This happens to me at least one time every December: I am just too mentally bushed to be able to write something new about the Torah portion. C’est la vie. So, I’m essentially rerunning the comments I wrote 3 years ago. Just three new notes: (1) Joseph’s brothers never apologize for their actions. (2) The only female descendant named among Jacob’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren here is Serach, daughter of Asher, an enigmatic figure who is said to have lived an incredibly long time (at least until the time of David) and never died but was taken to heaven alive. In one d’var Torah (thanks, Stanley), she is depicted as understudy for the Messiah ( http://judaism.ajula.edu/Content/ContentUnit.asp?CID=845&u=8913&t=0 ). Other stories can be found, e.g., at http://www.ou.org/about/judaism/serach.htm .(3) I was gently reminded by one of my readers last week, when I celebrated the coincidence of my Hebrew and secular birthdays, that since the Hebrew calendar is on a 19 year cycle, such synchronicity will occur every 19 years. Ah, but that doesn’t take into account Gregorian leap years! I checked, and yes, in 1991, my birthdays were similarly sync’ed, but in 1972 they were off by a day.
“This week, the story of Joseph, his brothers, and his father, climaxes and begins to wind down. Judah’s eloquent pleading on Benjamin’s behalf, to the extent of offering himself as a slave in his stead, convinces Joseph that the brothers have changed and become menschen (more or less). Jacob learns he has 12 living sons, comes down to Egypt with the whole mishpocha, all 70 souls (and all 70 names are listed, as I learned when I was assigned to read the middle 60 or so verses of this portion), meets Pharaoh, and kvetches. Joseph arranges for them to live in Goshen, ostensibly so they can live as shepherds without offending Egyptian sensibilities; but it was probably a move that left all relieved. Joseph, while technically still a member of the family, has become so different from the rest of them that it is best that they come together only occasionally, for brief periods (not that any of us come from families like that…). Like many Biblical stories, this one is taught in elementary Hebrew School in an overly simplistic manner. Everyone does not “kiss and make up” (OK, Joseph did kiss everybody, but it appears only Benjamin and Jacob responded in kind). Joseph does not go back to being a simple shepherd but continues to run Egypt as an able servant to Pharaoh. His brothers, still haunted by their cruelty years before, do not believe Joseph has forgiven them. And Jacob is really not happy about settling in Egypt, even though it was done with a divine OK (46:3-4).
“Joseph is connected with a coat of many colors*, and in the Torah he has many faces. In Jewish literature, he is known as ‘Yosef HaTzaddik,’ ‘Joseph the Righteous,’ though there are different opinions as to why: because he turned down Potiphar’s wife, or because he was at a high enough moral level to be able to receive prophesy through dreams (I doubt that one – look at Balaam’s dreams) or just de facto, evidenced by his being the conduit through which the Lord acted to save the Middle East from severe famine. But we also see him as a frankly obnoxious teenager, a sharp dealer when he maneuvers Pharaoh into making him viceroy, a Hebrew who looks and sounds like an Egyptian yet gives his sons Hebrew names, possibly a bit of a snob when his country-bumpkin family moves in, an efficient businessman who manages to turn most of the Egyptians into serfs (47:20-27), a neglectful son who didn’t know for over twenty years whether his father was alive or not. And there are holes left in the story, even if you just say, as Joseph did, don’t worry about everything that happened, it was meant to, it was the Lord’s will: Why didn’t Joseph check on his father’s well-being, even surreptitiously? Didn’t he care? How did the brothers explain Joseph’s re-appearance in Egypt after being torn by wild beasts? How much did Jacob really know or suspect about what had happened? Wouldn’t he have wondered why Joseph tested his brothers why they came to buy food and why he hadn’t heard from Joseph himself? More puzzles, more to ponder each year.”
*Actually, it’s unclear precisely what k’tonet passim means. I’ve been told it’s just a long-sleeved coat or tunic. IGP, 2010.
Shabbat shalom, Irene
Speaking of revealing secrets…(emailed to me by Al E.) cache by Dana Milbank and Alexandra Petri…
Since Julian Assange’s arrest, people have wondered about the WikiLeaks “insurance file,” the poison-pill document cache, rumored to contain damning revelations on everything from the government to major corporations that can be unleashed if WikiLeaks is in danger of shutdown.
Here’s what Dana Milbank thinks will be inside:
+ What Bill Murray whispers at the end of “Lost in Translation.”
+ Confirmation that the moon landing was faked, including outtakes from the staging of the moon landing with a film crew visible in the background; six takes in which Neil Armstrong says, “One small step for mankind, one giant–wait, no. One giant leap for man–sorry. One giant step for leap man–I’m sorry, I really thought I had it that time”; and one shot where you can see the director’s son eating a sandwich.
+ Full explanation of the plot of “Inception” that includes whether Cobb is dreaming at the end.
+ Tell-all account of JFK assassination written by the Grassy Knoll itself.
+ A really, really offensive joke once told by Mother Teresa.
+ Coca-Cola’s secret ingredient: dingo blood.
+ Proof that the government is run by Masons, with evidence from building designs, dollar-bill imagery and something Joe Biden said once when his mic was turned off.
+ Original version of the Gettysburg Address, which is excessively long and makes a lot of steamboat jokes that don’t really land.
+ Proof that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are actually going really well and civilians there really love us.
