Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Va’ye’chi – B’resheet (Genesis): 47:28– 50:26

Last week we noted that much of what is recounted in our weekly Parashot (plural for “Parasha”) bears direct relationship to present-day situations and circumstances, and even to our own lives. Parashat Va’ye'chi, which centers around Ya'acov's prophetic benedictions over his sons and grandsons, is a good example of this, as these ‘benedictions’ are much more than mere ‘well wishing’ or ‘ hopes’ directed toward this progeny. The words pronounced by the Patriarch actually make up the Word of YHVH embossed upon the destiny and life of His people.

The Parasha opens with the words, "And Jacob lived (va'ye’chi) in the land of Egypt seventeen years…when the time for Israel to die drew near, he called his son Joseph" (47: 28 emphasis added). Back in Parashat Va’yeshev we noted that the "record of the generations of Jacob" was linked directly to "Joseph, [who] when seventeen years of age was pasturing with his brothers… [and] Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons…" (37:2,3). These seemingly casual statements, tying Ya'acov's "record of generations" to Yoseph's life, as well as the reference to his attitude toward this son, are seen in a different light at the close of the cycle. From the present vantage point, those statements appear to have described the cause, the effects of which are apparent in the present Parasha. The symmetry of the "seventeen years," the first ones of Yoseph's life, and the last of Ya'acov's, along with the usage of the name "Yisrael" in both instances serves to enhance this impression of cause and effect, and of the cycle completed. In fact, the current situation constitutes only the first part of the "effect," with the rest (as, for example, the lot that is about to 'befall' the people of Yisrael in Egypt) still to follow for many generations to come.

The second part of verse 29 (ch. 47), where Yaacov addresses his son, bidding him: "put your hand under my thigh…," takes us all the way back to Avraham and his servant, who was charged by his master in the same manner (Gen. 24:2). The strength and power of life, represented by the thigh, finds expression through the hand of another – one who promises to be faithful and loyal to his oath. Here, this one is Yoseph who promises his father to bury him with his ancestors in the land of Yisrael

Ya'acov's heart is thus set at rest, while in the next episode, sick and nearing death, he starts to confer his blessings. Yoseph, who is summoned to his bed, brings with him his two sons who end up being the first ones to receive the blessing. Hence, the sequel of blessings of the sons of Yisrael starts out with his grandsons, Ephraim, the youngest, and then on to Menashe. Yeshua's familiar words concerning “the last being first” and vice versa (ref. Mt. 20:16), are certainly relevant in this instance! However, Ya'acov does not start blessing Yoseph's sons before he recounts, albeit in a somewhat modified version, what El Shaddai had said to him in Luz - Beit El (“... Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall proceed from you, and kings shall come from your body.  The land which I gave Abraham and Isaac I give to you; and to your descendants after you I give this land," 35:11-12). The words that Yaacov is about to utter now are based on that auspicious word of long ago. When blessing the boys, he includes the "fruitfulness" and the "numerousness," of the roots p.r.h - fruit - and r.b.h - much, great, plenty.  "A nation - goy - and a company – kahal - of nations – goyim," in the original blessing, become now "company - kahal again - of people” – “amim” (48:4a). We shall soon see how these two terms, "goy" and "am," are dispensed between the two grandsons. "Kings shall come forth from you" in the original is omitted entirely, and rightly so, because Yoseph's sons were not to be the recipients of the kingly portion. The final part of the original blessing had to do with the Land. In the episode at hand Ya'acov qualifies the original word “land” with the words "an everlasting possession” – “achuzat olam" (v. 4b).  Achuza, (“possession”), is from the root (alef, chet, zayin), meaning “to grasp, take hold, possess.” Being in exile, Ya'acov chooses words that would be powerfully imprinted upon the minds of his listeners. Without repose, he adopts his two grandsons (ref. 48:5), in order to ensure that the promises just given will be fulfilled down through their successive generations. He then goes on to say to Yoseph, "but your offspring that have been born after them shall be yours" (48: 6). "Offspring" here is "moledet," of the root y.l.d  (yod, lamed, dalet) “to give birth” or “beget.”  Hence, most times "moledet" is used in a sense of “biological family." This was the term used when Avraham was told to leave his "family" (Gen. 12:1). In B’resheet 31:13, the angel of Elohim told Ya'acov to go back to the “land of his ‘moledet.’"  Ya'acov had just talked about the "achuzat olam" which was promised to his progeny. The mention of "moledet" may be one more reminder, given the circumstances, of what is no doubt an important issue with which he wishes to inculcate his posterity.

