge that You are the Lord our God and God of our ancestors forever. You are the strength of our life, the shield of our salvation in every generation. We will give thanks to You and recount Your praise, evening, morning and noon, for our lives which are committed into Your hand, for our souls which are entrusted to You, for Your miracles which are with us daily, and for Your continual wonders and beneficences. You are the Beneficent One, for Your mercies never cease; the Merciful One, for Your kindnesses never end; for we always place our hope in You. And for all these, may Your Name, our King, be continually blessed, exalted and extolled forever and all time. And all living things shall forever thank You, and praise Your great Name eternally, for You are good. God, You are our everlasting salvation and help, O benevolent God. Blessed are You Lord, Beneficent is Your Name, and to You it is fitting to offer thanks.

מוֹדִים אֲנַֽחְנוּ לָךְ,
שָׁאַתָּה הוּא, ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵֽינוּ וֵא-לֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵֽינוּ, לְעוֹלָם
וָעֶד,
צוּר חַיֵּֽינוּ, מָגֵן יִשְׁעֵֽנוּ, אַתָּה הוּא לְדוֹר וָדוֹר,
נֽוֹדֶה לְּךָ וּנְסַפֵּר תְּהִלָּתֶֽךָ,
עַל חַיֵּֽינוּ הַמְּסוּרִים בְּיָדֶֽךָ,
וְעַל נִשְׁמוֹתֵֽינוּ הַפְּקוּדוֹת לָךְ,
וְעַל נִסֶּֽיךָ שֶׁבְּכָל יוֹם עִמָּֽנוּ,
וְעַל נִפְלְאוֹתֶֽיךָ וְטוֹבוֹתֶֽיךָ שֶׁבְּכָל עֵת, עֶֽרֶב וָבֹֽקֶר
וְצָהֳרָֽיִם,
הַטּוֹב, כִּי לֹא כָלוּ רַחֲמֶֽיךָ,
וְהַמְרַחֵם, כִּי לֹא תַֽמּוּ חֲסָדֶֽיךָ, מֵעוֹלָם קִוִּֽינוּ לָךְ.
וְעַל כֻּלָּם יִתְבָּרַךְ וְיִתְרוֹמַם שִׁמְךָ מַלְכֵּֽנוּ תָּמִיד
לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד.
וְכֹל הַחַיִּים יוֹדֽוּךָ סֶּֽלָה,
וִיהַלְלוּ אֶת שִׁמְךָ בֶּאֱמֶת,
הָאֵ-ל יְשׁוּעָתֵֽנוּ וְעֶזְרָתֵֽנוּ סֶֽלָה.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’, הַטּוֹב שִׁמְךָ וּלְךָ נָאֶה לְהוֹדוֹת.

Looking forward to exploring more themes in Jewish Prayer the future…..

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keep it short

parshat Shemini

So this guy from Crimea is having a press conference and the Russian reporter asks him to describe the “situation” in one word….. “keep it short” he says.  The Ukrainian answers “good”.
“Could you elaborate?” asks a Western reporter.   “Not so good” replies the Ukrainian.

Draw your own social commentary.  For the purposes of this post the joke dramatizes the diametrical difference between short and long.

So Aaron’s sons are consumed by fire for offering a unfamiliar sacrifice.  In a previous post I have argued that they committed the ultimate transgression… they added to God’s command… they played the dangerous game of being Holier than Thou.

Today, I’d like to make it even simpler… Nadab and Abihu committed the ultimate offense… they made the service longer….

And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took each of them his censer, and put fire therein, and laid incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. And there came forth fire from before the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said unto Aaron: ‘This is it that the LORD spoke, saying: Through them that are nigh unto Me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ And Aaron was still. (Leviticus 10: 1-2)

nadav and avihu

The key phrase is ” before all the people I will be glorified “.

וְעַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָעָם, אֶכָּבֵד

כבוד הציבור

The Mishnah (Yoma 68b) relates that on Yom Kippur the kohen gadol would read two adjacent sections from his sefer torah. A third section, whose location in the Torah was somewhat distant from the former sections, would be read by heart. The Gemara explains that rolling the sefer torah to the relevant location was not an option, “because of the honor of the congregation.”

