Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Miketz – B’resheet (Genesis): 41 – 44:17


The dungeon scene (or “pit” in Hebrew), which ended last week’s Parasha, shifts almost instantaneously to a palace, and it is there that the present Parasha opens up. A short phrase acts as a bridge, connecting these two very dissimilar places, yet making it clear that the events happening in the palace are not entirely removed from the prison cell and its occupants. 

And so we read: “At the full end – “miketz” - of two years of days” (literal translation)… "Miketz" signifies here the “full end” (to the very last day) of the two years following the fulfillment of the dreams interpreted correctly by Yoseph, for which he was hoping to be rewarded…  “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him" (40:23). "Did not remember, but forgot”, is an emphatic and decisive double statement that ended last week’s Parashat Va’yeshev and seemed to seal off Yoseph's fate. Moving on to the next chapter (and Parasha), we find that it begins where the former left off; that is, with dreams. Moreover, Par’oh’s dreams could not have come before the period allotted by YHVH for Yoseph’s prison experience. Thus, the thread connecting the 'dreamer' of this Parasha (Par’oh) to the interpreter of dreams (himself a renowned dreamer, ref. 37: 5 – 10) in last week’s Parasha, begins to unravel. Consequently, that which appears to be the protagonist’s sealed fate takes a sharp and immediate turn, as the times  and events of his life are being directed from above (see Ps. 31:15a; Prov. 20:24). Thus it is only when the two years fully expire that change can come about in Yoseph's life circumstances, and as is so often the case, once change sets in, it gathers momentum. We therefore read in 41:14: “Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him quickly out of the dungeon…” (italics added). However, the “dungeon” mentioned here is “bor” in Hebrew, which is literally a “pit”, the same as the “pit” into which the brothers had cast Yoseph in 37:24. Moreover, in last week’s Parasha, when Yoseph tried to make the chief butler plead his case before Paroh, he referred to his current setting as a “bor” – pit (40:15) Thus, the instant transformation which was about to take place in the life of Yoseph did not erase the memory of that critical moment where the saga that brought him to his present circumstance started.    

Not only was Yoseph “brought… quickly out of the dungeon [bor-pit] and he shaved”, he also “changed his clothing” (41:14). Last week we noted Yoseph’s two significant “clothes removal” experiences, which marked humiliation and resignation to his circumstances. Does the present “change of clothes” also mark a new phase in this man’s life? Yes, it does. As we shall see, in verse 42, Yoseph will be receiving another “change of clothes”. 

Parashat Miketz will enumerate certain Egyptian names, words and terms. Although in most cases they are not directly related to the Hebrew language, their Hebrew transliterations happen to have clear meanings. Even if these are mere happenstances or coincidences, they are intriguing! 

Let us begin with the king of Egypt, Pharaoh, “Par'oh” in Hebrew; a title used for all the kings of that land, and means a "great house" in Ancient Egyptian.1. Correspondingly, the Hebrew consonants for this title, p.r.a (pey, resh, ayin), form a word which, according to some linguists means "leader" (Judges 5:2, "for the leading of the leader"; also Deut. 32:42). Others disagree, believing it to mean, "annul, do away with, or unruly", while it also means the “loosening" or “untying of hair" (e.g. Lev. 13:45; Num. 5:18). Pieced together these images create a picture of disorder; perhaps even of an unruly, or unscrupulous ruler, which was true of quite a few of the Pharaohs. In Mishley (Proverbs) 15:32, for example, we read: "He who neglects discipline despises himself", with the verb for "neglect” being “pore'ah”. And in chapter 29 of the same book, in verse 18 it says: "Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained ("unrestrained" – “yipara”). The consonants P or F (remember, in Hebrew P and F are signified by the same letter) and R, seem to be common in the ancient Egyptian tongue – last week we read about Potiphar - and this week we meet Yoseph's father-in-law whose name is Potiphera (41:45). Later on these consonants will be found in another well-known Hebrew-Egyptian name. 

As Par'oh continues to endow Yoseph with honor and material wealth, "he had him ride in his second chariot; and they proclaimed before him: "Bow the knee" - or “av'rech (41:43). “Av'rech” contains the word for "knee", “berech”, which, as we have seen before (in Parashat Lech Lecha, Gen. 12 – 17, particularly in ref. to chapter 12), is also the root for the verb "to bless". Indeed, Yoseph is a great blessing to the people of Egypt. “Av'rech”, however, can also be read as “av-rach”, a "tender father" (for the same word for “tender,” see Prov. 4:3). In next week's Parasha, Yoseph will be heard telling his brothers that, "Elohim made [him] a father to Pharaoh" (45:8). "Tender" in this case may be pointing to his age (he was 30 at the time, see 41:46), while the term "father" denotes a venerated figure, one whose wisdom and counsel are relied upon.  Par'oh’s respect for Yoseph is also expressed by the name that he gives him, “Tzafnat Pa'a'ne'ach (Zaphnath-Paaneah). The root tz.f.n is not new to us; we examined it when we looked at the four directions of the wind (again in Parashat Lech Lecha, 13:14), and found that this root forms the word for "north", but also for that which is “hidden" or "stored up". Thus, the man who was kidnapped from Egypt’s northern neighbor, fits well the description ascribed to "wise men [who] store up knowledge" (Pro. 10:14, italics added)… and also food and provisions. In Ancient Egyptian the two words that make up this name mean, “The god speaks and he lives.”2

