Category Archives: Jacob

Anti-Wealth Prayer

Genesis Kli Yakar: Vayetze

Anti-Wealth Prayer

Our Patriarch Jacob becomes a wealthy man. He departs his uncle/father-in-law Laban after twenty years of work, laden with massive wealth. What is curious about his wealth is his view of it, or at least the Kli Yakar’s interpretation of Jacob’s philosophy of wealth.

Twenty years earlier, as Jacob sets out from his father’s house on his journey to Haran, Jacob prays to God. He prays for a safe return home. In the material department he asks for only two things: “bread to eat and clothing to wear”. A fairly minimalist request from a future tycoon.

The Kli Yakar (Genesis 28:20) explains that Jacob’s request for sustenance was also part of his request to return home safely and uncorrupted. It’s obvious that bread is eaten and clothing is worn. Why did Jacob need to add those verbs?

The answer is that Jacob only wanted enough bread to eat and no more. Just clothing to wear and nothing extraneous. The Kli Yakar quotes from Proverbs (30:8):

Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with mine allotted bread.

He claims that wealth has the potential to both corrupt and cause conflict. It can corrupt its owner from following a straight path, a path of service of God. The wealthy are always at risk of servicing their Wealth. It can also cause conflict with those that want to get their hands on the wealth.

Therefore Jacob pleads that if God will merely give him his basic necessities to support himself and his family then “I shall return in peace to my father’s home.”

May our basic needs always be covered, and may wealth we are granted be harnessed for God.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To the generous philanthropists who wield their wealth for worthy causes.

Rachel’s Gambit

Biblical Fiction (inspiration from Genesis Chapter 31)

Rachel’s Gambit

By Ben-Tzion Spitz

painting by Raphael

Rachel put her shearing knife in her belt. She ran her fingers through the thick wool of the sheep as she stood listening to Jacob amongst his flock. She loved the rich scent of the docile animals.

“It’s agreed then,” Jacob told Rachel and her sister Leah. Leah, co-wife, partner, ally and sister all rolled into one. Now that Rachel had given birth to Joseph, the old rivalries and jealousies ebbed.

“We’re leaving in the morning,” Jacob continued. “Please pack your belongings and prepare the children. I don’t know that we shall ever return to your father’s house again.”

The three of them glanced across the Aramean plains and looked at Lavan’s compound in the distance. Rachel remembered before Jacob’s arrival it had been a simple mud-brick house. Now, twenty years later, it had grown into a stone mansion, with a series of smaller mud-brick houses and large stables. It’s all Jacob’s work, Rachel thought. And father would steal it all over again.

Rachel and Leah walked back to the compound silently with the setting sun. Rachel knew that Leah’s dislike for their father mirrored her own. They were little more than slaves to him. And so was Jacob. Strong, honest, hard-working Jacob had built their father’s wealth, but was still treated little better than a beast of burden. It was within the rules of their people. As long as Lavan was the master, he owned them. Running away would not make them free. She knew Lavan would chase them. He would bring his Idols in hand and demand they all return to him as per the Law.

The Idols, those hated Idols. She wondered if Lavan controlled the Idols or if perhaps it was the other way around. She needed to get her hands on those Idols. She needed to remove the Idols from Lavan’s control and thereby sever the eternal bondage. Joseph must grow up free.

The sun sank below the horizon, with a full moon taking its place in the sky. As Rachel and Leah reached the compound they nodded to each other and separated to their private quarters. Rachel walked past her own door and continued to Lavan’s private Temple. Lavan is several days away, she thought. He would not have taken his Idols to the shearing of his distant flock. They must be here in his Temple.

Rachel walked to the back of the compound where the Temple stood. She blessed the full moon for lighting her path in the dark night. A wild black cat screeched suddenly. Rachel jumped back in fright.

“Damned cat,” she murmured, shaking. “You scared me to death.”

Rachel approached the Temple. It was a circular earthen structure, capped with a simple dome. The Temple’s diameter was the length of two men as was its height. Rachel remembered Lavan lovingly building the structure himself, casting spells and protections for his Idols. The Temple’s door was on the eastern side, to face the rising sun, with open windows at the three other points of the compass.

Rachel walked gingerly to one of the windows and peered inside. One lone long candle burned brightly in a brazier hanging from the ceiling. On a stone pedestal in the center of the Temple Rachel could see the Idols. Both of them were on the pedestal. They were less than an arm’s length in height. There was a golden statuette of a man, carved in exquisite detail, next to a matching silver one. If one looked at them long enough, one might think they were alive. That is not what troubled Rachel. It was the mastery they represented.

The holder of the Idols was the holder of their fortunes. It gave the right to land, to slaves and to flocks. The Idols were passed down from father to son. A freed Aramean man needed to receive his own Idol from his master. Lavan would never release Jacob, nor would her righteous Jacob agree to accept an Idol for his release. By Aramean law, Jacob and his descendents would forever be slaves. Jacob did not care and would simply leave. But Rachel would not accept this. She did not want this doom hanging over her Joseph.

