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    I am your brother – Vayyiggash

    December 17th, 2017

    Joseph & his brothers, by Gustave Dore

    In Gen. 45:3, Joseph, the viceroy of Egypt, finally reveals himself to his brothers and says, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?”

    The question about his father is strange. Judah had already told him, “We have an elderly father” (Gen. 44:20).

    Possibly Joseph’s question is intended as a rebuke to his brothers: “Now you talk about your father’s feelings and show concern that an aged parent will grieve if Benjamin doesn’t come home. What about the time when you sold me as a slave to Egypt and didn’t seem to care whether it would cause our father anguish?”

    Joseph doesn’t need to be told that Jacob is still alive. What he does want, rather diplomatically, is to understand how they could suddenly be so concerned about Jacob when they must have seen years of sorrow on his face.


    Why was Jacob afraid? – Vayyiggash

    December 17th, 2017

    Joseph & Jacob reunite, by Charles Foster

    Jacob was scared to leave home and move to Egypt. God told him, “Don’t be afraid”.

    How could he be afraid when he was going to a land where his son was a powerful official and the family would have plenty to eat?

    The patriarch was afraid because he could hardly believe his good fortune. When he eventually told Pharaoh that he had had a hard life he was not making it up but telling the truth. Now it was like Psalm 126, Shir HaMa’alot, and the dream was coming true.

    But dreaming isn’t the only translation of hayinu k’chol’mim in Psalm 126. The root chet-lamed-mem can also mean to heal or recover, and in that sense the future would be a time of calm and recuperation after all the years of turbulence.

    Hence God’s words were not only “Don’t be afraid” but also “I will be with you”… “Hold My hand and I will be with you in your joy”.


    Great as Jews – Vayyiggash

    December 17th, 2017

    Joseph, by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1874

    We are used to great Jews playing a seminal role in the development of the nations of the world. The tradition began with this week’s Torah portion.

    BS Jacobson points out in his Binah BaMikra, Joseph – Minister for Food Supply in Pharaonic Egypt – was “the first in the long series of Jewish men who have rendered outstanding service to foreign governments and peoples in the lands of the Diaspora.

    “From him down to our contemporaries, they have given of the best of their greatness loyally and unreservedly.”

    The people concerned would echo this judgment, except for some reservations about the term “foreign governments”. They would argue that their public-spirited service was not to a “foreign” government at all but to a nation with which they identified and embraced.

    Such countries were immensely enriched because of the talents, energies and devotion of leaders who were great Jews at the same time.

    At a fascinating period in Australian history when a whole sheaf of notable offices was held by Jews I took the liberty on a public occasion to point out that almost every one of the Jewish figures concerned were not only great Jews but identifying Jews.

    To Rav Kook, the dream was that “those who are great amongst the Jews will be great as Jews”, and in so many cases his words have proved prophetic.

    In my own experience, the parliamentary and other speeches given by great Jews often specifically acknowledged and cited Jewish sources; how I know is that so often it was I who was asked for an apt quotation from the Chumash, from Pir’kei Avot or from some other source.

    I am also aware that even in formulating their political and economic platforms, Jewish ideas, whether or not stated as such, played a role.

    All this is in the best tradition of Joseph. Long may it continue.


    Lights inside and out

    December 10th, 2017

    The Lubavitcher Rebbe said that the Chanukah lights fulfil a double purpose.

    They are a source of light within the house, and they also symbolise the duty of bringing light to the world outside.

    This is suggested by midrashic sources which speak of the Jewish people as the world’s shammash, its “servant light”.

    The Midrash itself is based on the teachings of the prophet Isaiah, who says God has appointed us as “a light unto the nations”.

    The world needs the light of morality, ethics and truth to be brought to its dark corners, part of the messianic process that hopefully will lead the whole of mankind to redemption and fulfilment.

    It’s hard to be the world’s shammash, not only because of the weight of responsibility but because inevitably it brings criticism and accusations of national egotism.

    Other cultures and groups do not like our claim to be the world’s moral teacher, but there is not too much evidence that they have done the job better themselves.


    Hallel on Chanukah

    December 10th, 2017

    Chassidism explains why Hallel is said on Chanukah and not on Purim.

    It says that on Purim the body of the Jew was saved, whilst on Chanukah it was his soul.

    The freedom of religion which Chanukah symbolises is summarised in a poem by Dryden that says, “Of all the tyrannies of human kind, the worst is that which persecutes the mind”.