In 41:51, 52, mention is made of Yoseph's sons, whose names are explained according to their respective Hebrew meaning. However, these names (also) happen to sound like Egyptian names, which may have been another reason why Yoseph chose them. Let us begin with the name of the youngest, Ephraim, meaning, "multiplicity of fruit" (v. 52). As we can see, the same consonants that we just noted above: P/F and R, make up this name. Obviously, Yoseph did not want to stand out as a foreigner in the land of his benefactors, but at the same time also wished to express his faith in the promise of the multiplication of the seed that was given to his ancestors. In the blessing and promise to Ya'acov, in 35:11 (Parashat Va’yishalch), Elohim says: "Be fruitful and multiply, a nation and a company of nations shall come from you" (italics added), and likewise in the prayer that Ya'acov prays and blesses Ephraim with, in Parashat Va’ye’chi (ref. 48:4). Thus "fruit" ("pri", of the root p.r.a, pey, resh, hey), is found in this name. It will also be in the title with which Ya’acov will bless Yoseph and confer upon him (again in Parashat Va’yechi) - “ben porat”, that is "son of fruitfulness" (49:22). Prophetically significant is also the fact that “Ephraim” contains the consonants, e.f.r (alef, pey/fey, resh), forming the word “efer” which means "ashes". Interestingly, the prophet Hoshe’ah (Hosea) describes Yisrael/Ephraim, while in their state of sin, as “smoke from a chimney” (13:3). 

Yoseph names his firstborn “Mena'she”, because Elohim had caused him to forget his past (thereby easing his pain of separation from his family, 41:51), since n.sh.h is the root of a verb which means “to forget”. The “sinew of the thigh” which is not eaten by the sons of Yisrael because of the maiming inflicted upon Ya’acov when he fought the “man” at P’niel, is called in Hebrew “gid hanasheh” (ref. Gen. 32:32). Some rabbis and commentators are of the opinion that this title for the thigh (exclusively connected with the above-mentioned episode) - “nasheh” - is of the same root as “forgetfulness”, because it was meant as a ‘remembering device’. That is, by not partaking of what is symbolically a “sinew of forgetfulness”, the Israelites were to remember their Elohim, His commandments, and their own identity. But try hard as the nation may have done, forgetfulness did set in quickly, resulting in dire consequences. Nevertheless, in our Parasha it is evident that forgetfulness and remembering are also subject to YHVH’s sovereignty. Thus, the cupbearer’s forgetfulness (different word in this case than the above n.sh.a., this one is sh.ch.ch – shin, chaf, chet), and subsequent remembrance, are used by YHVH in order to set His plan into motion.  Yoseph also makes use of the same verb when interpreting Par’oh’s dream:  “But after that seven years of famine will arise, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt…” (41:30 italics added). Later on, when Yoseph’s brothers show up and bow down to him, his recollection leads him to remember his dreams of long ago (42:9). 

Back to Menashe… whose name sounds much like "Moshe" (Moses), which in spite of its Hebrew meaning is most likely also of Egyptian origin, as it was Par’oh’s daughter who gave it to the foundling. Thus, Yoseph’s sons’ names which although of significant Hebrew meaning, most likely would not have sounded strange in their environment. 

The book of Hoshe'ah (Hosea) deals at great length with the northern kingdom of Yisrael, and especially with the people of Ephraim. In 13:12, 13, in a specific address to Ephraim, some of the words, or roots, which we have just encountered, are repeated. "The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up, his sin is stored up" - "stored up" is “tzfoona” of the same root which is in Yoseph's Egyptian name “Tzafnat”. In the following verse (13) mention is made of the "opening of the womb", literally "the breaking [forth] of the sons", the word being “mishbar” of the root sh.v/b.r (shin, vet/bet, resh). In our Parasha this word is used for "grain" and for the verb to "supply food”, that is "breaking" of hunger or famine, like the breaking of a fast. Yoseph, the one supplying provender is called “mashbir”. In Psalm 105: 16, 17 we read about Yoseph and his mission: “Moreover He called for a famine in the land; He destroyed all the provision of bread. He sent a man before them -- Joseph -- who was sold as a slave.” “He destroyed all provision” is rendered in the Hebrew by “shavar” (literally, “broke”) of the afore-mentioned root. Amos deplores those who do not “grieve for the breaking – or affliction - of Joseph” (6:6), which in Hebrew is “shever Yoseph”. It seems that ‘shever’ accompanies Yoseph, both the man and his descendants, in his/their successes and failures. Back to Hoshe’ah... In 14:8 we read: “Ephraim [doubly fruitful], 'What have I to do anymore with idols?' I have heard and observed him. I am like a green cypress tree; Your fruit [“pri”] is found in Me" (italics added).

 Last week we saw that Yoseph made YHVH's name known in his foreign environs. He certainly continues to do so when standing before the king (41:16, 25). And like Potiphar before him, Par'oh too acknowledges Yoseph's Elohim: "’Can we find a man like this, in whom is the spirit of Elohim?’ So Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'Since Elohim has informed you of all this…'" (41:38, 39).

Par’oh not only acknowledges Yoseph’s Elohim, he also honors Yoseph by having him ride his "second chariot" (41: 43), or “mirkevet ha'mish'neh”. “Mish'neh” is from the root sh.n.h (shin, noon, hey), the primary meaning of which is "to repeat", "extra", “two” and “second”. In 43:12 we read that Ya'acov gives his sons “extra” or “double” ("mishneh") money to take with them to Egypt, in order to be prepared for any eventuality. Number two, being a repetition of number one, is also seen in 41:32, "Now as for the repeating [“hishanot” - of the same root] of the dream twice…."  In Par'oh's dreams there were two seven-year periods. The word for "year" is “shana”, being again of the root sh.n.h, (‘that which repeats itself’ or ‘is repeated’), but its additional meaning is "to change", as seen for example in Malachi 3:6, "For I, YHVH, do not change [shaniti], therefore you, O sons of Israel are not consumed". Thus, although number two is seemingly a repeat of number one, there is always bound to be a change, or a difference the second time round, seen by the dual meaning of this word. Yoseph, for example, who was second only to Par'oh, was certainly very different from ‘number one’!

