Category Archives: Jacob

The Lion and The Wolf

Genesis: Vayechi

The Lion and The Wolf

On his deathbed, the Patriarch Jacob blesses his children with highly allegorical language that hints at future events for each of the 12 tribes. Half of the tribes are compared to animals. Below is a brief list:

Judah: Lion

Yissachar: Donkey

Dan: Snake

Naftali: Deer

Joseph: Bull

Benjamin: Wolf

Out of the six animals, two of them are furry four-legged carnivorous predators. Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) reads into the different allegories as they apply to the destinies of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.

Both of these animals hint at monarchy and leadership. Saul, the first King of Israel was from the tribe of Benjamin. His reign was short-lived. David of the tribe of Judah established a long-lasting dynasty, that we believe will be reinstated in Messianic times.

Hizkuni compares the traits of the two different animals to the two different monarchies. Once a wolf has caught its prey, if his kill is threatened by another animal, it will leave it and not risk injury in fighting over it. Similarly, the tribe of Benjamin, under the leadership of Saul, did not hold on long to its prize. A lion on the other hand is the uncontested king of the wild. It will never leave its kill or retreated when threatened. So too, the tribe of Judah is destined to hold on to the kingship of Israel for eternity.

May we have the courage of the lion in holding on to our eternal principles.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To my sister JJ and her husband Dr. Elisha Kahen, on the birth of a baby girl. May they see a pride from her and her siblings.

Joseph Revealed

Genesis: Vayigash

Joseph Revealed

“We are ready to be slaves to my lord,” Judah stated, prostrating on the ground with his brothers. “Both we, and the one in whose hand the goblet was found.”

“Nonsense,” the Viceroy stated in a strange voice. “The man in whose possession the goblet was found,” he pointed at Benjamin, “he shall be my slave, and as for you,” he motioned to the rest of the brothers, “go up in peace to your father.”

Why is he fixated on Benjamin? Judah wondered. We just offered him eleven strong and valuable slaves, but he is only interested in Benjamin. There must be more to this than what we can see.

“Please my lord,” Judah raised his head from his kneeling position, “may your servant speak a word in my lord’s ear – and let not your anger flare up at your servant – for you are like Pharaoh.”

The Viceroy motioned for Judah to approach his chair.

I must make him understand the family dynamics, Judah thought. If he keeps Benjamin, the remaining son of Rachel, Father will die! I cannot be the agent for yet another brother being enslaved. That would be too cruel a destiny.

Judah quietly repeated to the Viceroy the recent history and occurrences, adding how dear Benjamin is to their father, especially since the disappearance of Joseph, the first son of his beloved Rachel.

This Viceroy is powerful and smart, Judah noted to himself, though acting peculiarly. If he is intent on acquiring a slave from this mishap, I will offer myself.

“If I return to my father,” Judah pleaded, “and the youth is not with us – since his soul is so bound up with the youth’s soul – when he sees the youth is missing he will die, and I will have brought down the spirit of our father in sorrow to the grave.”

Judah paused a moment to catch his breath and see the impact of his words on the Viceroy. I can sense his inner turmoil, Judah thought hopefully, and his eyes are becoming moist. I must press on.

“For I took responsibility for the youth from my father saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you then I will be sinning to my father for all time.’ Now, therefore, please let me remain instead of the youth as a servant to you my lord,” Judah noted the Viceroy’s gasp, “and let the youth go up with his brothers. For how can I go up to my father if the youth is not with me, lest I see the evil that will befall my father!”

The Viceroy’s eyes widened in surprise. He is shocked by my willingness to trade places with Benjamin, Judah concluded. His face is bubbling and contorting…

“Enough!” The Viceroy shouted, ripping his head ornament off.

“Servants! Leave the room!” The Viceroy continued shouting, his eyes wild.

Judah and his brothers were confused, not knowing what to do.

“You. Stay,” the Viceroy pointed at the brothers, barely containing himself.

All of the guards and household staff scurried quickly out of the hall, perplexed by their master’s uncharacteristic outburst.