It was after the scene of blessings and promises granted to Ya'acov in Beit El-Luz that Rachel gave birth to Binyamin, in Ephrata, on the road to Beith Lechem, which is where she also died. Although at the moment Ya'acov is engaged in matters of great import, pertaining to the future of the Nation, he is clearly compelled to pause and allow the whole sad episode to engulf him all over again, and thus makes mention of it. Incidentally, the literal meaning of "Ephratah" is "toward Ephrat." "Ephrat" shares the root of “fruitfulness” with “Ephraim.” According to Ya'acov's words here (48:7, and Micha 5:2), Ephrat and Beit Lechem are synonymous.

All during this time, while Ya'acov is adopting Yoseph's two sons, he is not aware of their presence in the room (being extremely nearsighted). Upon realizing that Ephraim and Menashe are present, Yisrael says to Yoseph, "I never expected to see your face, and behold, Elohim has let me see your seed as well" (v. 11 italics added). "Expected" here is "pilalti." The root is p.l.l (pey, lamed, lamed), with its primal meaning being “to intervene, interpose, or arbitrate, and by implication, “to judge,” thus giving rise to "hitpalel," which is “to pray” and to "tfila" – “prayer,” (e.g. 1 Sam. 1:10, 12, 26, 27; 2:1). The usage of it here, as "expect," is the only one of its kind in the entire Tanach. Ya'acov had so completely given up any hope of seeing his son that, according to his own admittance, he did not intercede or pray on his behalf, since his only 'judgement' of the matter was that Yoseph had departed this life.

Ya'acov blesses the lads while crossing his arms over them (48:14). The verb used there – “sikel” - originates from the root (sin, chaf, lamed) which means, “to understand, succeed, instruction,” being indicative of the far-reaching implications that this action was to have in the future. The essence of the blessing is put in a few words, "…may my name ("shem") and the name of my fathers… be named in them" (v. 16). Yisrael is conferring upon his ‘adopted sons’ the blessings and promises given to Avraham, Yitzchak, and to himself, which in this context are tantamount to the "name" he wishes to bestow upon them. Thus the blessings constitute an all-powerful 'stamp,' a "name" embossed, as it were, upon the lads and upon their posterity. The Patriarch goes on to pronounce the following: "And may they grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth" (v. 16). The original wording for "grow into a multitude"- va'yidgu"- is a verb which appears nowhere else and means, "they will become fish," referring to that creature's rate of breeding. The use of this unusual verb is designed to call attention to the blessing, and to this specific detail. When Yoseph expresses disapproval of his father's birth order ‘confusion,’ the latter explains his action, telling his bewildered son that Menashe will be a "people" ("am"), echoing the terminology he used above; but that Ephraim, now making use of "goy," another of his above-mentioned terms, will become "the fullness of the gentiles" – or "m'lo ha'goyim" in Hebrew (ref. vs. 17-19 italics added).

The Brit Chadasha (New or Renewed Covenant) interprets for us the meaning of "becoming fish," far beyond a mere numerical property. "Now as Yeshua was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers… casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And He said to them, 'follow me, and I will make you fishers of men'" (Mat. 4:19). Ephraim and Menashe’s descendants had to become ‘fish,’ so that when the fishermen would be ready to cast their 'gospel nets' there would be a catch out there (see also Jer. 16:16a). When enough fish fill up the quota (according to the number determined by their Creator, ref. also Deut. 32:8) - in other words, when they become "the fullness of the Gentiles" - then "all Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:25).

The "one portion (over his brothers)," which Ya'acov grants Yoseph at the end of this scene (48: 22), is signified by the word "sh'chem," meaning a “shoulder,” the specific reference being to the two ‘shoulders’ (mountains) on each side of the city by that name. Thus, Ephraim's lot includes the 'shoulder' in the form of Grizim, the Mount of the Blessing, and Menahse's, the other 'shoulder,' Eival, the Mount of Curse.

