Gathering Sources: Vayechi

Some thoughts and resources for exploring the Torah portion Vayechi — also spelled Vaychi and Vayhi — Genesis 47:28 – 50:26, the final reading in the book of Genesis. This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2010 series called “Opening the Book.”

A Path to Follow: Vows, Oaths, and Testament
Language and Translation: Pakod Yifkod
Something to Notice: Blessings and harsh words

See also: Flour and Torah
Leaving Genesis: Departing Women
Getting Exodus Right
Amichai, Zelda, and the Pit

Vayechi is next read in the Diaspora, minchah Jan 4 through Shabbat Jan 11.

blue and brown egyptian coffin

“And they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt” –Gen 50:26.  Egyptian coffin photo by Miguel u00c1. Padriu00f1u00e1n on Pexels.com

 

 

Gathering Sources: Vayigash

Some thoughts and resources for exploring the Torah portion Vayigash, Gen 44:18 – 47:27. This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2009-10 series called “Opening the Book.”

A Path to Follow: Serah, daughter of Asher

Something to Notice: Dinah

Great Source(s): Joseph in Medieval poetry

Language and Translation: Souls in Suspense

Vayigash is next read in the Diaspora, minchah Dec 28 through Shabbat Jan 4.

Image is in public domain, from Owen Jones’ Old Book Art, details.

Gathering Sources: Mikeitz

Some thoughts and resources for exploring the Torah portion Mikeitz (sometimes spelled Miketz), Gen 41:1-44:17. Mikeitz is next read in the Diaspora minchah 12/21 through Shabbat 12/28.

This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2009-10 series called “Opening the Book.”

Great Source(s)): the blame forever

Language and Translation: forgetting and fruitfulness

A Path to Follow: dreams in the Talmud and later

Something to Notice: women and the Joseph story

See Also

Leaving Genesis: Departing Women

Chanukah and the Five Powers

The Pits and the Lights

Gathering Sources: Vayeishev

Some thoughts and resources for exploring the Torah portion Vayeishev — also spelled Vayeshev or Vayesheb — Gen 37:1 – 40:23. Vayeishev is next read in the Diaspora minchah 12/14 through Shabbat 12/21.

This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2009-2010 series called “Opening the Book.”

A Path to Follow: Tamar/Judah and Joseph

Language and Translation: Lie with Me

Great Source(s): Two sets of twins

Something to Notice: Was and Was Not

See also:
Power, Language and Settling: Questions from Joseph’s Story

Dick Gregory and Rabbis Under Rome

Gathering Sources: Vayishlach

Some thoughts and resources for exploring the Torah portion Vayishlach (sometimes “Vayishlah”), Genesis 32:4-36:43. This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2009-10 series called “Opening the Book.” Vayishlach is next read in the Diaspora minchah December 7 through Shabbat December 14.

Something to Notice: God-Wrestling and Fabrangen

A Path to Follow: Jacob and Yisrael

Language and Translation: What Dinah and Hamor Experienced

Great Source(s): The Biography of Ancient Israel

See also:
Leaving Genesis: Departing Women

The Babylon Road. The biblical Rachel’s life and death link her to the Babylon of the past and future and to the precarious nature of Israel’s future on the land.

Babylon and Rachel’s Offering. This midrash offers lessons for people struggling to function with integrity and flexibility in a diverse, often contradictory, world.

Ishmael, Isaac, and a Reunion of Cousins

2

What can the story of Ishmael and Isaac, especially its conclusion in Genesis 25:7ff, tell us “about renewing the cousinship of Blacks and Jews — and of people who live in both communities — when white nationalists are threatening both”?

The Shalom Center suggests that the Torah reading(s) for Rosh Hashanah, which highlight the endangerment and separation of Ishmael and Isaac, “cry out for turning and healing.” Toward this end, Rabbi Arthur Waskow proposes an additional reading for Yom Kippur: Gen 25:7-11, wherein the two brothers join together to bury their father and “Isaac goes to live at the wellspring that is Ishmael’s home.”

Arthur suggests that reading this tale at the end of the Days of Awe “can remind us as individuals that it is always possible for us to turn away from anger and toward reconciliation.” In addition it can remind us that the descendants of Isaac (Jewish people) and of Ishmael (Islam and Arab peoples) “need to turn toward compassion for each other.” (More on this idea at “5 Offerings for a Deep and Powerful Yom Kippur. The “cousins” paragraph, quoted above, is from a print Shalom Center communication elaborating on this Yom Kippur reading suggestion.)