At the floor of the Temple a black sinuous form slithered around the pedestal. It had the thickness of a tree truck, and at some points Rachel was able to see through its body to the dirt floor underneath. A demon, she thought in alarm. That is how he is protecting it. How can I get through it?

Rachel found the head of the slithering form. Two bright red eyes shone from its face. It had neither nose nor ears. Just deep set eyes and a wide mouth that took up half its head. It reminded her of a giant eel, except that she could see long arms and legs at rest on the side of its body. The form shifted in and out of solidity proving its demonic source.

How can I trick the demon? Rachel wondered. Catch it? Distract it? What did she know about demons? Her father had never taught her the magics, but he often liked to brag about how he captured them or controlled them. Blood. Yes. They liked blood. They were addicted to blood. They would follow the scent of fresh blood and feast on it. In gratitude they would obey your wishes.

Rachel retreated quietly from the Temple and scanned the ground carefully. Then she spotted it. The cat sat against one of the buildings licking its paws. With a speed born of desperation Rachel pounced on the cat, with both arms outstretched. The cat eluded her right hand, but she caught the cat by the neck with her left. The cat screeched and scratched at Rachel’s arm. Rachel smashed the cat’s head into the ground, drew out her shearing knife and sliced the cat’s neck. The blood flowed rapidly on the ground.

Rachel ran back to the Temple and stood behind the structure. A moment later the door to the Temple opened and the black demon slithered out. Rachel ran into the Temple. She stopped at the entrance, looking for further traps or defenses. She noticed a heavy layer of dust around the central pedestal. She took one light step forward and felt a burning sensation through her leather sandals. She pulled her foot back and looked closely at the floor. She saw the outline of footprints in the dust. She placed her foot on the footprint and felt no pain. She stepped on successive footprints and made it to the pedestal unharmed.

The golden Idol stared at her. It was beautiful. She had rarely seen a man-made object of such fine workmanship. Rachel grabbed the idol, only to cry in pain as the Idol seared the fingers of her right hand. She ripped the bottom of her skirt and wrapped the woolen fabric around the both idols. She grabbed the wrapped idols with her left hand and backed away from the pedestal, careful to tread on the footprints again. She reached the doorway and breathed a sigh of relief.

As she turned and walked away a dark hand clutched her ankle and pulled her back to the Temple doorway. Rachel held on to the frame of the door, the Idols still wrapped and clutched in her left hand.

“You have deceived me, daughter of Lavan,” the Demon hissed from the ground.

“I fed you blood, Demon. Release me. That is my request.”

“You think us dumb, human? We are merely constrained. The blood drew me, but it is not enough to subjugate me. My task was to protect the Idols and I have failed. Though a thief, you are now the master of the Idols. But you will not leave unscathed.”

“Then obey me, Demon. I am the master now. Release me and return to your circular vigil.”

“I shall release you, but you have shamed me. For that you shall pay. No human may shame a demon and live long to tell about it. I place a death curse upon you.”

“I fed you blood, I am the master of the Idols now, I am the daughter of your former master. How dare you curse me? Stop this nonsense right now and let me go.”

“I shall let you go young Rachel. I shall even grant you a dying wish. Name your wish and I shall make sure it is granted before you die.”

“I do not accept your curse, demon. Though if I could make one last wish before I die, it would be for another son.”

“So it shall be. Now stand as I sing your doom.”

The demon, still holding Rachel’s ankle, curled his long body into a ball and looked at Rachel with his bright red eyes. He sang in a deep rumble.

“O, deceiver of the deceiver,

You have bested the son of Betuel.

Beautiful, youngest, Rachel,

The queen of he who shall be Yisrael.

Mother of warriors and kings,

Name forever revered.

Wealth and honor for your progeny,

Strife and battle with your sister’s kin.

One more shall you see, child of sorrow,

Son of your right hand, son of strength.

Joseph shall rule an empire,

And hasten the exile.

You shall stand guard over your sons

On their long return home.

Not to see them in this world,

A power amongst the righteous.”

The demon released Rachel’s ankle.

Rachel walked back to her quarters, trembling. I did it, she thought. I have the Idols. Joseph shall be free. Jacob and even Leah’s children will be free. We must leave at first light before Lavan finds out.

But what about the death curse, she wondered.

Rachel smiled. If the dying wish comes true, I will be satisfied.

* * * * * *

Biblical Sources:

Genesis Chapter 31

4 And Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field unto his flock, 5 and said unto them: ‘I see your father’s countenance, that it is not toward me as beforetime; but the God of my father hath been with me. 6 And ye know that with all my power I have served your father. 7 And your father hath mocked me, and changed my wages ten times; but God suffered him not to hurt me.