It is now time for Ya'acov's twelve sons to receive a word from their father, or as put by Ya'acov, that which "will befall you in the latter days" (49:1). This is the first time the expression "latterend of - days" - "a'charit ha'yamim" - appears in the Bible. If compared to the usage of the same term in Isaiah 2:2, it may relate to a time in which Yisrael's calling as a Nation of Elohim's choosing will be fulfilled. [1] Let us pause to examine the root of “a’charit,” being (alef, chet, resh), from which are derived, “after, last, tomorrow, other, another,” and also… “achar, “acharey” or “achoranit” - meaning “behind” or “backwords.” Thus, when reference is made to “acharit” (the “end”) there is also a “remez” (hint) to that which was “behind,” that which had already occurred “beforehand,” indicating a circulatory movement that links the past to the future – worlds without end (see also Yisha’ya’hu – Isaiah – 46: 9, 10). (In Parashat Lech Lecha – Beresheet 12-17, regarding the root k.d.m – east, antiquity and forward - we noticed a similar concept of that which is “ahead” being related to that which was.)  Just as “kedem” also stands for “east,” there are several references to “acharon” (literally “last”) meaning “west” (the “last” – “acharon” – sea is the western sea in Yisrael that is the Mediterranean, as compared to the eastern sea – the Dead Sea). In Eeyov (Job) 18:20 we read:  “Those in the west – “achronim” last - are astonished at his day, as those in the east – “kadmonim” earliest ones - are frightened.”  Thus,  acharit ha’yamim” – end of days – conveys to us movement from the east toward the west (remember “acharon” also meaning “west”), just as was the direction of entering the tabernacle/temple all the way to the holy of holies which was situated in its western most section. This directional movement is confirmed by Matthew 24:27: "For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (italics added).

The words given to the second and third sons, predicting their dispersion among their brethren, have amazingly come to pass (ref. 49:7).  Following on the heels of that is the word given to Yehuda (Judah), which starts off with a word play on the meaning of his name, differing from the original meaning given to him by his mother (ref. Gen. 29:35). The root of the word and its meanings are not clear-cut. It appears to be yadah (of the root y.d.h., yod, dalet, hey), and is probably related to the word "yad" - “hand,” and thus means “to cast (such as in casting a stone or a lot), as well as to “confess or to praise,” again being connected to the imagery of raised hands.  “Your brothers shall praise you - yo'du'cha" - (v. 8), seems therefore to flow into the next expression, which is "your hand - yad'cha - shall be on the neck of your enemies" (who, many a time in the future will turn out to be the descendants of his brothers!). And again, Yehuda's brothers, according to Ya'acov's prediction, are also destined to "bow down" before him.” Yes, this son is destined for the "scepter" (“shevet”), but also for the judicial position, as we see by "me'chokek" (v. 10), from “chok” – “law or decree,” the root being ch.k.k. (chet, kof, kof), stemming from a verb which means “to carve” (ref. Is. 22:16) and “engrave,” and by implication to “enact laws” and thus to “dispense justice.”

But the predictions concerning Yehuda’s destiny do not stop here! The above promises are to hold true "until Shilo comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples" (v. 10). The term Shilo has been interpreted in many ways; the most likely one is "to whom it belongs." Who truly is that one, and what is it that belongs to him? Ezekiel 21:27 helps us clarify what appears here as a mystery.[2]  There we find the expression "until He comes to whom belongs ("asher lo") judgment [or justice]."  If we were to read "shilo" as "sheh'lo," it would convey the same meaning as "asher lo" in the above, namely "to whom it belongs." In both cases what ‘belongs’ to this one is something which is related to judgment and justice, and of course, according to our present text also the position of leadership.

The next part of the blessing (vs.11, 12) with its repeated imagery of wine may be compared to Isaiah 63:1-3, where there are several references to wine, to its color, and to the winepress. Once again, there is an allusion to an entity greater than Yehuda and his natural progeny.

The word given to Dan contains a reference to the meaning of his name, which is "judge" (49:16). When it comes to Gad, Ya’acov changes the meaning of his name. Whereas his mother related the name to "luck" (30:11), here Ya'acov relates it to “raiding bands,” the verb being, g.d.d (gimel, dalet, dalet), the original meaning of which is “cutting and making inroads”. [3] It is said of Gad that “a troop shall raid him,” but that (literally) “he shall raid their heel” (49:19 italics added). And of his half brother, Dan, it says that he will “bite the horses’ heel, so that his rider falls backwards” (v. 17 italics added). Thus the sons of Yaacov, the one who held the heel at birth and who followed (all of which are connected to the root a.k.v and hence to his name), are, or will be, displaying the same ‘a.k.v.’ trait.

