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March 7th, 2007

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08:36 pm - If we would have x, but not y
2/25/07 - Rabbi's class

Dayenu - Had he brought us near to him at Mt. Sinai and not given us the Torah, It would have been enough for us.
This is the third year we've looked at this same line. It's part of Dayenu. The Dayenu is constructed as a way of thanking G-d for things initially for the actions that concerned being taken out of Egypt, but then our author continues beyond the story of the Exodus, and discusses a part of history which has nothing to do with the exodus from Egypt, the giving of the Torah.

The normal method of saying thank you is to list the blessings one by one and say thank you. The author of this piece doesn't say thank you for what you did for me, but instead he says, even if you hadn't done this for me, I still would have thanked you. For whatever you did, we would have been grateful. Mentioning what might not have been done pushes the envelope of our expectations. [If someone lends you 100$ and buys you a new suit, you don't say, "You know, if you'd lent me the 100$ and not bought me the new suite, that would have been great too."] It's not what you'd expect from a typical prayer.

Now do we believe that the author believed Judaism would have been okay without any of these things? Maybe it's the old problem of how we can never fully enjoy today because we're always worried about tomorrow. It's our nature. Daynu sets up a language of "Enjoy this day." Enjoy each gift on it's own merits. And if he we wouldn't see the next day, if He would have not done these things, Dayenu, even what we got would have been enough [to make us happy].

Now there's some debate about whether you say it, where it goes in the Hagaddah

Maimonidies (the RAMBAM), for example, did not have Dayenu in his Hagaddah, but Avram, his son, writes that they said it their house, even though it was not in his book.

Other Haggadahs have it in the back with the songs, after the service is over, like Chad Gad Ya (One Little Kid - the Jewish version of "The House that Jack Built") and Echod Mi Yodeha ("Who knows One"). But it wasn't in the construction of how the Hagaddah was put together.

This is the order of our Hagaddah, we talk about the plagues, discuss the opinions of how many plagues there were, and after the plagues, we say "lets thank G-d for what he did for us in Egypt" and then launch right into the Dayenu.

Rabbi Don Abarbanel opens up his interpretation with these words: Rabbi Akiva's choice of what to include or not include in Dayenu is perplexing. He immediately opens up with the assumption that Rabbi Akiva was the author. His explanation is that this follows immediately on the heels of Rabbi Akiva's opinion on the number of plagues inflicted on the Egyptians. So because it follows immediately after Rabbi Akiva's comments, the Abarbanel believes that why it's placed where it is, because after the plagues discussions, immediately followed by the Dayenu, the next discussion is another opinion of Rabbi Akiva. So you can see that there's logic in the Abarbanel's opinion, but there's nothing in the Talmud that has this poem attributed to Rabbi Akiva, so where is this coming from?

In the "ki lolam chasdo" prayer, we see a similar lining up of blessings.

Historically in the Bible, whenever G-d wanted to convince Jews to do the right thing, he would say, "I took you out of Egypt" as explanation for why the Jews should do it.

The first time we see the list format, it's in Psalm 136 by King David and he has a general list of things to thank G-d for, starting with creation. About 15 lines into the Psalm, he lists the exodus from Egypt and then he continues with the journey into Israel and finishes with general praise for sustenance. He does not mention the giving of the Torah, however, he mentions the giving of the land and the smiting of the kings in the desert.

Why is the giving of the Torah not mentioned? The biggest thing that happened in the desert was the giving of the Torah, so why isn't it mentioned? The first list type prayer in Jewish litergy doesn't mention the giving of the Torah.

The next time we see a shopping list of "thank you"s is in the Midrash on Leviticus - The Midrash is talking about the relationship of G-d and Moses. And specifically about how everytime G-d asked Moses to do something, he had to put pressure on him. "Everytime I ask you do something, I have to say to you, 'Go!'" and urge to go. This teaches us that he did not want to do it. He didn't want the responsibly, but ultimately, this he did what he was told: and there's a list: He took them out of Egypt, split the sea, brought them into the desert, gave them manna, performed the miracle of the rock and the stone, helped them gather manna, and he made the Tabernacle.
That's the list of what Moses did for the Jews in the desert. This also doesn't mention the giving of the Torah, that he stood on the mountain for 40 days and was involved with the giving of the 10 commandments. Why wasn't this important enough to mention?

