110 Percent: Vayehi 2021 (2)

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Why is Joseph not included in the typical listing of the Patriarchs? Is it because he doesn’t have a direct conversation with God, unlike his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather? Is it because he has too many brothers for him to be singled out (regardless of how hard Jacob tried to do so)?

The span of Joseph’s lifetime is described in the Torah somewhat differently than those of his ancestors:

The Pitch: “So Joseph and his father’s household remained in Egypt. Joseph lived one hundred and ten years. Joseph lived to see children of the third generation of Ephraim; the children of Machir son of Manasseh were likewise born upon Joseph’s knees.” – Genesis 50:22-23

Swing #1: “[The text] reports Joseph’s age as 110 when he expired. As long ago as 1864 it was recognized that this figure represents the ideal lifetime in Egypt that influenced the author of the biblical Joseph story. Clearly, the life span 110 was not an Israelite ideal. Rather, seventy is held up as a normative life span and eighty years as the ideal.” – James K. Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition

Swing #2: “The word ‘likewise’ is meant to include Ephrayim and his children in what is described in this verse. How are we to understand this in practice? Joseph only saw Ephrayim’s grandchildren, whereas he did live to see Menashe’s great grandchildren.” – Chizkuni

Swing #3: “In spite of this, Ephrayim was more fruitful and multiplied more than Menashe, as Yaakov had said: ‘his younger brother will become greater than he.’” – Rashbam

Late-Inning Questions: Why do you think Joseph’s lifespan is a fair amount shorter than those of his ancestors? Should that matter, especially since it is a longer lifetime than the typical Israelite? Does an ideal lifespan length exist? To borrow a phrase from Satchel Paige, is age simply mind over matter – if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter?

On-Deck at Temple Beth Tzedek: We have two collection barrels near our coat room. One will continue to collect non-perishable food to be donated to local food pantries. There is always a need. The second barrel will be used to collect items for our new Afghan neighbors. With our new partnership with Jewish Family Service, items will be collected regularly. To see the complete list of what is needed to welcome the evacuees to Buffalo, click here. Gift cards are valued, but please leave those with a member of the office staff, not in the barrel.

The Big Inning at the End: It’s fascinating that the San Francisco Giants, one of MLB’s oldest teams (in terms of players’ average ages), had the best record in the National League in 2021, while the Tampa Bay Rays, one its youngest teams, finished at the top of the American League. But as we saw, neither extreme necessarily led to postseason success …

Shabbat Shalom!