Geoffrey Stern

Get Guts

Get Guts

Parshat Shelach - Geoffrey Stern with Rabbi Adam Mintz, visit with Rav Abraham Isaac Kook, Rabbi Yitz Greenberg and listen to a live recording or Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.  We explore what the story of the Biblical Scouts teaches us about whining, Jewish Power, Jewish Nationalism, Zionism, Jewish Renewal, love and respect for authority? So gird your loins and take a deep breath as we Get Guts. Sefaria Source Sheet: Transcript: Geoffrey Welcome, everybody, to Madlik, our weekly disruptive Torah, four o'clock Eastern Time on clubhouse and later published as a podcast. If you do listen to this as a podcast and you want to like us or give us some stars, that would be well appreciated. Today, we are going to discuss, the following narrative.  Picture the Jewish people in the desert coming out of Egypt. They're getting close to the border with the promised land, literally the land that was promised to them. And they sent out 12 either spies or scouts to scout the land. And there's one scout from each tribe and they're instructed to go to the country (Numbers, Chapter 13 and 14) to determine whether it's strong or weak, few or many.  Are the people that dwell in there, good or bad are the towns they live in open or fortified. Is the soil rich or poor? Is it wooded or not? Really a total fact-finding mission.  And the story recounts how they get there. And it's harvest festival and they harvest some grapes that have become almost iconic in terms of how large they were. And then they lodge their report "and ten of them say, we came to the land you sent to us. It does indeed flow with milk and honey. And this is its food." And they showed them the grapes. However, and here's the however, the people who inhabit the country are powerful and the cities are fortified and very large. Moreover, we saw anakites (giants) and they go on as they're talking. The other two was Joshua and a guy named Caleb, and he hushed the people before Moses and he said, let's just go up. We shall gain possession of it. So Joshua and Caleb were enthusiastic about going ahead to the Promised Land. But they continued speaking and they said we cannot attack that people for it is stronger than we. It is one that devours its settlers, Eretz ochelwet yoshveha... a land that literally eats its inhabitants and then they go back and they say the final punch line and it says, and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves and so we must have looked to them. And ultimately the story ends with obviously God being extremely upset. Here is a people that he took the trouble of redeeming from slavery to freedom, and it ultimately is mired in a slavery; exile mentality. And can't make the switch. And they want to go back to Egypt. They would rather be taken care of and be slaves. And this story ends with God saying, let me get rid of them all, right, now and Moses, I will take you and Joshua and Caleb and the believers into the land. And Moses convinces him not to do that and God forgives them. And the language that he uses to forgive them is the penultimate forgiveness verses of the Torah that we use on Yom Kippur. And ultimately, that whole generation is to die out and a new generation is to come into the land. So I'm going to stop right here and ask you, Rabbi Adam and anyone else who wants to participate, what is the takeaway from this story at even the most superficial level? Adam There is so much. Thank you, Geoffrey, for the for the introduction and for just kind of the background of the story, You know, at least one piece of the take away is that you need to trust. You need to trust in God and you need to trust in ourselves that the mistake that the people, the Jews made the desert was you know, there were a lot of different ways to understand the report of the spies, but they chose the way that it was the most scary, the most intimidating. They didn't trust in themselves. They didn't trust in God. And that's what got them in trouble. So I think the first lesson is a lesson about trust. Geoffrey  And faith and confidence Adam Trust and faith I'm putting together correct That's my first take away Geoffrey But of course, to move you forward, there is that kind of telling comment where they said they didn't say we'd looked like grasshoppers to them. They said we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and we must have looked like grasshoppers to them, too. What is that add? Adam That means that if you're insecure, then, you know, that's your downfall. If you think that your grasshoppers, then other people can pick that up in a minute. And they saw themselves as being weak. And the minute they saw themselves as being weak, they were weak and they'll be able to take advantage of them. Geoffrey So it's really as much about faith in God as it is about faith in oneself.  