Virtuosity Savored

A blog by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Month: December, 2016

No Ordinary Joe: Miketz 2016

Pre-Game Chatter: Have you ever wanted to change your name? What name would you choose? What is preventing you, if anything, from choosing to change your name?

In the Torah portion of Miketz, Pharaoh releases Joseph from prison and elevates him to a powerful position in Egypt, and gives him a new name:

The Pitch: “Pharaoh then gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-paneah; and he gave him for a wife Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. Thus Joseph emerged in charge of the land of Egypt.” – Genesis 41:45

Swing #1: “If zaphenath means ‘hidden things’ and paneah means ‘explainer’, should not the name read Paneah-Zaphenath? The name is given in what seems the reverse order to show the reason why Joseph was found worthy to have the ability to discern hidden things; namely, that Joseph was exceedingly humble and kept his deeds of righteousness concealed so that they did not become immodestly conspicuous. Zaphenath: It is because of conceals (his) deeds of righteousness, Paneah: that he is able to discover and explain hidden things.” – Sefat Emet

Swing #2: “[Zaphenath-paneah is] an Egyptian name which is appropriate to the story. Yosef lives, and through him so do Egypt, his family, and the People of Israel.” – Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses

Swing #3: “We have also observed that to name a person is to assert one’s authority over him, and this explains the changes of name imposed by a master.” – Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel

Late-Inning Questions: What does Joseph’s new name say about him? What does the name say about the Pharaoh? Why, unlike other biblical characters whose names are changed, is Joseph never referred to by his new name again? Do you think Joseph likes his new name? How would you feel if someone else tried to give you a new name? How much control should we have over our own names?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: You are invited to join us at Synagogue Emanu-El’s 6th Annual Community Jews, Brews & Ques BBQ Kosher Grill-Off on Sunday, January 15th at 3:30PM. All-inclusive tickets are $75.00 per person. RSVP to the Synagogue office at 843-571-3264 by January 9th. Sponsorships are available. A percentage of the profits will benefit the African-American Museum. This is a 21+ event.

The Big Inning at the End: As 2016 comes to a close, many of us may be eager to turn the page and start a new year. But it’s always worthwhile to remember the year that was, even if the memories aren’t always pleasant. Here are some of these memories from the sports world which, I hope, will bring a welcome distraction from weightier issues, even if only for a moment.

Shabbat Shalom, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy New Year!

Coated in Deception: Vayeshev 2016

Pre-Game Chatter: Have you ever gotten away with bad behavior? How does it feel when you know you’ve escaped punishment? Does the thrill of avoiding negative consequences outweigh the guilt of doing the wrong thing?

In our Torah portion this Shabbat, Vayeshev, Joseph’s brothers find a way to rid themselves of their nemesis without their father knowing the truth – at least for now.

The Pitch: “Then they took Joseph’s tunic, slaughtered a kid, and dipped the tunic in the blood. They had the ornamented tunic taken to their father, and they said, ‘We found this. Please examine it; is it your son’s tunic or not?’” – Genesis 37:31-32

Swing #1: “It seems inconceivable that anyone should ever have suspected Jews of using human blood for their religious rituals. But it may be that these accusations were the punishment due them for the deceitful behavior of their remote ancestors who dipped Joseph’s coat into the blood of a he-goat and then presented it to Jacob to identify as the coat of his favorite son.” – Rabbi Elhanan Wasserman

Swing #2: “Jacob, who had himself deceived his father, was now deceived by his own sons. Like Isaac, he was now too spiritually blind to recognize the truth, even though, as we shall see, he nurtured a subconscious suspicion. The truth would throw too harsh a light on his own parental deficiency.” – Karen Armstrong, In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of Genesis

Swing #3: “The loss of the garment, like the stripping away of insignia from a soldier who is being ‘drummed out’ of the military, transforms Joseph from honorable person to a shamed person.” – Victor H. Matthews, “The Anthropology of Clothing in the Joseph Narrative”, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 65

Late-Inning Questions: Depending on which commentary you find most compelling, this episode reflects badly on someone – either Jacob, Joseph, or Jacob’s other sons. Who looks the worst as a result of this episode? Does it anger you that Joseph’s brothers temporarily evade the consequences of their actions, even for a short time? How does it compare to how you feel when improper behavior goes unpunished today?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Our annual Night of Giving is always the highlight of Hanukkah for me. Please join us Monday, December 26th, at 5:15 PM, at one of the following Publix grocery stores: West Ashley – Ashley Landing Mall-1401 Sam Rittenberg Blvd.; Mt. Pleasant – Queensborough Shopping Center-1000 Johnnie Dodds Blvd.; or Summerville – Paradise Shoppes-1585 Central Ave. We will gather and celebrate the third night of Hanukkah. After lighting the menorah, and then shop for the Kosher Food Pantry. What a wonderful way to show our appreciation for the gifts in our lives.