Part of Yoseph's advice to Par'oh was to "exact a fifth of the produce… in the seven years of abundance" (41:34). "Exacting a fifth" appears here in verb form, “chimesh”. Number five is “cha'mesh” (ch.m.sh.- chet, mem, shin) in Hebrew, and the verb which stems from it means "to arm" or "to be armed", such as when “YHVH led the people around… and the sons of Israel went up in martial array [“chamushim”=”armed”] from the land of Egypt" (Ex. 13: 18). In the verse following this one, that is in Sh’mot (Exodus) 13:19, mention is made of Yoseph’s request to have his bones brought to the Land. Was it the memory of how Yoseph ‘armed’ Egypt that inspired Moshe to use this unique term (“martial array” = “chamushim”) just before taking Yoseph’s bones? Hence Yoseph's advise to Par'oh, here in verse 34, could be read as, "let Pharaoh arm the land of Egypt in the seven years of plenty" (italics added). And, having followed Yoseph's wise and Godly counsel, Par'oh certainly does (in a manner of speaking) arm his land.

 The figure seven, “sheva”, as pertaining to the two seven-year blocks of time, with their abundance on the one hand, and the lack thereof on the other, is repeated time and again in chapter 41.  Abundance, or "plenty" appear here as “sova” (ref. vs. 29 ,30 ,31) which we have already noted as meaning "fullness" (as in a full belly), or “satisfaction”, as well as its closeness to the figure seven – sheva.  YHVH's precise order within humanity and over nature, as He makes provision for “sova” in the two periods of “sheva”, is evident even in the very words themselves.

 When "Ya'acov saw that there was grain [“shever”, referred to above] in Egypt, he said to his sons: 'why are you staring at one another?'" (42:1). Ya'acov's "seeing" and his sons' "staring" - are both of the root "to see", r.a.ah (resh, alef, hey). But whereas Ya'acov was looking around and was aware of the situation, his sons were looking at one another, thereby failing to see the reality about them. This is not the first time that these lads were found busy examining one another, instead of being attentive and productive. Last week we read in 37:4: “And when his brothers saw - “va’yir’ou” - that their father loved him [Yoseph] more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him” (italics added).

Yoseph, on the other hand, sees and recognizes his brothers, although he acts as a stranger toward them (ref. 42:7). “Va'yitna'ker” – “he made himself as a stranger” - since “nochri” is “stranger” and “nechar” is a “foreign land”, with the root being n.ch.r (noon, kaf/chaf, resh). However, it is also this very root that forms “nikar”, which means "seen" or "apparent" (the sounds "k" and "ch" are denoted by the same letter here, the letter kaf/chaf). And thus, “to know” or “recognize” is “haker”, a verb we encountered twice in last week’s Parasha. The paradoxical meaning imbedded in this root, which is shared by words pertaining to recognition and by those which have to do with estrangement, is made very real in the scene before us. Yoseph’s recognition of his brothers, on the one hand, and his estrangement from them, on the other, is summed up well by these two verbs (stemming from the one root) – “va'ya'kirem” - “vayitna'ker”. Thus, seeming opposites are actually two sides of the same coin! This act of estrangement was in fact a tool that Yoseph used in order to find out more about his brothers, as he desired to become re-acquainted with them and their present disposition. When Ruth was taken by surprise upon Boaz’s kindness toward her, she exclaimed: “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should recognize/acknowledge me [le’hakireni], since I am a foreigner [nochriya]?” (Ruth 2:10 italics added). “Recognition” has also been used extensively (and ironically) in the previous Parasha, as we noted last week.  When Ya’acov’s sons showed him Yoseph’s bloody tunic, they said: “haker na – recognize… va’yakira – and he recognized…” (37:32-33). During Yehudah’s escapade he too was confronted by “haker na – recognize – whose are these…” referring to the pledge he left with Tamar while not ‘recognizing’ her as she was pretending to be a ‘stranger’ (ref. 38:25, 15-18). And like his father before him, he too is said to have “recognized…” – va’yaker (v. 26) the items and (some of) of his past deeds, thus waking up to the needed correction.

The brothers return home, yet it is not long before the provisions come to an end. If they are to go down again to the 'land of plenty', Ya'acov's sons need to convince their father to send their youngest brother, in accordance with the demand of the ‘Egyptian ruler’. Yehuda, therefore, pleads with Ya’acov: "Send the lad with me…  I myself will be surety for him; you may hold me responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame before you for ever" (43:8,9). Yehuda is willing to “guarantee” his brother, or to become an “era'von”. Last week, in Parashat Va’yeshev, we saw Yehuda as he was learning something about the principle of redemption from his daughter-in-law. At the time Tamar used a "pledge", also an “era'von”, in order to force her father-in-law into acknowledging his duty (ref. 38:17, 18). A wiser Yehuda now offers up himself as the pledge or surety, in the process of qualifying for a position of leadership in the family.

After leaving Egypt with their provisions, the brothers’ youngest sibling - Binyamin - is accused of having stolen Yoseph's cup. Yehuda immediately takes responsibility, albeit a collective one, for his brother. His words "Elohim has found out the iniquity of your servants" (44:16) lead us to believe that it is not the alleged crime of stealing to which he was referring. Already in 42:21, while meeting Yoseph for the first time, the brothers acknowledged amongst themselves their guilt toward him.  But whereas at that time Yoseph kept quiet, here he puts Yehuda on the spot, testing him to the utmost: "Far be it from me to do this. The man in whose possession the cup has been found, he shall be my slave; but as for you, go up in peace to your father" (44:17).  With this situation unresolved, and portending the worst, the narrator seals off, leaving us to wonder until the next episod.

