producers-circle

Is It Kosher To Argue With God? 1A

Is It Kosher To Argue With God?


Rabbi David Fohrman

Rabbi David Fohrman

Founder and Lead Scholar

Is it OK to argue with God? To be angry at God?

It’s a tricky question. On the one hand, we’re taught that God is perfect, all-knowing, and we’re… flawed mortals. And while there’s some disagreement about to what extent God is involved in the tiny, mundane details of our everyday lives, we generally assume that things happen for a reason — a God-ordained reason — and are therefore “good,” and we should accept them, without putting up a fight.

But that’s easier said than done… especially when you’re experiencing something difficult in your own life.

Is there any room for pushing back against these kinds of things? For entering into an argument — or to choose a nicer word — a “discussion” with God?

There is some precedent for this in our tradition. There are stories, throughout the Bible, of people who experienced some kind of tension between their will and the will of the Almighty, and they took it upon themselves to argue (or at least “discuss” it) with God. Apparently they thought that it was “kosher,” that it was OK to do.

Was it? And if it was “kosher” for them to argue with God, is it also kosher for us?

In this sweeping 10-part audio series, Rabbi Fohrman grapples with those questions by examining three different “case studies:” the story of Chana, from the Book of Samuel, who suffered with infertility and let God know how she really felt; the story of the Mekalel, the “Blasphemer,” from the Book of Leviticus, who had the audacity to “curse” God; and the story of the daughters of Tzelophchad from the Book of Numbers, who boldly petitioned God to change the laws of land inheritance — and were granted a win.

Read More

Please sign in or sign up to comment.

Transcript

Okay, if we move away from the Book of Jonah, this class is really going to be the next three stories - the next three stories; the Blasphemer, the Idol of Micah, Chana, Eli and [G-d 0:10]. The story which we're about to read is the story which I was most ambivalent about doing in this course, it's a very challenging and deeply troubling story. I have to tell you that I guess one of the reasons why I was ambivalent about doing it, is because I truly believe that this story when read together with the next story which we're going to read, the Idol of Micah, constitutes a horror story. Literally a horror story. It's not something - it's almost like the thing you don't want to read before you go to bed. It is a story I believe of an argument with G-d that failed dramatically and, what I'd like to do with you over the next couple of weeks is look at this story in connection with two other similar stories. The Idol of Micah is really a continuation of this story, but the story of Chana, Eli and G-d and another story if we get a chance to I'd like to look at - I didn't put it on the syllabus, but it's in the middle of the Book of Numbers, an interesting story of the daughters of Tzelofchad. I'll give you the address on that perhaps at the end of this week.

But the plan is, I'd like to look at this story as a model for a failed argument with G-d and talk about some possible alternatives to this. I'd also like you to think about comparing it to the Book of Jonah - I don't think it's exactly comparable, but I think when you read this story and the Book of Jonah, after you get done analyzing this story, it makes you think twice on the difference between this story and the Book of Jonah. My thoughts are not completely settled on that issue, but I throw it out to you. The possible contrast there, I think is an interesting one. As I said to you in the beginning of this course, the conclusions that I draw on a lot of these issues for me are still up in the air. What I see the purpose of this course as doing, is trying to introduce you to really an in-depth study of a few Biblical narratives that characterize different arguments with G-d; failed ones, successful ones, and the different way that G-d and man deal with it, and to let you draw your own conclusions about it.

So the next story which we're going to do is the story of the Mekallel. I use the Hebrew because in English there's not a really good translation for it. I've translated it as the Blasphemer - I guess that's not bad. A Mekallel really means the one who curses.

What I'd like to do with you, I gave you the assignment to look at over the week, I hope you got a chance to read it, I think I gave you for homework to try and come up with what you think are the difficult points of this story, what do you think needs to be explained in the story. By that I really mean - again, as I mentioned to you in the Book of Jonah, by difficult points I mean the points that the text wants you to ask as opposed to the points that you just are bothered with. For example, a point which I'm bothered with and any twentieth-century reader I think is bothered with, is that the punishment meted out to this guy sounds very harsh. I mean, what did the guy do already? So he said something? That is again - that's our question, I'm not so sure if that's the text's question. Now we may struggle with why the text isn't bothered by that, but I'm not convinced that the text necessarily wants us to be bothered by it. It's a valid question and we need to deal with it, but it's not the text's question.

