Thursday, December 31, 2009

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

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

Last week we noted that much of what is described 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.

It starts with, "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 directly linked 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, these statements appear to be describing what now has become a cause, the effects of which are apparent in this 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 "Israel" in both instances serves to enhance this impression of cause and effect, and of the cycle completed. As a matter of fact, the present situation, conveyed here, constitutes only the first part of the "effect," with the rest (as, for example, the lot that 'befell' the people of Yisrael in Egypt and their latter circumstances) still to follow for many generations to come.

The second part of verse 29 ("place 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 gives his promise to be faithful to his oath. Here, it is Yoseph who is promising 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 Ephraim, the youngest, and then on to Menashe. Yeshua's familiar words concerning “the last being first” and vice versa (e.g. Mt. 20:16), are certainly relevant in this picture! 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 (ref.35:10-12). The words he is about to utter are based on that auspicious promise 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, becomes "company - kahal again - of people” – “amim." 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. Ya'acov qualifies the original word “land” with the words "an everlasting possession” – “achuzat olam." 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 a repose, he adopts his two grandsons, 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.” "Moledet" is also "native land," a term used when Avraham was told to leave his "native country" (Gen. 12:1). In B’resheet 31:13, the angel of Elohim told Ya'acov to go back to his "moledet." Ya'acov had just talked about the "achuzat olam" which was promised to his progeny. The mention of "moledet" here may be one more reminder, given the circumstances, of what is no doubt an important issue which he wishes to inculcate into 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 to make mention of it. Incidentally, the literal meaning of "Ephratah" is "toward Ephrat." "Ephrat" shares with “Ephraim” the same root of “fruitfulness.” According to Ya'acov's words here (ve. 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" (ve. 11). "Expected" here is "pilalti." The root is p.l.l (pey, lamed, lamed), and its primal meaning is “to intervene, interpose, or arbitrate,” and by implication, “to judge,” thus giving rise to "hitpalel" which is “to pray,” and to "tfila" – “prayer.” 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 he may have not interceded or prayed on his behalf, since his only 'judgement' of the case was that his son had been lost forever

Ya'acov blesses the lads while crossing his arms over them. 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" (ve. 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 prosterity. The Patriarch goes on to pronounce the following: "And may they grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth." 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 exchange,' the latter explains his action, telling his bewildered son that Menashe will be a "people" ("am"), in conjunction with the terminology referred to above; but that Ephraim, now making use of "goy," another of the 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, or "the fullness of the Gentiles." "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's descendants had to become ‘fish,’ so that when the fishermen were ready to cast their 'gospel nets' there would be a catch out there. 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 (ve. 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 town 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 the “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, 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 first three sons, predicting their dispersion among their brethren, have amazingly come to pass. Following on the heels of that is the word given toYehuda (Judah), which starts off with a word play on the meaning of his name, differing though, 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 connected to the imagery of raised hands. "Your brothers shall praise you - yo'du'cha" - (ve. 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 descendantsof 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" (ve. 10), from “chok” – “law or decree,” the root being ch.k.k. (chet, kof, kof) and stems from a verb which means “to hew (ref. Is. 22:16) and engrave,” and by implication to “enact laws” and thus to “dispense justice.”

But the predictions concering 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" (ve. 10). The term Shilo has been interperted in many way, 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 that one is something to do with 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." The meaning of Gad's name is changed by Ya'acov. Whereas his mother related the name to "luck" (29:11), 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]

Fruitfulness is alluded to in Yoseph's blessing, as he is twice named here "ben porat," literally "son of fruitfulness" (ve. 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" (ve. 26) to his brothers. A "nah'zir" is one especially consecrated and dedicated to YHVH. This title can refer to a priest (Ex. 29:6), to anyone with a special calling, such as Samson (Jud. 13:5), and to one who takes upon himself a Nazarite vow (Lev. 6:21). The noun of the same root is “neh’zer,” and means a crown. Interestingly, “nah’zir” is mentioned in the same breath with the “top of Joseph’s head” (49:26).

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

After Ya'acov's death, his sons express fear lest their brother Yoseph would take this 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" (50:17), bringing to mind Yeshua's reaction to the lack of faith and trust displayed by his closest friends (John 11:25).

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.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Va'yigash - B'resheet (Genesis) 44:18-47:28

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Va’yigash – B’resheet (Genesis): 44:18-47:28

Each of the weekly Parashot presents a narrative that tells a story of individuals (and later of much larger groups), describing their fortunes and misfortunes, travels and battles, struggles and learning situations, instructions for living (the ‘Torah’) - and much more - which in one way or another relate to the Elohim of Yisrael. No doubt, there is a great deal to be gleaned from these stories, 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" and originates 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) actually 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 from amongst the descendants of Yoseph, but also to their greater Brother, Yeshua (Zech. 12:10-13:2).

The words of this ‘greater Brother’ take on a special meaning in the context of this 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, 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, he beckons his brothers to come near to him - "g'shu" - of the same root as “va’yigash,” and they respond by “drawing near” (45:4).

In recent Parashot (‘Parashas’) we have been following Yehuda's process of learning about redemption. We have been looking at the term "arov," which is “guarantee” or “surety.” In his monologue addressing Yoseph and presenting the case of Binyamin, Yehuda says: "For your servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying, `If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father forever'" (44:32 emphasis added). Among the many words derived from the root a.r.v (ayin, resh, vet), 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). We see here a sequence of events, at the end of which Yehuda's offering is found to be pleasant in YHVH's eyes. Yehuda's treatment of his brother Binyamin in this Parasha, and the "eravon" (guarantee) that he is so faithful to keep, surely pleases the Heavenly Father and speaks 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 manifested fully in Yeshua, and is also to be experienced by his (Yehuda’s) progeny in the future.

In this second journey to Egypt, Yehuda acs (as he did previously) 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: "And he [Jacob] sent Judah before him unto Joseph, to show the way before him…" (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…" (10:3-6). 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 also serves the word "ah'fik” – “riverbed” - which restrains the water coursing through it. On the earlier occasion, Yoseph's inner strength enabled him to withhold his flow of emotions. This time the ‘dam’ breaks, there is no restraint and the ‘ah'fik’ overflows with tears as he makes himself known to his brothers (45:1).

