Backstage Pass 2021
Backstage Pass 2021
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
Join Rabbi Fohrman and Immanuel Shalev for an in-depth look at Tisha B'Av & The Spies: An Origin Story. Listen and discover the vast amount of material that didn't make the final video, and get the chance to go behind-the-scenes with the visionaries of Aleph Beta while enhancing your connection to Tisha B'Av.
Hi, Producers. The following audio is from the Producers Circle Tisha B'Av 2021 Backstage Pass event.
Rabbi Fohrman and Imu wanted to let you get a peek at the research that didn't make it into the final cut of the 2021 Tisha B'Av video, "Tisha B'Av & The Spies: An Origin Story." Well, that was the intention.
We here at Aleph Beta know that research has a funny way of taking a tangent at the most unlikely of moments. Backstage Pass was no stranger to this phenomenon. The recording picks up just as Rabbi Fohrman was describing the research process, and how his Shabbos table is a frequent source of material.
While Rabbi Fohrman is talking, his daughter Shana joins him at the computer and makes a comment about the cows in Pharaoh's dream. That seems pretty far off from discussing the research for a Tisha B'Av video, doesn't it?
This is what Rabbi Fohrman fondly refers to as the rabbit-hole effect. So sit back, relax, and join us as we wander down a tunnel or two, and maybe we'll find a way back to the cutting-room floor. But then again, maybe not.
Rabbi Fohrman: Then she starts thinking about why is it that the cows came out of the Nile?
Shana: Then I was thinking that the Nile is where these pru u'revu, there was an overflow of children and Pharaoh decided he wanted to get rid of them. He threw them into the Nile. Why was I saying it? Because Pharaoh was looking at the dream.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yes. This was the two-thirds of Shana's theory that I didn't get a chance to write down, by the way.
Imu: There's a 20-page document and we began on page 17.
Rabbi Fohrman: That's right. This is reconstructing the parts of the other 20-page document that never got put down. Shana is wondering, why did these cows come out of the Nile? Also, why would Pharaoh take the most precious resource of Egypt, which is the Nile, and pollute it and degrade it by using it to kill babies? Your GMP comes from the Nile. Your argument was that he remembered the dream. In the dream, he saw the cows emerging from the Nile. If the cows are metaphors for fertility, for fruitfulness, and if they have echoes of Joseph's fruitfulness, then what happens is that when he sees the population explosion a generation later --
Shana: I was going to ask you what this dream really means.
Rabbi Fohrman: He understands what the dream really means. In other words, what the dream is really talking about is not just the seven years of Rachel and Leah, but it's the prey, it's the cow, it's the fertility explosion which comes to pass at the beginning of Exodus. He remembers the cows came out of the Nile. In other words, the cows were born of the Nile. It was only through the bounty of Egypt and through the fertility of Egypt that the population explosion took place. So in throwing the kids back to Egypt, what was he doing?
Shana: Getting rid of the whole situation.
Rabbi Fohrman: He was trying to put the genie back in the bottle, basically, which is the logic in throwing them back into the Nile. So this is kind of a taste of the conversations we were having around the Shabbos table, only part of which got captured. That's how the document came, and that was the genesis of this course. I emailed the document over to Imu and he said, hm, it looks like there's something here. That began three discussions which morphed into the video, as it was. None of it was in that document. It kind of developed and developed and developed.
Shana, you saw the course today. Did it remind you of our Shabbos table discussions, or was it different?
Shana: It was a little different. Little bits, but it was mostly other things you talked about.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. So it started there and it kind of developed. Imu, back to you.
Imu: Rabbi Fohrman, do you mind if I ask you -- I want to resurface one of the questions that we avoided in this course, but I think is super relevant. One of the main parts of this course is really the connection that the Sages make between the story of the Spies and Tisha B'Av. They make this comment about how Tisha B'Av has its origins in the story of the Spies. They're very specific with their language, right. They says something, I believe, "Atem bachitem bechiyah shel chinam," they have God basically saying, in His reaction to the Spies, you, Israel, have cried a cry of chinam, "V'ani kovei'a lachem bechiyah l'dorot," [Taanit 29a] and I am going to make a crying for generations. I think we noted internally this felt sort of like a harsh father saying, oh, you're crying for nothing, I'll give you a reason to cry.
We also noted that that word, chinam, is often thrown around a lot on Tisha B'Av but in another context, not relating to a bechiyah of chinam, but sinat chinam (baseless hatred). It's the thing that the Sages say as the reason for the destruction of the Second Temple, at least.
What do you make of the chinam-chinam connections in light of this course?
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. So this is something that took us down a pretty interesting little, for lack of a better word, rabbit hole, I suppose. It was quite fascinating. Here's the best way that I can piece it back together.
The Sages' statement is really interesting, this famous statement about the genesis of Tisha B'Av emerging from the story of the Spies. "Atem bachitem bechiyah shel chinam, af ani kovei'a lachem bechiyah shel dorot." You cried a cry for chinam, for free; I will give you a cry for generations. There are two strange words there, one stranger than the other. One is 'generations'. Not just a cry forever, but a cry for generations. The second word which is interesting is the word chinam, you cried for free.
The word 'for free' isn't really the perfect word. What it really means is, you cried for nothing, or you cried without reason. But 'free' is a strange way to say it. It's not like there was a stock market on crying, and this is the one that you got for free. It wasn't like someone was handing out free tears. The word 'free' is a strange word. Why use that word?
So it struck me, and this is something which I think I ran by you and we played with putting this in the course, that the Sages are picking up on these two words for a reason. Let's start with the word l'dorot, "af ani kovei'a lachem bechiyah shel dorot," so I am going to assign for you a bechiyah for generations. That word is picking up on the story of the Spies, because what was the punishment for the Spies? The punishment for the Spies was the loss of a generation, a dor. Later on in Deuteronomy, God will talk about "hador hara hazeh," [Deut. 1:35] this terrible generation that's lost.
So when the Sages say "af ani kovei'a lachem bechiyah l'dorot," so I am going to set for you a bechiyah for generations, what they're saying is that it wasn't really just one generation that was lost. If you think it was over in that generation, you're wrong. There are echoes of this for generations.
Imu, I always say, when we make these courses, the consolation prize for not being able to put the other 90 percent of the course in, is that the other 90 percent of the course which you don't put in, it informs the course even though it's not actually there. This is an example of this. What you see from just that one little textual insight in the Sages saying "af ani kovei'a lachem bechiyah l'dorot" is really the thesis of this course.
The thesis of the course is that there's something that went wrong. The something that went wrong started a long time ago. It went all the way back to Joseph. The something that went wrong was spying in the family. There was an attempt to redeem it. There was an attempt to redeem it in Joseph's generation, and that failed, and it led to an Egyptian exile. Then there was another fascinating attempt to redeem it again, this time coming out of Egypt. If you're going into the land, and the thing that kept you from settling in the land in the first place is spying in the family, you'd have to deal with spying in the family when you're coming into the land, to be able to effectively go into the land.
So God says, okay, boys and girls. It's time to deal with spying in the family. It's time for you to send spies to your family. Your family, in this case, is the land. That's the thesis of the video series, if you haven't watched it yet.
That fails. That attempt to redeem fails, too. Spying in the family fails one more time, and therefore there's another mini-exile. This time, instead of spending 400 years in Egypt, there's a generation that can't go into the land.
So the Sages are picking up on this and essentially saying, there are these repeated attempts to try to redeem a failure. If the failure is not redeemed, it's not like it's a punishment. It means that there's something that has gone wrong in the body politic of Israel, that if it can't be set right, is going to continue surfacing. It's not just going to haunt this generation; it's going to haunt future generations. You see what it does. It always leads you into exile. One way or the other, it brings you into exile. So it's only a matter of time until it rears its head again and becomes tears for generations, not just a single generation. That's what the Sages seem to be saying there with their language of generations. They're picking up on the generation that was lost, and they're extending it.
The second piece of it is even more intriguing, in a way. It's the bechiyah l'chinam. Where is that coming from? If you look throughout the entire story of the Spies, you'll never find --
Imu: Where my head was going there, when you're talking about the generations aspect and they're correcting a sin that's happening for generations, and that's, as you say, the thesis of the course. If you go back to the Joseph story, you have sinat chinam. It's sort of like the wrong chinam thing. You have sinat chinam, theoretically, in the Joseph story. You can argue there's sinat chinam with the story of the Spies in the land, or maybe with God. It's not the sinat chinam that the Sages are pinning this on, on a trajectory that needs to be corrected. They're connecting it to bechiyah chinam.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yes. Specifically they're not talking about sinat chinam. The Sages know about that nomenclature and they're avoiding it. They're talking about a bechiyah l'chinam, which seems to be different than sinat chinam. If they wanted to point to sinat chinam, they can find it all over the place. They're talking about tears that flow for free, and what that means.
