Torah Study Notes 12-27-14

December 27, 2014

p. 288

45:1  Joseph’s deception of his brothers  is really intended for his father.  He could have sent a message to his father but clearly he wants to know what has been learned by his father from the negative effects of favoritism. Now all of the sons are to be included in the covenant. Note that children can be treated differently based on their talents but should all be loved equally. The key here is reconciliation so that there is a single people Israel.

45:4 “I am Joseph your brother” “ But God sent me ahead of you…”  Is Joseph rationalizing all that has happened in order to put any animosity behind him? Note the word “now” at the beginning of line five. Only now does all of this begin to make sense to him. Previously God had no role in the story. Here we begin to see an issue of free will of which more later when “God hardens the heart of Pharaoh.”  God’s role is diminished previously in the Isaac wife/sister story of which we are given three versions. In the story of Jacob only he encounters God – the wrestling match.  God is withdrawing. The act of maturing requires less supervision. Note that the brothers are now transformed. They now want to save the father’s favorite – Benjamin – even at great risk to themselves.

45:8 Settle in the land of Goshen and be near to me. Understand this in temporal terms and what Joseph’s understanding is “now.” Is Joseph a prophet in the sense of an individual who experiences directly within them the presence of God and is able to interpret that presence? Jacob is attuned to the presence of God within him and is a prophet. Joseph, who relies on dreams rather than direction from God is not a prophet in the traditional sense.  Note that Joseph’s first son is named Menasha which means “to forget” or putting the past behind. It is possible to leave the covenantal line as has Esau and Ishmael. Theme and variation are important constructs in the telling of a story. A question is presented here as to what it means to have one universal God at a time where that was unique. The entire scripture is the story of a a people coming to grips with this in the face of a dominant polytheistic culture. See the work of Wellhausen on this subject who argued that early Israel was still polytheistic.  He did not see the comprehensive narrative arc. Compare the Koran approach which flattens the narrative. There Abraham proclaims the oneness of God without exploring how faith is incorporated into one’s life.

45:16 Pharaoh is pleased and offers the brother residence.

45:21 Benjamin gets 300 pieces of silver and three changes of clothing. Why is Benjamin favored? He was going to be sacrificed by Joseph unless the brothers came forward with the goblet. Benjamin bore the brunt of the terror.  LL: Isaac was terrified at his binding but not subsequently “favored” in this sense.

45:25  They went up from Egypt and told Jacob all that had happened. Assume for the moment that Jacob knows all of this but doesn’t believe that the brothers know. It could be read that he doesn’t trust them and never accepted the story of the coat. There are rabbinic discussions and explorations along this line. In the Koran it is important that Joseph is not born a prophet but has the gift of prophecy conferred upon him – like Mohammed. Note that the Hebrew Scripture was not translated into Arabic until well after the death of Mohammed. Even Mohammed’sv words were not written down until almost a century later. There are no surviving variant texts of the Koran.

LL Note: I have been reading The Bible Unearthed: Archeology’s New Vision of Israel and The Origin of Its Sacred Texts by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman. Here is  an abstract of what they say about Joseph: “The tale of Joseph’s rise to prominence in Egypt, as narrated in the Book of Genesis, is the most famous of the stories of Canaanite immigrants rising to power in Egypt, but there are other sources that offer essentially the same picture – from the Egyptian point of view. The most important of them was written by the Egyptian historian Manetho in the third century BCE; he recorded an extraordinary immigrant success story, though from his patriotic Egyptian perspective it amounted to a national tragedy. Basing his accounts on unnamed “sacred books” and “popular tales and legends” Manetho described a massive, brutal invasion of Egypt by foreigners from the east who he called Hyksos, an enigmatic Greek form of an Egyptian word that he translated as “shepherd kings” but actually means “rulers of foreign lands.” Manetho reported that the Hyksos established themselves in the delta at a city named Avaris. And they founded a dynasty there that ruled Egypt with great cruelty for more than five hundred years.… Subsequent studies showed that (the Hyksos) inscriptions and seals were West Semitic – in other words, Canaanite. Recent archeological excavations in the eastern Nile delta have confirmed that conclusion and indicate that the Hyksos “invasion” was a gradual process of immigration from Canaan to Egypt, rather than a lightning military campaign.” … Manetho suggested that after the Hyksos were driven from Egypt, they founded the city of Jerusalem and constructed a temple there…”   LL/


Vassar Temple is now part of the New York Area Region of NFTY

Submitted by Melissa Erlebacher

Dear Parents of Vassar Temple 8th – 12th graders,

As you know, we have recently hired Rachel Cohen as the adviser of the Vassar Temple Youth Group. Our goal is to build a strong, vibrant youth group at Vassar Temple. The Vassar Temple Youth Group is for students in grades 8 – 12.

