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This is the last parsha in the book of Bereishis. In it Jacob bids farewell to his twelve sons before his death. He gives them, individually, his blessings. We will look at his blessing to his favorite son, Joseph.

Genesis 49:22

"A son of grace is Joseph; a son of grace to the eye; girls mounted the wall (to see him)."


Ben Porat - RASHI: [This] means a son of grace (Hebrew "hain") (Rashi then cites an Aramaic phrase that shows that "porat" means grace).

Ben Porat to the eye - Rashi: His grace is directed towards the eye that sees him.

Girls mounted the wall - Rashi: The girls of Egypt mounted the wall to gaze at his beauty.


Rashi's interpretation differs from the Targum Onkelos's. Onkelos understands the word "porat" to mean "fruitful." Rashi prefers "graceful."

Can you see why Rashi chose "grace" over "fruitful"?


An Answer: Joseph had only two sons. This is not particularly "fruitful" compared to his brother Benjamin who had ten sons. Also, Joseph was known to be a person with charm or grace ("hain"). See 39:4 and 39:21. So Rashi's interpretation would seem more in line with what we know about Joseph.


But we can question Jacob himself (not Rashi, this time). Even if Joseph was a charmer, is this the one trait that Jacob must pick to bless his son? Joseph had so many other talents – dream interpreter, prophetic dreamer, brilliant CEO of the world's most advanced country (Egypt) in a time of national disaster. Why would Jacob choose Joseph's beauty to emphasize?


An Answer: I would say that Jacob stressed it because the Torah had stressed his beauty up until now. See Rashi on 37:2 and see verses 39:4 and 39:21 and of course Pharaoh's love of Joseph. Granted this was due to Joseph's ability to interpret dreams, but Joseph must have related to Pharaoh in a way that found favor in his eyes. (His modesty among other traits and modesty is a major part of "hain."). Therefore, I think, Jacob stresses this aspect of Joseph. His beauty was his strength, when it could have been his downfall (had he given in to Potifar's wife's enchantments). It was his strength when God had him find favor in the eyes of those people who could propel Joseph forward. Joseph used this beauty - "hain" - in a modest way (see all his statements of disclaiming credit for his successes). So his beauty was the underlying aspect of his success and nevertheless Joseph does not take advantage of it nor does it go to his head.

So Jacob chose a central aspect of Joseph's personality which he wisely controlled and used exclusively in the service of Hashem.


Parents Understand

by Nesanel Yoel Safran

Our parents understand more than we may sometimes think they do. In this week's Torah portion (Gen. 48:17-19) Joseph thought his father, Jacob, had misunderstood him when he asked for a blessing for his two sons, but Jacob had really understood and acted appropriately. Our parents' wisdom and experience can help us to live a good and happy life.


In our story, a kid learns a lesson in listening to his father's wisdom.


"Dad, it's way too early to get up!" Jon protested as he glanced at the pre-dawn darkness outside his bedroom window as his father woke him for the deep-sea fishing trip the two of them had been planning. "What difference does it make if we go now or in a couple of hours?" he said pulling the blanket back over his head.

"It makes a difference to the fish," his dad replied, "and if you want to catch a lot, we've got to get a move on."

Jon didn't agree, but since his dad had the car keys, the boy reluctantly dragged himself out of bed and after washing up, stumbled down to the kitchen, where his father was packing snacks for the trip.

"Hey, why are you taking all that boring stuff like crackers and rice cakes? I'm not going touch any of that. For a trip like this, we need real treats - you know, nachos, barbecue chips, the works!" he said, stuffing them into the cooler as his father cast him a hard-to-figure smile.

They drove to the dock where the for-hire boats were waiting for customers.

"How long would you like to go out for, sir?" the fishing captain in his tall rubber boots asked Jon's dad.

"Two hours, please."

"What?" Jon jumped up. "Only two hours? That's not enough time! We need to go out all day, you know, at least four, six or eight!" But his dad stuck to his guns, so, sulking, the boy plodded up onto the fishing boat's deck.

It's too bad, he thought, that I'm not the one in charge of this trip. Then we would have done it right - come later and stayed longer. Well, at least Dad managed to pack some decent food...

The fish were biting pretty well and it wasn't long before the two had caught more than enough fish to make everyone supper. Jon was having fun - the only thing was he was feeling queasy from the combo of the boat jostling on the waves, and the exhaust fumes from the engine.