The Big Inning at the End: Once again, I want to express my appreciation to Mike Mills for being a good sport and helping me celebrate the Cubs’ victory at services this Saturday. If anything, I am reminded that it’s important to appreciate triumphs when we are able, especially since we never know when they will occur again. If anything, the Indians’ signing of standout slugger Edwin Encarnacion means that we may be toasting a Cleveland World Series victory at this time next year.

Shabbat Shalom!

Pray or Prey: Vayishlakh 2016

Pre-Game Chatter: How do we know when remorse is genuine? What do we have to do to prove that we have learned from our mistakes and changed for the better? Can one statement of remorse prove our growth, or do we need to show more?

As Jacob anticipates his reunion with Esau, his anxiety is on full display when he prays to God – but is his prayer genuine?

The Pitch: “‘Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; else, I fear, he may come and strike me down, mothers and children alike.’” – Genesis 32:12

Swing #1: “The encounter with Esau could have had either of two outcomes, and Jacob feared the consequences of both. If Esau were to make war on his camp, there would be bloodshed. On the other hand, if Esau were to make peace with him, there was reason to fear that Esau and his men would become too intimate with Jacob and his household and would teach them their evil ways. Therefore Jacob prayed to God to save him from two eventualities: ‘Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother:’ i.e. from becoming too intimate with my evil brother, and ‘from the hand of Esau;’ i.e. from the wickedness symbolized by the spirit of Esau. And the Lord answered his prayer, for He saved Jacob not only from the wrath of Esau but also from too intimate involvement with him.” – Bet HaLevi

Swing #2: “This is a quintessential ‘foxhole’ prayer: though stress and fear have driven Jacob to his knees, his prayer contains no remorse at all, let alone a hint of confession. There is no acknowledgment of wrongdoing whatsoever. True, Jacob does admit that he is unworthy of the divine benefits extended to him … there may even be a whiff of irony here in that Jacob is only being ‘appropriately humble’ while, without realizing it, he is also being as truthful as he has ever been. In the final analysis, Jacob’s desperate petition to be rescued from Esau seems based entirely on an appeal to YHWH’s presumably unconditional promises, not on any expression of regret for the way he wronged his brother.” – Frank Anthony Spina, The Faith of the Outsider

Swing #3: “If you should wonder why Jacob uses the word ‘berakha’ – blessing –  instead of minha – ‘offering,’ as in the previous verse, it may be suggested that he deliberately called that abundance of livestock ‘blessing,’ to inform Esau that this blessing with which he had been blessed, he would not steal from him, and here it was. It was this type of blessing which he had been interested in. His prayer had prompted him to see things in their true light.” – Nehama Leibowitz, New Studies in Bereshit (Genesis)

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators see Jacob’s prayer differently? Which interpretation makes the most sense to you? Do you think it is necessary for Jacob to show remorse before seeing his brother again? If you were Esau and somehow heard Jacob’s prayer, would you be more or less ready to forgive him, or to at least set aside past grievances? What would Jacob need to do in order to express true regret?

On-Deck at Emanu-El/The Big Inning at the End: As I’ve mentioned previously, Mike Mills will recite the Haftarah on Saturday, December 24th, while decked out in Chicago Cubs gear. He will settle the bet he and I made prior to the World Series. As you can tell from this picture:

mike-in-cubs-uniform … this Indians fan was serious about paying up his end of the bargain! Please join us for services that morning, followed by a Chicago-themed Kiddush!

Shabbat Shalom!

The Former and the Ladder: Vayetze 2016

Pre-Game Chatter: Have you ever had “your head in the clouds”? What does that feel like? What are the potential consequences of spending too much time in a dream-like state?

As our Torah portion, Vayetze, begins, Jacob is running away from harsh realities on Earth – so when he sleeps, he is treated to a taste of the heavens.

