Vayigash 5771

by Alex Krule, 2010-11 CRUSY Israel Affairs Vice President and 2010 Religion/Education IGB, 5771

“Way way back many centuries ago, not long after the bible began” – Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat

Andrew Lloyd Weber sure knows how to give us the perfect setting for these Torah portions on the story of Yosef! This week, we read Parashat Vayigash, the second half of the ever-famous Yosef story. We pick up directly after Yosef discovers his silver goblet in Benyamin’s (Ya’akov and Rachel’s youngest son) sack of corn.

[Very important side-note: Yosef had explained to his brothers (who, at this point, still do not know that the man they are speaking to is, in fact, their believed-dead brother) that the one found with his goblet will become his slave. Additionally, Yosef’s brothers had sworn to their father that they would return Benyamin after their trip to Egypt, otherwise Ya’akov would certainly die of heartbreak).

When the brothers discover that Benyamin had Yosef’s goblet, they plead with Yosef. Actually, Yehudah, the oldest of the brothers, says:

“Therefore, please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord instead of the boy, and let the boy go back with his brothers.” (Genesis 44:33)

This is a pivotal moment in the story of our ancestors. As you may recall, these are the same brothers who bound Yosef up, threw him in a pit, and sold him as a slave because they were jealous of his relationship with their father. These are the same brothers who lied to their father, saying that wild beasts tore their brother, Yosef, to shreds, breaking their father’s heart in the process. What we see here is a fantastic example of the ability of mankind to perform teshuvah, or repentance.

Through Yosef’s test of his brothers, we see that the brothers realize how they hurt their father, as Yehudah explains:

“Now, if I come to your servant my father and the boy is not with us – since his own life is so bound up with his – when he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die…” (Genesis 44:30)

They realize how intertwined the lives (literally, souls) of their father and his son are, and they see the repercussions that their actions would have on others. While they may have been unhappy with their father’s favoritism, they still clearly love and care for their father.

In short, the brothers have learned their lesson and will go to the farthest extent – to carry out Benyamin’s punishment in his stead – to ensure the well being of their father. As Yosef explains,

“God has sent me ahead of you to ensure Your survival on earth, and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance” (Genesis 45:7)

We see that God has determined that the brothers are true in their teshuvah, in their redemption.

I also think that it is so apt that we read this parasha, ending with the reuniting of Ya’akov and Yosef, in the week that we had Chanukah because, just as we celebrate the reuniting of the son and father in our parasha, so too did we celebrate the Maccabees reuniting with the Beit Hamikdash after the Syrian Greeks had defiled it!

Miketz 5758

by Shulamit Warren

Parshat Miketz: Part II in the life and trying times of Joseph, the saga continues…Okay, here comes Joseph’s big break. Our hero has had a few setbacks, amoung them being sold into slavery, then thrown into jail, followed by helping a butler, then being kept in jail while he gets free, etc. But fear not, our hero keeps the faith and gets his big break at the beginning of the parsha when Pharoah has a dream. When none of Pharoah’s other magicians can interpret the dream, Pharoah calls in Joseph, and with God’s help, Joseph translates the dream as a sign of an oncoming period of fertility followed by a period of famine. Joseph presents Pharoah with a game plan and becomes Pharoah’s right hand man in preparation for these times that will certainly be difficult for not only Egypt but also the surrounding lands. With a little organization, Joseph stores the extra food during the fertile years and saves Egypt from starvation during the seven years of famine. Lo and behold, Jacob sends his sons to Egypt to buy food, and the stage is set for confrontation between the brothers and Joseph who has become one of the most powerful men in all of Egypt. Now as we can guess, Joseph has two paths to take. One, he can throw his brothers into jail (or a dark pit) to rot (sound familiar?) or, two, he can forgive all and accept them back with open arms.