So let's think about that. Bechiyah l'chinam. Nowhere in the story of the Spies do we have tears that flow for free. So where were the Sages coming from when they picked up on that nomenclature to describe the tears that flow for free?
What Imu and I noticed is that the word chinam actually does appear, but it doesn't appear in the story of the Spies. It appears right before the story of the Spies. Not only does the word chinam appear right before the story of the Spies; bechiyah l'chinam appears right before the story of the Spies. People cry for free, so to speak. What am I referring to?
For those of you who know your Bible well, I'm referring to a section in Parshat Beha'alotecha, Numbers 11:4.
Imu: "Ha'asafsuf asher b'kirbo hit'avu ta'avah vayashuvu vayivku gam Bnei Yisrael," so they're crying here.
Rabbi Fohrman: So here's what happens. It's Beha'alotecha, and this is the moment when the Israelites are supposed to go into Israel. They're 11 days away from the land. It's in the first year. They're getting ready to go. All of a sudden, the people decide they've had it with the manna. They've just had it. It's like, what do you want? You're 11 days away from the land. You're going to be able to eat crops in the land. It's like, no. We can't stand this manna anymore. It's like, another 11 days of manna? You went through the Red Sea, you went through the whole thing. They disparage the manna and they say "Zacharnu," we remember something. We remember other food. We remember the fish.
Imu: "Et hadagah asher nochal b'Mitzrayim chinam." [Num. 11:5]
Rabbi Fohrman: There it is. We remember the fish that we used to eat in Egypt chinam, for free. Now, of course, it wasn't really for free. It's all a manner of speaking. They weren't charged for the fish, but they gave their lives for it. They were enslaved for that fish. So we remember the fish that we ate for free.
By the way, if you recall what one of the takeaways from this course was, you have to be careful when you look at something, to see its whole and not break it into parts and exaggerate one piece of it. Here, the people are doing the inverse of that. They're neglecting the whole of their slavery experience. They're taking a part of it, the fish, cutting it off from the rest of everything else, and through cutting it off, magnifying it. They're saying, look, if I split off the fish from the slavery, the fish was for free. I just got free fish. Isn't that great? Free fish. I could use some free fish now.
You see those ads on Facebook for the Alaskan salmon, they look so good. I'm in the desert. I could use some free fish. They fixate on this fish, and then they start crying.
Imu: First they cry. It's "Vayashuvu vayivku gam Bnei Yisrael, vayomru mi ya'achileinu basar. Zacharnu et hadagah asher nochal b'Mitzrayim chinam." [Num. 11:4-5] So they actually cry, I think, a second time, or Moses hears them crying. "Vayishma Moshe et ha'am bocheh l'mishpechotav, ish l'fetach oholo." [Num. 11:10]
Rabbi Fohrman: So what happens is we have these two back-to-back episodes. The first episode is the crying about the manna and crying about the fish. Then the next episode is the story of the Spies. So look how sly the Sages are. Listen to what they're saying now. "Atem bachitem bechiyah l'chinam," you cried a crying for free. Which crying are they talking about now? They're not really even talking about the story of the Spies. Or are they? They seem like they are, because they're commenting on that verse of the people crying at night after the Spies came out. The language they're using doesn't take you to the story of the Spies. It takes you to a previous story of crying, the episode immediately before this. It's as if the Sages are intentionally blurring the lines between two stories and confusing you as to which story they're talking about. You cried for free, and so I am going to make you cry for generations.
Look at what they're doing. It's as if they're talking two stories together, the story of the manna and the story of the Spies, merging them, and then saying, and therefore you will cry for generations. As if to say the story of the Spies is inexplicable on its own; it only makes sense in the context of the story of the manna.
Pretty much the argument that we were making is, Imu, do you see a through-line between the manna and the Spies? You might say, on the one hand, these are tears about two radically different things. What does the manna have to do with the Spies' report about the land? The manna and the land couldn't be more different from one another.
Then, after thinking it over, we started to come to the conclusion that no, there was actually a connect-the-dots here. The crying with the manna was actually very closely connected to the crying of the Spies. Imu, do you want to take us through any of that?
Imu: I remember this slightly differently, because I remember we only realized the crying and the chinam -- because we were on the hunt to solve a different issue, which was we had all these wonderful connections, for those of you who saw the course, between the Joseph story and the Spies story. Except there was something strange. The Spies story begins with father, or God, sending spies that then return a bad report. Whereas the Joseph story begins with the son, Joseph, who delivers a bad report to father, who then turns around and says okay, I'm going to take your bad spying and I'm going to send you on my own.
I think that led to an issue that we had, because we said the situations aren't perfectly parallel. Somehow father overhears rumblings first. He hears a rejection of brother, because Joseph is spying on his brothers, and then he says, okay, I'm going to try and correct it. Did that happen in the story of the Spies in Numbers? In the story of the Spies in Numbers, was there a similar situation where the people, or Joseph, could possibly have been delivering some sort of earlier bad report or grumbling?
That's what led us to look at the stories before.
Rabbi Fohrman: In other words, what we were wondering was, in the Joseph story, father sends Joseph on a spying mission to correct an earlier episode of spying that went wrong. Is it the case that when this story gets replayed in the Book of Numbers, when father, in this case God, sends people on a spying mission, that God is also trying to correct something earlier? What could that earlier correction be?
That led us straight to this, which is, He was trying to correct the earlier crying, the crying with the manna. The through line between the manna and the land is the answer to this one question: how do you get fed? The answer is, God feeds you. Now the question is, how does God feed you? God feeds you through His gifts. So if you're in the desert, God feeds you through manna. Where does manna come from? Manna comes from strawberry fields in heaven. There are these fields in heaven as, by the way, Deuteronomy later on in Ha'azinu will say, talking about the manna. "Vayochal tenuvot sadai," [Deut. 32:13] that we're eating the fields of heaven. We're eating from the fields of God in heaven.
So God says look, I'm always feeding you through my fields. The only question is, am I feeding you through heavenly fields or am I feeding you through earthly fields? If I'm feeding you through heavenly fields, we call it manna. If I'm feeding you through earthly fields, we call it the land of Israel. One way or the other, it's my special place and I'm giving you these gifts.
So it's not coincidental that the people are crying in these two stories. It's not just two random stories that they're crying in. They're crying about the same thing in both stories. They're crying about how God is feeding them through His fields. That helps you understand God's reaction in the story of the Spies.
In other words, the reason why God reacts so strongly in the story of the Spies is because this isn't the first time it happened. So in other words, it's fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. In other words, the first time around, when the people cry about the manna and said, we remember the fish, because they bifurcate the slavery experience and just remember the fish. So if you're God you can say, okay, look. Maybe there was something wrong with the recipe of the manna, I don't know. You'll have to ask the heavenly chefs. Maybe I didn't make it so good. Maybe I should have put fish spice in it or something. I feel bad. So God has some tolerance for the people. It's like, okay, so I'll give you meat. I'm not happy about it, but here's meat if you want meat. It wasn't the end of the line for the generation.
So we'll deal with that. Then when it gets to how God feeds you again in the land, and you come back and you say no, we're scared, we don't want to go, when God has taken you through the Red Sea and helped you so far. Then it's like, no, I don't want to go. If you're God, you have to ask yourself, one second. Is it a coincidence that they just cried twice about me feeding them? First it was because they didn't have the fish. Now it's because they think they're going to die, going in there. The common denominator is, you seem to be upset with how I'm feeding you.
So tell me what's really going on. It wasn't really about the fish, was it? It isn't really about being scared, is it? What it's really about is that you have an issue with how I'm feeding you. You have an issue with me taking care of you. You have an issue with taking food from me. You have an issue with the whole setup of me delivering food for you. That's your real issue.
So let's deal with that. That really is the crux of the point, and that's what leads to God's anger and fundamentally that the people are rejecting the chance to be fed by God. As long as you do that, you can't really make it in the land. That's the end of that idea.