Self-esteem. Adam Right. And I'm a big believer that this story is not only about faith in God, it's about faith in oneself. Geoffrey So to raise the bar a little bit, the midrash seems to have the consensus that this took place on a very perspicuous day in the Jewish calendar. It took place on Tisha B'Av and it's recounted Tisha B'av, as you probably all know, is the day the greatest calamity in the history of the Jewish people occurred.  When the temple was destroyed.  According to tradition, both temples were destroyed on the same day. And the midrash and the Mishnah gives a long list of other calamities that either foreshadowed or followed afterwards. But this took place on Tisha B'aV.  And the Midrash says that when the people cried after hearing the report from the scouts, the Midrash says it was a Bechi Shel Chinam... It was an unjustified crying... a whining if you will. And because they cried, the Jewish people in the desert cried for no good reason. They would be destined to cry for good reason for the rest of the generations. And those of you who know Jewish tradition about Tisha B'av, cannot fail to hear in the bechi Shel Chinam...  this crying for no reason, an echo of the traditional reason that the temple was destroyed. And that was because of sinat chinam.... of hatred that was unjustified .... person to person. So what do you make of this counterpoint between these two various reasons for the beginning of all the calamities of the Jewish people beginning at that moment and both using this unjustified emotion? Adam  Let's take that midrash, that Midrash that you quote, Geoffrey, that you cried for no reason. Great phrase... you whine because you whine, I'm going to give you a reason to really cry. What does that mean? What that means is that we need to take a certain amount of responsibility. And if we're going to whine, God is going to give us a reason to whine. We can't whine, we need to be strong, and we need to have courage. We need to have faith in ourselves and in God. And if we can't do that, then God is going to punish us. He's going to give us a reason to cry. I think that's such a strong idea. Geoffrey And then all that is true. But I want to set it up as a counterpoint to "sinat Chinam". to blaming the destruction of the temple on the sins of the Jews. And what I'd love to do is to paint a picture that was inspired to me by Rav Abraham Yitzhak Kook, the first chief rabbi of the State of Israel, who actually took this midrash of baseless crying. And remember, this is an ultra-orthodox rabbi who breaks with the rest of the ultra-orthodox who believe that it is not up to man, it is not up to us to fabricate of faith and to take our land and to take the initiative. And he says, no, absolutely not that it is it is ours and it is our responsibility not to be small, but to be great. And this baseless whining, if you will, was the core of not only the narrative that we're reading about this Shabbat in this parsha, but is the core of the narrative of exile, of diminution, of oppression of the Jewish people through the ages. And I think if you add on to that context, part of that context is that the Jewish tradition for 2000 years of exile said that the Jewish people were exiled because they did something wrong. And this was something that was begun by the Jews, themselves in the prophets, Jeremiah and others, but clearly something that was literally embraced by the non-Jews who said if you are stateless, you must be deserving of this punishment. And so, in a sense, this baseless whining, this baseless diminution of yourself, I think is a counterpoint. And I don't want to focus less on the sin of hatred one against another and more on the fact of it's a sin that's keeping us away and that somehow or other we have to do something, maybe go to synagogue and pray, as opposed to taking our future into our hands and doing what Joshua and Caleb said, which is let's get up and go and take this land. Do you see that counterpoint Rabbi? Adam [That’s a very interesting counterpoint. And I think that that's really the lesson of the whole scary counterpoint is the lesson. Right? Geoffrey I think so. I think so. It's one also of sadness and joy and so Rav Kook, when he describes this, he describes it in the context of we should be rejoicing on Tisha B'av, because one day Tisha B'av is going to be the happiest day. And that day will happen when we take our fate into our own hands. Adam I want to know what that means, taking