Fruitfulness is alluded to in Yoseph's blessing, as he is twice named here "ben porat," literally "son of fruitfulness" (v. 22). The word to Yoseph is replete with blessings of plenty, fruitfulness, might, prowess, and honor; but also mentions the hatred which is directed toward him. Yoseph is to be a "nah'zir" (v. 26) to his brothers (translated “separated from, or distinguished among his brothers”). A "nah'zir" is one especially consecrated and dedicated to YHVH. This title can refer to anyone with a special calling, such as Shimshon (Smason Jud. 13:5), or to a person who takes upon himself a Nazarite vow (Num. 6:21). The noun of the same root is “neh’zer,” and means a “crown” and in that way is also connected to the priesthood (see Ex. 29:6 regarding the priest’s miter). Interestingly, “nah’zir” is mentioned here in the same breath as the “top of Joseph’s head” (49:26), while literally calling Yoseph the “crown” of his brothers.

If the word to Yehuda points so clearly to the Messiah, some of what is being said to Yoseph, and of him, may also be interpreted as referring to a greater figure. It is no wonder then that in Jewish tradition, alongside the victorious Messiah ben David (from Yehuda's house), there is also a Messiah ben Yoseph, who is in the image of the 'literal' Yoseph, and according to his prophetic blessing is hated and experiences agony (v. 23), yet is also powerful (v. 24), fruitful and distinguished.  

After Ya'acov's death, his sons express fear lest their brother Yoseph would take the opportunity to avenge himself of them. They therefore approach him with a statement, which their father had supposedly made before he died, asking Yoseph to forgive them. Not only is there no record of such a statement, there is also no record of Ya'acov ever finding out what his sons had committed. Upon hearing these words and the sentiment behind them, "Joseph wept" (ref. 50:17), calling to mind Yeshua's reaction to the lack of faith and trust displayed by his closest friends (ref. John 11:35).

With Parashat Va'ye’chi ("and he lived"), the entire book of B’resheet comes to a close. "Va’ye'chi," "and he lived," is symbolic of Elohim’s sovereign intentions regarding the fulfillment of His covenant with Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'acov. Thus, not only do they live on in their seed, in the next phase of their ‘existence’ they also become numerous, multiplying in the land of their sojourning.

1 Moses on the Witness Stand, Shlomo Ostrovski, Keren Ahava Meshichit, Jerusalem, 1976, 1999.
2. Ibid
3. The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown Hendrickson,
Publishers, Peabody, Mass., 1979

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Va’yigash – B’resheet (Genesis): 44:18-47:27

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 that occurred so long ago are found to be still relevant to today's world situations and circumstances!  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 outset of the Parasha we see Yehuda "drawing near" to Yoseph. Although in his blindness Yehuda does not recognize his brother, his new 'approach' (after having passed his tests) 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, hidden brother; not only 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 words of truth, "no man can come to [the Son], except the Father… draw him" (John 6:44), lend an added dimension to the first 16 verses of the Parasha (Gen. 44: 18-34 - Yehuda's monologue), where father is mentioned no less than 14 times. Surely this emphasis on ‘father’ represents and alludes to another glimmer of hope for the progeny of Yehuda, in their tight adherence to the Heavenly Father. 

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 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 - of the same root of va’yigash - and they respond by, again, “drawing near” (45:4). Interestingly, the name of the land that Yoseph had designated for his family was Goshen. This name even though not a Hebrew word, sounds very much like the above-mentioned verb and thus informs us that without “approaching” or “drawing near” to their brother, the sons of Yisrael could not have taken advantage of the place of refuge that was prepared for them (cf. John 14:1,2).

     In recent Parashot we have been following 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 this root, a.r.v (ayin, resh, vet/bet), we also find “pleasant” – “arev,” 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). Here we encounter a sequel of events at the end of which Yehuda's ‘offering’ no doubt brings great pleasure to the Father’s heart. Yehuda's treatment of his brother Binyamin in this 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. “Drawing near” and “pledge” meet in a prophetic scripture penned by Yimiyahu (Jeremiah), describing a day when Ya’acov’s tents will be restored (ref. 30:18), and when a Ruler of greater and nobler stature will come forth from the midst of the nation. “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, thus illustrating that the life of the ancient forefather exemplifies what eventually comes to full manifestation in his progeny, in this case Yeshua. But the ‘chain’ doesn’t stop there, we have here an illustration of what will also be expressed in the future by Yehuda’s natural offspring.*  

In this second journey to Egypt, Yehuda acts again as the spokesperson for his brethren, 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. 5:2), 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 words, 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 same 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) ref 45:1).

     "Made himself known" is "hitvada," of the root “yada” (y.d.a, yod, dalet, ayin) – “to know.” “Yada” is a widely used 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). However, “to make one’s self known” is not used frequently. In Bamidbar (Numbers) 12:6 YHVH says: "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). YHVH was using the very same word employed here by Yoseph when he discloses himself to his brothers, as he indeed was that prophet to whom YHVH had made Himself known.