For the purposes of our discussion for the next half-hour or so I'd like to focus on questions that you think are inherently problematic in the text. In other words, that even someone who is living in this world, that that kind of response could possibly make sense, but still the text doesn't seem to hang together for x, y or z reason. Still the story shouldn't have said this, because it contradicts something later. That sort of internal question is what I'm primarily interested in at this point.

The questions that the punishment to an extent [points out to you 3:47] Biblical world in general seems to have viewed speech much differently than we view it nowadays. Nowadays we have the famous saying; 'Sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me', and the Bible does not seem to have shared that [assessment] to put it mildly. Also cursing in the Bible is something different than what we normally understand cursing. In other words, somebody uses a 'cuss word' in the name of G-d, we commonly see it as an offense against the Biblical command at cursing G-d, it's not - at least not the way the Jewish tradition understands it. The Jewish tradition has developed - the legal tradition of Judaism defines cursing as a very specific thing. There's specific things that you have to do. You have to use the name of G-d and you have to use - there's certain formula specifically designed to curse G-d. In general, the Bible, it seems to attach far more significance to speech in general, across the board, than we in western society do.

I don't want to get into a prolonged discussion of that, I just want you to understand that when you look at a text like this you also have to immerse yourself a little bit in the world in which it's written and take yourself a little bit out of the world in which we are, the world where we don't take speech that seriously. The Biblical world takes speech very seriously. It's the same thing as cursing parents is dealt with very harshly also, it's actually a capital offense.

A point which I'll develop a little bit later though, that I think there's a different between atheist and one who curses G-d. Is an atheist and one who curses G-d the same? Does the one who curses G-d, is he an atheist? I don't think so. Atheism is not punishable by death in Biblical law, it's not punishable by anything, there's no punishment for atheism. You can decided whether you want to believe [in G-d 5:24]. The one who curses G-d believes in G-d, uses the name of G-d to curse G-d.

All right leaving all this aside, just in a nuts and bolts of this text, what's problematic? I'm going to read through it in Hebrew, I'll translate it freely. As I'm reading, listen to it once again and you tell me what do you think needs to be explained here. Okay. It starts from Chapter 24, verse 10, in the Book of Leviticus. This is how the story starts. Vayeitzei ben isha Yisraelit v'hu ben ish Mitzri betoch Bnei Yisrael - and there went out the son of an Israelite woman who was also the son of an Egyptian man; Betoch Bnei Yisrael - in the midst of the Jewish people. Vayinatzu ba'machaneh ben ha'Yisraelit v'ish ha'Israeli - and they fought in the camp, this son of the Jewish woman and an Israelite man.

Vayikov ben ha'isha ha'Yisraelit et Hashem vayekallel - and the child of the Jewish woman spoke forth the name of G-d and cursed it. Vayavi'u oto el Moshe - and they brought him before Moses; V'shem imo - and the name of his mother was; Shlomit bat Divri - Shlomit the daughter of Divri; L'mateh Dan - to the tribe of Dan. Vayanichuhu ba'mishmar - and they put him in prison, they put him aside; Liphrosh lahem al pi Hashem - to hear what G-d had to say about it, because they didn't know what to do. Vayedaber Hashem el Moshe leimor - and then G-d said to Moses the following. Hotzei et ha'mekallel el mi'chutz la'machaneh - take the Blasphemer - the one who cursed G-d, the Mekallel, outside the camp; V'samchu kol ha'shomim et yedeihem al rosho - and let everybody who heard what he had said put their hands upon his head; V'ragmu oto kol ha'eidah - and everybody stones him.

