Torah Study Notes 12-12-15

NOTE TO READERS: THESE NOTES SHOULD BE READ IN CONJUNCTION WITH PLAUT’S THE TORAH A MODERN COMMENTARY. “RB” IS RABBI BERKOWITZ – THE LEADER OF OUR DISCUSSIONS. ALL ERRORS ARE MY OWN. COMMENTS ARE WELCOME. L. LEWIS.

December 12, 2015

p.277 Overview of this parsha by RB:  In our last portion Joseph was in jail and forgotten. Then Pharaoh has a dream about ears of corn and cows. Why are there two iterations of the same story?  Showing us the impact of famine on animal and vegetable? Joseph interprets seven years of plenty and seven years of famine. Pharaoh is impressed and chooses him to manage the process of building a reserve. Meanwhile back in Canaan there is famine and the brothers are sent to Egypt to buy food. Joseph recognizes them but they don’t recognize him. He interrogates them and sends them back with food but returns their money by putting it in their bags. See page 271 for the translation of Joseph’s Egyptian name. Note the evolution of Judah’s character as a human being throughout.

16 – The brothers enter Joseph’s house. They tell his houseman of the silver in their bags. They are told that “their god” replaced the money. Note the presumption of tolerance. The houseman knows that Joseph is a Hebrew but the brothers are unaware. Discussion of the merits of polytheism – particularly where woman had their own female deities. Some historians identify monotheisms as the greatest tragedy in the history of mankind! Note the modern female priestess movement. Particularistic religion vs universalist. Jews are particular in that they have their god but unlike Islam and Christianity they do not proselytize. There is no effort to make the religion universal. Note the Pope’s recent encyclical on the Jews – not to be proselytized by Catholics – in recognition of the validity of Judaism.

24 When Joseph enters they bow down before him. He asks for their aged father. He sees Benjamin – his mother’s son. He weeps in an inner chamber and eats separately – because of his rank?  Or because of his emotional state? Note that the word for “abomination” is used later to describe homosexual acts. To eat with people of another culture is also considered taboo to an Egyptian of this era.  This is all believed to be a separately written piece – it is emotionally rich. Consider the musical – Joseph and His Coat of Many Colors –  much of which is taken directly from Torah. This is thought to be from the “J” author but there are likely other contributors. Joseph assumes that Benjamin may now be the favorite son – since Rachael is their mother.

33: They were seated before him – ate and drank. Now he again secretly returns their silver and this itme puts a silver goblet in the bag of Benjamin. Joseph is testing the brothers.

33:3  The goblet is found in Benjamin’s bag. The brothers know they are being framed but don’t know why. They go back to the city to plead their case with Joseph. What does “divination” mean here? Is there an invocation of another deity? Or could the practice somehow be reconciled with monotheism? The modern meaning of “to divine” would be “to figure out” or “to intuit.”

33: 14 ” Did you not know that a man like me practices divination.” J tries to separate out Benjamin again. But Judah offers all of them as slaves and implies that they all conspired to take the goblet. Have they perhaps recognized J and are “playing along” knowing that he would treat them mercifully?

Theologically this is about forgiveness and the spiritual growth of human beings. Taking responsibility for ones sins.  PC- There is a running theme here of “my god is better than your god.” Joseph derives his power from his God – apparently. But there is also the theme of forgiveness – not to mention that Joseph has saved the Egyptian people from starvation. Intelligence and charisma is its own reward. This was all part of God’s plan according to Joseph. CL This can be read as a miracle story which were very common in ancient cultures. It was very difficult to preserve food so the outcome was effectively miraculous.

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