Imu: Just to push you here, what is bechiyah shel chinam? What are they crying about, or what is their non-aboutness? That's what the Sages are picking up on, is that the first time their bechiyah wasn't a bechiyah shel chinam. It was a bechiyah about chinam, it was a crying about how they once had fish for free. The second time, they're crying about the land somehow. The Sages are paying attention to the two cryings and saying, what you're crying about isn't what you're really crying about. Is that the argument here?
Rabbi Fohrman: Yes, I think so. In other words, they're twisting the bechiyah about chinam, which is to say the bechiyah about getting fish for free, and twisting it to a bechiyah l'chinam, which is their words for a meaningless crying. They're saying it's a meaningless crying because the reasons why you say you're crying are not why you're crying. You are crying because you thought you had fish for free; it's your tears that are for free. The tears are the things that are problematic.
Imu: That reminds me of a Rashi there which I always thought was a very frum Rashi. Rashi trying to explain, what does it mean, fish for free? He's dealing with a very obvious issue, which is that they're slaves. So even if they got fish, how on earth was that considered free? They're slaves. So clearly their labor is paying for any of their food. Rashi explains that that chinam is chinam min hamitzvos. They remember this time when they didn't have to perform any obligations or have to do any commandments in order to get their food. Now, they're in this time in the desert and they're connected to God. I thought it was a very frum Rashi, not very p'shat-based.
Now, hearing your explanation of the connections here of their first crying could not really have been about fish because they're crying again now, having to go into the land. It makes that Rashi make a lot more sense. Don't you think?
Rabbi Fohrman: Yes. In other words, it's not a coincidence that these cries are being precipitated by being 11 days away from the land. There's something about the impending arrival of the land which is completely freaking these people out. It first expresses itself with the manna, like we just cannot have this manna. But really, what's on their mind is, we can't be fed from God. Specifically, we can't be fed from God in the land
I think Rashi, quoting from a Midrash as he often does, is hitting upon the crux of the matter in a veiled kind of way. What's the difference? Why were you okay until now? You had manna for a while now. No one was freaking out. You knew the plan was to come to the land. All of a sudden, it's getting closer and you just can't deal with it. What's your issue?
The issue is the impending expectation of doing mitzvot in the land.
Shana: What does it have to do with being slaves? Meaning, the next generation that weren't slaves before, now they could go into the land. Why can't this slave generation can't go into the land?
Rabbi Fohrman: It's an interesting question. Is it something having to do with being slaves that's the issue? The truth is that often the things that I am working on bleed into one another. Ever since I finished working on this series on the Spies with Imu, I've been preoccupied with another thing. The other thing has bled into this story of the Spies, they kind of go together.
I've been working on Shema lately, as some of you in Producers Circle know. We've been talking about it a little bit. These themes have really started to resonate with me with the Shema, because they come up again in the second section of Shema, which is "V'hayah im shamoa." [Deut. 11:13] It's this kind of bargain having to do with the mitzvot. Basically, there's something about what the people are going through which I think resonates with their slavery, and it's really this.
It actually has to do with mitzvot, it has to do with commands. Think about this generation of slaves. What would freak you about coming into the land? Commands. When's the last time you had commands? Pharaoh. They were used to commands. So what happens is when you go to the land, all of a sudden there's this new thing which is an implicit part of the bargain for food. It is commands, fulfilling the commands of God and then you're going to get all this rain.
Now, there are two ways to think about that. One way to think about it is a bargain struck in love. Let me explain what I mean by that. If you think about the notion of service of God or service at all. Service is a loaded word. On the one hand, service, if you talk to 19th century British people about service, it means slavery. A life of service is a life of slavery. Service is slavery. If I would even ask you to define slavery for me, what does slavery mean? At some level, slavery means working for someone else and not you. That's what it means. It means, when I don't have any interest in the final product of my work. I work and I work and I work, and it's not me who bears the fruits of that, but someone else. The extreme version of that is slavery.
Well, a lot of men who are recalcitrant about getting married will joke that they worry that marriage is a lot like slavery, because there's this expectation of service. There is. I'm supposed to be able to look at my wife in the morning in bed and see that she really would like a glass of orange juice, and then I'm supposed to go and give her a glass of orange juice. Well, what did I get out of that glass of orange juice? You see, it's very similar to slavery.
So if I would challenge this recalcitrant guy who doesn't want to get married because he thinks he's getting into a life of slavery. I would say, well how is that different than slavery? What's the difference? The truth is that it's hard to nail down the difference. In both cases, I truly am doing an act that is not for me. I'm doing an act that is completely for someone else, when I get her that orange juice, when I do those other things.
The difference is the context. The context, in marriage, is love. If I love you and if I feel for you, then when I serve you, that changes things dramatically. Instead of being slavery, which is the most abject part of the human condition imaginable, it's actually the most exalted part of the human condition imaginable. What is more exalted than to take someone whom I love, and being able to serve them in altruism, to give them a glass of orange juice just because I see, by the look on her face, that this is what she would love? Then she's going to do something for me.
It's not transactional. It's not like I give you the glass of orange juice because that way, you will hand me my binder. It's not as transactional as that. But as I nurture our relationship by showing you acts of love, then you, too, will nurture our relationship by serving me, too.
This is what I was saying with Shema. This is why I was saying it bleeds into Shema. That's the bargain with Shema. The bargain with Shema, the way I see it, is this. I see it as a version of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Maslow's hierarchy of needs works like this. We all have needs that are most basic, middle level, and then higher-level needs. I can't focus on a higher level of need until my lower level of needs are taken care of.
If I'm starving or I'm hungry, nothing else matters. You can't ask me how I want to change the world when I'm starving and I'm hungry. I need to be dealt with at the starving and hungry level. The most basic level of my hierarchy of needs, we can call this basic needs, life-threatening needs, water, food, shelter.
A level up from that you might say are not needs, but wants. I'd like a glass of orange juice. I'd like an omelet. I'm not going to die if I don't have an omelet. You give me 900 calories a day, I'll be fine. But I'd like a glass of orange juice. Those are wants which ride on top of needs. Once my needs are taken care of, we can talk about my wants.
Now, once I have needs and wants taken care of, is there a higher level? Is there anything else? Am I a good husband if all I do is provide for my wife's needs? So she's got her 900 calories a day, plus I give her a glass of orange juice now and then. So have I now discharged my duties? I'm a great husband because I've taken care of my wife's needs, I've taken care of her wants, she wants something. Is there anything else I could do for her, any other way I could serve her?
It seems to me that the highest level of Maslow's hierarchy of needs is what he calls self-actualization. We might call it vision. At the highest level, what if my wife has a vision for what she'd like to become? I give this example. My father, alav hashalom, he was an engineer. For many years, he worked as an engineer for NASA at the Moffett Space Flight Center in Palo Alto. He actually worked on the heat shields for the Apollo missions. He married my mom. My mom's dad, my grandfather, was also an engineer. He was a civil engineer who worked for the naval shipyards in San Francisco.
My grandfather was very happy to have a fellow engineer in the family and welcomed him in with open arms and it was all great. Only to have my father sit down my grandfather at the kitchen table one Sunday afternoon to tell him that he doesn't want to be an engineer anymore. He says, what do you mean, you don't want to be an engineer anymore? You have my daughter, you're providing for her, you have a nice job as an engineer. He says, I don't want to be an engineer anymore. I want to be a psychiatrist. You want to be a psychiatrist? Are you crazy?
Lo and behold, my father quit engineering, enrolled himself back in college, took his prerequisites for medical school, took the MCATs. He got into medical school at UCSF. He went all the way through medical school and then residency in psychiatry and emerged 12 years later as a psychiatrist. Now, my mom had a difficult choice during that whole thing which is like, am I going to stand by this guy and help him actualize this vision of what life really means to him? So at the highest level of service I tend to your visions, but I can only tend to those when your needs are taken care of.
It seems to be like there's a bargain that's struck between God and the people of Israel as they enter the land. The bargain is that there's this joint venture which is called the development of the land. What God says is, here's the deal. I love you, and hopefully you love me. God says, I want you to serve me with my mitzvot. It's not just you who's going to be serving me; I'm going to serve you. Let's talk about how I can best serve you. Let's talk about how you can best serve me.
The way I can best serve you is I look and I say, okay, what's the most basic level of need that you have that's not met? Your most basic level of need is survival and economy; that's your most basic level of need. So God says, okay, that's on me. I'm going to bring the rain. That's my job. I'm going to make it rain and I'm going to take care of you, and that's how I'm going to serve you. How are you going to serve me in this love relationship? We love each other. What are you going to do for me?
