The Rabbis k
The Rabbis k
In Va-y’chi, we hear the final requests of Jacob, and then Joseph, to bring back their remains to be buried in the land God promised to their ancestors. In carrying Joseph’s bones, Moses moves draws closer to his progenitor, giving us the opportunity to reflect on our connections to our forebears.
In this week’s Torah portion, Va-y'chi, both Jacob and then Joseph ask the children of Israel to carry their bones back to be buried in Canaan. Both men teach us the value of planning and sharing our wished with the next generation.
In Vayigash, Joseph now a powerful man in Egypt conceals his identity from the brothers who had sold him into slavery years ago. In so doing, he allows them to confront their past mistakes.
What if Joseph, after so many years of separation from his brothers were to write a letter to communicate with his brothers in Parashat Vayigash. What would that letter say?
Jewish assimilation — the loss of followers through attrition, absorption into other faiths, or the practice of no faith — harkens back to Joseph, the first Israelite to live in a diaspora. In Mikeitz, we read how Joseph adopted Egyptian customs and clothes, took an Egyptian wife, and was given the Egyptian name Zaphenath-paneah (Genesis 41:45), a sign of acceptance into Egyptian society. Joseph offers us a window into the broad spectrum of Jewish affiliation and practice that exists today.
In Mikeitz we see that Joseph is not an example of assimilation, but rather an example of acculturation and adaption that defines modern Judaism. Joseph attributed his success to God. He navigated the intersection between Judaism and diaspora, overcoming the desire to focus on the supremacy of self and through him our people grew mighty and numerous.
Reading Parashat Vayeishev and other dream-filled portions in Genesis, we wonder if it’s possible to influence a dream’s prophecy rather than passively waiting for the outcome to unfold. The upcoming holiday, Hanukkah, provides a clue.
The story of Joseph and his prophetic dreams in Parashat Vayeishev is familiar to us all, even iconic. It is the beginning of the foundational story of the Jewish people – the 430-year sojourn in Egyptian slavery leading to the Exodus and the coming together as God’s people at Mt. Sinai. Without Joseph and his dreams, the children of Israel would never had ended up in Egypt in the first place.
In Vayeitzei, Jacob encounters God in a dream, thus advancing the biblical journey of our people learning from and following the instruction of God. After the biblical era, our Sages found a way to expand our understanding of the Torah and its teachings.
In Vayeitzei, Jacob learns that he is not the center of his own universe when he encounters God in a dream. Jacob’s understanding of God in this moment is really an understanding of himself as inspirable from the divinity that is all around him and within him.
In Tol’dot we learn that Jacob, the homespun man, is wilier than his brother Esau, the skilled hunter. While Jewish commentators ascribed many negative traits and behaviors to Esau, a later portion reveals his positive ability to forgive.
Jacob and Esau had different traits even in the womb. Jacob is the brother who gains the favor of the Rabbis ultimately, but in Tol’dot, he is conniving and conspiring. Esau is viewed by the biblical author as “impetuous and brash” and by later commentators as a “wild beast.” The words in Tol’dot imply that their character was inescapable.
In Lech L’cha, God commands Abram and to travel on a physical journey “to the land that I will show you.” At the same time, God instructs Abram to look within, taking an inner spiritual journey within himself.
Looking at Parashat Lech L’cha, Rabbi Pearce analyzes Abraham’s departure and his difficult journeys: one a physical challenge, and the other a spiritual challenge. These journeys end with instant gratification: Abraham is given a new name by God for the spiritual journey and land for the physical journey. This inspires us to put our faith in God and be willing to leave everything we know for the greater good. The problem is that Abraham is rewarded at the end. With this example, are we learning that we should expect a tangible gift at the end of our efforts and journeys?
In B’reishit, God tells Adam he may eat the fruit of any tree but the tree of knowledge. But when Eve offers him the fruit, he eats it and then blames Eve for the transgression. Is Adam’s evasion acceptable?
Our Sages desperately wanted to read the Torah as one continuous narrative. Yet, even from the very beginning of our sacred text, this proved to be difficult. Genesis chapters 1 and 2 present a bit of a conundrum: how could man and woman be created twice? These Rabbis solved the problem by deciding that the man, Adam, was the same in both Creation stories, but that there was another wife before Eve. This woman they called Lilith, and she stood in stark contrast to the subservient, submissive Eve.
Ki Teitzei has a treasury of Jewish legal and ethical literature, including a discussion of lenders and debtors. When a debt is not repaid, the lender is forbidden from entering the debtor's home without permission to retrieve the security. The rule poses challenges both for lenders and debtors.
Ki Teitzei urges us to consider the legal and ethical responsibilities of both lenders and debtors. Debtors need to take responsibility for their commitments and not borrow beyond their means. Lenders need to show compassion and refrain from shaming debtors.