Friday, December 30, 2022

Heart to Mind

 Heart to Mind

It is not uncommon for many in the believing community to struggle with thoughts (and often with actions that follow) that are not congruent with the new life in Messiah.  We have battled and have worked, perhaps even for years, to renew our minds as Paul directs us in Romans 12:2: “ …do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of YHVH is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect”.

The Greek word for “transformed” is metamorphoĊ, the sound of which recalls the term used in science to describe the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly while in a cocoon.  But as far as our transformation/renewal (of the mind), I would like to raise the question regarding our ability to actually make such a change through our own efforts. If the Creator has already placed into the life of the caterpillar this effortless transitional ability, would that not be the same for us? That is, have we not been given an innate possibility for this to happen?  But, on the other hand, I’m sure that the apostle would not have said the above if it we were not supposed to be directly involved in the process. So what is the secret, the mystery behind metamorphosis?  How can we be truly renewed in our mind, especially since our thoughts are connected to the condition of our hearts? 

From Yeshua we learn what is actually in the heart: "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness.  All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man" (Mark 7:21-23). The obvious answer to the renewing of the mind question, is first discovering the condition of the heart.  If the heart is in the above-described state, clearly the mind will be defiled and evil thoughts will come out of our mouths in the form of words (and quite possibly deeds). “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Matthew 12:34), thus preventing or hindering the process of change. The good news is that, through the New Covenant, YHVH gives us a new heart or renewed heart.  In Psalm 51:10 David cries out to YHVH: “Create in me a clean heart, O Elohim, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”.  Although even with the heart change there will still be a conflict with spiritual principalities and powers along with the flesh, hindering the mind renewal progress.   

But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).  While standing in front of three witnesses Yeshua was suddenly transformed (metamorphoo) right in front of them. Here is what they saw: And He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light” (Matthew 17:2).  We too are promised the exact same transformation: “… this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:53). But this end phase will take place in a “twinkling of an eye at the last trumpet” (verse 52).

When the worm begins to decrease, there is an upsurge of new life and it eventually reappears as a butterfly, although it is still an insect. So as human beings, we are like the worm (consumer) but once we embrace through faith the true gospel of the Kingdom the change begins - dying to the flesh, and at the same time being transformed into a new creation (becoming ‘life givers’) while yet still human beings.   The principle of ‘first the natural then the spiritual’ continues to hold true:  So also it is written, ‘the first man, Adam, became a living soul. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.  However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:45-47).  When we look at the caterpillar do we see a butterfly? When we look into a mirror, although we see our natural face, can we see by faith also the spiritual man?  “And just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly” (1 Corinthians 15:49).    

“Beloved, now we are children of Elohim, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2).  

It seems that in order to let the mind renewal process take place, it has to start by first examining the nature of our heart. As referred to above, did YHVH not promise that He would remove the heart of stone, and give us a heart of flesh? "Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26 emphases added), so that we can “…. be renewed in the spirit of your/our mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of Elohim has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:23-24 emphasis added). But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). 

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Va’yigash – B’resheet (Genesis): 44:18-47:26

Each of the weekly Parashot (parashas) presents a narrative that tells a story of individuals (and later of much larger groups), describing their relationships, fortunes and misfortunes, travels and battles, struggles and learning situations, instructions for living (the Torah), and much more. Every one of these stories also relates to the Elohim of Yisrael. No doubt, there is a great deal to be gleaned from these accounts, as indeed we do. Yet, an even more careful examination will reveal facts beyond ‘mere’ object lessons or annals of the past. These episodes, which occurred so long ago, form the foundation of a continuum that is part of today's world dynamics!  And what's more, they have a bearing on our very own lives. This thread of continuity, which ties the biblical characters, their decisions, and responses to YHVH – indeed, their very lives - to ours, is what makes the Parashot so exciting and important.