"Made himself known" is "hitvada", of the root “yada” (y.d.a, yod, dalet, ayin) – “to know.” “Yada” is a 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). 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 is making Himself known there, using the very same word employed here by Yoseph, when he discloses himself to his brothers.

"But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for Elohim sent me before you to preserve life" (45:5 emphasis added). We already noted that "sent" is the theme of the story of Yoseph. All the circumstances that have befallen him have been part of YHVH's pre-determined plan to send him for His purposes. Yoseph is a man with a mission, brought to light now by his own words - "to preserve life." To make his point, Yoseph repeats 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). Interestingly, Yoseph uses the words "she'erit," which is “remnant,” and "pleta," referring to “escape or refuge.” Both terms point to a minuscule minority left out of the whole. Yet, the outcome of the predicament of the famine and forced emigration was quite the opposite. 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 countered 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 live stock for that purpose, 47:16, 17). In their own words, "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, emphasis 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.

We cannot depart from this week’s Parasha 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. As he most certainly was aware of the word given to his grandfather Avraham about his offspring and their exile, Ya'acov's heart 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. YHVH promises him, therefore, 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 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.

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

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Miketz - B'resheet (Genesis) 42 -44:17

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 our present Parasha opens up. A short phrase acts as a bridge, connecting these two very dissimilar pictures, making it clear that the events happening in the palace were not entirely removed from the afore-mentioned dungeon 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 momentum is very fast indeed (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, in verse 18, it is 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 tells 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, 42:46), 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 (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 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). The same consonants that we just noted: 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," and likewise in the prayer that Ya'acov prays and blesses Ephraim with, in Parashat Va’ye’chi (48:4,19). 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), confers 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, 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 ha’nasheh” (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 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 His sovereignty. Thus, the cupbearer’s forgetfulness and subsequent remembrance are used by YHVH in order to set His plan into motion. Later on, we notice that when Yoseph’s brothers show up and bow down to him, he too has a recollection, and remembers his dreams (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 Par’oh’s daughter gave it to the foundling. Thus, Yoseph’s sons names, which although of significant Hebrew meaning, would not have sounded strange in their own surroundings.

The book of Hoshe'ah (Hosea) deals at great length with the people of Ephraim, and with the northern kingdom of Yisrael at large. 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” (v. 12); of the same root which is in Yoseph's Egyptian name “Tzafnat.” In verse 13 there is mention 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 most likely utilized in the sense of the "breaking" of hunger or famine, like the breaking of a fast. Yoseph, the one supplying provender, is called a “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’s successes and his 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. In 41:38, 39 the king says: "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….'"

Par’oh not only acknowledges Yoseph’s Elohim, he also honors Yoseph by having him ride his "second chariot" (ve. 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 about Ya'acov giving his sons “extra” 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.” The 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”) in the previous verse? 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 here (ref. 41:29,30,35). Abundance, or "plenty" appear here as “sova,” 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 seen in a very real way 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 words (stemming from the same 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 – to get to know 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 his father: "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. 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 that he is referring to. 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 the great want that they themselves are in. 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 2, "the vast majority of occurrences of the 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. 66:4; 18:49; 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 proverbial branches? The verb “zamru” (“sing”) is repeated a number of times in T’hilim (Psalms) 64, 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. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, vol. 1, R. Laird Harris ed. Moody Press, Chicago. 1980.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Va'ye'shev - B'resheet (Genesis): 37-41

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

"Now Jacob dwelt ("va’ye'shev") in the land where his father had sojourned, in the land of Canaan. These are the generations of Jacob: Joseph was seventeen years of age…." (Gen. 37:1,2). The root for the verb "to dwell" is (yod, shin, 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, e.g. Ps. 12;2, 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.

Ya'acov proceeded to send Yoseph on a mission to Sh'chem, where his brothers had taken the flocks. The father may have been concerned for his sons' safety in Sh'chem, as that town's residents most likely remembered them only too well.2 In verses 13 and 14 we read: "And Israel said to Joseph, '… Come and I will send you…. So he sent him from the valley of Hebron…." Toward the end of the story of Yoseph, in B’resheet (Genesis) 45:8, the following words are said by the latter to his brothers who, likewise, 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 "vale of Chevron" (ve. 14) into the picture, even though Chevron was in a mountain and not in the valley.

Our commentator continues: "Emek ("valley" of) Chevron is referring to God's mysterious and deep prophecy to Avraham, and is a play on the word "emek", literally "deep place".4 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’aya (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). In Egypt, Yoseph indeed proves to be a faithful witness to the Elohim of his fathers in word and deed, never failing to give Him credit - as we shall see later.

Back in Dotan, while Yoseph is naked and no doubt thirsty and hungry in the pit he had been cast into by his brothers (ref. 37:23, 24), the latter are sitting down to eat bread. “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 by which they were now satisfying their hunger 5, while denying him of it.

In the meantime, a caravan of merchants passed by and Yehuda, using his pragmatism to suppress his guilt, suggested selling Yoseph to them (ref. ver. 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 decline, 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 away their lives (ref. ve. 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. 1-6:8). This pledge is a guarantee for that which is to come. Indeed, without it Tamar would have been burnt at the stake (ref. ve. 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.

In verse 21 Yehuda is seen looking for the "harlot" (of verse 15), calling her here "k'desha," which is translated "temple prostitute." K'desha shares the same root as "kadosh," holy, set apart ( kof, dalet, shin). Once again we encounter a linguistic paradox, determining that while 'set apartness' can be for YHVH's sake and for His purposes, it can also be for other purposes; it is only real-life action which imbues words with meaning, and not the mere formal symbol which any given word represents. Thus, we see here that the "k'desha" turns out to be "k'dosha" (“holy”, feminine gender), or as her father-in-law put it: "She is more righteous than I" (ve. 26). 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," wins and is therefore named Peretz (ve. 29). Many years later, in Micha 2:12 we read that "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." 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), which was symbolized by the letter “h” (hey) that was added to Avram's name, making it Avraham.

