Virtuosity Savored

A blog by Adam J. Rosenbaum

The Daily Show: Tetzaveh 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: What daily habit can you not live without? What happens to your day if you neglect it?

Now that God has described to Moses the Israelites’ site of worship, the next topic is what kind of worship must be performed:

The Pitch: “Now this is what you shall offer upon the altar: two yearling lambs each day, regularly. You shall offer the one lamb in the morning, and you shall offer the other lamb at twilight.” – Exodus 29:38-39

Swing #1: “Man must endeavor to serve the Lord in the morning as well as at the dusk of life, in youth as well as in old age. In youth, the body is healthy and strong, and man is in full possession of his vigor and energy. However, his mental faculties are still not fully matured. In old age, his mental faculties are mature, but his physical strength has declined. Accordingly, the morning sacrifice should remind man to accept the sovereignty of the kingdom of heaven at the time when the sun of his own life is on the rise and not to allow himself to be led astray by the follies of this world. The sacrifice which he is required to offer at dusk, by the same token, should teach him that even when the sun of his life is about to set he must not grow lax in his endeavors but must gather new strength by continuing to serve the Lord.” – HaDrash VeHaEyun

Swing #2: “In addition to the annual festival cycle, Israelite religion required a communal tamid, “daily/continual,” offering every morning and evening. The tamid had a collective aspect since its results would benefit all members of Israel, regardless of sex, age, or status.” – Gerald A. Klingbeil, Bridging the Gap: Ritual and Ritual Texts in the Bible

Swing #3: “The biblical descriptions of the daily burnt offering … are completely devoid of any concern with expiation. The purpose of the daily burnt offering – and perhaps some other sacrifices as well – is to provide regular and constant pleasing odors to the Lord, so that the divine presence will continually remain in the sanctuary.” – Jonathan Klawans, Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple: Symbolism and Supersessionism in the Study of Ancient Judaism

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators understand the psychological benefits of the daily sacrificial offering? How do these regular responsibilities add up to a broader set of values? How do seemingly simple daily decisions represent our larger priorities?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We look forward next Shabbat to dedicating a window in our synagogue, donated by Pearl and Warren Hyman in honor of their recent 70th wedding anniversary. Please join us on Saturday, February 23rd, to thank and celebrate with them.

The Big Inning at the End: Athletes are notoriously habitual creatures. For example, Hall of Fame Yankee catcher Yogi Berra ate a banana and a bagel every morning. While this might not be everyone’s breakfast of champions, it seemed to work for him.

Shabbat Shalom!

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It’s Curtains For You!: Terumah 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: What aspects of your life do you tend to keep guarded? Have you become more or less guarded as you’ve moved through life?

Part of God’s instructions for the Israelites’ portable sanctuary (mishkan) includes a curtain (parochet) to guard the Holy of Holies:

The Pitch: “You shall make a curtain of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and fine twisted linen; it shall have a design of cherubim worked into it. Hang it upon four posts of acacia wood overlaid with gold and having hooks of gold, [set] in four sockets of silver. Hang the curtain under the clasps, and carry the Ark of the Pact there, behind the curtain, so that the curtain shall serve you as a partition between the Holy and the Holy of Holies.” – Exodus 26:31-33

Swing #1: “In the midst of artistic attentiveness and aesthetic extravagance, we may note especially the prescribed curtain, which is different from the more numerous curtains earlier listed. This curtain [parochet] provides for a separation between ‘the holy place’ and ‘the most holy place’ (i.e., the holy of holiness), wherein are housed the ark and the mercy seat. … What is intended is the creation of the most protected, awesome place to host and entertain properly the very self-giving of God. No doubt the screen was proposed with only the best of liturgical intentions, and it seems first of all to be appreciate for that intention.” – The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 1

Swing #2: “The meaning is not that the veil should be put up first and thereafter the ark should be brought to its place, for the space between the pillars would have been insufficient. … The intention here is only to specify the place of the ark, not the order of the stages in the erection of the tabernacle. … Properly, the ark should be shut in, and it should not be possible to take it out from its place except when the tabernacle was taken down, or in abnormal circumstances, by the removal of the pillars from their position.” – Umberto Cassuto, Commentary on Exodus