With this in mind, we approach Parashat Va'yigash. “Va’yigash” means "and he approached” or “drew near", originating from the root (noon, gimmel, shin).* At the onset of the Parasha we see Yehuda "drawing near" to Yoseph. Although in his blindness Yehuda does not recognize his brother, still his new 'approach' (after having passed his tests described in chapter 38) enables him to draw closer to his sibling, albeit as mentioned, unawares.  As we saw at the end of last week's Parasha, Yehuda has been reformed through some reflection and repentance. This, as well as some of his other traits, to be discussed later, should inspire us with hope and anticipation regarding his descendants who are destined to follow in the footsteps of their progenitor. Some day, they too will draw near to their long-lost and ‘hidden’ brother; not only to the brethren from amongst the descendants of Yoseph, but also to their greater and as of yet unrecognized Brother, Yeshua (see Zech. 12:10-13:2). 

The words of this ‘greater Brother’ take on special meaning in the context of the current story, a story that may be viewed as a prophetic pattern relating to the collective destiny of Yehuda. Thus, Yeshua’s declaration, "no man can come to [the Son], except the Father… draw him" (John 6:44 emphasis added), lends an added dimension to the first 16 verses of the Parasha (see 44:18-34 - Yehuda's monologue), where "father" is mentioned no less than 14 times.

Yehuda's oft-repeated "eved - servant” (or literally “slave”), singular and plural and “adonie” (“my master/lord”), in connection to himself and his family (ref. 44:18, 19, 21, 23, 24, 27, etc.), is indicative of the fact that Yoseph's dreams, of his brothers’ submission to him, are being fulfilled. But it also clearly foreshadows Yehuda's future attitude toward his Master and Messiah. Following Yoseph's disclosure of his identity, the latter beckons his brothers to come near to him – “g’shu - sharing the same root as va’yigash - and they respond by, again, “drawing near” (“vayigshu” 45:4). Interestingly, the name of the land that Yoseph will designate later on for his family will be Goshen. Although this name’s etymological origin is unclear, it happens to sound very much like the above-mentioned verb, thus suggesting that “approaching” or “drawing” to their brother will enable the siblings to benefit from the future place of refuge that Yoseph will prepare for them (cf. John 14:1,2)

In recent Parashot, we followed Yehuda's process of learning about redemption. We have looked at the term "arov", which is “guarantee” or “surety”. In his monologue, addressing Yoseph and presenting the case of Binyamin, Yehuda says: "For your servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying, `If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father forever'" (44:32 emphasis added). Among the many words derived from the root a.r.v (ayin, resh, vet/bet), we also find “pleasant” – “a’rev” - as in: “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me… He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi… then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing – “arva” - to YHVH" (Mal. 3:1, 3, 4, italics added). Similarly, Yehuda's present action/’offering’ also brings great pleasure to the Father’s heart. Yehuda's treatment of his brother Binyamin in our Parasha, and the "eravon" (guarantee) that he is so faithful to keep, speak of a future day when Yehuda’s house will do so corporately. These two terms, “Drawing near” and “pledge” are found in a prophetic scripture penned by Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah). Describing a day when Ya’acov’s tents will be restored and when a Ruler of greater and nobler stature will come forth from the midst of the nation, the prophet says: “He will draw close – “ve’nigash” – to Me, for who is he who would pledge – “ve’arav” – his heart to draw close – “lageshet” – to Me? says YHVH” (30:21 italics added). It is no coincidence that these specific terms are strung together so many centuries later, when reference is made to Yehuda’s greater Son (and brother), thus illustrating that the life of the ancient forefather exemplifies what eventually comes to full manifestation and fruition in his progeny, in this case in Yeshua. 