V'el Bnei Yisrael tedaber leimor - and to the Jewish people you should say the following. Ish ish ki yekallel Elokov v'nasah chato - anyone who curses his G-d shall bear his sin. V'nokev shem Hashem mot yumat - and anyone who curses the name of G-d; Ragom yirgemu bo kol ha'eidah - everyone stones him. Ka'ger, ka'ezrach b'nakvo shem yumat - the same law applies to the proselyte - to the convert, as to the citizen - the natural-born citizen, insofar as cursing the name is a capital crime.

V'ish ki yakeh kol nefesh odom - and anyone who kills another person; Mot yumat - shall surely die. U'makeh nefesh beheimah yeshalmenah - and anyone who strikes an animal and kills him - in other words kills the soul of an animal, kills an animal; Yeshalmenah - has to pay for it. Nefesh tachat nefesh - a soul for a soul. In other words, meaning to say that he has to fully compensate the full value of the animal, that's how it's understood Halachically.

V'ish ki yiten mum ba'amito - and any person who maims another person or injures another person; Ka'asher asah kein yei'aseh lo. Shever tachat shever, ayin tachat ayin, shen tachat shen - as he did so shall be done to him. Now the Jewish legal tradition interprets this not literally but that he has to fully recompense the person for whatever loss they suffered. Shever tachat shever - a break for a break, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. These are the famous words. Ka'asher yiten mum ba'odom kein yinaten bo - as he did so needs to be done to him.

Although, again, I emphasize that the Jewish legal tradition has understood this to mean that - not that literally the guy's eye needs to get knocked out but that the eye needs to be compensated for fully. So for example, there's in the Jewish legal tradition - the Halacha, there are five different kinds of damages that are assessed for any damage, for any injury that you do. It's scored on five different counts in order to fully compensate. So for example you pay for pain, you pay for loss of employment, you pay for medical bills, you pay for shame - the sense of shame that a person feels. So all of these things go into what it means to have lost an eye.

Then, moving on to verse 21; U'makeh beheimah yeshalmenah - someone who injures an animal has to pay for it. U'makeh odom yumat - and somebody who kills a man has to die - a person has to die. Mishpat echad yiheye lachem - there's one law for all of you; Ka'ger ka'ezrach yiheye - the convert is the same as a natural-born citizen; Ki ani Hashem Elokeichem - because I am the L-rd your G-d.

Vayedaber Moshe el Bnei Yisrael vayotzi'u et ha'mekallel el mi'chutz la'machaneh - Moses told this to the Jewish people and they took the Mekallel outside the camp; Va'yirgemu oto aven - and they killed him. U'Bnei Yisrael asu ka'asher tzivah Hashem et Moshe - and the Jewish people did as G-d said to Moses.

All right, so what's problematic here? This is a very strange little story, it comes out of nowhere, in the middle of the Book of Leviticus, it's a horrific, little story. I actually think -and I hope to make this clear to you by the end of today that the story reminds me a lot of Littleton, Colorado - and I'll tell you why I think that, but let's leave that on the table. What's going on in this story? What are the problems just textually? You are reading this story, you're reading this, you're - imagine that you - just to make it a little easier - that your Seventh Grade kid got an assignment in school to write a paragraph essay about something and he decides to write this little horror story. This is his little essay. And he starts it like this and he gives it to you to critique before he hands it in to his teacher, so you have a little red pen and you're going to redline this story. So what are you going to suggest to him for corrections in this story?

In my mind this is the most glaring problem in the story, from a textual standpoint. What you're suggesting is that if you're writing the story - and a Seventh Grader, the Bible, it doesn't matter - G-d's speech is absolutely incomprehensible. Put yourself in this situation, what happens? There's this guy, he curses G-d, nobody knows what to do with him, so they set him aside and they go talk to G-d about it, and they say G-d, what should we do? So now Moses goes to G-d and says, what should we do? So G-d says, well I'll tell you - now listen here Moses - and you're listening to this, what do you say to yourself?

