A Literary Analysis of Judah and Tamar

A Literary Analysis of Judah and Tamar

Dec 24, 2005 By JTS Alumni | Commentary | Vayeshev

By Rabbi Steven Lindemann

Interruption, intrusion, insertion: these are terms often used to describe the placement of the story of Judah and Tamar in the midst of the Joseph narrative (Genesis 38).

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Troubling Feelings

Troubling Feelings

Dec 24, 2005 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Vayeshev

Duplicitous behavior is one of the hallmarks of the Genesis narratives. Jacob seizes the birthright and blessing from Esau, Lavan deceives his nephew Jacob repeatedly during the latter’s sojourn, and Jacob’s sons deceive the Hivites as they exact revenge for the rape of their sister Dinah. Of all of these deceitful episodes, none warrants stronger biblical condemnation than the acts of Jacob’s sons in defending their people and honor. Simeon and Levi are explicitly condemned by their father Jacob — both in the immediate aftermath of the episode and then once again as their father lay on his deathbed.

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Permanence in a Land of Impermanence

Permanence in a Land of Impermanence

Dec 4, 2004 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Vayeshev

The opening verse of this week’s parashah begins the Joseph narrative which will carry us to the conclusion of Genesis. Even more significant, these opening words highlight an issue at the heart of Jewish history and Jewish life. In Genesis 37:1 we read, “Jacob settled (va-yeishev) in the land of his father’s sojournings (megurei aviv), in the land of Canaan.” The Hebrew word va-yeishev means ‘he settled’; it is a verb that speaks to a sense of rootedness and permanence. On the other hand, a few words later, we encounter the Hebrew megurei meaning sojournings – a word that at its root (gar) echoes strangeness and impermanence.

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Varieties of Devotion

Varieties of Devotion

Dec 4, 2004 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Vayeshev

This past week, my two-and-a-half year old granddaughter spotted me one morning davening by the window in our living room. She recognized the telltale signs of the act, my tallit and tefillin. Spontaneously, she announced her intention to daven also, took herself over to the drawer where we keep some old JTS benchers (small grace books), removed one, and proceeded to strut about with the bencher in her face. Later, I found the bencher on the floor in another room, but for a few tender moments at least, I had a precious soul mate in greeting God that morning.

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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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A Search for Peace

A Search for Peace

Dec 20, 2003 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Vayeshev

Jacob’s life is a search for blessing and more importantly, a blessing that will culminate in peace. Knowing full well that his blessing was acquired through deception, Jacob seeks uncategorical recognition – a legitimacy that Esau grants him in last week’s parashah. Indeed, Jacob desires the fulfillment of blessing in his own life. Sadly though, his life proves to be just the opposite.

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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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Where It’s Least Expected

Where It’s Least Expected

Nov 30, 2002 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Vayeshev

God’s Presence in our world is truly in the eye of the beholder. While there are times we feel an acute absence of God in our lives, there are also times that we are keenly aware of God’s Presence. More often than not, it is in times of distress and tragedy that we turn to be discovered by God rather than in times of blessing. Our patriarch Jacob is the quintessential model of such relationship. When Jacob leaves home and again when he is about to confront his brother Esau after twenty years, Jacob prays to God — for protection and blessing. 

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The Refuge of Judaism

The Refuge of Judaism

Dec 8, 2001 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Vayeshev | Hanukkah

In his richly thoughtful one-volume History of the Jews in Modern Times, Professor Lloyd P. Gartner observes that “few Jews in the world of 1950 lived in the city or country where their grandparents had lived in 1880” (p. 213). Like the rest of the world, Jews in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were on the move, to burgeoning cities in the countries where they lived or to lands abroad that beckoned with opportunity. By 1915, the Jewish population in the United States had mushroomed from 280,000 to 3,197,000.

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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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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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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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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 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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“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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Settled and Unsettled

Settled and Unsettled

Dec 4, 1993 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Vayeshev

The opening verse of our parasha conveys a degree of finality. “Now Jacob was settled in the land where his father had sojourned, the land of Canaan (Genesis 37:1).” His exile is over. The text depicts a man drained by unrelenting stress who has come home to die. The abuse heaped upon him by Laban, the prospect of facing Esau, the rampage of his sons against the inhabitants of Shehem, and the loss of his beloved Rachel in childbirth has left him groping for the solace and security of home. 

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Vayeshev

Vayeshev

Jan 1, 1980

1 Now Jacob was settled in the land where his father had sojourned, the land of Canaan. 

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Vayeshev

Vayeshev

Jan 1, 1980

6 Thus said the Lord:

For three transgressions of Israel,
For four, I will not revoke it:
Because they have sold for silver
Those whose cause was just,
And the needy for a pair of sandals.

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