In this second journey to Egypt, Yehuda acts again as the spokesperson for his brethren and the one leading the way. It is only after he approaches Yoseph, that the rest of the brothers do likewise. When Ya'acov and family arrive in Egypt we read: "Then he [Jacob] sent Judah before him to Joseph, to point out before him the way…" (46:28 italics added). Yehuda's lead will become a scripturally repeated pattern (e.g., Num. 2:3; Jud. 1:2; 1st Ch. 5:2a), applicable all the way to our present days. In Z’char’yah (Zechariah) we read: "…For YHVH of Hosts will visit His flock, the House of Judah, and will make them as His royal horse in the battle. From him comes the cornerstone. From him the tent peg, from him the battle bow, from him every ruler together. They shall be like mighty men who tread down their enemies in the mire of the streets in the battle. They shall fight because YHVH is with them, and the riders on horses shall be put to shame.  I will strengthen the house of Judah…" (10:3b-6a). All this is to show how Yehuda is and has been the first contingency of the People of Yisrael to return to the Land, and as such is fulfilling this prophecy and pattern of leadership.

Last week we read in 43:30-31 how Yoseph's "heart yearned for his brother; so Joseph made haste and sought somewhere to weep. And he went into his chamber and wept there. Then he washed his face and came out; and he restrained himself". This time, after Yehuda's monologue, Yoseph is unable to restrain himself any longer (ref. 45:1). In both cases the word for “restrain” is "hit'apek" (a.p/f. k - alef, pey/fey, kof) and means, “to hold in, restrain, be strong”. It originates from the root that serves the word "ah'fik” – “riverbed” - which restrains the water coursing through it. On the earlier occasion, Yoseph's inner strength enabled him to withhold his flow of emotions.  This time, the ‘dam’ breaks, there is no restraint and the ‘ah'fik’ overflows with tears as he makes himself known to his brothers (45:1).

"Made himself known" is "hitvada", of the root “yada” (y.d.a, yod, dalet, ayin) – “to know”. “Yada” is a very common verb. There are many levels of “knowing”, including the knowing of great intimacy, such as in the physical/sexual relations between husband and wife (e.g., Gen.4:1). Here it is in the sense of “making one’s self known” - a form that is not frequently used. One example of such usage is found in Bamidbar (Numbers) 12:6, when YHVH addresses Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam: "Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, YHVH, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream" (italics added).

Yoseph continues to address his brothers: "But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for Elohim sent me before you to preserve life" (45:5 emphasis added). We already noted that "sent" is the theme of the story of Yoseph. All the circumstances that have befallen him have been part of YHVH's pre-determined plan to send him for His purposes. Yoseph is a man with a mission, brought to light now by his own words - "to preserve life". To make his point Yoseph repeats these words before his stunned brothers… "And Elohim sent me before you to preserve you a remnant in the earth, and to keep alive before you a great escape" (45:7). Yoseph employs the words "she'erit", which is “remnant”, and "pleta", referring to “escape or refuge”, thereby projecting on to the coming events. Thus, the final outcome of the predicament of the soon-coming famine and forced emigration, and later of forced labor, enslavement, and genocide, although potentially of great threat to the Israelites’ very existence (possibly sustaining a mere “remnant”), will actually culminate in a “great deliverance” in both quality and quantity. It is in their host country that the family of Ya'acov will become a great multitude (ref. 47:27). It seems that this seed, in order to increase greatly, requires foreign soil! In 45:6 Yoseph mentions “plowing and harvest”, terms that no doubt originate from Paroh’s dreams of cows first, and then of sheaves of grain. 

Several times in his speech, while trying to plead Binyamin's case, Yehuda makes reference to the death of Binyamin's brother (that is, to Yoseph), to the possible death of Binyamin himself, and to the likely death of his father (44:20, 22, 31). Immediately following Yoseph's disclosure of identity, he asks whether their father is still alive (45:3). As we noted above, Yoseph then declares that the purpose of his mission was "to preserve life", and "to save you alive" (vs. 5, 7 italics added). When the brothers return home, they tell their father that, "Yoseph is still alive" (v. 26 italics added). After the initial shock, it says that "the spirit of Jacob their father revived… and Jacob said, 'Joseph my son is yet alive: I will go and see him before I die'" (v. 27, 28 italics added). Thus death, and the threat thereof, which colors the first part of the Parasha, is offset by life and revival in the 'counter' text. Almost from the start, the story of Yoseph and his mission portends the themes of impending death followed by survival. At the end of the Parasha, we once again encounter this topic, woven neatly into the fabric of the text. In the narrative that deals with Ya'acov and his family's reunion with Yoseph, in chapter 46, we read: "And Israel said to Joseph, 'Now let me die since I have seen your face, that you are still alive" (v. 30 italics added).