But just before closing, let us examine one more term. When Ya'acov acquiesces and commits Binyamin to the mercy of his brothers, he makes his sons take an offering "to the man" (43:11), in spite of the famine and their own great want.  That which is translated as "best produce of the land" is “zimrat ha'aretz”. While “ha'aretz” is "the land" or “the earth”, “zimra” stems from the verb “zamor” (z.m.r., zayin, mem, resh)," to cut off vine branches”, but in many more instances it is "song" or "music". According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, "the vast majority of occurrences of this verb and its derivatives focus upon praising the Lord; The people of Israel lift their voices and their instruments to praise their God as long as they live” (Ps. 104:33; 146:2).3 [Several times this praise is tangibly directed toward the "name of the Lord” - the "name," as representing YHVH Himself (Ps. 18:49; 66:4; 135:3)]. What exactly did Ya'acov have in mind when selecting this particular and uncommon term? Do these words reveal something that is perhaps beyond what Ya’acov himself was aware of? Is this alluding to a latter day, when praise will be brought to the ‘man’ (ref. John 19:5), who is the vine (John 15:1, 5), by the ones who are the proverbial branches? The verb “zamru” (“sing”) is repeated a number of times in T’hilim (Psalms) 66, and so we read in verse 4: “Kol ha’aretz (the whole earth)… ye’zamru (“will sing praise”) lach (to you)”, echoing the term “zimrat ha’aretz”, as coined by our father Ya’acov.


1.The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Mass. 1979.


3. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, vol. 1, R. Laird Harris ed. Moody Press, Chicago. 1980.

Friday, November 26, 2021

A Hindsight Hint


A Hindsight Hint

He [Jacob] came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place.  And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of Elohim were ascending and descending on it.  And YHVH stood beside him and said, ‘I am YHVH, the Elohim of Abraham your father and the Elohim of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you’" (Genesis 28:11-15).

Is there something concealed in this picture, a hint of a glory yet to be revealed, beside that which is obvious?  To recap. Jacob the man is the object of the above description.  He had arrived at a place, and night was beginning to settle in. He therefore picked up a stone, put his head on it for a pillow and had a dream of a ladder that was set up on earth with its top reaching heaven. On it were messengers/angels that were going up and coming down, while YHVH was standing next to him or above the ladder (the Hebrew can be read as either or).  YHVH introduced Himself as the Elohim of his fathers and reiterated the covenants and promises.  Upon waking up Jacob exclaimed: “Surely YHVH is in this place-- and I did not know it!" (Genesis 28:16).  Next he was gripped with fear, making the following statement:  “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of Elohim and this is the gate of heaven" (Genesis 28:17). 

This prophetic dream obviously took place inside Jacob’s head. It was a vision of what was to happen to Jacob the man and to the multitudes of his progeny.  It is a picture of the future nation/house of Elohim, which will be made up of this particular family (of earthen dust).  It guaranteed that generation after generation YHVH’s messengers will be ministering His will and directing the affairs of His people in order to fulfill everything that He had promised to Jacob in the above stated covenant.  Elohim will be in constant back-and-forth communication with Jacob’s posterity, as is testified throughout the recorded history of Israel and Judah.  He promised to our forefather Jacob that “he would never leave nor forsake him/us” even when going through corrective punishment. His words “you only have I chosen among all the families of the earth” (Amos 3:2) have been echoing in the corridor of Time. 

There is no clearer evidence of Jacob’s selection to be the “House of YHVH” than the message proclaimed approximately two thousand years later, by the angel Gabriel to Yeshua’s mother: “He [Yeshua] will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and YHVH Elohim will give to him the throne of his father David. He will reign in the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end" (Luke 1:32-33).  The house of Jacob and the throne of David are to be established in the former’s posterity.  But in order for this to happen, they too must lay their head upon “the stone that the builders rejected”.  Jacob’s offspring is also destined to become the head of all the nations and not the tail. "And YHVH will make you the head and not the tail; you shall be above only, and not be beneath, if you heed the commandments of YHVH your Elohim, which I command you today, and are careful to observe them” (Deuteronomy 28:13).  "I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (Ezekiel 36:27).  “And He said to me, ‘Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell in [b’toch] the children of Israel forever’” (Ezekiel 43:7).  This promise began to be realized after Yeshua the Redeemer of Jacob’s house was glorified (see John 7:39).

Isaiah points to a people whom YHVH has created and formed in which to house His presence and glory: “Everyone who is called by My name, Whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes, I have made him." (Isaiah 43:7).  Does YHVH give any indication as to who He is addressing?  The answer is in verse 1 of the same chapter:  “But now, thus says YHVH, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine’” (Isaiah 43:1).  Paul also makes reference back to YHVH’s covenant promises to those whom He foreknew: “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.  Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorifiedRomans 8:29-30 emphasis added).  

As a result of his dream/vision Jacob concluded that the place where he had his experience was the “gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17). However, much later on, in a prophecy yet to be fulfilled about New Jerusalem’s gates, it is Jacob’s offspring that is, the twelve tribes of Israel, who are to be the City’s twelve gates. “Also she [Jerusalem] had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel” (Revelation 21:12).  So, “Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors! That the King of glory may come in.  Who is the King of glory? YHVH, strong and mighty, YHVH, mighty in battle” (Psalm 24:7-8).   

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Va’ye’shev – B’resheet (Genesis): 37 – 40


"Now Jacob dwelt ("va’ye'shev") in the land where his father had sojourned, in the land of Canaan. These are the generations of Jacob: Joseph was seventeen years of age…." (Gen. 37:1, 2). The root for the verb "to dwell" is y.sh.v. (yod, shin, bet/vet) and means to “dwell, reside, sit, remain”. According to the scripture just quoted, Ya'acov lived in his father's land, but the “account of his generations” ("toldot") is related through the life of his son - Yoseph. Incidentally, Esav's chronicles (in chapter 36), as well as Yishma'el's (25:12-18), are simply lists of names, whereas the Patriarchs' chronicles are narratives presenting increasing revelations of Elohim and  His involvement in the lives of those who bear His name.1  Additionally, identifying Ya'acov's dwelling place with "the land where his father had sojourned", and tying up his annals with the name of his son (Yoseph) serve to illustrate the typical Hebraic approach to the linkage of the generations. Those living in the present do not identify solely with their contemporaries; they are no less connected to their ancestors as well as to their progeny.  