Swing #3: “The origins of the Ark curtain go back to the curtain in the wilderness Tent and later the Jerusalem Temple. When the Romans came and entered its holy precincts, so the story goes, their general pierced the curtain with his weapon, firmly believing that he would thus kill off the secret being within. The parochet may be seen as a parallel to the incense which, according to most biblical scholars, was meant to hide the Divine Presence. Halachically, the parochet partakes of the sanctity of the Ark and may not be disposed of when it can no longer be used. While standing up when the Ark is opened is not, according to the Halachah, a requirement, many Jews are so accustomed to it that indeed they feel discomfited when they find themselves in the presence of the scrolls without rising in their honor. For them, standing up when the scrolls of the Torah come into view becomes their acknowledgment that they are in the presence of holy objects. Many Jews would therefore consider a see-through curtain something of an oxymoron.” – CCAR Responsa 5754.20

Late-Inning Questions: How might our commentaries summarize the purpose of the parochet? Does the fact that it protects a holy object make the parochet holy as well? How do we best guard what is sacred in our lives?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We’re overjoyed that so many people will join us for our Scholar-in-Residence weekend. While our Shabbat dinner is sold out, we encourage you to hear our Scholar, Dr. Mitchell Bard, tonight (he’ll start speaking in the Sanctuary around 7:30PM) and tomorrow at morning services.

The Big Inning at the End: Even though this might not have much to do with the theme of today’s post, I would be remiss if I didn’t express sadness regarding the death of Frank Robinson, one of the most underrated superstar players in baseball history, as well as the first African-American team manager. His superb talent was matched only by his fiery competitiveness.

Shabbat Shalom!

Being There: Mishpatim 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: How do you prepare to be both physically and mentally present at an important moment? Is it easy for you to do so, or do you need to do specific actions so that you’re ready.

As God invites Moses to ascend Mount Sinai, God specifies that Moses’ full presence is just as important as God’s:

The Pitch: “Adonai said to Moses, ‘Come up to Me on the mountain and wait [be] there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the teachings and commandments which I have inscribed to instruct them.’” – Exodus 24:12

Swing #1: “There is an apparent difficulty here. If Moses came up on the mountain, he would already be there, so why would God also bother to specify, ‘and be there?’ But from this apparent redundancy we find proof that even one who strains himself to ascend onto a high mountaintop, and is indeed able to reach the summit, it is nevertheless possible that he is still not there. Even though he may be standing on the very peak itself, his head may be somewhere else. The goal, you see, is not merely to ascend but also to be there, to be actually present there, and nowhere else – and not to be going up and down at the same time.” – Menachem Mendl of Kotzk

Swing #2: “This is the order of events here. First, Moses entered into the mist, near to the radiance of the radiance of the Divine (Exodus 24:2). Then Moses left, and went to the people to tell them all that God had commanded (24:3). At that time, all the elders and leaders left Mount Sinai, and came to Moses. They thought that God Himself would teach them the commandments, just as He had proclaimed the Ten Commandments. They therefore begged Moses, ‘You go and hear the words. We will remain here, ready to obey everything that you say in God’s name. We do not have the power to hear God’s words, lest we die’ (20:16). Moses then went with them to the people, and told them everything, to which they responded, ‘We will do and we will listen’ (24:7). After that, God told Moses, ‘You alone come up to Me to the mountain. I will give you the Torah, and you will teach it to them.’” – Nachmanides

Swing #3: “At this point in [Parashat Mishpatim], Moses presumably wrote the Ten Commandments on parchment to deposit in the ark of the covenant. The stone tablets of the Ten Commandments are referred to only later in Exodus 24:12 and 31:18. In any event, this is clearly not a reference to the Pentateuch.” – Arthur J. Bellinzoni, The Old Testament

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators understand what it is like for Moses to be fully present at Mount Sinai? Why is it especially important for Moses to be paying full attention at Sinai as opposed to the other important events that happen throughout his lifetime? Does God need to specify to Moses that the experience at Sinai is an especially important moment? How good are we at identifying the key moments in our lives?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We are so proud of our Sisterhood, and each year, we are more and more impressed on Sisterhood Shabbat, which is led and run entirely by our female congregants. Please be here Saturday starting at 9:30AM to support them.

