Of Soldiers And Slaves: Divine Justice In The Face Of Great Human Evil
Of Soldiers And Slaves: Divine Justice In The Face Of Great Human Evil
Rabbi David Fohrman
What can we expect of God, by way of justice, in the face of great human evil? That question was always pertinent, perhaps, throughout history -- but in the shadow of the Holocaust, it seems especially pertinent and troubling. Does Nazi Germany's defeat in war mean that the scores have been settled? Is justice on any level something we should be looking for, from the Almighty? Or: Are these divine secrets that humans really have no business asking about?
In this talk, Rabbi Fohrman argues that the Torah doesn't ignore these issues, but implicitly addresses them in some powerful ways. The key is to look carefully at what the text tells us about... soldiers and slaves....
Rabbi Fohrman: Hi, there. I'm here with Immanuel and it is Tishah B'Av. You can't say happy Tishah B'Av, so I don't know if we want to say unhappy Tishah B'Av, but here we are to try to share some thoughts with you over the next couple hours or so. We had a few technical difficulties logging on, but I think we're all set now and I trust that we're okay.
Immanuel, can you hear me?
Immanuel: I hear you great. Can you hear me?
Rabbi Fohrman: I can hear you.
Immanuel: We should banter for a little bit, because the audience is building on Facebook and on Zoom, as well.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Great. Let's do that , but before we settle in over here, I will say that Tishah B'Av webinars are, in a certain kind of way, wonderful for me because they're a chance to hang out with you and our kind of larger Aleph Beta audience in a live kind of way and really get to explore some meaty issues in depth. I wanted to just ask you, Imu, do people have the ability to interact with us and can you describe that to me and to our folks?
Immanuel: Sure. So those people who are on Facebook can interact on the Facebook wall, which I'm monitoring and you can type in a comment and share your feedback that way. There are participants, people who are in the Zoom Room, who are accessing by our site, as well, who can do a few things. I believe, they can raise their hand, which you should be able to see options for at the bottom, and you can chat and I can see. So Harvey just complimented us and said our video and sound are great.
Rabbi Fohrman: Oh, Harvey, that's so great. That makes me feel so all warm and fuzzy inside.
Immanuel: Yeah. If you raise your hand, we can call on you. Be careful that you are only using your mic and not your video, unless you want to broadcast to everybody your video, because we will be able to bring people in and call on them, as well. Now, we have a sizable audience, Rabbi Fohrman, if you'd like to --
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Great. So, just so I understand, in terms of interaction, people can hang out with us on the chat, there's a chat button if they're joining us in Zoom. They can also chat with us on Facebook and, Immanuel, may the bold among them use their mic?
Immanuel: The bold among them may use their mic and their video.
Rabbi Fohrman: And their video.
Immanuel: We've had that in the past where we've called on somebody who was not ready for their video to show up. So be warned, if you raise your hand, you may get some video.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Great. Folks that are there on Zoom, you're welcome to, if you would like to say hi. We have a hello from Atlanta and some other folks and you can feel free to do that. Meanwhile, hello from Aleph Beta Central out here in Inwood, the fifth of the Five Towns, at about 1:40 or so Eastern Standard Time.
So, here's what we're going to do today. We'll be with you for at least two hours, possibly longer, depending on how things go. Let me sort of see if I can bring an introduction to the table here of what I'd like to do with you.
There are two topics that I kind of have in my head that I'd like to do with you. Each of them is probably about two hours long in and of themselves. So I don't know that we'll be able to get to both or not, but one of them, in particular, felt to me like it has real Tishah B'Av resonance and I'd like to see if we can pick up with it. The other has to do with Jeroboam (Yeravam) and the split of the kingdoms. To be perfectly frank with you all that had been what I thought that I was going to do with you, but I can't overcome the temptation to share with you some stuff that I've just been working on that I think is really very, very timely and speaks to Tishah B'Av in a very powerful way, at least for me.
Let me actually begin with yesterday. Yesterday, I was kind of listening to the haftarah that we read for Shabbos Chazon, for the Shabbos right before Tishah B'Av. It comes from the very first verses in the Book of Isaiah, the very first verses in Isaiah. Immanuel, I'm wondering if I can ask you to pull that up on your screen or maybe I'll just pull it up on our screen and I'll share the screen with you and with the rest of the audience. Let me see if I can trigger that. We're going to use Sefaria here to try to show this to you. Immanuel, see if you can see that. Does that work for you?
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Excellent. Is that large enough like you can actually see the screen?
Immanuel: I can. If someone else cannot, then they should chat.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. All right. Excellent.
Immanuel: Good. Everyone can see it.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Fantastic. If you look at this over here, these are the verses of the haftarah and something struck me about the verses which was very kind of shattering. I guess, you know, if you had to pick a haftarah to read on the Shabbos before Tishah B'Av, you'd probably pick some of the harshest, most mournful things you possibly can and the first chapter of Isaiah certainly qualifies.
This is quite a mussar schmooze, as they say. If you read -- just pick any verse here. Verse 7, "Artz'chem shmama areichem srufot eish admatchem l'neg'dechem zarim ochlim otah ushmama k'mahapeichat zarim." It sounds like it came straight out of the book of Eichah, straight out of the Book of Lamentations. Your land is a waste; your cities are burnt down before your eyes. Right? It's a prophecy of complete and total destruction.
Around Verse 9, you get to, "lulei Hashem Tzvakot hotir lanu sarid kim'at," had not God Himself allowed us to hang on to just a shred, "kiSedom hayinu la'Amorah diminu," we would have been destroyed almost completely like Sodom and like Gomorrah, the cities of the plane that was destroyed early on in the Book of Genesis.
Then, Verse 10, "Shim'u d'var Hashem k'tzinei Sedom ha'azinu Torat Elokeinu am Amorah." Then the prophet brazenly addresses the reader, us, as if we are the princes of Sodom and the princes of Gomorrah and says something really remarkable, especially if you think about the loss of the Beit Hamikdash (Temple). The Temple is a place of tefillah (prayer). The Temple is a place of sacrifice. Along comes God and has these words which are almost words that leave you most aghast. I mean, I brought this up at my table yesterday and it was just kind of -- it's just shocking. "Lamah li rov zivcheihem yomar Hashem savati olot eilim v'cheilev m'ri'im v'dam parim ukvasim v'atudim lo chafatzti," why do I need all your sacrifices, says God, I have enough burnt offerings, I have enough stuff, I have no delight in what it is you're giving me.
If you read even further, Verse 15 is something really, really scary. "Uv'farischem kapeichem alim einai mikem," and even when you lift your hands, I will turn away my eyes from you, "gam ki tarbu tefillah eineni shomei'a," even if you pray and even if you pray at length and you are marbeh tefilah, "eineni shomei'a," I'm not going to listen, God says.
The question is why would all that be? Where is all that coming from? Where is all that anger, so to speak, on the part of God. How could you ever be in such a situation where not only would sacrifices not work but, even prayer itself wouldn't work? Isn't prayer supposed to always work? Where would you be in a situation where prayer wouldn't work? The very next words answer that question, right? Look at the very next words in Verse 15. Are you with me, Immanuel?
Immanuel: Yeah, Verse 15.
Rabbi Fohrman: Look at the last words of the sentence there. You have that? "Damin malei'u," your hands are stained with crime or really, literally, stained with --
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah, go ahead.
Immanuel: With blood.
Rabbi Fohrman: With blood, right? And if you have blood on your hands, whatever that means, then, seemingly, prayer doesn't work, right? Sacrifices don't work. Nothing works. The only thing that works is washing your hands, which is Verse 16. "Rachatzu," wash yourselves clean, "hizaku hasiru ro'a ma'aleleichem mineged einai chidlu hare'a."
Now, the reason I want to bring up this haftarah to you is because when I saw this, it began to illuminate a part of our daily Shemonah Esrei that I never understood and I want to take that in to you. Imu, if I can play a little game with you. If you just think Shemoneh Esrei and now, think -- so the Shemonah Esrei is divided into various different brachot (blessings.)
(Irrelevant 00:10:28 - 00:10:31)
The Shemonah Esrei is divided into different blessings. If we play a little game, which of the blessings are sort of the most immediately resonant with you and which of the blessings are the least immediately resonant with you? How would you play that little game? Imagine we're talking not about the first three or the last three; we're talking about the middle ones. The middle ones are the ones that have bakashot (requests) in them in which we ask for various things. So can you name one or two top ones that you say are most relevant to you.
Immanuel: I like Modim a lot.
Rabbi Fohrman: No. Modim is in the last three. It doesn't count.
Immanuel: Oh, the last three. That's true. I like V'tein Brachah a bit.
Rabbi Fohrman: V'tein Brachah is great, right? There's nothing like economic prosperity. So we can chalk that up on our list of really relevant blessings. Okay. Give me another really relevant one.
Immanuel: I'm a sucker for "Atah chonein l'adam da'as."
Rabbi Fohrman: That's not bad, right? We like wisdom. Asking God for wisdom. Okay. Now, a little bit harder. I'm going to ask you for the ones that seem least relevant in your life. Ones that are just, like, eh. You read it and it's in prayer, of course, but it's not like this is really -- like I wouldn't put this in there. Right?
Rabbi Fohrman: I mean, I can give you a couple of ones to choose from, right?
Immanuel: Go for it.
Rabbi Fohrman: All right. Fine. So let's go through some. We went through Bareich Aleinu. All right. "Teka b'shofar gadol l'cheiruteinu." The Messiah. I think we're all in favor of the Messiah. All right. We'll keep that one. "Al hatzaddikim v'al hachassidim," that God should deal favorably with those who are tzaddikim, who are good people. All right. That sounds like a good thing for God to do. "V'lirushalayim ircha b'rachamim tashu," God should come back to Zion, to Jerusalem, and be there. That's amazing, right? We'll keep that one, too. "Et tzemach David avd'cha," God should resuscitate the Davidic dynasty. I'm all for it, right? "Shema koleinu," He should listen to our prayers. It's like one homerun after another.
However, there's one thing over here which, if it were up to me, it's just like I never, frankly, really connected to and it is the one right after "teka b'shofar gadol l'cheiruteinu." "Hashivah shofteinu k'varishonah," God, please bring back our judges like they were of old, "v'yo'atzeinu k'vatchilah," and our yo'atzim, those who advise us, like before. "V'haser mimenu yagon va'anachah," and please take away sighing and weeping and sadness. "Um'loch aleinu," and You should rule over us. "Atah Hashem levadcha," You should rule over us, You, alone. "B'chessed uv'rachamim v'tzadkeinu bamishpat," in chessed, in kindness, and you should be there for us in mishpat (justice.) "Baruch Atah Hashem," blessed are You, God, "melech oheiv tzedakah umishpat," the God Who loves righteousness and justice.
I don't know. For me it's like if this one wasn't here -- I don't know. Why do I have a hard time relating to it? Do you have a hard time relating to it? It feels like it's hard to wrap your hands around it. Like, who are these judges? Why am I supposed to care about them so much? It's like, all right, Messiah, I'm totally in for it; Davidic dynasty, totally; God coming back to Zion, yes; but these judges - we're supposed to have judges like they were before and somehow, "vehaser mimenu yagon va'anachah," sighing should be gone. What does this have to do with God ruling over us? Later on, we talk about David ruling over us. This is God ruling over us. I don't know. It just seemed kind of hard to relate to. Are you with me?
Immanuel: A little. Not all the way.
Rabbi Fohrman: Not all the way? Okay. What's your take on this blessing?
Immanuel: My dad, I think, he always instilled in me the crying out for the sages or the wise ones who might guide us and how we may not have access to sage wisdom and it causes great injustice in the world that the people who are guiding us are not necessarily correcting the corruption that is in society. So that's sort of a take that I see.
Rabbi Fohrman: So I think there's something of that there. So what struck me yesterday is that -- I guess I never quite and I see that some of you folks on Facebook comments raise some of these issues. I guess that issue of what "haser mimenu yagon va'anachah" -- what does that have to do with "hashivah shofteinu k'varishonah." The letting go of the sighing and the weeping and the crying; what does that have to do with returning the judges?
So in this webinar what I want to do with you is kind of a deep dive into this notion of judges and where they come from. I want to begin that within this haftarah. So I want to go back with you, for just a second, to this language we had. I'll see if I can share that screen with you guys again. Here we are.
So isn't it fascinating that -- let's just read a little bit more. Read Verses 16 and 17. This is where we're up to. "Rachatzu," wash your hands of this blood, "hizaku hasiru ro'a ma'al'leichem mineged einai chidlu harei'a," wash yourselves clean; put your evildoings away from my sight; cease to do evil. Look at 17. " Limdu heiteiv dirshu mishpat ashru chamotz," learn to do good; devote yourselves to justice; aid the wronged, "shiftu yatom rivu almanah," uphold the rights of the orphan; defend the cause of the widow.
Then you get to some very famous verses, some stuff that many of us know. "L'chu na v'nivach'cha," come and let us reach an understanding, God says, "im yihiyu chata'eichem kashanim kasheleg yalbinu." And this is a diametrically opposed way of seeing things than we had a few verses ago. A few verses ago, God seemed like you couldn't move Him at all. No sacrifices would budge Him, no prayer would budge Him. You couldn't do anything. All of a sudden, God says, "im yihiyu chata'eichem kashanim," if your sin is so deep and so entrenched as to be like dyed-in-the-wool red -- and again you have that -- it evokes that red of --
Rabbi Fohrman: -- blood that we talked about before. If your sins are like blood dyed in wool and how do you ever wash out blood from them? "Kasheleg yalbinu," still that wool will become clean as snow, "Im yadimu chatola ketzemer yihiyu." It's possible to wash this out, right? "Im tovu ushma'atem tuv ha'aretz tocheilu." How do you do it?
So if you keep on reading -- where is this? Take a look at Verse 26. "V'ashivahh shoftaiyich k'varishonah v'yo'atzayich k'vatchilah." What does that sound like to you? "V'ashivahh shoftai'yich k'varishonah v'yo'atzai'yich k'vatchilah acharei chein yikarei lach ir hatzedek kiryah ne'emanah," I will return your judges like before; I will return those who give you advice like earlier. "Acharei chein yikarei lach ir hatzedek kiryah ne'emanah," after that you can certainly be known as an "ir hatzedek," a city of righteousness, "kiryah ne'emanah," a faithful city.
"Tzion bamishpat tipadeh v'shavehah bitzedakah." Ultimately, how will Zion be redeemed? It will be redeemed through this thing we call mishpat (justice) and its returnings will come back through tzedakah, through righteousness.
So, what's remarkable here is that this language, "V'ashivah shoftai'yich k'varishonah v'yo'atzai'yich k'vatchilah" -- where have you heard that language before?
Immanuel: This is straight out of Shemonah Esrei, "Hashivah shofteinu k'varishonah."
Rabbi Fohrman: Exactly. Or to put it differently, Shemonah Esrei is straight out of here. When Shemoneh Esrei uses -- the language of Shemonah Esrei is coming from this haftarah. This is what the authors of the Shemonah Esrei have in mind when they talk about, "hashivah shofteinu k'varishonah." Bringing back a certain sort of justice which is only possible with these judges; bringing back judges like they were of old.
What I wanted to do with you is sort of explore that and maybe we can come back at the end to Shemonah Esrei and see how Shemonah Esrei flows in a whole new way, I think. I mean if you just look at it in the language of "hashivah shofteinu k'varishonah" look at V'lamalshinim as a later addition, so let's just skip over that for a moment and go to Al Hatzaddikim. But if you think about Al Hatzaddikim coming right after Hashivah Shofteinu, what theme does Al Hatzaddikim seem to pick up on in Hashivah Shofteinu and in this haftarah?
Rabbi Fohrman: The idea of tzedek. Right. So, in other words, normally you read Al Hatzaddikim and you think, what's a tzaddik (righteous person)? A righteous person is somebody with long robes, a righteous person is somebody who learned a lot of Torah, a righteous person is somebody who is the Rebbe, anointed, but, if you're reading it in context, what is a righteous person?
Immanuel: Someone who's just.
Rabbi Fohrman: Someone who's just. Someone who does the right thing in the context of the way judges should deal with people in the world: with the poor, the orphan, right? And we've talked about before that there are these two sort of values that lie hand in hand; one is mishpat and one is tzedek. There's justice and I think the easiest way to understand justice is to do the fair thing. The easiest way to understand tzedek is to do the right thing and the right thing and the fair thing are not always the same thing. So the fair thing says that truth is the ultimate value in the court system and doing things right by law. It's the ultimate value and that is one ultimate value, but it competes with the second ultimate value, which is doing the right thing.
