Half the Torah is a Chiasm
In Conversation with Rabbi Fohrman
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
Enjoy this dynamic interview as Rabbi Fohrman talks with Rabbi David Schwartz on his recent discovery, Half the Torah is a Chiasm.” This event took place on Tuesday, October 26th, 2021.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay, so let me just jump in. First of all, I want to welcome the members of the Young Israel of Teaneck, David's shul, here. I want to welcome the Producers Circle folks here. I am David Fohrman, and I am here with David Schwartz. David, how are you doing?
David: Good, good. I'm very excited to be here. I'm a big fan, so this is really cool for me to do. I have to tell you, I'm a huge fan and also probably the ultimate for me was I saw on the invite for the Producers Circle, the flyer. Not the one for my shul, but the one from Producers Circle. I saw that I became an Aleph Beta cartoon. That's as good as it gets. That was very, very cool.
Rabbi Fohrman: Oh, that's really good. I don't even know that. So you got to see your cartoon image?
David: I did, yeah.
Rabbi Fohrman: Wow. You know, I've had people recognize me in supermarkets from my cartoon. I hope that happens to you.
David: There's no way we could do this interview as cartoons, is there?
Rabbi Fohrman: Well, I can turn on my cartoon. This is my cartoon, right there. You're definitely invited, if you can save a PDF of your cartoon in time, you can flash it on the screen and we can moralize that as well.
Let me begin, if I can ask you, David had found some really cool stuff which we'll talk about in just a moment. Tell me a little bit about yourself. You live there in Teaneck. How did you become interested, over the years, in the study of Tanach? What's your background in that area?
David: Sure. So I live in Teaneck. I go to the Young Israel of Teaneck. Professionally, I work in finance, in investing. I like learning a lot, both Gemara, Talmud and also Tanach, Bible. So I guess my approach to learning Torah and Tanach, a lot of it was influenced by the yeshiva I went to in Israel, which is Yeshivat Har Etzion, or Gush. My oldest son is actually there now. Their approach to Tanach is very literary and text-focused and focusing on the p'shat (simple meaning) of the verses. So that's the thing that I've taken with me. I regularly study the parsha and always try to think about it in a fresh way. That's sort of what led me toward Gush.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Amazing. So you're a second-generation talmid (student) of Gush Etzion and all of that. So you had a little bit of a background with what is sometimes called the new school of Tanach study. The great English language exponent of that in the land of Gush is really Rabbi Menachem Leibtag, although the school was pioneered, in a way, by Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun. Did you get a chance to hear talks by Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun back when you were studying in Gush?
David: A very little bit. I became a huge fan of that whole school and of Menachem Leibtag, but it happened to be that for both of them, I didn't fully appreciate it until after I left Gush. I was a very focused on Talmud when I was at Gush. I subsequently have read a ton by them and heard shiurim (Torah classes) by them. They're both actually cited in the article that I wrote that accompanies this chart.
Rabbi Fohrman: Got it. I noticed in the article that was written about you in, I think it was one of the Teaneck newspapers, that you had worked closely with Dr. Yoni Grossman, who's now the chair of Tanach in Bar-Ilan, in kind of putting together this article. So first of all, is that true? How did that connection come about?
David: Yeah. When I "discovered" this, before you're sure about it you want to get confirmation. So I sent it out to a couple people. He came front and center, front of mind for someone to send it out to because I knew him. I didn't know him well. I had gone to a couple of Torah classes that he's given over the years when he comes to America. I just reached out to him and asked him if he would take a look and give me more conviction that it's legit. He had some helpful comments, and a lot of stuff about chiasms in general and he helped me with citations. Overall, he just gave me some good feedback.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. That sounds cool. So I want to ask you a little bit more about that in a minute. So tell me, in a way -- let me jump in to what it is that you found, and we can chat about it and its implications.
So David found a chiasm, an Atbash pattern -- again, Atbash patterns, everybody here is probably familiar with them. Just to briefly review in about 10 seconds, it's a literary structure where it's a series of parallels that work in reverse order. What that means is you've got a sort of ABCD-DCBA pattern. Instead of that working as an Atbash, which is sort of classically how it is represented sometimes in ancient sources, which is the notion that the letters of the alphabet mirror each other, that Aleph mirrors Tav. The first letter of the alphabet mirrors the last letter of the alphabet. Bet, the second letter, mirrors Shin. Gimmel mirrors Reish.
What this is, is something that works the same way but it works in a literary way. It works in text, where you can have the first element of text mirrors the last element of text, second-to-first element mirrors the second-to-last element.
David found a remarkable chiasm in the Torah which seems to span Genesis and Exodus. One of the strange and kind of wondrous things about chiasms in general -- I'm just curious, David, what your first exposure to the idea of chiasms was. I remember, I think I picked up a book called Chiasmus in Antiquity years back, edited by John Welch. I think I found it at a Bible conference, actually. There was a fascinating article in there by Yehuda Radday, who was in Bar-Ilan. It was about 100 pages long. I don't think he's alive anymore, but there were some fascinating chiasms there which ignited my interest in it.
What about you? How was it that you first came across this kind of structure?
David: I don't remember exactly. I know I didn't read that book. In the course of reading Tanach articles -- not that I read so many of them, but things coming out of Gush or other works from people of that same school of study, I certainly encountered them. I had never really seen one that was, I'd call it a macro chiasm that's purporting to cover a huge amount of territory. They're usually, the ones that I had been familiar with were ones that are what's called a micro chiasm that takes a chapter or takes 10 verses and shows how the pattern of that is like an ABCBA. I don't remember exactly the first one I saw or where I saw it.
Rabbi Fohrman: So chiasms are often, as David mentions, pretty small. One of the classic ones that's easy to see is simply one in a verse in Parshat Noach, "Shofech dam ha'adam ba'adam damo yishafech," a very simple ABC-CBA kind of chiasm. Shofech dam ha'adam, the one who spills the blood of man, by man shall his blood be spilled. That kind of gives you the idea of it. But chiasms can be really much, much larger and more elaborate. One of the astonishing things in the Torah is how elaborate those chiasms can be and how overlapping they can be, and also what the implications are.
So David discovered this and published it in Hakirah magazine. Let me ask you, if you can, I thought what I'd ask you to do is talk to you a little bit about how you discovered it, what the process of discovery was like, and as you talk about that, maybe you could give a rundown for folks here of what it is that you found. We're not going to have enough time tonight to go through all the pairs, but we'll talk about some of them and their implications. So tell me the story of how you first got tipped off that there was something here.
Parenthetically, I just want to say one thing which is that I'm curious whether you had this experience too. I actually had a chat with one of our staff here in Aleph Beta land today and we were talking about this. It feels to me that with the kind of methodology that chiasms is a part of, the sort of literary aspects of Tanach that lie just underneath the surface, what I find that is wondrous about it is you find something wondrous and you've made this amazing discovery. You're pretty sure, in the moment, that you've seen something amazing, and you feel like you've seen something complete and something wonderful and mind-boggling.