טורח ציבור

Although the Gemara mentions the honor of the congregation, the idea clearly refers to the familiar concept tircha de-tzibura [”burdening the public.”] — causing the congregation to wait while the sefer torah is rolled. As Rashi explains, the concern was “on account of the congregation’s honor, for they would wait in passive silence[i] [while the Torah was rolled].”

An interesting extrapolation from this halachah relates to public speaking.  In principle, it is forbidden to quote Torah verses by heart: Quotations of scriptural verses must be read from a written text.  Based on the practice of the kohen gadol,  the Mishnah Berurah (49:3) suggests that it might be permitted for somebody engaged in public speaking to cite scriptural verses by heart, for looking up each verse would place a burden (of waiting) on the tzibbur [congregation]. (see: The Halachic Principles of Tircha De-Tzibura, Rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer)

To put it another way: A good sermon should be like a woman’s skirt: short enough to arouse interest but long enough to cover the essentials.

The sin of abusing the Jewish People and needlessly lengthening the service, applies not only to the public reading of the Torah,  the Rabbi’s sermon but even to the prayers themselves.

In a statement that seems most surprising, the Gemara (Berachot 12b) writes that it would be fitting for our reading of the Shema to include the passages of Bilam’s blessing. The reason why the section is not included is on account of tircha de-tziburah—”burdening the public.”

The long and short of it is that the sin of Nadab and Abihu was that they made the service longer.

There’s a lot that our Israeli brothers and sisters can learn from the Diaspora in terms of pluralistic Judaism, but one thing that we certainly can learn from the Israelis is how to shorten our services. A 2 ½ – 3 hour service …. Just shoot me!

Would you go to a 2 ½ hour yoga or exercise class?  And what’s with all these instructions and accommodations for the visitors and novices.  If you had been practicing yoga for years, would you really go to a novice yoga class. Isn’t that what beginners services and orientation weekend are for?  If you are an opera aficionado, would you really go to an opera that was translated or where the action was stopped to explain or call a page number? And the audience is told when to clap?

So if you’re interested in the future of Judaism in a modern time-stamped world, keep in mind that the stakes are high … ask Nadab and Abihu!  Remember that the difference between short and long may be the difference between good…. And not so good.

If you want a historical perspective on how our liturgy got so long check out: WHAT HAPPENED TO SHORT PRAYERS? by Woolf Abrahams

I want to keep this post short… so I’ll end with a few quotes regarding length of service from: Empowered Judaism: What Independent Minyanim Can Teach Us about Building Vibrant Jewish Communities by Rabbi Elie Kaunfer which provides lessons from the independent minyan at Kehilat Hadar.

I was always confounded by the fact that the Orthodox Shabbat morning service started eating Kiddush while the egalitarian traditional service— using exactly the same prayers— took thirty to forty-five minutes longer. The sixth time Hadar met, in June 2001, we actually finished the entire service in two hours. This was a breakthrough that was critical for the community— we had demonstrated that we didn’t need to cut parts of the service or race through the liturgy at breackneck speed in order to finish davening in a reasonable amount of time. It is a matter of eliminating the “dead time,” finding quality Torah readers who make minimal errors (mistakes always slow down a service), starting on time, and insisting on a brief dvar Torah. [ii]

We fought the notion of Jewish Standard Time in several ways at Kehilat Hadar. We had a very strict rule from day one that we would start the minyan on time, no matter how many people were there. People often complain about the late ending time of synagogue services, but in my experience, the best place to “save time” is at the beginning.[iii]

…. there is also a cost in announcing page numbers. Besides interrupting the flow of the service and the rhythm of the emotional arc, a page number announcement sends a clear message that (1) everyone should be on that page and (2) there is one siddur to use (the one with the page number being announced). In truth, public prayer allows for individual pace and expression much more than a page announcement might imply. …. Finally, announcing pages every week assumes that the congregation will always depend on an announcement to know where the leader is. This gives very little sense of empowerment to the worshiper, even one new to the davening. At what point is he able to find his own way through the service, without the repeated guidance of a page announcement?  It is worth noting, however, that announcing page numbers as a rule diminishes personal engagement with the prayer service and should at least be considered to have costs as well as benefits.[iv]

keep is short


[i] Although I am not arguing that the Biblical source for Kavod Hatzibur and tircha de-tzibura is וְעַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָעָם, אֶכָּבֵד and before all the people I will be glorified…. It is curious that Kavod is linked directly with “silence”.  In the Talmud with the bored silence of the congregation as the Priest, Rabbi or Torah reader fiddles and extends the survice and in the account of Nadab and Abihu, with the silence of their father, Aaron וַיִּדֹּם, אַהֲרֹן.