     "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 his own 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 uses the words "she'erit," which is “remnant,” and "pleta," referring to “escape or refuge.” The outcome of the predicament of the famine and forced emigration, and later forced labor, enslavement and genocide, even though potentially a great threat to the Israelites’ very existence (possibly sustaining a mere “remnant”), was a “great deliverance” indeed, both in quality and quantity. It is in their host country that the family of Ya'acov will become a great multitude (ref. 47:27). This seed, in order to increase greatly, seems to require foreign soil!

Several times in his monologue, 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).  In the narrative, which immediately follows, Yoseph's first, albeit rhetorical question to his brothers, is whether his father is still alive (45:3). As we noted above, Yoseph then declares that the purpose for his 'mission' was "to preserve life" (v. 5 emphasis added), and in verse 7, "to save you alive" (emphasis added). When the brothers return home, they tell their father that, "Yoseph is still alive" (v. 26 emphasis 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 emphases added). Thus death, and the threat thereof, which had colored 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 emphases added).

    Next, we see Yoseph's interaction with the hungry Egyptian populace, whose lives are greatly threatened by the famine and by lack of financial means by which to obtain sustenance. In order to alleviate the impending threat of 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 unto 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, emphases 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 emphasis added). Next week's Parasha, which actually focuses on Ya’acov’s death, starts with the words, "And Jacob lived…" (emphasis added), being also the name of the Parasha (although some translations use “dwelt” for “lived”).

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. He most certainly was 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 could potentially lead to a spiritual bondage, to be possibly followed by physical bondage. 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 powerfully and fully realized by our Messiah and Savior – Yeshua.

  • This is not to dismiss the fact that Yoseph is also a prototype of Messaih

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

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

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

The dungeon scene, 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 afore-mentioned 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 (ref. Ps. 31:15) and events of his life are being directed from above (ref. Prov. 20:24). For whatever reason, 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, its gathers momentum (ref. v. 41:14).

In Parashat Miketz we will encounter 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, verse 18, it says: "Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained ("unrestrained" – “yipara”). The consonants P or F and R (remember, in Hebrew P and F are signified by the same letter), 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” does contain the word for "knee," “berech,” which, as we have seen before (in Parashat Lech Lecha, Gen. 12 – 17), 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" (ref. Prov. 4:3). In next week's Parasha, Yoseph will be seen 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, 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), 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 chapter 41:51, 52, mention is made of Yoseph's sons, whose names are explained according to their 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" (41:52). As we can see, the same consonants that we just noted above: P/F and R, make up that 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), is found in this name, and also in the title that Ya’acov, while blessing Yoseph (in Parashat Va’yechi), will confer upon him -  “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. Never the less, in our Parasha it is evident that forgetfulness and remembering are also subject to YHVH’s sovereignty. Thus, the cupbearer’s forgetfulness (different word in this case than the above 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 them 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 remembering 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 who daughter gave it to the foundling. Thus, Yoseph’s sons names, which although of significant Hebrew meaning, most likely would not have sounded strange in their own surroundings.

The book of Hoshe'ah (Hosea) deals at great length with the northern kingdom of Israel, and especially with the people of Ephraim. In 13:12, 13, in a specific address to Ephraim, some of the same 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” (Hos. 13:12); 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). The word for "grain" and the verb for "supplying food" appear many times in our Parasha; both of them are founded in this very root, which in our story is utilized in the sense of the "breaking" of hunger or famine, like the breaking of a fast. Yoseph, the one supplying provender, is called “mashbir.” In Psalm 105 16, 17 we read about Yoseph and his mission: “Moreover He called for a famine in the land; He destroyed all the provision of bread. He sent a man before them -- Joseph -- who was sold as a slave.” “He destroyed all provision” is rendered in the Hebrew by “shavar” (literally, “broke”) of the root, sh.b.r. 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 their successes and failures. Back to Hoshe’ah. In 14:8 we read: “Ephraim [doubly fruitful], 'What have I to do anymore with idols?' I have heard and observed him. I am like a green cypress tree; Your fruit  [“pri”] is found in Me" (italics added).

