Thursday, December 30, 2004

II-1 Shemot Who Made You Boss?

II-1 Shemot Who Made You Boss? 30 December 2004

Torah: Exodus 1-6:1
Haftorah: Is 27:6-28:13; 29:22-3

Because we are opening a new Book of Moses, we can say the Blessing for First Things:

A Blessing for Beginnings:
Baruch Atta Adonai, Eloheinu Melech HaOlam, shechechianu, vikiamanu, v'higianu kizman hazeh.

Blessed are you, Eternal Lord, King of the Universe, Who has kept me alive, sustained me and brought me to this time.


1. Ex 1:1-17
2. Ex 1:18-2:10
3. Ex 2:11-25
4. Ex 3:1-15
5. Ex. 3:16-4:17
6. Ex 4:18-31
7. Ex 5:1 -6:1

Kolel: A Blessing for the Study of Torah

URJ Table Talk: Blessing for the Study of Torah
explanation of Pirkei Avos verse


Exodus is derived from the Greek of the rabbinic name, Sefer Yitziat Mitzraim (the going out of the Land of Egypt). The Hebrew, Shemot means "names" indicating those migrated to Egypt in the saga of Joseph and Jacob. The Israelites are now oppressed under a Pharaoh who does not know of Joseph. The story of Moses begins.

In Focus:

When he went out the next day, he found two Hebrews fighting; so he said to the offender, "Why do you strike your fellow?" He retorted,"Who made you chief and ruler over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" Moses was frightened, and thought: Then the matter is known! When Pharaoh learned of the matter, he sought to kill Moses, but Moses fled... He arrived in the land of Midan and sat down by a well."
Genesis 2:13-15

Names trace our heritage, geographical as well as cultural traditions. Moses was the son of Amram and Jochabad (Ex 6:20) from the tribe of Levi (Ex 2:1, Ex 6: 23). According to the decree, Moses is duly put into the river to become crocodile dinner, but saved by the Pharaoh's daughter, who " spied a the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to fetch it. When she opened it, she saw that it was a child, a boy crying. She took pity on it and said, "This must be a Hebrew child." (Ex 2:5-6)

Raised as a son of the Pharaoh, Moses has the ideal position for becoming a reformer. A prince, he has education and class status, but destroys his chances. Coming upon an Egyptian overseer beating a Hebrew slave, he attacks and kills him, surreptitiously hiding him in the sand. (Ex 2:11-15)

Tired from his flight, Moses sits by a well when seven lovely daughters of the local Midianite priest come up to water their flocks. Women then, as today, suffer sexual harassment. Defending them against the local shepherds, Moses draws their water for herds. He assimilates into Jethro's family, marrying his daughter, Zipporah, naming his son, Gershom, "for he said, 'I have been a stranger in a foreign land.'" (Ex 2:22) Moses has gone from the pinnacle of society to the refugee, the social elite to the country yokel. He has a new identity although his son's name is cryptic, applicable equally to Midian as to Egypt. For both, he is a displaced person without roots.

The rabbis say to make good teshuvah, one not only has to repent of the wrongdoing of the past, but when confronted in a similar situation avoid repeating the mistake. Moses killed a man. It wasn't accidental, but a brutal physical attack. In Midian, he hides from his past, possibly waiting the opportune time to return when the Pharaoh dies.Tending his flock one day, he sees a bush aflame but not consumed by the fire. A voice calls, "Moshe! Moshe!" Instinctively, he responds. When divine revelation is made, Moses hides his face. Why? What does he have to hide? He is in the wilderness, scrubby enough for grazing sheep, but not rich enough to sustain crops. Instead of finding himself alone, he is confronted with his past. Given a divine mission, he evades it, but not citing the real reason. He prevaricates, "When I come to the Israelites and say to them, "The God of your fathers has sent me to you," and they ask me, "What is his name?" what shall I say to them? " (Ex 3:13) He argues, raising doubts until God speaks the language he understands, demonstrating negative qualities of leadership.