[ii] Kaunfer, Rabbi Elie (2010-02-01). Empowered Judaism: What Independent Minyanim Can Teach Us about Building Vibrant Jewish Communities (Kindle Locations 930-935). Jewish Lights Pub. Kindle Edition.

[iii] Kaunfer ibid (Kindle Locations 868-871)

[iv] Ibid (2240 – 2251)

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purim torah

purim

Did you know that on Purim we celebrate the acceptance of the Torah.

The Talmud reveals that the original acceptance of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, was under duress and therefore non-binding:

And they stood under the mount (Exodus 19:17)

וַיִּתְיַצְּבוּ, בְּתַחְתִּית הָהָר

R. Abdimi b. Hama b. Hasa said: This teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, overturned the mountain upon them like an [inverted] cask, and said to them, ‘If ye accept the Torah, ’tis well; if not, there shall be your burial.’ R. Aha b. Jacob observed: This furnishes a strong protest against the Torah. Said Raba, Yet even so, they re-accepted it in the days of Ahasuerus, for it is written, [the Jews] confirmed, and took upon them (Esther 9:27) what they had already accepted.

ויתיצבו בתחתית ההר, אמר רב אבדימי בר חמא בר חסא: מלמד שכפה הקדוש ברוך הוא עליהם

את ההר כגיגית, ואמר להם: אם אתם מקבלים התורה – , מוטב ואם לאו – שם תהא קבורתכם. אמר רב אחא

בר יעקב: מכאן מודעא רבה לאורייתא. אמר רבא: אף על פי כן, הדור קבלוה בימי אחשורוש . דכתיב

קימו וקבלו היהודים, קיימו מה שקיבלו כבר

[Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Shabbath 88a]

One wonders what was going through Raba’s mind that Purim popped into his head in terms of the final acceptance of the Torah…. What was he thinking… or drinking?[i]

Maybe Raba was on to something.  There’s something special about Purim and the Esther Megillah. Purim is the last Biblically ordained holiday and the scroll that we read on the evening and morning of Purim is actually the last book of the Torah.  Could it be that for Raba, Purim and the Book of Esther represented the last chapter, the Jewish people’s last chance and God’s last word? Could it be that for Raba, Purim celebrates the last echo of revelation?

If we are right, then Raba’s association of Purim with the acceptance of the Torah is both profound and ironic given that the Book of Esther’s claim to fame was so tenuous. Megilat Esther does not contain God’s name, was not written in or mention the Promised Land of Israel and includes highly unorthodox behavior including Esther’s marriage to a non-Jew, probable ingestion of non-kosher food (Megilah 13a) and no reference to any Jewish practices or the Temple. [ii]  It’s inclusion in the Canon (Torah, Prophets and Writings – Tanakh) was openly debated. [iii]

To my mind, the winning Talmudic argument for including the Scroll of Esther in the canon of the Hebrew Bible provides an insight into Raba’s understanding of the last revelation.

The Talmud[iv] asks “What is the source in Torah for Esther?  And cites Deuteronomy 31:18  “I will surely hide my face from you on that day” playing on the meaning of the name “Esther” to hide.

In a brilliant essay, Richard Elliot Friedman identifies the underlying plot of the Hebrew Bible.  He writes:  “Specifically, the major unifying component of the biblical plot is the phenomenon of the continually diminishing apparent presence of Yahweh among humans from the beginning of the book to the end, the phenomenon of Deus absconditus or, in the book’s own terms, Yahweh hammastir panav [hiding my Face]…”. Over a number of pages, Friedman shows how there is a clear transition, from Eden, when God takes care of everything through Noah, where Noah must build his own ark and to Jacob where Jacob must steal his own birthright. “Something is happening. For whatever reason, Yahweh is transferring (relinquishing?) ever more control of the course of human affairs to members of the human community.”

“In Moses’ own time, ..the people’s experience of the divine is mediated through Moses, or “masked” through the Kabod [glory] and the anan [cloud], or channeled through a series of layers…. Finally, Yahweh’s last words to Moses before summoning him to Abarim, he says, “I shall hide my face from them..” “After Moses, prophets are to experience only dreams and visions….” [v]

Commenting on The Book of Esther, he writes: “The narrative from Genesis to Esther has come full cycle from a stage on which God is alone to one on which humans are on their own. Through no longer in control of miraculous powers, humans have arrived at complete responsibility for their fortunes.”