In telling the story of Ya'acov, the narrative highlights the story of Yoseph who was favored by his father. As a mark of his affections, Ya'acov made his son a special tunic, "k'tonet passim", a tunic of "passim". Unlike the commonly held view that this robe, or tunic, was made up of multi-colored stripes, the word "passim" actually indicates that the robe was extra long - covering the feet and especially the flat of the hands. The verb p.s.s  (pey, samech, samech, or p.s.h, pey, samech, hey) means to “disappear” or “pass on” (e.g.  Psalms 12:1), which means that the hand would ‘disappear’ because of the ampleness of the cloth.  It was of a style "such as the daughters of the king dressed themselves" (in 2nd Sam. 13:18, David's daughter, Tamar, is recorded wearing such a robe). By clothing Yoseph in a princely garb, Ya'acov communicated to the rest of his sons that he had ordained him to inherit the birthright. It is no wonder that Ya'acov's favored son incurred the wrath of his brothers, even before he shared his dreams with them. When Ya'acov (or Yisrael, as he is called when interacting with this son) heard Yoseph's second dream, he too became somewhat exasperated with this spoiled brat. However, the text goes on to tell us that, "his father kept the saying in his heart" (37:11). Another parent, who on one occasion "treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart", and who at another time "hid [the words] in her heart" was Miriam, Yeshua's mother (Luke 2:19, 51). In her case, as well as in Ya’acov’s, these “things” were prophetic and had to do with a grand destiny awaiting the son.


Yoseph’s brothers responsded to each dream’s account by hating “him even more” (37:5, 8). “Even more” is not a direct translation of the original, which is “va-yosiphu” – “and they added”. In other words, more hatred was added to the negative emotions that the brothers were already harboring toward their sibling. What makes the usage of this verb here quite intriguing is its root connection - y.s.ph (yod, samech, pey/fey) - to the name of the one who was the object of this hatred.


The Parasha’s account of the conflict between Yoseph and his brothers, in particular the sons of Bilha and Zilpa (ref. 37:2), is marked by an absence of “shalom”: “And his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him” (v. 4, emphasis added).  But even though the situation was not resolved, when the brothers went to Shechem to shepherd their father’s flocks, “Israel said to Joseph, ‘Are not your brothers feeding the flock in Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.’ So he said to him, ‘Here I am.’  Then he said to him, ‘Please go and see if it is well with your brothers [‘see the peace of…’] and well with the flocks [again ‘see the peace of…’], and bring back word to me’" (37:13-14 emphases added).  Yisrael sought information as to the “peace” of his sons who were, supposedly, doing their work in Shechem. Some years earlier, when he returned to the Land after his sojourn in Aram, Shechem was the first location where he found himself. Last week we noted that, “Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem (33:18).  That “safely”, as we know, is actually “shalem” – which is whole, unharmed (and perhaps ‘in one piece’).  However, this condition of “shalem” did not lead to “shalom”. The fallacy of “shalom in Shechem” (or Sh’chem, in Hebrew) was perpetuated when Hamor and Shechem his son, the “lords of the land”, who were also involved in the rape of Dina, presented to their compatriots the so-called peaceable offer of Yaacov’s sons (34:21) . Sure, if flesh and greed are gratified, there is a semblance of peace! The all-time guarantee for the ultimate “shalom” in the world is made up of gratifying sexual appetites, material covetousness, and egoistic ambitions. But when those are not to be had, the spirits of lust, greed and jealousy prevail, as is so well demonstrated in our Parasha.


Another quick note on the parallel of the Sh’chem episode to our current one: There it says that “Dina went out to see the daughters of the land” (34:1), while here her uncle is “wandering in the field” on his way to find his brothers. Both “field trips”, in the very same area of the country, ended in harmful and violent circumstances perpetrated upon these two walkers. Yet the one obvious difference is that Dina, unlike Yoseph, went on her own volition.


Ya'acov may have been concerned for his sons' safety in Sh'chem, as that town's residents most likely remembered them only too well.2  Much latter, in B’resheet (Genesis) 45:8, the following words will be declared by Yoseph to his brothers who, in parallel with his present situation, would also be sent, albeit to Egypt:  "So now it was not you that sent me hither, but Elohim…".3  The commentator goes on to say that "this verse supplies the key to the understanding of the whole story, which unfolds a dual level of the mission. There is the obvious mission which Ya'acov sends his son on, but underlying this mission lies the hidden (deep) workings of Providence Who is sending the descendants of Avraham to Egypt". It is this connection to Avraham which brings the "Valley of Chevron" (see 37:14) into the picture, even though Chevron was on a mountain and not in the valley. The commentator continues: "Emek ("valley of") Chevron is referring to God's mysterious and deep prophecy to Avraham, and is a play on the word "emek", literally "deep place".4  “Valley” may also be a hint as to what was Yoseph’s first ‘station’ on his way to the  awaiting “valley of the shadow of death”. To that we would add that the episode of the father (Ya'acov) who sends his son to seek "the remainder of his brethren [who will return]…" (Micha 5:3), also forms an equivalent picture of the heavenly Father sending His Son to bring back to Himself His children (the sons of Yisrael/Ya'acov). Let us also take note of Yoseph’s response to being sent, “here am I” – “hineh’ni”, being a condensed form of “hineh ani” – “behold here I am”.  Although a common idiom, which we have encountered even up to this point (e.g. Gen. 27:18), what comes to mind is another ‘send off’. In Yisha’ayahu (Isaiah) 6:8 we read the following: “And I heard the voice of YHVH, saying, whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said, here am I [hineh’ni]; send me!“ (Italics added).


