Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Parsha Vayeishev 5771 Question

In Bereishis Chapter 39 v6 it states that Potiphar put everything except the bread he ate?
into the hands of Yosef. What is the meaning behind this statement?

Note; there are multiple meanings here including one from Rashi

This weeks Parsha: Vayeishev Bereishis (Genesis) 37:1-40:23


The views of the meforshim vary widely but the main views are:

Rashi: This emans that Potiphar gave control of everything to yosef except his wife. The Baal HaTurim supports this view and brings that the Gematria of the phrase “except the bread he ate” is equal to the phrase “this is his wife”

Ibn Ezra: This refers to the fact that since the Egyptians viewed the Hebrews as being abominable they would not eat with or allow Hebrews to eat with them or touch their food. We see this abhorrence also in the words of Potiphar’s wife when she is accusing Yosef stating that this Hebrew had been appointed over them and in the house- ata time when Hebrew slaves were the lowest rung and generally only worked in the fields. We see the same thing with the work the Jews did as slaves later on- builders and agricultural work in the fields but not as servants inside the houses of the Egyptians

Ramban supports Ibn Ezra’s view and birngs some further ideas just as Daniel and his fellow prisoners did not eat the King’s food in Bavel, so, too, Yosef did not eat Potiphar’s food. Another explanation Ramban brings is that this refers to the fact that Potiphar found that Yosef took nothing for himself- that while many other people in his position would have used it to accumulate wealth, he was scrupulous in his dealings and Potiphar found nothing in his hands that shouldn’t be there.

November 24, 2010 Posted by | Parshah, Torah | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Parshas Vayeira 5771: How do we speak?

Parshas hashavuah Question: In this weeks parsha we have Avraham pleading with G-d not to destroy Sodom?
and the cities around it and also G-d ordering Avraham to sacrifice Yitzchak. What similarity is there in the two speeches and what can we learn from it?

This weeks parsha is Vayeira Bereishis (Genesis) 18:1-22:24

What is the commonality between these two speeches? Lets look at how they go:
Avraham starts at 50 righteous people, then slowly decreases until he reaches ten. He goes from the easiest to justifyto the hardest. After all, in a group of cities if there are fifty righteous people it is easy to justify- if there are only 10 it is much harder to justify. It is the minimum number for a community- thus the amount for a minyan, but at the same time one could argue it does not make sense to save a few cities if between them they can only offer up a bare minimum for a community of righteous people!

G-d starts of telling Avraham that he must sacrifice his son and progresses to the specific son of Yitzchak. Now, Avraham lived in an era where the sacrifice of a child as a form of worship was known, if not common. However, there were limits- the son of the king, due to inherit the mantle of royalty, would not be sacrificed; the child who was to inherit and head up the family was not sacrificed; it was those that came afterwards that wereconsecrated to idols. In a similar vein we see later in history during the medieval period that in royal families where there children beyond the necessary heir- carreers in the military or priesthood were the norm so they would not be there to compete with the heir. But here the item that does nto make sense is the one that is being pushed- the heir, the one to continue the nation, the one destined to to lead the Jewish people is to be sacrificed. Again we see the progression from the understandable to the finality which seems to not make sense and which cannot be justified.

So we see this common idea in both speeches- but we also see that in both cases the people do not go straiight to the final idea, but progress down to it. There is a progression and a chance for the unexpected, the strange to be able to become more familiar and more acceptable.

This idea has both positive and negative implications- on the positive side we can learn that when we seek tot each, to bring people into, or improve, their Jewish observance, we should do it slowly. Let them progress at a speed where they can assimilate an idea, adjust to it and thus move from what makes the most sense and is easiest to them, to that which may not make sense and is thus harder for them to implement. On the negative side you have the often repeated idea that as peopel desacend into sin they generally do the “lighter” actions first. As they become acclimatised to that, they progress downwards going deeper and deeper into sin until they are performing actions that previously they would have found unthinkable but now they are comfortable with. For this reason chazal warn us against associating with sinners or even doing things that are allowed if they would lead us into this negative spiral. Just because something is allowed, does not mean it is desirable- and the yetzer hara utilises our own weaknesses and feeling of comfortable with acts , forbidden or marginal, to eventually make those acts which are completely forbidden seem desireable-after all.

October 20, 2010 Posted by | Parshah, Torah | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Parshas Lech Lecha 5771- Converts before leaving for Canaan

Note: Two questions this week as the first one while important, is a bit too easy.