Then what happens is that you sit with it for three or four days or longer, and then it begins to reveal more of itself to you. All of a sudden, you realize that there's more here than met the eye. Then you realize that there's a whole other layer here. Then you're really excited about that other layer, and you think you've really seen the whole thing. You sit with it for another three weeks or so, and then you realize no, there's another whole layer to this. All the conclusions that I thought I knew about this are wrong or incomplete, because they're really only part of something larger. There's a concentric circle of webs that are almost meant to be discovered in stages.
That's how I feel about it. Often I find that the process of discovery is alternately thrilling and disappointing, because you kind of have to scratch everything you thought you knew and reorganize it as you begin to see things more majestically and more wondrously.
I'm wondering if that resonates at all with you, as you began to find this thing?
David: Yeah, it definitely does. I haven't had a lot of discoveries like you have, but this one did feel that way. Let me start out by just mentioning in the chat, I think they sent a link for those who want to follow along, you can actually click on a link to see the chiasm itself. It's a pretty long thing with a bunch of colors. There's a PDF that has the whole chart.
Just starting from the beginning of how I came to it, it all just starts with the fact that I was reviewing the parsha. It was Parshat Vayeishev and I always, like many people, review the parsha. I do it differently every year, with a different approach, but one thing that I do consistently every year is that I always begin by -- or at least at some point, I just read the text without any other sources or any other preconceived notions, I just freshly read the text, trying to forget everything else that I know already.
One year, it was a few years ago, pretty recently, when I was doing Parshat Vayeishev, I started realizing that I think Vayeishev is a chiasm. It was actually from the beginning of Vayeishev and the end of Vayeishev. I wasn't really even focused at first on the middle of Vayeishev. I noticed certain things, which we can talk about some of the details if you want, but I noticed certain things about Vayeishev that made me realize that it pretty clearly seems to have a chiastic structure.
Rabbi Fohrman: Out of curiosity, so you happen to recall the very first thing you noticed that even just tipped you off that -- because a chiasm will always start not as a chiasm. It's going to start with a curious parallel. It's gee, that's funny, this verse sure reminds me a lot of this other verse. Then you begin to notice that it's not just that verse that reminds you of this other verse, but there's a verse right nearby that reminds you of another verse on the other side, right nearby.
Do you happen to remember where that process started for you within Vayeishev?
David: Close. I don't remember the exact first pair, but I remember the set of three or four that it was. For those who are looking at the chart, it's in Z1 and Z2 type space part of the table. I don't know if you can share the screen.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah, we can. Let me do that for a moment. While we actually share the screen, and you're about to bring us into the journey of this chiasm. Before we do, let me just call attention to one thing David said, which is a really important trick to take with you. For those of you who are looking to take with you some skills out of this evening's discussion for one of the things that you might do to enhance your own learning or learning with kids.
I find it interesting, David, how you began, which is you began by doing something with your review of the weekly parsha that a lot of folks don't do, which is to forget about everything they know. That seems counterintuitive because you'd sound like you want to come to your review of the parsha remembering everything you know. Right, let me amass my knowledge and I have all my knowledge coming with me. Let me take that with me and see what else I find.
What you did is actually something meditative instead. You sort of banished all knowledge of anything yourself. You said, I'm not even going to look at it with any preconceived knowledge. I'm not looking at it with any other meforesh (commentator). You took the idea of shnayim mikra v'echad targum literally. I'll really look at shnayim mikra (reading the plain text twice) and then I'll look at echad targum (one commentator). I'll add in a commentator, but the first thing I'm going to do is look at this without any other preconceived notions.
When you look at things in that meditative kind of way, almost like you're walking in the woods and you're letting the Torah speak to you as if for the first time, that's a remarkable discovery tool. It can lead you into something which familiarity will often obscure to you. One of the problems that I always say, I mentioned it in my first book, in the introduction, is that one of the things we have going against us is the fact that we know these stories so well. When you know these stories so well, you come with baggage. It's not always easy to see what's right there underneath the surface waiting for you to stare in the face.
So I just thought that was fascinating that you talked about looking at this as if you'd never seen it before.
David: Rabbi Fohrman, is it possible for me to share the screen? That way I can just point to the things that I'm referring to.
Rabbi Fohrman: Totally.
David: Do I have the ability to do that?
Rabbi Fohrman: You should, yeah.
David: Okay. Feel free to take the screen from me any time you want to point something out.
To answer your question, the first things that I realized -- you see here, this is the chiasm and this is the middle of it. This section here, I labelled each row Z1, AA1, et cetera. It starts with A1, B1. So this is the very middle in Parshat Vayeishev. The things that I noticed were the following: Z1, Joseph's age is specified at the beginning of the parsha, one of the only two times, and then specified the other time. That's one thing.
A couple of other things that I remember were at the very early stages were right after that, that he is chosen and he's given a fancy garment, whether it's the coat of many colors or in AA2, the garment from Pharaoh.
Then two other things that I remember is two parallel dreams that happened at the beginning of the parsha and in the end of the parsha, that's AC1 and AC2. Finally, the idea of being thrown into a bor (pit), which is at AE1 he's thrown by his brothers into a pit, and then in AE2 he's thrown into -- it's actually called by the text a bor as well, in the dungeon in Egypt. So those were the first steps.
Rabbi Fohrman: Fascinating. Maybe I'll jump in here, since you mentioned this. I didn't notice -- some of the aspects of the chiasm which you're discussing is something which the first time I'd seen it was in this document. The notion of Joseph's age being paralleled by Joseph's age over there. Some of it I had seen and just to kind of add in some stuff, it feels to me like there's even, in confirmation of David's find, there are other aspects of this which you could expand even a little bit further. If I could invite you, David, if you have a Tanach open or something.
David: Yeah, I do.
Rabbi Fohrman: If we could just go to AA2, the moment when Joseph is chosen as the favorite of the king and given a fancy garment. That would be Genesis 41:42. In Hebrew that's going to be, "vayalbeish oto bigdei sheish." So actually, I would point out that there's another time also when Joseph is given a fancy garment and is chosen by the king. It's almost a predicate to this. It's a little bit earlier in the chapter, if you go back to 41:14. "Vayishlach Paroh Vayikra et Yosef vayeritzuhu min habor vayegalach vayechaleif simlotav." So that vayegalach vayechaleif simlotav, when he takes a haircut and he gets new clothes, "vayavo el Paroh," and he comes to Pharaoh.
So in a way, that's almost like a forerunner of what's happening. He hasn't been elevated yet, but he's been taken out of prison. He's been chosen to be the one who will be taken out of prison, and he's been given decent clothes instead of his prison rags. This foreshadows him being chosen to be the one who's going to be the great leader over Egypt and given not just regular clothes, but given sort of the clothes of royalty. So it's almost like 41:14 is the antecedent for the verse which you've talked about.