"If you eat something, you'll feel better," his dad advised, opening the cooler to let Jon pick. But the sight of the Day-Glo packages of the snacks he had packed and their even more spicy and colorful contents made Jon's stomach turn even faster. He dug his hand down deep and pulled out some of his dad's plain rice cakes that just hit the spot.

They fished a while longer, when Jon, feeling sorta bored - after all, how long can you just sit around dangling a string in the water waiting for fish? - turned to his father.

"Um, Dad, are we going to have to stay out here for much longer?"

His father looked at his watch.

"Nope." he smiled. "Just about another 15 minutes and our two-hour rental is up."

Boy was Jon glad it wasn't going to be another two hours, or four, or six, like he'd wanted them to rent the boat for!

After they got home, Jon invited his friend, Marc, to come over and first thing he did was show him the fresh-caught fish filling up the fridge.

"Wow, you caught all those?" the kid said, wide-eyed. "I went with my brother on the same trip last week and we didn't catch anything. The guy on the boat said it was because we didn't come first thing in the morning. I guess he knows what he was talking about."

"He sure does," Jon said, "just like my dad."


Ages 3-5

Q. How did Jon feel at first about the things his father advised?

A. He didn't agree and felt he knew better.

Q. How did he feel in the end?

A. He saw how his dad had been right and he had known better than Jon had thought he did.

Ages 6-9

Q. What life-lesson do you think Jon learned that day?

A. He had second-guessed a lot of his father's decisions and thought he knew better, but found out that his dad's advice was right on target.

Q. Why do you think Jon thought he knew better?

A. We all have our opinions on things - and that's fine. But Jon didn't realize that his dad's decisions were coming from a wisdom and experience that he, himself, simply didn't yet have.

Ages 10 and Up

Q. Does just becoming older make a person wise?

A. There is virtually no one who goes through life without picking up some wisdom and understanding along the way. However, a person who actively seeks wisdom will end up light-years ahead of someone of the same age who doesn't.

Q. Do our parents always know better?

A. Ultimately, a person has to run his or her own life and is the only one who can make their choices. Still, a parent's combination of life experience, knowing us since … we were us, and genuine love and care for our wellbeing makes them valuable advisors whose advice we'll more often than not do very well to follow.


9 Covenant and Conversation

Covenant and Conversation, a unique new Torah commentary from the Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks

Jewish Time
Different cultures tell different stories. The great novelists of the nineteenth century wrote fiction that is essentially ethical. Jane Austen and George Eliot explored the connection between character and happiness. There is a palpable continuity between their work and the book of Ruth. Dickens, more in the tradition of the prophets, wrote about society and its institutions, and the way in which they can fail to honour human dignity and justice.

By contrast, today's fascination with stories like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings is conspicuously dualistic. The cosmos is a battlefield between the forces of good and evil. This is far closer to the apocalyptic literature of the Qumran sect and the Dead Sea scrolls than anything in Tenakh, the Hebrew Bible. In these ancient and modern conflict narratives the struggle is "out there" rather than "in here": in the cosmos rather than within the human soul. This is closer to myth than monotheism.

There is, however, a form of story that is very rare indeed, of which Tenakh is the supreme example. It is the story without an ending which looks forward to an open future rather than reaching closure. It defies narrative convention. Normally we expect a story to create a tension that is resolved on the final page. That is what gives art a sense of completion. We do not expect a sculpture to be incomplete, a poem to break off halfway, a novel to end in the middle. Schubert's Unfinished Symphony is the exception that proves the rule.

Yet that is what the Bible repeatedly does. Consider the Chumash, the five Mosaic books. The Jewish story begins with a repeated promise to Abraham that he will inherit the land of Canaan. Yet by the time we reach the end of Deuteronomy, the Israelites have still not crossed the Jordan. The Chumash ends with the poignant scene of Moses on Mount Nebo (in present-day Jordan) seeing the land - to which he has journeyed for forty years but is destined not to enter - from afar.

Nevi'im, the second part of Tenakh, ends with Malachi foreseeing the distant future, understood by tradition to mean the messianic age:

"See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers . . ."

Nevi'im, which includes the great historical as well as prophetic books, thus concludes neither in the present or the past, but by looking forward to a time not yet reached. Ketuvim, the third and final section, ends with king Cyrus of Persia granting permission to the Jewish exiles in Babylon to return to their land and rebuild the Temple.

None of these is an ending in the conventional sense. Each leaves us with a sense of a promise not yet fulfilled, a task not yet completed, a future seen from afar but not yet reached. And the paradigm case - the model on which all others are based - is the ending of Bereishit in this week's sedra.