The Pitch: “[Jacob] had a dream; a stairway was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and angels of God were going up and down on it.” – Genesis 28:12

Swing #1: “If a man regards himself as humble, ‘set on the ground,’ then ‘his head will reach heaven.’ God will consider him truly great. As the Holy Zohar puts it: ‘He who is small is actually great.’ Then, too, he will deserve to have ‘the Lord stand beside him,’ [Verse 13] to have the Shekhina hover over him, as it is written: ‘I dwell among the humble.’” – Orakh LeHayyim

Swing #2: “The stairway [sulam in Hebrew] was a symbol of Sinai [sinai]. Both have the same numerical values [130].” – Genesis Rabbah

Swing #3: “And he dreamt that there was a ladder fixed in the earth and its top reached the heavens, and the two angels who had gone to Sodom and had been exiled from Heaven for having revealed secrets of the Master of the world and had thus been wandering about until Jacob left his father’s house, whereupon they lovingly accompanied him to Bethel – now they ascended to the upper heavens and called out: Come and see the faithful Jacob, whose portrait is fixed on the Glorious Throne, since you have desired to see him. Then the other holy angels of the Lord went down to see him.” – Targum Pseudo-Jonathan

Late-Inning Questions: What ideas to our commentaries associate with Jacob’s ladder? Is it significant that even though Jacob dreams of the ladder, he never actually climbs it? Does this episode foreshadow the extent to which Jacob is “grounded”, and the extent to which he wishes to ascend to a higher plain? How do we best balance our dreams with our realities?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: I look forward to another text study and discussion about the aftermath of last month’s elections. If you weren’t able to attend or log in last week, please join us Wednesday, December 14th, for “Where Do We Go From Here?”, a text study and discussion on how Jews can make a difference in a changed America. Be at Emanu-El or tune in on Facebook Live at 7PM if you were happy with the election results OR 8PM if you were unhappy with the results.

The Big Inning at the End: With the conclusion of baseball’s Winter Meetings, player salaries continue to skyrocket. Should we still be bothered that many Major Leaguers make more than $20 million per season? Or, given the vast wealth of team owners, should we accept these numbers, and possibly tolerate even higher paydays? If the high salaries bother us, what should we be prepared to do to productively show our displeasure?

Shabbat Shalom!

Twin-Bill: Toldot 2016

Pre-Game Chatter: Why are some siblings complete opposites of one another? To what extent is this the result of nature, and to what extent is it due to nurture?

The book of Genesis concentrates heavily on sibling rivalries, and the plight of Esau and Jacob is perhaps the most intriguing of them all.

The Pitch: “The first [son] emerged red, like a hairy mantle all over; so they named him Esau. Then his brother emerged, holding on to the heel of Esau; so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was 60 years old when they were born.” – Genesis 25:25-26

Swing #1: “Esau represents falsehood and deceit, while Jacob was truth personified. Of Esau we are told ‘and they named him Esau’ because, unfortunately, deceit attracts many followers. Of Jacob, however, the Biblical account states ‘and his name was called Jacob,’ with the singular form of the statement indicating that truth has a much smaller number of adherents than falsehood.” – Degel Mahane Ephraim

Swing #2: “In allegorical language the present corrupt age is presented as Esau, the glorious age which is to follow at once is represented as Jacob: Jacob’s hand held Esau’s heel from the beginning. The ‘heel’ of the first age is Esau; the ‘hand’ of the second is Jacob. ‘The beginning of a man is his hand, and the end of a man is his heel. Between heel and hand seek for nothing else, Ezra!’” – 4 Esdras 6:8-10

Swing #3: “The account of the birth centers on the two boys as both Rebekah and God slip from the narrative. She does not, as will the matriarchs of the next generation, name her sons. We have only the notice that their father was sixty years old when she bore them, and that, as they contested in the womb and in birth, so they also grew to contrast sharply in character and in the love of their parents.” – W. Lee Humphreys, The Character of God in the Book of Genesis: A Narrative Appraisal

Late-Inning Questions: The Torah strives to strike a clear contrast between Jacob and Esau. How does the account of their births establish this from the beginning? Do you think of Esau as Jacob’s evil counterpart? If so, is the story of his birth a preview of his character? If not, what do you think is the purpose of describing his origin in this way? How do we avoid falling into the trap of thinking of one contrasting sibling as “all good” and the other as “all bad”, as many of our Sages see Jacob and Esau?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Thanks to those who took part in our first “Where Do We Go From Here?” discussion on Wednesday, either in person or on Facebook. As requested, here is the source sheet from the evening’s proceedings: %22where-do-we-go-from-here%22-source-sheet Hope you’ll join us as the conversation continues Wednesday, December 14th, at 7:00PM.

The Big Inning at the End: I’m very much looking forward to Mike Mills chanting the Hafatarah at Synagogue Emanu-El on Saturday, December 24th, decked out in Chicago Cubs gear! Thanks to Mike for being such a good sport, and look for some preview photos in upcoming weeks.

Shabbat Shalom!