Ya'acov sent Yoseph from Chevron, which is in Yehuda, to Sh'chem which is in Shomron (Samaria) and from there Yoseph goes on to Dotan (Dothan), also in Shomron, and is then taken to Egypt ("the world"). This route becomes a geographical prototype foreshadowing the journey of the Gospel and its witnesses, from Yehuda to Shomron and to the uttermost parts of the world (ref. Acts 1:8). 


Interestingly, the shepherds did not lead their flocks to the green and serene pastures of Sh’chem (or at least they did not stay there), but continued on their way. As for Yoseph, he was directed by “a man” to follow them northward, to Dotan. Notice that Yoseph’s informant did not require much information; he already knew who the “brothers” were, and neither was he ignorant as to their whereabouts.  The reference to the “man” – ish – who Yoseph runs into takes us back to last week’s Parasha, where his father had a dramatic encounter with an “ish” (Ge. 32:24).


But what awaited Yoseph in Dotan was far from a hearty reunion. His brothers sought to kill him, and only by Reuven’s intervention was his life spared, and he was cast into a pit. While Yoseph was naked, having been stripped off his tunic by his brothers, and no doubt thirsty and hungry, his brothers sat down to eat bread (37:24-25). “Bread” is "le’chem," of the root l.ch.m (lamed, chet, mem) which is also the root for the verb "to fight", and for the noun "war" ("milchama"). The  men ate their bread - lechem - while in their hearts there was a war-like attitude - milchama - toward their brother. Proverbs 4:17 says of the wicked: "they eat the bread of wickedness". The verb for "eat" there is "la'cha'mu", which normally would be understood as "fight", making this verse applicable to the wickedness manifested by Yoseph's brothers.  Shlomo Ostrovski comments here that Yoseph’s brothers had no idea that some day they would seek out their victim for the very substance with which they were now satisfying their hunger 5, while denying him of it.


And so, even when the various episodes involve other protagonists, named and unnamed, the Word points to Yoseph’s central role all the way. His present circumstances being echoed in Yirmiyahu 31:15, where Rachel is described "weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted because they are no more". However, in Hebrew it says "because he is no more". Since this does not make syntaxical sense, we have to ask, 'what does this mean'? Well, back in our Parasha the bewildered Reuven, upon realizing that Yoseph was no longer in the pit, cried out: "the lad is no more" (37:30). "He is no more" will be repeated twice in next week's Parasha, this time by Yehuda while addressing Yoseph (42:13, 32). Thus, the emphasis regarding Rachel's lost children is on the "one" - Yoseph (with past, present and future implications), while the "no more", "eyne'nu", is about to be replaced by "hineni" -v“here I am” (by those who come to recognize their ‘Yosephite’ identity) –- just as Yoseph responded to his father when the latter dispatched him to his brothers (37:13).


Yoseph was brought down to Egypt - "mitzrayim" - the narrow place of adversity - but "YHVH was with Joseph, so he became a successful man…" (39:2). "Successful" takes us back to the word "matzli'ach" that we studied in Parashat Cha’yey Sarah (in Genesis 24:21), which is where we noted that it means to “cause to advance". It is quite evident who caused Yoseph to advance, so much so that even his pagan master, Potiphar, recognized it (v. 3). According to Studies in B’resheet, Yoseph's "master saw and heard Yoseph make mention of the name of his God and attribute his success and abilities not to his powers but to the Almighty".6 this conclusion by the Sages is not unfounded. In fact, it is borne out by what Yoseph says on various other occasions. In 39:9, when warding off the advances of Potiphar's wife, he exclaimed, "How then could I do this great evil and sin against Elohim?" In 40:8, when asked to interpret dreams while in prison, he responded: "Do not interpretation belong to Elohim?" Yoseph will continue to mention the name of his Elohim even when brought before Par'oh (Pharaoh), in the next Parasha.


But in the meantime, the opening verse of chapter 39 reiterates the downward spiral that Yoseph was in: “Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt” (emphasis added).  This event seems to have taken place simultaneously with Yehuda’s departure from his country, from his family and from his father’s house (cf. Gen. 12:1). What is the difference between each of those descends? Yehuda’s guilt and self-condemnation caused him to choose a way out, which led to his spiritual back sliding, whereas Yoseph was brought down not of his own volition. There is a very clear distinction in the respective responses of these two men. The one is said to have “gone down” (ref. 38:1) and was moving from bad to worse, without looking for a redemptive opportunity, whereas the other, who was subject to others’ decisions, made good of every opportunity that came his way. However, in each of those cases there exists the overriding sovereignty of YHVH, in spite of what may be ‘natural’ inclinations (see Proverbs 16:9). When Yehuda left his family, he followed his heart’s leaning – va-yet (meaning “incline”, or “lean” 38:1) and went over to his Adulamite friend Hirah upon whom he was leaning/relying for help. Later, when he saw the “harlot”, it says that “he turned – va-yet - to her” (38:16), once again following his inclinations and desires. On the other hand, after Yoseph was subject to and resisted someone else’s lust, it says of him that YHVH “was with Yoseph and [literally] – va-yet - inclined/turned His mercy/loving kindness/grace [chesed] toward him(39:21 emphasis added).


