CCAR Newsletter November - December 2017 - 4
Voices of Torah
Although most commentaries on
Vayeishev fixate on Joseph, there are
other characters of great interest, none
more so than the anonymous, unnamed
"wife of Potiphar." Beyond her brazen,
and nearly successful, efforts to seduce
Joseph, we rarely consider her further.
Why eight nights of Chanukah?
Medieval Islamic tradition and the postmedieval Sefer HaYashar identify her
as Zuleika, an Arabic name meaning
"beautiful." In his monumental and
unsurpassed classic Joseph and His
Brothers, Thomas Mann portrays
Zuleika not as a lascivious wanton, but
as a woman trapped in a ceremonial
marriage to a palace eunuch. Her sexual
needs unfulfilled, she develops emotional
and sexual feelings for Joseph.
In a glorious scene, the lovesick but
discreet Zuleika invites her girlfriends
to supper, placing an orange with a
sharp knife in front of each one when
the dessert course is served, and timing
things so that Joseph walks into the room
at just the moment the guests are peeling
their fruit. All heads turn to look at him,
and each then stabs herself in the hand
with her fruit knife. It is a beautiful and
wordless way of explaining to her friends
why she aches and who she aches for.
Since reading Mann's book for the first
time forty years ago I have always had
a special place in my heart for Zuleika,
reminded that those who rush to an easy
negative judgment need to consider
more carefully before they condemn.
As Yehoshua b. P'rachya and Nittai
ha-Arbeli taught: Vehevei dan et kol
haadam l'chaf z'chut (Pirkei Avot 1:6).
I cringe each time I hear of the miracle of the oil, thinking, "That's Talmudic propaganda to prevent another
suicidal Jewish rebellion against Rome. Rather, it's to celebrate a missed Sukkot festival, as soon as possible."
They celebrated joyfully for eight days, as on the Feast of Booths, remembering how, not long before, they
had spent the feast of Booths living ... like wild beasts. (2 Maccabees 10:6)
Eyal Regev, of Bar-Ilan University, in "Hanukkah and the Temple of the Maccabees" (JSQ 15:2, 87-114),
reminded me of classes with Dr. Martin Cohen. Regev suggests that to legitimate their power (in Cohen's
terms: P2 becoming P1), the Hasmoneans needed to be seen as the only bearers of the Temple traditions
and created Chanukah to link their re-consecration of the Temple to earlier symbolically potent religious and
political (re)consecration ceremonies (milu-im), which often lasted eight days and occurred around Sukkot.
The inaugurations of the Tabernacle (Leviticus 8-9) and Solomon's Temple (2 Chronicles 5:3) lasted
eight days, as did Hezekiah's Temple rededication (2 Chronicles 29:17). Regev notes: "Just as Solomon
inaugurated the First Temple, the returning exiles consecrated the altar [Ezra 3], and Nehemiah concluded
the covenant [Nehemiah 8]-Judas Maccabeus and his men reinstated the Temple rites ... around the time
of Sukkot" (p. 97).
Nonetheless, currently, our most important connection is that Sukkot is z'man simchateinu, our season of
happiness. We are commanded to have nothing but joy (Deuteronomy 16:15), which 2 Maccabees affirms.
May your Chanukah be full of rejoicing.
Parashat Mikeitz addresses some of the cardinal challenges that face people when they become successful
and accumulate power.
Joseph could so easily have forsaken his family, adopted a new identity, and controlled Egypt. After all,
Pharaoh had told his people, "Go to Joseph; whatever he tells you, you shall do" (Genesis 41:55). Such
power could go to one's head! Joseph had every reason to bury his troubled past and open a new chapter.
Nothing could signify that more than Pharaoh's calling him Tzofnat-Faneyach and giving him Osnat,
daughter of the priest of On, as his wife. Joseph is powerful, is assigned an Egyptian name according to
the Rashbam, and is given the daughter of a pagan priest to be his wife. Could there be a more tempting,
archetypal example of assimilation?
But Joseph does not follow that path. The name that Pharaoh gives him appears nowhere else in the Bible.
Joseph does not claim to be Egypt's savior. On the contrary, he says, "It's not me. God will see to Pharaoh's
welfare" (Genesis 41:16). He gives his children Hebrew names, signifying his sense of estrangement in the
land of Egypt, and although he had every reason to despise them, he saves his family from famine.
Joseph's dying words to his descendants are to "take up my bones from here" (Genesis 50:25) and bring
them to the land God had promised to his ancestors. He does not even mention the word "Egypt." Joseph
may have been eminently successful, but he was "a stranger in a strange land."
"Judaism" derives from Judah, the territory, tribe, and the person. Looking at the character of Jacob's son,
Judah, we see why. While he initiated the revenge scheme against his brother Joseph, selling him to traders
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of CCAR Newsletter November - December 2017
CCAR Newsletter November - December 2017 - 1
CCAR Newsletter November - December 2017 - 2
CCAR Newsletter November - December 2017 - 3
CCAR Newsletter November - December 2017 - 4
CCAR Newsletter November - December 2017 - Insert1
CCAR Newsletter November - December 2017 - Insert2
CCAR Newsletter November - December 2017 - 5
CCAR Newsletter November - December 2017 - 6
CCAR Newsletter November - December 2017 - 7
CCAR Newsletter November - December 2017 - 8