9 Thus God hath taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me.

11 And the angel of God said unto me in the dream: Jacob; and I said: Here am I. 12 And he said: Lift up now thine eyes, and see, all the he-goats which leap upon the flock are streaked, speckled, and grizzled; for I have seen all that Laban doeth unto thee. 13 I am the God of Beth-el, where thou didst anoint a pillar, where thou didst vow a vow unto Me. Now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy nativity.’ 14 And Rachel and Leah answered and said unto him: ‘Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father’s house? 15 Are we not accounted by him strangers? for he hath sold us, and hath also quite devoured our price. 16 For all the riches which God hath taken away from our father, that is ours and our children’s. Now then, whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do.’ 17 Then Jacob rose up, and set his sons and his wives upon the camels; 18 and he carried away all his cattle, and all his substance which he had gathered, the cattle of his getting, which he had gathered in Paddan-aram, to go to Isaac his father unto the land of Canaan. 19 Now Laban was gone to shear his sheep. And Rachel stole the teraphim that were her father’s.

Notes:

Role of idols based on lecture at Machon Herzog that explained importance and prominence of master idols in Aramean culture and law, and therefore motivation of Rachel to steal them and that of Lavan to chase Jacob for them.

Demonology based on Sforno and various Talmudic accounts.

Lavan’s magical powers based on his being identified with Bilaam the sorcerer.

Stealing of idols inspired by Indiana Jones.

Divine Irony

Numbers Hizkuni: Balak

Divine Irony

Laban searching Jacob's possesions

God has a long memory and a sense of irony. Our patriarch Jacob flees from his father-in-law Lavan’s home in Aram with wives and children in tow. Lavan chases him heading southwest towards Canaan. He catches him somewhere to the east of the Jordan River. After some harsh words against each other they sign a peace treaty and build a cairn of stones to commemorate the pact.

Lavan swears an oath that he will not pass the stones to harm Jacob (Genesis 31:52), and each go their merry way.

A few hundred years later the sorcerer Bilaam ventures southwest from Aram. He goes to curse the children of Jacob. He finds them camping east of the Jordan River and preparing to enter the land of Canaan.

According to midrashic sources Bilaam is either an extremely long-lived Lavan or a descendent of his with equally hostile feelings towards the family of Jacob.

Bilaam is injured badly in the course of the dance between his donkey and the angel trying to kill him. The Torah describes how the donkey veers into the wall and Bilaam’s leg is damaged as a result.

Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) claims that the wall was actually a pillar of stone and it was none other than the stones that had been erected as a reminder of the pact of non-belligerence. Hizkuni feels that Bilaam received his comeuppance with the precise reminder of his breach of trust. It was no coincidence that the tool of Bilaam’s (initial) punishment should be the very object that he betrayed.

Hizkuni adds that Bilaam’s passionate hatred of Israel blinded the otherwise brilliant man from the obvious fact of God’s displeasure with anyone attempting to curse Israel.

Unfortunately for him, he did not heed the multiple warnings and divine hints he was given but relentlessly pursued his anti-Semitic agenda. His end, as we see later on was catastrophic.

May we appreciate God’s irony and always have faith that He will resolve things the way they should be.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To God. Amongst other things for His sense of irony and timing, and for sometimes letting us in on it. To France’s national soccer team. One of the leading teams in the world cheated against Ireland in the qualifying round. They have now been utterly humiliated in the first round of the World Cup and eliminated in ignoble defeat. I suspect God is also following the games and administering appropriate comeuppance.

The First Anti-Semite

Genesis: Vayechi

The First Anti-Semite

“Father,” the boy asked, “why is that coffin made out of metal? I thought they are usually from ceramic or wood?”

“That is perceptive of you my son,” the father answered, as they followed the funeral procession. “This is a special coffin for Joseph, the old Viceroy.”

“Why is his so different then?”

“You shall see soon enough. His burial will be different.”

“And there are so many people here. I have never seen such a large crowd for a funeral before.”

“Yes, it is large indeed. I think Jacob’s funeral, the Viceroy’s father, may have been this big, though his family has grown significantly since then.”

“What family, Father?”

“Why, the Children of Israel. They have multiplied at an astonishing rate.”

“You say it like it is a bad thing.”

“I do not think it is good that strangers should become so powerful. It was worrisome enough when the Viceroy had such strong control of Egypt.”

The procession continued towards the Royal burial grounds.

“And who are those old men carrying the coffin?”

“Those are the Viceroy’s brothers and his two sons.”

“The Royal honor guard seems more armed than usual and with many soldiers.”

“That is very observant of you, my son. That is very good. It is always important to take note of all the details. I suspect those guards may be called upon shortly.”

At the entrance to the Royal burial grounds the brothers wished to enter, however the honor guard directed them towards the river.