What's interesting is if you look in that verse, you'll notice that right before that happens, vayeritzuhu min habor. It specifically mentions taking him out of that pit. Notice that even the language of pit is unusual because where Joseph was wasn't really a pit. It was a prison. It was called a beit hasohar, but it's almost like the Torah, in using the word pit, is kind of bringing you back to that earlier story of the pit. Of course, that's the story where Joseph is actually stripped of his fancy clothes when he goes in the pit as well.
Anyway, that was something which I had noticed as I was going through it. I think it dovetails with that chiasm you're finding.
So if you can, just take us down through the rest of Vayeishev, if you would. So it sounds like you'd seen these outer pairs and then you kind of got closer and closer towards the center. Is that right, in the beginning?
David: Yeah. That's how it went at first. More specifically, this is what actually happened, I think I remember is that I had this outer section and started filling in more of that. Then of course I Googled something like "Vayeishev as a chiasm" just to see, like, am I the first? Is this a thing?
I remember the first result I saw was in a Christian website, I forget which one it was. It didn't identify Vayeishev as a whole, but it actually was complementing what I had so far by focusing on the very middle story, the story of Judah and Tamar. So I had already started that a little bit, but I hadn't really filled that in much. So using that, that's how I kind of filled in -- just cogitating over it more and as you said, digesting it and looking at it again and again, that's how I filled in Vayeishev.
What happened was, as a result of that I was self-satisfied, wow, I found that the whole Vayeishev is a chiasm. This is a big chiasm, it's an entire parsha. I thought that was pretty amazing. Then temporarily, for then, almost like you described, I was just sort of like, complacent about that. It never even entered my mind that it might even be bigger than the entire parsha of Vayeishev.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. Really fascinating. If I can, I just want to ask you to take us down here towards the center. The reason why is, one of the fascinating parts about chiasms are their centers. In Aleph Beta land we've talked about this a lot, that in the center of a chiasm you expect to find something central which is either a turning point or a center of gravity around which everything revolves.
I want to explore with you what you found at the center of all of this. So taking us down, just looking through the pairs, you've got Joseph is brought down to Egypt in AH1 and AH2. Joseph is brought down to Egypt and sold to Potiphar, and Joseph is brought down to Egypt and sold to Potiphar. Those are bookends, by the way, pretty much. The story of Judah and Tamar is bookended by the Torah telling you that Joseph was taken down to Egypt on the way in, and then on the way out, as we leave the story of Judah and Tamar, again we hear that Joseph was taken down to Egypt.
Although, interestingly, the language is a bit different. The first time around, when Joseph goes down to Egypt, let's take a look at it as we go into Chapter 38, towards the end of 37. "V'hamedanim machru oto el Mitzrayim l'Potiphar seris Paroh sar hatabachim." Then in 39:1, "V'Yosef hurad Mitzrayimah."
Now, what's also interesting, David, what I feel you could have added into this, is that if you look at the chiasm there -- what David is pointing out is that Chapter 39, Verse 1 is "V'Yosef hurad Mitzrayimah vayikneihu Potiphar seris Paroh," and Joseph was brought down to Egypt and Potiphar, the eunuch of Pharaoh, bought him. David is suggesting that that parallels the story -- that's the verse right after the Judah and Tamar story ends -- that parallels the verse right before the story of Judah and Tamar, where we hear about Potiphar again. That is "V'hamedanim machru oto el Mitzrayim," just as the Medanites sold him down to Egypt to "Potiphar seris Paroh sar hatabachim," to Potiphar. So the parallel is, Joseph goes down to Egypt, sold to Potiphar.
One of the interesting contrasts here, interestingly, is sort of grammatically the language here. The language is active in Chapter 37, going in, and it's passive in Chapter 39. "V'Yosef hurad Mitzrayimah," and Joseph was taken down to Egypt. We don't know who, he was just taken down. Whereas going in, we heard about how the Medanites actively sold him down.
The other thing which I thought was interesting is that the words, "V'Yosef hurad Mitzrayimah," that specific word hurad from the root yarad, that Joseph went down to Egypt, also shows up on the other side of the chiasm right around there. In other words, look at the very next verse. "V'hamedanim machru oto el Mitzrayim l'Potiphar seris Paroh sar hatabachim," 38:1 is "Vayehi ba'eit hahee vayeired Yehuda mei'eit echav." It was at that moment that Judah went down from amongst his brothers.
It almost seems like -- sometimes you have this which is that when you see pairs in a chiasm, all sorts of interesting things can happen in those pairs. One of the things which you see here, I think, happening in the pair, is that a pair splitting. If you look at Chapter 39, you can look at it two ways. If you look at it from the standpoint of Joseph going down to Egypt and Potiphar, then Chapter 39, Verse 1, the outro of the Judah and Tamar story, parallels the verses right before the story of Judah and Tamar, of Joseph being sold to Egypt and picked up by Potiphar.
If you focus on the idea of going down in that verse, then the outro actually parallels the very next verse, which is "Vayehi ba'eit hahee vayeired Yehuda mei'eit echav," that at that moment Judah went down from amongst his brothers. It's almost like there's a little, tiny chiasm here in Chapter 37:38. Take a look at the end of 37, going into 38. In the very beginning of 38 you have Judah going down from amongst his brothers. Then in the middle you have, right before that, Joseph being sold to Egypt, without the word 'going down'.
But immediately right before that, in 37:34 you have Jacob tearing his clothes, mourning his son. Then everyone goes to comfort him and when he won't be comforted, Jacob says, "Ki eireid el beni avel she'olah," I will go down to my son in mourning. So you have a little ABA chiasm, which is Jacob saying, I'm going to go down to my son, followed by Joseph being sold going to Pharaoh, followed by Judah going down. Then all of that going down, being sold to Egypt and going to Pharaoh and then Judah going down, all of that gets sort of telescoped and paralleled in one single verse on the other side of the Judah and Tamar story with 39:1, "V'Yosef hurad Mitzrayimah vayikneihu Potiphar seris Paroh sar hatabachim."
It's kind of magical, sometimes, what the Torah does with these chiasms. Just to point out, what's the significance of that? Why does it matter? So one of the implications of what David found in general is that if you look at the introduction to the Anker Bible, or the Anker Bible commentaries on Chapter 38, one of the things which the commentators will focus on is how out of place Chapter 38 seems so be. How the story of Judah and Tamar is the only chapter that seems to not belong in the Joseph story. The entire second half of Genesis is all about Joseph and here you have the story of Judah and Tamar and what's it doing there? It just seems to be this unconscionable interruption in the Joseph story.
So various scholars will pontificate about that. One of the consensus opinions what that Chapter 38 was a later interpellation. That there was somebody from the Tribe of Judah felt back that there was so much Joseph-focused texted in Genesis and figured let's throw in some Judah-focused texts that and it has nothing to do with the surrounding narrative, it's just haphazardly plopped in there.