fate into our own hands. What does that mean to you? Geoffrey So I'd like to move forward to answer that question to another theologian who's actually still alive, named Yitz Greenberg. And Yitz Greenberg talks about the Third Era of Judaism. And he actually describes that before the Holocaust, we lived in a world where we were waiting for divine redemption, and we were trying to make ourselves purer so that we would deserve divine redemption. And he says after the Holocaust, many people would want to talk about the "hester Panim", the fact that God's divine presence was hidden. And he says that's the wrong syntax. He talks about after the Holocaust we now have to talk about "was man missing" and that man now has to take into his or her own hands their future. That's his takeaway from the absence of God, which is the positive flip side of that, which is the ultimate responsibility for the presence of man. Adam What do you make of that? Let me turn it back to you, Geoffrey. What do you think about Yitz Greenberg's comment? Geoffrey Well, I agree with him very much. And when I kind of felt it in my gut because I truly believe that the renaissance of the Jewish people and the revival of the state of Israel is not simply like the meraglim, the scouts, a story, an episode. I think it is the essence of the culmination of Jewish history. And so I try to make sense of it in terms of the arc of Jewish history. And actually, Greenberg talks in terms of what happened after the Holocaust, in terms of the UN and human rights and national movements and all that. He makes the context even larger. But it really does speak to me and it speaks to me in a sense that is core to who I am as a proud Jew. So it really does resonate. Adam It's a great I think it's a fantastic argument by Itz Greenberg. And maybe what makes it the most powerful is it is kind of surprising you wouldn't have expected it. Geoffrey In terms of who Yitz Greenberg is as an Orthodox Jew, Adam correct, Geoffrey I mean, I think in a sense what we're talking about is not something that we're kind of creating out of nothing. The truth is that Ralph Kook and especially but also Yitz Greenberg coming out of an ultra-orthodox background, saw it. They saw the real tension between the Judaism of the galut... of the exile and a new Judaism born after the ashes, so to speak, and the revival of the Jewish nationalist dream. It lived itself out, in other words. And I also came from a very ultra-orthodox background. And these are things that you study, and you learn.  They're very much alive. This this sense of you talk about trust. It's a different type of trust and faith. It's a faith that God will take care of us. God will provide the answer. And it's ultimately one that I think I really do. I feel like I have to reject. And it's not almost a nostalgic old faith as opposed to a new one.  it's a new faith that has an emphasis and an imperative to it. Adam Yeah. That that idea of a new thing I think is very, very powerful. And that's really what Yitz Greenberg is talking about, is that we have to create for ourselves a new faith and that new faith is a faith that requires a tremendous amount of strength and courage. Can you imagine creating a new a new faith? Well, something that's so counter to everything that we were bought up with in our very orthodox backgrounds, isn't it? Geoffrey Well, I mean, you know, we listen to whether it's the song of the parting of the sea where we say lo b'bekochi, that it is not with our power, not with our might, that we will survive, but only through God. And Greenberg has an amazing quote that is a variation on something I believe Santayana said, and its "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. But absolute powerlessness corrupts the most". And I think what he was saying here is the powerlessness .... the lack of willingness to accept one's own fate, to accept power, to be a victim, to be a martyr, to play that role is really antithetical to the world and the renewal of Judaism and the state of Israel that we see. And I think it comes up in our discussions today, and I'm not preaching to anyone. I'm preaching to myself here. You know, as we see the discussion about Israel, especially in the last month, rive up and we feel, do we have to stand up for it or do we have to? What is the right balance between empathizing with the poor people in Gaza and the Palestinians and their national dream and ours? And I think that part of what this message told me this week as I studied it and as I read it, is you can care for other people, but you first have to care for yourself. You have to be in touch and understand your national dream before you can embrace someone else's national dream. You have to respect yourself. You can't be a grasshopper or a cockroach. That was the message I took away. And literally I was on the fence in terms of...  