The Big Inning at the End: Sometimes, even the great players are caught not paying attention. When Detroit Tigers second baseman Lou Whitaker traveled to Minneapolis to participate in the 1985 All-Star Game, he forgot to bring his uniform. Shortly before gametime, he purchased a Tigers cap and jersey at a souvenir stand, and then took a black marker to draw his uniform number on the back of the jersey. Fortunately, it didn’t take too long – his uniform number was “1”.

Shabbat Shalom!

My Name is … WHAT?!: Yitro 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: What is the worst name you’ve used to refer to another person? What is the worst thing someone has called you? Do you take insults of your name with a grain of salt, or do they haunt you in some way?

As God reveals the 10 commandments to the Israelites on Mount Sinai, the people learn early on that disgracing God’s name will not be tolerated:

The Pitch: “You shall not swear falsely by the name of Adonai your God; for Adonai will not clear one who swears falsely by God’s name.” – Exodus 20:7

Swing #1: “Thou shalt not carry the Name of God on they person in a dishonest manner. This means: Thou shalt not pretend to be more honest and pious than thou really are.” – Or HaHayim

Swing #2: “This prohibition includes even mentioning God’s name unnecessarily without the context of an oath. It is as if the Torah had said: ‘Do not bring this name over your lips.’” – Rabbeinu Bahya

Swing #3: “Lord’s name? Strange gods? Spooky language! Designed to scare and control primitive people. In no way does superstitious nonsense like this apply to the lives of intelligent civilized humans in the 21st century.” – George Carlin, “The Ten Commandments”, from Complaints and Grievances, HBO, 2002

Late-Inning Questions: What do our commentators say are the indirect consequences (if any) at taking God’s name in vain? At a time when public figures, including some politicians, mock other peoples’ names, does this commandment have extra resonance today? When we shame someone else’s name, does our own name suffer more?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We’re just two weeks away from our visit from our Scholar-in-Residence, Dr. Mitchell Bard, who will speak both Friday night and Saturday at the synagogue about the importance of Israel and stopping the BDS movement. Join us for our FNL and Saturday services February 8th-9th to take part in these vital conversations.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of insulting names, numerous Major League players carried dubious nicknames throughout their careers. Joe Medwick, for instance, was known in most baseball history books as “Ducky”. Thankfully, we don’t often refer to him by his full nickname during his playing days: “Ducky Wucky”. (Seriously.)

Shabbat Shalom!

The Descent of Mannah: Beshallach 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: Are there foods that you would never try? Have you been turned off by a food’s smell or texture before daring to put it in your mouth? Or are you willing to try just about any food?

With the Israelites in need of sustenance in the wilderness, a mysterious food descends from the heavens:

The Pitch: “When the fall of dew lifted, there, over the surface of the wilderness, lay a fine and flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ – for they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, ‘That is the bread which Adonai has given you to eat.’” – Exodus 16:14-15

Swing #1: “In Saadiah Gaon’s opinion, the manna was a greater wonder than the marvels the Israelites witnessed in Egypt. For, as he points out in his introduction to his philosophical tract, Emunot Ve-De’ot, sustaining close to two million people for forty years with food created, as it were, from the air, is no mean feat. The manna was a delicate food, a diet suited for the teaching of wisdom to the Jewish people. … The manna was a natural and miraculous phenomenon, with Saadiah adding a spiritual dimension as well.” – Dr. Aharon Gimani, “They Said to One Another, ‘What is it?’ … ‘That is the Bread,’” from A Divinely Given Torah in Our Day and Age, Volume I

Swing #2: “Every Israelite who partook of the manna from heaven changed so greatly in appearance that the others were unable to recognize him. He was not the same as he had been before. … Each would say of the other: ‘Who is this? He is no longer the same man. He has taken on new spiritual dimensions.’ … [Moses explained] to them that this change had been wrought by the bread from heaven of which they had partaken.” – Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Rimanov