Well if you take a look at David's chiasm it completely blows that theory to smithereens, right? Because David, what you found, was that the Judah and Tamar story is not only plopped in out of nowhere, it's the exact center of a very intricate pattern that actually takes up all of Genesis and Exodus together. How deeply it's woven into it. The point I'm making here is that one of the things that's happening in this little pair, the AH1 pair where Joseph is brought down to Egypt and sold to Pharaoh; and AH2 pair, Joseph is brought down to Egypt and sold to Pharoah, is that in that pair the Torah's going out of it's way to actually connect the Joseph story to the Judah and Tamar story, within this little A-B-A chiasm leading into Judah and Tamar.
Jacob says, I'm going to go down to my grave mourning Joseph. Then Joseph is sold to Potiphar and goes to Egypt. Then Judah goes down from amongst his brothers. There's this little literary device, kind of, nailing the story of Judah and Tamar to this story of Joseph.
David: I think that's great. That adds some really cool additional pieces to the chiasm that I didn't even have here. As far as that point, this is all addressing the question of why is this story of Judah and Tamar at the center, of first of all, Vayeishev, and center of the story of Joseph, as you were saying, Also, why is it the center of the entire chiasm, which it is. I have a lot to say about that. If there's time, when we talk about the chiasm, I think there's some really important points to make about that. But I think it's significant that this is the center on a number of levels.
On the most micro-level, just in terms of the story itself, with the Joseph story and the story of Vayeishev, without yet focusing on why is the center of the entire Torah, the entire chiasm, which is Genesis and Exodus, but just within this story itself, I think exactly to your point I think that it is highlighting this parallel between Joseph and Judah. Specifically, to your point about vayeired and hurad. Can you guys see my mouse when I move it like this? Okay. So it's clear that this part and this part is Josephs' decline, as low has you can get, and then gradually his rise. To your point about the imagery of yeridah and the opposite of yeridah.
What I think, in part, by getting the story of Judah and Tamar in the middle of this, it's highlighting a parallel between Joseph's decline and rise and in a different sense, which we can talk about, Judah's decline and rise. After Joseph is sold, the family is destroyed, it's a total disaster and Judah is, I'm sure, not in a good place. Sure enough, as you say, vayeired is the first thing he does. He goes down. He doesn't just go down geographically, he goes down -- in the beginning of Chapter 38, this middle section, is pretty pathetic. Everything single thing that happens in this story is either disgusting, pathetic or at the lowest level that Judah really reaches. The story also has Judah's descent and Judah's sort of personal redemption. I think that's highlighted by it being put in the middle of Joseph's decline and rise.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yes. So when you have this chiasm, in essence, aside from these individual pairs, the two main themes in Vayeishev are basically the decline of Joseph and the decline of Judah; and then the rise of Judah and the rise of Joseph. Or the spiritual redemption of Judah and the physical, and perhaps spiritual redemption, of Joseph as well.
Along those lines, if I could actually point to one of the pairs within the chiasm that I found really interesting. If you take a look for a moment at AG1 and AG2. See that? I'm going to actually quibble with one word in your document over here. Which is the word, forcibly. I think in AG1, forcibly is correct. I'm not so sure it's correct in AG2. I think by removing that word you begin to see something of the power of the pair. Let me just give you a little background of what I'm talking about.
One of the fascinating things about chiasms in general is that if you ask yourself why do chiasms exist? Why are they even there? Let me just point that out to you. David, I'm wondering, did anyone ever ask you this? When you found this and you shared this with people. Did they say, oh David, this is a very cool little pattern, but who cares? So you found some cool poetry. You found some patterns, so big deal. So why does it matter to you that the patterns -- why is this pattern even there? What's the significance of the pattern?
If I was, what I call Joe on the plane, some shmo that you just met and showed me this, and I asked you that question. How would you respond to that?
David: Yeah. I would say that once you know that it really is there, which I feel very confident of, then you've got to think that it's there to tell you something important. It's unlikely that it would be there and just be there. I mean, other than maybe the extent that it's sort of like the Torah Codes used to be 20 years ago. People discovered the codes in the Torah that were amazing until they weren't. You could maybe argue that they're just there to be, as you said just like with Chapter 38, showing that that's not a later insertion but there's an integrity to the entire structure of the Bible.
To your point, I think that it's got to be more. There's got to be a message, a big message, to the extent that it's a big chiasm covering all of Genesis and Exodus. Yeah, I do have a lot of thoughts about what this particular one is teaching. What the message of it is. Yeah, I agree, it has to be teaching something.
Rabbi Fohrman: I would argue, not only -- it's probably teaching a lot of things. It's teaching something main, like there's probably an overall idea to this. The short answer is that the Torah, as beautiful as chiasms are, and they are beautiful, the Torah is probably not putting them just because they're beautiful. They're putting them there because they have implications that matter.
In other words, it's almost like to go back to David's thing that the said before that he was reading the Torah without any preconceived notions. Just trying to erase everything he knew about it. In a way, what David was doing, was reading the Torah in concert with its oldest commentator. I would say the oldest commentator of the Torah is the Torah itself. Essentially what is a chiasm but it's layered commentary within the Torah where the Torah is commenting on itself. Which is mind blowing if you think about it because books usually don't comment on themselves. You have later books that comment on earlier books. The notion of a book commenting on itself in a recursive way is mind blowing. But that's what a chiasm does.
In other words, if you think about it, a chiasm is the Torah's way of saying, okay, there are all these pairs. Now the pairs actually comment on each other. If you want to understand what's going on in AG1, you've got to look in AG2 because AG2 is almost like a kind of pair, or commentary. It's like stereo vision. It's like saying why do you have two eyes? We have two eyes because what I see with one eye is not exactly what I see with a different eye. There are two different perspectives on one thing. When my mind brings those things together, I see it with stereo vision
The Torah is giving me stereo vision on all of its narratives by giving me these pairs and allowing me to say, what's going on here is playing off there. To really understand what's happening you have to understand what's happening over here. Each of those pairs is marvelous. So there are macro meanings, what's the center is one interesting thing about the chiasm. How far out does it go? What are the edges? How big is the unified portion of text that's another thing. But each of the pairs are also really important, just by the way of going back to what I was talking about in AG1. It strikes me that this is one of the examples of how profound a message you can have in a single pair. What David found, which is 38 pairs, let's just take a look at AG1 for a moment.
What David's referencing there is Joseph forcibly removed garment is used to trick his master into thinking something horrible about him. The master, in this case, is the father. Joseph's clothes are torn from him. "Vayafshitu et ketanto et ketonet hapasim asher alav." They take away his special clothes and his father is tricked into thinking that he has been killed. Thinking that something horrible about him has happened. Causing his master intense aggravation.
Now David is paralleling that to AG2. Another time when Joseph loses his clothes. The only other time in this story where Joseph loses his clothes. There too he loses his clothes. Now the story there is in the story of the wife of Potiphar. What happens there is that Joseph leaves his cloak in the hands of the wife of Potiphar. What happens is, there again, his master, in this case not his father but Potiphar, is tricked into thinking something horrible about him. Which is that he's committed adultery with Potiphar's wife. That also causes his master intense aggravation.