When is the right thing not necessarily the fair thing? So if I give a hand up to an orphan and a widow, so it's not the fair thing for me to do that. They don't deserve that. But it's the right thing to do.
So there are these two values, justice and righteousness and it is these values that it falls to the judges to uphold and it's no coincidence that right after "hashivah shofteinu k'varishonah" we hope that those values percolate down, trickle down into society such that there are tzaddikim and there are chassidim and there are people who evince these values in their persona and if you have that, then "v'lirushalayim ircha b'rachamim tashuv." So then God can come back into Jerusalem and it's a city, as the haftarah talks about, as a "kiryah ne'emanah," a city that's a faithful city and it's a city God can be comfortable being in.
At that point, it seems like, if we go back to that language of hashivah shofteinu, interestingly, "um'loch aleinu Atah Hashem l'vadcha," if we just read that again. "Hashivah shofteinu k'varishonah," bring back our judges like before and now, "haser mimenu yagon va'anachah" becomes clear. What does that mean in context? Which yagon va'anachah are we talking about?
Immanuel: Seemingly, the plight of the orphan and widow or of corruption.
Rabbi Fohrman: Right. There's corruption. There are people who are not getting a fair shake. There are people who are being downtrodden. The weak are being destroyed. So that sighing of the weak will go away as soon as shofteinu are k'varishonah and in that kind of world, there is a King above us, "um'loch aleinu ata Hashem l'vadcha," who is ruling and these judges are His agents in the world and only after that can human kings come in. "Et tzemach David avd'cha mehaeirah tatzmi'ach." You have the advent of the Davidic dynasty followed by interestingly -- look at the very last thing and think about that in the context of the haftarah that we just read. "Shema koleinu Hashem Elokeinu chus v'racheim aleinu," listen, therefore, to our prayers, God. What are we really saying?
Immanuel: God who wasn't listening to our us beforehand, now that we have this desire for justice and seemingly are correcting our ways, maybe now he can listen to our voice.
Rabbi Fohrman: Maybe now he can listen. That's why it's in prayer. Why is it in prayer? Because when you've got something as bone shattering as Isaiah 1, the prophet comes out and says, boys and girls, I have news for you. God is not interested and He's just not going to listen to your prayers. How do you pray to a God who's not going to listen to your prayers?
You've basically got to commit yourself to this and then you say that the promise of the haftarah is open to me, which is God says you know what? You can sin but sin can be washed away, but it doesn't get washed away through prayer and it doesn't get washed away through sacrifices. It gets washed away by bringing back this kind of society and then you can pray.
That begins Shema Koleinu. Look at the very next blessing, "Retzei Hashem Elokeinu b'amcha Yisrael uvit'filatam," and therefore be pleased with our prayer. Let it not disgust you, let it be something which you love and which you accept and "v'hasheiv et ha'avodah lidvir beitecha," and therefore, even sacrifices can be meaningful, which goes back to the beginning of the haftarah.
So it just struck me yesterday; it's fascinating. It feels like a good chunk of the Shemonah Esrei is playing off of this very haftarah that we were reading in shul. So that was kind of cool.
What I wanted to do with you now is just sort of dive back in even further, back earlier, before Navi back into Chumash and, Imu, I shared with you just privately, you and me, a little bit of this. But I'm going to want to share with you the larger the picture and with our folks out there in TV Land, as they say, to take a deep dive into this notion of judges.
I want to play a little game with you. Also, I want to give some credit to this. My eyes were opened to this by Daniel Loewenstein. Daniel is one of our writers here at Aleph Beta Land. We have a bunch of writers; Beth Lesch, Daniel Loewenstein, Ami Silver, Rivky Stern and they've come up with some marvelous gems that they've found and one such marvelous gem was brought to me one day by Daniel Loewenstein who burst into my office at Aleph Beta Central with an observation and I'll share with you --
Immanuel: We don't burst into each other's offices. No one ever like knocks; we always burst in.
Rabbi Fohrman: We always burst in. As a matter of fact, there's a sign at the front of my office. Imu, do you remember my sign?
Immanuel: I know your office.
Rabbi Fohrman: That's right. It was constructed by Shoshana who said stay out of this office or risk being stabbed by a blunt spoon. Something to that effect. That's right. So, yes, we take that very seriously, but, Daniel, for better or for worse, sort of burst into my office and wanted to show me something about judges, of all things. I'm sorry - about the partner for shoftim, which are shotrim. Of course, in the beginning of Parashat Shoftim, in Deuteronomy, we are introduced to shoftim, judges and judges have a partner, which is shotrim. Let me just sort of ask you, Immanuel, we translated shoftim as judges. If you would have to take a stab at an English translation for shotrim, these partners with these shoftim, how would you translate shotrim?
Immanuel: I'd probably, I think officers is better than guards, although sometimes it's used as guard.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yep. What modern Israeli system uses shotrim?
Immanuel: The police.
Rabbi Fohrman: The police. Good. The mishtarah. Whereas, the judges seem to be, sort of, the judicial arm of things, the shotrim seem to basically be the enforcers, in some way, shape or form. It's nicer to call them officers, but they sound like they're the enforcers in society. Every justice system has to have some enforcer. There's an executive branch to go together with every legislative branch and every judiciary.
So the shotrim seem to be an arm of the executive branch -- an arm of enforcers in society. If that's true, you sort of scratch your head and say, okay, now, how many things do you know of officers actually doing in the Bible, right? If you imagine when officers get mentioned, so can you think of any enforcement action which Jewish officers, in the society that God envisions for us, are ever actually involved in?
Immanuel: Do you want to open this up the audience at large since I know the answer to this question?
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah, let me just open this up to the -- right -- Bible question for you all out there, which is like, okay, police force. What do you think police people should be doing? They should probably be issuing jay-walking tickets. They should probably be putting people in jail. Can you find an example of the officers actually doing anything in Jewish society where we actually see what their function was?
Immanuel: Karen Goldberger on Facebook says when they go out to war.
Rabbi Fohrman: Karen Goldberger's right. Give Cary a free coke. Cary, you can't drink it quite yet, right, but you're absolutely right. So let's turn to that. So that's going to be in Devarim, Perek Chaf; that's going to be in Deuteronomy, Chapter 20.
Immanuel: I should interrupt that; Moshe Zerykier also has a nice thought, as well. Are you ready for a different destination or should we come back to Moshe Zerykier later?
Rabbi Fohrman: Oh, I'm totally ready for a different destination.
Immanuel: Okay. Because he says the taskmasters in Egypt.
Rabbi Fohrman: All right, Moshe. We'll get to you in just a moment. But let's just stick with the role that the officers are supposed to have in the society envisioned by God. The only example you ever have of it, to my knowledge -- of anything that the officers do is in Deuteronomy 20. So let's just share that screen with you. I think you can see it now and let's take a look at what they do.
Now, let's kind of set the stage. What better moment, Immanuel and the rest of you out there, for an officer to exist in than this moment. "Ki teitzei lamilchamah al oivecha," when you go out to war against your enemies, "v'ra'ita sus varechev am rav mimcha," and you see a whole swarm of enemies. You see that you're actually out-numbered, that there's more people there than you can shake a stick at and tomorrow the soldiers are actually going to go out, the troops are actually going to go out and they're going to face the enemy in war.
All right. This is the one place that we meet an officer. Imu, you're the captain of the officers, what do you think your job is? The people -- everyone was getting ready for war, they're all kind of nervous and then it's one of those Lord of the Rings pictures where you look out on the Fields of Pelennor and you see the Orcs and then it's like there's just hundreds of thousands of them, "am rav mimcha." You're totally out-numbered; 10 to 1. You're an officer, what should your job be right now?
Immanuel: Give everybody courage. I'm going to give a rousing speech, like Gandalf, and get everybody inspired. I'm not sure Gandalf was the one who gave the speech, but, yeah, try to encourage everyone, get them excited.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Try to encourage everyone. Let's say that fails. What happens if somebody says -- I mean, let's say somebody says, oh, Imu, I'm not feeling it. Those Orcs look like they're going to destroy me.
Immanuel: I'm the military police and I've got to make sure that there are no draft dodgers.
Rabbi Fohrman: Right and let's just talk about what that would mean. What would that mean? I mean, this guy is threatening your whole -- he has the chutzpah to stand up and say he's scared. So he's threatening the whole military enterprise. You are the military police. What role would the military police seem to have at this moment?
Immanuel: They've got to keep everybody in line. They've got to make sure that we don't lose anybody.
Rabbi Fohrman: We can't lose everybody. And this is the point, where you would imagine, the military police brandishes his rifle and --
Immanuel: He would be more scared of me than all those Orcs.
Rabbi Fohrman: Exactly. You think the Orcs are the only scary ones? What about me? I can be scary, too. The role of an enforcer would be to make sure that the enemy doesn't turn tail and run. Well, look what actually happens if we actually read the story. "Ki teitzei lamilchamah al oivecha v'ra'ita sus varechev am rav mimcha," The Torah says, "Lo tira meihem," you shouldn't be afraid of them, "ki Hashem Elokecha imach," God, is with you, "hama'alcha mei'Eretz Mitzrayim," who took you out of Egypt. "V'hayah k'karav'chem el hamilchamah," and therefore, when you get close to war, here's what should happen.
The first thing that should happen is the Kohen (priest) should come, "v'nigash hakohen v'diber el ha'am," and the priest should come and he should speak to the people. "V'amar aleihem," and he should say to them, "shema Yisrael atem kreivim hayom lamilchamah al oiveichem al yeirach l'vavchem al tir'u v'al tachpezu v'al ta'artzu mipneihem." The priest should say to them hey, you guys are going out to war against your enemies; don't be afraid; don't get panicked. God is going to be with you; he's going to fight with you, "l'hoshi'a etchem," to save you.
"V'dibru hashotrim el ha'am leimor," and then, the officers -- ah, the officers. This is the first time we've ever met them when they're actually doing something. This is the only thing they do. And look at what they say, "mi ha'ish asher banah vayit chadash v'lo chanacho yeileich v'yashov l'veito pen yamut bamilchamah v'ish acher yachn'chenu." Is there anybody here who built a house and didn't get a chance to hang out in that house yet? Didn't get a chance to dedicate that house? Didn't get a chance to experience that house? "Yeileich v'yashov l'veito," he should go back and experience that house, "pen yamut bamilchamah v'ish acher yachn'chenu."
The officers are going to say this about houses, they're going to say this about vineyards. Is there anybody who planted a vineyard, but never harvested it. Let him go back home. All right? Is there anybody who is married to a woman, but didn't take her yet? He should go home and be with her.
So, and finally, "V'yas'fu hashotrim l'daber el ha'am," the officers then continue to say to the people, "mi ha'ish hayarei v'rach haleivav," if anybody is feeling a little scared, don't worry, that's fine; you should go home, "v'lo yimas et l'vav echav ki''vavo." It just seems astounding, because the officers seem to be like -- why do you even call them officers? They're the very opposite of enforcers. This is the opposite of enforcers.
Let's just call a spade a spade. This is the super softy, nice guy officer. Who could be better than the super softy, nice guy officer? He's basically telling everybody to go home. You? Oh, you can go home. Don't worry. You can go home for one of two reasons. It's too hard for you? Don't worry. Go home. You have something to look forward to, you haven't experienced yet? Go home. It's such a strange thing.
By the way, it's not like we learn elsewhere, in the Torah, that the officers give tickets to people; we learn elsewhere in the Torah that the officers throw people in jail. This is the only job they have and yet, they're the officers. Who are these people and why are they doing this? It seems so strange.
Let me also, while I have you and I'm going to throw this question out to our listeners on Facebook and listeners on Zoom. Take a look at this language over here in Deuteronomy 20 and you can see it in Verses 5, 6, 7 and 8. You can't see all of the verses there in order, but I can kind of scroll down for you or you can look in your own Tanach. There's something else that the officers say that seems like it shouldn't be there. I purposely left it out when I was translating. Can you find it?
"V'dibru hashotrim el ha'am leimor." What is it that they say that, if you were an officer, you, sort of, for sure wouldn't say this? I'll read it now and give all of it. What doesn't seem to fit here? The officers tell the people, "mi ha'ish asher banah vayit chadash v'lo chanacho," who is the person who built a house and didn't dedicate it? Let him go back to his house, lest he die in war and another man will dedicate it instead. Who is the one who planted a vineyard and didn't harvest it? Let him go back, lest he die in war and another man will come back and harvest it. And who is the man who is engaged to a woman and didn't take her yet? Let him go back and be with her, lest he die in war and lest another man take her.
So my question is what seems a little odd here that the officers are saying in all three of these cases that, you know, that you wouldn't put in there? David says, over here in our Zoom thing, basically it says lest he die. Don't you think that would be a bad PR move, right, if you're the officer? Here you are, they're scared enough and you see all the Orcs, right? What would you expect from your rousing Gandalf speech, Imu?
Immanuel: We will prevail. We will succeed.
Rabbi Fohrman: That's right. We will prevail. We will succeed. By the way, that's sort of there. The priest says don't worry, it's going to be okay. How come the officer specifically had to mention -- like, you would get this guy off the stage pretty fast, right?
Immanuel: Has he thought this through? You know, you could die?
Rabbi Fohrman: You could die. You all could die. He says that three times. You might die. It's like he's saying look around to the right of you. Look around the left of you. One of you guys is going to die. You know, it would be a tragedy if you died. Why is he being so explicit about the fact that people might die? That seems like a strange thing to say.
The next thing that's strange -- it's not just lest he die. There's something else which is strange. Think about the argument they're making. It would be such a tragedy. What is the tragedy?
Immanuel: David Hamberger asks he's dead, but what does he care.
Rabbi Fohrman: Exactly. So David Hamberger, explain this a little bit more. What do you mean what does he care? Therefore, what?
Immanuel: I can wait for him to enter it in Facebook.
Rabbi Fohrman: David Aaron on Zoom is saying and another dot, dot, dot. And that was really the issue, right? Think about it. What really is the argument that this officer is making? It would be such a tragedy. Put yourself in the shoes of the soldier. It would be such a tragedy if you died in war and didn't get a chance to sit in this house that you made.
So David Hamberger says -- so let's just run through this. I'm going to play devil's advocate. Imu, what if I said oh, but you're dead anyway, so who cares? All right. So who cares? Once I'm dead, I'm not going to care that I didn't get to harvest my vineyard. Once I'm dead, I'm not going to care that I didn't get to hang out in the house. So, Imu, would you say that's a compelling argument or could you mount a counterargument?
Immanuel: I'd mount a counterargument. I mean, there's something -- there's something -- you would say -- I guess, I would say logically you're dead and you shouldn't care and yet the idea that you were excited to build the house or you were excited to be engaged and you put in the effort and all the work in order to get to that point and someone else were to go and benefit from what you built, that seems extremely tragic, even though maybe logically it shouldn't be, but emotionally or spiritually it feels quite tragic.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. I hear you. So what I would say then is the following. I'm going to meet you half way. I'll tell you my personal way of seeing this. The way I would see it is that, if you would sort of wrap your mind around the tragedy here of a soldier going out to war and dying and being unable to enjoy his house, so what is the tragedy? The tragedy is that he wasn't able to be in his house; he wasn't able to enjoy his house. Is the tragedy that someone else enjoyed it instead of him? That's not the tragedy.
Rabbi Fohrman: Is it the tragedy that some -- I would say the officer is, like, he's barking up the wrong tree. If I could yank his chain and get him down from there, I would tell the officer, why, on the eve of war, are you encouraging jealousy among the troops? This isn't a good trait. You think that people should care -- I'm dead. Not only am I not there to experience the house, I'm not here to experience this other guy experiencing my house. Why should I have this latent animosity towards other people by saying oh, it's going to be terrible. Somebody else is going to be able to enjoy your house? That's not the issue. So let somebody enjoy the house. It's at least a house. Somebody should enjoy it.
Wouldn't it have been just easier to leave that off? If he had just said it would be such a tragedy for you to have not experienced your house, that would be such a nice thing to say. No, the tragedy is capped off by someone else should enjoy it instead? That's not the point, right, that's not the point.