1) Where does this week’s parsha show that even prior to leaving to go to the land of Canaan Avraham had converted people to Judaism?
2) In what way is the name change from Sarai to Sarah important to reflect the coming birth of Yitzchak?

This weeks Parsha is Lech Lecha- Bereishis (Genesis) 12:1-17:27

The answer to question 1 is found in Chapter 12 v5

5. And Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had acquired, and the souls they had acquired in Haran, and they went to go to the land of Canaan, and they came to the land of Canaan. ה. וַיִּקַּח אַבְרָם אֶת שָׂרַי אִשְׁתּוֹ וְאֶת לוֹט בֶּן אָחִיו וְאֶת כָּל רְכוּשָׁם אֲשֶׁר רָכָשׁוּ וְאֶת הַנֶּפֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ בְחָרָן וַיֵּצְאוּ לָלֶכֶת אַרְצָה כְּנַעַן וַיָּבֹאוּ אַרְצָה כְּנָעַן:

Rashi points out that “הַנֶּפֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ ” (translated as “souls they had acquired “) refers to converts. A pointer to this is the word “עָשׂוּ” “made”- Obviously Avram and Sarai did not make souls; the sense in which they “made” the souls is that they “made” them into followers of hashem and thus “made” them holier.

An interesting question was raised by one of the posters on Yahoo Answers:
Gershon asked:

According to the Kedushat Levi, Abraham converted in chapter 15.
So, if Abraham wasn’t yet converted, how could he convert people to Judaism?

What was he converting them to here vs later? First lets look at Avraham now- he is Avram, he has yet to be renamed to Avraham yet he already has complete faith in G-d, so much so that he is ready to give up the life of a nobelman and go to an unknown country without knowing the specifics because G-d tells him to! So what were his beliefs? How far had he come and what had these people converted to? We know they were not Noachides since there were many Nachides in the world led by Mechizedek (Shem according to many authorities) whom Avraham recognised as priest of G-d later in this parsha (and who then permanently transferred the priesthood to the Jewish people).

We see a progression in the covenant between Avraham and Hashem in this parsha. First he promises to take him to a new land and make him a mighty nation. Then we have the brit bein hebetarim and the covenant is made more specific- it will be a direct descendant of Avraham that will inherit; and we are told that they will be exiles and slaves, and will then return to inherit the land. Finally we have the birt milah. Two signs of the covenant are now forged- Avraham’s name is changed (from Avram) and the brit milah is a physical sign of the eternal covenant between G-d and the Jewish nation.

Now- if we look at the start fo the Parsha, we see Avraham is already a believer in G-d and keeping mitzvot- otherwise there would be no differentiation between him and his followers and Melchizedek and his followers! In what way does he differ from the way he is at the end of the parsha?

It is in the symbols of the covenant between him and G-d- his name and the brit milah. Thus, while he obviously had some of the commandments already at the start of the Parsha, we know he was missing at least one of the major commandments- brit milah.

And thus the Kedushat LEvi’s remark that Avraham only converted (along with the members of his household
all of whom were circumcised at the same time) at this point. Prior to this, they believed in G-d, they were Jewish in action, but they did not yet have a formal covenant and relationship. The bris milah was the marriage document, the formalisation of the relationship between the Jewish nation and G-d. Before now, they had the beliefs, they lived and worshipped as Jews- but it was like the period of Kiddushin prior to the completion of marriage at Nissuin. The earlier covenants were the betrothal- the brit milah the marriage.

Question 2: What does the name change of Sarai to Sarah reflect on the coming birth of Yitzchak? Rashi remarks that “Sarai” is a qualified name- i.e. “My Princess”- she is for me (i.e. Avraham), but not for others. The name “Sarah” is unqualifed- she is a princess over all, not just for Avraham. Thus the coming child is destined to be the progenitor of a nation and to be over all. Sarah is a national name, Sarai a personal name- Yitzchak, who was to be the leader and one of the Avos of the Jews would be born to Sraah, the princess over all, and not to Sarai.

On another note, their is the idea that our names are linked to our fates- thus the custom of giving a gravely ill person a new name, and one which is only permanent if they recover. In this case, the fate of Sarai was altered to the fate of Sarah- when just living and relevant to a personal future, whe did not have the mazal to bear a child; when her future was linked to the nation, her mazal changed and thus, even at her advanced age, she merited to have a child.

October 12, 2010 Posted by | Torah | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment