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    Maccabees

    November 21st, 2021

    What weird and wonderful theories people have. A Jew from Glasgow told me in all seriousness that Judah the Maccabee was a Scotsman, like Macbeth and MacDonald. A Cheder teacher even summoned up the ingenuity to link the Maccabees with the Biblical cave of Machpelah…

    The word Maccabee is not found in the Bible or Talmud; It derives from Greek and comes in the Apocrypha, where I Macc. 2:14 and II Macc. 2:19 refer to “Judah known as Maccabeus”.

    The sages are often reluctant to admit that a word has a foreign origin; they suggest that Maccabee is the initial letters of a Biblical verse (Ex. 18:11) or comes from a Hebrew root that means “to extinguish”.

    There is a theory that it is from Makevet, a hammer, because “hammer” is a metaphor for a strong leader.

    Aaron Kaminka thinks that the name is a corruption of Machbanai, who was one of David’s warriors and embodied lion-like strength, speed and valour (I Chron. 12:13).

    It is not certain that Judah called himself Maccabee; he is more likely to have been simply Yehudah ben Mattityahu. The rabbis preferred to call Judah’s group “Hasmoneans”, from the town of Chashmon (Josh. 15:27).


    Adam & the 8-day festival – Chanukah

    November 21st, 2021

    Adam had his own Chanukah at the beginning of human history.

    According to the Talmud he noticed that the days were getting shorter and darker and he thought it was his fault because he had eaten forbidden fruit, so he fasted and prayed for eight days in repentance for his sin. When he saw that the days were getting longer and brighter he rejoiced and celebrated by means of an eight-day festival.

    In later generations, heathens followed but grossly distorted Adam’s festival and turned it into a mid-winter time of idolatry and paganism.

    In later generations, the sages realised and were shocked at what the heathens were doing and ensured that the winter celebration was dedicated to God and to genuine spirituality.


    The coloured coat – Vayyeshev

    November 21st, 2021

    Jacob gives Joseph the coat, Owen Jones, 1869

    As the sidra tells us this week, Joseph wore a coat of many colours.

    However, not all commentators accept this as the correct translation of ketonet passim; Ibn Ezra thinks that passim is a matter of style, not colour, and it means “embroidered”, which tells us that people were envious of Joseph.

    In the same vein, others suggest that the word passim means that the coat had sleeves.

    It is still possible to use passim as an indication of colour, and to link specific colours with styles of ethical conduct, “green with envy, red with rage, yellow with cowardice” (Emanuel Levy).

    In a broader metaphorical sense, a person can (but should not!) be clothed in callousness, corruption and cruelty, becoming so identified with depravity that people might say, “Here comes the villain!”

    The best way is described in the Bible, which says that God is clothed in strength and majesty (Psalm 93) and an eshet chayil is clothed in dignity and elegance (Prov. 31).

    The ideal is summed up by the prayer which is recited when putting on the tallit in the morning, “May my soul merit to be clothed in a spiritual robe in the World to Come”.


    Sitting or slouching? – Vayyeshev

    November 21st, 2021

    How did people conduct themselves at the meal table in ancient times?

    Amongst other passages, Gen. 37:25 simply says they sat to eat bread. Does this mean that they sat up straight, as my generation were taught to do as children when we were rebuked if we slouched in our chairs?

    Targum Onkelos says they reclined, which reminds us of the four Mah Nishtanah questions in the Haggadah.

    This was the Roman custom amongst the nobility of the time of the Targum, but this is not the point which the Torah is making in this verse but suggesting that Joseph’s brothers were relaxed and had no remorse about their unbrotherly treatment of Joseph.


    Jacob & the jar – Vayyishlach

    November 14th, 2021

    On the way home after years of absence, Jacob was levado, by himself, and a man struggled with him all night (Gen. 32:25).

    There is a Midrash which reads levado as lekado, “for his jar”. Jacob was obsessed with the thought of the cans and containers which he had left behind, and fretting over these articles slowed him down and delayed him.

    Why was he so concerned about the items he had left behind? Not because his pockets would be empty but because he needed his possessions in order to afford to give charity in the new environment in which he was about to settle.

    When a person moves from one place to another, his first thought must be to resume his spiritual and ethical life.