The meaning of all this, I think, comes into sharp relief when I get to the insight that Daniel Loewenstein came barging into my office with. What he showed me is something which I think has very significant theological ramification and ramifications that, I think, are really there in spades for Tishah B'Av.
You know, Tishah B'Av is the day in which we mourn Jewish tragedy. Unfortunately, Jewish tragedy has been pretty ubiquitous throughout time. It's not just the Temple. It's not just Tach V'Tat in the 1600s. It's not just 1492. You don't have to scrape back 100 years to get to one of the greatest tragedies of all; the Holocaust and everything that was part of that.
I think, if we think of ourselves, not 70 years from the Holocaust, still recovering from that blow. I think, one of the great questions that rattle around our collective brains, certainly my brain, is when such a terrible seemingly injustice is visited upon the Jewish People or such a terrible crime comes from us and is visited upon us, and the crime, at some level -- yes, it comes from God, but at least in the face value of history we were brutalized by another nation, we were brutalized by other people, by a Nazi regime.
I think one of the questions in the face of great human evil, such as the Holocaust is what response can we expect from God? Is there a concept of Divine justice and what would Divine justice look like? What would we even expect from Divine justice? What do we have a right to expect from God after the Holocaust?
So you might say, well, the smashing of Nazi Germany, but, yeah -- and that's true and Nazi Germany lost the war and there was a Blitzkrieg and the Nazis were destroyed and the regime was lost. But somehow, there's a piece of that I wonder about. I wonder, Imu, how you feel about that? At least for me -- I open this up to you -- there's something hollow about that a little bit. It doesn't feel like enough. It doesn't feel like okay, so fine. So they killed six million people, brutalized us and they lost the war and were destroyed and millions of their people died. So that's it for Divine justice; we can all go home?
Maybe you're not supposed to worry about Divine justice so much; maybe you're not supposed to care about it so much. But I know that, in the aftermath of the Holocaust, certainly survivors cared about it. I mean, I've read stories of survivors who have gone on rampages against, you know, Nazis who had brutalized them. I'm coming out with a book on the beginning of Bereishit, a parasha book. It should be out in October. We're dedicating it to the memory of Tuvia Lefkovich's father. Tuvia Lefkovich's father was a survivor of the war who was actually the Nazi in Schindler's List, the really evil camp commander --
Immanuel: It's not in memory, I think, he's still alive.
Rabbi Fohrman: No, no, no. I'm sorry, not in memory; in honor of Tuvia Lefkovich's father. He's still alive. The guard, the Nazi -- I forgot what his name was -- in Schindler's List, but whoever it was -- this is the guy that Tuvia Lefkovich's father manages to identify and who was posing just as Wehrmacht. That sense of vengeance is real, is palpable.
What can we expect out of Divine Justice? I think it's a question that reverberates throughout Jewish history. All these terrible things happen to us. What does it mean if we think about this notion of justice, of judges and God and judges in our society? What if we flip the question back to God and we said God, what does justice mean to You? What does justice mean to You when we're brutalized? You're a judge up there in Heaven. What justice can we expect from You in the Heavenly Court? I think it's a searing question. It's a question that lies just underneath the surface, it feels to me, of all the kinot (lamentations).
I was out there this morning listening to Rabbi Feigenbaum in the Irving Place Minyan and he said a very interesting thing from Rabbi Soloveitchik. He said that, you know, Tishah B'Av is the one day of the year where we get to ask these kinds of questions. These sorts of questions that would seem chutzpadik, would seem outrageous, would seem like you're not allowed to ask them of God, you're not allowed to have the chutzpah to come to God and say what is justice? What does justice mean to you? Yet, that's kind of what the Book of Lamentations is all about.
Listen to the first words of the Book of Lamentations. Like how could this have happened, is at least implicitly, a critique of the Divine plan. It's like, how do you let this happen? Where's the response to this? What's the deal here? It's just under the surface of all the lamentations. He said that, basically, this is the one day that we can do this and the reason why we can do it is because Jeremiah did it.
This is the reason why we read the Book of Lamentations. The Book of Lamentations is the first of the lamentations which set the tone for all the other lamentations and give us the right to be able to be more brazen with God than we otherwise would be. So in the spirit of that, I kind of, I want to explore this. What does Divine justice look like? And it's in that spirit or, I guess, the insight that I got in to this came from Daniel's insight, which I want to share with you.
So Daniel pointed out like somebody else in our chat over here.
Immanuel: Moshe Zaricker.
Rabbi Fohrman: What's that? Yes, Moshe Zaricker -- go ahead -- that there's another instance, Imu, of officers and where are they?
Immanuel: He says it's -- it's in Shemot (Exodus) in servitude to Pharaoh.
Rabbi Fohrman: That's right. It's in the story of the servitude to Pharaoh, right? So it turns out that there were Jewish officers in the slavery enterprise and they happen to be called shotrim. So it's not exactly true to say that the only thing that we see officers doing is encouraging these troops of war. We also see officers as part of Pharaoh's slavery enterprise. Now, that wasn't by law, that wasn't something that God said that they should do, but it existed in Jewish history.
So Daniel came and said is it possible that the officers, as described in Deuteronomy, the ones who encourage us going out to war, have something to do with the officers that were in Egypt, part of this grand slavery enterprise. As different as these stories seem to be, is it possible that one has to do with the other? These are the only two times we find shotrim in the Torah.
So it seemed intriguing, but it's merely intriguing. In order for you to have confidence that that were true, you'd kind of have to see more. Is there more to see? Is there anything else, in the story, that suggests that there's any real connection between the shotrim as described in Deuteronomy and the shotrim as described in Exodus? So I want to bring you back into the text for a minute.
Immanuel: Maybe recap the story for those of us who don't remember.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. Sure. So let's go into Exodus --
Rabbi Fohrman: -- 5. We're pull that up in Sefaria over here. Exodus 5. Share our screen with you. We have right over here in studio my son, Avichai. Avichai, if you want to pick out a little Tanach over there, you can follow along, too. We're in Shemot, Chapter 5 and let me share my screen with you guys so you can see what I'm talking about here. Imu, you got that over there?
Immanuel: I'm here.
Rabbi Fohrman: All right. So here's the first mention you have of officers. What happens is the context for this is that Moses and Aaron come to Pharaoh and they have a request and the request is, "shalach et ami v'yachogu li bamidbar," send out my people; let them celebrate with me in the desert. The request is for three days, "shloshet yamim." Let me celebrate with God for three days. Chapter 5, Verse 3.
Now, at this point, the king of Egypt responds and says, "vayomer aleihem melech Mitzrayim lamah Moshe v'Aharon tafri'u et ha'am mima'asav lechu l'sivloteichem," Moses and Aaron, why are you bothering the people? Let them continue and go back to their work. "Vayomer Pharaoh," and Pharaoh says, "heim rabim ata am ha'aretz," look, I've got a lot of slaves, "v'hishbatem otam misivlotam," and you're causing them to take time off from their work. "Va'y'tzav Pharaoh bayom hahu et hanogsim ba'am v'et shotrav leimor."
So Pharaoh says instead, "lo tosifun latet lahem teven la'am lilbon hal'veinim kitmol shilshom," I don't want you to give teven to the people to make their bricks. Now, it strikes me that there's a point to understand what this is. What is teven? Teven is straw. How were bricks actually put together back in the old days? How did you make bricks? Imu, give us a brick-making seminar.
Immanuel: I'm remembering from what is it -- the Ten Commandments? You take straw and then -- what is it -- you mix it with mud and then you bake it in the sun and then they become bricks.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Good. Now, let me just ask you a question. Imu, why do you need the straw? Why can't you just make bricks with mud? Mud will dry, just make mud bricks. What do you need the straw for?
Immanuel: I can't say that I am the best ancient brick maker, but I'm assuming that it fortifies the mud with strength. It gives it --
Rabbi Fohrman: Yes.
Immanuel: -- strength.
Rabbi Fohrman: That's exactly true. It fortifies the bricks with strength. If you just you use mud bricks, they will crumble, but if you mix them with straw, then a cement-like substance ensues and you actually have straw in bricks. Egypt is the one who brings the technology of bricks into the world with this idea of taking the straw and mixing it together with the mud and you actually have bricks that are strong. It makes the bricks strong.
Immanuel: The word teven, which means straw, also means building material, right? Livnot, teven. Is that done on purpose?
Rabbi Fohrman: Oh, I hadn't thought of that. It's an anagram with livnot. It's very interesting. Okay. Give that man a free coke, too, but you can't drink it yet.
So, here's Pharaoh and he says, "lo tosifun latet teven la'am lilbon hal'veinim kitmol shilshom heim yeilchu v'kosh'shu lahem teven," let them not be able to get it out of their own straw, they're going to have to gather up their own straw in order to make these bricks. But, even though everyone's going to have to gather their own straw, "v'et mat'konet hal'veinim asher heim osim t'mol shilshom tasimu aleihem," the same quota of bricks that they had yesterday and the day before, "tasimu aleihem lo tigre'u mimenu ki nirpim heim al kein heim tzo'akim leimor neilchu nizb'cha lei'Lokeinu," give them the same quota of bricks because they're lazy; that's why they're saying let me go serve God.
"Tichbad ha'avodah al ha'anashim," let the work will be even harder upon the people, "v'ya'asu va v'al yish'u b'divrei shaker," let them not pay attention to deceitful promises that you're going to take them out of Egypt or you're going to be good to them. The only king they have is me. I say they have to work harder; I say that they're lazy.
Now, something that I want to point out to you is that, twice in the text, the Torah is going to make a big deal of these words; t'mol shilshom. The quotas of bricks they had yesterday and the day before. It strikes me that there is a wicked irony of Pharaoh over here with these bricks from yesterday and the day before. What does that resonate? What's the word for yesterday and what's the word for day before? Yesterday is t'mol, but notice, Imu, that shilshom doesn't literally mean the day before. What does it literally mean?
Immanuel: Three. Three days ago.
Rabbi Fohrman: Three days ago, meaning today is day one, t'mol, yesterday is day two and three days ago is day three. Why would Pharaoh use that language responding specifically to Moses and Aaron's request to go off in the desert and worship God?
Immanuel: Because he -- should I wait for others or do you want me to answer?
Rabbi Fohrman: No, you could answer if you'd like, but we can wait for others.
Immanuel: I'll let others do this. Let's see what others want to answer. Harvey says that it's because Moses asked for three days.
Rabbi Fohrman: That's exactly right. It's because Moses asked for three days. Moses said I want a three-day vacation in the desert. Pharaoh denies the three-day vacation. So what's Pharaoh saying? I'll give you your three-day vacation, but the problem with you guys is you're lazy. You're already on vacation because you're not working as hard as you should and I can see that you aren't by the fact that you want a vacation.
So to show you that you're already on vacation, I'm going to double the workload and then, three days from now, you're going to look back on three days ago and you're going to say three days ago we were on vacation compared to how hard we're working now. So you get your vacation. I'm giving you your vacation. I'm giving you your vacation by doubling the workload to what it should have been so that your vacation is in the past instead of your vacation in the future. This is Pharaoh's evil kind of slave driving.
All right. So let's continue in the text.
Immanuel: It's pretty mean.
Rabbi Fohrman: Pretty mean, right? "Vayafetz ha'am b'chol Eretz Mitzrayim l'kosheish kash lateven," so the people go throughout Egypt to gather the straw. But the problem is," v'hanogsim atzim," the nogsim are brutal. Who are the nogsim? The nogsim are the brutal Egyptian taskmasters. If you look back before there were a couple of different -- right, if you look over here Verse 6. "Vay'tzav Pharaoh bayom hahu et hanogsim ba'am v'et shotrav leimor." You see that Pharaoh charged the taskmasters and the foremen of the people.
The taskmasters were Egyptian taskmasters; they were the nogsim. The shotrim were Jewish shotrim. So what happens is that the taskmasters are brutal and they enforce these quotas and then there's a whole sort of -- there's a whole cascade of events that happen when these impossible quotas are impossible to fill.
(Irrelevant 00:58:53 - 00:59:06)
So here's what Daniel showed me. What Daniel showed me is that he suggested is it possible that there's any connection between the shotrim that show up in Deuteronomy and these shotrim that show up in Exodus? Just the word shotrim to shotrim doesn't seem enough to make a comparison, but then he showed me something else, too, and I want to kind of show it to you, if I can.
All right. Getting rid of some of these extra windows here. I don't know why we have so many extra windows. Let me show you this. Here's the beginning of the piece in the Deuteronomy that you and I have been talking about. "Ki teitzei lamilchamah al oivecha v'ra'ita sus varechev am rav mimcha," when you go out to war against your enemies and you see horses and chariots, "am rav mimcha," a nation that's too great for you, "lo tira meihem," do not be afraid of them, because God is with you, "hama'alcha mei'eretz Mitzrayim," who took you out of Egypt.
So, boys and girls out there in Zoom Land, I want you to compare that to the beginning of the slavery narrative with Pharaoh which I've reproduced over here on the side of the screen. Can you find anything in the beginning of the slavery narrative, back in Exodus one, Shemot Alef that reminds you of what you're seeing over here in
Devarim Chaf? See what you can come up with. I'm just going to find the place here for good old Avichai. Here it is. Right? Starting from Pasuk Yud-Tet. Look over here from the beginning through these verses. What reminds you of Deuteronomy 20, the verses which I just said?
Let's start over here with this. You see this huge bunch of people, right, an "am rav mimcha." Let's take that, and let's highlight that and let's turn that sort of -- here let's turn this all pink. So this pink text over here, can you find anything on the left side of the page that reminds you of that pink text, "am rav mimcha" back in Egypt?
Immanuel: Zoom and Facebook are quiet.
Rabbi Fohrman: Well, look at the first verse. "Vayomer el amo," Pharaoh says to his people, "hinei am." It turns out that the Nation of Israel -- there's that word nation - "am b'nei Yisrael rav," it is too great for us, this nation, "rav v'atzum mimenu," it's too strong for us. Every other word here is borrowed from -- Deuteronomy here borrows from every word of Exodus. That's kind of remarkable and it's not just that. What is it that you see? You're going out to war, "ki teitzei lamilchamah al oivecha." Let's turn war green. Now, I ask you, do you see war in Exodus. When Pharaoh is paranoid about us, what does war have to do with the picture? Right over here. What was Pharaoh worried about?
Avichai: He was worried about them going out to war with him.
Rabbi Fohrman: He was worried about an enemy. "Havah nit'chakma lo," let's deal wisely with these multiplying Hebrews, "pen yirbeh," lest there be many of them,"v'hayah ki tik'rena milchamah," and when war will come, "v'nosaf gam hu al soneinu," the Israelites are going to add themselves upon our enemies and they'll make war against us. Which means that Pharaoh is launching, in essence, a preemptive attack. A hat'kafah meirosh, as they say in Hebrew. To that end, he launches a slavery campaign.
Another question is normally, when you launch a slavery campaign, what are your motivations for slavery? Normally, when you enslave another people, why do you enslave the other people? This always bothered me, by the way. I don't know if this is a question, but I'm just going to throw it out to you. Why are we making such big tzimmes (a to-do) with the fact that we were enslaved in Egypt? I get it. Being enslaved in Egypt isn't a great thing, but slavery, you know, was different back then that it is now. Slavery was a hard fact of the ancient world. All nations did it. There were slaves, we got the short end of the stick, we were enslaved. So lots of people were enslaved. We were enslaved in Egypt.
So why is that like this great, terrible crucible of our existence that we came out? It was slavery, so lots of people got enslaved. Why are we making such a big deal about it? I think the answer starts coming from this text. What was the fundamental reason for slavery? It was an attack. Normally, what's the reason for slavery? Why do you enslave the people?
Avishai: Because you want them to help.
Rabbi Fohrman: Because you want service, right? I enslave people, it could be for economic gain. I have pyramids to build. I have things that I need built so I enslave the people. But Pharaoh's reason for enslaving us wasn't that. Pharaoh's reason for enslaving us was an attack because we were too great. He was trying to actually minimize our numbers through slavery. He was trying to -- what's the word for it -- to cull our numbers through slavery. It didn't work, but that's what he was trying to do.
Immanuel: David Hamberger on Facebook wrote that he asserts the Children of Israel are a threat. Now, that same image is being used to exhort the Jews to fight their enemies.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yes. Exactly. That's exactly true. So what happens is Deuteronomy understands that the whole purpose of what was happening in Exodus was a threat and, therefore, there is this sort of military narrative that's going to involve officers in Deuteronomy. Let's not get ahead of ourselves. Let's just kind of see it one step at a time.