I'm the Creator. What do I need? I have very few needs. I have very few wants. There's nothing you can really give me at the level of needs and there's nothing you can really give me at the level of wants. The only thing you could give me anything at is vision. I do have a vision. My vision is, I have certain ideals that I would like to come into being in the world. There are certain values that I'd like to actually come into the world.
It's interesting, when we put on tefillin in the morning we say that the bond of love that connects us to love is a bond of four values. "Arastich lee," I will marry you, I will betroth you "b'tzedek u'v'mishpat," in righteousness and justice; in chesed, in kindness; and in rachamim, and in compassion. [Hosea 2:21] These four values seemingly are the values, you can twist the dial here and you can twist the dial there, but basically the merger of these values are the values that the mitzvot are based on.
Without the mitzvot, those values are just Godly ideals that are up in the air. God says, you guys have something that I don't have. You have a body. I don't have a body. How am I supposed to make those ideals come true in the world? You're the guys who live in the world; I live in the heavens. These are my ideals. Can you make them come true in the world? Here are some mitzvot, here are some commands that will translate these ideals into an institutionalized way in the world.
That way, you can serve my vision. When you do that, you contribute to the development of the world. You contribute to the development of the land. I give you the rain, you make these ideals come true in the world. That's our bargain of love, and that's our bargain of service.
As to Shana's question, was there something about this generation with its experience of slavery that caused them to freak out in the land, you can begin to see why. They had an experience of mitzvot before. They had a king who had asked for service before. It was Pharaoh. They also served someone without any benefit to themselves. The difference was context. The difference was love. With Pharaoh, there was no context of love. It was that I'm going to grind you down and I'm going to get what I can from you, and I'm going to break you through service which you have no interest in.
So the people come to the land and all of a sudden, the king has this expectation that there's this sort of service which is being asked of you. All of a sudden, it's like the trauma from Pharaoh just hits them in the head. Somehow there's this feeling of no, this isn't going to work. The question is, why? God had been trying to establish this notion that I love you, I've been taking care of you, I've been giving you manna to show that I love you. There's something about the people that are just not accepting it, not accepting that love, not accepting that context of love. They're seeing the service in a way that's stripped from love, which is just slavery. It's like a slave revolt, going into the land.
So that's the long answer to Imu's and Shana's short questions.
Imu: I didn't get an answer to my question yet.
Rabbi Fohrman: You sort of did. In other words, that's how I would understand chinam min hamitzvos. When Rashi says, we had the fish but we didn't have these commands from this new master then, it was bifurcating slavery in a way that saw the rosy side of slavery without the whole of it. Then they were just saying, well we had the fish and we didn't have the mitzvot. Now, all of a sudden, we have this new king with his new expectations. The trauma is, it brings us back to the dark side.
In other words, there's a part of Egypt they're not remembering. It's classic post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. What do I do with post-traumatic stress? I have to bifurcate because I can't remember the trauma. The trauma is too great for me to process, so I can't really assimilate the slavery that I went through. So what do I do? I block out the terrible parts of it. Once I block out the terrible parts of it, I'm left with a distorted view of the good part of it.
Well, the only thing that's left that was good in the slavery process is the fish. If you block out the bad parts of it, the fish came to you for free. Because I can't even process the bad parts of it. Now, when I am about to go into the land and there's another king who wants service from me, all of a sudden that makes me remember something. It jogs my subconscious mind into saying, hold on one second. Weren't you forgetting something about that Egypt experience? It's like, holy moly. I'm back into slavery again?! All of a sudden I wake up with sweats in the night and all of a sudden, I will do anything to just not go into the land. That's this generation. That's how it feels like to me.
Imu: So just taking it one step further, the original question that I had opened up on is the connection between bechiyah that is chinam and sinat chinam. Is it just a coincidence that the Sages like that word, chinam, and whenever they talk about Tisha B'Av they use it here to say yes, the destruction was because of sinat chinam, but also because of the Spies, which is a bechiyah of chinam? Or are these chinams somehow connected?
One thought that I had while you were really developing that was just if there is sinat chinam in the Spies, just assuming that somehow they're connected. If there is sinat chinam in the Spies, about whom would they be having any sinah (hatred) in the first place? Here, just like the bechiyah of chinam wasn't what you thought, it was about God in some sense, I wonder about the sinat chinam as well.
Rabbi Fohrman: I'm going to pass the baton on to you. In our discussions with one another, this is more your thing than mine, the sinat chinam piece of this. For me, I'm okay leaving it at bechiyah l'chinam without making that jump to sinat chinam. However, help me understand your thinking in putting sinat chinam in there?
Imu: I don't have a specific answer. I'm just intrigued by the fact that the Sages are basically saying that the destruction of the Second Temple is because of sinat chinam, and sinat chinam is this major thing that we all try and root out. They also say that the root of Tisha B'Av is because of the bechiyah shel chinam, which is interesting to me. It sounds like there's got to be a connection.
What I was playing with is the notion that we had talked about in Deuteronomy where Moses recounts the story of the Spies. Moses talks about the moment of their crying in their tents, but he doesn't call them crying. I'll just read this: "Vateiragnu b'oholeichem," you were complaining or murmuring in your tents. "Vatomru b'sinat Hashem otanu hotzi'anu mei'eretz Mitzrayim," it is God's hatred of us that took us out of Egypt. "Latet otanu b'yad ha'Emori l'hashmideinu," to give us over to the Amorites to destroy us. [Deut. 1:27]
Over there, there's this connection of what was once described as crying, is now hatred. It's the people of Israel thinking that God hates them, and that's what this whole story is about. So the Sages are saying this night of crying for chinam could be based on really what you've just been talking about. Their crying of chinam isn't a crying about fish and it's not a crying that is baseless in the sense that it was for no reason, but it really is a crying that's rooted in this notion that they believe that God hates them.
Rabbi Fohrman: This is interesting because it ties into your idea of sinat chinam. In other words, could it be that the sinat chinam in this case is the accusation of sinah, the accusation of hatred that the people level at God, which is itself baseless? In other words, could that be a version of the earliest kind of sinat chinam? Could sinat chinam in some way mean not just how we hate each other for nothing, but how we fear that God hates us?
In other words, what Imu is getting at is one of the strangest parts of the story of the Spies. In Deuteronomy, when the story is recounted, Moses finds himself completely at a loss to understand how this could have ever happened. How could it have happened that people who had the experience of God's love, that God had taken them through the desert and literally, as Moses describes it, had the experience of God carrying you through the desert "ka'asher yisa ish et beno," like a man will carry his child. [Deut. 1:31] That's how you were carried through the desert.
"Vateiragnu b'oholeichem," but you said no. "Badavar hazeh einchem ma'aminim ba'Hashem," [Deut. 1:32] but in this you did not have faith in God and you said "b'sinat Hashem otanu hotzi'anu mei'eretz Mitzrayim." It was in God's hatred of us that He took us out of Egypt. How could you say, in God's hatred of us?
We have a video on this, how does this even happen that you could say this. This is the terrible fruits of lack of faith, which is that if you can't manage to accept the love that someone is giving you, for whatever reason, the great tragedy is that it's not a neutral thing to not accept the love that someone's giving you. You can, if you want, twist that into your own funhouse crazy version of hatred and come to this conclusion.
This gets to this real question, can you go deeper into this? What was it that made them so afraid? Remember what they said with the Spies, "Eretz ochelet yoshvehah hee." [Num. 13:32] This is their fear. It's a land that devours its inhabitants, which we suggested in the videos is true. It's only part of the truth, though. For them, though, it's the whole truth. It's the only thing that matters. It's a land that devours its inhabitants. It's a land that has the potential to kill us. It's a land that has the potential to bounce us out of it.
It's like they're convinced, seemingly. It is true. Read Shema. If you fail to perform the mitzvot, if you deal treacherously with God, if you serve other gods, if you cheat on Him, you will undergo exile. The land will bounce you out. It is true. But it's almost like they're accepting that as a foregone conclusion, it's for sure going to happen. The question is, why? There's some reason they think that it's for sure going to happen. It's almost like they think that when we get into the land, it's a foregone conclusion that whatever acts of service we do, will be rejected.
In some way, yes. Whatever the answer to that is, and I'm not proffering an answer yet. I have some thoughts about it.
Imu: There are some interesting answers in the chat which I think you should go through. Jeanette Ovadia writes that sinah possibly starts with one's own insecurities. Solomon Jacob writes that it's a projection of their own insecurity.