Swing #3: “Manna’s appearance represents an anomaly in the context of the Bible’s miracles, since miracles do not usually introduce previously unknown substances or creatures. Instead, they change the world by undermining the order of the various elements of Creation; they resemble (somewhat) a surrealistic painting in which the components, all common and borrowed from reality, achieve their fantastical effect by having been rearranged. … The deviation of the manna from this pattern, it being an entirely new creation, becomes clear by the Bible’s various attempts to define, describe, and fathom it by comparing the manna with other, known phenomena.” – Avigdor Shinan and Yair Zakovitch, From God to Gods

Late-Inning Questions: Our commentators indicate that the mannah is supposed to be more than mere sustenance; it also is meant to fulfill some of the Israelites’ spiritual needs. In what ways does food fill our souls as well as our bellies? How is eating a spiritual experience? Are there ways we can make eating a more spiritual experience?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: This weekend is all about legacy. Our Tu Bishvat Seder at tonight’s FNL will speak of the legacy we leave for the earth; tomorrow morning’s service will recognize the dozens of congregants who have signed up for our Life & Legacy society; and our participation in Monday’s MLK Day March (which will include some of our friends from Pittsburgh) will honor Dr. King’s legacy and challenge us to make it a reality. Hope to see you there.

The Big Inning at the End: The bizarre eating habits of some ballplayers are well-documented, but perhaps my favorite example is that of pitcher Turk Wendell, who chew on the mound not tobacco, not gum, but licorice. And he would brush his teeth between every inning. (Seriously.)

Shabbat Shalom!

First Thing’s First: Bo 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: Do you subscribe to the idea that “the early bird gets the worm”? Should someone who arrives first always be given priority over someone who arrives later? Why does arriving first connote special status?

Just before the Israelites depart from Egypt, God reminds them that the first-borns of all families are special in God’s eyes:

The Pitch: “‘Consecrate to Me every male first-born; human and beast, the first [male] issue of every womb among the Israelites is Mine.’” – Exodus 13:2

Swing #1: “When God said to Moshe, ‘My first born son is Israel,’ this implied that he had other children. Every nation is a child of God, for every human being was created in the divine image. At the moment of theophany, when God revealed himself to the Jewish people and gave us the Torah, we were chosen as the am segulah (a treasured nation), but God did not abandon the rest of the world. We are God’s firstborn – and a critical task of a firstborn child is to be a role model and an effective teacher for the other children. This is accomplished not only through learning but by setting an example in our daily lives of sanctifying the divine name: behaving honestly and treating others with dignity. A Jew who commits a crime violates the teaching of ‘My first-born son is Israel.’” – Rabbi Avishai C. David, Darosh Darash Yosef: Discourse of Rav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik on the Weekly Parashah

Swing #2: “Our daughters ask: And what if the first issue of the womb is a daughter? Doesn’t she also belong to God? Miriam the Prophet answers: Although Judaism has no ritual for consecrating or redeeming her, we can create one. For she too occupies a special place in her parents’ hearts, as the first fruit of God’s bounty. Lilith the Rebel protests: We no longer need to sacrifice one child for the sake of another, or single out one child as more privileged than another! And since we no longer have a functioning priesthood, there’s no need to redeem our children in order to exempt them from sacred service. So we don’t need to add yet another redemption ceremony. We should abolish them all!” – Ellen Frankel, The Five Books of Miriam

Swing #3: “As Morton Smith reminds us, the Hebrew Bible is dominated by particular ideologies that may well be at odds with the unprinted, cultural attitudes of the majority of Israelites who did not get the last word, and their attitudes are never completely covered up. They are found in polemics, in laden silences, in some of the methinks-he-doth-protest-too-much frameworks of the Hebrew Bible. Thus the Hebrew Bible insists that first-born humans not be offered in sacrifice but be redeemed side by side with the less nuanced statement that ‘Whatever is the first to open the womb among the Israelites, of human beings and animals, is mine.’” – Susan Niditch, War in the Hebrew Bible

Late-Inning Questions: According to our commentators, what is the significance of God “possessing” the first-born of every family? Why do you think the law is mentioned immediately prior to the Exodus? When is it a blessing to finish first, and when is it a burden?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We can’t wait for our 8th annual Jews, Brews, and Ques Kosher Cookout, this Sunday, January 13th! Please join us to be a part of one of the great programs in Jewish Charleston. Tickets are still available, so contact the office today at 843-571-3264.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of arriving first, Bob Watson of the Houston Astros scored the one millionth run in Major League history on May 4, 1975, by scoring from second base on a home run by his teammate Milt May. Knowing he was on the precipice of history, Watson sprinted to home plate. Had he not done so, Dave Concepcion of the Cincinnati Reds would have scored the magic run; Watson crossed home plate in San Francisco about two seconds before Concepcion did in Cincinnati. For his hustle, Watson won a wristwatch and 1,000,000 Tootsie Rolls.