So what happens? Pharaoh makes these taskmasters to destroy us and what does he do? He creates "vaya'avidu Mitzrayim et b'nei Yisrael b'farech." Rashi's translation of that strange word b'farech is "avodah hamefarechet et haguf," which is they made us work in a way that would destroy us, that would destroy our bodies, that would beat us down. It makes sense because what's the next thing that happens after the slavery doesn't work so well? A commandment to the midwives to kill children and when that doesn't work so well, a commandment to throw children in the Nile.
So if you connect the dots, it's like -- okay, I get it. Throwing children in the Nile is genocidal, killing babies that are just born is genocidal, but what about the slavery? The answer is that, seemingly, was genocidal, too, but it was surreptitiously genocidal. In other words, it looked like it was work and yet, it wasn't really about work. It was about breaking us down. It was a cover. There was plausible deniability. The plausible deniability is, oh, you guys are just slaves, but actually, the whole point of the thing was to break you down. That gets illuminated in this fascinating series of parallels which, kind of, comes to light in these stories.
Take a look, for example, at the shotrim. Turns out that over here -- let's get our shotrim up. We have our shotrim over here. These are the shotrim that are described in Deuteronomy. And now, we've got shotrim that appear over here in Exodus. Where are our shotrim? Here.
Now, what's the kicker? What, at least, showed me that these parallels are real? It turns out that in Deuteronomy, there are two levels of authority. There are shotrim, and before the shotrim, there's this kohen guy. "V'hayah k'karavchem el hamilchamah," when you go out to war, "v'nigash hakohen v'diber el ha'am," the kohen comes close and begins to speak to the people.
So it turns out that there's two levels of authority here, too. There were the nogsim, the pressers, But nogsim, who are pressers, don't seem to have anything to do with kohanim. It sounds like, well, in war in Deuteronomy, on the right side of the page, there were Kohanim, but under them there were shotrim. On the left-hand side of the page, there were shotrim and there were nogsim. There were these evil Egyptians who were pressing upon you, but it turns out that if you look at the -- I'm sorry. Let me undo that.
If you look at the verb that describes what the kohanim were doing over here -- what were the kohanim doing? This is what Daniel showed me that I completely flipped out at. "V'nigash haKohen v'diber el ha'am." Well, boys and girls, how do you spell nigash? Nun-Gimel-Shin. Now, I grant you that Nun-Gimel-Shin of nigash is not the same thing as the Nun-Gimel-Sin of nogsim. They are completely opposite. They have nothing to do with each other grammatically, but they're spelled the same. It just so happens that the verb of this second level of authority, of the Kohen, just happens to be the noun of the second level of authority back in Egypt.
That does not seem coincidental. Then, Daniel pointed out that they're actually opposites. Because what does the word nogeish mean? Vanigash haKohen? Imu, if you had to translate, like, vayigash would mean what?
Immanuel: To approach.
Rabbi Fohrman: To approach or come close. Nogsim is the opposite. Those who press upon the people. So it's like they're the very opposites of them, but they play off of each other in an interesting kind of way. So, Imu, here's what I would suggest when you look at the whole picture. When you look at the whole picture, the slavery enterprise and the military enterprise described in Deuteronomy has four levels of authority.
If you think about the four levels of authority, the four levels of authority is on top of everybody there's Pharaoh, let's say in Exodus. Below Pharaoh, there are the nogsim. The nogsim are Egyptians who are connected to Pharaoh. Below the nogsim there's Jewish shotrim, who are connected -- they're the third level -- who are connected to the fourth level, the bottom of the totem pole, who are the slaves, the Jewish slaves.
Now, look at the four levels of authority in the military enterprise described in Deuteronomy. Instead of Pharaoh being the king, who's the King?
Rabbi Fohrman: God's the King. God's the King. Now, who's next under God? There is the kohen, but the kohen is nogeish, Nun-Gimel-Shin. Now, whose side is the kohen on? The kohen is like a godly man. So just like the nogsim are Egyptians who are connected to the king, so too, the kohen is connected to the King. But underneath the kohen there's the shoter. And who is the shoter connected to? They're more connected to the people just like the shotrim in Egypt were connected to the people and, finally, the last thing, that doesn't seem to fit, is you have a fourth level of authority, which, in Deuteronomy, is the soldier.
Now, the question is it sounds like the Torah is -- if these connections are not just random, it sounds like the Torah is analogizing the soldiers to the slaves. The soldiers, in Deuteronomy, occupy the same point in the totem pole as the slaves did in Exodus, at the bottom of these four layers. But one is a soldier and one is a slave, so that doesn't seem to make sense. The king in each case is a king, the nogeish in each case is a nogeish or a nogeis, the shoter in each case is a shoter, but how come the fourth level is either a slave in Exodus or a soldier in Deuteronomy? It must be, seemingly, that there's some connection between slaves and soldiers, soldiers and slaves.
So Chana, over here, says -- I'm trying to read this -- it seems that there are those who give out the mission and those who give an out to those charged with the mission. Okay. I suppose that's true.
However, let me just ask you this, all you guys out there in Facebook Land or Zoom Land, how would you see that connection between soldiers and slaves? What do soldiers and slaves have to do with each other? Soldiers and slaves are very different. Why would there be an analogy between them?
Jonathan says, well, the lives of each of each are dispensable. And that's true. In some sort of way, isn't there a thin line between a soldier and a slave? What are all the commonalities between a soldier and a slave? They're both forced to work or they both have to obey their commanders and they both work, put their lives on the line, so there is some sort of a similarity between soldiers and slaves.
The similarity really comes in to sharp relief by viewing one last thing. A fifth element. We talked about four roles in each story, but there's a fifth role in each story. When Israel goes to war, it goes to war against an enemy. The enemy is the fifth role. There's a king, there's a nogeish, there's a shoter and there's a soldier. But against all of that, there is an enemy. Now, the question is if there's an enemy in Deuteronomy, who is the enemy in Exodus?
Let me put that out to you guys. Who is the enemy in Exodus? If, in Exodus, there's a king, Pharaoh, there is a nogeis, an Egyptian taskmaster; there is a shoter, a Jewish taskmaster and then there is a slave, a Jewish slave, who corresponds to the enemy in Deuteronomy? And the answer, as you guys are saying in Zoom, is it's the Israelites. The Israelites are the enemy that Pharaoh is attacking. He's making a preemptive attack against us. Now, here's the crazy thing then, it means that two of the roles in Deuteronomy are occupied by the same people in Exodus. What are those two roles? The Israelites are in two roles. They are the slaves/soldiers, but they're also the enemy.
In that one insight lies the seething corruption of the slavery endeavor. It wasn't regular slavery. Regular slavery is to build up Egypt. What this was, was an attempt to have us destroy ourselves. We were the soldiers in a war. Deuteronomy and Exodus are not about two different things. You look at Deuteronomy and you say it's about people going out to war; you look at Exodus and you say it's about slavery. No, it's about the same thing. Both stories are stories of war, it's just war waged by different means.
In the Exodus story, how did Pharaoh wage war against us? He waged war against us by making us be the soldiers in a war against ourselves; where we would break ourselves down and what better way to do it than doubling the workload and making everybody go out to find the straw when there's not enough straw for everybody and you have to have the same amount of bricks or otherwise you get beaten.
Imu, you and I have talked about this before in our Shavuot course, about three or four years ago. Right? But if you think about the society that gets created in a world like that, what happens to society. Right? You walk out in the morning, you're a slave, you're a strong strapping 30-year old. You see some straw right out there in your front porch. What are you going to do with that straw?
Immanuel: Grab it.
Rabbi Fohrman: You're going to grab it. Now, Shmerel who's not so strong wants to borrow some straw so he can have some straw too. What's going to be your answer?
Immanuel: Get out of my way, Shmerel.
Rabbi Fohrman: Get out of my way, Shmerel. Shmerel, there's some more straw five kilometers from here. Why don't you go look at that? What happens is that when people get beaten, within an inch of their lives, if they don't come back with enough bricks, straw becomes a scarce resource and then it gets hoarded and, all of a sudden, it's a war of the weak against the strong. The weak against the strong.
That's what we were talking about in Isaiah 1. That's the kind of society that Isaiah 1 says that I'm not going to listen to your prayers. I'm not going to listen to your sacrificism. I'm not going to listen to anything if you have that kind of society. But that was the kind of society that Pharaoh was essentially building. It was going to be a society that broke ourselves apart, but it didn't just break ourselves apart horizontally in terms of how peers related to peers. It broke our society apart vertically also how people relate to those above them.
Because, Imu, the only person you see, if you're a slave in the field, the only one you know, is the person immediately above you in command. Who's the guy immediately above you?
Immanuel: The officer.
Rabbi Fohrman: And who is he?
Immanuel: Also an Israelite.
Rabbi Fohrman: Also an Israelite. So it's a war of Israelites against Israelites. I hate the officer above me because the officer above me is the guy who sends me out on the fields to do that which is impossible and shouldn't he have some compassion and it's a war of Jews against Jews, of Israelites against Israelites and it is this attempt to break things apart.
By the way -- and you see it -- and then at the end, by the way, what do the officers say? The officers say to Moses and Aaron it's all your fault because you came up with this three-day vacation idea. If it weren't for you maybe we could live and now, everyone's rebelling against the ultimate authority, Moses and Aaron and ultimately against God. So the whole society starts breaking apart. It's a war, but a very clever war in which Pharaoh engineers, essentially, a civil war by creating impossible demands.
What I want to do with you is to play a little game with you, right. I'm going to play it with Imu over here. I'm willing to play it actually with anybody who wants to play. Is there anybody in our Zoom group who is willing to come on with their speaker and with their video to let me play a role playing game with them? A role playing game with them, where we get to play Pharaoh and officer.
Immanuel: If you want to play raise your hand. You can do it on the top or at the bottom right corner. If you raise your hand, you're volunteering.
Rabbi Fohrman: And I promise I won't bite your head off. You get to play this officer and Pharaoh game with me. Can we get anybody?
Immanuel: Yeah. We have three. We have David L.; we have Donna and we have the Zariker family.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. All right. Imu, do you want to pick somebody?
Immanuel: Yeah, David L. is first so let's click on him. You're allowed to talk. Okay. David, you have to undo your --
Immanuel: Hi David.
Rabbi Fohrman: Hi David. Thanks for joining us. How are you?
David: Good, thank God. How are you?
Rabbi Fohrman: Good. David, where are you joining us from?
David: I'm in Toronto.
Rabbi Fohrman: Toronto's a great place. Okay. I was just there not too long ago. Welcome. All right, thanks for playing our game. David, if you click the video thing underneath you, we'll actually be able to see you. It's in the lower left corner of your screen. Can you click that?
David: I don't see it, hold on. Lower left corner of my screen.
(Irrelevant 01:20:08 - 01:20:08)
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah, we can't see you yet, but that's fine. All right, so we're going to just do this with audio. All right, David, so I've got a question for you. We're going to play this through. I want to actually roleplay with you what actually happens in this text. So I'm going to come back into this text and see if I can find it with you. I'll find it. Here, right over here.
Okay. So David, if you can hear, imagine that you're a slave in Egypt and one day an Egyptian -- one day you're working out in the fields and it's exhausting, it's 110 degrees in the shade and around 4:00 o'clock, as the day begins to wind down, one of the Egyptian taskmasters comes over to you, puts his arm around you and says, David, we're looking for a few good men. I want to make an offer to you; an offer that you can't refuse. I want you to join the slavery enterprise.
We're looking for some people in middle management. I'd like to promote you to an officer. You'll have 500 slaves beneath you that will report to you and it's really pretty easy work. You sit under this air conditioned tent and you direct the slavery enterprise. You look like somebody that we can count on; we'd like you to join the team. Go home tonight, talk it over with you wife, give me an answer by 6:00 o'clock tomorrow morning.
So Dave, you head home to your wife, what does the discussion between you and your wife look like, tonight?
David: Well, we're probably going to have a discussion about the pros and cons of doing this. On the one hand, you know, it might be a ticket out of getting beaten as a slave on a daily basis; on the other hand, what is the implication going to be for this 500 people who are going to be under my watch.
Rabbi Fohrman: Right. All right so I'm going to play your wife and you're going to play you. Okay? So you come home and you say, Nancy, have I got news for you. Go ahead.
David: So you're never going to believe what happened today. I was out in the field doing my thing and all of a sudden an Egyptian came to me and said they had an offer for me; they want to make me an officer to watch over a group of 500 men. No longer will I be responsible for picking straw in the fields anymore. Instead I'm going to have a different job. Certainly, it's something that would be much better for me, but I don't know.
Rabbi Fohrman: Oh my gosh, but, David, let me just ask you. It sounds wonderful on the one hand. I mean, this is the chance for life. We are so worried that you would die one day, out there in the fields just think from the heat and here's a chance to live, but how could you live with yourself, David, to join this terrible corrupt enterprise. To literally become part of the machinery of slavery, oppressing our very other brothers. I don't know if I can look you in the eye, David, anymore if you did such a thing.
David: Well, there is one thing that I could do here, which is I could take the job and I basically could be responsible for shielding those 500 fellow Jews from any hardship that would befall them from anyone else. I could be a benevolent master.
Rabbi Fohrman: Oh, David, that would be so heroic. Could you imagine? Because, I suppose, you're right. I mean, somebody would have to take the job anyway, if it weren't for you. I know you, David. You're kindhearted and you have a heart of gold and maybe you can do some good. Maybe you can talk some sense into them and represent those 500 slaves under you. They'd have a better life than they would otherwise.
So you think you might be able to do that?
David: It's a hard goal because in order to do that I'll have to really put my own neck on the line even more than it is now.
Rabbi Fohrman: I know, but, David, wouldn't it be wonderful if we can do some good. Go tell them in the morning that you'll give it a try. All right.
So imagine, David, this is the conversation you just had and you come 6:00 o'clock in the morning, right, but you're not so sure, but you're going to try, you're going it a whirl. So you go and you tell the Egyptian recruiter.
All right, so let's read through a little bit more of the text here and just, you know, again, sort of play this out. Everything seems to be going fine except for the day that Pharaoh seems to get approached by Aaron and Moses. Where Aaron and Moses want three days off for everybody. Pharaoh flies into a rage and decides that, all of a sudden, he's doubling the workload. Everybody's got to find their own straw and when they find their own straw -- they've got to spend time finding their own straw, they have got to come up with the same quota of bricks.
David, let me ask you something. You know these slaves, these 500 slaves underneath your watch. Do you think they've been lazy until now?
David: Of course not.
Rabbi Fohrman: This thing that Pharaoh wants from them, is really even so possible that everyone's going to come out with the same quota of bricks?
David: I know for a fact that this task is something that's designed to be impossible to fill.
Rabbi Fohrman: It's designed to be impossible. Pharaoh just wants to make a point out of this, right? So what happens? So you say look, let's try it for a day and see what happens. "Vayeitzei nogsim ha'am v'shotrav vayomru el ha'am leimor," so the pressers and the officers tell the people this is what Pharaoh says, everybody's got to go out and collect their own straw, but they've got to come back with the same amount of bricks.
Let me see if I can, again, bring you back into the text. Now, Verse 13, "v'hanogsim atzim leimor kalu ma'aseichem d'var yom b'yomo." Now, here's what happens. The pressers, which is the level of power right above you, the Egyptian taskmasters, they're brutal and they're saying hey, the day is over and you didn't come back with the same amount. You're missing, right -- David, you're in charge of 500 slaves and I don't see the quota from that 500 slaves being met and then something horrific happens. "Vayuku shotrei Bnei Yisrael asher samu aleihem nogsei Pharaoh -- gam hayom." The shotrei Bnei Yisrael are beaten. They're beaten in the fields. So they're beaten by the pressers.
So, God forbid, David, luckily was just roleplaying in this and it didn't really happen to you.
Rabbi Fohrman: If you could imagine this terrible situation where you now have been beaten because your slaves didn't come back with their quota. You come back to your wife, Nancy and Nancy sees that you've been beaten. She's horrified. If you've got to plan out the day tomorrow, what would you say? What could you possibly say to her? What could you possibly do tomorrow? It sure didn't work out well today.
