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Posted January 3, 2020 - 6:34am
Parashat Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27)

Ani Yosef—“I am Joseph.” You could have heard a pin drop when Joseph spoke those two Hebrew words to his brothers. Their mouths fell open and their jaws nearly hit the floor. Their eyes bulged as they strained to recognize their younger brother hidden beneath the Egyptian garb. Confusion and despair rushed over them from head to foot in an instant. An icy chill coursed through their veins at the sudden realization that the man who stood in front of them—the second most powerful man in Egypt—was the one they had betrayed over twenty years previously. The next few seconds played out as if they were in slow motion as they began processing those two words. Their minds rewound the moment and zoomed in on his lips as he spoke, “Ani Yosef!” “Did he really just say what we think we heard???” It probably seemed like an eternity as a million thoughts, fears, and regrets all collided in their minds simultaneously. Time stood frozen solid as the implications of this simple statement firmly landed on each of them.

Posted December 26, 2019 - 1:29pm
Genesis 41:1-44:17

Nearly every year Parashat Mikeitz is read in conjunction with the celebration of Hanukkah. Can we find any parallel or insight in this week’s Torah portion that relates to Hanukkah? A few of our rabbis (particularly Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg) have brought insight into this correlation. Our parashah tells us:

And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” (Genesis 41:15–16)

In this instance we read that Joseph is brought before Pharaoh to interpret his dream. Pharaoh begins his conversation with Joseph by giving him credit for being able to interpret dreams. Rather than taking credit himself, Joseph deflects this statement and gives proper recognition to God as the true interpreter of dreams. Joseph is a true example of humility. In him we see a firm reliance upon God. He realizes that everything that happens to him—every success and every failure—is in the hands of Heaven. He is only the vessel through which the Creator can do His will. He shined his light before Pharaoh. A single candle amidst the darkness of Egypt.

We see this in the leadership of Judah Maccabee as well:

And Judah and his brethren saw that evils were multiplied, and that the armies approached to their borders, and they knew the orders the king had given to destroy the people and utterly abolish them. And they said every man to his neighbor, “Let us raise up the low condition of our people, and let us fight for our people, and our sanctuary.” And the assembly was gathered that they might be ready for battle, and that they might pray, and ask mercy and compassion. (1 Maccabees 3:42–44)

Posted December 22, 2019 - 1:36pm

An Inspiration for Hanukkah

Winter has come, and with it the days have grown colder and shorter. The trees have resigned their leaves, the grass has been lulled to sleep and lost its color, and the warm sunlight of summer has retreated in place of a weak and apathetic replica of the same. Darkness pushes ever so firmly against the light that it seems the days are but a single breath between the long nights. Peering beyond frosted glass, the frozen blackness consumes any light too weak to withstand its shadowless embrace. A deafening silence settles in among the houses and trees, gently smothering the distant sounds of fading traffic. Outside all is cold, dark, depressing. Yet, it appears a minuscule and lonesome light flickers in the distance through a frozen window. Barely visible, the flame of a single candle dances to a silent, pulsating melody. In stark contrast to the bleakness of a winter night, this candle frantically struggles to give forth its light while swaying and swooning to keep time with a song only it can hear.

But if we look longer and more intently we make out another window also with a single candle, another small, flickering flame waging war against the harsh winter night. And if we look harder, we see another, and yet another. It seems there are battles of light and darkness being fought all around, a virtual war zone in which the outwardly insignificant flames of individual candles are beginning to press back the darkness. The night is becoming brighter, and a once hopeless cause now seems to be coming to life, lead by these individual flickering flames dancing to the same silent song.

Posted December 19, 2019 - 2:39pm

Parashat Vayeishev begins the story of Joseph. When we first encounter him, he is a seventeen year old young man. We learn that his father, Jacob, had a special love for him above all of his eleven brothers. He was loved so much that his father had given him a special and highly recognizable garment that distinguished him from among his brothers. This disproportionate love stirred up jealousy from his brothers and fostered their resentment toward him. That resentment eventually turned to a genuine hatred of Joseph and caused his brothers to plot to do away with him.

As the story goes, one day Jacob tells Joseph to go out to the land of Shechem where his older brothers were watching over the flock. He was to check in on them and see how they were doing and then report back to his father. His father knew he would give him the scoop on what his other sons were really doing while they were away from home with the flock. His brothers probably called him the Little Snitch. And being his father’s spy didn’t earn Joseph any brownie points with his brothers. It only stirred up more hatred toward him.

When Joseph finally tracked down his brothers, his presence was not well received. As a matter of fact, when they saw him coming in the distance, they conspired on how they could kill him. Fortunately Reuben, the eldest brother, dissuaded his brothers from actually killing Joseph and instead convinced them to throw him into a pit until he could come up with a plan of what to do with him. The description of their throwing Joseph into the pit, however, is interesting. The Torah says, “And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it” (Genesis 37:24). Since the Torah tells us that the pit was empty, why does it have to follow this up by letting us know there was no water in it? Why wasn’t it sufficient to simply let us know that the pit was empty?

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Latest Book Review

The Magerman Edition

Author: Daniel Rose & Jay Goldmintz
Publisher: Koren Publishers
Year: 2014

The Koren Ani Tefilla Siddur is one of the latest in Koren’s growing collection of siddurim (prayer books) geared towards a specific demographic. Koren describes Ani Tefilla as “an engaging and thought-provoking siddur for the inquiring high school student and thoughtful adult.” Koren says that Ani Tefillah has been developed in order “to help the user create their own meaning and connection during the Tefilla [prayer] experience.” The name of the siddur is connected with its objective. Ani Tefilla means “I pray.” 

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