Yoseph is now in Egypt, "mitzrayim" - the narrow place of adversity - but "YHVH was with Joseph, so he became a successful man…" (29:2). "Successful" takes us back to the word "matzli'ach" that we studied in Parashat Cha’yey Sarah (Gen. 23-25:18); 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 he was asked to interpret dreams while in prison, he responded: "Do not interpretation belong to Elohim?" Yoseph will continue to mention the name of his Elohim even when brought before Par'oh (Pharaoh), in the next Parasha.

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 Yoseph. 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. So she subtly changed her tone and stated that 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 mentions two women, whose stories are told side by side. In both cases the women are involved in sexual promiscuity. However, in spite of the fact that it was Tamar who actually had the opportunity to carry out her heart’s intent, while the second, Potiphar’s unnamed wife did not, it is the first who is declared righteous (39:26) for having pursued, at all costs, the righteousness of Elohim, i.e. life from the dead in the form of redemption. The lesson, which is so poignantly presented here is that the appearance of things is not always the sum of their substance.

Consequently, 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, this is just the beginning of what is to become a glorious career.

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

1. Moses on the Witness Stand, Shlomo Ostrovski, Keren Ahava Meshichit, Jerusalem 1976, 1999.
2. Ibid
3. Studies in Bereshit, Toldot 1, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner
Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed
Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.
4. Ibid
5. Moses on the Witness Stand, Shlomo Ostrovski, Keren Ahava Meshichit, Jerusalem 1976, 1999.
6. Studies in Bereshit, Toldot 1, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner
Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed
Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.
7. Ibid.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Parashat Va'yishlach - B'resheet (Genesis) 32:3-ch. 36

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Va’yishlach – B’resheet (Genesis): 32:3 -ch.36

"Then Ya'acov sent [va’yishlach] messengers - "mala'chim" - before him to his brother Esau…" (32:3). These are the opening words of our Parasha. "Mal'achim" are angels, messengers or emissaries. Ya'acov had seen them in dreams (aside from the famous ladder scene in 28:12, an angel also addressed him in a dream in 31:11 ff). He had also run into YHVH's messengers when he departed from Lah'van (31:1,2), and now he sends messengers, human “mal'achim,” to his brother Esav. The root of "mal'ach" (singular) is “la'a'ch” (lamed, alef, chaf), meaning "to send." It is from this verb (which is not in use) that we get the noun: "m’la'cha," occupation, work, workmanship (such as the kind that was preformed in the Tabernacle), possession and more. Later on, when Esav proposes that Ya'acov come along with him with his entire entourage, the latter refuses, saying that he will move "according to the pace of the cattle that are before him…" (33:14). "Cattle" here is also "m’la’cha," as the herds were going out ahead, or being sent forth in front of the retinue. When "YHVH rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done" (Gen. 2:2), it was His "m'la’cha" that He ceased from. This is one example of how the Hebrew language is able to accommodate, as it were, in one word or term, cattle, angels, occupation, the holy service rendered unto YHVH in the Tabernacle, His work of creation etc.

Such diverse 'blends' are not uncommon in Hebrew, and provide a window into understanding the thought pattern or mentality of the society which gave birth to them. When the root word for "work," for example, is "to send forth" what does it tell us about the society where this usage originated? What does it say about the basic understanding of the concept of "work" or "occupation"? It certainly speaks of a type of accomplishment or product which does not remain in confinement, or within one's immediate vicinity. Rather, it is something which is rendered or performed for the community. A work looked upon as a mission (by its very definition) cannot be considered incidental or self-serving only, but is goal-oriented. The word "m'la’cha" also speaks or refers to the one performing it; again, denoting a very socially inclined community. The content of the one and only proverb where "m'la’cha" is found, validates what the etymology of this word reveals. Thus, Mishley (Proverbs) 24:27 reads, "prepare your work ("m'la’cha") outside, and make it ready for yourself in the field; afterwards, then, build your [own] house."

Just before Ya'acov and company venture to cross the Yarden (Jordan), in anticipation of the unknown, the much concerned Ya'acov prays for safety and deliverance. He also expresses gratitude to the Elohim of His fathers, acknowledging his own unworthiness "of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant; for with my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies (camps - "ma'cha'not")" (32:10). At the end of last week's Parasha we noted the word usage of the "double camp." Here, Ya'acov is actually dividing up his family (out of concern for their safety, employing a strategy typical of his cunning disposition) into "two companies" (again, "camps", 33:1ff.), which hints yet again of the future division of his house. We must note, however, that this present division does not conform to the way the 'nation of Ya'acov' eventually splits up.

In verses 22 and 23 we read: "Now he arose that same night and took his two wives and his two maids and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak." Wrestle here, "(va)ye'a'vek", is remarkably similar to the proper name "Yabbok” – “Jabbok” (remember, that in Hebrew b and v sounds are designated by the same letter), the root of both being a.v.k (alef, vet, kof), forming the word "ah’vak." What is “ah’vak”? Ah’vak is “dust” and naturally an 'engagement,' such as the one Ya'acov and the "man" were involved in, would have raised no small amount of dust, especially considering the location of the scene. "Ah’vak" speaks of very fine dust, not the kind that is translated "dust of the earth," which is "ah'far" (such as we saw in Parashat Chayey Sarah), referring to grains of sand. The dust contained in the river's name, as well as in the verb chosen to describe Ya'acov's struggle with the unnamed person in the dark, add all the more to the haziness and mystery which obscures the event itself. Even Ya'acov's name-change to “Yisra'el” is not quite clear. The reason for the change is given as, "For you have striven with Elohim and with men and have prevailed" (ve. 28). The name was bestowed in response to Ya'acov's demand to be blessed by the "man," whom he was not willing to release until and unless his request was granted. However, Yabbok may also be connected to the root b.k.k which forms the verb for to “empty out,” being quite appropriate to the scene that had just been imposed upon Ya’acov/Yisrael.

