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Parashat Mikeitz (Genesis 41:1-44:17)

Our Torah portion begins exactly two years after Pharaoh’s cupbearer was released from prison. If we remember from our previous portion, both the royal cupbearer and the royal baker had been thrown into prison because they had displeased Pharaoh. One night they both had troubling dreams and told them to Joseph who interpreted them. Joseph interpreted the cupbearer’s dream as a message that the cupbearer would be restored to his position within three days. Joseph said the baker’s dream, however, signified that within three days he would be executed. Both of these dreams came to pass just as Joseph had interpreted them. When the cupbearer was released, Joseph asked him to put in a good word for him with Pharaoh. The cupbearer forgot, however, and exactly two years after Pharaoh’s cupbearer was released from prison Pharaoh woke to a disturbing dream of his own—in fact, two parallel dreams.

Parashat Vayeishev (Genesis 37:1-40:23)

Everyone enjoys a good magician. They appear to do what seems completely impossible. Although they can entertain people for hours on end, the craft of a magician is based on illusion and misdirection. They draw our attention to one thing in order to distract us from another. If they want us to watch what one hand is doing, then the other hand is doing the real “magic.” If they point at an object, it’s generally misdirection. But we don’t mind this. In fact, we pay money to be misguided and have our point of view misled.

Parashat Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4[3]-36:43)

This week’s parashah begins with Jacob preparing to head back home to the land of Canaan after some twenty long years of working for his father-in-law, Laban. On the journey home, he is attacked by a mysterious figure during the wee hours of the night. As we know, Jacob spends the night wrestling with what most people know as an angelic being. Just before dawn, the stranger asks Jacob’s name. After he responds, the stranger replies, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:29[28]). From that point, there is a noticeable shift in Jacob. He begins a streak of name-calling. Let me explain.

Parashat Vayeitze (Genesis 28:10-32:3[2])

This week’s Torah portion begins with one of the most mysterious and little-understood events recorded in the Torah. When Jacob spent the night in what he later calls Beit-El, he had a curious dream charged with spiritual import:

And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! (Genesis 28:11–12)

In Jacob’s dream, he saw a ladder stretching from heaven to earth, and angels were ascending and descending on it. Although he was puzzled by this imagery, Jacob realized that it held spiritual significance and determined that he had come to a place of holiness:

Parashat Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9)

Parashat Toldot gives us the backstory of the conflict between Jacob and Esau. It tells of their birth in the account of Jacob coming out with one hand holding onto Esau’s heel, Esau selling his birthright, and Jacob receiving the blessing of the firstborn from Isaac (albeit in an underhanded manner). It also gives us some interesting information about Isaac and his life. When he settled in Gerar, he needed a source of water. Rather than digging new wells, he unearthed the wells his father had dug:

And Isaac dug again the wells of water that had been dug in the days of Abraham his father, which the Philistines had stopped after the death of Abraham. And he gave them the names that his father had given them. (Genesis 26:18)

Parashat Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18)

Although Chayei Sarah means “the life of Sarah,” this parashah actually begins with her dying at one hundred and twenty-seven years old. Once we are given this information, the Torah recounts the process by which her husband, Abraham, procured a burial location for her. It details the dialogue between Abraham and the local Canaanites, the location of the burial site, the name of the seller, the selling price, and the transaction details. In this dialogue between Abraham and Ephron the Hittite (the seller), Abraham petitioned with the local population by saying, “I am a sojourner and foreigner among you” (Genesis 23:4). Why does Abraham say this, and what is the significance? Let’s explore its implications.

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