David: Well, I mean, I don't think there is anything better that could happen tomorrow. This is what it needs to be every day. All I can say is my choice is between, you know, being an enforcer or taking the brunt of the punishment.
Rabbi Fohrman: Right, but there is one last thing you could do and it actually happens in this story. The last bold, heroic, almost foolhardy crazy thing that you can do. There's no sense trying to talk to the pressers. They're crazy, they're brutal, but in your heart of hearts if you think that this doesn't make economic sense to Pharaoh. He's losing his slaves. People are dropping like flies in the fields. It's an unreasonable quota system. It's not good management. The pressers are not representing the best economic interests of Egypt. You might say to yourself, I have one last chance. What if we unionize us officers? What if we get together? We could have one last chance to reverse this craziness. Who could you go to?
David: Well, we could go to Pharaoh himself and try to speak with him.
Rabbi Fohrman: You can go to Pharaoh himself. Now, going to Pharaoh himself, right, how do you feel if you're going to approach Pharaoh?
David: He's the king of the land and we're going to feel a tremendous sense of trepidation.
Rabbi Fohrman: I mean, he -- it's the scariest thing in the world, but you might try going to him and that's exactly what they do. The Verse 15, "vayavo'u shotrei Bnei Yisrael vayitz'aku el Pharaoh," the officers came together as a group and they screamed to Pharaoh, they said, "lamah ta'aseh koh la'avadecha," what are you doing to your servants. "Teven ein nitan la'avadecha," you aren't giving straw to us, to the slaves, "ul'veinim omrim lanu asu," and you're saying make those bricks, "v'hinei avadecha mukim," and your people are being beaten in the fields. It isn't right and look at these bold words that they say, "v'chatat amecha," and your people are sinning.
You're literally calling Pharaoh on the mat. You think it's just not right what he's doing. "V'chatat amecha," your whole people are sinning. The officers have some belief in the rationality of Pharaoh. He's a rational actor. He'll see the truth. But look at Pharaoh's response.
"Vayomer nirpim atem nirpim," you're lazy, you're lazy, "al kein atem omrimmm neilchah niz'b'chah laHashem," that's why you're saying I'll go worship God. "V'atah l'chu ivdu," now, go be slaves, "v'teven lo yinaten lachem," you're not getting any more straw, "v'tochen l'veinim titeinu," and you are going to come up with your quota of bricks one way or the other. He just does not listen to a thing.
Now, the tragedy is, at this point, you've heroically gone to Pharaoh only to have the door slammed in your face. Now, if you imagine the role of the officers at this point, if you go back to that first conversation that you had with this fictional Nancy, your wife. That first conversation was full of hope, maybe I can do some good, but you can't do any good. Why? Because the whole enterprise was in bad faith. Pharaoh never was a rational actor. The whole slavery thing was pretend. It was never about slavery. It was about destroying the people. It was about ripping them apart. He doesn't care that he's not going to get as many pyramids constructed. He doesn't care that he's not going to get as many food store houses. It was never about the economic interest of Egypt. It was about the torture of the slaves for their own sake and destroying them through work where soldiers and enemy are the one and the same and the people are -- and you have become part of this enterprise.
Now, the great tragedy of the officers is Verse 19 and here's how I want to read Verse 19. I don't know if I'm right; this is how I see it. There's a very strange phrase here. "Vayiru shotrei Bnei Yisrael otam b'ra," the shotrim of Bnei Yisrael, the shotrim, these foremen of Israel, "vayiru shotrei Bnei Yisrael otam b'ra," they looked upon them. Them would have to be the slaves, "b'ra." How would you translate the word b'ra? It's simple in Hebrew to translate it. David, how would you translate that? Imu, how would you translate it?
David: In wickedness.
Rabbi Fohrman: In wickedness or in badness. Now, what does that mean that the shotrei Bnei Yisrael saw the slaves in badness, "leimor," saying, "lo tig'ri'u miliv'neichem d'var yom b'yomo," you cannot -- the officers now told the slaves what the pressers told the slaves, which is, that you can't -- that you have to come up with the same amount of bricks. There's no choice and every day you have to come up with that same amount of bricks. The Torah goes further and says that they saw the people. The officers saw the people, "b'ra."
Now, if you look at elsewhere in the Torah the phrase b'ra shows up a couple of other times. One really notable time is in the aftermath of the Golden Calf. In the aftermath of the Golden Calf, Moses heroically argues against another king who wants to destroy the people, but this time the king is God. Moses tells the people you can't -- Moses tells God You can't destroy the people.
The reason why You can't destroy the people is "lamah yom'ru Mitzrayim," why should Egypt say, "b'ra hotzi'am laharog otam b'harim." What does b'ra mean there? Why should Egypt say "b'ra hotzi'am," that God took them out b'ra, "laharog otam b'harim," to kill them on the mountaintops?
Yeah, go ahead.
Immanuel: In bad faith.
Rabbi Fohrman: In bad faith. It means in bad faith, that's what b'ra means. That You God, Moses says, the Mitzrim will say, the Egyptians will say that you never meant to take them to the Promised Land. It was just pretend. You looked like You had one thing in mind, but really You had another thing in mind, which is the definition of bad faith. You took them out in bad faith. You can't afford that. That's what b'ra means. Here is the great tragedy of the officers. The great tragedy of the officers is that they are stuck now in a situation with ultimate cognitive dissidence. Right?
What's the idea behind cognitive dissidence? Cognitive dissidence is that my beliefs have to line up with my actions. When my beliefs don't line up with my actions there a lot of tension in my soul. When I'm forced to act in a way in which is contrary to my beliefs and if I don't change my actions what's going to happen? My beliefs will start to change and my beliefs will start to mirror my actions.
The tragedy of the police is that the police who may have gone into this for the right reasons, who may have gone into this because they thought they could do some good. The tragedy is that when there became no way out, when they exhausted every other way out, when they tried to argue with the taskmasters, but they got beaten. They try to argue with Pharaoh, only to be turned away and there was no other way out. The only thing they could do now, was to assimilate and become part of the slavery machine.
Now, they are the ones who are the face of slavery to the 500 slaves below them and they are the ones who are saying you have to come back with the same amount of bricks. We don't care that it's impossible. The terrible tragedy of the police is a moral collapse, which is that they then view the Jews with bad faith. Because they're saying you have to do something which is impossible to do.
They begin to adopt almost the attitude of the taskmasters and of Pharaoh, who view the Jews with bad faith. Who are actors in bad faith themselves, who crafted a slavery enterprise that wasn't really about slavery, but was about destroying the people? Who pretended that something was doable, that's not doable? Now, who has to be part of that enterprise and share that bad faith? It is the police themselves and it's their moral collapse that they begin to look with the jaundiced eye as the slaves below them, a low part of them, says you guys are lazy. If you would just work harder, this whole thing would work. The police have become assimilated.
The last moments of tragedy here is the very next verse. Here's where I think the theological implications start to come out in spades. The way I read this, in Verse 20 is, "Vayifge'u et Moshe v'et Aharon nitzavim likratam." The last thing that happened to the police is as they left Pharaoh's presence and Pharaoh said no to them and they were destroyed. The last thing that happened is they happened to meet up with Moses and Aaron as they left Pharaoh.
"Va'yomru aleihem," and this is what they said to Moses and Aaron. "Yeire Hashem aleichem v'yishpot," let God judge between us, "asher hivashtem et reicheinu," you made us stink, "b'einei Pharaoh," in the eyes of Pharaoh, "u've'einei avadav, lateit cherev b'yadam l'horgeinu," with your three-day request for vacation, all you did was you gave him a sword to kill us.
Here's where they finally realize the truth. It was never about slavery. It was never about economic gain. It was always about killing us. The only thing that Egypt was missing was the sword and you walked right into the trap with a request for a three-day vacation. You just gave them the sword. Let God judge.
The reason why I think they say let God judge is because they realize that they are culpable, they are sinning. They are becoming part of the slavery enterprise. But they're last plaint of request of the Almighty, as the Great Judge in heaven, is they say, God I want You to judge my case. Do You really hold me responsible? I'm in an impossible situation. What am I supposed to do? I acted as heroically as I could. It's true I've collapsed. God am I at fault? Judge my case. I want justice.
The question is was that cry of the police ever heard? Did God ever respond? Was there ever justice? Of course, you know, the scary thing is, this isn't just 3,000 years ago in Egypt. This is 70 years ago in the Holocaust. The Nazis did the same thing. They had slavery, they had work camps and it was part of the destruction mechanism. It wasn't just for their economic aggrandizement. The economic interest of Egypt was secondary to the destruction of the Jews through work. Therefore, it was slavery in bad faith.
That was the problem. If it was just slavery, it's slavery. It wasn't just slavery; it was pretense slavery. It was slavery where the soldier was the enemy and that was the evil. You don't make an army where the soldier is the enemy, but that's what Pharaoh did. We were the soldiers against ourselves. The police were caught in the steel jaws of that enterprise and the police were the kapos.
What did the kapos do? You start and maybe you think you could do some good and you think that there's a way out, but there is no way out. What do you do when there is no way out? Some of them committed suicide and some of them morally capitulated, but there just was no way out. Imagine a kapo praying to God, saying to God these words, these painful words. "Yeire Hashem aleichem v'yishpot," let God judge my situation. Am I responsible here or not? What is the answer to that and was there ever any justice?
So I've got another 15 minutes to go here to kind of put this together. Should we give people a break to consider this? We've kept them here for an hour and a half. Imu, what do you say?
Immanuel: Yeah. I think we could take a short break and resume in a bit, but I think you have riveted participants in Zoom, riveted participants in Facebook. If you need a break, walk around a little bit. We can do a five-minute break.
Rabbi Fohrman: All right. Great. It's 3:18 on my watch, guys. 3:23 we'll pick up. This is your chance to go. You can't get a bite to eat, but this is your chance to go, check in on the little ones, see if they're still sleeping and walk around. I'll meet you back here about 3:23, 3:24 and we will continue. I'll see you.
Immanuel: David, thank you so much for participating and --
Rabbi Fohrman: David, thank you very much.
David: Oh, thanks for having me on.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Great. Thanks a lot. We'll see you soon.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Imu, it's 3:24 and we're back. I kind of left off with the question here which is, you know, there's this cry for justice from the police in the middle of this moral collapse. The question is, is that cry every heard by God? I'll have more to say about that, but in the break, Imu and I were chatting outside and Imu said some fascinating things that I just want to encourage you to share some of that with our wider audience. So let me turn over the mike to Imu.
You were talking about some of the resonances of this in your reading or at what you came across.
Immanuel: Yeah. No. Just in Holocaust stories or movies or stories that I've heard from others. Just the kapo piece of it. What seems so incredibly tragic here, in the abuse of Pharaoh, is that the police, because they were operating in good faith, they kind of looked to Pharaoh as this father figure. They say, "chatat amecha." They use this language where they don't want to let him down and because of that they like see Pharaoh's way of seeing it and go on to abuse the people. Which is really tragic.
In the Holocaust, though, the stories that came to mind for me are just these kapos who also sort of said the Nazis wouldn't do this. They're not killing us. It's like, they need us. We're really important to the war effort. How those young, you know, strapping police, kind of, that they really bought into it. They couldn't believe that lie and, in the end, went on to abuse their own people.
Whereas, you know, you have the wise -- like, I just see this scene. I don't remember what movie it was in, but just like those same lines said by a kapo, like the Nazis need us. You see this older woman looking with this eye, you know, like giving him a stink eye, to some extent, where she's like you don't get what they're doing to us. You really don't understand what's happening here. So that's just resonant with me in writing this material.
Rabbi Fohrman: I guess the question I would have for you is, you know, well, two things. It is an interesting question, what is the moral culpability of the kapos? What is the moral culpability of the police? To what extent can they be held accountable for even that moral collapse? On the one hand, do you say, well, stronger people would've stood up to the situation. That's easy for you to say, that wasn't in that situation. What if there was a truly impossible situation?
I hate to mix in fiction into this terrible stark, you know, non-fiction; truth of the Holocaust and the slavery in Egypt, but maybe just to lighten the mood of something that's so terribly dark. If you're a Star Trek fan, so Star Trek II was about the impossible training exercise; the Kobayashi Maru. The Kobayashi Maru, as a scenario in which the commander's faced with a no way-out situation. Every way out you lose, every way out you die and Captain Kirk doesn't like it and says I don't believe in no-win situations. But the author of the test says the ultimate test of command is what do you do when you're faced with the no-win situation? This was the no-win situation.
So it's interesting that in the no-win situation, when the police, who realized that at some level they're morally culpable, but they scream and say this was a no-win situation; this wasn't fair. I don't consider myself culpable. It's interesting, like, at the moment where you're morally collapsing, the last thing you want is justice from the God in heaven. But that's exactly the one thing they want. The one thing they want is no, I demand justice. I want to know. I'm taking my case before the bar of the Ultimate Judge. I want to know what the Ultimate Judge has to say about my situation, because I don't feel that I'm at fault. So God, what do you have to say about this?
So the question is, is God really silent to that? Where was there ever justice? And when was there justice and what was the justice? But I think that's a fascinating question, right. In general, what can we expect out of Divine justice in the face of great human evil. In the face of our becoming complicit in a no-win situation. What does Divine Justice even look like?
So it strikes me that this little tip of the iceberg, that Daniel Lowenstein, you know, kind of keyed me in to over here. This connection between this narrative and other narratives in the Torah, like Deuteronomy, begins to hold the answer.
The very last thing that happens in this narrative is that plaintive cry of the police; "yeire Hashem aleichem v'yishpot." That's in Exodus Chapter 5. Now, if you keep on reading in Exodus, what's the next thing that happens? This is right before the Ten Plagues. So if we just place this. This is before any of the Ten Plagues. This is the climatic moment that starts the plagues. Because, remember, Moses then gets complained to. Moses goes back to God and God, in the beginning of Va'eira, says you ain't seen nothing yet.
Now, let's go to God's you ain't seen nothing yet speech and see if we can discern in that speech the beginning of God's answer to the police who were seeking justice. So I want to pull that speech and show it to you. So I'm actually going to do something which I usually don't do, boys and girls, which is show you my actual notes. So here are my actual notes. Here I'm going to go to Page 12 of them.
By the way, I just want to show you over here. This is the great corruption of Egypt, right. If you look in the cast of characters over here, the layers of command in each story; so who is who? So you've got the king and the king is Pharaoh in Egypt and that's God. You have the second level of command; the taskmasters versus the noges, which is the Kohen. The taskmasters push the people, whereas the nogsim pull the people towards them; are kind and benevolent.
The third level of command is Israelite police in both cases. The last tier in the chain of command is Israelite slaves and soldiers. But now, the question is who is the enemy? The enemy in Deuteronomy's is a next-door enemy, but the enemy here is Israelite slaves. So the problem is that these guys are the same. The enemy and the slave/soldier are the same, which is the moral corruption of Egypt.
So let me take you into that text. What is God's response to the police? So here are the next things that God says. This is God's introduction to the plagues. I want to just show you and it's right over here. God says the following; "Ani aksheh et leiv Pharaoh," here's the thing I want you to know. "Ani aksheh et leiv Pharaoh," I am going to harden Pharaoh's heart, "v'hirbeiti et ototai v'et moftai b'Eretz Mitzrayim," and I'm going to greatly increase my signs and wonders against Egypt.
"V'lo yishma aleichem Pharaoh," and Pharaoh's not going to listen to you because I've hardened his heart. When that happens, "v'natati et yadi b'Mitzrayim," I'm going to stretch out My hand against Egypt, "v'hotzeiti et tzivotai," and I'm going to take out My armies.
Isn't that interesting, Imu. It just strikes me that that word now makes so much more sense. I'm going to take out my armies. Because how was Pharaoh dealing with this? We weren't just slaves; we were soldiers. So God says I know who you were. You weren't just slaves; you were soldiers. You were a soldier against yourself, but I'm going to redeem you. I'm going to make you a soldier not against yourself. You're My soldiers.
"V'hotzeiti et tzivotai," I'm going to take out my armies, "et ami Bnei Yisrael mei'Eretz Mitzrayim," my people, the Israelites, from Egypt. And look how He's going to do it; "bishfatim gedolim." Isn't that a strange word; with great judgements. I never understood what those judgements were, but those judgements seem to be a direct answer to the request for judgement from the police; "yeire Hashem aleichem v'yishpot," let God judge. So what were these judgements?