I am currently serving as the Youth Committee Chairperson. I will be sending out periodic parent updates in order to keep you in the loop and to foster communication (and hopefully to encourage participation).

Vassar Temple is now part of the New York Area Region of NFTY (National Federation of Temple Youth). This is the Reform Movement’s youth program. In November, three of our teens participated in the Fall Kallah at Kutz Camp in Warwick, NY. Back in my day, they used to call these retreats or conclaves.

Below is a summary of the Fall Kallah weekend. I hope you will take some time to read it and then discuss with your teen the possibility of attending the Winter Kallah from January 9 – 11.

Please note that the Kallah is only open to students in grades 9 – 12, however, I am including 8th grade parents in this email in order to keep you informed. The Spring Kallah at Eisner Camp will be open to 8th grade students.

There is an early bird discount until December 23. If cost is an issue, please talk to Rabbi Golomb. There are scholarships available through the Sisterhood. Winter Kallah will be hosted by Temple Shaaray Tefila in Bedford Corners. The early bird registration price of $175 is available through December 23rd. You can register for Winter Kallah online at

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to email or call me at 635-9854. I will be available until December 20 to discuss the Kallah.

I wish you all a very happy Hanukkah.

Melissa Erlebacher

Hanukkah Contest!

The talented folks at Key Tov have put together a spectacular Hanukkah dance and song mash up:

So here at Vassar Temple, we’re running a contest, with prizes for the first three people to correctly identify all of the songs in the mash up.

Even if someone beats you to an answer, you can move yourself up in the ranking by offering more information: Who wrote the songs? Where do they come from? What do the Hebrew words mean?

Put your answers in the comments — which will remain hidden until Friday, December 19, when we’ll announce the winners. The contest is open to students affiliated with Vassar Temple.


Torah Study Notes 12-6-14


December 6, 2014
p. 222 Jacob and Esau are somewhat reconciled.
33:15 “Pray let me leave behind with you a portion of the force that accompanies me.” See footnote indicating that Jacob has no intention of going to Esau’s home nor does he desire a contingent of Esau’s men monitoring him. This is the first mention of “Succoth” in the Torah – the holiday reflecting God’s favor via the harvest.
33:18 Jacob makes camp, buys a field and sets up an altar -indicative of a prolonged visit. See verse 5 on page 91 where Abraham also builds an altar. He does it again in Bethel. In a sense this is marking territory – but on property not purchased. This may be ownerless land or even public land. The rabbinic term is for such property is “hefker.” Abraham only purchased land for Sarah’s grave. Here Jacob buys land to worship and to praise life. In Poughkeepsie in 1845 a cemetery was purchased on Pershing Avenue but our Reform Temple was not purchased until some years later. Burying people is the first step in establishing a community. CL: According to the archeology the Israelites were living in the north where this Succoth is being established. See: The Bible Unearthed by Finklestein et al.
This area of Israel was sparsely settled along the central spine – even during the period of David and Solomon. PG: FInklestein tends to assign late dates rather than earlier. His tendency is to be skeptical. LL: There is no before or after in the Torah. PG: See the work of David Aaron arguing that most of the Bible was composed in the post-exilic era. Etched in Stone: The Emergence of the Decalogue. PG: Note that Sinai disappears in Deuteronomy – it is outside the land of Israel whereas the Law is portable. No hard fixed location is necessary in order to have a relationship with God. The transformation of the Sinai account from being incidental to one of central importance is itself divinely inspired. This is theological. See review of Aaron’s work at:
34:1 The story of Dinah’s rape by Shechem. But then he seeks to marry her. The Hebrew word translated as “ rape” is important – it refers to oppression with force. See footnote indicating that if a man takes a virgin by force he must marry her and is prohibited from divorcing her.
34:5 Scholars have suggested that there are two narratives that are intertwined here. Note that Jacob did not react immediately but his children do so. This is a violation of the existing cultural and historical context as well as a violation of the woman. Dinah was in the territory of Hamor. What were the rights and prerogatives of the nobility in this territory? Jacob does not know and is silent. Compare to the wives as sisters story with both Isaac and Jacob where, for purposes of safety they pretended that their wives were their sisters. Note further that this was a time – post exilic – of Persian control. The Zoroastrians were not idolaters. Here we see a transition from the notion of woman as property to the mystical notion of “shekhinah” – in this case it is the female invested with the divinity of God. See:
34: 8 Both Hamor and Shachem plead for a marriage. LL: They seem sincere. Wouldn’t it have been preferable to avoid the ensuing violence? See Karen Armstrong on the subject of religion and violence:
34:13 The sons answer deceptively and call for all of the men be circumcised.
34:18 Hamar and Shechem accept the condition presupposing a genuine offer of peace. The circumcisions proceed.PG: Adult circumcision was not a rare or unknown act in ancient times. It was seen as beneficial to trade with economic advantages.
34: 35 Simeon and Levi enter the city and kill every male and all their sheep etc are taken. PG: When you are fighting with idolaters you are fighting a war for God. That is not the case here. But clearly the Shechemites intended to take the property of the Israelites.
34:30 Jacob remonstrates with Simeon and Levi. He fears retaliation. Note that, because of this conduct, the sons are cursed by Jacob in his final testament. Simeon disappears hereafter and the Levites are forbidden the ownership of any land.