Renewing Cousinship

Arthur taught at Fabrangen Havurah, probably twenty years ago, on the topic of Ishmael and Isaac jointly burying their father. Since then, I’ve thought many times about this part of the tale and its power to point us either toward reconciliation or toward less helpful paths. I don’t think I ever explored it in terms of “renewing the cousinship” of Black and Jewish communities before, however. And, because this is an on-going and strong concern for me, I plan to pursue this in some detail in the days ahead — for the high holidays and beyond. Our communities are much in need of turning and healing.

I am not yet sure if this is a continuation of last year’s #ExploringBabylon or a new direction. Either way, I hope you will join in, by subscribing if you have not already done so — follow buttons are now at the VERY BOTTOM of posts — and contributing your thoughts.

Life at the Wellspring

“Isaac goes to live at the wellspring that is Ishmael’s home.”

This is what struck me most powerfully in Arthur’s teaching this year. In year’s past, I thought in terms of interfaith understanding, of the wellspring as a fundamental source that Isaac and Ishmael share and a common link to Hagar. Viewing the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael as members of Jewish and Black communities today, however, raised new questions:

  • Beer Lahai Roi is where Ishmael settled after being expelled from the family home. So what does it mean that Isaac is now living there?
    • Is this true brotherly reunion, generally accepted by others in the neighborhood?
    • Or does this look to some like colonization of the exiled brother’s home?
    • Do the brothers fairly share a joint family heritage in the wellspring?
    • Or is Isaac somehow appropriating what had been Ishmael’s?
  •  Beer Lahai Roi is a powerful place of God-connection at times of severe travail for Hagar. So what does it mean that Isaac settled there?
    • Did separate traumas experienced by Isaac and Ishmael lead them, by divine guidance, perhaps, to a joint source of healing?
    • Or did Isaac seek out Ishmael hoping his older brother could guide him?
    • Do the brothers learn from one another?
    • Or do they, with some rare exceptions, like burying their father, retreat into their own pain?

Perhaps midrash — ancient, modern, or newly discovered — will reveal some answers. Maybe some of these questions are best left open.

Rosh Hashanah Torah Reading(s)

In Reform and some other congregations observing one day of Rosh Hashanah, the Torah reading is generally the story of the Akedah, the binding of Isaac, Genesis 22:1-24. Where two days are observed, common practice is to read the Akedah story on Day Two and the story of Hagar and Ishmael being cast out, Genesis 21:1-34, on Day One.

In midrash, Sarah dies as a result of the near sacrifice of Isaac. So, whether or not Genesis 21 is read at the holiday, these stories highlight endangerment of both sons and both mothers and a family torn apart.

Genesis 25:7ff, when the brothers bury Abraham, is read as part of the regular Torah cycle, parashat Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18) but is not part of the traditional readings for the Days of Awe.
TOP

Babylon and 929

Babylon — in fact, “The Three ‘Bavels'” — is featured this past week on the English portal for “929,” chapter-a-day study in the Hebrew Bible:

The place name, בבל, bavel can refer to: Babel, Babylon, or Babylonia. Each of these ancient “Bavels” suggests a model for the 21st century….

The rise of Bavel/Babylonia was a rejection of Ps 137: it moved Judaism itself from a circle, with the Holy Land at its center, to an ellipse, with two centers defining its orbit. And in creating a second vibrant center, Babylonian Judaism opened up the way for many more “centers” to come, throughout Jewish diasporic history.

These three models – Babel, Babylon, Babylonia – represent three numerical possibilities for sacred centers in our lives…

— “The Three ‘Bavels’: Babel, Babylon, Babylonia” full post

929 is in its second three-year cycle in Hebrew and just launched its first English cycle on July 15, with the help of Drisha Institute in New York. 929 “invites Jews everywhere to read Tanakh, one chapter a day, together with a website with creative readings and pluralistic interpretations, including audio and video, by a wide range of writers, artists, rabbis, educators, and more.” (More at The Forward.)

Follow the English site on Facebook and/or by email. If you land on a page that is all Hebrew and want English instead, look for “EN” at the top left to switch.

Teachers from many corners of the global Jewish community are participating. DC area people might notice that Dr. Erin Leib Smokler, one of the founders of DC Beit Midrash (2002-?), is a contributing author.