Let this pass and do we really need to to stick up for ourselves and and make a scene and the take away from this parsha is that, you know, if not us, who then? Adam Do you think that we all have to share the same dream? Geoffrey No, no, absolutely not, and I think, if I hear you correctly, you know, would we ever want to totally lose the message of a Jeremiah who says if bad things happen to you, you need to be introspective and you need to look to see what you can do better with your life, both morally, ethically and spiritually? I hope we never lose that. But certainly when it goes to the extreme, when  bad things happen to good people, it must be good people's fault. And we have to check on Mezuzahs. I think it is is a sickness. And I do believe we have to be comfortable in saying, damn it, we deserve a full life, too, and we deserve to live out our national and lifelong [national aspiration]. I was at a wedding earlier this week and I couldn't but stop to listen to all the words about one day we will be dancing in the streets of Jerusalem and the broken glass over Jerusalem. And I said to myself, we've been doing this for two thousand years. This is not a political statement. This is who we are. We are those scouts. We are that generation outside of the promised land. And we've got to fight for it.  We’ll be respected. I think this was one of the messages of the Zionists, and it's only partially borne out... We'll be respected when we respect ourselves and when we stand on our own two feet and when we have our own army and we have our own language. Adam Yeah, I mean, that was you know, that was the lesson of the state of Israel that we have to believe in ourselves if we're going to have our own state. If we don't believe in ourselves, then we don't have a chance. It's not that people have to believe in us. We have to believe in ourselves. I mean, that's really nice, Geoffrey because what you're really in this week of the elections and everything, in Israel and they make a government. And what you're really saying is that it's not about people believing in us. It's about us believing in ourselves. Geoffrey And then I think it's like they always say, "Ve'ahavta l"rayacha Kwemocha" , love your neighbor as yourself. I really do believe that we can we are better when we respect ourselves. And it's trite, but I think it's true. I'd like to go on to another thought leader who is not normally considered a thought leader. He's thought of more as the Singing Rabbi. His name is Shlomo Carlebach. And a few years ago, I came across a recording of him talking about just this parsha. So I'm going to try something new on Madlik Clubhouse. And since it is an audio only platform, I'm going to try to play Shlomo Carlebach...  I'm going to invite him, so to speak, on to clubhouse. And I think you'll all be as excited as I am to see the personal direction that he takes this into, because we've been talking a lot about nationalism and movements and he goes in a different direction that I think relates more to Jewish renewal. So let's see if I can get this to work. Speaker Shlomo Carlebach  I just want to give you a little vitamin pill and strength, everybody talking about the Meraglim so much and I'm sure it sunk into you. Anybody who comes back from Israel and tells anything bad about Israel, tell them, my dear brother, the spies destroyed Israel and they didn't lie it's true. Moshe Rabenu says to Yehoshua (Joshua) "God should give you strength not to listen to them. Now, listen to this. Who are the miraglim? The miraglim were the biggest Rebbes of the world 10 big Rebbes. Just imagine yourself, little schmendrick, like you and I. We're going on a mission ... 10 big rabbis. And Yeshua was mamash a pupil of Moshe Rabbenu. The most humble person in the world. Right. All the rabbis sit there, and they say, listen, I want you to know they tell each other it's a bad scene to go to Israel, forget it "A land that eats it's people" don't go there. Do you know, according to the Torah, the majority decides? The Torah! You ask a yid, Torah... right? I want you to know, friends, thousands of Jews would have stayed alive if they would have not listened to a lot of rabbis. I know a Yid in Williamsburg. He lived somewhere, had a wife and 12 children, 1937. He asked a Rebbe: "Should I go to Israel?" He says: "God forbid, Israel is not frum" . He would have had his wife and 12 children. You know why Yehusha is the one to conquer Israel? Because