I can see many loving relationships turn on a dime for this reason. If you feel like you're going to fail your lover, and that is very shameful, if you're going to fail your lover. So instead of admitting, oh, I may have failed, then maybe your lover isn't your lover. Maybe instead of dealing with the fact that oh, I might fail in the relationship, maybe I wasn't really loved in the first place.
I'm totally speculating here, but that strikes me as sinat chinam, as a kind of baseless hatred. You're not really hating somebody for something that they've done; you're hating them as a defense mechanism because you can't deal with your own shame or your own fears.
Rabbi Fohrman: I think that's true. Shana here keeps on saying Abba, the Ten Commandments. What she means by that, again, just watch our course on the Ten Commandments on Aleph Beta. But one of the arguments I made in that course is that the last command, the last principle emerges from the fifth command on each side. The fifth command on each side is, honor your parents and don't covet.
Essentially, the argument I made in the Ten Commandments course is that that argument is about self-acceptance. The fundamental aim of the Ten Commandments at its fifth level is self-acceptance. The first four levels of the Ten Commandments are acceptance of the other, respect of the other, and the fifth level is respect of the self. If I don't respect myself, I will ultimately not honor my parents because my parents gave me my own self and my own life. If my own life is problematic, if there's something fundamentally wrong with who I am, then I don't owe them honor but derision.
Similarly, if I am fundamentally problematic, I'll try to crawl out of who I am and just get more and more of your things so that I can feel like I'm you instead of me. The final command is, don't do that. Don't covet the other. Accept your parents because you have to accept yourself ultimately, as we would have said in this course, as a whole.
It's funny, Noey Jacobson, who was one of Imu's old friends going back to Maccabeats days and a contributor in some ways to Aleph Beta, commented in the discussion section for this course. He said, it feels like your argument about the need to love someone as a whole is not really just an argument about others, but it's an argument about ourselves. I think that's fundamentally true.
The most basic requirement we need to do with all of ourselves is to be able to love ourselves as a whole. This means to say, to be able to look at the part of yourself that you consider shameful, the part of yourself that you think that if only anybody knew this about me, how could they possibly love me. We all have that and we all fear that this is a deep, dark secret and if only our lover knew, it would be the end. Then to say, no, I am a whole. I'm not breakable into little pieces, and this little part of me which I consider shameful when I isolate it and magnify it, within a whole is just part of a whole and it contributes to the whole in some way. It's just who I am.
That type of self-acceptance is what you need to do in order to be loved. The Ten Commandments is setting yourself up to be loved and to love. I need to respect you in order to love, and I need to respect myself in order to love. It's basically about accepting yourself as a whole.
Interestingly enough, the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy comes right before Shema and V'hayah im shamoa. So right before this section that talks about these mutual obligations toward me and towards God, there is this predicate of what I need to do to allow myself to be loved and to allow myself to love. It's to engage in this understanding of respect of someone else, but respect of myself, too. If I don't have it, I'm in trouble.
At some level, one wonders, was there something shameful that these people were doing? In other words, it wasn't just that they were looking at the land and bifurcating the land, and saying this is part of the land that's scary and will devour us. They weren't just bifurcating the Egypt experience and saying, we loved the fish and we're forgetting about the work. At some fundamental level, I would argue, they were bifurcating themselves. What they were really worried about is that there's something inside themselves that makes them unlovable, fundamentally unlovable.
Therefore, no matter what the evidence was that God loved them, no matter how much evidence they could say that yes, God was here in the desert and He took care of our every need. There's something about us coming into the land where that shameful thing is going to be exposed. Then once it's exposed, the whole house of cards will come crashing down. It was their inability to look at themselves as a whole and to accept it.
If you want my sneak peek of what I think that was, the part of them that they did consider so shameful, I'm not going to get into why I think this; there's a lot of textual stuff that is a long journey in and of itself. I think it has something to do with a fundamental challenge in the relationship between God and man. In a relationship between God and man, we're relating to a being who is fundamentally different from us.
How is it that we serve God? What's the only thing we can really give God? The only thing that God doesn't have is a body. The only thing God doesn't have is physical form. So God says, okay, I'm going to lean on you for that. So you guys are going to take my vision, which is just up in the air, and you, with your bodies, are going to go and translate that into real stuff on the ground. You can only do that because you have a body.
Ironically, our bodies are the part of us that we're most insecure about, especially when coming face-to-face with God because God doesn't have a body. So the closer I get to God and the more intimate my relationship with Him and the more my understanding of the majesty of His transcendence, the more I become fearful of my inadequacy. I do have a part of me that's transcendent. My mind, my consciousness; I do appreciate God's transcendence. I can even get the mathematics behind some of the secrets of the universe if I follow the latest findings of the astrophysicists. I can get that.
I can appreciate the transcendence, but I'm also this body. God would never understand my body because He doesn't have one. So for sure it's all going to fall apart when we come into the land. The land is the world of the body. The land is the world where I have to use my body to do all these things, and of course God's going to hate that.
In this sense, it goes all the way back, like most things do, to the Garden of Eden, where all of a sudden, what happened? One way of reading the Tree of Knowledge story is you eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and what do you get when you eat from the tree? You get what the tree is advertised as, which is knowledge of good and evil. Well, what is knowledge of good and evil, but knowledge of all these Godly concepts, these transcendental concepts, these great philosophical notions of good and evil and values and tzedek and mishpat and chesed and rachamim and all these different values that make things good and make this evil. I'm thrilled with this new, Godly knowledge of good and evil.
Then I look at myself and I say, who am I? I look at my body and I say, what's that? That's the part of me that doesn't really relate to good and evil and all of that. So am I Godly? I can't quite figure this out. The first thing they do is they cover up. They cover up their bodies in shame because there's something about the knowledge of all of these values which lie behind mitzvot that can make me ashamed of my body.
So at the moment when the body becomes operative, which is coming into the land, the part of me which I can be most ashamed of can kick in. It's like, how could God ever love anyone like me? Everything begins to fall apart. That's my little sneak peek theory.
Imu: I think you have more to go. I think one of the coolest parts of this, which got you into Shema in the first place, was the laws that happened right after it.
Rabbi Fohrman: Imu, take it away. The real tipoff that this is true, or one of them as there are a number of them, is the laws that show up right after the story of the Spies. Right after the story of the Spies, you actually have a whole section of Shema. It gets lifted out and it becomes a whole section of Shema, which is the whole portion of tzitzit (ritual fringes). These little fringes, these little torn things, this little thread of blue that we're supposed to put on our clothes, of all things.
What's fascinating is that if you look at the laws of tzitzit, and we can actual go into the laws of tzitzit for a second. If you look at the laws of tzitzit and you read them carefully, you'll find all of these covert allusions to the story of the Spies. It comes right after the story of the Spies. It's all this language that actually reminds us of the story of the Spies. Let's jump in and you'll see some of it.
It starts in Numbers 15:37. "Vayomer Hashem el Moshe laymor," God says to Moses. "Daber el Bnei Yisrael v'amarta aleihem v'asu lahem tzitzit," they should make for themselves tzitzit "al kanfei bigdeihem." Now, that's also strange language, as Imu pointed out to me. Kanfei bigdeihem can mean the corner of your clothes, but it could also mean the wings of your clothes. It's almost as if you're a winged creature with your clothes, almost like you're a bird.
You do this "l'dorotam," for your generations. What's interesting is that it didn't need to say that you do this for your generations. If it had just said, daber el Bnei Yisrael v'amarta aleihem v'asu lahem tzitzit al kanfei bigdeihem, would you have thought it's only that generation? No. Like any mitzvah in the Torah, you would have thought it's all generations. So why do you have to say l'dorotam? Of course, one of the issues in the Spies was the loss of a generation. So you have the theme of generations coming back.
"V'natnu al tzitzit hakanaf petil techeilet," and you should put on these tzitzit, on these things that you look at, this little thread of blue. "V'hayah lachem l'tzitzit," and they should be for you these tzitzit. "U're'item oto." That phrase is lifted straight out of the Spies. The Spies were told to go and to look at the land, "u're'item et ha'aretz mah hee," they were supposed to look at the land and see what it is. [Num. 13:18] "U'zechartem et kol mitzvot Hashem," and you're supposed to remember all the mitzvot of God, "va'asitem otam," and you're supposed to be able to do them. [Num. 15:39]
Tzitzit is actually something that's supposed to help you go forward and do things, and do these mitzvot. Not to get hung up and to think that they're undoable. Here's the kicker, the corner piece that screams out Spies, "v'lo taturu acharei levavchem v'acharei eineichem." Literally, and you shall not spy after or shall not be led astray after your heart and after your eyes, "asher atem zonim achareihem," that you stray after. The word zonim is also a word from the Spies, when God says that He's had enough of znutchem, your straying. There was something about the Spies that was all about the straying.