For my fellow Feminists, interested in the connection between Eve and Esther go to the footnote[vi], but be assured that the Humantasch is the antidote for the Apple of Eden!

(see The Hiding of the Face: An essay on the literary unity of Biblical Narrative, by Richard Elliot Friedman in Judaic Perspectives on Ancient Israel ed Jacob Neusner Wipf and Stock publishers 1987).

On Purim, let’s celebrate the final giving and acceptance of the Torah. The lesson of reading the Esther Megillah with a blessing (the only one of the Ketuvim to be read with a blessing)  is to finalize what began at Sinai. On Purim we accept the end of revelation and the end of magical thinking and complete acceptance of our responsibilities as humans. We masquerade to remember, that at this giving of the Torah, we do not see or hear God, He is hidden from us and maybe we from Him. We exchange food with each other in the way that two lonely humans touch. Whether lovers, neighbors or strangers, that touch, hug or deliver a box of welcome-brownies we show that we are not alone. We experience real Simcha knowing that we as a people and as individuals have survived against all odds. And….  and like survivors since Noah after the flood… we might need a drink.  And finally, we celebrate women.. who may get us into trouble.. but more often… like Esther… save us.

Purim as a holiday celebrating the acceptance of the Torah, is transformed.  Think of the audience participation… the shouting, cheering and booing as a variation, maybe an improvement on the custom to solemnly stand as the Ten Commandments are read. Look to the side at the cross-dressing Jew standing next to you, and reflect that now that we are all alone, we are also all together, and yes, we all stood at Sinai and maybe we didn’t look that different than this crazy mixed multitude in attendance.

L’Chaim!

Esther


[i] As long as we’re connecting the story of Purim to the giving of the Torah, we might as well mention the Fast of Esther.

Before Esther goes, uninvited to the King to  plead for the Jews she tells Mordechai:

‘Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day; I also and my maidens will fast in like manner; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.’ (Megilat Esther 4:16)

A three day fast appears in only one other place:

And the LORD said unto Moses: ‘Go unto the people, and sanctify them to-day and to-morrow, and let them wash their garments, and be ready against the third day; for the third day the LORD will come down in the sight of all the people upon Mount Sinai. (Exodus 19: 12)

[ii] see A Jewish Reading of Esther, Edward L. Greenstein, pp 231 – 233 in Judaic Perspectives on Ancient Israel ed Jacob Neusner Wipf and Stock publishers 1987.

[iii] Reb Judah said in the name of Samuel “The scroll of Esther does not defile the hands (unlike a Sefer Torah) and as such was not divinely inspired [Megilah 7a). "All of the Hebrew scripture is represented at Qumron (Dead Sea Scrolls) except for the Scroll of Esther [and] it is possible that the sectarians did not observe the Purim festival and rejected the book which enjoins its observance. (see pp 106-107, 113 – 114 and note 301, The Canonization of the Hebrew Scripture by Sid Z. Leiman, Archon Books, 1976)

[iv] Hullin 139b

[v] The last major public miracle… is that of Elijah at Carmel (Kings 1:19). … In a fascinating juxtaposition.. is followed by the portrayal of Elijah at Horeb. Again we see a lone prophet on Horeb/Sinai, but Elijah’s experience there is a reversal of Moses. In the place of the supreme theophany come three phenomena… (earthquake, wind, and fire), each followed by the specific qualification “Yahweh was not in (it),”.. With the destruction of the Temple at the conclusion of the Book of Kings, the last channel is removed. The prediction that Yahweh’s face will be hidden is fulfilled… Yahweh plays no apparent role whatever in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and he is not mentioned in Esther.

[vi] Friedman continues: “Seen in the light of the increasing responsibility ascribed to humans through the course of the narrative, Esther is no less interesting,… Woman, Eve, has been blamed for millennia for entering upon the course of action that brought humans out of their initial state of harmonious relations with Yahweh (Genesis 3). It seems only fair, ironic, and appropriate that the narrative concludes with a story in which humans, now in a world, in which the presence of god is hidden, turn to a woman as their chief hope of rescue. One may interpret the Eve-to-Esther connection differently, but one can hardly ignore it. Each of the Bible’s bookends has a woman’s face carved on it.”

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