The author of Dayenu, by contrast, found it important enough to mention. "If He would have brought us to Mt. Sinai and not given us the Torah" and "If He had given us the Torah, and not brought us into Israel..."

The Midrash, King David, and the author of Dayenu were speaking about three different things.

King David was thinking about creation. He was thinking about his reasons to write the psalm.
Midrash was speaking about Moses, and Moses wasn't involved in creation, so it lists the things he was involved in.
Daynu is trying to say thank you for the things that happened in Egypt.

Regardless, you would think the giving of the Torah would have been important in all three of these cases.
You would have thought the given of the Torah was important to King David.
It was an afternoon that Moses spent speaking of a stone, but that gets a place on the list, and yet 80 days on the Mt. Sinai doesn't merit a mention?

The one it seems to belong in least is the Dayenu which speaks of it as part of the Exodus from Egypt. Why not wait until Shavuos to talk about the giving of the Torah? What links it to the story of going out of Egypt? Why, of all places, is it in this list?

If you ask a hypothetical question to a Christian - Could you be Christian without a New Testament? Or Islamic without a Koran? They would probably say no. What is the religion without the text on which to base it?

The only religion to ever say, "if you would have not given us the text, we would have been fine." is Judaism. No other religion would try to challenge the foundation of the religion like that. Remove the book and can you still see yourself as a people? The Dayenu implies that you can. That we would still have been bonded in some way. The author of Dayenu isn't saying that the Torah is unnecessary, but how do you speak about the significance of each stage on the road?

Why David doesn't say thank you for giving us the Torah, and Dayenu does.

In the counting of the 613 Mitzvot, there's some differences of opinions as to what are the actual 613, one of the major disagreement is between Maimonadies and Nachmonadies (RAMBAM and RAMBAN). Maimonadies includes "faith in G-d" as one of the 613. Nachmonadies says it's not one of the 613, it's the reason there are 613, it doesn't make sense for it to be a commandment. It's a foundation for the 613. If you don't have faith in G-d, why even bother doing Mitzvahs? How can that be a Mitzvah when beneath every commandments, as an underlying foundation, is faith?
This matches the opinion of King David and the Midrash. The giving of the Torah is the basis for everything. It's not necessary to mention because it's the purpose for everything else. The reason why the world was created, why Moses got water from a stone was because G-d wanted them to receive the Torah!

The author of Dayenu knows this position and still mentioned it, because to a certain degree, he wants to promote a different way of thought, an out of the box thought, what would Judaism be without the giving of the Torah?

So there's a bit of a philosophical discussion, can we think about the states of Judaism and view them independently of each other and be grateful for each individual stage?

So if we look at this quote from Shemot from when Moses stood near the burning bush. Before we delve into this, imagine the situation for a moment, these people have been built into a system of slavery for 210 years and the system of slavery has engulfed them physically and psychologically so they think of themselves as slaves. If you think of how books and movies portray black slavery, there's an undercurrent of the slaves having no independent personalities, there is only their master's needs. It's a hard bit of work to act that because it's hard to show how a person, on a psychological level, has lost his free choice. We all give up some aspect of physicality in our lives, because we have jobs and responsibilities that prevent us from being completely free of obligations, but mentally there's a huge difference and the challenge of movies is to portray the lack of choice. It doesn't feel like he has the right to even have an opinion. There was 250ish years of Slavery in America, and something like that changes the core of people

So Moses is summoned before G-d and told this is at the end [Off topic: I wonder if that is a reason why Moses was chosen. Because he was raised not as a slave and therefore was able to present an individual aspect rather than just someone blindly following yet another master?]

And Moses is somewhat reluctant. And he says:
1) Who am I talk to Pharaoh?
2) Why would the Jews follow me?

