Miketz. Awakening Sensitivity

In last week’s parsha, we read of the brothers’ hostility to Joseph, how they planned to murder him, and sold him to slavery in Egypt. We never hear the brothers regret their actions; even after they witness their father’s deep grief. But then Joseph has the brothers (falsely) accused of spying, and incarcerated for three days in an Egyptian jail. (Were they interrogated, even tortured, by the Egyptian secret-service?) At this point we are privy to a fascinating exchange: “They said to one another, “Indeed, we are guilty on account of our brother, because we looked on at his anguish, yet paid no heed as he pleaded with us. That is why this distress has come upon us.” Then Reuben spoke up and

Vayeshev. The Temptation of Joseph

When we first hear about Joseph, he comes across as an arrogant teenager, a seventeen-year-old who tells tales about his brothers, and brags about dreams in which his siblings and even his parents bow to him. But this is merely Joseph’s starting point. In time, Joseph gains the moniker “Hatzaddik.” How so? The Talmud tells us that it was a result of Joseph’s principled resistance of the temptation of Potiphar’s wife: It was told of Joseph the virtuous (Yoseph Hatzaddik) that the wife of Potiphar every day endeavoured to entice him with words — The garments she put on for him in the morning, she did not wear in the evening, those she had put on in the evening, she did not wear in the morning.

Vayishlach. The Morality of Violence

Our Parsha describes the episode in which Dinah is attacked, raped and abducted, by the crown prince of the City of Sh’khem. The language used depicts the crime in violent terms: Sh’khem son of Hamor the Hivite, chief of the country, saw her, and took her and lay with her by force, and raped her. (34:2) This is undoubtedly an atrocity. What makes it worse is that the text deliberately depicts Sh’khem as entitled, as the “chief of the country.” Maybe he saw it as his right to have his way with any girl he saw! This depraved act, is viewed by Jacob and his sons as a moral travesty: “Jacob heard that he had defiled his daughter…he had committed an outrage in Israel.” (34:5-7) Jacob’s sons then

Vayetze. Materialism

Here we are, between Black Friday and Channukah; ‘Tis the season to buy things that, quite honestly, many of us simply don’t need! I am not denying that gifts are a way of spreading the love between family and friends, but sometimes, the commercial focus becomes excessive and overwhelming. In this regard, some lines from the parasha offer some balance, and food for thought. After the dream of the ladder, Yaakov responds with a vow, or maybe a prayer of sorts: “If God will be with me and will guard me on my journey, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and I return to my father's house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, sh

Toldot. Does Birth-Order Matter?

Does birth order matter? Pop-psychology attributes specific characteristics to the oldest child, middle-child, youngest-child, and many of us feel that these stereotypes ring with some truth. The topic that stands out in this week's parasha is the "bechora", the "birthright" or the special status of the first-born. Yaakov, the second-child is born holding Esau's heel – Rashi tells us that he is trying to pull Esav back - and his early life seems to be an attempt to usurp Esav's firstborn status: He purchases the firstborn rights from his older brother, and masquerades as his older brother to receive his father's blessing, proclaiming "I am Esav, your firstborn." Does Jacob want to be Esav, o

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