Next, we see Yoseph's interaction with the hungry Egyptian populace, whose lives are greatly endangered by the famine and by lack of financial means by which to obtain sustenance. In order to alleviate impending death, these people pay for their supplies with their land and labor (as they have already used up their livestock for that purpose, ref. 47:16, 17). Their words express the same vocabulary:  "Wherefore should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for bread, and we and our land will be servants to Pharaoh: and give us seed, that we may live, and not die, and that the land be not desolate" (47:19, see also v. 15, italics added). Yoseph complies with their request, adding that a fifth of the purchased sustenance is to be handed over to Par'oh (v. 23, 24). "And they said, 'you have saved our lives'" (v. 25 italics added). Next week's Parasha, which focuses on Ya’acov’s death, starts paradoxically with the words, "And Jacob lived…" (italics added), being also the name of the Parasha. 

We cannot depart from this week’s reading without pausing to look at the scene of Elohim's last (recorded) appearance to Ya'acov. On his way down to Egypt, Ya'acov stops in Be'er Sheva where he "offered sacrifices to the Elohim of his father Isaac. And Elohim spoke to Israel in the visions of the night, and said, 'Jacob, Jacob'. And he said, 'Here am I'. And he said, 'I am Elohim, the Elohim of your father: fear not to go down into Egypt; for there I will make of you a great nation. I will go down with you into Egypt;and I will also surely bring you up again’" (46:1-4). Since there is no (previous) record of Ya'acov's anxiety (about going down to Egypt), the words "fear not" seem rather curious. But as nothing is hidden from Elohim, He is obviously responding to a real and tangible concern in Ya'acov's heart. The Patriarch was most certainly aware of the word given to his grandfather Avraham about his offspring and their exile. Ya'acov's heart therefore must have been troubled. The sojourn of his people into the land of plenty was likely to lead to spiritual bondage, to be followed by physical slavery. Hence YHVH promises him that He will go down with him and bring him back. Since Ya'acov was destined to die in Egypt, he serves here as a prototype for the people as a whole, who would come out of his loins.[1]  The 'many in the one' is a typical and familiar Biblical-Hebraic thought pattern found both in the Tanach (Old Covenant) and in the Brit Chadasha (New Covenant), and most powerfully and fully epitomized in the person of our Messiah and Savior – Yeshua.  


* Here one may ask if there is any relation to negotiations (stemming from Latin) in the English language?

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





Friday, December 23, 2022

Joshua's Question

 Joshua's Question 

Chanukah's eight days afford plenty of time to ponder this festival's meaning, history, and even legitimacy.  Chanukah's reason for being is the rededication of the Temple's altar after its intentional desecration, at the bidding of the Seleucid king who ruled over "Greater Syria" (of which the land of Israel constituted one region).  Antiochus Epiphanes' cruel edicts against practicing YHVH's laws and Jewish customs spurred a rebellion led by Mattathias the priest, of the order of Jehojariv, and his five sons. Against all odds, they won a number of battles – the few against the many. The historians tell us that, in time their numbers grew as did their military capabilities in guerrilla warfare. But alas, those victories were short-lived, and in the eighth and final battle, they sustained heavy losses. This led them to call upon the Romans, with whom Judah the Maccabee had already made a pact, who were just beginning to step onto the world stage. Their negotiations on the behalf of the Judeans with the Seleucid leadership resulted in almost one hundred years of autonomous rule over a widespread territory.