All of this language is language that evokes the Spies. Even the end, "Ani Hashem Elokeichem asher hotzeiti etchem mei'Eretz Mitzrayim," I am the Lord your God who took you out of Egypt, in the story of the Spies the people want to go back to Egypt and God is reminding you, I'm the God who took you out of Egypt. There's even more stuff which I haven't mentioned, but it's all there. It's all screaming Spies. There's something about tzitzit that reminds you of the Spies.
What I would argue is that it's not a coincidence that tzitzit, of all things, has to do with clothes. What do we do with clothes? We cover our nakedness. There's something about this thing of covering your nakedness with clothes which is getting us into trouble getting into the land, and you need a reminder on your clothes that your clothes and your nakedness isn't as shameful as you think it is. You use nakedness so that God can't see who you really are, because you're so ashamed. So you try to run away from God and hide with your clothes, or you're in exile, or you don't even want to go into the land because you've got this nakedness that God can't deal with, without the clothes.
All of a sudden God says, guess what? I'm walking with you and I'm with you. There's this little thread of blue. As the Rabbis say with the thread of blue, it's a reminder of the ocean and the sky, it's a reminder of God's heavenly abode. It's God's way of saying that look, the way I see it is that it's sky blue. The funny thing about sky is that sky is invisible, just like God is invisible. God is invisible. His realm is the sky.
So when things are invisible, you can think they're not there. When air is invisible, I can think it's not there. If I look at my hand in front of me, I can't see any air. So it's very tempting, I can think the air isn't there. What's the science experiment that I can do, even if I lived 3,000 years ago, to prove to myself that there's something in air, that air is there, that air is a something instead of a nothing? One thing I could do is blow with wind, but the other thing I could do is look to the horizon.
If I look to the horizon, what do I see? I don't see nothing anymore; I see blue. But all there is is sky, right? Something is there. The sky, the blue shows you that what seems like nothing is there, is really something there. Put the blue on your clothes. You may not be able to see God, but there's something there. God is walking with you with your clothes all the time.
Indeed, in Eden, who was the first one who gave you clothes? The first one who gave you clothes was God. You had these little, inadequate clothes that you sewed for yourself. But God, who didn't think you needed clothes in the first place and was kind of sad to see you get them, said look, if you human beings think you need clothes, let me at least make you a nice pair.
So the first gift of love that God gives to us, even as we leave into exile, is clothes. So God says, look, you think I can't see you when you're naked? You think I can't handle your inadequacies? You think I can't handle the part of you that's not transcendent? I'm your Creator. I even made you your clothes. I walk around with you with your clothes. There's this little blue that walks around with you all the time.
What I'm saying to you is that you guys can have wings with your clothes. You're not these earth-bound people; you're sky people. You can float in the sky with your clothes. If you take my heavenly visions, these ideas, and bring them into reality on the ground, what are you doing? You're connecting the sky and the earth. That's what a human being really is.
A human being, at the level of a whole, when I accept my whole, is my transcendent part together with my heart, together with my body, together with my hands, all these things together. All these things together is a magical being that could connect heaven and earth, that can take ideas in the heavens and bring them into the earth. In so doing, they become sky people. They can be beings with wings, as it were, and take flight.
God says, I welcome you into the heavens with your clothes and with your body, and it's okay. That's the answer to the problem of the Spies going forward.
Imu: I think it's such a beautiful concept when we first bandied it about and as we're refining it here, just this idea of tzitzit as an antidote to the thing that caused spying in the first place. The thing that causes spying and the thing that causes znut, or straying in a marriage, is shame. That makes sense on the face of it. I think even in a marriage the thing that causes adultery, perhaps, is shame, is a feeling perhaps that your partner isn't loving those parts of you that are the dark parts, or the parts that you may not love about yourself. So you repeat the cycle again. You go find some other person to love those things or to love a part of you, whatever it is. It usually is motivated by some sort of shame.
The tzitzit somehow relieves you of that shame and relieves you of the desire or the impetus to go out spying elsewhere and straying elsewhere. I was so struck by the idea of just rereading that word, kanaf, and kanfei bigdeihem. Kanaf everywhere else in Torah, in very few places does it mean 'corner'. It almost always means 'wing'. So it's as if our clothes have wings.
If you are to reimagine your clothes not as this thing that the earthly, base, naked being needs, but also to recognize that we're a combination of a creature of the earth and a creature of the sky. We have wings as well. If you think about who else in Torah has wings. Not just birds, but who else has four wings, because birds have two wings. The cherubim have four wings.
Rabbi Fohrman: Like the four corners of the clothes, yeah.
Imu: So in some sense, in our struggle to be angels, we get to play angel. You put a little bit of sky on your wings, the techeilet, and we're also human. So there's this combination of the acceptance of all of us, of the whole of us. You need to accept and love the whole of yourself because if you don't, you're doomed to have sinat chinam, perhaps. You're doomed to project that self-loathing on to others, that shame and hatred on to others.
We talked about this also with Cain and Abel. Everyone remembers the end of the Cain and Abel story where Cain's jealousy kills his brother. There's this intervention. When Cain does not get his offering accepted, his face falls and God intervenes. He says, "Lamah naflu panecha," why did your face fall. [Gen. 4:6] This is such a silly question. Of course He knows why his face fell; he's ashamed. But He's saying, don't be ashamed. "Halo im teitiv se'eit," the famous verse there. [Gen. 4:7]
Cain is unwilling to love himself, perhaps. He's unwilling to forgive himself. He's unwilling to face the shame. His self-loathing immediately turns into the hatred of his brother, and he kills his brother. It's right there, at the beginning. These stories of Tree of Knowledge and of Cain are stories, really, of shame. Not so much obedience and who obeys and who doesn't obey; they're stories of shame and lack of self-love, which has these disastrous consequences.
So I think this lovely notion of tzitzit as this antidote, you don yourself with angel's wings and you recognize that I am earthly and I am also heavenly, as the antidote to the struggle of the Spies. Maybe this somehow, if we put enough pieces into this cholent pot, explains the differences between the bechiyah shel chinam and sinat chinam. Maybe if you mourn baselessly, if you mourn because you're in shame, your fate is to hate baselessly as well.
Rabbi Fohrman: Vadim has an interesting point here that cherubim actually have six wings. Chayot have four. I'm not an expert in the angelic bestiary of all the different kinds of angels that are out there and what, exactly, the difference between a chaya and a cherub is. What's interesting is that a chaya is actually, one could argue, perhaps the most man-like of angels in the sense that man himself is known as a nefesh chaya.
Interestingly, the way that I translated nefesh chaya in a course in Aleph Beta called "A Tale of Two Trees", my argument is that nefesh chaya actually is a two-word description of man and a two-word description of animals, as well. It's interesting that it's two words. You can't describe them in one word because there's a fundamental dualism in both man and animal. Both man and animal have a bodily part to them, as well as a mind part to them. The mind part of man is more developed than animal, but animals have it as well. So animals and man are a nefesh, which is a soul, but it's a living soul. It's a chaya, it's a living soul that somehow lives in the world in some sort of bodily way.
The difference between man and animals is how they have the living soul. If you look in Genesis 1, animals' soul emerges from the bodily parts of them. "Totzei ha'aretz nefesh chaya l'minah," let the land give forth this nefesh chaya. [Gen. 1:24]
It's almost as if, in evolutionary terms you would imagine God commanding the earth, Earth, I'm going to give you all the time you need through natural selection and all the biological processes. I am interested in a reindeer. I'd like you to come back when you have a reindeer. So the Earth says, yes, sir, God. I'll start working on it right away. Single-celled animals, protozoa, second cell animals, natural selection. Four-and-a-half billion years later the Earth comes back and says, okay, God, here's the best I could do. Here's your deer.
What happens is you actually have a deer with the rudimentary elements of consciousness that arises from nerve synapses which are material things. A certain consciousness that emerges from the material.