The procession stopped for a moment. When the brothers realized the guards had the advantage, they continued towards the river.

“You see, my son. Sometimes just a show of force is sufficient to prevent the use of force, and can spare wasteful violence.”

“Yes, Father. For a moment though, I thought there would be a fight.”

“That was a risk. But the Hebrews are smart. They would not fight over this matter.”

The procession approached the banks of the Nile, with the honor guard closely directing the brothers with the coffin to the shore.

“Where are they going to bury him, Father?”

“In the Nile.”

“In the Nile? That is so strange. I have never heard of such a thing. Why in the river?”

“To make his body less accessible.”

“Less accessible? Less accessible to who? For what?”

“Let us say that it would be less than convenient if his family were to have easy access to his remains.”

“But why? I thought the old Viceroy did great things for Egypt. I learned that he had single-handedly saved the empire from starvation. This does not seem like an honorable burial.”

“Hmmm. They should stop teaching that history. Joseph may have done good things for Egypt in the past, but he was still a Hebrew. Besides, he did those things in his own self-interest as well. He had been a lowly imprisoned slave before the previous Pharaoh elevated him, and invited his entire family to move to Egypt – and to the best land!”

The procession reached the water and the brothers, under the watchful eyes and spears of the honor guard, solemnly lowered the coffin into the river.

Hoards of Hebrews rushed to the shore, to look at the rapidly sinking coffin. They all pointed and looked at each other. They looked at the surrounding trees and road and at the landscape on the other side of the Nile, as if they were trying to memorize the exact location.

“I do not understand, Father,” the boy continued, “the Hebrews have always been loyal, if not outstanding Egyptian citizens. I know that many of the grandchildren of Joseph remain in royal service and they are usually the best administrators and most fearsome soldiers.”

“Nonetheless, my son,” the father explained as he surveyed all the Hebrews at the shore, “they are foreigners. They are not our friends and you would do well to remember that. They have always remained aloof from us Egyptians and our culture. They look down upon our gods and worship and practices. And those Hebrews that do embrace our ways – they are the worst! They try so hard to ingratiate themselves into our circles, but they are nothing but two-faced traitors. I fear them the most!”

“Yes, Father. I understand and hear what you say. There must be a way that we can protect ourselves then from these Hebrews. They are so numerous!”

“We shall have to devise a way. Now with the Viceroy gone it will be easier. But it will take time and patience. The other brothers are no less intelligent than old Joseph was, though perhaps not as sophisticated in the ways of government.”

“As you say, Father.”

“Son, you are old enough to call me by my formal name. You must become accustomed to this.”

“Yes, Pharaoh.”

“Do not forget that these Hebrews are a threat. Perhaps the greatest threat the empire will face. I will set the wheels in motion, but it may very well be you who will have to face them head on.”

“Yes, Pharaoh. I shall not disappoint you.”

* * * * * *

Sources:

“Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten years; they embalmed him and he was placed in a coffin in Egypt.” Genesis 50:26

The Egyptians made a metal coffin, which they lowered into the Nile River so that its waters would be blessed. Moses went and stood on the bank of the Nile and called, “Joseph, Joseph, the time of the vow of the Holy One, Blessed is He, that He would redeem you has come; the time for fulfilling the oath that you adjured the Children of Israel has arrived. If you show yourself, fine; if not, we are released from our oath.” Thereupon Joseph’s coffin floated to the surface. Tractate Sotah 13a

They made a coffin weighing 500 talents, which the sorcerers threw into the river. They said to Pharaoh, “Is it your wish that this nation never leave? If they do not find Joseph’s bones, they will never be able to leave.” Devarim Rabbah 11:7

His coffin was placed in a river, where it would not become unclean. Zohar 1:222b

How did Moses know where Joseph was buried? Serah daughter of Asher showed him. Tractate Sotah 13a

Moses took Joseph’s goblet and cut four pieces out of it. On one he drew a lion, on another an ox, on another an eagle, and on another a man. Then he stood at the Nile, threw in the image of the lion, and said, “Joseph, the time has come for Israel to be redeemed”, but the coffin did not rise. He threw in the drawing of the ox and then of the eagle, but it did not rise. Finally he threw in the drawing of the man and said, “Joseph, the time has come.” Joseph’s coffin immediately floated to the top of the water, and Moses took it. Midrash Hagadol, end of Bereshit

Joseph’s sons were not enslaved in Egypt, nor did they “sit on a pot of meat.” Rather, they were shield-bearers and warriors. Shocher Tov 81:7

As long as Joseph was alive, the Children of Israel did not suffer the burden of Egypt (i.e., slavery). After Joseph died, the burden was placed upon them. Shemot Rabbah 1:4

“A new king…who did not know Joseph.” Exodus 1:8. He pretended not to know. Tractate Eiruvin 53a

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