+ President Obama’s birth certificate, which indicates that he was not only not born in the United States but “made in Area 51 by top men.”
+ Documentation that Piers Morgan and Tony Hayward are in fact the same person.
+ Location of Elvis, which everyone’s been keeping secret because, well, it’s just sad what’s happened to the man.
+ Victoria’s secret.
The Polish Immigrant
One day an immigrant from Poland entered a New York City Police Precinct to report that his American wife was planning to kill him.
The police officer on duty was intrigued by this, and he asked, “How sure are ya that she is gonna kill ya? Did she threaten to kill ya?”
“No,” replied the nervous immigrant.
“Did ya hear her tell someone else that she’s gonna kill ya?”
“Did someone tell ya that your wife is gonna kill ya?”
“Then why in God’s name did ya think she’s gonna kill ya?” asked the exasperated police officer.
“Because I found bottle on dresser and I think she gonna poison me!”
He handed the police officer the suspect bottle. The police officer took one look at the label on the bottle and started to laugh out loud.
The immigrant became indignant and said, “What’s so funny? Can’t you see the label on bottle says ‘Polish Remover’?”
Assimilation (oldie but goodie) A young Talmud scholar who left Poland for America returns several years later to visit his family. “But where is your beard?” asks his mother.
“Mama, in America nobody wears a beard.”
“But at least you keep the Sabbath?”
“Mama, business is business. In America, people work on the Sabbath.”
“But kosher food you still eat?”
“Mama, in America it`s very difficult to keep kosher.”
The old lady hesitates for a moment and then, in a hoarse whisper, she says,
“Shloime, tell me one thing. Are you still circumcised?”
Dysfunctional Family Quiz (Sent out 4 years ago) Are you from a dysfunctional family? Take the quiz and find out. [Sample questions are below. The complete quiz, with a button to push to get your score,
is was at http://www.candygenius.com/quizzy/dysfunctional_quiz.php The link appears to have died.]
How long has it been since you have spoken to your mother or father?
I consider myself an orphan
It’s been a week or so
I just got of the phone with her
How often do you see or talk to your brother or sister?
Maybe once a week
Frequently but not maybe not every week
I have an unlisted phone number that I would rather gnaw off my own arm than give them
The phone is ringing. Caller ID says that it’s your brother. What do you do?
Pick up the phone because you can’t wait to talk to him
Let the answering machine get it but call him back later
Assume someone has died, so you pick up the phone to find out who
What is more prevalent in your family?
Is it always your fault?
Is the Pope Catholic?
When you visited your parents last:
They were really happy to see you and cooked a nice family dinner
It was a bit tense but overall it was a good visit
You were greeted by a note on the front door telling you to drop dead.
“Dear Avigal,” written by Mindy Davids and Jeffrey Marx. [Excerpts. I used these in a d’var Torah on this portion 7 years ago and sent it out here 3 years ago]
Dear Avigal: Five years ago, my partner and I disbanded our business. We had worked side by side for a decade. Our families even vacationed together. Then, in a dispute over bonuses, one word led to another, and we split up. After five years of not seeing him, not speaking to him, I felt bad. Then I remembered the story of Joseph and his brothers. Despite being sold into slavery by his siblings, Joseph forgave them completely…I decided that if Joseph could do it, I could too! I called my former partner. We had dinner together, we shmoozed about the past, we talked honestly about our falling out. Since then, we talk on the phone at least once a month. But I just learned that his daughter is being married in a month’s time, and he didn’t even invite me! So much for making peace!
Hurt and Confused.
Dear Hurt and Confused: The bum! What ingratitude, after you went out of your way to make peace! My advice is to find yourself a better friend.
Dear Avigal: Did you ever stop to consider that not all reconciliations have fairy-tale endings? It’s true that my brother Joseph hugged and kissed us in the throne room and brought us down to Egypt, but did you ever consider where we ended up living? While we were stuck with the sheep in Goshen, my brother continued living in the palace! (Gen. 47:11) We had to send word to him when our father was on his deathbed, that’s how seldom he came to visit. (Gen. 48:1) [in next week’s portion. IGP]
Believe me, after our father died , my brothers and I feared that now Joseph was going to exact his revenge. That’s why we concocted the story that on his deathbed, Jacob had asked Joseph to forgive us. (Gen. 50:15-17) We weren’t close to Joseph when we sold him, why should a few tears and a hug-especially after so many years had passed-suddenly make us one happy family? Tell Hurt and Confused to grow up!
Reuben, son of Jacob
Dear Avigal: Reconciliation is not all that it’s cracked up to be. Believe me, I know. I did a terrible thing to my brother many years ago involving our father’s inheritance. We didn’t see each other for years. I couldn’t sleep, I kept wrestling with my conscience. Finally, I sent him a note and we arranged to meet. When we saw each other, he fell on my neck and we wept like babies. He invited me to his home to spend time with his wife and kids. I accepted, but at the last minute I decided not to go. (Gen. 33:12-17) What more could I say to him? We were never close growing up; our values were completely different. Tell Hurt and Confused not to get his hopes up too high!
Jacob, son of Isaac
Dear Avigal: I can’t believe your readers’ responses to Hurt and Confused! Theirs is a most depressing way of looking at the world and our role in making it a better place. How am I ever going to announce the coming of the messianic age with such attitudes?! … We must believe that we can make a difference in our own lives and in the lives of others by embracing darchei shalom, the paths of peace.