Well, Joseph handles this reunion a lot better than most of us could have. First, when he addresses his brothers he does it in a rough tone as he tries to test their feelings towards their father and the youngest son Benyamin, and if they’ve repented yet for selling him into slavery for only 20 silver pieces. Although we don’t learn of the outcome of their reunion yet, we can learn a few great lessons from this parsha. First if you go back to Joseph translating Pharoah’s dream, we can see that he gave the credit to God, and didn’t just attribute this amazing feat to himself. A lot of times we find that we have a special talent and get carried away with how good “we” are but forget where the talent came from. Additionally Joseph teaches us an important way of dealing with other people, especially those who may have deceived us or we feel have wronged us. Free and full forgiveness. Yeah, this may be a hard thing to swallow but when it comes down to it, how can we ask G-d for forgiveness for all of the bad things we’ve done each year–and expect forgiveness, if we ourselves cannot do the same to a fellow human being.

Shabbat Shalom v’ Shavuah Tov

Miketz 5763

by Helen Bennett

This week’s Torah portion, Miketz, finds us in the middle of the Joseph story. After two years in Egyptian prison, Pharaoh calls on him to interpret confusing dreams. Joseph foretells that Egypt will experience seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine. Pharaoh puts Joseph in charge of food collection during the prosperous years and then food distribution during the famine to reward him.

And so, as it turns out, Jacob (Joseph’s father) is forced to send his sons (Joseph’s brothers) down to Egypt during the famine to obtain food for the family. When the brothers approach Joseph in request for food, they do not recognize him, for he has changed his clothes and appearance to that of an Egyptian prince. While the brothers don’t recognize their long lost brother, Joseph recognizes them. He makes them go back to their father in Canaan and bring back their youngest brother, Benjamin. After Jacob was convinced that his favorite son, Joseph, was killed from seeing his coat covered with blood, he took up favoring Benjamin. But, in order to attain food, the brothers told their father that Benjamin coming with them was the only way to get it. So, they return to Egypt with Benjamin.

In Egypt, the brothers get their food, but Joseph secretly put his silver goblet in Benjamin’s sack, accusing them of theft. The parsha closes with Joseph holding Benjamin as a slave while letting the other brothers go free.

While looking at this parsha, I noticed how clothing had a major impact on the story. At the beginning of the Joseph story, Jacob believes that Joseph is dead based on his blood-covered clothing (a.k.a. the coat of many colors). Then, when the brothers come to Egypt for food, they totally don’t recognize their brother just because of his new Egyptian clothing.

I think this brings up a very important issue that we are still struggling with today. Look at how easily people can be deceived by clothing. Today, we shouldn’t believe that a person’s clothing means everything about them, but then we shouldn’t be so naïve and think that clothes don’t mean anything. Most of the time, people wear clothes that they like and that express their personality. Other times though, people hide behind their clothes and try to change what outsiders think of them based on their mere appearance. It is always important to not assume things based solely on a person’s exterior. At the same time, it is also important to be aware that others may be judging us on our clothing and appearance.

Miketz 5771

by Emily Mostow

Happy Chrismahanakwanzakah! USY, I’m probably not the first person to greet you this way. Although we make up a small percentage of the population, everyone seems to know that it’s Chanukah.

As a result, around Chanukah, we may especially find ourselves looked upon as representatives of the Jewish people. Anyone from our friends to teachers to dental hygienists may ask us questions about Chanukah and our traditions. What are we supposed to do if we don’t know the answers?

In this week’s parsha, Miketz, Joseph is in a similar situation. A very prominent non-Jew, the Pharaoh, asks him to interpret his dream. Joseph replies, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace” (Bereishit 41:16, JPS translation). Joseph is humble, and recognizes that it is not his job to invent an answer, but to deliver G-d’s answer.

We can all learn from Joseph’s behavior. As tempting as it can be to appear to know everything, we should not be afraid to admit when we don’t know the answer. As it says in Pirkei Avot, “Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? He who learns from all men, as it is written (in Psalm 119:99) ‘I have gained understanding from all my teachers’” (Mishnah Avot 4:1). Joseph and Ben Zoma both teach us that wisdom doesn’t come from pride, but from being humble enough to learn.

Vayeshev 5763

by Sylvie Grossbard

Parashat Vayeshev tells the story of Yosef, his “colored” coat, his descent into Mitzraim (Egypt), and his interpretation of Pharaoh’s cup-bearer’s and baker’s dreams in prison. Yosef is described as being Ya’akov’s favorite son in just the third verse of the parashah: Ya’akov loved Yosef more than any of his other sons because he was the son of [Ya’akov’s] old age, and he made him a kind of tunic. (B’reshit 37:3). But what kind of tunic? And why does it matter what exactly Yosef wore? Why is it so special?