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

Par’oh not only acknowledges Yoseph’s Elohim, he also honors Yoseph by having him ride his "second chariot" (v. 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" or "extra." In 43:12 we read that Ya'acov gives his sons “extra” or “double” money to take with them to Egypt, in order to be prepared for any eventuality. Number two, being a repetition of number one, is also seen in 41:32, "Now as for the repeating [“hishanot” - of the same root] of the dream twice…."  In Par'oh's dreams there were two seven-year periods. The word for "year" is “shana,” being again of the root sh.n.h, (‘that which repeats itself’ or ‘is repeated’), but its additional meaning is "to change," as seen for example in Malachi 3:6, "For I, YHVH, do not change [shaniti], therefore you, O sons of Israel are not consumed." Thus, although number two is seemingly a repeat of number one, there is always bound to be a change, or a difference the second time round, seen by the dual meaning of this word. Yoseph, for example, who is second only to Par'oh, is 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”) immediately after the reference to “being armed”? Thus, Yoseph's advise to Par'oh, here in verse 34, could be read as, "let Pharaoh arm the land of Egypt in the seven years of plenty" (italics added). And, having followed Yoseph's wise and Godly counsel, Par'oh certainly does (in a manner of speaking) arm his land.
The figure seven, “sheva,” as pertaining to the two seven-year blocks of time, with their abundance on the one hand, and the lack thereof on the other, is repeated time and again in chapter 41.  Abundance, or "plenty" appear here as “sova” (ref. vs. 29 ,30 ,31) which we have already noted as meaning "fullness" (as in a full belly), or “satisfaction,” as well as its closeness to the figure seven – sheva.  YHVH's precise order within humanity and over nature, as He makes provision for “sova” in the two periods of “sheva,” is evident even in the very words themselves. 
When "Ya'acov saw that there was grain [“shever,” referred to above] in Egypt, he said to his sons: 'why are you staring at one another?'" (42:1). Ya'acov's "seeing" and his sons' "staring" - are both of the root "to see," r.a.ah (resh, alef, hey). But whereas Ya'acov is looking around and is aware of the situation, his sons are looking at one another, thereby failing to see the reality about them. This is not the first time that these lads are 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 sometimes by the same letter, in this case the letter kaf/chaf). And thus, “to know” or “recognize” is “haker.” The paradoxical meaning imbedded in this root, which is shared both 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 is in fact a tool that Yoseph uses in order to find out more about his brothers, as he desires to become re-acquainted with them and their present disposition.

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.

When in Egypt, 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 is referring. Already in 42:21, while meeting Yoseph for the first time, the brothers acknowledge 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” (, zayim, 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 3, "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). [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 does Ya'acov have in mind when selecting this particular and uncommon choice of words? Do these words reveal something that is perhaps beyond what Ya’acov himself is aware of: the praise that is to 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.
2.. Ibid
3. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, vol. 1, R. Laird Harris ed. Moody Press, Chicago. 1980.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Va’ye’shev – B’resheet (Genesis): 37 – 41

"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, vet) and means to “dwell, reside, sit, remain.” According to the scripture just quoted, Ya'acov lived in his father's land, but the “account of his generations” ("toldot") is related through the life of his son - Yoseph. Incidentally, Esav's chronicles (in chapter 36), as well as Yishma'el's (25:12-18), are simply lists of names, whereas the Patriarchs' chronicles are narratives presenting increasing revelations of Elohim and  His involvement in the lives of those who bear His name.1  Additionally, identifying Ya'acov's dwelling place with "the land where his father had sojourned," and tying up his annals with the name of his son (Yoseph), serve to illustrate the typical Hebraic approach to the continuum of the seed. Those living in the present do not identify solely with their contemporaries; they are no less connected to their ancestors as well as to their progeny.  

In telling the story of Ya'acov, the narrative highlights the story of Yoseph who was favored by his father. As a mark of his affections, Ya'acov made his son a special tunic: "k'tonet passim," a tunic of "passim." Unlike the commonly held view that this robe, or tunic, was multi-colored, the word "passim" actually indicates that the robe was extra long - covering the feet and especially the flat of the hands. (“Pas” is the palm of the hand or sole, while the verb p.s.s – pey, samech, samech – means to “disappear” or “pass on,” e.g. Ps. 12;1, which means that the hand would ‘disappear’ because of the ampleness of the cloth).  Another source interprets “pas”as a stripe. 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 as 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 then that Ya'acov's favored son incurred the wrath of his brothers, even before he shared his dreams with them. When Ya'acov 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 of a son.