Shabbat Shalom!

Three Day’s Company: Vaera 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: What’s the longest trip you’ve gone on, in terms of time? Did you wish it could’ve been shorter, or longer? Upon your return, did such a lengthy trip enable to see your home in a different light?

As Moses asks Pharaoh for the Israelites to leave Egypt in order to worship God in the wilderness, he explains why they must be gone for so long:

The Pitch: “But Moses replied, ‘It would not be right to do this, for what we sacrifice to our God Adonai is untouchable to the Egyptians. If we sacrifice that which is untouchable to the Egyptians before their very eyes, will they not stone us! So we must go a distance of three days into the wilderness and sacrifice to Adonai as our God may command us.’” – Exodus 8:22-23

Swing #1: “Pharaoh was under the impression that even if one was deeply entangled in the corruption of Egypt and bound to ‘the land,’ the earthly elements, one could proceed to worship God and to offer sacrifices to Him without proper spiritual preparations. But Moses explained to him that this is not the way of the Children of Israel. Before a Jew may go forth to worship the Lord and to offer sacrifices to Him, he must first move away from the corruption of which ancient Egypt was a symbol and cleanse himself of all earthly things. It is only after he has repented of his sins and removed himself from evil that he may make his offering to the Lord.” – Shem MiShmuel

Swing #2: “The Children of Israel traveled from Raamses to Succoth, and from Succoth to Etham, and from Etham to Pi-hahiroth. [They traveled on] Friday, Shabbat, and Sunday, which were the 15th, 16th, and 17th [days of the month of Nisan]. On Monday – which was the fourth [day] of their journey [and] which was the 18th day [of Nisan] – Israel was readying their cattle and preparing their equipment to leave. The commanders said to them, ‘Your appointed time has arrived to return to Egypt! In accordance with what is said in Scripture: “So we must go a distance of three days into the wilderness”.’ They said to them, ‘When we left, we left with Pharaoh’s permission.’ They said to them, ‘No matter what you want, you will end up returning and upholding the orders of the kingdom!’ Israel rose against them and struck some of them, wounded some of them, and killed some of them [which caused Pharaoh to chase after the Israelites at the Sea].” – Tanhuma d’Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai

Swing #3: “‘Untouchable to the Egyptians’: It can furthermore be interpreted in a different sense: The sacrifice that we sacrifice is an abhorrent thing to Egypt, for it is their deity that we sacrifice.” – Rashi

Late-Inning Questions: Was Moses’s request for a three-day journey a method to trick Pharaoh into granting them a one-way ticket out of town? If so, was it justified, given the years of suffering the Israelites had endured? Or could God have found a different way to liberate the Israelites? Is deception ever justified?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Tickets are going fast for our 8th annual Jews, Brews, and Ques Kosher Cookout on Sunday, January 13th! Please join us to be a part of one of the great programs in Jewish Charleston.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of deception, one of my favorite baseball stories took place in 1987, when a minor-league catcher named Dave Bresnahan hid a potato in a spare glove during the game and, at an opportune moment, threw it into foul territory, and then tagged a runner out with a real ball. Bresnahan was caught in the act and his playing career ended shortly thereafter but … points for creativity, at least?

Shabbat Shalom!

How to Save a Life: Shemot 2018 II

Pre-Game Chatter: How far would you go to preserve the life of a loved one? Are there things you could never bring yourself to do, even if a loved one is in danger?