Yisra'el” is formed from the verb "sara" (s.r.h. sin, resh, hey), to “rule, persist, persevere, strive,” and "el," which is “strong” or “mighty one,” from which “Elohim” is derived. What was meant by the declaration to Ya’acov, and in what way did his life, at least up to that point, conform to this definition? Were his 'dusty' struggles on behalf of self' taken into account in this lofty definition? Or was this definition simply a statement of facts, devoid of any qualitative and personal evaluations? Was the name Yisra’el and its definition simply the Almighty's way of bestowing pure and unadulterated grace upon him - the name possessing more of a prophetic significance for a future day when Ya'acov would be empowered by his Elohim - rather than a description of present day facts? Still, the persistence that Ya'acov demonstrated that night did, to some degree, validate the meaning of the new name.

When it was Ya'acov's turn to ask the ‘mystery man’ for his name, the response came in the form of a question: "Why is it that you ask my name?" (ve. 29). When Ma’no'ach (Manoah), Shimshon's (Samson) father, asked the very same question of the messenger ("mal’ach") who came to him, the response was "for it is wonderful" (Judges 13:18). In the case before us, the response is followed by the words, "and he blessed him there" (ve. 29). What was the blessing? Did it simply constitute the name change?

When Ya'acov first departed from the land and had this first heavenly encounter, his experience was marked by 'Elohim of a place.' He had literally been in what he termed the "house of Elohim"! (Gen. 28:16,17). However, upon his return, it is the "face of Elohim" that he encounters – “P'ni'el” (ref. ve. 31). An echo of his P'ni'el experience may be detected in what he says to his brother Esav in 33:10, "for I see your face ("pa’ne'cha") as one sees the face of Elohim ("p'ney Elohim")" (italics added). Ya'acov's perspective certainly seems to have changed. Having seen "Elohim face to face" (v. 31), he is now able to view Esav differently.

As he re-enters the land of his fathers, Ya'acov walks in the footsteps of his grandfather Avraham and comes to Sh'chem (Shechem). His coming to that town after the encounter with his brother does not pass by unnoticed, "and Ya'acov came safely to the city of Shechem" (33:18). Ya'acov came "shalem" - that is, whole, in one piece and in peace to Sh'chem ("shalem" of course being of the same root as "shalom"). Perhaps this is also an ironic preamble to the events about to follow, which were far from peacful. Thus the next chapter introduces us to the conflict between Ya'acov's family and the local populace. In 34:21 the root sh.l.m comes up again, when Cha’mor (Hamor) and his son Sh'chem attempt to talk the town folk into being circumcised. Among some of the things that they say about Ya'acov and his family, they also mention that "these people are peaceful toward us…" - "sh'lemim," “whole hearted, with good intentions, undivided.” We soon learn that nothing could be further from the truth.

In chapter 35:1, Elohim tells Ya'acov to "rise ("kum") - and go to Bet-El…and to make an altar there to Elohim, who appeared before you…." Last week we noted that Ya'acov's call to "rise up" started sounding when he first found himself in the "makom" (place) which he named Bet-El. Now, having completed a full cycle, Ya'acov is to go back there and continue to "rise up." Truly, Ya'acov's continual growth from that point is evident. First, he orders his family to "put away the foreign gods which are among you…" (ve. 2). In last week's Parasha (chapter 31), we saw that Ya'acov's household was not free of idolatry, indeed the ‘man about the house’ seemed to tolerate that state of affairs - but not so now! After all the foreign idols and the earrings are gathered, Ya'acov buries them under the "ela," the terebinth tree. This small tree, along with the "alon" (“oak”) share the root "el," speaking of strength, and hence "el," "god," which has been surfacing often in these narratives about Ya'acov, along with his new name, Yisra’el. In fact, in these Parashot (plural for Parasha), the title "Elohim" (plural of "el"), rather than YHVH, is the one which is used more often. In verse 8 of our passage, Rivka's nurse, D'vora (Deborah), dies and is buried under the "alon," and thus the place was named Alon Ba'chut ("oak of weeping"). Many other place names bear titles connected to the oak tree (Elon Moreh, Eloney - "oaks of…" - Mamreh etc.), which is indigenous to the land of Israel, and is known for its strength and rejuvenation ability. The oak and the teberinth have both remained symbols of strength and durability, and as such, the remnant of the Nation is compared to them in Yishayahu (Isaiah) 6:13, "Yet there will be a tenth portion… and it will again burn, like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains when it is felled…." (italics added).

In verse 3, Ya'acov calls his Elohim: "The El who answered me in the day of my distress…" ("tzarati") (emphasis added). Before that, in 32:7, we read that he "was greatly afraid and distressed." The word for "distressed" there is "(va)ye'tzar." The root of both these words is tz.o.r. (tzadi, vav, resh). The two main consonants (tz.r.) happen to be used in numerous other words, such as “adversity, affliction, anguish, distress, tribulation or trouble,” and in several more such as tza'ar - sorrow; tzar - enemy, adversary; tzarar - bind, tie up, restrict, narrow, scant, cramped, a show of hostility, vexing; tzaraf - smelt, refine, test; matzref - a crucible or instrument of refining; tzir'ah - hornet; tzorev - burn, scorch; tzara'at - leprosy; batzoret - drought; matzor - siege; mitzrayim – Egypt, and more. Finally, Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) 30:7 contains a reference to "tzarat Ya'acov," Ya'acov's trouble: "Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it; and it is the time of Jacob’s trouble, but he shall be saved out of it."

In 35:9, Elohim appears before Ya'acov once again, blessing and reminding him that his name is no longer Ya'acov, but Yisrael, repeating the promises He had given to his fathers. In commemoration of the event, Ya'acov-cum-Yisrael sets up a pillar over which he pours oil (ref. ve. 14). Thus, the first 15 verses of chapter 35 seem to sum up, bring to a conclusion, resolve, touch upon eternal principles (of redemption) and recall past events, while also reiterating blessings and future promises, as well as hinting at other events to come. Looking at this rather short, yet intense and power-packed passage from our (time) perspective, it appears that the past and the future met and were encapsulated in a dynamic moment in time!