So G-d says well, here's what we do. First, anybody who curses the name of G-d dies. Then what's the next thing that happens in the speech? G-d then says what? If you kill somebody you die. Then what, right after that? If you kill an animal you have to pay. Then, if you injure a person, if you maim somebody, you have to pay. Then, if you maim an animal, you have to pay. And then again, if you kill anybody; if you kill an animal you have to pay, and if you kill a person you die. And by the way - and this guy who - so if you're Moses and you're listening to this, I think you say, G-d I asked You a simple question, and You gave me this laundry list for an answer. This is not the time or the place to go launching into this long discussion of compensation for damages - and it's not the only time by the way the Torah talks about it, it talks about it in Exodus, so it seems to be repetitive.

So Moses has a practical problem he wants to address and G-d seems very longwinded. So this is the Deity Himself getting longwinded for no apparent reason. It sounds like this long ad campaign for a bunch of other offences but it is completely inexplicable why it's there. In my mind that would be THE central problem of the story; that digression is very strange.

Yes, what were you going to say?

[Response from audience member: That it seems like a cut and paste job.]

Right. It seems like - it just seems like a lousy speech, it's just not a very good speech. So that is very strange, so that's problem number 1.

Anything else? Yeah?

[Response from audience member: It starts by saying that there's an Israelite woman - there are two Israelite women and - but there's the fighting between half an Israelite and I guess Egyptian, but then it says the son of the Israelite, which doesn't distinguish that, they're both Israelite women.]

Let's get the cast of characters straight. You're right, the cast of characters is confusing. Okay, so let's just get our cast - actually there's only one Israelite woman here. There's two Israelite men here. So let's just hold on for a second. Cast of character number 1, who is the Israelite woman in the story? The mother of this guy. The mother of the protagonist. Who is the Egyptian man in the story? The father of the protagonist.

[Response from audience member: My text makes it clear that the man who fights him his - my text says 'fully' an Israelite.]

Okay G-d, is that Fox?

[Response from audience member: Yeah.]

So Everett Fox is making the astute observation. He's actually doing some work for you there. Because the Biblical text does not say that, but it implies it. The Biblical text says, that the son of an Israelite woman who was also the son of an Egyptian man fought in the camp with an Israelite man. What does that imply to you? Who did he fight with? A full Jew, as opposed to - in other words, the child of a mixed marriage as it were. In other words, the sense is, is that the person he's fighting with is not the child of a mixed marriage, and that's why your text comes along and says a full Jew. So why? How do we know that? Because you describe this child of a mixed marriage as the child of an Israelite woman, meaning to say a fully Israelite woman and an Egyptian man. So clearly that's the terminology you're using for saying somebody who is a natural-born Jew from both sides. So it seems to set that up there.

Now the obvious question here is, why is this so important? Why is this so important? So in other words we have a very brief story here, we don't get a lot of details, this is one of the details we get, presumably it's important, but why? So this would be another question, why are we getting into this kind of detail here?

But what else is problematic? Let's go to the text. What is problematic in the text?

Go ahead.

[Response from audience member: Why do they lay their hands on him (unclear 15:20)?]

Okay, good, what's the significance of laying their hands upon him? Interesting question.

[Response from audience member: Why did the whole community have to stone him?]

Okay.

[Response from audience member: Why did everybody have to participate? First it says, and all who were within hearing lay hands upon his head - just those people who heard him put their hands on his head, but everybody has to stone him.]

Okay, so what would the symbolism be of putting hands upon someone's head do you think? Let me read it to you in Hebrew what it says.

Okay here's the Hebrew. Vayeitzei ben isha Yisraelit v'hu ben ish Mitzri betoch Bnei Yisrael - and there went out - or and he went out, a child of a Jewish mother who was also the child of an Egyptian man in the midst of the Jewish people. Vayinatzu ba'machaneh - and they fought in the camp. What's strange about that phrase? Listen to it again. And he went out, the child of a Jewish woman, who was also the child of an Egyptian man in the midst of the Jewish people, and they fought in the camp. Well we did find that out later - and they fought in the camp, this child of an Israelite woman, with an Israelite man. So we find that out later. What's strange about the first part of the sentence?