"What if they do not believe me and do not listen to me, but say: The Lord did not appear to you?" The Lord said to him, "What is that you have in your hand?" And he replied, "A rod." he said, "Cast it on the ground." He cast it on the ground and it became a snake; and Moses recoiled from it." (Ex 4:1-4)

Shemos Rabbah 3 tells a story about a Roman woman who told Rebbe Yossi that her god was greater than his. Rebbe Yossi asked why. She said Moshe ran away from the snake embodying her god. Rabbi Yossi responded that Moshe needed to take a few steps to escape, whereas God fills the universe. The problem wasn't the snake, but the type of power it signified, being as arbitrary and vicious as tyranny.

Snakes strike without provocation. They slither through the grass, ambushing their victims, swallowing them whole. Snakes are identified with primeval evil: they eat little helpless creatures like fuzzy bunnies and constrictors are dangerous animals. Big or little, snakes symbolize danger and death.

With the transformation of the shepherd's rod, Moses was confronted with the past he was trying to conceal. He evaded the snake, he ran from it, sensing the physical threat it embodied; but it also represents the destructive force within Moses who struck the Egyptian out of anger, blind hatred or revenge. It represents the dangerous power of tyranny and arbitrary leadership that oppresses people through fear. Before Moses returns to Egypt or assumes leadership, he must repent and turn in a different direction. In arguing with God at the burning bush, Moses chooses the new path of international diplomacy, of speech. The conversion of Israelites from slaves to free men, from individuals to a nation, from pagan culture ot a new faith is not to be through deceit or cunning coercion as Simeon and Levi imposed on the menfolk of Shechem, but a process of applied education and persuasion. The same sympathy that the Pharoah's daughter had to save Moshe's life, will become the liberating force of his life. Compassion and sympathy must lead a people into freedom, not revenge or retaliation.


I-11 Vayigash Genesis 47: 4-13
the presentation of Jacob to Pharaoh and the settlement of the tribes

I-12 Vayechi Genesis 50: 14-26
burial of Jacob, death of Joseph and settlement of Israelites in Egypt

I-8 Vayishlach Genesis 34:1-30
story of Dinah and the trickery of Levi and Simon of coerced conversion followed by their heinous attack on the men of Shechem

I-5 Sara Genesis 24:10-26 Rebecca at the well
Eliazer testing the bride by her compassion for animals


Dvar Torah by Dovid Green 5758
about Moses and Bush

Rabbi Yaakov Menken, Lifeline Shemos 2 Jan 2002

Rabbi Jordan D Cohen, Kolel, The Evolving Name of God
My Jewish Learning Kolel

Kolel, 5763 from Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Hiyyah
on the pertinence of God to each generation

Kolel, 5761 Shemot
Qualities of Leadership: tza'ar balei chayim

Dovid Green, Dvar Torah - What's in a Name? 5762 / 3 Jan 02

Rabbi Label Lam, Dvar Torah- In Preparation to Save a Nation 5764/ 15 Jan 04

Rabbi Label Lam, Dvar Torah, Shemos- Out of Time 5763
the gradual enslavement of Israel

Rabbi Label Lam, Dvar Torah- Shemos What's in a Name? 5762/ 27 Dec 02

Yanki Tauber, Shemot -The Birth of a Leader
based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Schneerson

Rabbi Aron Tendler, Rabbi's Notebook - Deep Conversations
an overview of rabbinic literature on Shemot

Rabbi Yisroel Ciner, Parsha Insights - Shemos 5761
regarding Moses in a basket, explaining the interpretation of Shekhinah watching over Moshe

Rabbi Yisroel Ciner, Parsha Insights Shemos 5757
regarding spiritual states and states of enslavement

Rabbi Yisroel Ciner, Parsha Insights Shemos 5762
on the siignificance of names in respect to the qualities of things they represent

Rav Kook, Shemot Moses Hid His Face

Saturday, December 25, 2004

I-12 Vayechi Ephraim and Manasseh

I-12 Vayechi Ephraim and Manasseh 25 December 2004

I-12 Vayechi " And he lived" 24 Dec 04

Torah: Genesis 47:28- 50:26
Haftorah: 1 Kg 2:1-12


1. Gn 47:28-48:9
2. Gn 48:10-16
3. Gn48:17-22
4. Gn 49:1-18
5. Gn 49:19-26
6. Gn 49:27-50:20
7. Gn: 21-16


Parasha Vayechi ends the First Book of Moses with the Blessing of Jacob on his children. Joseph brings his two sons to Jacob for his final blessing. Jacob switches hands, blessing the younger, Ephraim with his right hand and Manasseh with his left. The Blessing of Jacob provides the spiritual inheritance of Israel.