Next comes the birth of Binyamin, whom his mother names Ben-Oni, "son of my strength," and whose father calls "Ben-Yamin," meaning "son of the right (hand)" (ref. ve.18). Perhaps Ya'acov does not want to perpetuate the sad memory of his beloved wife's waning strength, all of which was invested in giving birth to her son. Naming him as he does, Ya'acov is actually conferring upon him a firstborn position, perhaps also because he was the first and only one to be born in the land. Upon Ra’chel’s death, Ya’acov sets up a pillar upon her grave (35:20). Doing this he is actually repeating what he had done in verse 14 above, after YHVH had talked to him. In both cases it says, “va’ya’tzev ma’tze’va,” that is “and he placed a pillar.” The very act of placing, as well as the pillar itself are of the root (yod, tzadi, bet/vet), meaning to “station,” or “make a stand.” Just as he did in last week’s Parasha, Ya’acov again commemorates the events in his life in this way.

In chapter 36, the Parasha’s last, there is a short episode (verses 6 and 7), interposed in the record of Esav's progeny, which explains the physical separation of the brothers - Ya’acov and Esav: "For their property had become too great for them to live together, and the land where they sojourned could not sustain them because of their livestock." This is a clear echo from the past, reminding us of Avraham and Lot's separation (ref. Gen. 13;1-12).

Let us also take note of verse 12, which tells us that Esav's first born, Elifaz, had a firstborn by his concubine Timnah, whom he named Amalek. The latter was to become Israel's fiercest enemy. Being a firstborn (and a son of a firstborn), Amalek must have been the direct recepient of his grandfather Esav’s hatred for and murderous impulse against Ya'acov, and therefore has always trageted the latter’s progeny (ref. Gen. 27:41; Ex. 17:14, 16; Deut. 25:17, 19 etc.).

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Va'ye'tze - B'resheet (Genesis) 28:10 - 32:2

Hebrew Hebrew Insights into Parashat Va’ye’tze – Bresheet (Genesis): 28:10 – 32:2

Parashat Va'ye'tze (“and he departed”) starts out with Ya'acov the fugitive making his way from the land of Yisrael to Cha'ran (Haran). No sooner does he leave Be'er Sheva, “and he comes upon a place" (Gen. 28:2). The verb “vayifga” indicates that "he happened," or even "stumbles upon" this location, as the sun was setting. That night Ya’acov has a dream of “angels” – “mal'a'chim” (ref. v. 12) - ascending and descending a ladder. At the end of the Parasha (and twenty years later), while by himself (although far from being alone), Ya'acov once again "happened, or "chanced" to come across “mal'a'chim” (translated here "messengers"), with the same verb that we encountered above (“va'yif'ge'u”, ref. 32:1, translated in English as "met") used here too. "Chance" and "messengers of YHVH" are therefore the two elements framing the time capsule of Ya'acov's Diaspora experience. The verb “paga” (root p.g.a., pey, gimmel, ayin) that is used in these two instances, seems to point out that from Ya'acov's point of view, or experience, the circumstances and the messengers were just "chance occurrences," which he did not otherwise plan for nor anticipate. The ‘master planner’ and ‘conniver’ is no longer in command! In fact, he is more like a pawn, or an actor who is taking part in a great dramatic scheme directed by someone other than himself.

In the opening verse we meet Ya'acov at the point of departure, having in mind a set destiny. But just then, his path takes him to a less defined and (quite likely) less desired place. We read that "he came upon a place, and he stopped over for the night, because the sun had set" (v. 11). External circumstances are being imposed upon him, and so he stops at what is a mere "place" (only later, in verse 19, do we find out that there was a town there). As Ya'acov lies down, using a stone for a pillow, he has the aforementioned dream, during which Elohim promises to give him the “a’retz” (“ground, land”) that he is lying upon (v. 13), and to bring him back to this very “adama” (“soil”, v. 15; see Parashot* B’resheet and Toldot). But as if to suggest that there is a greater dimension (a ‘heavenly’ one) attached to this 'piece of real estate', the promise is given in a most awesome manner, with YHVH being described as standing above a ladder that connected heaven and earth (while the angels were ascending and descending, as mentioned, ref. ve.12, 13). Ya'acov therefore deems this place to be the "house of Elohim and the gate of heaven" (v. 17).

But our forefather does not only "happen" by this "place," he also uses one of the stones of the "place" for a pillow. He lies down in this "place" and discovers that YHVH is in the "place," and that this "place" is truly awesome! Finally, he names the "place" Bet-El - the "house of Elohim." The Hebrew word for the much-mentioned "place" here is “ma'kom,” of the root k.o.m (kof, vav, mem), meaning to "rise up." This particular “makom” is indeed a location where Ya'acov's call to rise up is starting to resound! We cannot leave Yaacov and “makom” without mentioning “y’kum,” which is translated “all living things,” and is found in B’resheet (Genesis) 7:4 and 23, in reference to that which YHVH has created, and was then also about to destroy.

Needing something tangible to mark his experience, Ya’acov picks up the stone he had rested his head on, stands it up as a column and pours oil on top of it (v. 18). After naming the place, he makes an oath promising to make YHVH his Elohim (providing his conditions are met), and adds, "this stone… shall become Elohim's house" (ref. 18-22).

Next, the Patriarch-to-be reaches his desired destination. Upon seeing his beautiful cousin, he musters up an inordinate amount of vigor, which enables him to roll a large stone off the "mouth of the well," a feat that ordinarily required several people to accomplish (ref. 29: 8-10). In chapter 31:45-47, toward the end of the Parasha, the covenant made between Ya'acov and his father-in-law, Lah'van (Laban), is also marked by a stone, which he again places uprightly, as well as by a heap of stones which he names "gal'ed," "a witness heap." It seems that during this time period "e'vehn" (“stone”) becomes a marker for significant events in his life (‘milestones’).