As soon as the last servant closed the door to the hall the Viceroy wailed: “Aaaaaah!”

The cry was loud, powerful and echoed the turmoil of a tortured soul. It reverberated throughout the Viceroy’s mansion and beyond and pierced the heart of whoever heard it. The brothers were stunned and uncomprehending.

Who is this man? Judah wondered. What have we unleashed?

“I am Joseph,” the Viceroy proclaimed through his sobs. “Is my father still alive?”

This is not possible! Judah thought in astonishment, Joseph!? How can this be? After all these years?

The brothers looked at each other with a mixture of fear and disbelief.

Can it be? Judah thought to the others, Joseph? The one we betrayed? Now all-powerful in mighty Egypt? What does he want? Does he seek revenge? Is all this some ruse to punish us?

Judah and his brothers took a step back in apprehension.

“Please come to me,” Joseph called to them more softly, seeing their distrust.

“I am Joseph your brother,” he said controlling his tears, “it is me, whom you sold into Egypt. And now, be not distressed, nor reproach yourselves for having sold me here, for it was to be a provider that God sent me ahead of you. For this has been two of the hunger years in the midst of the land, and there are yet five years in which there shall be neither plowing nor harvest.”

Is this possible? Judah started to recover from his shock and examined Joseph more closely. I now perceive some of his old mannerisms. But see how he has grown and matured. He is not the spoiled and vain teen we cast off. He is still grandiose, but in a strong and powerful way. God is with him!

Joseph told the brothers about how his being sold into slavery was part of a divine plan to save the family from the famine. The brothers were apprehensive, not sure what Joseph’s intentions were.

“Hurry – go up to my father and say to him,” Joseph elaborated. “’So said your son Joseph: God has made me master of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not delay. You will reside in the land of Goshen and you will be near to me – you, your sons, your grandchildren, your flock and your cattle, and all that is yours. And I will provide for you there – for there will be five more years of famine – so you do not become destitute, you, your household, and all that is yours.” ‘

He means to support us! Judah was surprised. He does not bear a grudge and he means to provide for the entire family! This is incredible! Our distress has been changed into salvation and joy; though some of my brothers seem unconvinced. Joseph perceives this as well.

“Behold!” Joseph gestured towards Benjamin. “Your own eyes see as do the eyes of my brother Benjamin that it is I, your brother that is speaking to you.”

Joseph then approached Benjamin and embraced him tightly. Tears now streamed profusely down the cheeks of the reunited sons of Rachel.

He is Joseph! Judah affirmed to himself. Joseph is back! God’s hand is heavily at work here – how wondrous!

Reuben was the next to hug Joseph, the elder who had tried to save Joseph all those years ago.

And then Joseph approached Judah. It was my initiative to sell you, Judah thought guiltily. I am the one who created all this anguish.

But Joseph’s eyes were only filled with tears and love and forgiveness. He radiated to Judah: You are forgiven my brother. All is forgiven. And then they hugged.

Brother, they each thought as they warmly embraced.

* * * * * *

Sources:

Genesis 44:14 – 45:15

And Judah and his brethren came to Joseph’s house, and he was yet there; and they fell before him on the ground.

And Joseph said unto them: ‘What deed is this that ye have done? know ye not that such a man as I will indeed divine?’

And Judah said: ‘What shall we say unto my lord? what shall we speak? or how shall we clear ourselves? G-d hath found out the iniquity of thy servants; behold, we are my lord’s bondmen, both we, and he also in whose hand the cup is found.’

And he said: ‘Far be it from me that I should do so; the man in whose hand the goblet is found, he shall be my bondman; but as for you, get you up in peace unto your father.’

