Mikeitz: A Path to Follow

A man should await the fulfillment of a good dream for as much as twenty-two years. Whence do we know this? From Joseph. For it is written: These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph being seventeen years old, etc., [Daniel 2], and it is further written, And Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh [Genesis 41:46]. How many years is it from seventeen to thirty? Thirteen. Add the seven years of plenty and two of famine [after which Joseph saw his brothers], and you have twenty-two….

R. Huna b. Ammi said in the name of R. Pedath who had it from R. Jochanan: If one has a dream which makes him sad he should go and have it interpreted in the presence of three. He should have it interpreted! Has not R. Hisda said: A dream which is not interpreted is like a letter which is not read? Say rather then, he should have a good turn given to in the presence of three. Let him bring three and say to them: I have seen a good dream; and they should say to him, Good it is and good may it be. May the All-Merciful turn it to good; seven times may it be decreed from heave that it should be good and it may be good. They should say three verses…

This text — from Babylonian Talmud, Berakoth 55b — goes on to specify verses to be recited in this circumstance: three including the word “turn,” three including the word “redeem” and three including the word “peace.” This discussion of good and bad dreams, and how to handle them, is quite extensive.

To follow a path on dreams and their interpretations in Judaism, here are a few sources:Continue Reading

Mikeitz: Something to Notice

BERURIAH THE SCHOLAR EXPLAINS: The story of Joseph is the most elaborate in the Torah, spanning four parshiyot, more than the stories of any of the patriarchs and matriarchs. And yet women are virtually absent from the tale. This is a tale of brothers, of patriarchy, of male power relations….

MIRIAM THE PROPHET PROCLAIMS: Like the ancient Rabbis, we need to imagine lives for the many women who must have been involved in this drama: the brothers’ wives, left behind to fend for themselves while their husbands go down to Egypt; the many maidservants who prepare for the journeys, tend Pharaoh’s court, weave and cook, nurse and wipe bottoms, sing lullabies and keen at funerals. Indeed, a whole world of women contributes, albeit behind the scenes, to this drama. We owe it to them to serve as archaeologists and imaginers of their lives.Continue Reading

Vayeishev: A Path to Follow

Chapter 38 of Genesis/Breishit — the story of Judah and his daughter-in-law Tamar — is sometimes ignored in the story of Joseph or considered an interruption that, at best, heightens the tension of the “main” story line. But there are important parallels thematically:

The other function of this story seems to be to carry out the major theme of Genesis as we have presented it: continuity and discontinuity between the generations. What is at stake here is not merely the line of one of the brothers, but the line which (as the biblical audience must have been fully aware) will lead to royalty — King David was a descendant of Peretz of v.29. This should not be surprising in a book of origins…

The narrator has woven Chaps. 38 and 37 together with great skill. Again a man is asked to “recognize” objects, again the use of a kid, and again a brother (this time a dead one) is betrayed.
— Fox*

Compare verses 38:24-26 — in which Tamar sends Judah’s pledge to him and asks him to “recognize, please” [ha-ker na] the items — with the brothers asking Jacob to “recognize, please” [ha-ker na] Joseph’s torn and bloodied tunic. (37:31-34).

Also consider links of this story with others relating to ancestors of King David and the messianic line — see, particularly, Lot’s daughters (Genesis/Breishit 19:30-37) and the Book of Ruth.

It is interesting to explore the role of women in these stories. One resource for the Tamar story is “The Harlot as Heroine” by Phyllis Bird in Women in the Hebrew Bible.* This same volume, edited by Alice Bach, offers other essays on women and sexual politics in the bible, including several on the Book of Ruth. (See also notes here on Va-yera and Balak.)

* Please see Source Materials for full citations and more notes.

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.

Vayeishev: Great Source(s)

The birth of Perez and Zerah recalls the birth of Esau and Jacob. The two sets of twins form a chiasmus. The “red hairy mantel” which distinguishes Esau, the oldest, becomes the red thread around the youngest’s wrist. By wearing Esau’s attire, Jacob makes Esau’s distinguishing marking — namely, is “red hairy mantle” — his own. Isaac’s blessing assures Jacob’s superiority over his brother, and the garment becomes the signifier of Jacob’s prominence. Similarly, when Jacob gives Joseph a long robe with sleeves, it symbolizes Joseph’s superiority; and, when the bloodied robe is returned to Jacob, it signals Joseph’s elimination from the line of succession….For Michael Fishbane,* the power of the Jacob cycle is that “it personalizes the tensions and dialects which are also crystallized on a national level at later points: the struggle for blessing; the threat of discontinuity; the conflicts between and within generations; and the wrestling for birth, name and identity.” In the Jacob cycle, garments form the subtext which upholds these concerns. From Jacob to Joseph to Judah to Zerah, the red thread establishes an order of filiation, a metaphorical umbilical cord that relates directly, without he mediation of women, father to son to grandson.Continue Reading

Vayeishev: Something to Notice

Reuben returned to the pit — and behold! — Joseph was not in the pit [ein-yosef ba-bor]! So he rent his garments. Returning to his brothers , he said, “The boy is gone! [ha-yeled einenu] And I — where can I go [va-ani ana ani-ba]?”– Breishit/Genesis 37:28 (Stone translation*)

Alter* notes: “The Hebrew says literally, ‘the boy is not.’ The phrase could be a euphemism for death or could merely indicate disappearance. It is a crucial ambiguity the brothers themselves will exploit much later in the story.”

Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg bases a fascinating and useful commentary on parashat vayeishev, in part, on this phrase. (Beginning of Desire*) She also discusses this verse in “The Pit and the Rope” chapter of The Murmuring Deep.*

In this context, also recall what occurs on the wedding night of Jacob and Rachel, who eventually becomes Joseph’s mother:

Jacob said to Laban, “Deliver my wife for my term is fulfilled, and I will consort with her.” So Laban gathered all the people of the place and made a feast….And it was, in the morning, that behold it was Leah! — Breishit/Genesis 29:21-25

*For complete citations and more details, please 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.