Many years later, when the elderly Ya'acov pronounces on his deathbed blessings upon his sons, he gives his favorite one, Yosef (Joseph), the longest and most complex of the blessings. In the course of his pronouncement, Ya'acov makes mention of the Mighty One of Ya'acov, the Shepherd and Stone of Yisrael - E'vehn Yisrael, all these being titles of YHVH (Gen. 49:24). This is the only time that specific mention is made of the "Stone of Yirael" in the entire Holy Writ, not surprisingly, as it was uttered by the mouth of the one who walked a path made up of many stepping-stones. Later on in the Word, more stones are being uncovered: "the stone which the builders rejected, [and which] has become the chief corner stone" (Ps. 118:22), as well as the "stone to strike and a rock to stumble over" for "both houses of Israel" (Ya'acov's progeny – Yishayahu/Isaiah 8:14). Finally, the stone that was laid in Zion, "a tried stone, a tested stone, a costly corner stone for the foundation…" about which it is said that "he who believes in it [Him] will not be disturbed" (Is. 28:16). Interestingly, the word "e'vehn," which is spelt alef, b/vet, noon, if read without vowels can be broken into two words: "av-ben," that is: "father-son."

Being a member of the family of Be'tu'el (Bethuel) and Lah'van, Ra’chel's name, not unlike that of her aunt Rivka, is associated with the family business, as “Ra’chel” means a "ewe." Ya’acov mentions Lah'van's ewes and female goats in 31:38, when he lodges his complaint about the life style and conditions that were imposed upon him by his father-in-law during their twenty-year association. Ewes as “ra'chel” (plural “r'che'lim”) are mentioned rather rarely in the Tanach, one of those few instances being Yishayahu 53:7, where the Messiah is described as "an ewe - 'ra'chel' - before its shearers".

Eleven of Ya'acov's twelve sons are born in Cha'ran. Leh'ah gives birth to the first four, whose names express her attempts to appease her husband. The firstborn's name - Re’u’ven - means, appropriately, "behold, a son." Next is Shim'on, whose name stems from the verb "to hear." Following him is Leh'vi, of the root "to accompany." Leh'ah's fourth son is Yehuda, whose name is related to "giving thanks" or to "praise." Next to give birth is Rachel's maid, Bil’ha, whom the former gave to her husband so that she could be (literally) built through her. She uses the same words that Sarah did in relationship to Hagar (ref. Gen. 16;2). Rachel’s anguish about being barren comes to the fore in the names she gives to the sons that her maid bears to Ya’acov. This time Dan is born, whose name means "judgment," or "dispensing justice/vindication." Bilha's second son is Naphtali, which is "writhing" or "twisting," and by implication "struggle" (denoting Ra’chel's struggle with her sister). However, Leh'ah was not going to stand by and allow her sister to be "built up" through her maid (30:3; cf. Genesis 16:2). Thus, she too gave her maid, Zilpah, to her husband, hoping to have more sons through her. Zilpah gives birth to Gad, meaning "fortune" (as in "luck"), and to Asher, whose name is of the root "happiness." Leh'ah's words… "I am blessed [or happy], for the daughters shall call me blessed" (30:13), recall the words of Miriam (Mary), Yeshua's mother, upon the birth of her Son (ref. Luke 1:48). Leh’ah herself births the next one, and she names him Yisas'char, from the root to "hire," since she became pregnant with him upon "hiring" Ya'acov from Ra’chel for a 'fee,' in the form of a mandrake plant that was picked by Re'uven. But once the baby is born, Leh'ah recalls the other meaning of the name, which is "wages," and says… "Elohim has given me my wages, because I gave my maid to my husband" (30:18). Leh'ah's sixth son is Z'vulun, from the rare “zeved,” which means "endowment or gift."

After Dina's birth (whose name, like Dan’s, means "judgment" or "justice"), Ra’chel's desire is granted her, and she too has a son. "Elohim has taken away (a'saf) my reproach, [and] she named him Yosef, saying, 'may YHVH add (yosef) to me another son'" (v. 23, 24 emphasis added). While Ra’chel is contemplating how her shame and disgrace are being removed by giving birth, she is also expressing hope that this one, who opened up her womb, will serve as a signal for more sons to follow. The two words, “asaf” (a.s.f., alef, samech, fey), here "take away" while literally "to gather," and “yasaf” (y.s.f., yod, samech, fey) "to add" and "to repeat" are related both in sound and meaning; and when looking down the road of history these two words also become prophetically significant. Yosef certainly was "added to" by his brother Binyamin (Benjamin), and also by receiving a double portion among the tribes of Yisrael when each of his sons became a tribe in his own right. Lastly, prophecy predicts the ingathering of the House of Yosef (and "his companions") at a future day, thus fulfilling the second meaning of his name.

The future two 'camps' of Ya'acov's descendants are alluded to at the end of the Parasha. In 32:1, Ya'acov, as we pointed out before, meets the angels or messengers of YHVH, upon whose sight he exclaims: "This is the camp [or encampment] of Elohim,’ and he named the place Ma'cha'na'yim." “Ma'cha'na'yim” is a plural form of “ma'cha'neh,” meaning “camp.” The particular ending, as attached here to the noun, renders the camp a "multiple" one, or a "double camp." What did Ya'acov see when he looked at this ‘band of angels’? What was it about them that caused him to refer to a "camp" or to an "encampment," and why a double, or a multiple, one?

In next week's Parasha we will see how, for strategic reasons, Ya'acov divides up his family into two companies (literally “camps”), before going to meet his brother Esav. Was the idea already brewing in his mind when he saw the angels/messengers, and thus he projected duality onto their "camp"? Or are the messengers from YHVH the ones who advised him to so divide up his family before the crucial meeting? Perhaps, through something they said or did, he learned about the two camps that his family was destined to be divided into sometime in the future. Is there a direct connection between the angels who were ascending and descending the ladder, when he first departed from the land of Yisrael, and these particular “mal'achim” here, who greet him upon his return? Was YHVH thus reminding him of His promises? As we shall see in the opening verses of the next Parasha, there are still more “mal'a'chim” to come…

*Parashot, plural of “Parasha”

Parashat Toldot - B'resheet (Genesis) 25:19-28:9

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Toldot – B’resheet (Genesis): 25:19 - 28:9

Last week's Parashat Cha’yey Sarah ended with the chronicles of Yishma'el's descendants. This week’s portion opens up with the chronicles of his brother, Yitzchak. But while “toldot” means "begetting" (root y.l.d “to give birth”), these “toldot” start out with barrenness. Yet, Rivka’s condition is inserted in an almost parenthetical manner, and is couched between Yitchak's intercession on her behalf and YHVH's response to the plea (ref. 25:21).

