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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?

Parashat Vayishlach (Genesis 32:3-36:43)

When Shechem first saw Dinah, he immediately desired her. He knew he needed to do whatever it took to get her. Our English translations make it appear that he simply found her alone and had his way with her. It says, “he seized her and lay with her and humiliated [or violated] her” (Genesis 34:2). The next verse, however, seems to indicate that Shechem had a genuine love for Dinah. It says, “And his soul was drawn to Dinah the daughter of Jacob. He loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her” (Genesis 34:3). Even more confusing is the midrash’s account of how Dinah was rescued from Shechem. Commenting on the Torah’s account that they “took Dinah out of Shechem’s house,” Rabbi Judah says, “They dragged her out [against her will] and departed” (Midrash Rabbah 80:11 commenting on Genesis 34:26).

At first, this doesn’t seem reasonable. It seems clear from a plain reading of the text that Dinah was being held against her wishes. A quick examination of the Hebrew, however, helps shed light on this. In Hebrew, the phrase, “[he] spoke tenderly to her,” in verse three is more literally translated, “he spoke to the heart of the young woman” (vayidaber al lev hana’ara). It seems that Shechem was what we call a “smooth talker.” Whether their relationship began with this smooth talk or not, it seems clear that Dinah’s emotions were being played upon at some point along the way and kept her from leaving him. In today’s terminology, we would call situations like this codependency. In a codependent situation, a woman will continually return to her husband after being abused because she believes his love for her is sincere, despite his abusive behavior. This isn’t rational behavior.

Keys to the Kingdom, Part 2

"On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:18-19)

As we stated in the previous article, Yeshua begins his declaration by saying, "On this rock I will build my church." But what does he mean by church? After all, this is the very first time in all of Scripture we are met with the English word church. And if we look at only the Greek of the Apostolic Scriptures, it appears this is a new word that makes its first appearance in this passage. Therefore, most churches, Bible colleges, and seminaries teach that this is the first reference to the church. But we keep saying this word. Does it really mean what we think it means? What if we have been misunderstanding this concept for a very long time? 

First, Yeshua and his disciples spoke Hebrew and Aramaic as their primary languages. They probably knew some Greek, but would not have been able to carry on full conversations with it. The word Yeshua would have used to describe the movement he was starting would in all likelihood have been the Hebrew word kahal, which means "assembly" or "congregation." This word is used throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, and  its meaning would not have been unique to his followers. The Greek counterpart to the word kahal is ekklesia, the word used over a hundred times in the Apostolic Scriptures to refer to the followers of Yeshua. And as stated previously, teachers and preachers across the globe pride themselves in translating this into the English word church. Many people believe and teach that the definition of the word church is the "called-out ones." This is both true and false. Let me explain.

Parashat Vayeitze (Genesis 28:10-32:2)

Our parashah begins, “Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran” (Genesis 28:10). Rashi makes a keen observation on this verse. He asks a question that should be obvious to us: “Why does the Torah mention Jacob’s departure from Beersheba?” If we’ve been paying attention, we should remember that the Torah had just mentioned this fact a few verses prior. Verse seven says, “Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother and gone to Paddan-aram.” Haran is located within the region of Paddan-aram. Therefore, we’ve been told twice within a few sentences that Jacob went toward Haran. If the Torah doesn’t waste words, then why does it repeat itself in this case? Rashi says that we are supposed to learn an important lesson through this repetition:

This tells us that the departure of a righteous man from a place makes an impression, for while the righteous man is in the city, he is its beauty, he is its splendor, he is its majesty. When he departs from there, its beauty has departed, its splendor has departed, its majesty has departed. (Rashi’s reference to and quotation of Genesis Rabbah 68:6)

According to Rashi, the repetition of Jacob’s departure is to teach us “that the departure of a righteous man from a place makes an impression.” When Jacob left Beersheba, his absence was felt. The people in that region missed him terribly and realized that his presence made a difference in their lives. When he was with them, nothing was lacking. Maybe they didn’t necessarily recognize the benefit of his presence while he was with them and noticed the void only when he departed. Nevertheless, once he had left, his absence was palpable. The departure of a righteous person should be obvious.


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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