TMT 014: Exodus 11:1 – 11:10

luxor-92005_640-1This week we pick up in chapter 11 of Exodus and its all about the fascinating final plague ~ death of the first born.  In the beginning of the class I give a brief welcome back to the class as we had just had a break due to holidays.  Below you will find the relevant verses.

As always, if you have in questions or comments regarding what we talked about (and we talk about a lot) then please post them below in the “comment” area and I’ll get back with you directly.  Thank you!

 

Exodus

Chapter 11 (NIV)

1Now the Lord had said to Moses, “I will bring one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt. After that, he will let you go from here, and when he does, he will drive you out completely. 2Tell the people that men and women alike are to ask their neighbors for articles of silver and gold.” 3(The Lord made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and Moses himself was highly regarded in Egypt by Pharaoh’s officials and by the people.)

4So Moses said, “This is what the Lord says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. 5Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. 6There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. 7But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal.’ Then you will know that the Lordmakes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. 8All these officials of yours will come to me, bowing down before me and saying, ‘Go, you and all the people who follow you!’ After that I will leave.” Then Moses, hot with anger, left Pharaoh.

9The Lord had said to Moses, “Pharaoh will refuse to listen to you—so that my wonders may be multiplied in Egypt.”10Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country.

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  1. Hi, Mr. Footnick!

    In episode 14, you said that God does not require blood as atonement for sins. But Leviticus 17:11 (OJB) says: “For the nefesh of the [flesh] is in the [blood]: and I have given it to you upon the [altar] to make [atonement] for your nefashot: for it is the [blood] that maketh [atonement] for the nefesh.”

    Also, the story of the fall of man seems to demonstrate this in that instead of Adam and Eve physically dying for their sins that day, and instead of allowing them to cover their nakedness themselves with fig leaves, God instead kills an animal Himself and covers them with it.

    If God doesn’t even want us to eat animals, why does He want us to sacrifice them? It’s my understanding that He allows for the sacrifice of turtledoves and then of flour/oil if a ram cannot be afforded, but it looks like he prefers blood.

    • Nahum Roman Footnick thinks:

      Great questions once again. And totally understandable reasoning. BUT…
      Regarding the sacrifices, God says over and over “im” meaning “IF” you want to bring a sacrifice then this is how you will do it. No where does he “require” us to make animal sacrifices. And I mean sacrifice in the terms of “korban”(Hebrew for sacrifice). Yes, God commanded us to slaughter a lamb for Pesach during the Exodus… but that was a one time event, and it was a polemic against Egyptian deities, and more. It was not a “korban”, and that word is never used.
      Remember “korban” means to draw near. And the Lord understands His creations. He knows the human mind wishes to draw near to him, but does not know how. So working with their (Ancient Israelite) current understanding, He allowed them to sacrifice to Him alone, only on the alter, only by the Kohanim, only certain animals, only certain parts, etc. etc.
      He took old pagan practices and reconditioned them for His people. As Prager says, “He poured new wine, into old bottles.” God gave them ritual they could understand and was meaningful to them. Remember the other Pragerism: “ritual is the physical manifestation of an idea or belief.”

      And yes, the blood is extremely important!
      It contains a soul. And the soul belongs to God alone. This is why we are not allowed to consume blood (this is since the time of Noah – and so it is a dietary prohibition for all people.) Also, it is only after the flood that God allows man to kill and eat animals. Again He does so because He knows that unfortunately our yetzer hara desires flesh… making us more like a predatory animal. But no matter what, no one can act like a predatory animal, as no one is allowed to consume blood (along with other distinctive human dietary restrictions for all people).
      So we don’t get any blood – It and the soul it contains go to God. How? By use on alter. What happens at the alter?
      Well again He ‘Judaizes’ the process and blood is returned to Him by its actual use on the alter or its repurposing for spiritual purification. Again, a system He gave them (Ancient Israelites) that they would have understood and appreciated considering the context of their existence.
      Another proof that HaShem does not need or require blood or animal sacrifice is found in regards to the sacrifices you mentioned (flour or grain and oil.) The Korban system states that a person is to give their best, or their most… if the most for you is a bull – then you gave your best bull. If the most you could give was your finest oil or flour – then you gave your best oil or flour. The purpose of the offering was because person giving needed a way to atone, connect, or get closer to the Lord. God does not need flour, nor blood, nor flesh. He wants our heart, body, mind, and soul. He wants our love. He wants us to know Him. He wants us to have awe towards Him. If offering a sacrifice in the way that God condones is necessary for a Jew to feel this way, then when the Moshiach comes and the Temple is rebuilt and the Kohanim are ready… perhaps then it will be done. In the mean time, we can hopefully learn to get close to God through prayer, tzedakah, and Torah study.

      Think of it this way, in the Temple there was also bread and incense for Hashem. Does God need bread? Or incense? Of course not. But for the ancient Israelites these ritual had tremendous meaning and were of great significance in regards to their ability to connect and get draw nearer (“korban”) to God.

      Okay, Part 2:
      I’ll try to be brief 🙂
      Genesis: Both in Ch.1 and 3. God gives man fruit and seeds to eat. Why so specific? The ideal diet would cause no death or suffering to sustain life. Trees produce fruit to eat. The tree and the fruit actually benefit from being eaten as it allows the seed to drop and enter the soil. And seeds that are eaten can often still produce plants. Nothing is slaughtered, no vegetables are uprooted or destroyed… It is a truly elegant and compassionate dietary system initially. But of course man craves more than just fruit…
      Then the episode you mention with eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. God never says you will die immediately. He just says “you will surely die” or maybe more literally “you will die a death (mot tamut)”. That is it. So since nothing had died as of yet, at least there has been no mention of anything being created and then dying… Then perhaps it just meant what it says. Because you ate of that tree, the consequence is mortality… you will eventually die.
      And as far as the notion that God killed an animal Himself:
      Nowhere does it say that God killed an animal. It just says Gen 3:21 “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” That is it. Now here is the cool part.
      He could have just made a garment of skin ex nihilo… He is God of course.
      Or… (no pun intended) you can look at the midrash and Chassidus:
      In Rabbi Meir’s Torah it was found written, “garments of light.”

      [In Hebrew, the word “or” is spelled with an ayin means “skin,” while or spelled with an aleph means “light.”]

      This refers to Adam’s garments, which were like a torch [shedding radiance], broad at the bottom and narrow at the top.

      Rabbi Yochanan said: They were like the fine linen garments which come from Bet-Shaan, “garments of skin” meaning those that are nearest to the skin.

      Rabbi Yossei bar Rabbi Chanina said: It was a garment made of skin with its wool.

      Resh Lakish said: It was of Circassian wool, and these were used [later] by first-born.

      Rabbi Samuel ben Nachman said: They were made from the wool of camels and the wool of hares, “garments of skin” meaning those which are produced from the skin.

      And a Chassidic lesson:
      Rabbi Levi said: The Torah teaches you here a rule of worldly wisdom: Spend according to your means on food, less than you can afford on clothing, but more than you can afford on a dwelling. Spend according to your means on food, as it is written, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat” (Genesis 2:16). Less than you can afford on clothing, as it is written, “And G-d made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them” (i.e., simple clothes). More than you can afford on a dwelling, for they were but two, yet they dwelled in the whole world…

      (Midrash Rabbah)

      ***Referencing Chabad. Thank You Chabad!!!

      And thank you Jo Jo! Love the questions, comments, and challenges:)
      Hope that all made some sense.

      • Jo Jo thinks:

        Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about that last part about the “clothes of light.” It seems a bit far fetched. I’m not convinced that adding or switching a letter to a word to completely change it’s meaning is grounds for a good argument. Also, the Midrash didn’t come about until much later after the Torah was given. No disrespect, but how do these Rabbis know what’s not written in the Torah such as what their garments looked like? How would one begin to know? I’m still just not sure.

        There’s also the story of God telling Abraham to sacrifice his son Issac, although in this story it’s actually called an “olah,” or offering, which comes from a word meaning “to go up,” “to ascend,” or “to climb.” But it would seem like the way to get closer to God would be to ascend somehow. Or is there a greater distinction between these words?

        Then Genesis 22:8 (OJB) says: “Avraham said, My son, G-d will provide Himself a [lamb] for a burnt offering.” So what’s up with that?

        And if this practice is so barbaric, why does God allow it at all? He doesn’t allow seemingly minor things such as mixed fabrics. And most animals are completely off-limits altogether. For instance, Abel was the first person recorded in the Torah to bring an animal offering to God. Why does God “regard” that and not Cain’s more merciful offering of fruit?

        Sorry if I’m getting ahead of class. It’s funny how one comment can open up an entire floodgate of new questions and implications. I know that this is a lot of questions and I truly appreciate your time!

        • Nahum Roman Footnick thinks:

          Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about that last part about the “clothes of light.” It seems a bit far fetched. I’m not convinced that adding or switching a letter to a word to completely change it’s meaning is grounds for a good argument.

          Remember, Hebrew is Lashon Hakadesh (Holy Language). It is not like any other language. Hebrew has rules and structure that are unique, and definitely not like English. There are some great books that explain this. One is Lapin’s book “Buried Treasure“>Buried Treasure“.

          Also, the Midrash didn’t come about until much later after the Torah was given. No disrespect, but how do these Rabbis know what’s not written in the Torah such as what their garments looked like? How would one begin to know? I’m still just not sure.