In Focus:

" When Joseph saw that his father was placing his right hand on Ephraim's head, he thought it wrong; so he took hold of his father's hand to move it from Ephraim's head to Manasseh's. "Not so, Fatehr," Joseph said to his father, "for the other is first-born; place your right hand on his head." Genesis 48:17-18

Joseph expects Manasseh would receive the blessing of inheritance over Ephraim. Jacob blesses them not by birth, but respective of their qualities. Names often give insight to character. Manasseh's name means "forgetting," referring to Joseph's struggle to live in an alien country as a slave. Joseph wishes to forget the bitterness of his brothers's betrayal. Ephraim means "fruitful" reflecting the development of Joseph's life as he ascended out of prison to take his place as a Vizier of Egypt. Ephraim represents the productiveness of his life arising from hardship. The sons also represent two aspects of Joseph's personality: desire for total assimilation within society, and his ability to overcome intense hardships, using his spiritual insight to assist others in need. He became a Vizier, not because of magical powers, but his ability to apply a pragmatic solution derived from a dream that spared lives. One looks back over the past; the other into the unknown future.

Jacob places his right hand onto Ephraim's head and rebukes Joseph gently, " I know, my son, I know. He, too, shall become a people, and he,too, shall be great." (Gn 48:19)

If you are burdened or pre-occupied with the past; you cannot move to the future. The longing holds you captive. To advance, one has to leave the baggage behind. Only a little luggage can be carried on the back through life.

The blessing also reflects Jacob's own youth with his conflicts with Esau. Although Esau was the eldest, Jacob cheated him of his birthright and his paternal blessing, incurring long-term rancour, splitting the family into two parts inimical of each other. In his old age, Jacob sees the repercussions and understands the burden of an ill-fitting inheritance. As educators, parents and well-wishers, we often impose burdens on those we love, without recognizing their limitations or aspirations. We see the external characteristics of a person without perceiving inner desires, not realizing we are trying to make the gazelle into an elephant or vice versa. Jacob identifies the brothers individually, each having his own skills and potentials. Giving the cookie-cutter blessing, only adds a curse to their lives since neither fits the mold.

Moreover, the paternal blessing for leadership skips to Judah, "You, Oh Judah, your brothers shall praise; your hand shall be on the nape of your foes; your father's sons shall bow low to you. Judah is like a lion's whelp..." (Genesis 49:6-12)

Why? Judah has changed. In Vayeishev, Judah participate with the older brothers, putting Joseph into the pit and stripping him of his clothes. Judah suggests his slavery, "What do we gain by killing our brother and covering up his blood? Come let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, but let us not do away with him ourselves." (Gn 37:27) He doesn't want to sully his hands directly in the sale of his brother or his murder, but complies with the deceit played on his father. In Vayigash, Judah pledges his life for the safe return of Benjamin. He matured to leadership, a person willing to risk his own life for the safety of others. He is the son of Leah, Jacob's first marriage, rather than Rachel, the beloved, balancing the two parts of the family. If life is dominated only by emotions, represented by Rachel, then there is not the discipline to succeed. Jacob understands from the hardship of his own life, that dedication and self-discipline are often the requisite qualities to survival. A leader must be able to act from his knowledge and do what is right, regardless of his emotional involvement or his fear. It is not a criticism of Joseph or of his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, but deep understanding of social leadership. The executive director, is not usually the dreamer, but the hard-nosed pragmatist, relying on the company dreamer to move his company into the future.

Often leadership is chosen, not by the internal qualities that a person possesses, but through appearance. The class president is the cute guy wearing Brooks Brothers clothes. Political candidates are voted on by their superficial appearances and the amount of money spent on the advertising campaign rather than their leadership abilities. Jacob, sees beyond this although his eyes are dimmed with age.

Vayechi is also called a "closed" parasha. The ending of Vayigash and beginning of Vayechi are on the same line, separated only by an extra space. Usually, the parasha portions are separated by nine spaces or letters when one parasha ends and another begins within a paragraph. Commentaries ask why, noting the singular occassion in the Torah.

