Torah Study Date
Saturday, June 25, 2022
Bereishit (Genesis) 41:57-42:17
Saturday, July 2, 2022
Starting at Genesis 42:18
Last week we discussed all the earth coming to buy from Joseph since the famine was strong in all the earth (and that “all the earth” probably meant the whole Fertile Crescent). Then we moved on to Jacob (whom we hadn’t seen for a while) seeing that there was grain in Egypt and asking his sons why they looked at each other (presumably meaning why they were not doing anything about their need for grain), and then telling them to go and buy grain there so they would live and not die. We wondered whether Jacob was a good leader as a father if he had to push his sons to do something (views were divided on this). We discussed ten of Joseph’s brothers going down and Jacob not sending Benjamin “in case some harm will happen to him” (Benjamin being the only remaining son of Rachel in their eyes since Joseph was presumed dead). We were reminded of Jacob favoring Rachel over Leah and also her sons over Leah’s sons.
We discussed the ten of them bowing to Joseph with their noses to the ground—Joseph who was in charge of and sold grain to all the people of the land—and that they did not recognize Joseph though he recognized them and even made himself unrecognizable to them by speaking harshly to them and asking them where they came from (something, of course, he already knew). We discussed the hitpael verb form which often indicates a reflexive and that hitpael verbs sound like hitpael as in the case we discussed, vayitnacher (and made himself unrecognizable to them). We noted Joseph remembering his dreams, presumably referring to them bowing down to him—and noted one medieval commentator saying that he had to send for Benjamin for the dream to be true because, in the dream, they all bowed down to him.
We discussed Joseph calling the brothers spies who came to see the land exposed or naked (presumably meaning seeing vulnerabilities in Egypt that could be exploited). After all, why would ten brothers come together since a large group might not remain cohesive and we speculated whether the Egyptians had seen them coming prior to their encounter with Joseph and had concerns about such a large group. We also discussed whether the people who were coming to Egypt for grain went back to their homes after they bought it or stayed in Egypt and conjectured that, since it was difficult to get there, probably many of them stayed, that being a typical story of migration from country to city in difficult times.
We discussed the brothers denying they were spies and saying that instead, they were brothers of one man with one other brother at home and one who was no more (meaning, of course, Joseph himself). We noted that Joseph reiterated they were spies and announced that their words would be tested for truth and that, on Pharaoh’s life, they would not get out of there unless one went back and brought the other brother to Egypt with him (for they would be put in prison in the meantime) and that he announced that if they didn’t bring him back, by Pharaoh’s life, they indeed were spies. We discussed that to say “by Pharaoh’s life” is to swear.
Our artwork this week is from the 2011 series of 3’ x 5’, scroll paintings by Israeli-American Jewish artist, Gabriella Boros, Scroll Two: “They were further enraged by his dreams and by his words.” Genesis 37:8 (above) and Scroll One: “You must leave your land, your birthplace and your father’s house for the land that I will show you.” Genesis 12:1 (below). Boros moved from Israel to Cleveland when she was eight. The scrolls are midrashim on the passages relating them to her life experience with a natural setting in each one that comments on the passage and the painting. In Scroll Two, a boy with a colorful jacket is being bullied by other students in a U.S. high school—with trees in Starved Rock State Park struggling to hang on (as the high schooler was). In Scroll One, Boros relates her experience of going from the Six Day War in Israel in 1967 to race rioting in Cleveland with the plane representing the family’s trip from one to the other, the Ein Gedi nature preserve in Israel representing the solid and comforting old compared to the anxiety-producing modern city with its problems, and the “Lech Lecha” passage indicating that, as a youngster, she and her family had gone forth into a land they did not know. Boros received a BFA from the University of Michigan School of Art and lives in Skokie, Illinois.
Torah Study Date
Saturday, June 18, 2022
Bereishit (Genesis) 41:46-56
Saturday, July 2, 2022
Starting at Genesis 41:57
Last week, we discussed Joseph, during the abundant years, putting in each city the grain of the fields around it and noted that he did not store it all with the Pharaoh, showing some maturity of judgment (not creating resentment of himself and Pharaoh that might result if they had all the grain to themselves) and discussed whether his maturity happened all at once or more gradually (and had different opinions about it). We discussed Joseph piling up the grain like the sand of the sea, very great, until he stopped counting because it was without number and noted that that figure of speech reminded us of the God telling Abraham in Genesis 22:27 that he would multiply like the sands of the sea (elevating Joseph to the status of Abraham). We noted the repetition of the “bar” or “rab” sound in the Hebrew adding to the poetic nature of the passage by emphasizing the sound for “very much”.