Now, think about just the implications there for just a moment. Just meditate upon that for a moment. There's so much meaning just in that pair. One thing that comes to mind, is Chazal. One of the strange things about chiasm, and one of the things people ask me about a lot -- and David, I'm wondering if they've asked you about a lot -- is like, David, where do you come up with this new-fangled thing? Where does it come from? I mean, you found this fancy structure but if it's really true how come the Sages didn't see it? Why is it nowhere in Midrash? Do Midrashim talk about chiasm?
This is a tricky question because you don't find it so often. Maybe here or there. It's not something that the rabbis refer to overtly, certainly not a lot, chiasms. But what's interesting is that a number of the comments that they make are suggestive that they've seen these things. This is one of those moments where there's a comment like that. Just in reading that pair, David, it occurs to me that the Chazal, which I think Rashi quotes. Rashi says, If you go to AG1, Joseph's forcibly removed garment is used to trick his master into thinking something horrible about him.
Now what is the horrible thing that he's tricked into thinking? The words of the text are, "chaya ra'a achalasu," a terrible beast had devoured him. That's what he's tricked into thinking. Now if you look at the Midrash, you know what the Midrash says on "chaya ra'a achalasu," a terrible beast has devoured him? "Zu eishet Potiphar," this is the wife of Potiphar. What a remarkable thing to say. What a crazy thing to say. What do you mean, "zu eishet Potiphar?"
Well, Chazal with wink and a nod are showing you the other side of the chiasm. What is the terrible thing? The other terrible thing that mirrors getting killed is having adultery with the wife of Potiphar. Which the chiasm would suggest is akin to Joseph's death. I.e. Joseph can die in one of two ways. He can die physically, by being devoured by a wild beast, or he can die if he commits an adulterous relationship with the wife of his master. He's also out of the family and dead for all practical purposes. So it's almost like when he falsely hear, "chaya ra'a achalatu," it was mirroring this other moment where Joseph's life, so to speak, is in danger. Chazal weren't' just making it up, it was the other side of the chiasm.
By the way, there's language in the text that mirrors this too. Remember when Joseph resists the wilds of Potiphar's wife, David, the language that he uses to her is "eich e'eseh hara'a hagedolah hazot v'chatati l'Elokim," how could I possibly do this terrible evil thing? But the language is, "hara'a hagedolah hazot," how could I do this terrible thing? In Jacob's language, when he was talking about the horrible thing that happened to him in AG1 also evokes that same word, ra'a. "Chaya ra'a achalatu." This terrible beast devoured him or a terrible sin that devoured him. The text itself is using that language.
So Chazal were picking up on these things. Then you say, well were they ignorant of the chiasm? Or did they make reference to it with a wink and a nod? Here, there and a couple of other places. It's a fascinating kind of thing to contemplate.
David: Yeah. That's amazing. Just to add on to that because to your point, there are a few of these pairs where, as you say, Chazal sort of implicitly nodded to it, whether they were aware of the chiasm or just obviously or just of the parallel. Either way it's significant and it happens in a few places. Actually, there's another Midrash on this very pair that is also along those lines.
It starts with the fact that there's another linguistic similarity in-between AG1 and AG2. That is that the somewhat unusual word -- let's see, it's the first and second time this word ever appears in Tanach -- is the word, "vayima'ein." In AG1, Jacob, during his intense aggravation, Jacob, Joseph's father, refuses, "vayima'ein," to be consoled. Then you have the second time the word ever appears, and it's not a common word, in AG2. I think that's the one with the shalshelet trope, where Joseph has some hesitation. But he refuses, and his refusal is the refusal to be give in to the temptation with Potiphar's wife.
There's a Midrash also on AG2, a pretty famous, a very famous Midrash, where it says that Joseph was tempted and close to giving in to the temptation of Potiphar's wife. Then an image of his father, Rashi quotes this too I think, an image of his father appears to him and that's what prevents him from giving in to the temptation. I was just thinking that I noticed this in terms of an appendix of the article, but I was just thinking that it shows a parallel of the vayima'ein, of the refusal.
Basically, what it's saying is that Jacob had refused to give up on Joseph, here on AG1. That's really what vayima'ein was. Then down here Joseph is refusing to betray, or to give up on the values that he learned from his father, from his home.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yes, and just to -- and I think you're absolutely right about that -- just to deepen the point that you're making there for a moment. The two vayima'ein's there, there's a second Chazal. There are rally two Chazal's together referencing that chiasm and deepening the connection. One of the things that Chazal says, and Rashi quotes it, is why Jacob was vayima'ein. Why did Jacob refuse to be consoled? Why wasn't he consoled? How come he said, I'm going to go to my grave mourning my son. Nobody mourns forever and ever and ever and never gets over it. The way of the world is that you always get over it.
Rashi says, "ein adam mekabel tanchumen al hachai v'sober shemeit." That a person can't let go. When you stop mourning it's your way of recovering from a loss. You can recover from a loss if it's really a loss. But if it's a fake loss, if someone's alive and you think they're dead, there's no recovering from the loss because the loss isn't real.
Now what's remarkable about what Rashi is saying is that Jacob doesn't know that Joseph is alive. In other words, Jacob is not stating a mere psychological truth. He's stating a metaphysical truth. Do you understand? In other words, it's even if I, the father, think that my child is dead and good and gone, but in fact if unbeknownst to me he's not and he's alive, the mere fact of him being alive will influence my ability to forget. I won't be able to forget. I won't be able to move on because unawares to me the child is still alive. So God doesn't give the gift of forgetting unless the person's really there. It's a remarkable thing.
What that means is that on some level Jacob leaves open in his mind, even though he thinks it's slam dunk. He's seen the evidence. He's seen the bloody coat. He leaves open this possibility that Joseph is still alive. Leaving open the possibility that Joseph is still alive is meaningful.
Then what happens in the other vayima'ein is almost the reciprocal of that. Which is on the other side of the chiasm, when Joseph refuses to give in to the wilds of the seduction and Chazal say he saw a vision of his father. What that suggests is that Jacob's subconscious inability to let go of Joseph. The fact that Jacob's subconscious is holding onto Joseph reflects itself in the subconscious of Joseph in the second vayima'ein. Even as Joseph finds himself tempted by Potiphar's wife, his subconscious mind is holding onto his father the same way that his father's subconscious mind was holding onto him. So, again, the two vayima'ein's at the two ends of the chiasm really finish each other. That's what I'm talking about when I said that the pairs are so full of meaning. There are 38 pairs here but the pairs comment on each other and shed light on each other in fascinating ways.
One other piece I'll just mention there in AG1 is, if you look at -- this is my little quibble about Joseph's forcibly removed garment. It's certainly true in AG1 I'm not so sure it's true in AG2. I think it might be one of the aspects of the meaning of the pair. Which is that if it's true that in a certain sense it's forcible in the wife of Potiphar. Which is that Joseph finds himself between a rock and a hard place. He finds himself in a very difficult situation, much as he found himself in a difficult situation when he was being thrown in the pit. But what's fascinating about it is that Joseph, if you had told me what's happening in the story of the pit, Joseph is fully victimized. Which is he's stripped of his coat without any choice. The language of the text is "vayashitu et kutanto," they stripped him of his cloak. He has no power.