Remember that the story of the people of the covenant begins with G-d's call to Abraham to leave his land, birthplace and father's house and travel "to a land which I will show you". Yet no sooner does he arrive than he is forced by famine to go to Egypt. That is the fate repeated by Jacob and his children. Genesis ends not with life in Israel but with a death in Egypt:

Then Joseph said to his brothers, "I am about to die. But G-d will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath and said, "G-d will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place." So Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. And after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt.

Again, a hope not yet realised, a journey not yet ended, a destination just beyond the horizon.

Is there some connection between this narrative form and the theme with which the Joseph story ends, namely forgiveness, about which I wrote in last week's study?

It is to Hannah Arendt in her The Human Condition that we owe a profound insight into the connection between forgiveness and time. Human action, she argues, is potentially tragic. We can never foresee the consequences of our acts, but once done, they cannot be undone. We know that he who acts never quite knows what he is doing, that he always becomes "guilty" of consequences he never intended or even foresaw, that no matter how disastrous the consequences of his deed, he can never undo it . . . All this is reason enough to turn away with despair from the realm of human affairs and to hold in contempt the human capacity for freedom.

What transforms the human situation from tragedy to hope, she argues, is the possibility of forgiveness:

Without being forgiven, released from the consequences of what we have done, our capacity to act would, as it were, be confined to one single deed from which we could never recover . . . Forgiving, in other words, is the only reaction which does not merely re-act but acts anew and unexpectedly, unconditioned by the act which provoked it and therefore freeing from its consequences both the one who forgives and the one who is forgiven.

Atonement and forgiveness are the supreme expressions of human freedom - the freedom to act differently in the future than one did in the past, and the freedom not to be trapped in a cycle of vengeance and retaliation. Only those who can forgive can be free. Only a civilization based on forgiveness can construct a future that is not an endless repetition of the past. That, surely, is why Judaism is the only civilization whose golden age is in the future.

It was this revolutionary concept of time - based on human freedom - that Judaism contributed to the world. Many ancient cultures believed in cyclical time, in which all things return to their beginning. The Greeks developed a sense of tragic time, in which the ship of dreams is destined to founder on the hard rocks of reality. Europe of the Enlightenment introduced the idea of linear time, with its close cousin, progress. Judaism believes in covenantal time, well described by Harold Fisch: "The covenant is a condition of our existence in time . . . We cooperate with its purposes never quite knowing where it will take us, for 'the readiness is all'." In a lovely phrase, he speaks of the Jewish imagination as shaped by "the unappeased memory of a future still to be fulfilled".

Tragedy gives rise to pessimism. Cyclical time leads to acceptance. Linear time begets optimism. Covenantal time gives birth to hope. These are not just different emotions. They are radically different ways of relating to life and the universe. They are expressed in the different kinds of story people tell. Jewish time always faces an open future. The last chapter is not yet written. The messiah has not yet come. Until then, the story continues - and we, together with G-d, are its co-authors.

Thank G-d for the Courage to live with uncertainty

The Times – Credo –December 2009

As the new year approaches, with the recession still in force, I find myself giving thanks to G-d for all the things that cost nothing and are worth everything.

I thank Him for the love that has filled our home for so many years. Life is never easy. We’ve had our share of pain. But through it all we discovered the love that brings new life into the world, allowing us to share in the miracle of birth and the joy of seeing our children grow.

I thank Him for the blessing of grandchildren. I don’t know why it is I was so surprised by joy, but in their company my constant thought is that I didn’t know that life could be that good.

I thank Him for the friends who stood by us in tough times, for the mentors who believed in me more than I believed in myself, and for the teachers who encouraged me to think and question, teaching me the difference between truth and mere intellectual fashion.

I thank him for those rare souls who lift us when we are laid low by the sheer envy and malice by which some people poison their lives and the lives of others. I thank Him for the people I meet every day who light up the world with simple gestures of humanity and decency. I thank Him for the fragments of light he has scattered in so many lives, in the kindness of strangers and the unexpected touch of souls across the boundaries that once divided people and made them fearful of one another.

I thank Him for the gift of being born a Jew, despite all the persecutions visited on our people, often in the name of the same G-d my ancestors worshipped and to whom they dedicated their lives. I thank Him for the transformation of the relationship between Jews and Christians that has happened in my lifetime, and for the gift of coming to know people from so many different faiths, each of which has given something utterly unique to humanity.