And G-d responds: Because I will be with you. And this is a sign that I have sent you. "After you go out of Egypt, you will serve G-d on this mountain." So the sign that Moses is going receive is going to happen AFTER the event it's to be a sign for? The giving of the Torah is a sign to prove that the Jews are going out of Egypt? Usually it's the other way around. Usually the sign is a lesser thing to prove a greater thing. In this case, it seems like the sign has greater value. The earlier thing, the leprosy was a small thing to be a sign for a larger thing, the going out of Egypt. So how can the giving of the Torah be a sign for going out of Egypt? The Torah is placed in secondary position.

So here's the thing, when the Jews were going out of Egypt, it was significant. It wasn't just for the purpose of getting the Torah it was also a redemption in and of itself.

Once we're out of Egypt, then the Torah takes on greater significance, but until the Jews are out of Egypt, it's just a sign.

Rashi isn't happy with that idea, he reverses the language. He takes the verse and says it's the other way: The going out of Egypt is a sign for the giving of the Torah. Rashi was uncomfortable with this idea that going out of Egypt was a thing independent, not preparatory for receiving the Torah. The going out of the Egypt acts as a sign for the fulfillment of the next promise, the giving of the Torah.

What's the greater truth? The giving of the Torah.

RAMBAN disagrees again, and keeps it in the simple language. And this shall be the token for when you have brought them forth out of Egypt, you shall serve G-d on the mountain.

Sefer HaChinuk goes back to what Rashi says, the whole reason for the Jews going to Egypt and being redeemed from there is for the Torah. The sign for the Jews that they're going to receive the Torah is the Exodus. And his explanation is as we discussed before, that the sign is a lesser matter to the greater importance, therefore, Exodus might be a sign for the giving of the Torah. But this echoes the trouble with Dayenu. Can we speak about the exodus from Egypt without speaking about the giving of the Torah?

So back to this conversation between Moses and G-d at the burning bush. Moses says that he doesn't talk well. And G-d says, effectively, I will be with your mouth. And I will direct your mouth to speak.

And Moses replies "Please G-d, send by the hand whomever you send." Pick someone else. Why is Moses still arguing? So Rashi has two commentaries on this. 1) by the hand of whomever you will send. He's actually suggesting Aaron. Because Moshes stuttered, he said, why do we both have to go, let Aaron do it, he doesn't need me. 2) Rashi says, alternatively Moses is requesting the ultimate redemption, because Moses wasn't going into Israel and wasn't responsible for the ultimate redemption, he suggests instead of using him now, use the Messiah. Why have this intermediate state? Why not just go straight to the Messianic age.

The first commentary of Rashi is simple, it works in the natural order, ultimately, use Aaron 'cause he's the speaker. The second commentary is much more complicated, and asks can there be a Judaism where we skip a couple of eras and go straight into a life that's beyond the Torah, in the Messianic era where there are no obligations, only a certainty of doing the right thing out of love. Moses asks G-d effectively can you fathom a relationship with the Jewish people outside of the giving of the Torah? Can we move beyond the giving of the Torah to this age beyond it. And this is Moses seeing the relationship with G-d beyond Torah.

So they're in the desert and the Torah again does something somewhat lopsided. Moses father-in-law comes to visit and he sees how overloaded Moses is and suggests a judicial system. What was Moses teaching? There was nothing to teach yet. Obviously this must have been after the giving of the Torah when there were laws to adjudicate on. This must have taken place after the giving of the Torah, and yet it appears before the 10 commandments in the text. And Jethro suggests teaching 71 people the law and let them answer questions. So where should this story be? Logically it should be after Moses comes down from the mountain after the giving of the Torah, which is at the end of Exodus, rather than the middle where this story is.

The Talmud quickly says there's no chronological order in the Torah, don't ask and changes the subject.

And yet, there's obviously some chronological order. This story doesn't appear after Abraham's story, for example.