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 [‘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 when they 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. Scripture tells us that…  “Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem (33:18).  That “safely” is actually “shalem” – which is whole, unharmed (and perhaps ‘in one piece’ as we noted last week).  Yet even though we would expect this condition of “shalem” to lead to “shalom,” that was not the case. 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: “These men are at peace with us. Therefore let them dwell in the land and trade in it. For indeed the land is large enough for them. Let us take their daughters to us as wives, and let us give them our daughters” (34:21 emphasis added). ‘Sure, if the flesh and greed are gratified, we can all be happy and at peace!’ The all-time guarantee for the ultimate “shalom” in the world is sex, money, and position. And when those are not to be had, the spirits of lust, greed and jealousy prevail, as is so well demonstrated in Parashat Va’yeshev

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 are said by the latter to his brothers who, like him, had been sent (after him) to Egypt:  "So now it was not you that sent me hither, but Elohim…".3  The commentator goes on to say that "this verse supplies the key to the understanding of the whole story, which unfolds a dual level of the mission. There is the obvious mission which Ya'acov sends his son on, but underlying this mission lies the hidden (deep) workings of Providence Who is sending the descendants of Avraham to Egypt." It is this connection to Avraham which brings the "Valley of Chevron" (37:14) into the picture, even though Chevron was on a mountain and not in the valley.

Our commentator continues: "Emek ("valley") Chevron is referring to God's mysterious and deep prophecy to Avraham, and is a play on the word "emek," literally "deep place".4  To that we would add, that the episode of the father (Ya'acov) who is sending his son to seek "the remainder of his brethren [who will return]…" (Micha 5:3), also forms a parallel 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 sends Yoseph from Chevron, which is in Yehuda, to Sh'chem which is in Shomron (Samaria), from where 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). 

Since the desired “peace in Shechem” did not materialize, it is no wonder that the shepherds, aka the soon to be criminals, did not lead their flocks to the green and serene pastures of these environs, but continued on their way. As for Yoseph, he was directed by “a man” to follow them northward, to Dothan. 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.  Even so today, if we earnestly seek for our brothers, the Man will not withhold any information from us. He will lead us directly to them (even if there is a cost involved). It is just a matter of having the ears to hear and the heart to obey.

What met 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 is naked, and no doubt thirsty and hungry, his brothers sit 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 eat their bread - lechem - while in their hearts there is 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" (of the root we just looked at), which normally would be understood as "fight," making this verse applicable therefore to the wickedness manifested by Yoseph's brothers.  Shlomo Ostrovski comments here that Yoseph’s brothers had no idea that some day they would seek out their victim for the very substance with which they were now satisfying their hunger 5, while denying him of it.

That Yoseph is the protagonist of our story is not difficult to determine. Scripture, however, continues to stress that fact, not only overtly but also by using subtler means. In chapters 37 and 38 the verb y.s.f,  – to add, to repeat – which is the root of Yoseph’s name, appears four times:
“Now Joseph had a dream, and he told it to his brothers; and they hated him even moreva’yosifu (37:5).   
“And his brothers said to him, ‘Shall you indeed reign over us? Or shall you indeed have dominion over us?’ So they hated him even more - va’yosifu - for his dreams and for his words” (37:8).   
“And she conceived yet again  - va’tosef - and bore a son, and called his name Shelah(38:5a).
“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 – ve’lo yasaf -  her again” (38:26 ).

And so, even when the various episodes involve other individuals, named and unnamed, the Word wants to make sure that the reader is aware of the central role of Yoseph in all of them.

After sometime in Dothan, a caravan of merchants passed by and Yehuda, using his pragmatism to suppress his guilt, suggested selling Yoseph to them (ref. 37:25-28). Later, in the family home, a great turmoil was caused by Yoseph's (supposed) death, particularly so since Ya'acov could not be comforted. Yehuda, therefore, 'ups and leaves,' or in the words of the text he, "departs from his brothers and descends" ("va'yered" - "and he went down") to Adulam (38:1). While in that state of separation and descent, which led to a great decline in his life, Yehuda married a Canaantie woman who bore him three sons. The narrative is plainly in a hurry to make a point, as straight away after these sons' birth we are told of the firstborn's marriage to Tamar. That two of Yehuda's sons were displeasing to YHVH, who took their lives (ref. 38:7-10), is stated as a matter of fact. Without wasting time and words, the narrative goes on to tell us the story of Tamar and her insistence to "raise up the name of the deceased" (Ruth 4:5). Tamar's real identity and motive are only discovered when she produces 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 is "era'von," of the root a.r.v, which we observed in “erev” - “evening” (in Parashat B’resheet, Gen. in chapter 1). This pledge is a guarantee for that which is to come. Indeed, without it Tamar would have been burnt at the stake (ref. vs. 24, 25). But more than just saving the life of Tamar, it also guaranteed that YHVH's principle of redemption was implemented; that is, that life was brought forth from the dead, while also insuring the continuity of what was to become the tribe of Yehuda.