In 25:21 Yitzchak is seen “entreating” - “vaya'a'tor” (a.t.r. - ayin, tav, resh) – YHVH. And "YHVH was entreated “(vaye'ater) of him" (italics added). This wording points to YHVH’s response coming from a place of close identification with the “entreater”

When the request is granted it takes the form of not one, but two - boys, the first of whom comes out red all over (ref. 25: 25). The word for “red” is “adom”, and as we saw in Parashat B’resheet (Genesis 1-4), “adom” is connected to “dam” (“blood”), “adama” (“earth”), and thence to Adam, "the first man" who is "earthy" (ref.1 Cor. 15:47). Esav, representing the first born illustrates, therefore, the principle that the natural precedes the spiritual (ref 1 Cor. 15:46), despite the fact that his brother turns out to be, for a considerable time period, not much less 'earthy' than ‘Hairy the Red'.

The second boy to emerge out of Rivka's womb does so while holding on to the “heel” – “ah'kev” - of his brother, and is therefore named “Ya'acov” (ref. 25:26). Coming in the footsteps of his sibling, his name, which also means "to follow", perfectly matches the order of the births. In Scripture, the image of ‘heel-holding’ or ‘heel-grabbing’ refers to hindering or trapping someone, as we see in the following examples:

“Dan shall be a serpent... that bites the horse's heels” (Gen. 49:17); “The trap shall take him by the heel” (Job 18:9); “They mark my steps” (literally “heels” in Ps. 56:6). The following words of T’hilim (Psalms) 41:9 hint at Messiah’s destiny: “My own familiar friend, which did eat of my bread, has lifted his heel against me.” This type of friend and follower typically steals quietly behind the one whom he follows, with a “crafty” intent (as indeed was the case with Messiah’s “familiar friend”). Indeed, from the same root of “heel” and “to follow”, (a.k.v. - ayin, kof, vet) stem words like “crafty, cunning and deceptive,” as we see, for instance, in the alliteration in Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) 9:4: “surely every brother deals craftily (ah'kov ya'akov).”

In the first scene that brings the two siblings together, Ya'acov is seen cooking lentil broth, while his brother happens to be returning, famished and exhausted, from the field. Esav is sorely tempted when his glance strikes what he calls “ha'adom, ha'adom ha'zeh” - "this red, red stuff… therefore his name was called Edom" (25:30) - again from the root “adom” – “red”. The area of Edom, which later was inhabited by Esav's descendants, is indeed noted for its red soil. Everything about this hunter speaks of adom-adama - earth, earthiness. Whether Ya'acov anticipated his brother's famished condition or not, we do not know. Nevertheless, while in English it says that "Jacob cooked a stew," in Hebrew it says: “va'ya'zed Ya'acov na'zid,” which, aside from cooking stew can also be read as: "Ya'acov devised an evil plot" (25:29). After all, 'cooking up' such a plan was only consistent with his name! The word “nah'zid” - “broth” - stems from the root z.y.d. (zayin, yod, dalet) which is shared by the verb “to cook,” and more specifically, to “boil up and seethe.” This verb also lends itself to “evil-doing” and “malice” – such as “zed” and “zadon” (e.g. Ex. 21:14, where “a man schemes” is “yazed”).

Ya’acov does not waste any time. He proposes right away (ref. v. 31) an exchange: broth for birthright. And while in English these words form an alliteration, in Hebrew the verb "sell" – “michra,” and "birthright" – “b'chora” sound alike. (Perhaps this association is what gave Ya'acov the idea in the first place…?) Ya'acov, however, does not provide the goods until he makes his brother swear to him that he will not renege on his “sh'vu'ah” (“oath,” connected, as we have learned, to being “full and satisfied”). After the deal is struck, the two depart and until further notice both seem to be fully satisfied.

However, when the time comes for Esav to claim his birthright (that is the right hand blessing of the father before death), startled by his brother’s cunning, he “cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry: ... ‘Is not he rightly named, Ya'acov? For he has supplanted (akav) me...?’” (Gen. 27:34, 36). The prophet Hoshe'ah (Hosea), many centuries later, traces the waywardness of the nation of Israel (who in this prophecy is called “Ya'acov”) to their progenitor: “In the womb he took his brother by the heel- akav” (Ho. 12:3). In the wake of their birthmark, Ya'acov (the man and the nation) remain true (individually and collectively) to this nature, and will do so until the transformation comes from above.

In the wake of,” or “as a result of,” or the short “because,” is the Biblical word “ekev “(again from the root a.k.v). In 26:4-5 of our Parasha, YHVH says to Yitzchak: “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because (“ekev”) Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws” (italics added). Following Avraham’s implicit obedience the latter is told: “And in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because – ekev - you have obeyed My voice ” (22:18). Other examples of the usage of “ekev” are: “So you shall perish because you would not listen” (Deut. 8:20 italics added). David self-implicating answer to the prophet Nah'tan (Nathan), who challenges him with a parable following his sin with Bat’sheva (Bathsheba), is: “He must make restitution for the lamb, because he did this thing and had no compassion (2nd Sam.12:6, italics added). Thus, this little “ekev” - “because” – becomes the fulcrum on which the balance of justice hangs.

Ya'acov, too, because of (“ekev”) his actions (particularly that of deceiving his father), has to endure the consequences. By the end of the Parasha he becomes a fugitive, running for his life from his brother, and later (in the next Parasha), to be deceived by his father-in-law, Lah'van (Laban). The “heart” of the ‘proverbial’ Ya'acov is well described by Yirmiyahu, who says that it is “more deceitful (akov) than all else” (17:9).