It was at that time that the Hasmoneans seized charge of the Temple, the center of religious, economic, and political life, as priests (although not Zadokites), as well as, in their third generation, also created a royal dynasty. This was, of course, a great affront to YHVH's laws of clearly separating those two seats of power. What's more, in time, their rule became corrupt and oppressive, with great internal discord. In order to settle matters, the Romans were once again approached. Being only too glad to oblige, they sent their General, Pompey. This move proved to be very costly – territories were taken over and ultimately Judea lost its sovereignty, but not the corruption that was now embedded in the local regime and line of successive leaders.

With all this said, we still celebrate the short-lived and miraculous victory. The rededication of the Temple altar, and the lighting of what appears to have been a make-shift Menorah (since the real one was stolen by Antiochus Epiphanes), draws attention to the Light of the World, by whose Spirit we may purify and rededicate our lives to Him.

Daniel's accurate prophecies in chapter 11 of his book, concerning the military and political events that culminated in the Chanukah story, present a template for the latter days, and once again underscore this feast's significance. The eight days festivities also echo Succot, with its own prophetic connotation, which at that time could not be celebrated at its proper date and was thus pushed forward. The 'cruse of oil' story made its way to Jewish sources only 800 years after the facts and is thought to be the sages' way of diminishing the glory accorded to the Hasmonean family, of whom they did not approve, to say the least.  Curiously, the prophet Haggai, in the second chapter of his book, makes three references, with some prophetic significance, to the date which later became the first day of Chanukah, namely the twenty-fourth of the ninth month.

So, how are we to view this somewhat controversial occasion?

This question is reminiscent of Joshua's question to the "man with the drawn sword":  "Are You for us or for our adversaries?" (Joshua 5:13). The answer was: "No, but as Commander of the army of YHVH I have now come" (v. 14). When Yeshua was walking in the Temple, in Solomon's porch, during Chanukah, He was well aware of this feast's history, as well as of that which was about to happen to the very edifice that He was now gracing with His presence (ref. John 10:27; Matt. 24:1-2). Living betwixt and between the sordid past with its shortcomings and the foreboding future, in clinging to the Master-Savior-Redeemer we can remain in a safety zone while He sheds light on our present, as in His light we see light (ref. Ps. 36:9).

Thursday, December 22, 2022

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”, but 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 meanings. 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 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 (a different word in this case than the above, this one is – 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 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 the 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, but 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 around, 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” ( 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 advice 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 (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 embedded 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 by 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, Yehuda 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 the position of firstborn-redeemer of 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 episode!       

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.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

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 (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 to 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 than 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 affection, 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 responded 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 - (yod, samech, pey/fey) - to the name of the one who was the object of this hatred (i.e. Yoseph).


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 of 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 that Ya'acov sends his son on, but underlying this mission lies the hidden (deep) workings of Providence which 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 – whom Yoseph runs into takes us back to last week’s Parasha, where his father had a dramatic encounter with an “ish” (Gen. 32:24). (Here is a link to a song, It is my brothers whom I am seeking,


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 of 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 (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 someday 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 are echoed in Yirmiyahu 31:15, where Rachel is described as "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 syntactical 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" - “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 backsliding, 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 with “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 vigor. 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). By admitting his wrongdoing and taking responsibility, Yehuda was true to one of the meanings of his name, that is to "confess" or "admit" (e.g. "He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion" Prov. 28:13, emphasis added).


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 burned 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, but 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. This narrative presents the principle of death as a guarantee of resurrection, as it is written: "Now if we died with Messiah, we believe that we shall also live with Him" (Romans 6:8; 2nd Tim. 2;11).


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, but 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 continues to show up. And so we read in 38:5: “And she conceived yet again  - va’toseph - 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 yasaph” (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 to her husband 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, and 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, Yoseph 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 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, and 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 for the sake 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.