"V'yodu Mitzrayim ki ani Hashem bintoti et yadi al Mitzrayim," and Egypt will know that I am God, when I stretch out My hand against them, as I take the Israelites out of Egypt. So what were these judgements? It sounds like, what's going to happen is a response to the police. Now, remember the police were hurt, they were beaten. Now, the word for beaten, if you remember going back earlier. The police themselves said it to Pharaoh. "Hinei avadecha mukuim," we are beaten.
Well, that word then becomes -- look at the beginning of the Ten Plagues. "Ko amar Hashem, b'zot teida ki ani Hashem, hinei anochi makeh bamateh asher b'yadi." All of the plagues, starting with the Plague of Blood, are beatings which echo the beatings of the police. The police took beatings, but God then, as each of these ten beatings -- this is a beginning of a kind of divine vengeance. But it's not just that, it's everything, right.
If you remember, "v'yadu Mitzrayim ki ani Hashem." What did Pharaoh say in that speech? In that speech, where he made everyone collect double the amount of straw and forced on us these impossible quotas. Pharaoh began that speech by saying -- look at these words -- "mi Hashem asher eshma b'kolo l'shalei'ach et Yisrael? Lo yadati et Hashem v'gam et Yisrael lo ashalei'ach." I don't know anyone by the name of God and I'm not going to let anybody out. Well, God says, when My justice comes, "v'yadu Mitzrayim ki ani Hashem," Egypt sure will know that I am God and they will let us take them out. But what was the great judgements?
So Imu and everybody else, I wrote a book on the Exodus and I, in that book, talked at great length about the moral conundrum of God hardening Pharaoh's heart. Everyone screams and says it's not fair. It's bad faith. How do you get a situation where God is hardening Pharaoh's heart and pretending that if Pharaoh would just let everybody go, everybody could go? But it's not true, because once Pharaoh does say I'm going to let everybody go, God actually hardens his heart.
Now, I had various answers to that and I'm not going to go and answer and go through all of it, but essentially, if you read my book, I make the argument that God actually didn't really harden Pharaoh's heart. He put Pharaoh in a position where Pharaoh's own ego ended up hardening his own heart and never really took away his freewill. If anything, enhanced his freewill. And all sorts of moral answers to that.
The bottom line though, is that at face value, if you didn't read Fohrman's book and you just look at the Exodus story at face value, there's at least the appearance of God acting in bad faith. Well, where have we heard bad faith before? Who was the first one to act in bad faith? Pharaoh. It sounds like God is acting in bad faith and it sounds almost like God's bad faith is a tit for tat for Pharaoh's bad faith. You created a slavery enterprise, which wasn't really a slavery enterprise. Well, guess what? I'm going to create an exodus from slavery enterprise that isn't really an exodus from slavery enterprise.
Your slavery enterprise was about the destruction of the slaves. My exodus from slavery enterprise is about the destruction of the oppressor. It's the same bad faith. It's a measure for measure. You created plausible deniability around slavery. I create plausible deniability around the exodus from slavery.
Now, if you look at the language, Imu, what I would ask you is, from your knowledge of being my erstwhile editor of that book, spending many, many long hours and late nights in the salt mines helping me edit that book, right. So you know, that normally in the Torah, when it comes to God hardening Pharaoh's heart or messing with Pharaoh's freewill, there's two verbs that are usually used. What are those verbs?
Immanuel: Va'yechazeik and va'yechabeid.
Rabbi Fohrman: Va'yechazeik and va'yechabeid. There're dozens of times these verbs are used. Over and over again in the plagues, it always talks about one of these two things. Va'yechazeik means that God strengthens Pharaoh's heart and va'yechabeid means that he hardens Pharaoh's heart. It's always one of those two verbs.
I talk at length about the difference between those verbs, but interestingly, the very first time, after we meet the police and their demand for judgement, we get a third verb and it's the only time the verb is used. And what is it?
Rabbi Fohrman: "Aksheh et leiv Pharaoh." Now, my question is why do you think now, right after the episode of the police, why do you think God would use that verb; I will harden the heart of Pharaoh? Literally, harden. Not strengthen, chazak; not kaveid, make heavy, but harden and it's only used once. How would that be great judgements; justice for the police?
Immanuel: Because kash is the word for straw, which was a binding agent or a strengthening factor which was put into the bricks. It will now be used to bind and harden his heart.
Rabbi Fohrman: How do you spell bricks?
Immanuel: How do you spell bricks? Oh, Lamed, Beit, Nun.
Rabbi Fohrman: Oh, isn't that interesting. There is heart right in the middle of bricks; Lamed, Beit. "Lo tosifun lateit teven la'am lilbon ha'leveinim kitmol shilshom," don't go and give straw to the people to make their bricks like yesterday and the day before. They will get the straw to make their bricks.
Now, you can make bricks without straw, right, "lilbon ha'leveinim," but when you make it with straw it's extra hard and Pharaoh wanted extra hard bricks. He made the people go out in the fields to make the straw to make it extra hard, but all of that was not really in the service of slavery of making extra hard bricks. He didn't need extra hard bricks. You only need extra hard bricks if you actually care about your pyramids; if you actually care about your economics. Not if you care about breaking down the people. All he cared about was breaking down the people.
He pretended that he needed extra hard bricks and he needed this precious straw to be with the bricks, so that it can be this technological marble. They would be like cement. But he destroyed us when we had to gather our own straw to make the bricks.
So along comes God and says I remember that. I remember that impossible situation and therefore, "ani aksheh et leiv Pharaoh," I will take the leiv, the heart, just like lilbon leveinim, just like the bricks and I will make that thing harder. Except the thing is no longer the bricks, the thing is the heart of Pharaoh.
Immanuel: Pharaoh has a brick for a heart.
Rabbi Fohrman: Pharaoh has a brick for a heart and God is going to make it just a little bit harder. He's going to do it with memories of the straw. That is the great judgement and that is the bad faith. I'm going to look like I have bad faith, even if I'm not depriving Pharaoh of freewill, that's what it's going to look like. It's going to look like I'm aiming for one thing, taking the people out, when really, I'm aiming for the destruction of Egypt.
That is the vengeance for Pharaoh and that is essentially God's way of saying, My justice is aimed at one person and one person only. The person that I consider responsible for this sorry state of affairs, with soldiers that have become slaves. It all starts at the top and that is where responsibility is. Everybody else is a tool, everybody else has no responsibility. They become assimilated into the system.
That's God's first answer to the police; it's not about you, it's about Pharaoh. This is the justice that I give to Pharaoh and I remember it. Everything that happened, I remember. All the bad faith. I remember how you got suckered in. If anything you were guilty of, was being a little bit naïve and just thinking just a little bit that you could count on the rationality of Pharaoh, when there was none to be counted on. But Pharaoh is culpable for that and Pharaoh will be destroyed for that, in exactly the way he created a bad faith system to destroy you.
That is the first level of response of Divine justice. But, I want to argue, it's not the only level of response. There's one more level of response. This is not enough. There's one more way in which God responds to the justice of the police. That is -- let me go back to my text over here. That is here.
It turns out that the connections between Deuteronomy and Exodus are far greater than we've seen. We saw some of these. The purple; "Hinei am Bnei Yisrael rav v'atzum mimenu," going to the, "am rav mimcha;" the milchamah going to the milchamah, but there's more. Notice how God says in Deuteronomy, you don't have to worry because God is the God, "hama'alcha mei'Eretz Mitzrayim," Who takes you up out of Egypt. Well, that was the fear of, "v'alah min ha'aretz," that was the fear of Pharaoh that we were all going to come up from the ground.
It turns out that everything in Deuteronomy, it's all echoes of this. I'm not going to go through all of this now, but if you like, all you Premium guys out there, we can maybe mail you a PDF, a copy of this so you can look it over tomorrow and the day after.
The connections between these stories are very, very profound, but let me sort of cut to the chaise and put it to you this way. How, Imu, do the police get introduced in Parashat Shoftim? Think about the first time you hear about the police. It's actually before this speech that they give to the soldiers going out to war. When's the first you hear about police in Parashat Shoftim?
Immanuel: Right at the beginning, "Shoftim v'shotrim."
Rabbi Fohrman: Ah, "Shoftim v'shotrim." Who is the handmaiden of the police? Who do police go with all the time?
Immanuel: The judges.
Rabbi Fohrman: They go with judges. Let's go to that text and see what it says. I don't even know where that is. At the beginning of -- let's see if we can get back to it. Deuteronomy 18 or something like that? 17 maybe. 16. Here it is. Look at this.
"Shoftim v'shotrim titen lecha b'chol she'arecha asher Hashem Elokecha notein lecha," put judges together with police. What was the justice for the police? So I think Ezra Zuckerman Sivan was the one who said this, but imagine the State of Israel, in deciding to build a new society where we were in charge of ourselves and we had a military and we had soldiers. Imagine 70 years after the Holocaust or 50 years after the Holocaust. If the rank for a sergeant at arms who is commanding soldiers, who is in charge of 500 soldiers. If the rank wasn't called sergeant, but was called kapo. What would that message be?
There is a kapo in the Israeli army, but the kapo in the Israeli army was the direct inverse of the kapo in Egypt. Its whole purpose was to redeem that rank, to redeem what happened. What was the great tragedy of the kapos? What was the great tragedy of the police? They did two things. If you think of it as two things. The first tragedy they did was they sent people out in the fields to do a job that could not be done. You had Israelites going out, knowing in their heart of hearts that what they were doing was futile. That there was not way to do it. That they didn't have the tools. They didn't have the abilities to be able to do it.
Yet, the first role, Imo, one of the things we -- where our employer had over here at Aleph Beta too. The first rule of an employer is it doesn't work to ask an employee to do something that they have no possible way of doing. You just can't do that. That's not fair. It just doesn't work. That's what the police had to do. They went out and they told those people in the fields to do something that they just couldn't do.
Therefore, what is the fourth thing that the police tell the people? After they tell them about the house and after they tell them about the vineyard and after they tell them about the woman, they tell them one last thing. "Mi ha'ish ha'yarei v'rach ha'leivav." What does rach ha'leivav, a soft heart, remind you of, in the context of everything we're talking about?
Immanuel: A heavy heart.
Rabbi Fohrman: The very opposite of the heavy heart, of the strong heart or the hard heart. Soft is the very opposite of hard. Who is in among you that has a soft heart? That feels like they just don't have the ability to do what's asked of you? That you just can't do it. That you're going to go out in the war, but you know you can't do it. You know what? You guys should go home. It's the very opposite of what the police were forced to do.
The police were forced to take a gun to those people's heads and send them out on the fields to do what they knew they couldn't do. You know what the justice for that is? The justice for that is that there will be another moment in history where there won't be a slavery enterprise. Where Israelites will be in charge of their own society. When we build a society, you police, will not be forgotten. You will have a legacy. We know you were good guys. We know there was heroic impulsed in you. We know that you wanted to try and do the right thing, but the situation didn't allow you to do the right thing.
So there will be a rank in the army named after you. There will be police and their job will be to do the opposite of what you were forced to do. Their job will be, that if there's people that cannot do it, who just cannot do it, they should just go home. That's one thing.
There's a second thing that the police in Egypt did that was terrible, that the police of Israel will do which is wonderful. Which is that they were part of a slavery mechanism. They enforced slavery. What was Pharaoh's vision of slavery, Imu? The way we discussed it three years ago in that Shavuot course. Pharaoh's vision of slavery is the slavery with incessant work without Sabbath. "V'hishbatem otam misivlotam," there is no time off. Why? Because when do you need time off? You need time off when you're not a slave. Because why do I work if I'm not a slave?
Immanuel: For yourself.
Rabbi Fohrman: So that I can enjoy something at the end of it. I have to have the time off at the end to be able to enjoy the fruits of my labors. But the whole point of being a slave is that you have no interest in your work, because it's not you who enjoy the fruits of your labor; someone else does. So of course, you can just keep on working. Because the whole point of not working is having some time to enjoy the fruits of your labors, but if you're not working for yourself anyway, if you're working for someone else, what's the point in giving you time off? Just work until you drop. That was Pharaoh's vision.
So what's the police's vision? Soldiers are not slaves. Every soldier is a human. How do you know you're a human? Because in your civilian life you work. But what if you worked and you got to the stage where it's time to enjoy. You got to the stage where there was a house to enjoy or where there was a vineyard to enjoy. Where there was a marriage to enjoy. You worked and you worked and you're at that stage. The greatest tragedy would be to not enjoy that. Because how do know you're a human being and not a slave? Because you can enjoy that. What would be the worst thing? For you to die in battle and someone else would take the house.
Immanuel: That's slavery.
Rabbi Fohrman: That's slavery. That's why it's there. It's not there to inspire jealousy; it's there because that's when you know that you're a slave. You're a slave when you work for someone else's benefit and not your own. That's the tragedy. You need to understand this is about you. You're a human being. You might be a soldier. You might have to take commands, but you know what kind of soldier you are? You're a soldier where the military police are not enforcers. They're not holding guns to your head. They're giving every possible way out possible.
They're saying if your humanity begs to enjoy the house, to enjoy the vineyard, to enjoy marriage, then go do it. If you're too scared, then don't come along. What's the message? We're only looking for a few good men. We don't need much. I'm not desperate. Because what was the thing that drove Pharaoh to such evil? Was it that he was a guy who is so evil because he was born evil? Pharaoh was like Doc Vader? Pharaoh was like Hitler from the cradle? There was something that made him evil.
If you want to know the something that made him evil, all you need to do is go back to the text and look at what made him evil. "Hinei am Bnei Yisrael rav v'atzum mimenu," there is so many of them. What if they go to war against us? "Va'yakutzu mipnei Bnei Yisrael," and he was terrified of Israel. Because he was terrified of Israel, he launched a preemptive attack on benevolent citizens that weren't threatening him. It was fear. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Abject fear drove him to attack a benevolent force and to make them soldiers in their own war against themselves.
Therefore, the answer to that is, "Ki teitzei la'milchamah al oivecha," when you go out to war against your real enemies and you see a nation that's too great for you, don't be like Pharaoh. Don't fear of anything. "Lo tira mei'hem," don't fear them at all. Why? Because you have something that Pharaoh never had; you have God on your side. Therefore, "V'hayah k'koravchem el hamilchamah," when you go into battle, the Kohen's going to get up and he's going to tell you. "Atem k'reivim ha'yom lamilchamah," you are coming close to war against your enemies.
There was a time, "u'Pharaoh hikriv," when Pharaoh, in the battle of the sea, started coming close, "va'yiru me'od," and you were very scared. But you know what happened. I tell you know, "al tiru," do not be afraid. Because Moses told you all back then, "al tira'u," don't be afraid at the sea, "hit'yatzvu u're'u et yeshuat Hashem," see the salvation that God will make.
The Kohen says remember what happened at the sea. "Ki Hashem Elokeichem ha'holeich imachem l'hilacheim lachem im oiveichem l'hoshia etchem," God is going to save you. He's going to go to war. Just like what happened at the sea; "Hashem yilacheim lachem," God will go to war for you. It really happened.
So the Kohen says, I don't have to appeal to faith, I just appeal to your history. You know that God is behind you and because you know that God is behind you, you know that you don't have to fear. Because you know that you don't have to fear, you can afford to have the police tell you what they will. We don't need a whole army. We can be outnumbered, it doesn't matter. Therefore, if you're scared you can go home. And therefore, if you haven't experienced the peak experiences of your life, you can go home and you can experience those peak experiences.
That, I believe, and I kind of want to make the argument to you, that this is the final judgement for the police. The final judgement for the police is, guess what police? There is going to be a version of you that's wonderful in the future. A version of you that is not the enforcer, but a version of you that is in a military situation like you were before. Like you're part of an enterprise that recognizes the humanity of those above you, but you do not seek to subvert. That is the redemption of your role.
In order to ensure that, the reason why you were corrupted the last time around, was because there was a human king who went bad. Because there was a human king that feared and you were in a direct line of power underneath him. There was Pharaoh and underneath Pharaoh there were taskmasters and underneath the taskmasters were you. There was a vertical powerline of structure with no checks and balance.