Fifth- and Sixth-Grade Vassar Temple Students Recreate Ancient Hebrew Poetry

Fifth- and sixth-grade Vassar Temple students studied and recreated the ancient Hanukkah poetry of Maoz Tzur. Commonly translated as “Rock of Ages,” the familiar words appear in a strict rhyming pattern. They reference the re-dedication of the Jewish Temple after Antiochus the Insane destroyed it, a path paved by Alexander the Great’s untimely death.

The students learned about the rhyming scheme and the historical background to the Hanukkah story before writing their own poems in the same pattern.

Here’s one poem, written by Bizzy, Anna, Chloe, and Mariel:

On Chanukkah we eat challah
In Temple we light the oil
They also celebrate it in Venezuela
We wrap our leftover latkes in tin foil
If you don’t they will spoil
They are made of potatoes from the soil
I love to eat gelt — but hopefully it won’t melt!
Alexander the Great was royal.

Now it’s your turn! Here’s the rhyming scheme:

— —A
— —B
— —A
— —B
— —B
— —B
—C —C
— —B

Can you use it to write a poem about Hanukkah?

“Helping,” Is Caring In Action

Submitted by Marian Schwartz

Let us be thankful that, because they have never had to go to bed hungry, we have to explain to our children that there are some people who cannot afford enough food to eat. Let us be thankful that we all have something we can share with others and still have enough for ourselves. About five years ago I was contacted by Hudson River Housing, asking if our congregation could provide any Thanksgiving food baskets for their clients. At first I thought, “We already do LunchBox every month, provide meals for the homeless shelter, and collect for CanJam—gee, we ask so much of our congregation already”. Then I thought, well, maybe we can do just a little bit more, hence Trim-a-Thanksgiving was born. The congregation so generously responded that we eventually increased the amount of baskets we made from 5 to 7, and this year to 10, double the original amount. Three years ago we started Turkey Trot, which far from detracting from Trim, resulted this, the third year, in our being able to donate a total of 1,525 lbs. of turkeys to local food pantries to distribute to client families and for LunchBox to use to put on a turkey dinner, 10 turkeys to accompany the Trim baskets, and 4 additional turkeys (one kosher) for local Jewish families in need on Thanksgiving. This is all due to your unflagging generosity.

And now I’m thinking, “We ask so much of our congregation already, but can we ask for a little bit more?” I’ m thinking this because new statistics show that 30,280 residents of our county are food insecure (either struggle to eat a decent meal on a regular basis or even have to go without food for a day or days at a time). Of that number, 15,000 cannot get food stamps and have to rely on emergency help such as food pantries and LunchBox (food stamp assistance recently reverted to pre-2009 levels). This puts a tremendous strain on food pantries & LunchBox, which has lost 50% of the financial assistance NYS had been providing. We need creative, grass roots initiatives to bring more help for the hungry. We can each bring in an extra box of cereal to CanJam or provide that dozen pieces of fruit for this month’s LunchBox. Never doubt this—to hungry families, every box of cereal, every jar of peanut butter matters. And it is clear that the need is greater than ever. That is why I am especially asking you to please consider bringing in support from the broader community.

We at Vassar Temple are empowered, so let’s share our giving spirit with others. Hold a mini food drive amongst your friends, your neighbors, your book club, your workout buddies, your bridge group, your co-workers. For ideas and practical pointers about holding mini-drives we have a wonderful resource person you can contact, Nancy Samson , founder of our own CanJam program, and a national consultant on combatting hunger (

No matter how “mini,” each effort will make a difference, and I predict you will be surprised by the generosity of others when personally asked to help those in need. Talk to others about what we do at Vassar Temple. Inspire them to bring these ideas to their own houses of worship. At Vassar Temple we care about hunger.

Marian Schwartz, Social Action Chmn.

Would you like to help Vassar Temple help others? No gift is too small. Please let us know.