by Judah Kerbel, 2009 USY International Religion/Education VP, 5769
January 10, 2009/14 Tevet, 5769
This week, we read Parashat Vayechi – the last of the Book of Genesis. Perhaps the name vayechi – and he lived – is ironic, for this parasha focuses on the last moments of Jacob’s life, and we will also see Joseph move on towards the end of the parasha. In this parasha, Jacob falls ill and summons his children to bless them. He forces Joseph to swear that he will not be buried in Egypt, but rather in the Cave of Machpelah, where his wife Leah, his parents, and his grandparents rest. Jacob is embalmed when he dies, and Joseph carries his remains back to Canaan. After Jacob dies, the brothers worry that Joseph will kill them, wary that he holds a grudge against them for their evildoings; yet Joseph assures his brothers that it all happened for a reason and that he does not bear a grudge against them.
The words hamalach ha-go’el oti mikol ra, the words to the popular Abie Rotenberg melody that we love to sing on Shabbat afternoons, appear in this parasha as Jacob blesses Joseph. Let’s take a look at what we are singing. The text reads:
Hamalach ha-go’el oti mikol ra yevareich et ha-ne’arim; v’yikarei bahem sh’mi, v’sheim avotai, Avraham v’Yitzchak, v’yigdu la-rov b’kerev ha-aretz. (Breishit 48:16) The Angel who has redeemed me from all harm – Bless the lads. In them may my name by recalled, And the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, And may they be teeming multitudes upon the earth. (Etz Hayim Chumash, p. 297)
This is a blessing from Jacob in hopes of a bright future for the Jewish people. When God appeared to Jacob at Beit El further back, Jacob vowed to serve God as long as God protects him wherever he goes. Indeed, Jacob endured many hard times between his uncle Lavan constantly deceiving him, running a querulous family, and practically losing his favorite son; yet God was there to help Jacob. Jacob hopes for the best for his descendents, that God will be with them in all their journeys and to guide them.
A kushya (difficulty) on this blessing: what does it mean for the lads to be recalled in his and Isaac and Abraham’s names? Shneur Zalman, as quoted in the Etz Hayim chumash, explains: “May God bless them as long as they call themselves by traditional, biblical names. The most valuable legacy we can leave our children and grandchildren is bequeathing to them the faith that sustained us” (p. 297). Three things prevented Jews from assimilating in Egypt: preserving their dress, language, and names. What Shneur Zalman is emphasizing is that the way in which we call ourselves reflects the way we approach our connection to Judaism; by giving our descendents Jewish names, we assert the prominence of Jewish identity in our everyday lives. If we do not identify as Jews, how can we serve God? Sforno, an Italian scholar, comments that “Abraham and Isaac … but not Terach or Nachor, because righteous men are not called by their fathers’ names when these are wicked, nor vice versa … hence his blessing was a prayer that they might be prepared to serve the Almighty so that they will be worth to be called after Abraham and Isaac …” (Art Scroll translation). Names serve as a symbol to the Jewish legacy we carry, and names reflect what we value in life.
This would be the expected time for me to say that if you have a secular name, your value of Judaism is worthless – if that was really the case. We all, in fact, do have Hebrew names, even if in the secular world we have an additional name. The fact that many of us do have both secular and Jewish names is very significant, that we still care about having Jewish names. As we continue to combat assimilation and stay true to our Jewish roots, let us not forget our names. It is those names that link us to the grandeur of Torah and of our ancestors, all the way back to Abraham.
by Hadar Schwartz, IGB Rel/Ed Committee 2002, 5763
Now, I must admit that, though I love my siblings dearly, I have fought with them many times. I know that everyone else with siblings would agree with me. Brothers always choose to take the head off of your favorite Barbie doll and sisters seem to keep yelling for hours, keeping you at that same task for just as long (this is, of course, my own female bias). But, as I said before, you gotta love ‘em.
So, you may ask, what does this have to do with Torah? Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers — the Torah loves sibling rivalry. In every generation this nasty habit that got one patriarch in trouble, propels that patriarch to favor one of his sons and to revive the tradition. Sadly, this sibling hatred causes Joseph’s brothers to betray their brother by selling him into slavery.
I see, in Parashat Vayigash, a glimpse of a brighter future though. In vs. 14-15 of Ch. 45, the JPS narrative reads,
“With that he embraced his brother Benjamin around the neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck. He kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; only then were his brothers able to talk to him.”
After years apart and so much heartache, Joseph and his brothers can reconnect but they had to reach rock bottom first (or whatever the bottom of pyramids was made of). Maybe it took this experience to bring the brothers of the Bible back together and to finally get them to speak. Now I am not preaching sibling love and harmony. If it didn’t work FOR the patriarchs, it sure ain’t working on me. And no hugging and kissing required. However, I could feel in these verses such regret. Joseph’s brothers didn’t know him; they didn’t recognize him. I could almost hear Joseph telling me to call my sibs, find out about their week. Why wait, right? I don’t want to be thirty and in charge of a bustling country before I give them a call. Funny thing though, Joseph also told me not to forgive my brother for the Barbies or the broken carriages. I guess you can only go so far.
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!
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
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.
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.
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!!