Therefore, guess how we meet the police again? The police, who asked for mishpat, who asked for justice, guess who your best friends are going to be? "Shoftim v'shotrim," it's going to be judges. What's the job of the judges? You read that, in Shoftim. It says, "v'shaftu et ha'am mishpat tzedek." The whole point of the judges is that they're supposed to be people who are upstanding, of the highest moral caliber. Compassionate people who know how to do the right thing. They are going to be the judicial and the legislative handmaiden of the police.
The police will not act unless they do so in the interests of what the judges do. And what do the judges do? "Tzedek tzedek tirdof," they're there to run after justice, to run after compassion. To run after doing the right thing for the widow and for the orphan. This is the society that we set up and this is the justice.
It's fascinating and, I think, just mind blowing to think that this is Divine justice. This isn't just something that sort of happens. No. This is justice. Justice doesn't play out in the short term always. It doesn't play out even within a century or two centuries. It plays out over the long stretch of Jewish history.
If there's a time in Jewish history where there is an independent Jewish state that can be built on the ideals, which are the opposite of the Holocaust/Egypt experience and in which police can learn from that experience to be the very best that they can be, trusting in God. Then that is the legacy for the police and that is justice for their name. It's not over when the police die. It's over when their legacy is somehow redeemed.
I think it's a fascinating way of thinking about Divine justice. I think, in the wake of the Holocaust, it's fascinating as well. Yes, Germany was destroyed. Yes, Germany was shattered. But that wasn't the limits, perhaps, of Divine justice. We have the ability now, 70 years later, to build a Jewish state. We have the ability now to build Jewish society. What kind of society will we build in the aftermath of the Holocaust, will be the Divine justice. The Divine justice, interestingly, isn't through the divine, it's through us.
The Divine justice is that God says, I'm giving you an opportunity for you to be the instrument of the Divine justice in how you build your society in the wake of this catastrophe. If you do it right, that's Divine justice, which sounds like a mind-blowing possibility. But it sounds like that's what the Torah's telling us. So there's more to say, but I'll leave it there.
Imu: Remarkable. It's really incredible and very, very inspiring. Yeah. This, I think, ties very nicely to how you began with Isaiah and being able to approach God with a just society. Do you want to say more about that time at?
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. I mean, sure. That really just goes back to that Haftarah. This is Tisha B'Av. Shabbat Chazon is -- there is a time when your prayer doesn't get answered and God's not looking for that. Sometimes God isn't looking for your prayers and He's not even looking for your sacrifices. He's looking for you to create that society and if you haven't created it yet, whether that society is in your household, whether that society is in your neighborhood, whether that society is in your town, whether that society is in Israel or in Jerusalem, or society at large.
If you haven't created society where judges are back, right? That is that language. The core of it all is, "Hashivah shofteinu k'varishonah v'yo'atzeinu k'vatchilah." Which is that if we could only create that society where the highest aspiration of those in power is, "Tzedek, tzedek tirdof," and is to do the just thing coupled with the right thing. Then that is the kind of society in which everything else flows.
Look back at the Shemoneh Esrei. What are blessings after that? "Hashivah shofteinu k'varishonah v'yo'atzeinu k'vatchilah," those words come straight from Isaiah 1, come straight from that idea of the God who's just fed up, who's just not interested. Why's He fed up? Because what society is there? A society in which the stronger bury the weak. What society is that?
That was Pharaoh's society. That was what he imposed upon us. God said I didn't like that. That's why I took you out of there. I knew that slaves were being turned into soldiers. "V'hotzeiti et tzivotai," and I took my soldiers out of there. So that you can make an army that will be proud of itself. You can make a nation that would be proud of itself. So make a nation that's proud of itself, don't recreate Egypt. You created Egypt. I don't need your Temple. I don't need your prayers.
So un-recreate Egypt and once we do, in the Haftarah, everything works. God says I'm a forgiving God. I'll let go of your sins. I'm not going to punish you for your sins. Just do better. Just create the society and, "im ya'adimu katola katzemer yihyu." Just because you created the society, so create the society.
So therefore, in Shemoneh Esrei, after, "Hashivah shofteinu k'varishonah," "v'nas yagon v'anachah," and the grief and the pain and the screams of the widows and orphans are there. So, "umloch aleinu atah Hashem l'vadecha." So then, who's your king? Pharaoh isn't your king. Who's your king? God is your king. Well, if God is your king, so act like God is your king. You don't have anything to be afraid of. So if you don't have anything to be afraid of, so be the judge that takes care of people and that doesn't press people.
If you can do that then and be the judge that brings justice into society, then, "Al hatzadikim v'al hachassidim." Then, God, look at justice as evinced in the people in society and smile upon it and give them rewards; "V'li'Yerushalayim ircha b'rachamim tashuv." Then, You can come back. We made a society that welcomes You. It's not Egypt anymore. So come; be part of that society and you can have a king that upholds that. "Et tzemach David avdecha."
Therefore, finally, "Shema koleinu," You can actually listen to our prayers because we have the society and sacrificial offerings are meaningful to You also; "Retzeih Hashem Elokeinu." It's the whole way that Shemoneh Esrei unfurls.
So these are my thoughts from yesterday and before and I want to leave you with those thoughts. So I want thank you, Imu, for hanging out with me here. We can hang out a little bit more if you want.
Immanuel: Yeah. I wonder if you wanted to call on some people in the audience. See what their thoughts are; how this impacted them? What do you think about it? Do you want to hang out a little bit more?
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah, I'll hang out a little bit more. Let me actually turn that leadership role over to you a little bit. I'll be here to, kind of, field any thoughts and stuff, but I always think that you're great at that. So I'm going to --
Immanuel: I got the illustrious role of calling on people. That's going to be my leadership role. But I'm curious. You know, a lot of us felt differently while Rabbi Fohrman was weaving this together and speaking and many of us had our own feelings, but I think it can also help just to share what this material meant to you. Or if you won't want to say a comment or a thought. Now, if you want to raise your hand, if you're with us on Zoom.
Rabbi Fohrman: Also, if you want to speak, you can do that just like David before. I'll be happy to interact to you in real time. So if you want to raise your hand, if you want to comment, given a thought, leave a question or just how this felt to you or what your personal response to this is.
Immanuel: So Barnie Rosenberg has her hand raised. I'm going to call on Barnie. Is that okay? Okay. Barnie is using an older version of Zoom and he needs to promote Barnie to a panelist. Barnie, it's your lucky day. I'm going to promote you to panelist.
Rabbi Fohrman: Oh, my gosh.
Immanuel: But she's going to be rejoining the webinar as a panelist. I hope she does. Barnie, do you hear us? I don't hear Barnie.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Barnie wrote in her question, so we can deal with Barnie's question there. I just want to say, Barnie has a good question. I don't have all the answers to these questions. It seems to me and, you know, I put these questions back out to you.
It seems to me there's a direction towards answering things. I don't think this is the answer to the problem of people. But Barnie says, what about the prayers of people during most of Jewish history, when we didn't have such a society? We only have the opportunity in the later century of Jewish history.
So I would say that that's kind of where I was coming from when I was talking about homes and neighborhoods and towns and Israel. I think, it might be the case that we kind of have that opportunity at any stage in society, at some level. It's true, Barnie and everybody else, we're blessed in having that opportunity and maybe it's the highest of levels, to truly create a true society in our land. But I think, the idea of community is something which persists throughout Jewish history and community is like concentric circles; it happens at every level.
It happens in your household, right? The smallest level of community is your family. Literally, your nuclear family. You and your kids. Above that, it's your neighbors and it's your friends and there's larger and larger concentric circles of community. Often, it's easy in Judaism to think of a Judaism that relates to us primarily as individuals, because I am an individual and there's 613 commandments and the person who dies with the most commandments wins. It looks like a game where the individual tries to gather as many commandments as they can, like Pacman on the screen, but sometimes the game is played in a communal kind of way. It's not just about me as an individual, but it's about us as a community.
Sometimes it's a whole realm of Judaism and what Judaism expects of us, which isn't really just about the individual, but it's about all of our effort to shape a community. In the simplest kind of ways, I would say it's us and our interactions with our family. What kind of family structure do we have?
Because you can be a Pharaoh within the family, too and create a structure where there's unreasonable demands for kids and where there's a kind of passive aggressive attitude. Where it looks like you really want one thing, but you're actually creating an impossible situation in order to break down a kid that you think is little to uppity. That is an evil kind of a bad faith, which the Torah seems to stand against.
At the beginning of it is can you create a society, even in the home, in which fairness and justice and doing the right thing and helping those who can't quite do it exists. If we can create those kinds of families, right, then we're in a position where our prayers are more meaningful. They just are. We get the path. It's fascinating.
If you think, it's so funny. Like if I would have to give a mussar schmooze. I'm a rabbi in a synagogue. I know what the mussar schmooze sounds like. It's to be quiet during prayers. If we're more quiet during prayers, our prayers are heard. No, of course, we have to have respect for prayers. There's no question you need to have respect for prayers. But, boys and girls, it's not just about being quiet during prayers and it's not just about even saying a longer Shemoneh Esrei. It's not even just about having intention during prayers.
As important as all those things are, there's something you can do which has nothing to do with the prayers, which affects all this. Which is what kind of society do we build in all levels of our society. So I think that yes, we have the largest of opportunities in Israel, but the smallest of opportunities may be our opportunities also.
Immanuel: Great. It's a great, great question; great answer. Someone else wants to comment on what this material meant to them or a question. Karen.
Rabbi Fohrman: Let me just say what Simeon Jacob says, also, as I think really to me is really mind blowing. He writes, this also brings to the forefront that Hashem works over the long term, not with immediate response. You know, there was that immediate response. There is the response to Egypt, the response to Germany, but it's fascinating how in God's world justice plays out over the long term and Israel is one nation and the nation that exists now is the nation that existed then. Therefore, stuff that happens over the course of human history can't be a deep way of responding to the justice. It's kind of mind blowing, I think. Yeah, go ahead, Imu.
Immanuel: Yeah, Karen is raising her hand. I'm going to call on Karen. I have to promote her to panelist. Let's try this again, let's hope it works.
Rabbi Fohrman: By the way, thank you all the folks, Dovy Reich from Israel is just saying that he appreciates the webinar out there in Israel. I know, in Israel, you guys are already munching on delicious food and experiencing a post Tisha B'Av webinar, but thanks for joining in. Yeah, go ahead.
Immanuel: Let's see if this works for Karen. Karen, are you there? Karen?
Rabbi Fohrman: So I see Karen. I don't see Karen. I see Karen.
Immanuel: You don't see Karen. Okay. I've decided that this isn't working. Okay. Let's open the question up again to others. Anybody else interested in volunteering or want to tell us what this --
Rabbi Fohrman: So, Imu, I would ask you to respond to Steven. You see Steven at 4:07 p.m. I think we see this in other areas as well. Maybe read that out loud and speak about that.
Immanuel: Steven says, I think we see this in other areas as well. Taking a system that was used for evil and redeeming it and rehabilitating it and redefine it for a productive good. Like Jewish slavery turns into a kind of social welfare program. Can you think of other parts of Torah that are rehabilitated and redeemed?
Oh, a lot of parts of Torah, where we take some evil and we rehabilitate it and redeem it. I mean, this same piece is redeemed and rehabilitated; this piece about Pharaoh and slavery is redeemed in our practice of Shavuot. If you haven't seen our Shavuot video as well, we talk about a lot of the connections here about God's redeeming of bad law, of harsh law, of corrupt law of Pharaoh, to good law, to kind law, to benevolent law. Which isn't about producing an output, like Pharaoh was trying to get bricks out of us or trying to destroy us. But rather a law that sustains us and that takes care of us.
That's many of the laws of Shavuot, are designed to create a society that is kind, that is good for us. Many of the laws of Shavuot have what to do with Shemittah, with leaving a portion over of your field. With celebrating with your slave; strange thing, right? Your manservant and your maidservant have to come with you to Jerusalem and you throw a party and you share the capital gains of your land together with the slave. Which is a crazy thing, because capital gains are the things that an owner gets to enjoy, but the Torah tells you, when you have a capital gain, when your bounty grows, you share.
The extent to which your bounty has grown, you have to throw a party that size for your slaves and for your servants, for the people who helped earn it. Which in some sense, redeems that slavery or turns them into non-slaves, because they get to enjoy the fruits of their own labor. Not commensurate with their effort, but commensurate with just the bounty that God has given you. Which is something that is usually only reserves for a slave owner.
I cheated, because it's the same redemption but in a different way. Another example of Divine law being benevolent and allowing us to really bring, I guess, righteousness and justice into our lives in a very tactical, practical way.
Rabbi Fohrman: I think that, you know, if there's one theme, Imu, which resonates most powerfully and almost all the work that you and I have done together here at Aleph Beta, over the last six or so years. I don't know how many years it's been, but it's been a while. It is that idea of that when things go badly it doesn't mean it's badly forever. The Torah gives you a chance to redeem things and all of life is about being able to, like in Groundhog Day. You're able to faced with that situation and even have a sign up in our offices, you know, where you remember, but find a different ending.
This is, I think, a very powerful example of that in Shoftim, finding that different ending. But there's so many of them and it just, I mean, course after course. If you go back to our Passover courses. The Pascal Lamb and the selling of Joseph. What darker moment in our history was there than the sale of Joseph? There's that chance to redo that and to build a society that is different than that.
Immanuel: If you’ve seen seen the Hezekiah video that Rabbi Fohrman did for Tisha B'Av. That's also an incredible piece that discusses this exact piece, of Hezekiah being able to take the mistakes of previous generations. The failings of Jeroboam, the failings of his own father. And correct them and strangely, it's Hezekiah himself, in his greatest efforts to correct the misdeeds of the past, isn't able to take it all the way. That's the knife edge that, kind of, leads to Tisha B'Av.
It's a phenomenal course, but it has this same theme of always having to correct the past and that very, very long view of history and things unfolding.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. I haven't seen the Hezekiah course lately, but I will tell you, boy, was that a beast to work on. That was three months in the salt mines, but it was beautiful. I think I'll go back and watch it too. You watched it today, Imu?
Immanuel: I watched it this morning, yeah.
Rabbi Fohrman: So was it as good as you remembered it or not quite?
Immanuel: It was better. I was scared of that course. That course was great and you did a great epilogue also that I didn't remember. That was pretty incredible too. Great content there, everybody. That was a plugging.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Imu, I'm wondering if you could look at what David Aaron said over here at 4:13 p.m. and speak to that.
Immanuel: Sure. So look at me, I'm responding to what David Aaron at 4:13?
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah.
Immanuel: He wrote at 4:12. Should I read that too? What happens when we find ourselves in a no-win situation like the police in our work with a bad boss or in a community with corrupt leaders? Do we simply call out to God and ask for his judgement? Do we do our best to avoid the cognitive dissonance and becoming corrupted ourselves? I have to answer that question?
Rabbi Fohrman: You don't have to.
Immanuel: I'll answer it, but it's not going be worth nearly as much as if you answer it.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. That's a great question. I don't know the answer to that. But I work with the bad boss or in a community with corrupt leaders, what do you do? You could simply call out to God for judgement. I think you see from the story that that is, at last gasp, something that you can do. That if you find yourself completely coopted and you feel like, you know, you've got a bad shake in history. You tried, but there was no way out.
Then, yes, you can call out to God for justice in your prayers. That's one thing you can do. I think, what you see from here is that you have a chance of being answered. But the answer doesn't look like you think. So if you think justice is let me see my bad boss get overthrown. That's not the kind of justice the police got, but they got justice. Isn't that fascinating?
You know, the police, to their dying day, might have thought they didn't get justice. If you interviewed the police on his deathbed, he would say I'm mad as anything at God because he didn't give me the justice. I cried out for justice and it wasn't there. But in the long stretch of history the justice was there.
So yes, you can. That's one thing you can do. But the other thing you can do is that you say we just do our best to avoid the cognitive dissonance in becoming corrupted ourselves. I don't know the answer to that. Like, what do you do? If you're a policeman in that situation what do you do? You know, what is there to do?
The worst evil at the end is the cognitive dissonance, right, where you become part of it. Can a human being avoid that at the end? I guess, I just don't have an answer. I don't know if there's an answer for the police. I mean, in our own lives, hopefully, we aren't -- you know, it's an extreme situation. Holocaust situations and police situations are the extreme.
Immanuel: They're situations where you don't have another choice.
Rabbi Fohrman: Right. In most of our lives, thank God, we aren't actually in those situations. There usually is a choice. But the question is what does the choice mean? If you're in a company and the company has a leader who is passive aggressive and is not working for the ultimate economic benefit of the company, but is passively, aggressively with bad faith, grinding down his employees. What do you do in that situation?