We discussed Asnat bearing two sons for Joseph, Manassah and Ephraim, before the famine hit and Rashi’s comment that this indicates it is not good to have sex during a famine (taking a later view and finding warrant for it in this passage), that Manassah’s name related to Joseph forgetting his trouble and his father’s house and Ephraim’s name to God making him fruitful in the place where he had been degraded. We discussed the first name relating to Joseph breaking away from his father. We also learned of one interpretation according to which Joseph had been abused as a child.
We discussed the famine coming to all the lands and being over the face of the whole earth while Egypt, as a result of Joseph’s wisdom, had bread. We discussed Pharaoh directing hungry people who beseeched him to Joseph and telling them to follow his instructions. We wondered at this Jew—a “court Jew”—being so important during a great famine (possibly the pan-Mediterranean famine that destroyed even the Mycenaean Greek culture according to some developing scholarship), this Jew who sold to Egypt when famine was strong in the land.
In this week’s art, Indian American Jewish artist, Siona Benjamin, portrays Joseph and his wife as part of her series, Finding Home: Joseph (Finding Home #82, above) and Asnat (Finding Home #62, Fereshteh, below). Asnat is portrayed in blue, like the Hindu god, Vishnu, with her name in Hebrew on the upper frame, the Hindi word for “what?” in a comic book bubble, and the phrase “why I don’t Get the Yiddish Jokes” in the lower frame the point being that she would understand the Yiddish jokes as much as an Ashkenazic Jew would understand the Hindi phrase in the bubble. Asnat, of course, was Egyptian though her sons had Hebrew names. In Benjamin’s portrayal, Asnat is mixed, a woman with a traditionally male kippa who is both American (with an American flag apron) and Hindu (with a Mughal prince’s sword), suggesting fluidity of identity. Joseph, too, crosses boundaries, looking girlish with curls and a coat that looks like a dress. His name is spelled out in Hebrew but the Hebrew letters aleph, shin, kuf appear which, in Urdu, spell Ishq which means divine love–perhaps the love of YHVH that accompanied him through his troubles. Perhaps Benjamin, who left her home in Mumbai, identifies with Asnat and with Joseph, both of whom left their homes, had shifting and mixed identities and never were simply one thing or another.
Torah Study Date
Saturday, June 11, 2022
Bereishit (Genesis) 41:36-45
Saturday, June 18, 2022
Starting at Genesis 41:46
Last week, we discussed previous famines in Genesis, the famine that led Abram and Sarai to go to Egypt (Genesis 12:10) and the famine that led Isaac to go to the Philistine city of Gerar (Genesis 26:1), and noted that famine is a main source of movement in Genesis. We noted Joseph telling Pharaoh to deposit the food from the abundant years so that, during the seven years of famine, the land would not be cut off (and speculated about the meaning of “cut off”) and that, what Joseph talked about in his dream interpretation, was good in the eyes of Pharaoh and the servants.
We discussed Pharaoh’s rhetorical question, will we find a man such as Joseph with gods’ (or is it God’s) spirit (ruach elohim) in him, where what makes the question rhetorical is the assumption that they will not, and that once again what god (or gods) are referred to is left unspecified making communication between these Egyptians and an Israelite about the divine possible. We discussed Pharaoh saying god/gods made Joseph know so much and that no one is as understanding and wise as Joseph so that Joseph would be over Pharaoh’s house and at the kiss of Joseph’s mouth all Pharaoh’s people would conform (wondering, along with commentators, about the meaning of “kiss” in the passage). We noted Pharaoh saying to Joseph that Pharaoh would be greater than Joseph only in the throne. We remarked on the similarity of Pharaoh giving Joseph so much power to Potiphar previously turning everything over to Joseph.
We noted Pharaoh marking a transition of status in Joseph by 1. putting his signet ring on Joseph’s hand, having him dressed in linen garments and setting a gold chain on his neck (the gold chain being another way in which Joseph was becoming Egyptianized), 2. having his second in command drive Joseph around in a chariot while people shouted “Abrek” (meaning “Kneel”? “Make way”?), 3. putting Joseph over all the land of Egypt and telling him, in a figure of speech indicating Joseph’s new power, that no one would raise a hand or foot in Egypt without Joseph, 4. giving Joseph an Egyptian name, Zaphenath-paneah (meaning uncertain though it may include reference to life) and 5. giving Joseph an Egyptian wife, Asenath, daughter of Potiphera, the priest of On.
We discussed On being Heliopolis, the city of the sun god who was identified with Ra and Atum. We discussed the elevation in status indicated by Joseph marrying the daughter of the top priest. We discussed the recent theory that the story of Joseph is based on an actual proto-Israelite named Baya from Yahwa (a city, near Seir, whose god was Yahweh) who became the vizier of the child-Pharaoh, Siptah, during a Mediterranean famine during the Bronze Age. We actually discussed a lot more than this, if you can believe it.
Our artwork this week is more by Russian-French Jewish artist, Marc Chagall, Joseph Recognized by His Brothers, above (gouache and oil on paper), and Joseph and His Brothers, below (etching with hand-applied watercolor, from his Bible series). Regarding Chagall’s series of Bible etchings, Meyer Schapiro says, “The work is wholly free of self-conscious striving; what is beautiful in it does not spring from a will to novel forms” and “In almost every image we experience the precise note of his emotion, his awe or sadness or joy.”
Torah Study Date
Saturday, June 4, 2022
Bereishit (Genesis) 41:14-35
Saturday, June 11, 2022
Starting at Genesis 41:36
Last week we discussed Joseph being rushed from the pit to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. We noted that Joseph shaved and changed his clothes, that that was a sign of his change in status and of his assuming Egyptian customs (since Egyptian men were clean-shaven while Israelite men were not). We discussed Pharaoh telling Joseph that no one could interpret his dream but that he had heard that for Joseph, to hear a dream was to give its meaning, and Joseph replying that it was not he but God who would answer regarding Pharaoh’s well-being (his shalom).
We noted that Joseph says “God” not “YHVH” making it possible for Pharoah to have a different idea of what the god referred to was (himself—since a Pharaoh is a god? the god of the Egyptians?) while Joseph would still be able to communicate with him and make a good impression. We discussed Pharaoh telling Joseph his dreams and some of the differences in this account of the dream, for example, Pharaoh saying that he had not seen any cows as bad as the scrawny dream cows in all the land of Egypt and his saying that, after the fat-fleshed cows were eaten by the scrawny ones, it wasn’t known that the fat cows were in them (that is, that the scrawny cows appeared just as scrawny after they had eaten the other cows as before) and we noted the disturbing idea of carnivorous cows.
We noted the evident anxiety over the future in Pharaoh’s dream and R. Sara’s idea that Joseph was like a therapist who takes Pharaoh’s anxiety and puts it in a form in which he can handle it. We discussed Joseph’s interpretation that the seven’s in the dream referred to seven years of bounty and seven of famine—famine so heavy the bounty would no longer be remembered. We discussed the similarity to contemporary capitalism and capitalism in general not planning for the future but only thinking of gain in the present.
We noted Joseph saying that Pharaoh’s dream is one dream implying that the two dreams have the same meaning and that they tell Pharaoh what God is doing. We also noted that Joseph makes use of the situation to raise his status by exhorting Pharaoh to find an understanding and wise man to set over the land of Egypt (implying, of course, Joseph himself) and to appoint overseers to five-out the land (organize it? tax it?) during the bountiful period in order to gather up food and pile up grain in the cities and watch over it all–meaning, presumably, to make sure that it remains and can be shared during the time of famine.
Our artwork this week is watercolors on paper by US Jewish artist, Barbara Hines, from her “Spotlight on Joseph” series, Joseph Communicated with G-d (above), and Joseph’s Journey VI (below). Hines makes Joseph contemporary and relatable. “Joseph is an icon showing the world how to handle adversity whilst maintaining trust in G-d,” she says. I like how Joseph is in color while the others are in black and white above while he seems lost and alone in a swirl of that color below.
Torah Study Date
Saturday, May 28, 2022
Bereishit (Genesis) 40:20-41:13
Saturday, June 4, 2022
Starting at Genesis 41:14
Last week we discussed that Joseph presumably knew that Pharaoh’s birthday was in three days when he gave his interpretation of the three’s in the chief drink-steward and chief baker’s dreams, that Pharaoh lifted up the head of both the drink-steward and the baker but with opposed meanings, in one case, restoring him to his position and, in the other, hanging him (with the narrator this time, not Joseph, utilizing the ambiguous meaning), that Joseph’s interpretation thus was borne out, that the chief drink-steward did not remember but forgot Joseph (presumably meaning he did not advocate for his release to the Pharaoh), that memory is central to Jewish practice and text and that to remember can mean to take note of in Torah.
We began a new parasha, Miketz, and Joseph’s interpretations of Pharaoh’s dream(s) after two years, one in which seven beautiful-looking and fat-fleshed cows came out of the Nile and fed in the reeds after which seven other cows, bad-looking and thin-fleshed, came out of the Nile and did not initially eat but just stood there (making for a dramatic pause) and then ate the first group of cows—and Pharaoh woke up–and another in which seven ears of grain, fat and good, came up on one stalk and seven other ears of grain, thin and parched by the east wind, grew up after them and ate the fat and full ones—and Pharaoh woke up and, behold, it was a dream. We discussed the fact that the New JPS often does not translate hineh (here! behold! lo! look!) (not to be confused with hineni, here I am). We also discussed binaries in Jewish practice and text such as beautiful vs. bad, fat vs. thin, holy vs. profane, Israel and the nations but also noted that binaries sometimes are blurred as in kol ha moed, the intermediate days of the festivals Passover and Sukkot which are neither completely holy nor completely profane (or both holy and profane) and as in the Joseph cycle in which Israelite and Egyptian are mixed, for example, with the use of many Egyptian terms and with Joseph, a Hebrew, being one of Pharoah’s officials and also being enslaved but at the same time very free.
We discussed Pharaoh’s spirit (ruach) being moved and him calling in the Egyptian magicians and wise men so he could tell them his dream but none of them could explain its meaning. We discussed the chief drink-steward recalling his sins to Pharaoh (presumably that he did not advocate for Joseph’s release) and telling Pharaoh that a Hebrew boy, slave to the chief guard, had interpreted the meaning of his and the baker’s dreams, namely, that he would be restored to his position and the baker would be hanged.
Our artwork this week is two more oil paintings by Rockville, Maryland, Jewish painter, professor, and neurosurgeon, Nahum HaLevi, The Family Jacobowitz: Hidden Faces (above), and The Family Ankhyehova: Cross-Cultural Blessings and Mixed Messages (below). In the first painting, Potiphar’s wife is portrayed as emerging out of Joseph’s head while Jacob, Joseph’s brothers, and Potiphar’s wife are holding on to Joseph’s bloodied coat and to his Egyptian ka or spirit. There’s a lot going on in each of these paintings but one theme we have talked about shows up in each of them, namely, cultural mixing and blurred binaries. In each, Joseph is portrayed in Egyptian dress as are the sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, in the portrayal of Jacob (in black and white) blessing them with Joseph and his wife, Asnat, positioned on each side. Ephraim and Manasseh are, of course, half Israelite and half Egyptian. Look at Jacob’s arms and hands! He initially cannot decide whether to bless the first son or the second. Can we clearly distinguish first son or second? Egyptian or Israelite? No. The binaries are blurred. (For more explanation, see the links above.)
Torah Study Date
Saturday, May 21, 2022
Bereishit (Genesis) 40:6-19
Saturday, May 27, 2022
Starting at Genesis 40:20
Last week, we discussed Joseph seeing that the drink-steward and baker were upset and the range of meanings for tzoafim (upset, distraught, sad, dispirited, sullen, angry, enraged) and Joseph asking them why they were upset, or more literally why their faces were bad today (and the interesting phenomenon of emotions described through reference to bodily parts such as the face). We discussed the two of them responding that they each had had a dream and that no one could tell them the meaning of it (indicating that they were not simply angry at being in prison but at something new on that day) and Joseph responding that don’t meanings come from God and exhorting them to tell him the dream. We discussed what Joseph meant to convey by ‘meanings come from God’ (that they come from our specific God so that Joseph who follows that God will be the best interpreter? or simply that dreams are divine and thus interpretable?).