Yehuda’s downward journey was accompanied by many mishaps, although every now and then there was evidence of an attempt on his part to do the “right thing”. How typical of guilt, shame, and self-condemnation to lead us to try and cover them up by “good works”! Thus, his sons’ names provide a clue as to these feeble attempts. Yehuda named his firstborn “Er”, meaning “awake”. He was hoping that his depression and spiritual slumber could be redeemed by having this firstborn. His second son was called “Onan” – “on” being strength. Rachel named Binyamin, Ben-Oni, “son of my strength” (and not “sorrow” as commonly thought) as his birth had depleted all of her strength. As to Yehuda’s third son, the latter was born under strange circumstances: “He was at Chezib when she bore him” (38:5). Who was at Chezib? Was it the newborn (and his mother), or was it the father? What is Chezib? Is it truly a place, or is it a description of a condition? Chezib means “lie, deception, falsehood”. Is it possible that Shelah was a product of lying and deception, and was therefore the son of another man, rather than Yehuda’s?  Or was Yehuda away while he was born, causing his wife great grief? One way or another, Shelah’s birth was not a cause of great joy, otherwise why would Scripture take the trouble to record the fact that “he was in chezib” at the birth? The name Shelah could possibly mean “hers”, reinforcing the possibility that the boy may have not been Yehuda’s biological son.


When Yehuda’s degeneration reached its peak, he turned (as we saw above) to a prostitute (after his wife’s death), with whom he left his most precious possessions: signet, cord and staff. Like Easv, who for momentary satisfaction was willing to give up his birthright, Yehuda had given the ‘markers’ of his identity and authority to the one whom he perceived to be a prostitute. Interestingly, later, when he went looking for her to retrieve his treasures and to cover up his embarrassment and pride (and said, "Let her take them – the objects - for herself, lest we be shamed” 38:23 emphasis added), he used the term “k’desha”, which is a “temple prostitute”. However, that word shares its root with “kadosh” – set apart and holy. In verses 21 and 22 of chapter 38 this word appears 3 times. Again, a hint as to the true nature of this woman, who turned out to be “kdosha”, holy and “righteous”, as Yehuda himself came to realize (v. 26). Thus, at Yehuda’s lowest point of spiritual and moral collapse YHVH intervened by using that which appeared to be the very symbol of lowliness and humiliation (i.e. Tamar’s impersonation of a prostitute).


Tamar insisted to "raise up the name of the deceased" (to borrow words from Ruth 4:5). Tamar's real identity and motive were only discovered when she produced a pledge in the form of a seal, cord and staff left to her by her father-in-law, upon her demand to be paid for the “services” she provided him when she masqueraded as a harlot. The pledge given to Tamar was "era'von", of the root a.r.v, which we observed in “erev” - “evening” (in Parashat B’resheet in Genesis 1). This pledge is a guarantee for that which is to come. Indeed, without it Tamar would have been burnt at the stake (ref. vs. 24, 25). When approached by her incensed father in law, Tamar presented the pledge with the words:  “By the man to whom these belong, I am with child. And she said, please determine whose these are” (38:25). “Please determine” – ha’ker na, in Hebrew. How did Tamar know that those were the very words that Yehuda and his brothers used many years before, when presenting their father with the bloody tunic of Yoseph: please examine – haker na - it to see whether it is your son's tunic or not" (38:32)? Next week we will encounter the same verb with some variation. And so, not only was the life of Tamar spared, her action guaranteed that YHVH's principle of redemption was implemented; that is, the bringing forth of life from death (Yehuda having suffered the loss of two sons gained now another two), while also ensuring the continuity of what was to become the tribe of Yehuda.


When it was her time to give birth, Tamar, like Rivka, had twins who, like the former pair, had an innate 'knowledge' of the importance of the birthright. Again, a competition over who would be born first took place. Ultimately, the “breaker", the "portetz", gained the upper hand and was therefore named Peretz (v. 29). Many years later, the prophet Micah will declare, "the breaker goes up before them. They break out, pass through the gate and go out by it. So their king goes on before them and YHVH at their head" (2:13). The subjects of this description are those who will be gathered out of Ya'acov, and who are the remnant of Yisrael who will be "put together like sheep in the fold, like a flock in the midst of its pasture they will be noisy with men".  Thus, not only will the proverbial “Poretz” – Breaker-Leader – be a descendent of Peretz, so will some of those who are destined to follow Him.


That Yoseph is the protagonist of our story is not difficult to determine, and Scripture continues to underscore this fact, not only overtly but also by using subtler means. In chapter 37, as we observed above, and also in 38 the verb y.s.f continues to show up. And so we read in 38:5: “And she conceived yet again  - va’tosef - and bore a son, and called his name Shelah”. “So Judah came to the realization and said, ‘She has been more righteous than I, because I did not give her to Shelah my son’. And he never knew her again – “velo yasaf” (38:26 ).


Among the many lessons that Yehuda was taught by Tamar, his daughter in law, he also had to realize that things are not always what they seem to be, a lesson that he will apply one more time when many years later he will meet the ‘mighty Egyptian ruler.’


Now back in Egypt, Potiphar's wife, in her attempt to cover up her own disloyalty and take revenge at the same time, tried to implicate Yoseph, who ran away from her “leaving” his garment in her hand (39:12). “Leaving” is mentioned earlier, when we are told that her husband, Potiphar, “left all that he had in Joseph’s hand” (v. 6). In verses 15 and 18, in recounting the story, Potiphar’s wife keeps emphasizing that Yoseph “left” his garment behind. It seems that “leaving”, “letting go” or “forsaking” – azov – plays no small part in this epoch of Yoseph’s life. From the time that his brothers forsook him, stripped him of his royal robe (37:23) all the way through to this episode, in which he lost his garment, he had to give up and submit his lot into the hands of others. Yet, Joseph knew that it was YHVH who was in control of his life, and that He would never “leave” or “forsake” him.