Right, right, isn't that problematic. It doesn't make - syntactically it's wrong. Listen again. And he went out, the son of an Israelite woman, son of an Egyptian man, in the midst of the Jewish people. That's not good syntax. When you say that someone went out, that implies that he went out from somewhere. You can't go out - the words going out means that you're leaving somewhere and going out from it. But instead we hear what? He's not leaving somewhere, he is…

[Response from audience member: (unclear 17:00)]

He is going into the midst of something. So he's not really going out, he's going in. Right? But he's going out. So the text - right, that's the problem. So the beginning of the text makes no sense; it doesn't tell you where he's going out from, it's like he's going out of nowhere, but - and he really should be going in, because we hear that he's going in the midst of the Jewish people and fighting there, so something very strange is going on there. So that's something we need to figure out.

What else?

[Response from audience member: I think the (sidebar 17:31), that that translation of he went out his house.]

Yeah, oh so you see the fudge now, you see why they wrote 'his house' because that way it answers where he went out from. Like no problem, he went out from his house. The problem is it doesn't say that he went out from his house.

Just one second, did I tell you by the way about biblebrowser.com? So I have to tell you about this. Here's how I can help you poor souls out if you don't know Hebrew yet is - and so you're stuck because you're at the mercy of the mercy of the translation. So what you do - the best thing to do is to compare more than one translation. Because if you had a bunch of different translation and you see that only one has 'his house' there and other ones don't, or you see that everyone is struggling with something, then you know that something is fishy. So you can see when there's great discrepancies in translations, it helps you a bit.

Now, you have two ways of doing that. You can spend $600 translations of the Bible, or you can go to biblebrowser.com, and…

[Response from audience member: I would never do that.]

You would never do that [laughs], okay. Well I don't know if that's what they call it, it's - I do not the URL exactly, but you can search for it, I think it is the University of Indiana or something. And if you look in your - if you search in Google under bible browser, I think that you will find it, but I can't tell you for sure. You have to go to the advanced page, once you get there - it's like the University of Indiana or something. If you go to the advanced page what it will let you do is you type in any phrase you want or any verse you want, or any section of verses you want, or any chapter, and it will provide you a nice table and it will give you eight different - eight of the authoritative English translations, side by side. So you can compare them all. So really quite useful. Just a little hint there.

Go ahead.

[Response from audience member: It looks like both the Ramban and Ibn Ezra both say he went out of his tent, his house, and (he left there 19:21).]

Okay, so we have some saving grace, the Medieval Commentators agree with that, that that's where he went out from. But I still maintain that if the text doesn't say it and therefore we want to - we're meant to learn something from the strangeness of that. So that's a problem.

Okay, what else? There's an elephant in the middle of the room here. There's a very obvious problem, none of you have touched upon it yet.

What?

[Response from audience member: I'm looking at the import of his father being an Egyptian and the mother an Israelite, because then there's a fight, and in my mind, there's a fight over the fact that he's of mixed heritage? Then he curses G-d. Now why would he curse G-d? Is he cursing G-d because he is of this mixed heritage? Is the battle over that? Is he being ostracized for his mixed heritage?]

Okay, so good, so simply put - very good - so the problem is that we have a sequence problem here. Here's what happens. We know that there's this guy and he seems to be the product of a mixed marriage and for some reason that's important. The guy he's fighting with is not the product of a mixed marriage, and for some reason that's important. So then he gets into a fight. So you might say to your Seventh Grader who would be writing this essay, say, okay, so then they got into a fight, they got into a big fight and then the person who got into this fight he then curses - and who is he going to curse? The - who would you think he would curse? The guy he's fighting with, right. If he lost, he won, but if you're in the middle of the fight that's the person you curse. So [the Torah 20:50] goes no, no, no, curses G-d.

Oh, I don't understand, you just told me that there was a fight - so what's the whole point of the fight? So he cursed the wrong guy? [Normally] you'd think he'd curse the - but for some reason what happens is that he gets into a fight and the fight has something to do presumably with this mixed marriage status and then all of a sudden he curses G-d, which is very strange. So why does he do that? So that seems to be a disconnect.

Yeah?

[Response from audience member: I don't know enough to know the importance of his mother's name (unclear 21:19).]