That's not how man comes into the world. Man is a truly dual creature, not just a being of the earth. Man's body is formed from the earth, but then God blows the breath of life into his nostrils. In blowing the breath of life into his nostrils, "Vayehi ha'adam l'nefesh chaya," and that's how man became a nefesh chaya. [Gen. 2:7] That's how man's nefesh entered his body. His nefesh comes from a transcendent place. It doesn't come from the earth. This is the fundamental difference between us and animals.
In essence, this is what God was asking Adam to understand when He gave him the animals to mate with, only to reject. They're not really soulmates for you because their sense of consciousness doesn't come from the same place it comes from with you. With you, it comes from Me, that sense of consciousness. With the animals, it comes from the ground. Man realizes that, and the only one he can unite with is someone like himself, which is Eve, who was taken from him and who has the same sense of consciousness as he does.
I wonder if a chaya, so to speak, is the kind of angel that's most like man, which is that whatever a body would be in the angelic world, that's the chaya. The chaya is the bodily part of man. It's the part of man that actually does in the world. Angels don't do in the world, but if you can imagine whatever an angel would be, that would be closest. The angel would be the chaya, the four-winged angel, like the four wings, so to speak, of our clothing. I wonder if that's a possibility.
Also along the lies of what Imu was talking about with the idea of znut, which is really interesting, that notion of straying which makes itself into the story of the Spies. It doesn't seem to be an adultery story. It's not like we worshipped other gods. It's not like we betrayed God with an allegiance to some other god. But it seems like the beginnings of straying, of that adultery-like kind of thing.
I wonder if part of that might be the notion of that if you think yourself unlovable, because there's a part of you that's very shameful, so who knows? There's a lot of ways of cutting that gabble. You talked about a couple that you're looking for someone to love a piece of you.
The other way of seeing it is that you give up on love entirely. When you give up on love entirely then you settle for a relationship on other terms. Possibly, when even a good marriage goes bad, one of the places it might come from is people giving up love from that feeling that there's something in themselves that can't be accepted. Therefore, I'll start an intimate relationship with someone that's fundamentally transactional. In the terms that we described before, almost a slavery-like relationship, a relationship which is transactional. There is no love and I serve someone else's needs and they serve my needs, but it's truly transactional. I get what I can get out of the relationship, and you get what you can out of the relationship, but at some level the notion of real altruism and acceptance has gone by the wayside. It's the beginnings, maybe, of straying.
I don't know. Just some thoughts on those lines.
Imu: That seems wise and it definitely rings true. Rabbi Fohrman, should we open up the floor to some questions? Reactions? Feelings to this course?
Rabbi Fohrman: I'm cool to open up the floor. We can do that. If folks have comments, questions, or observations, we can turn the microphone over to them and if not, Imu, you and me can continue to fill the airwaves with our blather.
Imu: We love nothing more than to do that.
Participant: I have a question. So I remember there was one course where you seemed to suggest that Jacob, in a way, was sending Joseph off on a mission that was similar to the Akeidah. You had the Akeidah language and basically what I understood is that's not up to humans to do. It's God who sends people on these kinds of missions, but not humans to other humans.
I looked at the story of what Moses asked the spies to do, and it seemed that this was also very similar. He asked them to determine if the land was tovah (good). I thought, those are terms that are only for God to decide. Was he doing the same thing? Was he falling into the same trap?
Rabbi Fohrman: I'm just trying to understand what you're saying. In other words, you're saying Moses asked them, look at the land? You're saying it's Moses asking them, rather than God?
Participant: That's right. Or why would Moses even ask that? For them to determine if it's good or not?
Rabbi Fohrman: I think in the context of the course, I could be wrong but this is my own personal way of understanding that. What does it mean to spy on your family? What does it mean to check out the shlom of your family, in Joseph's terms? The antecedent of this is Joseph and his brothers. If I ask your shlom, and I ask how you're doing, what I'm really doing as a family member is I'm trying to see how things are with you. Are things good? Are they not so great? If they're not so great, if I'm coming from a context of love, I’m going to try and do what I can to fix it.
To give you an example of this, it's the difference between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. In Genesis 1, where God is described as Elokim, which is God as Master Builder, Master Architect, but not yet the God of love, that's Yud-Hey and Vav-Hey. So in the world of Elokim, God makes a declaration after every day. He looks at what He's made, and He evaluates it. The two possibilities are basically tov and ra. The eitz had'at tov v'ra, really comes from the kind of judgments that God would make in Genesis 1 regarding His world. How a creator looked at the world.
Luckily, God looks at everything and decides it's tov. Everything is good. Had God decided that something was ra, what would have happened? If God decided that something was ra, and evil, He would have gotten rid of it. Right?
That's, in fact, Noah. "Vayar Elokim ki raba ra'at ha'adam ba'aretz…v'yit'atzev b'libo." [Gen. 6:5-6] God finally saw that there was evil in the world, and He got rid of it. So that's the Elokim view of the world. I judge things. If it's tov I'll keep it; if it's ra, I'll get rid of it. That's a very nice, and very easy to understand, fair and objective way of looking at the world.
But love is not objective. Love is subjective. When you're in subjective land, I don't make judgments between tov and ra. The judgments I make in Version 2 of the world, which is Genesis 2, the world governed by what the text calls Hashem Elokim, Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey and Elokim. God never sits in judgment of the world, never says, it's tov, it's tov. There is no such judgment. It just is, and if it is, I'll take it.
The one judgment God makes, which isn't really a judgment, is when He says, lo tov. When He looks a man and says, "lo tov heyot ha'adam levado." [Gen. 2:18] There's something about man's being that's lo tov. Now interestingly, lo tov is not the same as ra. If God had said, ra, He would have gotten rid of it. That's what you do with something bad. What's lo tov?
So you know in school when they try to be nice? We have David Block, who's a principal of a school. David, when you're doing a report card for kids, you want to be nice but they've sort of failed. You don't write the F, you write NI for needs improvement. Do you know what I’m talking about? Needs improvement, that's lo tov, needs improvement. It's a loving way of saying, I'm not failing you, I'm not getting rid of you, I'm not taking an objective stance towards anything. I’m taking a subjective stance toward you because I really want to know how you're doing. If you're not doing well, there's a safety net. I'm just going to fix you. I'm going to make it better. I can't look at you, it's lo tov. What can I do to make it better?
So God's saying, I don't know, can I give you some animals? An ostrich maybe? The hippopotamus will keep you company. That doesn't work. We finally come up with Eve and we have a solution for your existential loneliness. Trial and error until we finally get it right. That's the world of lo tov.
So when you're spying on family, what is spying on family? Spying on family is when you're not using objective glasses, you're using subjective glasses. You're all part of the family, my only question is tov or lo tov, at some level. That's what I think. Now, you could disprove me possibly with the use of the word ra, with the land. Is the aretz tov or is it ra? But that notwithstanding, I think the sense of the text is that you're supposed to look at the land and get a sense of what it's like, and if it's not perfect, so then you know what to do when you get into the land.
God is confident in the land. He is confident in the gift. If the people find that things are lacking, so then there's more farming to do when you get to the land. Your job is what can you do to make the land better.
Go back even into Genesis. What's man's fundamental obligation in the garden, God's special place? It's l'avdo u'l'shamrah, [Gen. 2:15] to take care of it and make sure it's good. That doesn’t mean make sure it's good and to curse it if it's bad and get rid of it and move onto something else. It means farm it. Do what you can to make it wonderful. The beginnings of that, I think, is the approach of the Meraglim to the land. That's kind of how I see it.
Let's do some little introductions here and in Producer's Circle land. We've got a lot of folks here. David Block, actually, is a former employee of Aleph Beta and a former member of the Maccabeats. He's now head of school at Shalhevet in Los Angeles, California. He is nice enough to join us when he can and be a part of Producer's Circle. For those of you who listen to Parshah Experiment, you know David from the Parshah Experiment. So that's the man behind the voice.
David: I come not only because I live and breathe your Torah, but because I miss you guys.
Rabbi Fohrman: Thank you so much. We miss you too, David. If we have other questions or comments we can take them, or we can dive into something else.
Let me ask you a question, Imu. This is a personal question to you as the executive producer on this course. What was it like to executive produce this course? We did this a little bit differently than we did other courses. We've gone through different modalities when it's come to Aleph Beta land. Sometimes we've scripted some courses and we did things that way. We've done courses where we footballed things, so to speak. That's a kind of internal term for taking audio and just editing it.
I'm just curious, did this course proceed the way you thought it would proceed? Were you the mad scientist that had this all figured out in your head of exactly how this was going to go? Or was this sort of an organic experiment that we started and then rolled with the punches? What was it like to produce this?