What's fascinating is that in the second story, and now that you see it with David's chiasm, you see that it's a replay of the pit story. In other words, if you think about the larger meaning of that, if I'm Joseph with the story of the wife of Potiphar, one of the interesting questions is, was Joseph aware of David's chiasm? In other words, is it only the text who's telling us, the reader, about the chiasm? Or is Joseph, in the moment, at some level aware of the chiasm? What that means is, is Joseph aware of the déjà vu, the Yogi Berra déjà vu, all over again, moment that happening here?
Which is that as AG1 says, hey this isn't the first time I lost I've lost my clothes. I've lost my clothes before, This isn't the first time I was thrown in a pit. I was thrown in a pit before. I'm about to go down into prison, I'm leaving my clothes with somebody who can throw me into prison. And, what's going to happen? I'm leaving my clothes and I'm vulnerable to my colleague lying about me and saying something horrible about me. The same way that I was lied about that I was dead the last time around. So I have post traumatic stress disorder. Every fibre of my being is screaming no, give into her, don't go into the pit. Don't let yourself be victimized.
One way of seeing it is don't let myself be victimized. Avoid the pit by giving in morally to her wilds. But Joseph, to his credit, actually says, no. I'm going to allow my clothes to be taken from me. The language of the text is very instructive. It's "vaya'azov bigdo b'yadah," and he left his coat in her hand. What's fascinating about that is the action is all in Joseph's court. Joseph is choosing to leave his coat. He's making a conscious choice. He's saying, take my coat. I'm going to slip out of my coat. So in a certain sense I'm forced to leave you with my clothes, that's true, but in another sense I'm not really forced. I could have given in to you. I could have succumbed to the seduction. My only way out of the seduction is to make a choice to leave you with my clothes. In that choice, Joseph becomes the master of the situation.
We talked before about this being the redemption of the story of Joseph. This is one of the ways that the story is being redeemed. He's got this really great question, which is in a way, one of the ways to think about it is, what does loyalty look like? If you think about this question, the question of loyalty to his own father was an issue the first time. When Joseph was degraded in the first part of this chiasm, one of the issues is what does loyalty look like? I'm bringing back deep hara'a, I'm bringing back gossip of my brothers; I'm elevating myself over my brothers at the expense of them and sidling up to father. Is that really what loyalty looks like?
Then it's almost like God gives him the same challenge at the other end of the chiasm, with the second vayima'ein. The question is, what does loyalty look like to your master? You could if you want have fake loyalty. Nobody will be of the wiser if you give in to her and you can all pretend that you're loyal to her. But what if the only way you could be loyal to your boss, to your master, is by seeming to betray him. You're going to leave his cloak in his hands. Will you do that if that's the only way to be loyal? He says, yes, I will. It's at that point he really becomes the master of his fate. In the choice to leave his cloak by her it's almost exactly the same situation. Except for this choice that says, despite the PTSD I will willingly, willingly, go down into the be'or. I will willingly go down into prison. I choose this and the fact that I've chosen this gives me the strength, in a way, to master it. Again, I think it speaks to the power of these pairs.
David: Yeah. Yeah.
Rabbi Fohrman: David, if you could take me -- you had mentioned that you had some thoughts about the center. If you could elaborate on that and why that was important to you.
David: Sure. I mean, it's part of a broader -- unsurprisingly I think what is the center is very relevant to the broader question of what is the entire chiasm? What is it doing? What is its message? I know we only have a few minutes left so it's a bigger conversation, but I think that the chiasm itself is really answering some very fundamental questions. Which, rightfully so it should if it's capturing the entire narrative structure of the -- what I call the creation of Chosen Nation, Genesis and Exodus.
I don't know if we have a lot of time to go into it and give it the full treatment.
Rabbi Fohrman: I usually don't even remember how long we called this event for. Do you remember? Is it an hour and 15? What was it?
David: Yeah. I think it was until 8:45.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. So we've only got a few minutes. I'm sorry if I took up too much of that time.
David: No, no, it was great. I'm happy to come back also and do a Part 2. Whatever you want, but that was a great addition and insights. Just very briefly, I would just say that the point of the chiasm is to answer the very fundamental questions like, why was the world created? Why did God create man? Why were the Jewish People chosen? What is the mission of the Jewish People? Things like that.
Without going into too much about that I would say that over and over again, as you say, these pairs, the couplets are pairs in the chiasm. They're significant on a micro level and on a macro level. On a micro level, as you pointed out, both in general and with some specific examples, how the pairs are teaching things about each other. They're like two eyes, the fist situation tells me about the second and vice versa, they're complimenting each other and rounding out our understanding of them on a micro context.
But also I think that virtually all of the pairs are furthering the broader theme of the entire chiasm, which I think it's eliciting. Which is, in a nutshell, the idea of closeness of the Jewish People as a mission in order to bring God into this world. I think the world was created that you'd see A1 versus A2. God created this world in order for man to bring God into this world through holiness, through the Mishkan and ultimately the Beit HaMikdash. The way to do that is all about the -- why man was created was to exemplify and to develop the Torah. It's here, B1, God endows newly created man with a divine soul, paralleling the only other spiritual endowment by God to man, which is giving him the Torah.
In short, I think the central idea, but we need more time, but the essential idea is that the ultimate mission of the Jewish People is to exemplify God's law and God's Torah as a nation, and this is a story of the difficulty of them evolving. Of them becoming, going from individuals to a nation. But as a nation that exemplifies this in a holy land, as an extension of the Mikdash, in Israel, as not just a family but as a nation.
A nation has a king. A nation of Israel has its own government. It's not just a race. There's a reason why 1948 was important for her in modern times and there's a reason why Jewish People aren't just a people or a race but they're a nation. So at the core of this story really is the Jewish People, individuals turning into not just a family and not just a Chosen People, but a Chosen Nation. Which ultimately are going to have a kingdom in Israel.
Therefore, it makes sense, just from a thematic level, that at the very center of the whole thing -- although it's more than a little counter intuitive -- no one really gives much focus to the story of Judah and Tamar in Chapter 38, but that the very center of it is the literal seeds of the kingdom and ultimately the messiah, of the nation of Israel.
Just one other quick point is that not only thematically do I think that this is really very essentially - you never would have expected it at first flush in the obscure story of Judah and Tamar, but -- and by the way what I'm eluding to is the fact that Judah and Tamar, the children that they had, end up being the divine line for the kingdom for Jewish kings, and ultimately for the messiah. But also, that part of the idea of this chiasm, and the idea of this approach to studying the text, is to take the big picture. Not just look at narrowly one verse at a time, but to zoom out as this chiasm does, to see the bigger picture.