And, if we dig a little deeper, we realize it's a simple idea. Moses was a clever man. Could he not realize that he could delegate questions? He has to wait for his father-in-law to suggest it. And if his father-in-law hadn't visited, he would never have figured it out? He grew up in Pharaoh's court, he couldn't figure out how to set up a judiciary? He was groomed to be part of a judiciary system.

So imagine a situation where two people get into a fight over some money, and so they got on line and they wait, and they got to Moses, and his face shines with the radiance of Torah and it made the issue insignificant, petty, unimportant. Moses connected them back to Mt. Sinai and it connected them back to the spiritual moment, and all debatable issues seemed insignificant by comparison, it was just great to be in his presence. He's the one that the radiance on his face and continually refreshed the spiritual connection to G-d to the people had. And Moses thought as long as he could keep the people attached to the experience of witnessing G-d, these other issues will resolve themselves. So his father-in-law said, it isn't going to work. You need the laws to be the reason why people follow them. You have to make the Torah law the reason that people follow the laws, and you have to switch the focus from the spiritual to the practical.
To what degree can we talk about an experience with G-d that makes the law secondary, or must the law be primary?

Moses comes down the mountain, sees the golden calf and G-d says that's it. I'm going to kill them all, and we'll start over again with you. So Moses returns to G-d and says: I agree with you. They did a terrible sin and they created themselves a golden god. But if you would just carry their sin, or if not, erase me from your book.

If you carry their sin...then what? Why isn't the text more explicit, If you bear the sin, leave me in the book, or otherwise remove me. Why is does it skip ahead from If you bear their sin, but if you don't remove me.

Rashi says - If you will bear their sin, things are good, do not erase me. But if you don't bear their sin, I'm asking of you, erase me. (From your book - from the entire Torah.)

So what does Rashi understand from this? - Moses doesn't say that he wants to die with them. Instead he says, I want to live without the Torah. This religion will be without the Torah. Take me out of the Torah, I don't want to be part of it. I'll still be together with you. I still believe in you, but without the Torah as the over-arching truth of how this relationship is going to be. So Moses was trying, perhaps, to talk about G-d as a religion that is independent of the Torah that transcends it. Saying effectively, I want us to have a relationship that goes beyond the Torah.

And G-d agreed with Moses, and didn't kill the people for violating the Torah.

The Arbaranel understands it differently "In my opinion, it's not like Rashi" rather it is implied that Moses was sick of his life and leading the people and therefore said to G-d, kill me outright. Whether you forgive them or not, I want to die. If you carry the sin or don't carry the sin, take me out of the book (of life, not the Torah). Effectively there is no relationship with G-d independent of the Torah, therefore this can't be what Moses is asking for here. Moses is saying that either way he wants out.

This brings us back to our original question, can we believe, as Arbarnel does, that there can't be a people without Torah, so then how can we say "it would have been enough"

This dialogue plays out over and over.

Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished

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[User Picture]
Date:March 8th, 2007 02:05 pm (UTC)
I love that song. And some fascinating reflections in there. My heretical view is that there was a people before Torah, so even if we didn't receive it, we still would have been a people from that point on, bonded through the powerful experience of Exodus and possibly Sinai.
[User Picture]
Date:March 8th, 2007 02:46 pm (UTC)
He's discussed this line in every season (so 3 times) and each time the perspective is slightly different. This was year 1, and it doesn't address your point, so that must have been year 2, which I never finished transcribing from my notes. It's on my list because while I write down as much as I can remember from the class, another person actually records the classes and he's going to burn them to CD (or DVD, I forget which) this year and I said I would try to get the notes from last year typed up nicely so they could be included with the other two years which are properly transcribed.
[User Picture]
Date:March 8th, 2007 02:49 pm (UTC)
How does that person record the classes? Digital?
[User Picture]
Date:March 8th, 2007 03:14 pm (UTC)


Tape recorder but with a very nice microphone that's right by the Rabbi. So I'm hoping it comes out okay. I've never actually heard the recordings.
[User Picture]
Date:March 8th, 2007 03:17 pm (UTC)

Re: Fixed

We're recording the me'ah classes that way. I think that burning them to digital audio would be so much cooler.

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