Imu: I had great fun producing this with you. I think that it's hilarious to me that people write to me on Tisha B'Av and they're like, wow what a great course. I watched the course. I'm like, really? That's all we said in the course? Like it was just that little piece? I feel like we did a lot more. There were many, many hours that we spent on learning before we could get into this. In the nine years I've been doing this with you, earlier on in our relationship, I would barge into your office and demand a Tisha B'Av course, and then wait expectantly for you to do that entirely on your own. Then later on, I got to learn with you and to develop it.
I think this year was probably the most fun for me, and probably I tortured you the most, because I didn't give you the time. I think your best chavrusah is probably your pen. You work really well with your keyboard, I would say, and writing notes and I kind of got in the way. Not in a bad way for me, it was really fun. What I got to observe, and I think might be useful for Producer's Circle members to hear, is that Rabbi Fohrman never asks the questions that he asks at the beginning of a course, at the beginning of a research session. Those questions are tacked on way at the end. Rabbi Fohrman always begins with the text on hand and observations. I got to watch him trace the observations that he was making.
Only way at the end did we stick some relevant questions on to the beginning. I caught you doing that even in this presentation when you were talking about the story of the manna. It wasn't exactly how he got to the story of the manna. We weren't like, oh you know, chinam, and that reminds us of the manna. We were looking for ways in which the Joseph story was perfectly parallel to the Spies story, and it wasn't perfectly parallel. So if Joseph talked about his brothers and did a dibah before his father ever sent him on a peace mission, well then there's got to be some story of Israel complaining before father ever sends them on a peace mission.
Getting to watch you work that way, where you notice something and then you carefully mine the implications of it, was really great. For me there's a total difference between research and the way something is presented. But it was complex, and it led in many different directions. Some of the things we're not talking about today are there's an ish that meets Joseph at Dothan on his way to visit his brothers, so we have something on that.
We actually, I think, discovered perhaps what Joseph's dibah was. It says that he talked about his brothers, but what did he say? What was the content? So we talked a bit about that. We had a lot more parallels between Joseph and the Spies. For example, there is a bechiyah of chinam in the story of Joseph and he brothers, where Jacob is crying and he shouldn't be. He's mourning someone he doesn't need to be mourning.
So there are a lot of different places that this course went and you kind of have to let your mind go to those places. Then when you cut out, artificially, this little piece and say I have a course for you on Tisha B'Av, it's a different thing. So I don't know if I answered your question.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. I was thinking that one day it might be fun -- I'm curious what our Producers Circle members would think of this. Again, there's a difference between presentation and research, how we'll research something and how we'll present it. As Imu says, the trail of how you start with certain observations and then you wend them through and find things and build them is different than the trail of how you then package that to lead somebody else through a similar, but not the same, path.
I think it might be interesting, one day, to experiment with doing a course where all we do is retrace a research thread and show how it actually developed, and just advertise the course that way. This is a different course than all other Aleph Beta courses. We are taking you on a research journey. How certain small truths lead to dramatic implications, and just what that journey looks like and what those implications are. At the end we'll talk about, now that you've seen this, here are the questions that this would answer, but that doesn't come at the beginning.
I don't know, I think that might be a fun journey. Would every sinew of your body rebel against that?
Imu: No. It sounds like a good podcast idea, actually. But people would have to listen for many hours.
Rabbi Fohrman: That's true. You can't distill things as much. But those were something, we spent about three, two- or three-hour sessions together going through everything.
Imu: Four three-hour sessions.
Rabbi Fohrman: Four three-hour sessions together researching it.
Imu: Before we felt like we had something really great. Then we destroyed it for four more three-hour sessions and attacked it and said, this is never going to work. Then we put it back together in another few, few-hour sessions.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah, it was pretty exhausting. Well, I’m glad that the final course looked like it more or less worked. That's heartening. By the way, I have to tell you, I didn't get a chance to watch the whole course yet. Generally speaking, I have a hard time watching Aleph Beta courses because you can't fix them anymore. No, really, you're just stuck with whatever you said and it's easier just not to watch. But my kids were watching so I stuck along and watched some of it with them today.
I have to tell you, I thought some of the animations were hilarious and wonderful and kudos to Shoshana and her team for bringing her trademark humor. My favorite piece, my kids like the diver who was diving in the sea to try to do some engineering and figuring out how it was. Personally, I love the guy doing pull ups in order to strengthen himself.
Imu: "V'ihtchazaketem v'lakachtem mipri ha'aretz." [Num. 13:20]
Rabbi Fohrman: Right, to bring back the fruit. I thought that was just absolutely hilarious. I could have just doubled over laughing. I felt guilty because it's Tisha B'Av and you're supposed to be sad and not laugh, but I thought that was really good.
Imu: One of the things people don't get to see is there are a lot of staff members at Aleph Beta. Shoshana Brody is our art director. She has to be a talented artist and at the same time a talmidah chachamah. She needs to really understand all the material, and all of its subtleties, and the context in the text. She's trying to entertain, she's trying to educate and illustrate the conceptual. She and her team, Arthur and Mallory, they do such a great job. Shoshana also is so witty and funny, so she has all these little Easter eggs that she puts in, so it's really great. Thanks for recognizing Shoshana.
I don't know if you noticed, by the way, there's one hilarious silhouette of you carrying a salad. If you know Rabbi Fohrman, the man is always carrying an enormous salad. So there's you and a salad in that video as well.
Rabbi Fohrman: Where was me and a salad? Did I not get to that part yet?
Imu: Maybe not. I'll send you a picture. Where's Waldo. Who can spot the Rabbi Fohrman and the salad?
Rabbi Fohrman: Look, kudos to the whole team. I know you spent a lot of time looking over the animation and all that, so thank you for that. Shoshana really brought her wit and humor, just her ability to visualize. It was great.
It's hard for me to notice because I've been in the company from the beginning and it's been gradual, but I think the animation has been getting more and more wonderful and I think this course is a testament to that. So it was beautiful to be able to see.
Imu: Thank you, and thanks to the Producers Circle members themselves. Those who enable us to be able to live our dream jobs, employ people who are involved in klei kodesh, putting together these presentations. So thank you to all of you, we really appreciate it.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yes. Thank you. My kudos to you guys. Thanks for joining us. I want to wish you guys an easy rest of the fast, a meaningful rest of the fast. Thanks for being with us and for helping by being so involved in looking to understand that you're coming to us for the stuff that fell on the cutting room floor, as it were. It's a big vote of confidence that we have folks like you who have that level of interest to not only support us, but to listen to us talk about all the wonderful stuff that emerges from these courses. It makes me feel good that we have you guys as an intimate and connected audience.
So thank you for being there with us and participating.
Imu: I do want to say to the Producer's Circle members just so if you're not aware, Rabbi Fohrman does a weekly class, Shiny New Thing Time, where he gets to unveil the latest research. For those of you who can't make that class, it is recorded and there are transcripts. So for Shabbos reading, or whatever else, those are available to you.
Rabbi Fohrman and I are also available to you, so you should feel free to e-mail us any questions, thoughts, or comments. Those things nourish us, so please feel free to interact.
Rabbi Fohrman: Shiny New Thing, by the way, is typically on Mondays but it may switch from Monday evenings, but it's currently Monday noon ET. I think we're going through some of my lengthier Shema material, which I've been in the middle of. We'll get back to it and I look forward to doing that with you guys. So if you get a chance to tune into that and be a part of it, it's interactive but you don't have to interact, so no pressure. It's good to have you, if you can join.
Imu: One thing I want to say. The thing that moved me most today, and I'll leave us with that thought, is just this notion of trying to attack sinat chinam. I think one way I've dealt with that previous Tisha B'Avs is to try to be sensitive and try to appreciate others. Trying my best not to hate other people. I think there's something that I'm leaving with today which is that maybe the pathway to love of others is love of self. This is a counter intuitive way on Tisha B'Av to deal with sinat chinam in the world.
You need to recognize that there the parts of yourself that are shameful and to accept those parts and to see the whole within yourself and to trust, just like in the Ten Commandments course that Shana was screaming out over there. When you treat yourself well and you respect yourself, and you're kind to yourself, you'll be able to see the whole of others. That hopefully emanates out. That is my brachah (blessing) to us this Tisha B'Av.
Rabbi Fohrman: That's a very good brachah. A good way to go forward. Amen to that. Okay, Imu, thank you to all of you. Thanks for being a part of this.