Potiphar’s wife, like so many others in the course of history, subtly enlisted the various members of her household to join her in an all out attack on her servant. In the process of her "unscrupulous defaming of Yoseph she makes subtle differentiation between her phrasing of the account to her slaves and subsequently to her husband. She does not employ the term "slaves" when addressing the slaves themselves. Yoseph is simply a Hebrew. To her husband, however, she says, "the Hebrew slave”. In order to win her slaves over and gain their sympathies she is at pains not to create any feeling of solidarity among the slaves for Yoseph, as one of them. After all, it was a common thing for masters to denounce their slaves. They would naturally side with their fellow sufferer. Therefore, she subtly changed her tone and stated that he is was not one of them, but a stranger, a Hebrew, the common enemy of all of them. To strengthen the impression and arouse their hostility for Yoseph she did not say that the Hebrew slave came to “me”, but rather: "see, a Hebrew was brought to us, to mock us" (39:14 italics added). In short, the Hebrew man has not only wronged me but all of us; he has dishonored the whole Egyptian nation…  Potiphar's wife in her effort to gain sympathy lumps her slaves together with herself, as part of one family. The common enemy is the Hebrew. The immense gap is forgotten, the enormous class distinction between slave and master is overlooked in the cause of temporary self-interest."7


This Parasha’s two women, whose stories are told side by side, are both involved in sexual promiscuity. However, in spite of the fact that it was Tamar who actually ‘exercised’ her heart’s intent, while the second, Potiphar’s unnamed wife did not, it is the first who was declared righteous (38:26) for having pursued, at all costs, the righteousness of Elohim, i.e. life from the dead in the form of redemption.


After the episode in his master’s house, Yoseph was put in prison and just like an echo from his previous experience, we read the words: "YHVH was with him, and whatever he did YHVH made to prosper ("matzli'ach")" (39:23 italics added). Although our Parasha ends with Yoseph seemingly being forgotten and once again being repaid evil for the good he had done (see 40:9-15, 21), this is just the beginning of what is to become a glorious career.


The nation of Yisrael-in-the-making is seen learning the principles of redemption, as each of its figureheads (Yehuda and Yoseph) is exposed to powerful personal experiences pertaining to YHVH's kingdom principles.


1. Moses on the Witness Stand, Shlomo Ostrovski, Keren Ahava Meshichit, Jerusalem 1976, 1999.

2. Ibid

3. Studies in Bereshit, Toldot 1, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.

4. Ibid

5. Moses on the Witness Stand, Shlomo Ostrovski, Keren Ahava Meshichit, Jerusalem 1976, 1999.

6. Studies in Bereshit, Toldot 1, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner  Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.

7. Ibid.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Does It Really Matter?


In this week’s Torah portion of “Va’yishlach”, Jacob is seen heading back to the land, after leaving his father in law Laban and his (circa.) twenty years of exile.  Returning home, however, meant that he would have to face his brother Esau. Obviously he was full of fear and dread, as he recalled only too vividly his brother’s angry response to what the latter termed as “birthright theft”.  His mother’s voice, telling him that Esau wanted to do away with him, was still ringing loudly in Jacob’s inner being (ref. Genesis 27:41-42).  Thus, Jacob’s first attempt was to appease his brother, by sending him gifts of livestock, as well as messengers who were to inform Jacob’s sibling that he was returning home.  These messengers, however, returned with some frightening news.  Esau was coming toward Jacob with a four hundred-strong party (ref. Genesis 32:6).   

No doubt Jacob was convinced that Esau rounded up a ‘militia’, which was about to do just what he had feared.  He then devised a strategy, by dividing up his family into two companies - his concubines and their children were placed in the front lines, second was Leah and her children, and lastly Joseph with his mother Rachel (ref. Genesis 32:7).  One would think that Jacob would be standing behind Rachel, ready to escape if Esau were to be hostile to the first lot.  But instead, he mustered up strength and went out to meet his brother face to face ahead of his family. 

But just before the dreaded encounter was to take place, and in spite of Jacob’s appeasing attempts and maneuvers, he recognized that in reality there was no other alternative than to cry out to his Elohim. It is very interesting and important for us today to listen carefully to our patriarch’s plea for help.  Jacob was facing what could be a life and death situation, not only for himself but also for his entire family.  Let’s look at this plea in Genesis 32:9-12:  Then Jacob said, ‘O Elohim  of my father Abraham and of my father Isaac, YHVH who said to me, 'Return to your country and to your family, and I will deal well with you':  I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant; for I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two companies.  Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children.  For You said, 'I will surely treat you well, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude'" (emphases added).

Over the years the statement, “knowing one’s natural identity is not important, as long as we are all one in Messiah”, has been sounded repeatedly.  Yes, our spiritual oneness in Messiah and our identity in Him is paramount, but having a natural existence and family history are very important too, as Jacob found out.  In his prayer for help, the first thing he does is to remind YHVH of His relationship to his fathers, Abraham and Isaac. Secondly, he cites what YHVH had spoken to them and also to him. Namely, about returning to his country and family, promising to treat him well, and regarding the prolific seed that he was to have, as numerous as the sand of the sea.  All of this was accompanied by an attitude of brokenness and humility, as Jacob confessed: “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant” (v.10). What seemed to have gotten YHVH’s attention were the recaps that Jacob brought up, regarding what YHVH promised him as well as the covenants that He made with his forefathers. Jacob trusted in the faithfulness of Elohim to “watch over His word and to perform it” (Jeremiah 1:12).

When (you are) fearful about present circumstances and desperate enough to cry out to Elohim, the first thing to remember in your prayer is ‘which’ Elohim are you addressing.  Jacob knew who his fathers were and cried out to their Elohim. One might think that it doesn’t matter to YHVH, so why would it matter to us? However, He called Himself after those three men:  “I am the Elohim of Abraham, the Elohim of Isaac and the Elohim of Jacob” (Ex 3:6; Math 22:32). The scriptures record over 200 times that YHVH is the Elohim of Israel. Hence, His identity matters to Him and because it does, so should it to us, as the progeny of Israel.  YHVH branded His name on the sheep of His pasture, and therefore He knows who belongs to Him, responding to them because of the forefathers.