CCAR Newsletter Nov-Dec 2014 - 4

Voices of Torah
Vayeishev
(Michael Boyden)
At first glance, our parashah seems to
begin in a good place. Jacob is settled
in the land of Canaan. What could
be better than that? However, Rabbi
Yochanan observed that wherever
the term vayeishev is used it is always
associated with anguish (BT Sanhedrin
106a).
On the one hand, being settled creates
a sense of security, but it can easily be
accompanied by self-satisfaction and
haughtiness.
In the very next verse we read: And
Joseph brought bad reports [about
his brothers] to their father. Jacob's
love for Joseph blinds him to the
complicated relationship Joseph has
with his brothers. One might have
hoped that having himself endured
years of struggling with Esau, he would
have learned much and been more
sensitive to what was happening with
his own children. To wit: Jacob's mother
had dressed her favorite son in Esau's
clothes (Genesis 27:15) in order to
deceive Isaac and now, a generation
later, Jacob will make his beloved son
a coat of many colors. Clothes can
hide and complicate matters. Not by
chance is the Hebrew word beged
(clothing) from the same root as b'gidah
(treachery). The theme of clothing will
enter the life of a more mature Joseph
when Potiphar's wife will molest him
and he will flee, leaving his clothes in
her possession (Genesis 39:12).
Having started his life by bringing bad
reports about his brothers to their father,
Joseph will later bring his family to
Egypt and save them from famine. In
both cases the term vayavei is used, but
by now Joseph is more concerned for
others than for himself.
Rabbi Yochanan was right; Jacob may
have been settled in Canaan, but he will
end his days as a displaced person in
Egypt.

Mikeitz/Chanukah

(Stephen Wylen)

How important is Chanukah? Chanukah is a "minor"
festival. "Minor" is a technical term. It means first of
all that Chanukah is not commanded in the Torah.
Secondly, it means that it is permitted to work during
Chanukah. One thing "minor" does not mean is "less
important."
Arguably, in American Jewish life there are three
major holidays: the Yamim Noraim, Pesach, and
Chanukah. These are the holidays that Jews actually
observe and that give meaning to Jewish existence.
If one wishes to argue that Sukkot and Shavuot are
more important than Chanukah, that's fine, but who is
listening to you? Are we Israelite farmers?

It makes sense that Chanukah is an important holiday
to American and Israeli Jews because its theme, as
interpreted by us since the Enlightenment, resonates
with our own lives. For American Jews, Chanukah
is about the fight for religious liberty and the pride
of identity of a religious minority group. For Israelis,
Judah Maccabee is a Zionist hero.
Rabbis, if you are yelling at Jews to stop making
such a big deal out of Chanukah, what is to be
accomplished? Is Chanukah the Jewish Christmas? I
would say no; rather, both Chanukah and Christmas
are secular holidays that resonate in a secular society.

Vayigash (Joshua Minkin)
Therefore, please let your servant remain as a slave
to my lord instead of the boy (Genesis 44:33).
The character of Judah is disputed in Rabbinic
literature, much of it focusing on his motivation
to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites, rather than kill
him. What was Judah's motivation? Was it to save
Joseph? Or was Judah content to leave Joseph to
die in the pit, and changed his mind only to make a
quick profit on his sale?
I prefer the latter viewpoint because it can lead to
a great lesson on t'shuvah. Judah is oblivious to
his sinful behavior, sitting down to eat after leaving
Joseph to die. Just as he and his brothers deceived
his father, so does Tamar deceive him. Through her
actions, he becomes aware of his need to change.

Then, when Joseph, in disguise, threatens to enslave
Benjamin, Judah steps forward and accepts joint
responsibility, offering all the brothers to be slaves as
well. Finally, Judah takes full personal responsibility,
explaining that he, alone, is responsible for
Benjamin's safety and he, alone, should be enslaved
in place of Benjamin.
How similar this is to many cases of t'shuvah. At first,
we are unaware that what we are doing is wrong.
Sometime later, through the example of another,
it becomes clear to us. Later still, we are willing to
accept limited responsibility, but only with excuses or
as part of a group ("Everyone does it"). Finally, we
accept that we must take complete responsibility for
our own actions and truly change.

Va-y'chi (Ruth Adar)
Va-y'chi offers us two end-of-life accounts: the
accounts of the deaths of Jacob and Joseph leave a
legacy for their immediate descendants and also Am
Yisrael.
Both Jacob and Joseph are models for making clear
their end-of-life wishes. Jacob specifies his wishes to
Joseph: "Bury me with my ancestors, not in Egypt."
Joseph takes an oath to carry out that wish. Later,
when he knows that he is dying, Jacob calls all his
sons together. After blessing them, he informs them
of his wish to be buried in the Cave of Machpelah,
with my ancestors... in the cave in the field of
Machpelah, facing Mamre, in the land of Canaan
(Genesis 49:29:30). He lists kin buried in Machpelah,
giving voice to the mitzvah of burial in a family plot
(Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Dei-ah, 363). After his death,
Joseph directs that Jacob's body be embalmed in the
Egyptian fashion for transport to Canaan. He
4

and his brothers travel together to the Cave of
Machpelah.
Later, when he is dying, Joseph follows his father's
example, gathering his family and blessing them
with a reminder of the covenants God made with
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Joseph then made his
own request: Bring my bones up from this place
(Genesis 50:25).
In our own days of advanced medical technology,
there are many more things about which we should
be specific with family. It is important to have the
proper documents prepared: advanced health care
directives, valid wills, and instructions for executors; it
is also important to talk about these matters with our
loved ones in such a way as to minimize conflict and
confusion at a difficult time. Our ancestors Jacob and
Joseph teach us the value of these conversations, a
value that has only grown over time.



CCAR Newsletter Nov-Dec 2014

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of CCAR Newsletter Nov-Dec 2014

CCAR Newsletter Nov-Dec 2014 - 1
CCAR Newsletter Nov-Dec 2014 - 2
CCAR Newsletter Nov-Dec 2014 - 3
CCAR Newsletter Nov-Dec 2014 - 4
CCAR Newsletter Nov-Dec 2014 - 5
CCAR Newsletter Nov-Dec 2014 - 6
CCAR Newsletter Nov-Dec 2014 - 7
CCAR Newsletter Nov-Dec 2014 - 8
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