Good, that's another thing, why is important that we - here's the deal here, you might say to your Seventh Grader, you have not done a very good job indentifying the people in your story. What's the guy's name who is the protagonist of this? We don't know, it never said, we don't know his name. All we know is his mother's name and her tribal affiliation. Interesting, right, all we know is his mother's name and her tribal affiliation. So the question is this is a very strange identity paper here. Can you imagine having the guy's passport, on the passport it says anonymous but it just says the mother and her tribal affiliation. That is not a very good way to identify someone. So you might chide your Seventh Grader and say, you really should give people names here.

But, apparently the only important identity is that of the mother. So the question is, we know her name and we know that she was from the tribe of Dan. And that's important for some reason.

Interestingly, that under Jewish law the mother's tribal affiliation was not significant in the tribal affiliation of the child. In other words, even though in Jewish law [if he's 22:24] Jewish or not goes by the mother and not by the father, by matrilineal descent, but tribal affiliation doesn't, tribal affiliation goes by patrilineal descent. So it's odd that the mother's tribal affiliation is mentioned here because it wouldn't even be relevant to the child. So something strange is going on here with why that's an important detail.

What about anything else? Also there's a word or there's something which appears a few times over here, the relevance of these laws, to who they apply, is mentioned specifically here. What's going on there?

Yeah?

[Response from audience member: In Fox, he uses the words sojourner and native. And I noticed in your text which you read there were three words; converted…]

Proselyte, native - right, okay good.

In Hebrew there's one - the word is Ezrach which literally means citizen, for native, and the opposite of that is Ger. Ger can either mean convert, but it literally means stranger, or sojourner. Somebody who - a Ger is the word that the Bible uses for somebody who is not a native-born Jew, who nevertheless comes and decides to join the community, so they're called a Ger - called a sojourner. Now there's special laws about that - but actually, interestingly, do you know what the command that is repeated most often in the Bible - here's your Bible trivia, what command is repeated most often in the text of the Bible? Do you know what it is? V'ahavtem et ha'ger - and you should love the sojourner. It's the most often-repeated command. Because; Ki geirim hayitem - because you were sojourners in the land of Egypt, you know what it means to be a stranger, so you have to love the stranger. Somebody who comes to you, you have to bring them in and take them in.

So for some reason G-d emphasizes over and over again - twice actually in this narrative - that the same law here applies to both the natural-born citizen and the stranger. Now, the stranger in this context is somebody who has become a Jew, he is a convert, he's not naturally born a Jew but he's become a convert and he is now a Jew. Now, I have to tell you that generally speaking all of the laws, with very few exceptions in the Torah, apply to both strangers or converts, and natural-born Jews. There's almost no legal distinction between them whatsoever. So it comes as a surprise a little bit that over and over the Bible should emphasize, 'and it's the same law for both of them'. If those words weren't there I guarantee you that everyone would have assumed it's the same law for both of them.

When I would think that murder - I mean we're talking about murder here, it says, when you murder somebody or when you kill these animals, it's the same law for everybody; the stranger, the sojourner, the natural-born citizen, it seems very strange. What is it doing in this narrative? Why is it important?

But, it should tip you off to something we know earlier about this narrative which is what? That we're dealing with somebody who seems to be in that category. If he's not literally a convert, but he's the child of a mixed marriage and that same sort of issue, it might be at play here. So for some reason G-d seems to be going back to that and emphasizing it in the context of these other laws.

All right, so we've got a bunch of things here which need to be explained. We want to know why it's so significant that the only things that we know about him is who his parents are, we don't even know his name. We know his mother's name, we know his mother's tribal affiliation, that's really important for some reason, why is that so important? We know he goes out, but we don't know where he goes out from, and really it seems like he's going into instead of going out from. We know that he gets into this big fight, but then instead of cursing the person he's in a fight with he curses G-d, strange. We know that G-d upon answering Moses gets into a long diatribe about a bunch of other things that we already know from elsewhere in the Bible and sticks them in here, it seems repetitive and it doesn't seem to make any sense. So these are our primary questions here, so let's put it together.