I don't know if the police story has an answer for what you do in that situation. The police tried and if there's any message from the police it's don't be too naïve about leaders who -- is that there do exist leaders who are non-rational actors. I think that's one thing to realize is that such a thing exists and don't go into a situation believing that everyone is a rational actor. Sometimes there is not rational actors.
The question is what do you when you're faced with a non-rational actor? What do you do when there's a leader whose priority actually isn't economic betterment of the company?
I think the first answer to that is if you understand going in, you have a better shot at finding an answer that works than if you only understand that at the end when you're crushed. So that's the smallest little piece of advice I can offer. Imu, anything else on your end?
Immanuel: No, just that piece with making sure that you know that there's a situation where you don't actually have a choice. If we're bringing it practically into your everyday life, I don't know how many police I know, someone who's in the police situation and I hope that that's my immaturity speaking and that like -- I hope it's not my immaturity speaking and that that's actually reality and that people don't get put in these situations. But, you know, I'd look for a choice. If I were in such a situation, I'd look for another choice.
Rabbi Fohrman: I know a book I recommend for those who want to really think deeply about those situations. To some extent would be, you know, Viktor Frankl's classic work, Man's Search for Meaning. Frankl, who was a psychiatrist, developed a whole theory of psychiatry out of his experience in the death camps called logotherapy. He argued that you're never at a situation where you don't have choices and that your ultimate dignity as a human being is in finding the choices you have and making them nobly.
Sometimes your only choice is, you know, will I be noticed? No one can turn you into a demon and maybe the answer is avoiding that situation, avoiding the police's situation, but I don't know. I mean, sometimes someone's got to take it. So I don't know what the answer is there. But it would be interesting to -- I guess what I would say for those who want to really think deeply about this, to read a book like Man's Search for Meaning, together with the police story and see where do those two things fit.
Are the choices that Frankl's talking about, would those have meant anything to the police? The other book I'd recommend is a book that was recommended to me by a dear friend of mine by the name of Andrew Brown. I forget the name of the book, but the author was Tzvetan Todorov. Maybe Imu can look it up on Amazon, you can find the title. It's Todorov, T-O-D-O-R-O-V. Also, I believe, about the Holocaust. He was interested in this particular question; life in the extremes. These kinds of situations; the kapo situation. The choice at the extremes and what that means for humanity.
He wrote a fascinating book about it that I just began reading. Maybe it's time to read the rest of it to kind of deal with some of the questions that you're dealing.
Immanuel: Just something that's coming up for me is I always like when there's one answer and the answer is like don't be a police and it doesn't feel like that's the Torah's answer to that. It feels like there is more latitude, as you said there seems to be some sort of Divine forgiveness or acceptance. But even if you think about it in the sense that what this person's role of a police in war is.
Like it's kind of crazy, if you think of being a good -- let's say you're a good Orthodox Jew and you're going to follow over the rules and all the laws. Can you imagine any rabbi saying like okay, it's time to go to war and if you're too afraid you don't have to go? If you did this thing and you didn't get a chance to complete it, you get to leave.
The fact that God, Himself, makes allowances for people not to be perfect, makes allowances to be scared, almost feels like there's room for a bit of human fallibility.
Rabbi Fohrman: It's an interesting point. It's almost as if, in some way, what the police are saying is not just for the benefit of the troops, but for the benefit of themselves. Like the part that says to them, you know, if you're scared it's okay to be scared and to go home. It's almost like what if you're talking to the police in Egypt and you say, I know you, you're scared. You don't know what you got into. I hear you and God has sympathy for the scared. This is almost a message of comfort for the police.
Immanuel: Yeah, and they get to be the ones who delivered that in the redemption.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah, because they know what it was like to be scared, almost more than anyone else.
Immanuel: And to have no choice and they get to give others the choice when they're scared.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. Well, that's beautiful.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. It's powerful stuff. I think this stuff is the not easy stuff to talk about on the Holocaust. You know, it's not just -- I don't know. It's the really hard stuff, but it seems like that's what Parashat Shoftim is talking about. So yeah, there's a lot to think about there.
Okay. Imu, anything else here or should we say goodbye? Anything else on our message boards here?
Immanuel: I thought that everyone would leave us, but people are still hanging out, so I don't know. Others are looking for something to say or to raise a hand or --
Rabbi Fohrman: Can you read Sima's point, from 4:14?
Immanuel: Sure. Sima, 4:14, she said it's her favorite piece. Oh, no, that's why.
Rabbi Fohrman: Unlike Drake's point, hunger is the mother of discourse.
Immanuel: Pretty much. What are all of us going to do anyways, when we hang up? The message of the need for righteousness and justice is often overlooked when we focus on traditional reasons for destruction of the two Temples. But it is so much a theme in the Haftarah we read today and throughout this time of the year. Righteousness and justice were lacking in society during times of the Temples. Those are the key to our redemption. It was God's mission statement to Abraham before the destruction of Sodom and is ours as a people.
Yeah, I think that's really, really important to forget, especially if so much of the messages around Tisha B'Av which are about loss of Temple, loss of our closeness to God, which are all legitimate. But the Haftarot and what the prophets focused on, who were actually around at the time of the destruction of the first Temple, what they're talking about is this.
That's Sima's point, that the lack of righteousness and justice. So it seems really appropriate today to focus on how to bring back righteousness and justice into our lives and into our families and businesses and communal structures.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. Well, maybe as one last thing to take us out, I'll give one last piece. There a piece turns out -- we've been looking at Parashat Shoftim. It turns that there's a piece in Sefer Shoftim (the book of Judges), that resonates with this powerfully. It turns out that there's a time in Jewish history, where people who were called judges, were leaders and one such provisional leader was Gideon. If you look at Gideon's story, Gideon's story echoes with these themes, in Chapter 7 of the book of Judges.
Let me just show you really quickly and maybe we'll send you guys all off on your merry way, with a look at Gideon. Let me see if I can call it up in Sefaria, Judges 7, and then we'll share the screen with you. Okay. Can you guys see that?
Rabbi Fohrman: Great. So look at this. Gideon is about to go to war against the Midianites. Look at what God says to him in Verse 2. "Va'yomer Hashem el Gidon," God says to Gideon, "rav ha'am asher itach," there's too many people with you, "mititi et Midyan b'yadam," in order for me to give you Midian in your hands, "pen yitpa'er alai Yisrael," because if I give you Midian, with all those people in your army, you guys are going to think, "leimor, yadi hoshi'ah li," you guys are going to thing that my hand saved us.
Listen to all this language which is echoing from our parashah. There's, "yadi hoshi'ah li," specifically is what the Priests, in Parashat Shoftim it said. The whole point of the Priests was that they have to understand that God will be moshi'ah etchem, that God will save you. That God is the one saving you.
Remember all that language about seeing this innumerable people? So now, the Book of Judges says, what happens if you are the innumerable people? What happens if you've got too many people? Well, if you've got too many people, God says, sorry, you've got too many people. "V'atah, k'ra na b'oznei ha'am leimor," and therefore, you should call in the name of the people and you should say to them, "mi yarei v'chared," hey, is there anybody scared? Would anybody like to go home? "Yashov v'yitzpor mei'Har ha'Gilad," you guys should all go home if you're feeling a little afraid.
What you see from Gideon is actually a kind of commentary almost, on Deuteronomy. That one of the reasons that God is doing all this is God doesn't want there to be so many troops in battle. God has an interest in getting people to go home. So God says, tell them, is anybody a little bit afraid? What happened? "Va'yashav min ha'am esrim u'shenayim elef," 22,000 thousand people went home and only 10,000 stayed. That's a lot. You know, in percentages, that's a lot of percentages.
Now, remember, the police said four things. By the way, Imu, while we're at it, let me ask you about those four things. Do you see anything about those four? Like, why those four? The house; you didn't finish building the house. You built the house, but you didn't enjoy it yet. The vineyard; you planted a vineyard and you didn't enjoy the vineyard yet. You were engaged to a woman, but you didn't take her in marriage yet. If you think about those things -- I'll come right back to this a moment -- do you see?
I was thinking about that, meditating upon those three things. If you think about them as Shabbat-like events. These are the moments where you just stop and appreciate, instead of work. Now, thinking about them in terms of Shabbat, in terms of God. Does that resonate for you, those three things? Think about building and planting for a minute.
Immanuel: Yes. I mean, building and planting are things you cannot do on Shabbat. Most work has to do with building and planting.
Rabbi Fohrman: Think about God building the world. What was God's activities in building the world? So it was really two things. There was the God as master builder, which is all about Genesis Number 1. God who figures this out and plans and executes and builds. He's building this house for humanity. That's Genesis Chapter 1.
Genesis Chapter 2 has nothing to do with building, but it's God as the master planter. Plants Himself a Garden of Eden. Everything comes from something. Everything emerged from something in these organic --
Immanuel: And He is the matchmaker.
Rabbi Fohrman: What?
Immanuel: He's the matchmaker.
Rabbi Fohrman: He's the matchmaker. That's right. Who delights in two people coming together in love, because He wants to come together with us in love.
So these three imperatives are the three imperatives that God saw as most valuable. Most valuable for making a world in order to be able to rest and enjoy. In our lives, He sees these three things as having great value for us.
So coming back now to the Gideon story. Let me reshare that screen. So Gideon talks about the fourth of these; who's afraid? Remember, that was the fourth thing that the police said. But before that, they said the three other things. Now, at face value, Gideon doesn't say the three other things. The thing about the house, the thing about the vineyard, the thing about the wife. But listen to what does happen. Look at the next verses.
"Va'yomer Hashem el Gidon," God then says to Gideon, "od ha'am rav," I'm sorry, Gideon, there's 10,000 people here. There're still too many people. "Horeid otam el hamayim," take them down to the water, "v'etzrefenu lecha sham," and I'm going to sift out people there. "V'hayah asher omar eilecha zeh yeilech itach," the ones that I say go with you, those are the ones who can go with you and then everybody else doesn't go.
So he takes them to the water. What does God basically do? He sets up a test. He says go see how they drink from the stream. If they kneel over and bow and they drink with their tongues from the water, like dogs and they get down on their knees to drink; send them home. But those who take from the water with their hands and drink without fully kneeling, those people you can take with you. There were only 300 of those. Those 300 became the 300 who went to war.
So it's sounds like Deuteronomy 20, except for this thing about the water. There wasn't anything about the water in Deuteronomy 20. So the question that I give to all you guys out there in Zoom and all you guys out there in Facebook is, what in the world could Gideon's test with the water have to do with the other three things that the police said to the people in Deuteronomy 20? About the vineyard, the wife and the house.
Immanuel: I have literally no idea.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Imu has literally no idea. Does anyone else on Zoom want to take on that? Remember the test; think about the test. Let me ask you. Let me go back to the thing about the house. Remember I asked you that all three things of those; it was always what is the tragedy? Not just that you wouldn't sit in the house, but you wouldn't sit in the house and another man would come in and be there instead. And another man would take the vineyard and another man would take the wife. What was that other man business? If another man takes it, then who were you?
Immanuel: You were a slave.
Rabbi Fohrman: You were a slave. What do the slaves do?
Immanuel: They kneel.
Rabbi Fohrman: They bow in complete obedience, to a master they have no business serving.
Immanuel: So someone who is lifting water out through cupped hands, they have dignity.
Rabbi Fohrman: Only take the people that see themselves as humans. Not the people who are so used to bowing that they see themselves in subservience to, presumably, either idols or slaves. But you need the person with the dignity to say I don't bow so easily. Only the people who say I don't bow so easily, only they can be your soldiers. Which is the message of Deuteronomy 20.
Immanuel: Do you see this as having any resonance with idol worship which is difficult for us to relate to, but that that idea of not serving other gods or idols has to do with human dignity?
Rabbi Fohrman: I think it does, at some level. It's the same way that slavery is abhorrent, idolatry is abhorrent. It's not just abhorrent because God's jealous of bow, it could be that it's abhorrent because God wants his human beings to be dignified human beings. A dignified human being is someone who only serves someone which they actually should serve. But if you serve someone that you have no business serving, you're a rag. So what the heck are you doing?
I don't have any joy in relating to slaves. I don't have any joy relating to people who worship idols. Because you made yourself into a nothing. That's even the language, by the way, of the prophets; "vayeilchu acharei ha'hevel," over and over again, "va'yehbalu." They went after nothingness and became nothing in turn. God is looking out, at the end of the day, not for Himself, but for our own dignity. It's dignified to serve God, because is your master and God is your creator, so yes, serve Him.
If not, what are you doing? You're making yourself into a nothing. There's something about a man standing in war that can't afford to be the nothing. The evil of Egypt had to do with soldiers surreptitiously being slaves. A slave who works for someone else's grandeur. There were slaves who were surreptitiously soldiers who were at war against themselves. So God says, never are we going to do that. Instead, we're going to have soldiers who are surreptitiously workers; not slaves. The very opposite of slaves.
Every soldier is a man and every man is a worker, but every man works for himself and every man works for his own dignity. Therefore, every man has to be able to train in his gun to be able to go home to the vineyard and to the house and to the wife. Because that's what makes you a human being and a man and shows your dignity. Rather than being the bad-faithed slave who's really a soldier on the side, a soldier against himself.
Immanuel: This may be the post-fast buzz in may brain, but a couple of things are clicking for me. That if it seems to be then, that such an important part of Torah and Torah being good for us, is rediscovering our own dignity. It just reminds me of your Ten Commandments course. Of what like the core of the Ten Commandments the way you boil it down, it's really about respect, about self-respect. Being able to have dignity and then believing that others have dignity and respecting them.
It reminds me again of the Shavuot course. That the redemption of Pharaoh, the way he treated us and what the police said, "hivashtem et reicheinu," you made us think that -- think about how they treated themselves and saw themselves in Pharaoh's eyes, you made us think. It's redemption in the Manna. In the Manna story there is so much Manna that you didn't have to debase yourself and run out and collect and make sure that you could stockpile. And if you did, if you violated that law and you stockpiled the Manna, it was the Manna that would stick.
Rabbi Fohrman: Right.
Immanuel: Then, the conclusion of that whole piece was the law that God gives us, right, the law that is it's not abusive, that is good for us. The Ten Commandments themselves is basically laws that are good for you. Laws that teach you your own dignity and teach you to respect yourself. So yeah, that's crazy. I never saw it that way, but it's very resonant.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. It's interesting. Even the idol worship itself as a crime against human dignity. We don't even see it that way, but it looks, from these resonances, that that's what it is. And the, "vayeilchu acharei ha'hevel va'yehbalu." It's seems like that's what it is.
Immanuel: Yeah. It makes sense, meaning that that's -- it's reminding me of your piece in Hezekiah that I've watched this morning with Molechs. The idea of being able to sacrifice your own children. Like, where does that come from? Just this utter and complete fear and total loss of dignity that you're willing to even consume or to destroy your own children for some control for some -- yeah. That seems to make idolatry much more understandable and relatable if you put it in those terms.
Rabbi Fohrman: By the way, a quick credit to my daughter Ariella who is the one who tipped my off to the Gideon thing in Chapter 7. Because I shared this with her and Ariella's a Chidon Hatanach girl and you know, her mind immediately went to Gideon and looked over there. It's like, oh, my gosh. Look what's there.
Immanuel: Yeah, it's in real life. It happens. All right, Rabbi Fohrman. This was great. This is our longest webinar ever. Thank you, everybody, for joining us and hopefully it was meaningful to you.
Rabbi Fohrman: I will say that I'll prepare a version of these PDF notes to send out to our Premium folks. We're getting some questions about that on the chat. It's going take just a little bit, so hold tight. In the next day or two we do hope to get that out to you. So we'll figure out a way to do that.
So I do want to say thank you to all of you guys for hanging in for three hours plus. Imu, thank you for hanging out for three hours plus. I hope and wish a meaningful fast and thank you everybody in our Premium group for supporting what we do here and standing behind the work. It's a great vote of confidence in our work and feeds the researchers and all the animators and everything that makes the wheels go around over here in Aleph Beta. So I really do appreciate your standing behind us. It means a lot to me and to Imu and to everybody else here. So thanks.
Immanuel: Thank you, everybody.
Rabbi Fohrman: Thank you. Goodbye.