In one of the most curious episodes in the story of Moses, Zipporah saves a life (which one, we’re not quite sure) by circumcising her son:

The Pitch: “At a night encampment on the way, Adonai encountered him and sought to kill him. So Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin, and touched his legs with it, saying, ‘You are truly a bridegroom of blood to me!’ And when [God] let him alone, she added, ‘A bridegroom of blood because of the circumcision.’” – Exodus 4:24-26

Swing #1: “The narrator also does not give any indication why God attacked. Was the noncircumcision of his son the reason that Moses (or the son) got into danger? This is the suggestion of the Targumim and midrashim, but God knew that the son was not circumcised when God commissioned Moses. God may have attacked Moses or the uncircumcised son so that Zipporah would save with blood, thus foreshadowing the way Israel would save their firstborn children in Egypt with the blood of the lamb.” – Tikva Frymer-Kensky, Reading the Women of the Bible: A New Interpretation of Their Stories

Swing #2: “Many modern scholars have suggested that the function of Exodus 4:24-26 within its redactional context is to have the redemption of the Israelite first-borns, and indeed of Israel itself, God’s first born (Exodus 4:22). Zipporah’s first-born is redeemed from death through the blood of circumcision; the Israelite first-borns are redeemed from death through the blood of the Paschal sacrifice.” – Shaye J. D. Cohen, Why Aren’t Jewish Women Circumcised?: Gender and Covenant in Judaism

Swing #3: “According to the opinion that it was Moses who was attacked, when Zipporah saw him swallowed by the angel leaving his genital organ exposed, she understood that it was because of this organ, but she was not sure why. It could have been because Moses had married her, and it was not proper for him to be intimate with the daughter of a man who had been an idolator. On the other hand, it could have been because he had neglected to circumcise his son. Not taking any chances, she immediately circumcised the child. When the angel did not release Moses immediately, she cried out, ‘You are a husband of blood because of me! It is because you married me that your blood is now being shed! I have circumcised the boy, but you are still being killed.’ The angel then released Moses. Relieved, Zipporah said, ‘A husband of blood because of circumcision! My husband was not in blood danger because of me, but because of circumcision.’” – Hizkunei

Late-Inning Questions: Do you believe that God is trying to kill Moses or his son? How would you evaluate Zipporah’s actions in this episode? It is more an extraordinary act of courage or an ordinary act of defending one’s family? What causes you to shift from ordinary activity to extraordinary action?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Tickets are going fast for our 8th annual Jews, Brews, and Ques Kosher Cookout! Please join us to be a part of one of the great programs in Jewish Charleston.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of extraordinary achievement in high-pressure circumstances, one name that always comes to mind is Jack Morris, who pitched a 10-inning shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. Morris was inducted this year into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and although his case for being in the Hall is borderline at best, the way he pitched that one game was probably the deciding factor in the minds of many voters.

Shabbat Shalom!

The Remains of Someday: Vayehi 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: What do you want people to remember about you hundreds of years from now? Is it a particular idea, a particular memory, a particular object, or some combination thereof?

At the end of Joseph’s life, his last request is to be buried in the Promised Land:

The Pitch: “At length, Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am about to die. God will surely take notice of you and bring you up from this land to the land promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.’ So Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, ‘When God has taken notice of you, you shall carry up my bones from here.’ Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten years; and he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.” – Genesis 50:24-26

Swing #1: “Rashi, quoting the midrash, sees the pakod pakadti [‘taken note’] formula as the linguistic key to redemption: ‘In this wording, they are redeemed.’ These are, in fact, the key words used twice by Moses to signify God’s promise of redemption: ‘God will surely take note of you and bring you up from this land to the land that He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.’ So Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, ‘When God has taken notice of you, you shall carry up my bones from here.’” – Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, The Particulars of Rapture

Swing #2: “The contrast between Jacob’s state funeral and his burial in the ancestral vault at Machpelah, and the quiet burial of Joseph in Egypt is most striking. One can sense the deterioration in the situation of the Israelites that had taken place in the intervening 54 years. Both Jacob and Joseph die with the divine promise of redemption on their lips. The patriarchal period thus opens and closes on the same note.” – Nahum M. Sarna, Understanding Genesis