          Well that is all a matter of choice and faith. When it comes to pure drash, we have stories that are sometimes just pedagogic tools. But when it comes to the Mishnah... well that is another matter. The Mishnah is the Oral Torah given by God to Moses in addition to the Written Torah. The Mishnah was kept through oral transmission until Yehuda HaNasi wrote it in 220 CE so as not to lose the information (because there was a real threat to it being lost due to the attempt to destroy the Jews at that time.) People are free to choose what they will regarding this, but the Mishnah and then the Gemarah (Rabbinic commentary on the Mishnah - eventually recorded as the Talmud) provide explanations for confusing parts of the Torah (especially where the stories or laws are fragmentary.)

          So all that said, that can be how the rabbis "knew" what there garments where. It was passed from Moses to the next generation to the next generation. Yes, if you are thinking about the "Telephone Game" it could be like that... and just like in that game we get different ideas about what was originally said. Ultimately the rabbinic commentary can help us figure it out much of it.

          While I am a pshatist (I prefer to analyze every word that is in the Torah to find answers), I do find tremendous value in the Mishnah, Gemara, and other rabbinic commentary.

          There’s also the story of God telling Abraham to sacrifice his son Issac, although in this story it’s actually called an “olah,” or offering, which comes from a word meaning “to go up,” “to ascend,” or “to climb.” But it would seem like the way to get closer to God would be to ascend somehow. Or is there a greater distinction between these words?

          Then Genesis 22:8 (OJB) says: “Avraham said, My son, G-d will provide Himself a [lamb] for a burnt offering.” So what’s up with that?

          And if this practice is so barbaric, why does God allow it at all? He doesn’t allow seemingly minor things such as mixed fabrics. And most animals are completely off-limits altogether. For instance, Abel was the first person recorded in the Torah to bring an animal offering to God. Why does God “regard” that and not Cain’s more merciful offering of fruit?

          My short answer to this is a question :)
          How does this whole episode with Avraham and Yitzach begin?
          Gen 22:1
          Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

          ויהי אחר הדברים האלה והאלהים נסה את־אברהם ויאמר אליו אברהם ויאמר הנני׃

          The Torah did not have to tell us it was a test. But it does, and it makes it abundantly clear it was a test. God has Avraham do what he does to test him. Test his faith, love, fear, obedience, loyalty, etc.
          This test was a normative, ubiquitous behavior in Avraham's time. Virtually all people sacrificed people back then, and most sacrificed children. So this ritual practice of devotion made total sense to Avraham. And it worked to test him. That's it... it was a test.

          God never allows for human sacrifice. Everything about that is prohibited by Him.

          Regarding Abel and Cain, Abel voluntarily gave God an offering... God did not ask for it. Yes Cain did not kill anything for his offering, but that was not the issue. The issue was that Cain did not bring his best. Abel willing brought his best and finest for the Lord, but Cain just brought something of no consequence to himself. God wants us to be moved by our actions towards Him. When we pray, we should be focused giving Him our hearts and minds with undivided attention... as if you were communicating with someone you deeply and truly love. We would not dig something out of the trash to give as a gift to our spouse, child, beloved friend, or parent... All the more so with God, we should bring our best and finest.

          I'll discuss more when I get to Genesis God Willing!

  2. Another question from this episode: why was Moses justified in killing the Egyptian? Why wasn’t it seen as an act of vengeful murder? You referenced a class that you had taught earlier that didn’t get recorded.

    By the way, thank you so much for recording these classes for free and answering my questions! I’m learning so much and I can’t stop talking to my friends about it!

    • Nahum Roman Footnick thinks:

      Okay, I really should redo those classes. There are some great lessons in the opening of Shemot.

      Exodus Ch. 2: 11-12 (NIV)
      “11 One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. 12Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.”

      Looks problematic right?

      Here is the Hebrew if it helps, focus on מכה and ויך …
      Ex. 2:11
      ויהי ׀ בימים ההם ויגדל משה ויצא אל־אחיו וירא בסבלתם וירא איש מצרי מכה איש־עברי מאחיו׃
      Ex 2:12
      ויפן כה וכה וירא כי אין איש ויך את־המצרי ויטמנהו בחול

      And now here is another translation of the same verses from the old JPS.

      11And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown up, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens; and he saw an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, one of his brethren. 12 And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he smote the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand.

      This JPS translation is truer to the Torah text in that the words themselves are related words in Hebrew.

      So, Moses saw a man striking, or beating, or smiting a Hebrew slave, Moses looks around and sees “no man” around (which can correctly mean Moses saw that no man was around to stop this abuse and injustice – so he would have to be that man) so Moses strikes, beats, or smites the Egyptian. It just so happens that Moses strike kills the slave beater. So then he knows he must hide what has transpired as he just acted against the Pharaoh.