Various sources debate the nature of the k’tonet pasim. The midrash B’reshit Rabba suggests that “pasim” indicates that the cloak extended to Yosef’s wrists or ankles, or both. Whichever it was, the idea implied by this is that such a long garment would render one unable to perform manual labor. In many cultures, long clothing is a sign of wealth and status; of not having to do manual labor; and indicates importance and superiority.

The Torah does say that Yosef shepherded his father’s sheep along with his brothers (B’reshit 37:2). Yet when he wore his k’tonet pasim, Yosef would be greater than his brothers would. Thus, according to the Talmud (Shabbat 10b), Yosef’s brothers grew jealous of his elevated status and came to hate him. Their hatred drove them to sell him into slavery in Mitzraim, which led to the immigration of B’nai Yisrael and their subsequent enslavement. They fled to escape famine and settled there until a new pharaoh feared their numbers and enslaved them. God had foretold this in His blessing to Avraham, that his descendants would be strangers in a land that is not theirs. However, the Talmud suggests that God used this favoritism in the chain of events to teach a lesson by showing the disastrous effects of favoring one child over another. Because Ya’akov chose to elevate one of his sons above the others, B’nai Yisrael became slaves in Egypt, and although this story ended happily with the entrance into Eretz Yisrael, the end did not come until after numerous years of brutal slavery.

Although we are not old enough to be parents, we are old enough to consider how we treat other people. Recognize how you behave towards every individual, and remember that hurting them by favoring another is just as costly to you and everyone else around you as it is to them. Of course, we should always be considerate for the sake of respecting people, but it often takes a realization of possible bad consequences for ourselves for us to understand the implications of favoritism.

Chag Chanukah Sameach!!

Vayeshev 5771

by Scott Greenberg

Can a girl ask a guy to prom? I was having this discussion today with a group of my friends at lunch. Even though prom is months away and the issue was completely theoretical, we were split on the issue, and the discussion became heated. While some of the guys had an “over my dead body” reaction and proclaimed that they would never say yes if a girl asked them to prom, other guys seemed fine with letting the girls take the initiative.

Surprisingly, the girls were divided as well. Most argued that the concept of the male asking the female to prom was a sexist, 1950s conception of gender roles which doesn’t belong in today’s equal opportunity culture. However, some of the girls stated that they like being asked to prom and preferred not to have to take the initiative.

What would the Tanach say about this issue? Well, we know that the Tanach was given in a very male-centric culture, where women played a marginal role in the society. Thus, you’d expect that in the Tanach, men always initiate relationships with women, and not the other way around.

Surprisingly, that’s not always true. While Jacob does work 14 years for Rachel, Ruth also sneaks into Boaz’s room at night. While Shechem rapes Dinah, Delilah also pursues Samson. The relationships of the Tanach are split between those initiated by men and those initiated by women.

In fact, in this week’s parashah, Vayeshev, we see, right next to each other, two relationships that are initiated by women, in Genesis 38 and 39.

The first of these episodes is the story of Judah and Tamar. Judah, one of Jacob’s 12 sons, has three sons himself: Er, Onan, and Shelah. Er marries a woman named Tamar, but he dies. Tamar marries Er’s brother Onan, but Onan dies as well. It’s Shelah’s turn to marry Tamar, but he isn’t grown up yet, so Judah tells Tamar to wait. But, even when Shelah is grown up, Judah holds back from letting Shelah marry Tamar (because after all, the first two had died!). So Tamar dresses up as a prostitute and waits on the side of a road for Judah to come by. Judah is tempted, so he and his daughter in law sleep together. Here is a relationship, initiated by the woman.

The second of these episodes is the story of Potiphar’s wife and Joseph. Joseph (Judah’s brother) has been brought to Egypt and sold to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh. Joseph quickly rises up to become Potiphar’s most trusted servant, the overseer of all the goings-on in Potiphar’s household. Potiphar’s wife was attracted to Joseph, so she asked him to have sex with her. Joseph, mindful of his master and of God, refused to lie with her. In a rage, Potiphar’s wife told her husband that Joseph had tried to seduce her, and Joseph is thrown in jail. But this too is another sexual encounter initiated by a woman.