I thank Him for Beethoven’s late quartets and Shakespeare’s prose and Rembrandt’s portraits. Rabbi Abraham Kook, chief rabbi of what was then Palestine, once said that G-d took some of the light of the first day of creation and gave it to Rembrandt who put it into his paintings. I thank Him for the first cup of coffee in the morning and the I-pod I've almost learned how to use (another year or two should do it), for Morgan Freeman's voice and Woody Allen’s humour, for 2B pencils and wide-lined notepads, for bookshops and a forgiving wife.

I thank Him for the atheists and agnostics who keep believers from believing the unbelievable, forcing us to prove our faith by the beauty and grace we bring into the world. I thank him for all the defeats and failures that make leadership so difficult, because the hard things are the only ones worth doing, and because all genuine achievement involves taking risks, making mistakes, and never giving up.

I thank Him for the gift of faith, which taught me to see the dazzling goodness and grace that surround us if only we open our eyes and minds. I thank Him for helping me understand that faith is not certainty but the courage to live with uncertainty; not a destination but the journey itself. I thank Him for allowing me to thank Him, for without gratitude there is no happiness, only the fleeting distraction of passing pleasures that grow ever less consequential with the passing years.

Oscar Wilde was right when he defined a cynic as one who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. The richer Britain became, the more cynical it grew. It put its faith in a financial house of cards. It looked at house prices and thought itself rich. It created the religion of shopping, whose original sin was not having this year's model or must-have, and whose salvation lay in spending money you don’t have, to buy things you don’t need, for the sake of a happiness that doesn’t last.

Rarely was a faith more seductive or addictive. The wake-up call, which is what the recession is, came just in time. So next year, let's enjoy joy itself, which unlike its gift-wrapped, instantly obsolete substitutes, is given freely to all those who bid it welcome.



Virtual Beit Midrash, Alon Shevut, Gush Etzion 90433 e-mail: yhe@virtual.co.il,

Home Page: http://www.vbm-torah.org/



By Rav Ezra Bick

Yaakov and Egypt

A. Burial

One of the clear sub-themes of our parasha is the contrast and tension between the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan. This is clear from the theme which connects the beginning and the end of the parasha - Yaakov's request that he be buried not in Egypt but in Canaan. Yaakov not only addresses this request to Yosef, but asks him to swear as well; later, on his deathbed, he charges his other children with the task of bringing his body to Canaan. The Torah then records at length the trip to Canaan and the burial in the Cave of Makhpela.

One might have imagined that the major motivating factor of Yaakov's insistence is his desire to be buried in the Cave of Makhpela, the resting-place of his parents and grandparents. This indeed is stressed by him when he speaks to his assembled sons AFTER the berakhot:

He commanded them, and said to them: I am being gathered unto my people; bury me with my fathers, in the cave which is in the field of Efron the Chitti. In the cave which is in the Makhpela field, against Mamreh in the land of Canaan, which Avraham bought from Efron the Chitti as a burial portion. There were Avraham and Sara his wife buried; there were buried Yitzchak and Rivka his wife, and there I buried Lea. (49:29-31).

Not only does Yaakov clearly indicate that the goal is the Makhpela cave, he even explains to his sons why that particular burial place is so important - it is the burial site of his fathers and mothers. However, when Yaakov gives the same instruction to Yosef at the beginning of the parasha, BEFORE the berakhot, there is a clear expression of another consideration which seems preeminent.

He called his son Yosef, and said to him: If I have found favor in your eyes, place your hand under my thigh, and act with me in kindness and truth - Do not bury me in Egypt. When I lie with my fathers, take me from Egypt and bury me in their burial place.... (47:29-30).

The mention of the Makhpela cave here is incidental and not even by explicit name, while the force and urgency, indicated by the pleading tone and demand for an oath, are directed at eliminating the possibility of burial in Egypt. In the second verse as well, where the cave is indirectly mentioned, this is preceded by an explicit request to "take me from Egypt;" and only subsequently to "bury me in their burial place."

The Sages noted this negative focus on Egyptian burial, and explained it in various ways. Rashi quotes three reasons why he did not want to buried in Egypt.

(1) For its dust would become lice (during the plagues);

(2) and also for the dead buried outside of Israel will be resurrected only with the trouble of transporting through tunnels (the resurrection proper takes place only in Israel; the dead bodies buried outside will first move underground to Israel);

(3) and also so that the Egyptians not make me into an object of idolatry.

