Friday, December 25, 2009

VaYigash II

Just some more thoughts on Yosef before Shabbat -
As I read the text describing Yosef I can't help but think of all the adolescent and post-adolescent Jewish kids who have separated themselves from the Jewish community.
Think about it.

  • He lives in Egypt, among the Egyptians.
  • He dresses like them, talks like them, marries the daughter of one of their priests, even names his firstborn son a name that means (according to at least some commentators) "the one who causes me to forget my background) and - according to this blog I was reading - isn't even a Hebrew name!
  • He has so carefully hidden his identity as a member of the family of Yaakov that his brothers don't recognize him even after more than one meeting and extensive conversations with him.
Is this the person one would expect to fulfill the role of savior of the descendants of Avraham and Yitzhak?  I wouldn't think so.

So maybe one lesson here is not to write anyone off - not the one who quits religious school the day after his Bar Mitzvah, not the one who refuses to join Hillel in college because it's not important to her, not the one who chooses a mate of a different religion.

Because if we look at the Torah, the text which defines us as Jews, it seems even the least likely candidate may come to play a key role in our future.

And if there is a lesson for us - as Jewish educators - perhaps it is that we need to go out of our way to create powerful emotional moments that remain a part of all who share them, since we can never be sure which of these moments will be brought to the surface at a time we least expect it.

After all, if Yosef hadn't become who he became, if he hadn't provided sustenance for his family during the famine, if he hadn't been willing to forget the harm and remember the good associated with his relatives, the story might have been quite different.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Today's questions are based in large part on "Teaching Torah", by Sorel Goldberg Loeb and Barbara Binder Kadden, one of the must-have resources for anyone who teaches Torah to learners of any age.  Here are some of the issues raised in the chapter on VaYigash:

  • We remember how the brothers felt about Yosef, caused, we agreed in our conversations, by his father Ya'akov's favoritism.  It seems from the text that Binyamin has taken Yosef's place as his father's favorite.  What evidence do we have about their feelings toward Binyamin?  
  • Yehudah is to become a prime ancestor of the Jewish people - even his name and the name of his tribe are to be the name of the people in the future (Yehudah/Yehudim).  How has he grown into this role through the story until now?
  • Teshuvah is a big part of understanding this parasha.  Which of the personalities has (or have) done teshuvah?  What is the evidence?
  • Some stories are told multiple times in this parasha and in those preceding it.  Are they exactly the same each time they are told?  What are some of the reasons a story changes with retelling?  How do we define "history" if the story changes over time?
  • The people of Yosef's family are to live separately in the area of Goshen, not totally integrated with the Egyptian population in the rest of the country.  Do you think this is an accident or is it part of a plan?  Explain why you think so.  How does living apart affect a group?  Why do some people choose to live mostly with people who share their identity (homogeneous community) while others prefer a more heterogeneous community?  
  • Serach is a granddaughter of Yaakov.  I have a friend who recently added the name "Serach" to her own name.  I invite you to read about Serach and try to figure out why she may have done this.  Serach Bat Asher is a study guide from which, while intended primarily for use around Pesach, is a thorough examination of this character.  Serach is Model for Jewish Memory  is an essay by Rabbi Neil Gilman of the Jewish Theological Seminary.
I urge you to share your thoughts about these questions with other readers by posting a comment.  We learn best when we learn together.