12/28/2017

Shabbat Vayehiy

Friday, December 29 - Candles @ 4:17pm
December 30 - Havdalah @ 5:15pm

“The scepter will never be taken from Judah, the ruler’s mace will remain between his feet, when Shiloh comes and the people will accept him as their ruler.” (Genesis 49.10)

This phrase comes from the Last Will and Testament of Jacob just before he dies in Egypt. Jacob's deathbed poem is about his sons themselves and their future. Its core message is that Judah and Josef will become the two leading tribes of the Israelites. This began only when David became king and the Tabernacle was moved from the town of Shiloh to Jerusalem. Then after Solomon died, the kingdom split. The South became known as Judah although it included Benjamin. The North was known as Israel but was referred to in the Prophets as Joseph (including the tribes of Ephraim and Menashe).

What did Jacob mean by referring to Shiloh? Long after the Biblical period, Christianity adopted Shiloh to be a reference to Jesus. In response the Talmud adopts Shiloh to be a reference to the Messiah. And there were going to be two Messiahs, one from Judah and one from Josef to symbolize the return and reconciliation of all the exiles. In the Bible the idea of the Messiah is simply the return of exiles under a new Monarch. In the context of Jewish history that makes sense. It is consistent with themes in Moses’s farewell speeches in which he says that Jews will abandon their faith, be exiled and yet return to rebuild their Temple. Which happened.

Some scholars suggest that this was written by a Judean scribe after the kingdoms had split. But our tradition is that this was written long before that. That is why I do not think this can be a reference to the Messiah. Others suggest that Shiloh is made up of two Hebrew words Shai, a Gift, Lo, for him. That could mean that Jacob was saying that at some time in the future, Judah would be gifted absolute authority. Something already evident in the role of Judah and his family in Egypt.

Jacobs blessings were less long-term references to an abstract concept such as Messianism and more an assessment of the characters of his sons and which ones he thought would be the major influences in the future of his family.

12/21/2017

Shabbat Vayigash

Candles - Friday, December 22 @ 4:12pm
Havdalah - December 23 @ 5:08pm
Fast of Asarah BeTevet Thursday 28th December

Kiddush sponsored this week by the Zamir Family
in memory of their mother Nurit (Noushafarin) bat Chanom & Yehuda.

And in memory of Victor Ben Khadoury Shukur, Eliyahu Ben Reuben Iny,
Cheryl Cohen Bat Faigy, Meir Shlomo Hai Ben Shaoul.

Joseph, from being an outcast and a slave, is now one of the most powerful men in the world. He can use his position to toy with and humiliate his brothers. His rational side tells him he must ensure that they realize that he is in control. Make them pay and submit to him. His final ploy is to frame Benjamin so that he can claim him as his slave.

How do the brothers react? Judah pleads for Benjamin. And he also pleads for his father. He is of course trying to win over Joseph by asserting the values of respect and love for parents, brotherhood and responsibility. All things that were missing earlier. And he is hoping to change Joseph’s mind by making the brothers to be good caring people.

Joseph is deeply affected emotionally. He capitulates. But he does so in private. He cannot be seen in public to be weak. And he too goes through a transition, from identifying as an Egyptian to reasserting his Israelite identity openly and bringing his family down to Goshen.

This painful episode shows us how adversity can help people change, by looking at their predicament in life and altering values and behavior. The way both Joseph and his brothers did. A combination of mental agility and spirituality.

12/14/2017

Shabbat Mikeyts
Shabbat Hanukah

Friday, December 15th
Hanukah lights first @ 4:09pm,
then Shabbat lights

December 16th, Shabbat ends @ 5:05pm
Hanukah lights first, then Havdalah

Special Kiddush sponsored by Justin and Setareh Adelipour.
Please come and bring your friends.

Joseph is described by Potiphar’s wife as an Ish Ivri, a Hebrew man. Then the Butler describes him as a Naar Ivri, a young Hebrew. Joseph describes himself not as a Hebrew but as being kidnapped from the Land of the Hebrews. Did Ivri mean only a descendant of Jacob? Or did it mean any stranger?

As a Hebrew he will have been looked down on by the Egyptians who regarded themselves as a superior race. When the brothers come back a second time they are sent to Joseph’s house and offered a meal, but separately, because Egyptians considered eating with Hebrews to be an abomination” ( Genesis 43.32). So Joseph and his brothers had to eat in separate rooms.

Clearly Egypt was a racist society. Hebrews were regarded as inferior. Even so when he appeared before Pharaoh, he stood firm and erect. Confident in himself. Pharaoh recognized his qualities. But before appointing Joseph felt he had to consult his courtiers and they agreed with him, that despite his background, he should be appointed to the highest position below the king. Any successful society needs to recognize talent! Even so Joseph felt he had to look like an Egyptian. He desperately wanted to fit in. To belong.That’s why his brothers did not recognize him. How far do we desperately want to fit in? To be regarded as "normal"? We often think, misguidedly, that people will accept us more if we look the same.

In fact racism in Egypt was not that deep and finding the best person was more important. Perhaps it was just that hatred of the stranger, of the other, was mainly amongst the poor and the primitive. Just like today, the hatred of the Jews, in the USA or the Arab street is mainly a pathology of the uneducated although it exists at all levels too. Some just disguise it better when it suits them!

The only antidote, as with Joseph, is pride in our identity.

12/07/2017

Shabbat Vayeyshev

Candles - December 8th @ 4:08pm
Havdala - December 9th @ 5:03pm

Joseph is thrown down into the pit twice. The first time by his brothers, then by Potiphar. And he makes use of his gifts of dream interpretation to raise himself above the rest of the victims. In jail Pharaoh’s servants, the baker and the butler have dreams which they tell him. The question is whether his gift is Divine or the result of his own intellect and ability to read signs and people. The way mentalists or mind readers do.

In the case of his dreaming that one day he would lead all his brothers, that might be wishful thinking, inspired by his father favoring him. However, it could be a Divine message too. But in the case of the butler and the baker it seems he was relying on his own powers. They were both thrown into prison for being careless. Either because a fly fell into the cup or the dough was sour (to give one midrash of many).

The butler dreamt he had three clusters of grape buds that blossomed and flourished. He squeezed their juice into Pharaoh’s cup. Joseph’s interpretation was that he would be returned to his position. What Joseph sensed was that it had not been his fault. He might get a second chance. Besides a butler is closer personally to the king than a baker. He has a more direct relationship. He stands next to him while he pours. The king might have had more reason to forgive him. His dream reflected his optimism that he would once again serve his master personally. Joseph sensed something positive in his attitude that predicted a positive future.

Three cups, three days was easy, because he knew when Pharaoh's birthday was. All king's birthdays are cause for celebrations and usually amnesties. Not difficult.

The baker dreamt that was also going to be service carrying the bread, but that the birds of prey were attacking it. Once again, he was neglectful, as with preparing the dough. And as those who are hung are often attacked by birds of prey, it was clear his dream reflected his guilty conscience and he was doomed.

Joseph had indeed been given a special brain by his maker. But he used logic, common sense, and the ability to understand human nature. Someone with confidence like himself. It is when people give up or are defeatist that they fail to take advantage of the opportunities offered to them.