Okay what I would like to do with you is read a Rashi. Rashi is the father of the Jewish Medieval Commentators, he was the first person in the Jewish tradition to write a comprehensive analysis and treatment of the Five Books of Moses. Rashi, although he is commonly understood to have been interested in telling you the simple sense of the story, was actually trying to do much more than that. What he did was that at opportune moments he would take from a vast collection of Rabbinic literature which had been composed about a thousand years before Rashi lived, which I've referred to before, known as Medrash or Midrash, and he would quote to you relevant points from the Midrash, that he thought you should know about at various points.

There is a Midrash which Rashi cites here in this story which is fascinating. It seems like it's coming out of left field [when you 27:15] read it, but when you take into account all of the points which we've mentioned, you will find that Rashi and the Midrash was bothered by every single one of the questions which you guys mentioned and constructed the story as a way of coming to grips with these questions. So what this Midrash does is provides you with background narrative to the story based upon the textual clues which we've teased out of the text here. So I'm going to read the Midrash to you and we'll go from there.

Here's Rashi. Which verse? This is on the very first verse, verse 10. For those of you who are interested, Rashi is available in English, look it up on amazon.com. So here's Rashi. Vayeitzei ben isha Yisraelit - on the very first words - and the child of a Jewish woman went out. We have the problem, where did he go out from? Rashi had that problem too. Here's what Rashi says. M'heichan yatzah - where did he go out from? That's what he wants to know. So now he gives you three possible answers. There's three Sages that the Midrash quotes, that gives three different answers to where he could have gone out from, because it's so problematic in the text.

The first two answers is sort of [homiletical, although it has 28:27], I think, a real deeper meaning to them, and the third answer is the one that I really want to focus on. Let's read the first two. Rebbi Levi omer - listen to this, this is really wild. What does Rebbi Levi say, where did he go out from? Mei'olamo yatzah. What does this mean? He went out from his world. That's all he says. Right, that's it, that's all Rav Levi has to say, he went out from his world.

What?

[Response from audience member: (Unclear 28:49).]

Yeah, but listen to the subtlety of what he's saying. Because he's really answering our problem in a very deep way. How could you possibly go out from somewhere without knowing where you're going out from? You can only do that if what you were going out from was your world in some way. That's the only possibility. Let me give you a sense of how I understand - first of all, what does it mean to you, he went out from his world?

Yeah?

[Response from audience member: Actually the first thought that popped into my mind, maybe he went out his mind.]

Mind, it could mean that. Maybe he went out of his mind.

What else could it mean?

[Response from audience member: That he was amongst the non-Israelites.]

Okay good, maybe it means that he went out of his environment, there was some, all-inclusive environment that he was in, that he left.

To me, here's how I understand the subtlety of [what he's saying 29:35]. The text says that he went out, but whenever you go out you have to say where you're going out from but the text doesn't say where he's going out from, it just says where he's going into. How is that possible? It's only possible, I think, if you're leaving everything behind. Because then there's no particular point that you have as a point of reference for going out.

Let me try and give you an example of what I mean - I might not be able to pin this down so well, but here's what I mean. I remember when we first bought our house, we moved from an apartment into a house in 1993. So I remember sitting in the house and - the very first night we were there - having this sense of so much space. I mean it's huge, it's five times the size of our apartment, how are we ever going to fill the space, and stuff. I remember waking up in the morning and thinking, I don't want to go to work, I just want to sit in this house and enjoy it, this is just a wonderful house. I remember thinking, what a wonderful thing, this whole house and everything, and thinking, you know, I'll never take this house for granted, I'll always have a sense of how special this is. Even as I was thinking of that I knew it was a lie and it wasn't true, because I knew, as sure and as much that I liked it now, that I would come to take it for granted. That years from now I would just take it for granted.

Now why? It is because there's nothing to appreciate about the house? No. It's because what is your house? It's your environment. It's your whole environment, it's the place in which you live, and the definition of the place in which you live is something that you have to take for granted because you have no frame of reference from which to judge it, because it is your environment. We all take our environment for granted, despite the fact that it's the most important thing of our lives.

So for example, you speak English, it's part of your linguistic environment, how often do you think of the fact that you speak English instead of French? Now you do, and you do - and why do you? Do you have any link to France or any other language?

