Torah Study Notes 12-3-16

December 3, 2016

Discussion led by Rabbi Leah Berkowitz

Page 173

25:19 This is the line of Isaac son of Abraham… The subsequent statement “…and Isaac loved Rebecca…” is one of the few mentions of love between husband and wife in the Torah. Note that we don’t have “Jewish” yet and in fact not even “Israelite” This is the first family. “Abiru” is likely the word for foreigner, alien, immigrant. There is a negative connotation to it. There is some controversy about the age of Rebecca at the time of marriage – probably somewhere in her teenage years.

25:22 “If this is so why do I exist?” is the question posed by Rebecca in response to the struggle going on in her belly. One might be tempted to give this question a philosophical or existential import but the question might more realistically be re-phrased to “…why am I in this pain?” or even a question by her as to the role of motherhood.

25:24: “Two people are in your belly…” She gives birth to Esau and Jacob. Jacob is holding Esau’s heel which is clearly a precursor of his efforts to supplant his brother. There are Cabalistic interpretations of the numbers of ages for both Isaac and Rebecca at the time of this birth.

25:27:  The story of Jacob’s effort to obtain his brother’s birthright. Note the use of the word “red” to describe Esau, his hunter’s soup and the kingdom of Edom. See page 997 for the location of Edom. LL Who is the author here? This section about the soup seems to be an insert to justify what happens subsequently. Most of this is J. The justification here seems also to be the prophecy itself. In the last sentence of that passage about Esau eating his food “and he ate” is one word in Hebrew indicating haste and speed. SN This could be a joke between brothers. But note that Jacob makes him swear. Note also that the first born gets a double portion of the land – so this is no small thing.

26:1 There was famine in the land… Here we see Isaac and Rebecca interacting. Abimelech gives them land. Isaac settles in Garar where he passes his wife off as his sister – just as his father did in Egypt. This passage appears to be out of sequential order. Abimelech sees Isaac “fondling” R and challenges Isaacs behavior – which would have been inappropriate if she was in fact his sister.

26:12: In that area Isaac sowed seed…but Abimelech asks them to leave considering Isaac’s deceptive conduct. They return to the lands of Abraham but they then quarrel over the wells with the inhabitants there until they get to Rehoboth. Note the words “became too numerous… which is resonant of the complaint of Pharaoh in Egypt. See map on page 15. How is Isaac feeling about this comparison to his father? To some extent Isaac is overshadowed and never comes into his own. But he successfully establishes coexistence with the Philistines. And had a loving relationship with his wife. He appears to be a man of moderation. Jacob and Esau are so polarized that they are almost two sides of the same person. Some consider the wells to be symbols of Abrahams monotheism –  that the Philistine’s were rejecting.

The analogous Haftarah portion here is Malachi – who lived in the middle of the 5th C. BCE. This was a time of corruption and instability assessed to the Edomite’s who were descendants of Esau. Malachi’s critique helped bring about reform.


The Feast Of Lights – A Poem by Emma Lazarus

In the spirit of Chanukah I offer this beautiful poem Emma Lazarus
R.Jonah Ritter

One of the lauded poets in her time, Emma Lazarus (1849 – 1887) is most famous for her poem the New Colosus. A verse from that poem is famously engrazed on the Statue of Liberty.


Kindle the taper like the steadfast star
Ablaze on evening’s forehead o’er the earth,
And add each night a lustre till afar
An eightfold splendor shine above thy hearth.
Clash, Israel, the cymbals, touch the lyre,
Blow the brass trumpet and the harsh-tongued horn;
Chant psalms of victory till the heart takes fire,
The Maccabean spirit leap new-born.

Remember how from wintry dawn till night,
Such songs were sung in Zion, when again
On the high altar flamed the sacred light,
And, purified from every Syrian stain,
The foam-white walls with golden shields were hung,
With crowns and silken spoils, and at the shrine,
Stood, midst their conqueror-tribe, five chieftains sprung
From one heroic stock, one seed divine.

Five branches grown from Mattathias’ stem,
The Blessed John, the Keen-Eyed Jonathan,
Simon the fair, the Burst-of Spring, the Gem,
Eleazar, Help of-God; o’er all his clan
Judas the Lion-Prince, the Avenging Rod,
Towered in warrior-beauty, uncrowned king,
Armed with the breastplate and the sword of God,
Whose praise is: ‘He received the perishing.’

They who had camped within the mountain-pass,
Couched on the rock, and tented neath the sky,
Who saw from Mizpah’s heights the tangled grass
Choke the wide Temple-courts, the altar lie
Disfigured and polluted-who had flung
Their faces on the stones, and mourned aloud
And rent their garments, wailing with one tongue,
Crushed as a wind-swept bed of reeds is bowed,

Even they by one voice fired, one heart of flame,
Though broken reeds, had risen, and were men,
They rushed upon the spoiler and o’ercame,
Each arm for freedom had the strength of ten.
Now is their mourning into dancing turned,
Their sackcloth doffed for garments of delight,
Week-long the festive torches shall be burned,
Music and revelry wed day with night.

Still ours the dance, the feast, the glorious Psalm,
The mystic lights of emblem, and the Word.
Where is our Judas? Where our five-branched palm?
Where are the lion-warriors of the Lord?
Clash, Israel, the cymbals, touch the lyre,
Sound the brass trumpet and the harsh-tongued horn,
Chant hymns of victory till the heart take fire,
The Maccabean spirit leap new-born!

Emma Lazarus