When it is her time to give birth, Tamar, like Rivka, has twins who, like the former pair, have an innate 'knowledge' of the importance of the birthright. Again, a competition over who is to be born first is at hand. Ultimately, the “breaker," the "portetz," gains the upper hand and is therefore named Peretz (v. 29). Many years later, the prophet Micah says, "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 preceding verse informs us that the subjects of this description are those who are being gathered out of Ya'acov and are the remnant of Yisrael who are to be "put together like sheep in the fold, like a flock in the midst of its pasture they will be noisy with men." "Noisy" in this reference is "tehemena," which is of the root "hamon" that we had encountered in Parashat Lech Lecha (Gen. 12-17). It is this "hamon" (multitude – in reference to the Patriarch being a “father of a multitude of nations”), which was symbolized by the letter “h” (hey) that was added to Avram's name, making it Avraham.

Yoseph’s immediate destiny is marked by down spiraling, first into a pit and then by being sold to merchants who were “on their way… down to Egypt” (37:25 emphasis added). However, in the process he was also pulled up (from the pit), being indicative of the fact that each of his downfalls will also be marked by a ‘lifting up.’

Yoseph is now in 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 (Gen. 23-25:18), 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 exclaims, "How then could I do this great evil and sin against Elohim?" In 40:8, when asked to interpret dreams while in prison, he responds: "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 direction: “Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt” (emphasis added).  This event took place simultaneously with Yehuda’s departure from his country, from his family. and from his father’s house (cf. Gen. 12:1): “It came to pass at that time that Judah departed [literally, went down] from his brothers” (38:1 emphases added). What is the difference between each of those descends? Yehuda’s guilt and self-condemnation caused him to choose a way out, which led to his spiritual back sliding, whereas Yoseph was brought down not of his own volition. There is a very clear distinction in the respective responses of these two men. The one is moving from bad to worse, without looking for a redemptive opportunity, whereas the other, who was subject to others’ decisions, makes good of every opportunity that comes his way. However, in each of those cases there exists the overriding sovereignty of YHVH, in spite of what may be ‘natural’ inclinations (e.g. Proverbs 16:9). When Yehuda left his family, he followed his heart’s leaning – va-yet (meaning “incline” or ‘lean”) and went over to his Adulamite friend Hirah upon whom he was relying for help. Later, when he sees 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 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 is accompanied by many mishaps, although every now and then there is evidence of an attempt on his part to do the “right thing.” How typical of guilt, shame, and self-condemnation to lead us to try and cover them up by “good works”! Thus, his sons’ names provide a clue 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” as his birth had depleted all of her strength and brought about her death. 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, or was it his 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 possibly means “hers,” reinforcing the fact that boy may have not been Yehuda’s biological son.

When Yehuda’s degeneration reaches its peak, he turns (as we saw above) to a prostitute, with whom he leaves 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. That word is repeated 3 times in verses 21 and 22 of chapter 38. 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). Interestingly, at Yehuda’s lowest point of spiritual and moral collapse, YHVH intervenes by using that which appears to be the very symbol of lowliness and humiliation.

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 had to apply one more time when many years later he met the ‘mighty Egyptian ruler.’

Now back in Egypt, Potiphar's wife, in her attempt to cover up her own disloyalty and dishonesty, tried to implicate Yoseph. She, 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 over her slaves and gain their sympathies she is at pains not to create any feeling of solidarity among the slaves for Yoseph, as one of them. After all, it was a common thing for masters to denounce their slaves. They would naturally side with their fellow sufferer. Therefore, she subtly changed her tone and stated that he is was not one of them, but a stranger, a Hebrew, the common enemy of all of them. To strengthen the impression and arouse their hostility for Yoseph she does not say that the Hebrew slave came unto me, but rather: "see, a Hebrew was brought unto us, to mock us" (39:14). In short, the Hebrew man has not only wronged me but all of us; he has dishonored the whole Egyptian nation…  Potiphar's wife in her effort to gain sympathy lumps her slaves together with herself, as part of one family. The common enemy is the Hebrew. The immense gap is forgotten, the enormous class distinction between slave and master is overlooked in the cause of temporary self-interest."7

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

After the episode in his master’s house, Yoseph is 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.
     Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.
7.  Ibid.