These two stories are literally right next to each other in the Torah, and it begs us to compare and contrast them. Yes, both have a woman who tries (or succeeds at) seducing a son of Jacob into having sex. But the two relationships couldn’t be more different.

What’s Tamar’s motivation in having sex with Judah? It’s plain and simple: she wants a child. Her first two husbands have died, and she can’t marry another. The midrash sees her yearning to have a child with Judah specifically, because she saw prophetically that his descendants would be the leaders of Israel someday. Tamar’s motives are pure, and she succeeds in having a relationship with Judah. And, lo and behold, one of the descendants of that relationship was… King David!

What was Potiphar’s wife’s motivation in trying to seduce Joseph? One hint is from the verse: “She cast her eyes upon Joseph.”

This implies that Potiphar’s wife was physically attracted to Joseph’s looks. She was cheating on her husband because she had found a young and good-looking slave. It’s true that a midrash says that Potiphar’s wife wanted to share in the line of Joseph just like Tamar wanted a share in the line of Judah, but there seems to be little support in the text for this. The bottom line is that Potiphar’s wife’s motives are much more base, and she fails in seducing Joseph.

What can we learn from this? The Torah seems to be cool with women starting relationships with men. But, like any relationship, it has to be started for the right reasons. Relationships occur because both partners care about each other, share the same values, and are invested in the union. Relationships that are started for the wrong reason will fail.

So yes, girls, you can ask guys to prom.

Vayishlach 5763

by Josh Sowalsky

This week’s portion is Vayishlach. Two weeks ago, we read that Jacob received the birthright blessings from Isaac, which were supposed to go to his brother Esav, thereby arousing Esav’s wrath. At the conclusion of last week’s portion, Jacob was returning from Charan to the land of Israel. In the beginning of this week’s portion, Jacob sent messengers to Esav to greet him. However, the messengers informed him that Esav was coming with 400 men, and Jacob feared that Esav’s intentions were not peaceful.

Upon hearing this, Jacob split his camp and animals into two groups, saying that, “If Esav will attack one camp, the second will be saved.” Jacob prayed to Hashem to remember His promises and to save him. Jacob then sent Esav a present. Esav accepted the present and made peace with Jacob.

Jacob’s preparations for Esav raise many questions. Why did he first divide his camp and only then pray? Also, why was he confident that if one camp were destroyed, the other would remain? Esav was approaching with 400 men, more than enough to destroy both camps.

Jacob had been told by Hashem to return to Israel and that Hashem would bless him there. He knew that the future of the Torah depended upon him and his seed. He had great faith in Hashem’s blessing. However, according to Midrash, he feared that perhaps his great wealth had interfered with his connection to Hashem. When he divided his camp, he put all of his wealth and servants in one camp and his family in the other. He prayed only for his family, and after praying, he was sure that even if Esav captured the camp with his wealth, the remaining camp with his family would be secure.

Jacob’s willingness to sacrifice his material possessions provides an example for us in our daily lives. Often our desires for status and material possessions can conflict with our values of family and religious life. We learn from Jacob that our material wealth is less important than the wealth we get from family, Jewish living and following Mitzvoth.

The Torah concludes Jacob’s encounter with Esav by saying that Jacob continued to live in peace. Rashi explains that everything that Jacob had given Esav as a present was replenished later in Jacob’s life. This teaches us that even when we place less importance upon our status and material possessions, Hashem will provide amply for us. Three times daily in Ashrei, we recite, “Poteach et Yaedcha…;” Hashem opens his hand and satisfies the needs of every living thing.

As USYer’s, we should strive to make Judaism a part of our lives as much as we can, even when it conflicts with our secular values and goals. We all resolve this conflict differently. For some, it means keeping Kosher and observing Shabbat; for others it may be an occasional Shabbat dinner, or just saying a Bracha or two. However, as long as we are mindful of Jacob’s example and his faith that Hashem will provide for him, we will find it easier to sacrifice our desires for status and material possessions to live a Jewish life.

I hope you all have a terrific Shabbat! Shabbat Shalom.

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