Then Judah came near unto him, and said: ‘Oh my lord, let thy servant, I pray thee, speak a word in my lord’s ears, and let not thine anger burn against thy servant; for thou art even as Pharaoh. My lord asked his servants, saying: Have ye a father, or a brother? And we said unto my lord: We have a father, an old man, and a child of his old age, a little one; and his brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother, and his father loveth him. And thou saidst unto thy servants: Bring him down unto me, that I may set mine eyes upon him. And we said unto my lord: The lad cannot leave his father; for if he should leave his father, his father would die. And thou saidst unto thy servants: Except your youngest brother come down with you, ye shall see my face no more. And it came to pass when we came up unto thy servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. And our father said: Go again, buy us a little food. And we said: We cannot go down; if our youngest brother be with us, then will we go down; for we may not see the man’s face, except our youngest brother be with us.

And thy servant my father said unto us: Ye know that my wife bore me two sons; and the one went out from me, and I said: Surely he is torn in pieces; and I have not seen him since; and if ye take this one also from me, and harm befall him, ye will bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave. Now therefore when I come to thy servant my father, and the lad is not with us; seeing that his soul is bound up with the lad’s soul; it will come to pass, when he seeth that the lad is not with us, that he will die; and thy servants will bring down the gray hairs of thy servant our father with sorrow to the grave. For thy servant became surety for the lad unto my father, saying: If I bring him not unto thee, then shall I bear the blame to my father for ever.

Now therefore, let thy servant, I pray thee, abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren. For how shall I go up to my father, if the lad be not with me? lest I look upon the evil that shall come on my father.’

Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried: ‘Cause every man to go out from me.’ And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren.

And he wept aloud; and the Egyptians heard, and the house of Pharaoh heard.

And Joseph said unto his brethren: ‘I am Joseph; doth my father yet live?’ And his brethren could not answer him; for they were affrighted at his presence.

And Joseph said unto his brethren: ‘Come near to me, I pray you.’ And they came near. And he said: ‘I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. And now be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither; for G-d did send me before you to preserve life. For these two years hath the famine been in the land; and there are yet five years, in which there shall be neither plowing nor harvest. And G-d sent me before you to give you a remnant on the earth, and to save you alive for a great deliverance.

So now it was not you that sent me hither, but G-d; and He hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hasten ye, and go up to my father, and say unto him: Thus saith thy son Joseph: G-d hath made me lord of all Egypt; come down unto me, tarry not. And thou shalt dwell in the land of Goshen, and thou shalt be near unto me, thou, and thy children, and thy children’s children, and thy flocks, and thy herds, and all that thou hast; and there will I sustain thee; for there are yet five years of famine; lest thou come to poverty, thou, and thy household, and all that thou hast. And, behold, your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin, that it is my mouth that speaketh unto you. And ye shall tell my father of all my glory in Egypt, and of all that ye have seen; and ye shall hasten and bring down my father hither.’

And he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck, and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck.

And he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them; and after that his brethren talked with him.

Distance vs. Love

Genesis: Vayigash

Distance vs. Love

The bonds of parental and filial love are often hard to qualify. They can be complicated, filled with charged emotions, loaded histories and strained periods. However the Bible implies that the relationship and the love are powerful and enduring throughout life and beyond.

Joseph had been estranged from his father Jacob for 22 years. No postcards, no emails, no word. Jacob had thought his son dead and mourned him that whole time. There are a variety of theories as to what Joseph might have thought, but the bottom line is that he was not in touch whatsoever.

The family finally reconnects in one of the most dramatic scenes in the Bible (see this week’s story below). When Joseph’s siblings inform Jacob that Joseph is still alive, Jacob at first rejects their report. Peculiarly, only after Jacob notices the wagons that Joseph sent for him does Jacob believe that his son is indeed alive and sending for him.

There are a number of rabbinic commentaries as to why the wagons convinced Jacob of his son’s survival and authenticity. Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) provides a simple yet instructional reason.

Hizkuni explains that the wagons Joseph sent were extremely expensive. The wagons were so extravagant in their cost and comfort that Jacob was certain they could only come from a child of his. No stranger would ever bestow such a lavish gift on him. This could only come from a loving child.