We discussed the chief drink-steward’s dream of a vine with three branches with blossoms coming up and grapes produced and noted the compressed temporality in that process (branches that right away produce blossoms and grapes) and the steward pressing grapes into Pharaoh’s cup and setting the cup on Pharaoh’s hand (also suggesting compression, in this case, of the grape juice- or wine-producing process). We noted that the dream had the positive quality of fruitfulness and productivity more generally. We discussed Joseph’s interpretation of the dream that the three branches stand for the three days after which Pharaoh will lift the steward’s head up (alternately, will pardon him) and he will return to his post at which he puts cups in Pharaoh’s hand and that this interpretation captures the positive quality of the dream. We discussed Joseph asking the wine-steward to remember and be kind to Joseph when the steward’s fortunes were better given that, Joseph says, he was stolen from the Hebrews though he did not do anything wrong (and hence should be freed from the prison).
We discussed the chief of the bakers asking Joseph to interpret his dream, too, when he saw that Joseph had conveyed to the steward a good meaning and discussed the baker’s dream that there were three baskets of white bread on his head with the highest containing some of all of Pharaoh’s foods and baked goods and that birds were eating them from the basket on his head. We discussed the similarities in this dream since it has three of something and reference to food and the Pharaoh as well as the differences since there is the opposite of fruitfulness and productivity because the birds come and are destructive of the bread by eating it. We discussed Joseph’s interpretation that the three baskets stand for the three days in which Pharaoh would lift up the baker’s head (where the idiom this time does not have the positive meaning of to pardon as it did for the wine-steward but the negative meaning of lifting the head off) by hanging him on a tree where the birds would eat off his flesh. We discussed how the baker must have reacted given that the beginning of the interpretation sounds the same as the positive interpretation of the previous dream but then the overall and final interpretation in fact is very negative.
We discussed some elements of how to think about dreams in ancient Egypt including that if dreams are repeated they are thought to be more believable (for example, having two dreams of the same kind such as those of the baker and wine-steward), that one of the literary aspects of Torah in general and these passages, in particular, is repetition with variation (which works especially well in oral cultures or when written texts are read aloud), that Joseph seems to be maturing as evidenced by his ability to interpret dreams when in the past he may not have seen the import of his own dreams. We also discussed along the way R. Sara’s notion of the liberal Jewish abdication of ideas like “observant Jew” or “Kashrut” given that liberal Jews do observe and do keep kosher though not always in the way that orthodox Jews do and also discussed different orientations to knowing Hebrew in different parts of and periods of Jewish life.
Our artwork this week is by German-Israeli Jewish farmer and painter, Michael Falk, Joseph and Pharaoh’s Dreams (above), and Joseph and His Brothers (below). Falk raised sheep and grew avocados at Sde Warburg in Israel while doing art on the side. In his early sixties, he began devoting himself entirely to art. His artwork is called naive art and his subjects include his childhood experiences in Germany as well as stories from Torah.
Torah Study Date
Saturday, May 14, 2022
Bereishit (Genesis) 39:19-40:5
Saturday, May 21, 2022
Starting at Genesis 36:6
Last week we discussed Joseph’s lord getting angry when his wife said Joseph had assaulted her but that the text does not say at whom or what the anger was directed (was he angry with Joseph? was he angry at his wife? some evidence of the latter is that he imprisoned Joseph rather than having him killed), that Joseph was put in the prison (but was it the king’s prison or simply the prison in which the king’s prisoners were kept?) and that YHVH was still with Joseph in prison, extended kindness to him and gave him favor in the eyes of the prison warden (similar to YHVH being with him in Potiphar’s house), that the warden put all the prisoners in Joseph’s hand, that Joseph was in charge of all the things done in the prison and that the warden did not see anything of what went on because YHVH was with Joseph and made everything he did successful (just as Potiphar did not see what was going on in his house because he turned everything over to Joseph due to YHVH being with him).