One explanation is that although Jacob dies, his faith passes on through the younger generations. Human life transcends physical existence, involving our spiritual and psychological influence on others. As we pass on genetic characteristics, so we transfer spiritual characteristics. An Olympic skater identifies with a previous skater, inspired by his or her performance. We speak of role models. The Blessing of Jacob is not a legal writ, enuciating the distribution of family properties; but an ethical will. We need also a spiritual inheritance from our parents and elders. Through their examples, we find the courage to pursue our own lives. We need not only the financial and material support and protection of our parents and teachers, but their psychological and emotional support as well. Stories abound of people overcoming poverty and obstacles to achieve recognition because of the faith and encouragement of a parent or teacher. Similarly, stories fill newspapers of "lost souls" coming from financially sound families, but lacking of emotional security. Balance is needed between the physical and spiritual. The spiritual inheritance will endure long after the physical inheritance is gone. Consider the pride of anyone who has received the confirmation from a geneologist that his family is descended from nobility. Five hundred years of geneology is crowed from the rooftops—but think of the sweetness of recognition by bringing healing goodness into the world.

Although nearly blind with age, Jacob saw the internal characteristics of his grandchildren.

Union of Reform Judaism Vayechi 5764 : Ephraim and Menasseh

"Khazak, Khazak, V'Nitkhazek!"

to say upon the closing of a book of Torah: from strength to strength, let us be strengthened (let us strengthen one another)


I-8 Vayishlach Meeting of Jacob and Esau
Genesis 33:1-11

1-5 Toldot Isaac and Esau, sons of Abraham
Genesis 25:1-34, Genesis 27: 1-38


Yankel Tauber, Miketz- Menasseh and Ephraim,
based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M Schneerson

Yankel Tauber, Vayeishev- Joseph and His Brothers
after the teachings of the Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M Schneerson

Chancellor Ismar Schorsch, Va-Yehi 5764 10 Jan 04

Kolel VaYechi 5765

Kolel, VaYechi 5764

Kolel, VaYechi 5762

David Hoffman, Lifeline, Vayechi 5758
"He [Yosef] comforted them [his brothers] and spoke to their hearts." [50:21]

Rabbi Yisroel Ciner, Parsha Insights, Vayechi 5762 May You be like Ephraim and Menashe

Saturday, December 18, 2004

I-11 Vayigash Do you Have a Father?

I-11 Vayigash Do you Have a Father? 18 December 2004

Vayigash Genesis 44:18- 47:27 "And he drew near" 17 Dec 04

Haftorah : Ez 37:15-28

1.Gn 44:18-30 4. Gn 41:52-42:18
2. Gn 41:15-38 5. Gn 42:19-43:15
3. Gn 41:39-52 6. Gn 43:16-29
7. Gn 43:30:44:17


Vayigash opens with Judah confronting Joseph in Egypt and the grief Jacob has borne on his behalf as a lost son. Joseph unable to restrain his own emotions, dismisses his servant from the room to reveal his identity to his brothers. He reassures Judah that the past is forgiven and through his enslavement, he is able to redeem his family now suffering from the hardship of famine. Reconciliation of brothers is made through divine providence.

In Focus:
Then Judah went up to him and said, "Please my lord, let your servant appeal to my lord, and do not be impatient with your servant, you who are nthe equal of Pharaoh. My lord asked his servants, "Have you a father or another brother?" Genesis 44:18-88-89

The famine spreads throughout the region. Joseph's brothers come to Egypt to buy provisions for their families, bringing with them Benjamin with Judah's pledge of safety. Judah has matured through the years, no longer willing to abandon a person in danger. Confronted with the strange Vizier, he is given an opportunity to prove himself. Repentance is more than regretting past deeds and wrongdoings, it goes the step beyond. True teshuvah (repentance) is when the person is confronted with a similar opportunity and choice for doing the wrong thing, but refuses. It's not that a diabetic announces, "Doc, I admit it. I ate German Chocolate cake last week and that sent my blood sugar soaring," but the person regrets the action to such an extent that he turns away from repeating it.