Joseph’s demonstration of love crossed time and space. Decades of separation and distance were reduced in a moment. Father and son carried on, as reunited families and close friends do, as if time had not passed.

May we cherish such relationships and keep the time and distance between their continuations shorter.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To parents and our relationships. Both complex and simple.

 

Genesis: Vayigash

Distance vs. Love

The bonds of parental and filial love are often hard to qualify. They can be complicated, filled with charged emotions, loaded histories and strained periods. However the Bible implies that the relationship and the love are powerful and enduring throughout life and beyond.

Joseph had been estranged from his father Jacob for 22 years. No postcards, no emails, no word. Jacob had thought his son dead and mourned him that whole time. There are a variety of theories as to what Joseph might have thought, but the bottom line is that he was not in touch whatsoever.

The family finally reconnects in one of the most dramatic scenes in the Bible (see this week’s story below). When Joseph’s siblings inform Jacob that Joseph is still alive, Jacob at first rejects their report. Peculiarly, only after Jacob notices the wagons that Joseph sent for him does Jacob believe that his son is indeed alive and sending for him.

There are a number of rabbinic commentaries as to why the wagons convinced Jacob of his son’s survival and authenticity. Rabbi Yaakov ben Manoach (Hizkuni) provides a simple yet instructional reason.

Hizkuni explains that the wagons Joseph sent were extremely expensive. The wagons were so extravagant in their cost and comfort that Jacob was certain they could only come from a child of his. No stranger would ever bestow such a lavish gift on him. This could only come from a loving child.

Joseph’s demonstration of love crossed time and space. Decades of separation and distance were reduced in a moment. Father and son carried on, as reunited families and close friends do, as if time had not passed.

May we cherish such relationships and keep the time and distance between their continuations shorter.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To parents and our relationships. Both complex and simple.

Death Pangs

Genesis: Vayishlach

Death Pangs

“Push!” Yimeh, the midwife urged, “I can see the baby’s head.”

“There is no more strength in me;” Rachel breathed heavily, “this child has drained my life.”

Rachel was in birthing position on the bed in her tent. Bilhah and Zilpah held Rachel’s arms on either side, while Yimeh was squatting at the foot of the bed, ready to catch the newborn should it succeed in exiting Rachel’s swollen womb. Leah was running back and forth, preparing hot water, getting fresh cloths and doing anything to keep busy. Leah could not bring herself to be in direct contact with her dying sister.

Yes. Rachel was undoubtedly dying. Leah had seen the signs at the birthing-deaths of other women. Rachel’s loss of blood during labor was severe. It was a miracle she had not died already, and that the baby was not stillborn. There was only hope for the baby now, though that too was diminishing quickly.

“Save your breath,” Yimeh said more urgently to Rachel, “the only thing you need do in this world now is push.

“Call Jacob,” Rachel pleaded weakly, “I must see him one last time before I die.”

“I said stop talking!” Yimeh clamped the palm of her hand over Rachel’s mouth, “Push! Do not speak! Push! Push! Push!”

Rachel was shocked by Yimeh’s vehemence and awoke from her stupor. With renewed energy and concentration she started to push.

“That is it.” Yimeh encouraged, “Push in time with the urge.”

Leah in the meantime exited the tent to look for Jacob and at least fulfill her sister’s dying wish.

“You are doing it,” Yimeh reported, “the head is starting to descend.”

“Aaargh!” Rachel screamed, “it is killing me!”

“Do not talk!” Yimeh clamped Rachel’s mouth again, “Do not even scream. Use the pain to push. It is all about pushing now. There is nothing else in the world. Not pain, not limbs, not a baby, not even yourself. You must become a pushing machine, a pushing entity, for the next few moments. Push!”

Yimeh kept her hand on Rachel’s mouth, stifling the next scream.

“I can see the head!” Yimeh exclaimed, “That is very good. Now is the critical part. Listen, Rachel. With the next urge, you must push with all your might. As if the entire world depended on it. I am taking my hand off now. Do not speak. Take a deep breath. Do not do anything else but push at the next urge with your entire being.”