In a few weeks time, in Parashat Vayishlach, we shall see how Ya'acov, while on the road back from Padan Aram to Kna’an (Canaan), plans once again to use some cunning by walking behind – which again suggests ‘following’ - his entourage that was to go ahead of him to greet Esav. At this point he is met face to face, as he himself testifies in B’resheet (Genesis) 32:31, by YHVH Elohim. Yisrael, as he is named after this encounter at Penniel, is made to turn around on his heels, as it were (and becomes lame in the process), never to be the same again. Thus when the “crooked” (“akov”) places become “mishor” – that is “straight” (ref. Is. 40:4) - Ya'acov will become “Yeshurun” (“yashar” - straight” again), true to his name “Yisra’el,” which can also be read, “yashar-el” (“El is upright”). As such, Adonai addresses His people with lofty words: “But now listen, O Ya'acov, My servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen; thus says YHVH who made you, and formed you from the womb [as ‘crooked’ Ya'acov], and Who will help you: do not fear, O Ya'acov My servant; and you Yeshurun [who was ‘straightened’ in life by God] whom I have chosen”(Is. 44:1,2). Lastly, Ya'acov was to become one of the forefathers of Messiah, of Whom it is prophesied that His heel would be “bruised” by the serpent. However, as we know, this “Seed of the woman” was destined to triumph by crushing and trampling down the serpent’s head with His heel (ref. Gen. 3:15; cf. Luke 10:19; Heb.1:13b).

Back to our narrative: Following closely on the heels of the oath that Ya'akov persuades his brother to commit (25:31-33), YHVH reminds Yitzchak of His oath to his father Avraham, and at the same time cautions him not to go down to Egypt, in spite of the famine in the land (ref. 26:1-5), saying: “Do not go down into Egypt. Dwell in the land which I shall tell you” (v. 2). The imperative “dwell,” “sh’chan” (, shin, chaf, noon), is also “settle and abide” and it is from this root that “mishkan,” the “tabernacle” in the wilderness, derives its title. On this very issue, David makes an emphatic statement: “Trust in YHVH, and do good; you shall dwell in the land, and you shall be fed on truth” (Ps. 37:3 italics added). At this point in time Yitzchak and Rivka happen to reside in Grar (Gerar), and when being asked about his wife the Patriarch does not resort to truth. Like his father before him, fear for his life causes him to present his wife as his sister. But what finds Yitzchak out is his act of (literally) "laughing with his wife" (26:8), translated in English "caressing his wife" (or some other equivalent expression). Yitzchak remains… at least… true to his name…

It is in this year of drought that we find Yitzchak sowing, against all odds, a “seed” (“zerah”, of the root z.r.a, zayin, resh, ayin, which is also shared by “arm”), yielding "a hundred fold" (26:12). In verse 4 YHVH talked to Yitzchak about his progeny (“zerah” again), and of its great increase. Is the great harvest that the sown seed yields here (during the famine), a hint of a future fulfillment, against all odds, of YHVH's word to the Patriarch?

Yitzchak's wealth increases tremendously, and his neighbors, the Philistines, are jealous of him (v. 14), and thus Avimelech their king makes a demand from Yitzchak, "Go away from us, for you are much mightier than we" (v. 16). “Much mightier” is “atzam’ta,” from the root (ayin, tazdi, mem). The usage and meaning of this term will prove to be very significant during the Egyptian exile (in Sh’mot – Exodus – 1 it is found in verses 7,8 and 20), and will motivate the Pharaoh to try to annihilate Israel.

In our case, Yitzchak’s jealous neighbors resort to filling up all the wells that have been dug by Avraham's servants. In doing this they are "withholding benefits from both themselves and their cattle! But in addition to stopping up the wells, they fill them with earth so as to obliterate their existence altogether and make sure that no water would ever flow out of them again. Why did they wish the land to be desolate?[1]” The explanation that follows, quoted from Haketav Vehakabala, points out that Yitzchak gave the wells the same names that his father had given them (as we see in v. 18). “These names, such as, YHVH Will See, YHVH is My Sign, The Well of Him that Lives and Sees Me, mark the kindness of the Lord."[2] This was done in order "to spread abroad the knowledge of the Lord and show the people that idols were valueless. Avraham thought out a wonderful device to help to bring those who were misled, under the wings of the Divine Presence. He called the well by a name that would drive home the lesson of the existence of the One True God. By this, he would arouse in them an awareness of the truth by saying, ‘Let us go and draw water from the well of the eternal God!’ The wells were a public necessity, and in this manner, the people were initiated into the knowledge of the true God. Whilst he was alive his fear was upon them [i.e. the locals], as they left the wells intact with their names, but after his death they reverted to idolatry. In order to erase from their memory the names of these wells, which recalled the very opposite of their false opinions, they stopped them up. With the disappearance of the wells, the names also disappeared…. Isaac followed in his father's footsteps and endeavored to dig out these same wells and resurrect their names in order to restore the crown of the true faith to its former glory."[3]

The wording in verse 19, where Yitzchak's servants dig "a well of living water," evidences what we have just read regarding the wells of the Patriarchs. The locals fill up the wells, and now they are being re-named, as pointed out, in order to erase the testimony of the Elohim of Israel. The name of the first well is “Esek”, “contention.” The name of the next, is “Sitna,” “hostility; accusation.” It is from the same root, s.t.n (sin, tet, noon), that we get the word “Satan”, the “accuser”. A closely connected word to “sitna” is “sin'ah” (s.n.a, sin, noon, alef) “hatred.” The verb for “hate” is “soneh,” found in Yitzchak’s query in 26:27: “Why do you hate me?” A similar word, both in sound and meaning is to be found toward the end of our Parasha (27:41), where it says of Esav that he "bore a grudge against Ya'acov," which is “sotem” (s.t.m. sin, tet, mem). The progressive rate of hostility is seen very clearly by this string of sounds: “soten, to accuse; sotem, to bear a grudge and soneh, to hate,” demonstrating accurately how each of these conditions, if unchecked, will lead to the next.

When a third well is dug up, some distance away, “they did not quarrel over it; so he named it Rechovot, for he said, 'at last YHVH has made room for us, and we will be fruitful in the land’” (26:22). “Rechovot” is of the root (resh, chet, vet), meaning, "broad, wide, or making room." Thus, enlarging and broadening the subsistence space brings relief, as we see in T’hilim (Psalms) 4:1, where David cries out: "Answer me when I call, O Elohim of my righteousness, You gave room (“hirchav’ta”) to me in trouble – literally in a place of narrowness” (italics added), words which in his present situation Yitzchak certainly would have concurred with.

1 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,
2 ibid
3 ibid