[Response from audience member: The sport I follow is multilingual and I wish I would…]

Okay, good, so you have another - a connection to that world. But if your entire environment was English - and you also, but your entire environment isn't English - but if your entire environment was English, so then this is your environment. It's only when you can come into contact with something outside of it, [that puts you 31:44] - that's why people, I think, when they live in their house, so if they live in a really fancy house so to them it's not fancy, it's just their house. When visitors come, they think it's a fancy house; to them, they're seeing something that's a different environment. Or if somebody lives in a really messy house, so to them this is home, but when visitors come they notice the dirt on the curtains, because to them it's something.

So if you say that you go out from somewhere, but you don't say where you're going out from, the only option is that you're not leaving a particular thing behind, you're leaving behind a whole environment, you're leaving behind everything. That there's nothing that I can say you're going out from. You're leaving behind a whole environment. That's kind of how I see it. I think that's what Rebbi Levi is getting at.

Now what does Olamo mean? Does it mean he went out of his mind? Does it mean he went out of his environment? I don't know. It's mysterious. But that's what he says.

Let's move on, number 2. The next Rabbi takes a very interesting textual approach to this problem and sees it as a textual [vision 32:39], here's what he says. Rebbi Berachiya omer m'parsha shelema'aleh yatzah - where did he go out from? He went out from the last thing that the Torah said. For him going out does not mean that literally the guy left place x, but it means that he went out - in other words, it's textual.

In the text he left the last thing that was said. If you look carefully at the last thing that was said, it talks about; Yatzah. L'galeg v'omar bayom HaShabbat ya'archenu derech ha'melech le'echol pat chamah b'kol yom o shema pat tzonnenet shel tisha yamim batemiyha. There's this law that the Torah talks about, this showbread, right before this, that was put in the Temple and it lay around for seven days before it was eaten by the Priests. The Priests would eat it and the Torah says that it was hot and that it remained fresh for all of that time. So he was making fun of that and that's why he cursed. Now this is not - it doesn't work textually, but this is what he says and that's how he understands it.

Okay, I don't want to focus on any of those two, the one I really want to focus on is the next one, which is really most developed and I think it takes into account really all of the problems we're talking about. Here's what it says. Umasnisa omrah - but a Braisa says, here's what he went out from. M'beit dino shel Moshe yatzah mechuyav - he went out of Moses' courtroom and he went out having lost his case.

Now remember all of the things that we know. We know that he went out from somewhere but we don't know where. We know that he was the product of an intermarriage and for some reason that's important. We know that the person he's fighting with was not the product of an intermarriage, and for some reason that's important. We know that after this fight he immediately went and instead of cursing the person that he was talking to, cursed G-d. So we know all of those things, and here's what the Midrash says - there's a few other thing which we know too, let's just leave those. He says, here's what happened - and we also know by the way that mother was from the tribe of Dan, and that's important. Okay, so how does all this fit together? Here's what the Midrash says.

Bah litel ohalo betoch machaneh Dan - this person wanted to plant his tent in the space of the tribe of Dan. Every one of the tribes in the desert have their own place to be, everybody had their own place. So he wants to plant his tent - he's got to have a place so he wants to plant his tent in the tribe of Dan. Omru lo - the Dannites said to him; Mah tibcha lekan - what are you doing here? How come you're here? Omar lahem - he said to them; M'Bnei Dan ani - I am a Dannite, my mom's from Dan. Omru lo - they said to him - what would they say to him? Your father is Egyptian. Where, according to the Torah, does tribal lineage go after? The father. Omru lo - so they quoted the verse to him; Ish al diglo b'otot l'beit avotam ketiv. If you look in Numbers Chapter 2 it says that tribal lineage goes after patrilineal descent. That everybody plants his flag - plants his tent - in the place of the tribe of their fathers. Who is your father? Not from Dan. Get out of here. That's what they said.

Okay; Nichnas l'beit dino shel Moshe - so he went to the - so having exhausted this remedy and not getting anywhere with this guy, so he went to the court of Moses…

Read More