“Who Is Mighty?”

“Who Is Mighty?”

Nov 26, 1994 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Vayeshev

Ben Zoma, a second-century sage, died so young that he never attained the title “rabbi.” Yet his wisdom exceeded his years. As proof, I offer his tantalizing paradox: “Who is mighty? One who conquers his evil impulse!” How contrary to the popular culture of contemporary America where strength – physical and external – is defined as a manly trait, to be measured competitively. The young Ben Zoma, in contrast, defines strength as an inner quality of a moral nature, equally applicable to women and men. The real challenge of life is not to subdue others but to subdue ourselves. Self-mastery is the epitome of true strength.

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The Fragility of a Nation’s Unity

The Fragility of a Nation’s Unity

Dec 7, 1996 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Vayeshev | Hanukkah

Jacob fathered twelve sons, but singled out Joseph for special favor, setting off the family dynamic which would eventually land Jacob’s clan in Egypt. The verbal flow of the text foreshadows the intimacy: as our narrative begins the name of Joseph appears directly after that of Jacob. No extraneous word is allowed to loosen the bond. “These are the begettings of Yaakov. Yosef, seventeen years old, used to tend the sheep along with his brothers (Genesis 37:2 in the translation by Everett Fox).” It is as if the history of Jacob comes down to the fate of Joseph.

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Uniting the Jewish People

Uniting the Jewish People

Dec 20, 1997 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Vayeshev

This week I will leave for Israel to attend the World Zionist Congress along with 37 other delegates from MERCAZ, the official Zionist party of the Conservative Movement in the United States. Despite the overblown rhetoric that will be heard in Jerusalem, no one should imagine that this Congress is a matter of any consequence. Zionism is alive and well, but the World Zionist Organization died a long time ago. In Jewish life we simply can’t muster the political will to dismantle organizational structures designed for a specific purpose after they have been crowned with success.

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The Power of Dreams

The Power of Dreams

Dec 12, 1998 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Vayeshev

For the ancients, dreams often conveyed a divine communication about the future. For us moderns, raised in the shadow of Freud, dreams are an expression of our unconscious desires made manifest through dissimilation. Freud took as the motto for his pathbreaking Interpretation of Dreams, published at the end of 1899, a line from Virgil’s Aeneid: “If I cannot bend the higher powers, I will move the infernal regions,” which summarized his thesis. Desires censored by the defenses of our “higher mental authorities” would resort to the realm of our “mental underworld (the unconscious)” to achieve their ends (Peter Gay, Freud: A Life for our Time, p. 105). Nowhere does the secularization of the modern mind find more striking articulation than in the view that dreams are no longer regarded as an emanation from above but rather as an eruption from below.

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The Heroism of Hanukkah

The Heroism of Hanukkah

Dec 4, 1999 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Vayeshev | Hanukkah

On the surface, the haftarah for the first Shabbat of Hanukkah (most years there is only one) seems like a self-evident choice. Its dominant image is the seven-branched candelabrum which illuminated the Temple sanctuary. Hanukkah is commemorated by the kindling of lights in our homes. The theme of sacred light forms an unforced link between a biblical text and our only post-biblical festival (till our own day).

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“Like Father, Like Son.”

“Like Father, Like Son.”

Dec 23, 2000 By David-Seth Kirshner | Commentary | Vayeshev

My eight-year-old nephew, Caleb, is a young comedian with a natural wit about him. At family gatherings he sends his uncles and aunts, cousins and grandparents into fits of side-splitting laughter. Caleb’s personality, warmth and outlook can earn the trust and smile of a complete stranger.

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Appreciating Small Miracles

Appreciating Small Miracles

Nov 30, 2002 By Joshua Heller | Commentary | Vayeshev | Hanukkah

This week’s parasha, Vayeshev, often falls on the Shabbat of Hannukah. Vayeshev and the Festival of Lights in fact share a number of connections, though on the surface there would seem to be little that is light in the parashah. In melodramatic fashion, each upturn in the story is matched by a sharper downturn. Joseph is loved most of all by his father, so he is hated by his brothers. When Reuven saves him from his brothers’ murderous intent, Joseph is taken from the pit and sold into slavery. He works his way up to be chief of Potiphar’s household, only to be falsely accused of a rape and cast into prison. He earns the gratitude of Pharaoh’s cupbearer, but it turns out to be short-lived, and Joseph must spend the week from Vayeshev to Mi-ketz languishing in the dungeon. At the end of this week’s reading it is difficult to see the glass as half full.

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Longing for Our Homeland

Longing for Our Homeland

Dec 20, 2003 By Lewis Warshauer | Commentary | Vayeshev | Hanukkah

Mrs. Matsunaga looked at me with a puzzled face. She was the local English teacher in a village in Northern Japan. Moments before, she had bustled into the house where I was staying. It had come up in conversation that I was Jewish and she was trying to figure out what that meant. Suddenly, her face cleared. “You are from Israel,” she exclaimed. I laughed and said: “Yes, but that was a long time ago.”

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