Judah finds himself against the wall with the demands of the strange Vizier. After years of practiced deceit, he still feels the betrayal of Joseph deeply. Unable to bear the burden of conscience any longer, he confronts the wrongdoing of the past with the plaintive response, "Do you have a father?" The response is spontaneous—Of course, who doesn't. What kind of question is that? I wasn't hatched out of an egg, you know. Betraying his grief, he recollects the previous encounter with Joseph, recounting verbatim their conversation. Judah steps forward to pledge his own life for the sake of his half-brother. He has learned the bitterness of sibling rivalry and tasted the sharpness of loss. He cannot be like Reuben, willing to kill his own sons in retaliation for the loss of Benjamin if he should be taken captive. Judah has suffered the loss of his sons and knows a father's grief, not only from the sorrow of Jacob, but through the death of his own sons.

The question oversteps the bounds of a commercial bargain. It challenges the Vizier to consider his own life and parental relationships. It changes the conversation from haggling over goods to intimacy. "Do you have a father?" points to the irreplaceable value of human life. The relationships between children and parents are interdependent. Jacob awaits the return of his sons and the welfare of his family is dependent on their mission—but Judah also recognizes that the spiritual welfare of the family is dependent on their father's well-being. The loss of Benjamin will ultimately destroy the clan with the father's grief. Someone must step forward and assume responsibility and leadership in the time of crisis.

Joseph's challenge is accepted and refuted. Unable to hide his own grief any longer, Joseph reveals his identity as the lost brother, reassuring them that they have nothing to fear from the past. What is done, is done. Instead, he tells them, "Now do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you... Now hurry back to my father and say to him: Thus says your son Joseph, "God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down without delay..."

Genesis 45:5-9

Occassionally, reports appear in the news regarding lost souls that re-emerge into the living world that have been thought dead for decades: a soldier gone AWOL in the Korean War, relatives re-united after the Berlin Wall. Midrash relates a story to the Garden of Paradise:

Once there was a King who had a son. In his castle was a beautiful garden. The trees bent whenever his son approached when he wanted some fruit. Anything that his son needed, it was provided. Clothes from the finest textiles, wrought with lovely embroidery—but the son, accustomed to having everything became thankless. He presumed that the world was his for the having and so offended his father by his ingratitude. In response, the King sent him out into the world beyond the walls, where he had to sweat and labor in the fields with the peasants in order to survive. Nettles stung his shins and thistles pricked his hands as he learned the intensive drudgery of planting and harvesting barley. Years went by, and the son, accustomed now to the rough clothes of the farmer, celebrated successful harvests and blessed the wine set before him. One day, a meseenger came, calling him back to the parental spread—

Upon his return, the son fell was overwhelmed with the goodness and wealth of his father's estate. The story of Joseph and his brothers is that of our own lives. The King awaits our home-coming.

I-10 Miketz The Brothers' guilt before Joseph
Genesis 42: 13-24
Joseph demands the presence of Benjamin which reawakens the past for the brothers

I-10 Miketz Judah pledges himself
Genesis 43: 1-9
Judah accepts responsibility for past, present and future , pledging his own life for Benjamin

I-9 Vayeishev Joseph sold into slavery
Genesis 37: 1-35
Sibling rivalry and contention between Leah and Rachel prompt the ambush of Joseph and selling him into slavery when the first camel train passes by

I-9 Vayeishev Judah and Tamar
Genesis 38: 1-26
Judah finds himself confronted with his past refusal to provide Tamar with marriage and support, condemning her as a whore, he finds himself humiliated for his own rash actions.


Do You have a Father?
rabbi Joseph B Soloveichik
Discusses the concept of fatherhood—what kind of question is that? Everyone has a father.

Kolel, Vayigash 17-18 Dec 04
Discussion of Rashi's commentary regarding the gifts sent to his father
provides links to go and study, including "What's bothering Rashi?"

Dvar Torah, Vayigash: Is he still my father?
rabbi Label Lam

Dvar Torah, Vayigash: Family Values
rabbi Dovid Green

Feeling Another's Pain
rabbi David Rosenfeld

Avoiding Confrontation and Responsibility
rabbi Shimon Felix Halacha Teshuvah (Repentance)
discussion on choice between good and evil and repentance of wrongdoing