Moshe Rabbenu gave them strength not to listen to anybody. Have enough guts! if the Ribono shel olam shines something into me, that's it. I want you to know there is prophecy .. Eretz Yisrael is deeper than prophecy. Prophecy means I know what's happening. What will happen tomorrow. I know which gilgil (re-incarnation) I am in. It's all cute. It's not what I need to know? The greatest light of Eretz Yisrael is to have enough guts to listen to the deepest depths of my heart, the deepest, deepest depts of my heart. My friends, I bless you and me. If you and I want to conquer Israel, want to make our way to the Holy Land, make our way into Yiddishkite, let's have the guts not to listen to anybody. I want you to know something else. The saddest thing in the world is... I want you to know everybody when they get married, they built their Eretz Yisrael. The Huppah is their Jerusalem. I want you to know, you know, the walking to the Huppah, it's like Avraham Avenu, is walking in Eretz Yisrael. The standing under the Huppah is like Yerushalyim, As it says: Omdos Hayu Ragalenu Yerusalim..." I bless you, friends. Whenever you find your soulmate, please don't ask anybody. Conquer your Eretz Yisrael! Just listen to the inside of the inside. Listen to the great rabbi ... the Mraglim... you know what they said they felt like cockroaches and mamash a giant. Right? I thought you're the greatest rabbi in the world. You afraid? Yeah. To the truth. Jacob teitz, this is my Rebbe? I don't want a Rebbe who's afraid. I don't a Rebbe who's afraid of anything in the world. I need a rebbe who's not afraid. And you know something in exile. It's a cute Rebbe'la. He's afraid of this one. Afraid of this one .. in Exile you can make it. You can even make to receive manna from heaven. Eretz Yisrael, No! Friends, I Bless you to have guts. inside. Inside, inside, inside. When you find your soul mate, just do it. Friends, I tell you something. If you would have asked all the Rebbes. Should we make a little ruach here, a little get-together. They would have asked how big is the mechitza, where do you get the meat. And who is Gedalia, who is Noami? Who is Meyer? Forget me, I'm treif anyway. Hash V'shalom... you're not permitted to do it! and the meantime, Baruch HaShem, Gedalia had the privilege of bringing together 100's of thousands of people. OK friends, Good Shabbos Good Yontov and I bless you to make it to Eretz Yisrael this summer. Don't ask questions, just go Good Shabbos Good Yom tov. Geoffrey Yeah. So had you heard that before? Adam That was amazing. Geoffrey Thank you. I was I was blown away. And by the way, it's edited. He also talks about women learning Torah and he says, are we going to ask a rebbe if we can study Torah? Women can study Torah. It really bridges the divide to the personal, personal, spiritual growth, and it bridges the divide to renewal of Judaism. And I was just blown away by it. So I. I just today came from a funeral of a Holocaust survivor. And her name is Esther Pederseil, and she was ninety-five and she had guts. And if we're talking about guts, I think that we have to definitely reference people like her who are survivors, they're not victims, they're survivors. And when her children spoke, they talked about her love of fashion and style, and they said that was her. That was her not.... Not her revenge, but her way of living. She wanted to live her life to the fullest and as much as she could she, showed that she was in the camp of Joshua and Caleb. And I just think that the lesson is really universal at the end of the day, it's a lesson for us personally. It's a lesson for every people who want to renew their future and get to their promised land. But it's certainly a lesson for us. And I think we should never whine, and we should only choose to conquer what we can conquer and to think highly of ourselves Adam And to listen only to ourselves, not to listen to others. What a powerful idea. Geoffrey Yeah, I, I when he kept on saying over and over again, I don't need a rebbe who's afraid, I mean  it was very powerful. And he touched thousands, tens of thousands of people with his music but also with the message of renewal and renewal Judaism. And as you said before, what our promised land is, is open to interpretation. But I think the message that one has to grab that and to actively aspire and engage. That is a universal truth. Adam Couldn't agree more. That was beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing that. Geoffrey OK, well, Shabbat shalom, everybody. Adam  Shabbat Shalom everybody. Looking forward to next week.    

Duration: 32 min

Release Date:

Share part or all of the audio of this episode