Parsha Miketz: Surviving a Famine

Parsha Miketz: Surviving a Famine

Pharaoh, in his detailed description of his dream, tells Joseph,

“I saw also in my dream, and behold, seven ears, full and good, came up on a single stalk; and lo, seven ears, withered, thin and scorched by the east wind, sprouted up after them; and the thin ears swallowed up the seven good ears…” (Gen.41:22-24)

What’s peculiar about Pharaoh’s dreams is the fact that, both with the seven cows in the first dream, and then with the seven ears in the second, that which is rich and healthy is swallowed up by that which comes after. There is nothing left.

This is reminiscent of debt servicing. It can be extremely discouraging to find oneself in a position in which throwing a huge amount of money at a debt makes a nearly imperceptible dent in the overall principle. In extreme cases, the debt increases so rapidly that income cannot keep up with the interest. In such situations, bankruptcy is around the corner.

In the case of famine, when hunger exceeds the ability of the food source to meet the need, starvation and death are imminent.

The strategy of Joseph deals effectively with the problem that this dream presents. What can we learn from this story that speaks to our own faith journey? Continue reading

Parsha Vayeshev:  A Brother Scorned

Parsha Vayeshev: A Brother Scorned

The parallels between Joseph and Yeshua Messiah are impossible to ignore, yet often the subtlety is missed. At once, the theological implications are clearly evident. and yet at the end, what we really have before us is a story of a relationship between a father and his son, and a brother with his brothers. It is heart-wrenching and at the same time almost inevitable in its tragedy.

Near the beginning of the parsha, the drama is staged:

“Joseph, when seventeen years of age, was pasturing the flock with his brothers while he was still a youth, along with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought back a bad report about them to their father.” (Gen.37:2)

Why is it necessary to mention that Joseph was “still a youth”, when we already know that he is “seventeen years of age”? Further, who is he giving a bad report about to his father, the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah or the other brothers, or all of them together?

Rashi explains to us that the reason for the added comment about being “still a youth” is based upon the idea that he acted like one. Meaning, he did not display mature behavior. So the text is hinting fairly deliberately at a factor that certainly increased tensions between the older brothers and the younger sibling. How was he immature? It’s important to understand this from the vantage point of the older brothers, and not from ours. To them, he showed up when he wasn’t supposed to, and opened his mouth when they felt he should be silent.

We also learn from the sages that Joseph frequently “hung out” with the sons of the “secondary wives”. He did this because he felt more at home with them, apparently. (Midrash Tanchuma 7)

According to the midrashim, Joseph’s  bad report was of the older brothers, the sons of Leah. It seems that there was a sort of pecking order among the family, with the sons of Leah holding privilege and greater status than the sons of the handmaidens. Fair? Hardly. Inevitable? Probably. Continue reading

Parsha Vayishlach: Who’s In the Kitchen with Dinah?

Parsha Vayishlach: Who’s In the Kitchen with Dinah?

“They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah from Shechem’s house, and went forth.” (Gen.34:26)

A tragic story of abuse, misplaced affection and revenge explodes onto the scene before us in this portion of scripture.

Dinah, the only named and chronicled daughter of Jacob in the Torah, “went forth” to see “the daughters of the land” (Gen.34:1). Was she looking for trouble? Did she invite the unwarranted advance of Shechem, through her alluring and seductive behavior?

Hardly, according to the sages. Rashi compares Dinah to her mother Leah in this respect, suggesting that her “going out” was of noble intent, with the intended purpose of friendly relations; to make a positive, peaceful connection with others. He refers to her as an “outgoer”. In today’s vernacular, we would call her “social”, and “outgoing”. We would even say she was “self-confident”.

The results of her journey to “see the daughters of the land” were not what she expected. She catches the eye of a young, local prince, who forces her to lay with him.

What follows is a drama of nearly mythical proportions. Hamor makes (what would appear to be) a respectful, sincere plea for Dinah’s hand in marriage to his son, claiming that Shechem truly loves the girl and wishes to marry her, and in like manner suggests a union of his people with Jacob and the rest of his clan.

Sure, the circumstances of the relationship between Dinah and Shechem may not be ideal, he implies, but after all, all is fair in love and war, and if can all come to some mutual agreement, everyone wins. You (Jacob’s family) will have access to their women, and they (Hamor’s clan) will have access to Jacob’s wealth. The question at this point, the text seems to suggest (at least from Hamor’s perspective) is the consent of Dinah and her family.

But the sages don’t view Hamor’s proposition favorably. According to them, she was both lied to, and forced physically to consent, and then mentally/emotionally tortured by Shechem. Far from viewing the young man as being an over-zealous suitor, he is viewed the same way that Levi and Simeon view him: as a violator.

What Shechem did, regardless of his feelings for Dinah, was rape. It was abuse.

There are two streams of thought that I will explore here, in regards to this.

First, the concept of Dinah’s dignity and reputation are a chief focus of the passage. The brothers are as incensed at the violation of family honor, as they are about the feelings of Dinah. What if Dinah really did have an emotional attachment to the young man? Would that be relevant? The answer is no. In the role of advocate and protector, her brothers wanted justice against a man who violated and defiled their sister.

Did Simeon and Levi have the right to take this revenge? The Torah suggests a strong no, they didn’t. At the end of Jacob’s life, when he is giving his prophetic blessings over his sons, he does not recount this event favorably:

“Simeon and Levi are brothers; their swords are implements of violence. Let my soul not enter into their council; let not my glory be united with my assembly; because in their anger they slew men…” (Gen.49:5-6)

However, make no mistake, what Shechem did was rape and abuse. Continue reading