Yitro: A Path to Follow

This portion begins with one of the three clear mentions of Zipporah, daughter of Yitro (Jethro), wife of Moses, mother of Gershom and Eliezer, and sister to six unnamed women mentioned in Exodus/Shemot 2:16. The other two clear references to Zipporah occur in the portion Shemot (chapter two, as noted above, and 4:24-26); Moses’ “cushite wife,” who may or may not be Zipporah, is mentioned in Numbers/Bamidbar 12, at the end of the portion Behaalotekha.

See Drawing Back: Zipporah’s View for a midrash incorporating the Shemot/Exodus references to Zipporah and family. There are other pieces about Zipporah in All the Women Followed Her,* where this midrash was originally published.

See also Yitro, For Something Completely Different

*See Source Materials for full citation and more references.

———————
The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.

Beshalach: A Path to Follow

In a recent dvar Torah, Mimi Feigelson discusses what she calls “bracketed reading,” a technique focusing on first and last words of a passage under consideration, and applies it to the books of the Torah:

There is an extreme form of this method that I’ve developed and that is to look at the last words of a corpus of writing and ask, ‘Why has the author left us here / lead us to here?’ If you do this with exercise when looking at the five chumashim you will find that God leaves us exactly where we need to be at that moment:

The last two words of Breishit/Genesis are “ba’aron b’Mitzrayim/in a coffin in Egypt.” The entire book of B’reishit, from creation through the establishment of the household of our patriarchs and matriarchs is to lead us to the most constricted, limited, confined place – a coffin in Egypt.

The last two words of Sh’mot/Exodus is “b’chol mas’e’hem /on all of their journeys.” The book of Sh’mot constitutes our journey out of Mitzrayim and toward establishing our identity as we journey through the dessert.

The book of Vayikra/Leviticus ends with “b’har Sinai/at Mount Sinai.” The book of Vayikra teaches us the content of our covenant with God, what standing at Mount Sinai really meant.

The book of Bamidbar/Numbers concludes with “Yarden Yericho / Jordan Jericho” – this book brings us to the border of the Land of Israel. We are not there yet, but we have almost made it, we can see it from afar.

And the last book in the chumash brings us to “kol Yisrael/all of Israel” – it is here that we have all come together, finally united.

One path to follow in reading Beshalach is to consider the last words of the portion (Shemot/Exodus 17:16) — midor dor [generation to generation] — to see where they have left us and where they lead. The final words, alone, might be interpreted in one light, in terms of this portion and its connection to the Passover seder. Another path is suggested by considering the entire verse or paragraph (about eternal war with Amalek).

Reb Mimi’s dvar Torah, “To be a Temporary Resident of Mitzrayim,” was written for parashat Bo (last week’s portion). (Here’s the original posting, through the WayBack Machine.) The remainder centers around a teaching of R. Mordechai Joseph Leiner, the Ishbitzer Rebbe, who is also known by the title of his Torah commentary, Mei HaShiloach [Living Waters] (see Commentators page for more information). Avivah Zornberg often quotes the Ishbitzer Rebbe, and noticing those citations presents another path to follow. The original dvar torah can be found

Finally, I learned with Reb Mimi when she was offering a course on Mei HaShiloach and other Hasidic teachers at Drisha Institute. I recommend both teacher and institute — additional “paths” to follow, should the opportunity arise.

More on Reb Mimi at Schechter in Jerusalem and at Jewish Women’s Archives

——————
The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.

Bo: Something to Notice

There are many things of import to notice in this portion: this is the 15th portion in the Torah but the first to focus on commandments; the first of many commandments in this portion centers around time-keeping (the new month); three of the “four children” at the seder appear; etc. So, it’s easy to overlook minor but fruitful points of interest.

The LORD disposed the Egyptians favorably toward the people. Moreover, Moses himself [ha-ish moshe] was much esteemed in the land of Egypt, among Pharaoh’s courtiers and among the people. — Exodus/Shemot 11:3

Now Moses [ha-ish moshe] was a very humble man, more so than any other man on earth. — Numbers/Bamidbar 12:3 (JPS)

Plaut’s commentary* notes that these are the “two personal assessments of Moses in the Torah” and that “both times the expression is used [ha-ish moshe], literally, ‘the man Moses.'”

What does it mean that, of all the virtues that might be ascribed to the central character of four of the five books of the Torah, “humility” is the only one explicitly applied to Moses? Why is Moses described is “much esteemed” by others — but presumably not himself?
Continue Reading

Vayechi: Language and Translation

Genesis/Breishit 50:24:

Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will surely remember [pakod yifkod] you and bring you up out of this land to the land that He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” — Stone* translation

Joseph then said to his kin, “I am dying, but God will surely take care of you [pakod yifkod] and bring you up out of this land to the land that [God] promised to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” — JPS/Stein* translation

Yosef said to his brothers:
I am dying,
but God will take account, yes, account of you, [pakod yifkod]
he will bring you up from this land
to the land about which he swore
to Avraham, to Yitzhak, and to Yaakov. — Fox* translation

And Joseph said to his brothers “I am about to die, and God will surely single you out [pakod yifkod] and take you up from this land to the land He promised to Isaac and to Jacob.” [Abraham inexplicably missing here]
— Alter* translationContinue Reading

Mikeitz: Great Source(s)

In one of her essays on the portion Mikeitz, “Then Let Me Bear the Blame For Ever,” Nehama Leibowitz* focuses in on Judah’s words to Jacob, as he prepares to bring Benjamin to Egypt (Genesis/Breishit 43:9):

“If I bring him not unto thee… then let me bear the blame forever.”

The Italian Jewish commentator Elijah Benamozegh (1822-1900), Leibowitz says, “derives a profoundly significant message” from this turn of phrase:

This figure of speech contains a valuable lesson, teaching us something not otherwise explicitly alluded to, in the Torah: that there is no punishment outside of the sin. Sin itself is its own punishment in the Divine scheme of judgement and serves the purpose of reward and punishment. This is the meaning of: “Then shall I bear the blame to my father forever” (44, 32) — (Em Lamikra)

Em Lamikra, “Matrix of Sculpture,” is Benamozegh‘s mid-19th Century commentary on the Torah. (There is also an article about Benamozegh in the Jewish Encyclopedia.)

*For more on Leibowitz, see Source Materials.

The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.

Toldot: Great Source(s)

Finally, it should be mentioned that the Yaakov stories are notable in the manner in which they portray the two levels of biblical reality: divine and human. Throughout the stories human beings act according to normal (though often strong) emotions, which God then uses to carry out his master plan. In this cycle one comes to feel the interpretive force of the biblical mind at work, understanding human events in the context of what God wills. It is a fascinating play between the ideas of fate and free will, destiny and choice — a paradox which nevertheless lies at the heart of the biblical conceptions of God and humankind.Continue Reading

Lekh Lekha: A Path to Follow

The Torah does not provide a lot of background for Abraham and Sarah. Before following the couple when they “go forth,” however, it can be instructive to consider what is available in the text and midrash regarding their extended family and their ancestors. Here’s a family tree with links to Wiki entries for many family members. Some are extensive and well-sourced; a few, including the page for Terah, are not.
Continue Reading