Well, if you really zoom out and look at the biggest picture, we don't just believe in the Torah, we believe in the whole Testament and the entire Tanach. The Torah is, besides being the Torah itself, is the introductory book to, in a certain sense, to the Tanach as a whole. I think if you look at the Tanach as a whole, and you really zoom out, what is the central theme of the Tanach? If you had to identify it, I would say it's pretty clearly the vicissitudes of the kingdom of Israel and ultimately the messiah that it leads to. All the stories about the kingdom. Not just that, but the degree to which it's successful in implementing God's law and serving as an example to the other nations.
So viewing the Torah as the first and most important book of the broader Tanach of which it is a part, it makes all the more sense that the conception of that leadership, of that kingship, is the center of the Torah viewed in that context.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. If I can, we're just going to go a few more minutes over because we started a little bit late. So just to amplify your point for a minute. You know, one of the interesting things about chiasms is that -- what I found David, and I'm wondering if you found this as well, -- informally, what I found is that a chiasm is full of all these pairs. There's like 38 pairs here in your chiasm. But there's one element that has no pair. The element that doesn't have the pair is the center.
So an interesting question, just from a literary standpoint, is what the center's pair? Is the center truly the one element without a pair? Or does even the center have a pair? To put it almost like metaphorically, that which we said about Shabbos. When Shabbos complains that it doesn't have a pair during the week. Does Shabbos have a pair and God comes along and says, yes, you have a pair. So what's the pair to the center in a chiasm? What I've always found is that typically the edges are the pair to the center. The center actually has two pairs, one at each edge.
It's kind of interesting, David, that in your diagram, whether you consciously believed that or not, you've actually used the color black for each of the two edges and you've used black for the center also. It's an interesting thing to meditate on. In a way, one of the things you're talking about, just now, is really the ways in which the edges reflect the center of the chiasm.
Maybe this is a good way to go out and maybe we can do a Part 2. It sounds like there's some appetite among our fans here to continue the discussion. Certainly, I have more to talk about and I'm sure you do too. So maybe we can do that in a future session.
Maybe a way to close this one is just to focus on what David was talking about in terms of the edges and the center here. Let's look at the edges carefully for a moment. The first edge is the beginning of the creation story itself. God creates the world for man by way of melachah and stopping on Shabbos. It is created over seven days. That reminds us of a very powerful thing at the very end of the Book of Exodus. Man creates the Tabernacle for God, so I'll just say what that means. God created the universe for man, man creates the Tabernacle for God.
Now, this actually is the theme ‑‑ these edges to the chiasm, might realize that there's a chiasm, but I actually did a Vayakheil video exactly on this idea. Which is that the way to understand, as you point out, by way of melachah (work). Work is the textual clue that clues you in, that oh, one second. There's something about this Tabernacle which is reminding me of the creation of the world. It's this use of the word work over and over again.
Man uses work, his creative power in the world to create a Tabernacle, and God used his creative power to create a universe. How is a Tabernacle the same as the universe? The answer is very elegant and sort of obvious, which is if you think about it, the universe is a place for man and the Tabernacle is a place for God. Or to elaborate on that a little bit, the universe isn't everything. When we think of the universe, the universe ‑‑ we think the universe is everything, but that's only from our perspective. From God's perspective of the universe isn't everything, God doesn't even live in the universe. God doesn't live in space and time, he lives in some other realm.
So what does God do? This is the Chassidic doctrine or the Kabbalistic doctrine of tzimtzum. God sort of contracts His everything to make room for this new baby called the universe and says I care enough about you, I love you enough humans, that I'm going to make this little place for you in Me everything, this little apartment for you in My everything. It's almost like a womb. Just like a womb ‑‑
Our Sages tell us, why is God called Makom (Place)? "Mipnei she'Hu mekomo shel olam." The world isn't His place, but He's the place of the world. His everything sort of encompasses the universe and it's almost like the womb, this place within God's world, the universe of all space of time is ensconced within God's larger universe, within God's larger world and God makes room for this place that's going to be just for us, and uses work to make this world of ours, to structure this world of ours within this sheltered place called the womb.
Similarly, we too do the same thing. We take our everything in the world of space and time and we create this little space in it and say this isn't for us, this is for God. We're going to structure it, we're going to use work to create this place, but what we're really doing, in a way, is we're ‑‑ in a way, and this gets to what you were talking about, David, when you talked about the purpose of it all, the meaning of it all.
You know, one of things we say about man is that he's Tzelem Elokim, that he's created in the image of God. But interestingly, the image of God says nothing about our destiny, it just says something about who we are. We are Godly in terms of being the image of God. But what are we meant to do? What's our meaning? What are we meant to accomplish? The chiasm that you found speaks to that, speaks to the larger question of purpose. Because what it really says is it's not just that man is created in the image of God in the sense that he is creative like God is creative. That he is endowed with certain creative principles. That's just the power of man, but what's his destiny?
The answer may well be that man's destiny is not just to be creative as God is creative. That's just a description of man. It's to create what God has created. God created a place for the one that he loves. God created this little universe in his everything because He cared about us, and he tended to it and made that a perfect place for us. What's our destiny? Our destiny is to make a place for the one that we love within our world.
That comes to expression, to one expression, in the Tabernacle, and that's the edges of chiasm. The Tabernacle parallels the creation of the world. I've an extended talk on Aleph Beta ‑‑ you can look at it and it's called The Secret of the Cherubs, which is a lengthy extension of this idea.
But getting to the point of the center of David's chiasm, which is the creation of the name. What is kingship? Kingship is the final stage of the creation of nationhood. Nationhood isn't just a bunch of people milling around in the land. It's an organized system whereas the people organized themselves into a nation around certain principles. That comes to its fruition via kingship, which is the exact center of this chiasm, the birth of Perez and ‑‑ as the scion of the Davidic dynasty.
What I would just leave off, David, is that it's fascinating when you think of the command to create the Tabernacle. There's that famous sort of homily and that man, that God says "V'asu li Mikdash," make for me a Tabernacle, "v'shachanti b'tocham." The words "v'shachanti b'tocham," that phrase is wondrously ambiguous. One way to read it is make for me a Tabernacle so that I can dwell among you in the Tabernacle. But another way to read it is make for a Tabernacle, and guess where I am going to dwell? I'm not just dwelling in the Tabernacle. "V'shachanti b'tocham," I'm going to dwell within you, i.e. within you as a nation.
In other words, if you love me enough to make me a place, guess where I'm going to be? I'm not just going to be in the place, I'm going to be within you. In other words, what's the real domicile for God in the world? It's not just this building that man has made. It's that if man cares enough to make this building for God and bring Him into the world, that's just an externalization of something else that's happening.
Which is we're making our peoplehood a vessel for God in the world. Which is God's coming into the world through what we're doing as a people, through the political organization that we've brought into the world, the spiritual organization that we've brought into the world. What happens as the nation and its kings, it's the nation itself is a vessel for God. In this way, the edges of the chiasm are perfectly mirroring its center.
It's almost like the edge of the chiasm is the externality and the center is the internal part of the chiasm, which is its internality. The edge of the chiasm is the external house, right. God makes the universe which is our external house to be in and we make the Tabernacle which is God's external house. But that's a symbol that allows something internal happen, which is our very nationhood becomes a vehicle, "v'shachanti b'tocham," for God in the world, which is the creation of the nation at the center of the chiasm.
