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    Shabbat Chalom – Mikketz

    December 22nd, 2019

    The greeting on Saturdays is Shabbat Shalom – a Sabbath of Peace, a peaceful Shabbat, a restful Shabbat.

    Shalom rhymes with Chalom, a dream. At this time of year there are many chalomot, many dreams, in the Torah readings. Israelites in the Bible have dreams, gentiles have dreams.

    There is a temptation which I can rarely resist to link Shalom and Chalom and to hope that one day we will all enjoy a Shabbat Chalom, a Sabbath when all our dreams come true.

    There are the Pharaoh-like dreams which focus on material prosperity. There are the Joseph-like dreams which focus on status and leadership.

    But the best dreams are the Jacob dreams which are about ladders reaching from earth to heaven, dreams that earth-bound human beings will see visions of heaven-bent thoughts and ideas.

    My Shabbat Chalom dream is of a world in which man will gaze up to God for inspiration and bring down upon earth the heavenly blessings of harmony and tolerance.


    What is an “Avrech”? – Mikketz

    December 22nd, 2019

    One of the great features of Jewish life is the proliferation of yeshivot.

    The Hebrew word for a senior yeshivah student is avrech, which comes in today’s sidra when Joseph becomes a leading figure in Egypt and when people see him they are told, avrech, “bow down!” (Gen. 41:43).

    The sages say (see Rashi) that avrech can be two words, av – a father – and rach – young.

    An avrech is someone who is old in wisdom but young in years.

    Please God the number of such people will grow and develop.


    Why is the name Egyptian? – Mikketz

    December 22nd, 2019

    Joseph, by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1874

    After Joseph receives a high appointment in Egypt the king gives him a new name, Tzaf’nat Pa’ane’ach (Gen. 41:45).

    Targum Onkelos translates it, “The man to whom hidden things are revealed”. This is also how Rashi understands it. The idea is that when Pharoah had weird dreams, it was Joseph who was able to work out their inner meaning.

    The name is probably Egyptian even though it comes in the Hebrew Chumash. The commentators try to explain what the name means but find the task daunting. Radak asks, “Why ever would Pharaoh choose to give Joseph a Hebrew name?”

    It is possible, however, that because Egypt had many visitors from other countries, Pharoah knew a few Hebrew words. One was tzafon (“north”) because the north was far away and its culture was strange, i.e. hidden.

    If Joseph got a name that included a reference to hidden things, the first part of the name logically meant to uncover or reveal.

    Rashi says that this part of the name is not found elsewhere in the Tanach.


    Wanting to forget – Vayyeshev

    December 15th, 2019

    The very last word in the sidra is vayishkachehu, “and he forgot him”.

    Joseph was in prison. One of the king’s servants owed him a favour and promised to speak up for him to the king.

    But he forgot.

    What pathos lies in those three English words.

    How many times do we trust in others, relying on their word, certain they will carry out what they promised, and then – after waiting and waiting – bitterly conclude that they have (perhaps conveniently) forgotten all about it.

    The Biblical rule is quite clear: “It is better not to vow than to vow and not fulfil.”

    There is always a danger that we may not carry out what we, perhaps quite sincerely, mean to do, say or arrange; that is why we need an annual Kol Nidre.

    Pious people therefore say b’li neder, “My good intention is not a vow”. But even that is not good enough.

    One should be extremely wary about promising things at all, because the let-down you cause when you fail to fulfil your word can be devastating.


    The pull back & return – Vayyeshev

    December 15th, 2019

    Joseph fleeing Potiphar’s wife, by Philipp Veit c.1816

    Many Biblical people have nicknames. Abraham is the Father; Moses is the Teacher; Elijah is the Prophet.

    Joseph, who is central to this week’s reading, is called Yosef HaTzaddik, Joseph the Righteous One.

    At first sight it seems strange. How could Joseph be a tzaddik when he was almost guilty of a grave sin with Potiphar’s wife?

    True, he refrained at the last minute from sinning with her because, according to the sages, he saw a vision of his father Jacob and knew that succumbing to temptation would be completely wrong and an insult to his father’s memory.

    The Maharal of Prague says that a tzaddik is a person who has sinned (or almost so) but has truly repented. The tzaddik is a person who has risen above his wrongdoing.

    The pull back and return from wrongdoing made Joseph a great man and maybe that’s why when the Israelites eventually left Egypt it was Joseph’s bones that they took with them (Ex. 13:19).