      If the Torah wanted to say Moses “murdered” the Egyptian it could have said that, (רצח). Or it could have said “killed”, (הרג). But it does not use either term. Rather it uses the term that makes Moses’ actions just and righteous – the same term as for what the Egyptian slave driver was doing to the slave. Measure for Measure.

      Thanks again Jo Jo! Shabbat Shalom

      • Jo Jo thinks:

        I think I understand what you’re saying, but I don’t like it. And I’m finding there are a lot of challenging things in the Torah regarding what God seems to accept as righteous behavior versus all the seemingly (I mean no disrespect) arbitrary rules laid out in the Torah. I’m beginning to understand exactly what you mean when you say that God is difficult to love and why living righteously basically amounts to “wrestling with God.” So I intend to keep listening and learning. 🙂

        • Nahum Roman Footnick thinks:

          Well with regards to righteous behavior… in general those commandments are in the ethical realm. God is trying to create a morally thinking and behaving nation born out of the brutish Egyptian society.

          The arbitrary laws are typically part of the holiness code. While they may seem arbitrary to us, they had meaning for the people at the time. One of our tasks is to figure out the ideas behind the rituals, and make the rituals just as meaningful for ourselves. WHy? Because, Ethics is not enough… Holiness protects ethics.
          Love your candor. Thank you!

  3. Hi Nahum, hope I find you well.
    Your reply o my previous comment has reminded me to resume learning, as I have had a period of too much work and many more excuses. So I have listened to this one, the next chapter.
    About the Lord going himself:
    There is an obvious escalation here: first – Aharon is calling on the plagues; then Moses; and at last – no intermediary.
    Firstborn death explanation:
    There is another theory. The grain in the granaries has gotten damp from the hail, and fungus (mold) began growing there. As it was a time of famine, the grain was harshly rationed, and it appears there was an Egyptian custom to give the firstborn a double ration. So by trying to save them they have, in fact, effectively killed them.
    The cattle was left out, as well. But I can think of a similar explanation there. Trying to preserve the cattle, perhaps, they would feed the firstborn better, and they had no pastures left after the locusts.
    I do believe it happened just as was said and have no problem with natural phenomena being the proverbial “finger of God”. After all, Nature is God’s realm. He made it, he controls it and, being above it, he can manipulate it. So I believe there MUST be a “natural” explanation, but it is at the same time the will of God.
    The “Chosen People”:
    Personally, I think it was translated backward. The phrase is “Am Segoula”, which can mean: a different people; a people conducting themselves differently; a people of virtue. If we take the meaning of “distiction” to be “choose” then, in my opinion, it’s a phrase placed on its head. God did not choose our people, our people have chosen God.
    Abraham has chosen to follow God in a land and culture of his fathers where there were many gods, and monotheism was insane. He may have just ignored the knowledge he received, but he has chosen to believe and take it on and leave his land to go to a place unknown to him and unspecified even. He has chosen to keep true to this God even after the trial with his son. Izhak and Ya’akov have followed suit, so did Josef.
    The people in Egypt, the slaves, though corrupted by the idols, still raised their voices to call on the God of their fathers!
    Moses has chosen to do what the burning bush has told him and went on a mission impossible, never again questioning anything God told him to do.
    So, God separates between Egypt and the Hebrews not because God chose the Hebrew, but because the Hebrews have chosen him. Had the Egyptians done the same – they would have joined the “Chosen People” .
    We choose to this today, every day, we choose to either go with God or not. You speak of your secular friends and of Jews who don’t even accept the bible. That is their choice and it’s at the basis of Judaism: the choice, each day, to do or not to do what the Torah tells us. It’s WE who chose God. And to be “Light onto the Goyim” we are to show (not tell but show, that’s why Light and not Voice of God or anything) that choosing God is good for you, even though it’s so much work. 
    And you’re right, Torah has nothing to do with Liberals leftists and their complete insanity.
    Shabbat Shalom
    Vera

  4. Another meaning I neglected to address of Segula is something like adopt and adapt, take something to be your own. For example, when you need to adapt to survive it “histaglut”; if you adopt a character trait is is “lesagel” – all the same root.
    So, if one thinks this means that God has adopted Jews as his own people, then, here too, I think it is precisely the other way around. The People have adopted the Torah and God.
    A good example of this is what happened to our people in Europe in the Diaspora: they weren’t allowed to own land and work it, and many trades as well, therefore they were pushed to deal in trade, working fine metals like gold and silver, and money lending (banks), the things that we did well and the people of the lands didn’t think much of.
    But the truth is, there were two peoples there under the same restrictions: the Jews and the Gypsies. Both made their choice – and we see the results to this day. The main reason for the difference is that Jews had the Torah to tell them “Thou shalt not steal” etc, and how to live well, so they found a niche and prospered, while the Gypsies didn’t.
    Just thought I had missed this earlier. 🙂

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