So I think there is ‑‑ I don't know. It seems to me fascinatingly fruitful what it is that you found over here.
David: That's amazing. I can listen to this all day. I love this. This is really amazing. Yeah.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. So we've got actually a couple of moments and I realize we can actually ‑‑ if we can. David, can you stay with us for another moment or two if there is any questions?
Rabbi Fohrman: I've done a lot of talking and I noticed that folks have been kind of active on the discussion board, but I just want to give folks a chance. If there's anybody here who wants to ask David or me, but principally David. If there's any questions that you have for David, let me kind of open up the floor.
David, if you can unshare your screen for a moment, just so that we can see people.
David: Yeah. Sure.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Hold on for a second. If anybody wants to raise their hand, we can kind of unmute them. If you'd like to jump on in and make a comment or ask a question, here's your chance to do so. All right. Ike Wan (ph), has got his hand up. So, Ike, why don't you unmute yourself and come say hello.
Ike: Hi there. First of all, an amazing presentation to both Davids. Thank you very, very much. I arrive a little late, so I don't know whether this question was answered. But how long did it take you to map this out, David Schwartz?
David: It's kind of like the 18‑20 Rule (ph). So the first part ‑‑ I would say it took me a couple of weeks to get the majority of it, but that last 20 percent took a really long time until I really perfected it. But that's kind of how it went. I was describing earlier how I initially noticed it about Parashas Vayeishev and then I was like complacent that, you know, oh, wow, the entire Vayeishev is a chiasm.
Then, one day I just woke up and I ‑‑ a good among of time later, I don't remember how much later, but I just woke up and said, wait a minute. Why am I arbitrarily assuming that it ends there? That's when it got really exciting for me because then I almost like ‑‑ the same way that Rabbi Fohrman was describing at the beginning. I felt like I was finding ‑‑ I felt like I was discovering, not just creating. I felt that I was discovering something that's already there. I was almost like an archologist finding layers, like Rabbi Fohrman said and I just started going back and back and back.
It just kept on amazingly that like, wow, it's here. Then it just brought me all the way back to the beginning, but that took a while.
Rabbi Fohrman: I'll just say, to add in there, of what ‑‑ to pick up on David's words. That you're not creating, you're discovering, right, is very true. It's almost like archeology. It's that when you find something real, it's not about your own creativity really. I mean, there's a little bit of that in terms of interpretation, but you're really doing is you're finding something that is there. I don't know, David, if you want to speak to this, but you must have -- maybe you'll let me just ask you this one question, if I can. What is it like to find something like this?
Like, when you're walking around and you've found this. Do you ever find yourself kind of meditating on a walk in the forest or around those leafy sections of Teaneck, you're just by yourself. You're not talking to anyone. What does it feel like to feel, okay, I saw this. I don't know how many other people have seen this. It's like, did you just see something sort of private and special? What was that like for you?
David: I mean, so it was very, very exciting. Especially that second stage. The first step is just establishing that there is something. Then once you know there is something, then the subsequent steps are no longer noticing something. Or, this is cool. But now you're actually discovering other parts of it. Then you really feel like the archeologist that's just digging for the -- where is the bottom of this thing? Because I already know I found it. Now how far down does it go? So that was a very exciting stage.
Then I also, as you were saying, am I the only one who knows this? That's when I started reaching out to some other people and saying, am I totally biased? I think this is the coolest thing I've ever seen in the world. I might be a little biased. So I started asking other people. Like, Rabbi Grossman and other people. That's why I started doing that, to see if it wasn't just me.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. One of the things which I'm working on lately is a piece on the two trees in the Garden. I'm not going to get into it, but one of the aspects that emerges from it is that there are really two ways of thinking about the Torah.
One way of thinking about the Torah, and it doubles as -- Deborah Tannen, in her book, You Just Don't Understand, talks about what she calls archetypically masculine and feminine kinds of communication. What she says, without getting into too much detail, you can read the book, but we're out of time. So this is my last two minutes and I'll let you go. In Deborah Tannen's book, she argues that men and women sort of typically, or archetypically, communicate differently.
That a masculine communication typically is about conveyal of information. If I have something to talk to you about, so I'll make some time to talk to you about it and I'll convey information. You'll convey information back to me. If we have nothing to talk about, so we'll sit and fish for a while but we won't say anything because there's no information to share.
Feminine communication also deals with the transmittal of information. Because what else are you going to talk about? But it's not an end in and of itself. It's a means to an end. The transmission of information is actually doing something subtle. Which is, it's creating a relationship between the two partners, through the exchange of information. Therefore, talking is not important, in and of itself, just for the conveyal of information, but for the relationship that arises by the interaction. You've got to talk about something, so you talk about that information.
To me, one of the interesting questions is, what is the Torah? To what extent is it masculine in communication? That God is like, okay, humans. Here are the things that I need you to know.
Is there an aspect of feminine communication in the Torah? To me, I would just leave you to ponder. When you find a chiasm like this and you go walking in the woods part of it is, whatever else this chiasm means. Whatever it's meant to teach me about even large questions about the meaning of life and the meaning of the Jewish people and all of that. But the feeling of reaching out with your own mind and discovering something like this that was a product of God's mind. In the sense that, David, you might have been the only one to have seen this in hundreds and hundreds of years. Right?
To reach out with your own mind and feel like I just connected with the mind of the Master of the Universe in some remarkable way, beyond and through the generations and through time. We've just shared something together. Whatever else it means, just the fact of that connection itself, the relationship of that connection is itself mind-blowing and meaningful and is almost as meaningful, personally, as whatever else the information meaning of the chiasm is.
So, to me, that's my blessing to you. That's something that you should be able to revel in and take with you because it's life-changing to feel like you have that connection. That's a facet of Torah that I'm convinced -- it's not just discovering a chiasm. It's any time that you feel like you've understood something in this document, you've understood something of the mind of the Creator and there's something wonderous and magical about that. All the more so when you find something like this.
So, David, we've kept our folks for about 15 minutes longer than they were expecting. So I'm going to sign off now and just thank you so much for being a part of this. It sounds like we've got a lot of folks who would like a Part 2. So David, if you're into that, maybe we'll schedule that and we can talk about some further implications.A.
David: Absolutely. I'd love to.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Wonderful. Okay, folks. Thank you so much for being a part of this. Just to let you know, there will be a recording of this. There may even be a transcript of it. So we will send that out to both groups. Which is to say, PC, Producers Circle members within Aleph Beta will get that, as well as members of the Young Israel. You're free to pass it around throughout the Young Israel community to the folks who weren't able to hear as well as folks who would like to review it, who were here.
So thank you all for joining. David, thank you so much for coming on. This has been a fascinating discussion. I look forward to a chance to get to do a Part 2 with you. Thank you so much.
David: Thank you. It's been amazing.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Good night to everybody.