After these things, the drink-steward and the baker of the king of Egypt sinned against him (we wondered what they did) and Pharaoh got angry at the chief of the drink-stewards and the chief of the bakers and put them in prison (were the drink-steward/baker the same as the chief of the drink-stewards/chief of the bakers? or does the text imply that the chiefs were put in prison because those under them had sinned?) where they were under watch for days. We noted that each of the two had his own dream with its own meaning.
Along the way, we discussed the fact that we are in Egypt but very little has been said as background about Egypt indicating that the readers were aware of and familiar with Egypt so that it did not have to be explained. Another topic we have discussed recently is the midrash on Joseph, and that the Qur’an’s discussion of Joseph is similar indicating to some, at least, that there was an influence. We also discussed the fact that dream interpretation was common and important in ancient Egypt and that there are two extant ancient Egyptian manuals for dream interpretation that include lists of good dreams and bad dreams and the proper interpretation of them.
Our artwork this week is from U.S. Jewish artist, David Wander’s series of lithographs, Joseph and the Coat, The Cupbearer and Baker’s Dream (above), and Pharaoh’s Dream about Cows (below). Wander has illustrated all of the megillot, the book of Jonah, and various biblical scenes as well as produced The Haggadah in Memory of the Shoah. He works in a variety of media including watercolor, oil, acrylic, pastel, and woodworking.
Torah Study Date
Saturday, May 7, 2022
Bereishit (Genesis) 39:7-39:18
Saturday, May 14, 2022
Starting at Genesis 39:19
Last week we discussed Potiphar’s wife telling Joseph to lie with her, that the text describes her as his (Joseph’s) master’s wife perhaps indicating the power relation that would make it inadvisable for him to lie with her, and that “lie with” indicates having sex with, that some medieval commentators try to see something other than a sexual connotation. We discussed Joseph’s refusal and the long set of reasons he gives for it—that “my lord” doesn’t know what he has in the house but has put everything in Joseph’s hand, that no one is bigger than Joseph in the house, that he hasn’t held back anything but her because she is his wife, that it would be a great evil and a sin against God—that it indicates two masters he would be acting against, Potiphar and God, and that he is considered a tzaddik by the rabbis for resisting.
We discussed whether Joseph’s list of reasons was a sign that he hesitated and noted the shalshelet trope mark on “he refused,” a trope mark that indicates hesitation that occurs three times in Genesis, when Lot lingers before leaving Sodom (lingers or hesitates), when Eliezer says the one who will give water for the camels is a suitable wife for Isaac (which midrash says indicated he wanted his own daughter to be Isaac’s wife), and here (indicating that Joseph had some hesitation about resisting Potiphar’s wife). We discussed the fact that she might be hard to resist so that hesitation would be understandable and that his long list of reasons might either simply be his reasons or might be a sign that he hesitated (since it is reasons and not feelings) or might be an indication of his skilled rhetoric (since he says no without shaming Potiphar’s wife or making her feel unattractive but only refers to power reasons for his refusal). We noted that Potiphar’s wife spoke to her day after day trying, but not succeeding, to get him to lie with her and to be with her but that Joseph did not listen to her.
We discussed the day that no one was in the house but Joseph and Potiphar’s wife and she once again exhorted him to lie with her, this time while grasping his garment at which point Joseph left the garment in her hand and went outside fleeing and she called the people of the house and accused him of attempting to lie with her. To the people, she says Potiphar brought “us” a Hebrew man to toy with us, trying to get them on her side by describing Joseph as a foreigner. To Potiphar, she refers to Joseph not just as a Hebrew but as a Hebrew slave in order to downgrade him in Potiphar’s eyes. We discussed a lot more, as usual, but this was the gist of it.
Our artwork this week is more examples from Shoshannah Brombacher’s series of drawings, Joseph: A Pictorial, Joseph Interprets the Dream of the Baker (above), and Joseph’s Dreams (below). Brombacher (1959- ) is an Amsterdam Jewish artist, writer, and maggidah (storyteller) living in New York. She is one of a growing number of Orthodox Jewish artists in the US.