The second reason does not appear as relevant as the first and third for two reasons. First, it is a reason to object to any place outside of Israel, and not specifically to Egypt. Secondly, it would not preclude the solution which Yosef eventually imposed on his brothers and children - that he be buried in Egypt but his body be taken with them when eventually they would all leave Egypt, during the Exodus. In fact, in our texts of Bereishit Rabba, this does not appear as an explanation why Yaakov asked Yosef not to bury him in Egypt, as the other two do, but in answer to the question, "why do all the forefathers desire to be buried in the Land of Israel?" (BR 96:4).

B. The sons of Yosef

The special sensitivity of Yaakov regarding Egypt appears in another context as well. Yaakov, as we know, tells Yosef that his two sons, Efrayim and Menasheh, will have the same status as the sons of Yaakov; in other words, they will be shevatim, tribes. If, as 48:6 implies, Yosef had other children, why do only these two receive special status?

One possible answer might be that at this time, when Yaakov is speaking to Yosef, there are no other children. 48:6 - "And your offspring which you HAD after them shall be yours" - seems to imply that this is not the case. However, Rashi interprets this verse as hypothetical: "IF you will have more children, they will not be counted as my children but will be included within the tribes of Efrayim and Menasheh." The Sforno goes even further and claims that the verse is referring to Yosef's GRANDCHILDREN. He apparently assumes that Yosef had no other sons, since they are never mentioned.

Another answer explains the choice of only two of Yosef's children, even though there were more, as deriving from the prophecy Yaakov quotes as a preamble to his claiming the two of them as his sons.

Yaakov said to Yosef: Kel Shakkai appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me. He said to me, behold I shall make you fruitful and multiply you; AND I SHALL MAKE YOU INTO A MULTITUDE OF PEOPLES. (48:3-4).

Rashi: He informed me that I would yet produce in the future a multitude and peoples.... "a multitude of peoples" refers to two, other than Binyamin.

The first explanation goes against the simple meaning of the verse, which seems to clearly imply that Yosef had other offspring besides Efrayim and Menasheh. The second leaves open the question: WHY does God limit the choice of Yosef's children to two. The usual answer to this question is that the election of Efrayim and Menasheh represents the "bekhora" of Yosef - he receives the status of "firstborn," who inherits a double portion. By declaring Efrayim and Menasheh to be tribes, Yaakov gives Yosef, in effect, a double portion, relative to the other sons.

This is a constant theme in Chazal, and is supported by several references to Yosef as a "bekhor" in Tanakh. Nonetheless, there is an additional point here, which becomes evident when reading the verses carefully.

And now, your two sons WHO WERE BORN TO YOU IN THE LAND OF EGYPT BEFORE I CAME TO EGYPT, they are mine; Efrayim and Menasheh shall be to me like Reuven and Shimon. (48,5)

Is this phrase, "who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to Egypt," merely a figure of speech, without special significance? From Yosef's answer to his father's next question, it would appear not. Yaakov asks Yosef who are the two children whom he has brought. Yosef answers, "These are my children, whom God has given me HERE" (48:9). The Hebrew reads, "asher natan li Elokim BA-ZEH." The last word, "ba-zeh," literally means "with this," and appears to be inexplicable. Rashi quotes the midrash which explains that Yosef showed his ketuba to Yaakov - he was defending the legitimacy of his children. The pshat however, as supported by the Targum, means "here." Yosef was answering his father's stipulation - these are the children born IN EGYPT, as you defined it in your previous statement. These are the two, Efrayim and Menasheh, who are to receive berakhot as though they were the children of Yaakov, since they are the two who were "born in the land of Egypt."

[In fact, the midrash is building on this explanation as well, adding the story of the ketuba to understand the unusual choice of words to indicate geography. Why does Yosef have to prove the legitimacy of his children? - Because they were born in Egypt before his father came. Yosef was living as an Egyptian far from his father's house and ways, in a land which Chazal considered to be "rife with licentiousness." Since these are the children who were "born in the land of Egypt" - ba-zeh - it is important to stress that were born from a legitimate union - ba-zeh!, with a ketuba!]

Hence, the equation of Efrayim and Menasheh with Reuven and Shimon is the equation of the children born in Egypt (before Yaakov joined Yosef) and the children born in Aram. Here again we see a special sensitivity to Egypt and its effect on Yaakov's house. What we do not yet understand, in this case, is what exactly the connection is between the Egyptian birth of the first two sons of Yosef and their election to the status of tribes of Israel.

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