Swing #3: “And he lived 110 years and then died at a good old age, having enjoyed the greatest perfection of beauty, and wisdom, and eloquence of speech. The beauty of his person is testified to by the violent love with which he inflamed the wife of the eunuch; his wisdom by the evenness of his conduct in the indescribable variety of circumstances that attended the whole of his life, by which he wrought regularity among things that were discordant. His eloquence of speech is displayed in his interpretation of the dreams, in his affability in ordinary conversation, and by the persuasion that followed his words; in consequence of which his subjects all obeyed him cheerfully and voluntarily rather than from any compulsion.” – Philo

Late-Inning Questions: What does Joseph’s last request say about him and his priorities? Do the things we desire after death reflect our values in life? Can we trust those who live after us to carry our wishes out?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: It’s a pleasure to host high-schoolers from the Seaboard (mid-Atlantic) region this weekend. They will take a large part in leading our services this Shabbat, and we invite you to be with us to experience the ruach that only USY can bring.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of how we wish to be remembered, Ted Williams famously said that the only thing he ever really wanted was for people who passed him on the street to say, “There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived.” More than 15 years after his death, we’d probably still say it.

Shabbat Shalom!

Joseph Stallin’?: Vayigash 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: Do you have a particular political leaning? Do you think your philosophy — be it liberal, conservative, or middle-of-the-road — should be applied to every society, or do different societies need different approaches to running their respective governments? Can we apply modern political ideas to stories of ancient communities?

As Joseph wields his power over Egypt during seven years of famine, his strategy for keeping the people fed is bold, and perhaps controversial:

The Pitch: “And Joseph said, ‘Bring your livestock, and I will sell to you against your livestock, if the money is gone.’ So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them bread in exchange for the horses, for the stocks of sheep and cattle, and the asses; thus he provided them with bread that year in exchange for all their livestock. … And they said, ‘You have saved our lives! We are grateful to my lord, and we shall be serfs to Pharaoh.’” – Genesis 47:16-17, 25

Swing #1: “We have here the first example of land nationalisation or as a contemporary writer expresses it (‘State Communism,’ Dr. Israel Eldad: Hegyonot Ha-mikra), control, centralisation of food supply, and equal distribution accompanied by the nationalisation of private property, first of money, then cattle, and finally, land. Henceforth all the lessees of Pharaoh’s lands pay him ‘the state’ ground rent, and live on the residue.” – Nehama Leibowitz, New Studies in Bereshit – Genesis

Swing #2: “While there is no way to cultivate identity without making distinctions, the danger of distinctions is that they may breed contempt for others. That disdain confronted our ancestors when they moved into ancient Egypt, where Joseph reported to his brothers that ‘all shepherds are abhorrent to Egyptians.’  … While we can accept the fact of their scorn, Joseph never explains why the shepherds were the objects of Egyptian hatred. … [A] possible reading of Joseph’s warning is that Joseph sees that his brothers are now wealthy because of his gifts. Wealth often brings unexpected tensions. Worried that his brothers might feel the pressures of their wealth, and therefore begin to quarrel about how they live together, Joseph urges his brothers not to allow money to divide them.” – Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, The Bedside Torah

Swing #3: “The events of this section are not attested historically in Egyptian records. Perhaps they have been included here to confirm Yosef’s stature as Rescuer, not only of his family but of all Egypt as well. The description of Yosef’s power is now complete: just as the brothers were ready to ‘become my lord’s servants’ (Genesis 44:9), so now are the Egyptians (47:25). Some have seen the episode as an ironic reversal of what is to come in Exodus, with the Egyptians’ enslavement of the Israelites; if so, this interlude may have been an amusing one to ancient Israelite audiences.” – Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses

Late-Inning Questions: Are Joseph’s actions ruthless, wise, or both? What does this episode say about his character? Can we admire difficult decisions even if they are unfair to some people?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: If you haven’t already done so, check out our CinEmanu-El video and let me know other topics you’d like to see on the screen. One way to do that is to take our Adult Education survey.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of political stances, earlier this year, the Atlanta Braves co-hosted a campaign event for Brian Kemp, the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Georgia. The Braves, who said they would also make a contribution to Kemp’s Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams, claimed that this was not a political endorsement. Is it wise for sports franchises to align themselves with political candidates? What are the potential rewards and risks of doing so?

Shabbat Shalom!