Rachel nodded her understanding. She took a deep breath. Her eyes focused on nothing. Then gritting her teeth, clenching the arms of Bilhah on her right and Zilpah on her left, she pushed.

“Yes! Now! Push!!” Yimeh yelled.

“Nnnggh!” Rachel grunted through her shut mouth.

“The head is out!” Yimeh proclaimed, as she tried to ease the baby out. “The hardest part is over Rachel. Just a few more pushes and you will be done.”

“More?” Rachel asked incredulously, dazed from her last effort.

“Yes.” Yimeh answered, focused on the baby, “Just two or three more pushes to get the rest of the body through.”

“Hah!” Rachel laughed weakly, “I am surprised the last push did not kill me. You will have to do the rest of the pushing, Yimeh.”

“You are not done yet.” Yimeh retorted.

“This body is –“ but Rachel inexorably started to push.

“Very good, Rachel,” Yimeh calmly said as she supported the baby’s head. “Save your breath and keep pushing. The first shoulder is out.”

Jacob suddenly entered the tent with Leah right behind him.

He was shocked by the large pools of blood on the bed and the floor.

He stood silently, looking at the pained and dying Rachel, whom he now understood he would lose momentarily. He then looked at the head of the baby struggling to escape the dying womb. If Rachel did not succeed, it might very well be its tomb.

“Jacob!” Rachel shouted out as soon as she noticed him.

“Quiet!” Yimeh commanded. “Do I need to clamp your mouth again? The very life of this child depends on you not speaking. You must focus on the last pushes. My lord,” Yimeh addressed Jacob, “please do not distract her. The life of your child hangs in the balance.”

Jacob moved to the back of the tent behind Rachel’s view and quietly said to Rachel:

“I am here, my love. Focus on the labor and what Yimeh instructs you. I shall not leave you. Have no fear.”

Rachel’s answer was only: “Nnngh!”

“The second shoulder is out!” Yimeh called out joyously as she delivered the baby.

“Whaaaah!” the baby wailed before Yimeh even had a chance to give it the customary slap.

Yimeh expertly wiped the baby down and clamped the umbilical cord. She then wrapped the baby in fresh cloth and gingerly handed it to the dying mother.

“Have no fear, for this one, too, is a son for you.” Yimeh said, knowing the last words Rachel would want to hear.

Rachel clasped the boy to her and cried tears of joy and of sorrow. She turned her head to look at Jacob. She thought back to their first meeting by the well. She thought of their history. She thought of all that went unsaid and undone between them. To the life that might have been. To the children she might have raised.

Clutching the boy to her chest, with tears streaming down her face, she used her last breath to name him. “He shall be called ‘Son of my Sorrow’ – Ben-oni.”

Rachel then closed her eyes for the last time, still holding the boy tightly.

The tent was as silent as a grave.

Yimeh extracted the boy from Rachel’s dead embrace and handed him to Jacob.

Jacob cradled him tenderly in his right arm, as wordless tears rolled down his beard.

“This is a day of deep sorrow for me,” Jacob finally exhaled, “and for you my son. For you shall not know your mother, the love of my life. But your existence should not be further colored by sorrow. You are the last gift of my Rachel. Oh! My beloved, Rachel!” Jacob wept.

“’Son of my Sorrow’ is not fitting for you.” Jacob continued through his tears, “Rather, you shall remain constantly by my side. You whose countenance is so much like my Rachel. You shall be named ‘Son of my Right Arm’ – Benjamin.”

“Whaah!” was Benjamin’s only answer.

* * * * * *

Sources:

“They journeyed to Bet-El and there was still a stretch of land to go to Ephrath, when Rachel went into labor and had difficulty in her childbirth. And it was when she had difficulty in her labor that the midwife said to her, “Have no fear, for this one, too, is a son for you.” And it came to pass, as her soul was departing – for she died – that she called his name Son of my Sorrow (Ben-oni), but his father called him Benjamin.” Genesis 35:16-18