Chavarah- Jewish Community Learning

A blog of Jewish study and traditions. Notes from classes: Torah Study with Rabbi Marder, Toledot and Shabbaton as well as other details found of interest.

IF you want to be part of our Chavarah email group let me know at

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Judah's family - Complex and Troubled

Torah Study with Rabbi Marder 6 July 2013
  • Recall Judah’s “descent” spiritually and physically, paralleling Joseph taken down to Egypt.
  • 38:6 – And Judah took a wife for Er, his firstborn, named Tamar.
    • Tamar is the first woman named in this story.
    • In 2 Samuel 13, David had a daughter Tamar.  This name appears in only the Davidic stories.  However, this Tamar was the ancestress of David.
    • Who is this Tamar?
      • Sages want to distinguish her from Canaanites.  Yet the text never mentions Tamar’s background.  The context implies that she is Canaanite; indeed, if she had been kin, there would have been mentioned, so she must have been foreign [Eskanazi, The Torah.  A Women’s Commentary, pages 216, 229]
      • Midrash Lekach Tov  – she had a desire to link with Judah’s family.  
Elie Munk [The Call of the Torah, page 515] writes, ”Some compare Tamar’s character to Rebecca’s.  Both were motivated by a great determination, both did not hesitate to resort to ruse:
        • “One in order to ensure that the paternal blessing would go to the son who she know was the most worth of it [Rebecca and Jacob]
        • “The other to ensure her perpetual attachment to the family of Abraham [Tamar and husbands Er and Onan -- verses 7 and 8 below]
“Even after losing both her husbands, Judah’s sons, Tamar had but one desire: to have the joy of founding a branch in the holy family of the patriarchs.”  
      • Tamar (תָּמָר) means a date palm – tall and graceful, beautiful.  The tree is used as a royal symbol in the Near East [Eskanazi, The Torah.  A Women’s Commentary, page 216]
      • Her father is not mentioned because Judah chose her not for her father (unlike Judah’s wife, who had a wealthy father).
  • 38:7 - Now Er, Judah's firstborn, was evil in the eyes of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death.
    • Order of letters of עֵר and word for evil, רַע are reversed – interesting wordplay
    • What did he do (or not do) to be called “evil in the eyes of God?”  
      • The firstborn always seems to be judged more harshly [behavior more heavily scrutinized?] than siblings.
      • A phrase to explain the inexplicable, especially death; this idea survives today as the phrase “act of god.”
      • To help describe what actually happened.  Er’s bad behavior was apparent only to God, in this case, sexual behavior.
        • Rashi - [His evil was] like the evil of Onan, [namely], that he wasted his semen, as it is written in connection with Onan: “and He put him to death also,” meaning that, as Er’s death, so was Onan’s death. [From Yevamot 34b – see 38:9 below].  This would be coitus interruptus, a primitive form of birth control.  Er did not want the trouble of raising children; he was interested in his own comfort and convenience.
        • Joseph Shor [Yoseph Ben Isaac Bekor Shor of Orleans, France; 12th century]: Tamar was too beautiful to impregnate. Rashi - Now, why should Er waste his semen? So that she (Tamar) would not become pregnant and her beauty impaired.  A very selfish attitude!
        • See Midrash, which creates Er as a literary character from nothing; there is no text on Er in Torah.
          • Midrash Rabbah 85:4 explains Er’s sin.  “He would low in the gardens and pour out on the dunghills.”  This means, “At the end of cohabitation, he would spill his seed upon the ground.  
Alternatively, it means that he cohabited unnaturally.”  (He was intimate with her in an unnatural way,” writes Rashi on 1 Chronicles 2:3).  In either case, Er did not want his wife to bear children. 
          • The Midrash cites Talmud Y’vamot 34b: Er died for the same transgression as Onan, namely, spilling seed on ground.
[The source for] Onan's [guilt] may well be traced, for it is written in Scripture, that he spilt it on the ground; whence however, [that of] Er?  R. Nahman b. Isaac replied: It is written, And He [God] slew him also; he also died of the same death [for the same offense].
[The reason for] Onan's [action] may well be understood, because he knew that the seed would not be his; but why did Er act in such a manner? — In order that she might not conceive and thus lose some of her beauty.
        • Robert Alter on firstborn sons – reversal of primogeniture is a continuing theme; as a firstborn, Er must be removed to maintain the story [!].
“It seems almost sufficient merely to be firstborn in order to incur God’s displeasure: though the firstborn is not necessarily evil, he usually turns out to be obtuse [Esau?], rash [Reuben], wild [Ishmael?], or otherwise disqualified from carrying on the heritage.  
“It is noteworthy that Judah, who invented the lie that triggered his own father’s mourning for a dead son, is bereaved of two sons in rapid sequence.  In contrast to Jacob’s extravagant grief, nothing is said about Judah’s emotional response to the losses.” [Alter, The Five Books of Moses, page 215]
  • 38:8 - So Judah said to Onan, "Come to your brother's wife and perform the rite of the levirate, and raise up progeny for your brother."  
Er dies without a child and sets in motion the Levirate Law.
    • Review of marriage/sex laws
      • Leviticus 18:16 and 20:21 say in essence, do not have sex with your brother’s wife (sister-in-law).
      • Deuteronomy 25:5ff sets forth the requirements for a levirate marriage.  In essence, a widow must marry her brother-in-law, i.e., within the clan and not a stranger, to retain the property within the clan.  This is considered a mitzvah (Midrash Rabbah 85:5).  Although the brother-in-law must marry the widow, he can refuse after a humiliating ceremony (Deuteronomy 25:7-10).
      • The conflict between these two laws is resolved by stating that the prohibition of marrying brother’s wife has one exception.  There are precedents in other ancient Near East laws [Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary. Genesis, page 266]
      • The Deuteronomic passage could also be a protest against the Leviticus law; the Deuteronomy passage [effectively] overturned the earlier laws.  Plaut writes [The Torah.  A Modern Commentary, Revised Edition, page 1341], “Levirate marriages were performed for many centuries … But there was increasing doubt whether they were socially desirable, especially in view of the express statement in Leviticus 18:16 that forbids an man to marry his brother’s wife …The levirate law [Deuteronomy 25:5-6] permits such marriages—and, in fact, demands it when the widow has n children; but the exception does not fully relieve the sense of aversion that Leviticus 18 expresses.”  In later years, levirate marriage became the exception, not the rule.  Some authorities now ban the practice.  But some mystics still favor the practice as a way to reincarnating the dead person’s soul.
    • The purpose of Levirate marriage is to make sure that the brother’s name will not disappear (Deuteronomy 25:6).  But in Ruth 4, the baby is named for grandmother-in-law (Naomi), not the father.  Idea is that people should not leave this world without a legacy, i.e., a child.  Indeed, there is no obligation to name children from a levirate marriage after the dead brother [Sarna].
    • Hirsch [page 725] on Levirate marriage – purpose of marriage is to procreate; marriage is truly fulfilled when children are produced to carry on family’s righteous traits.  Levirate marriage is important to fulfill the main purpose of marriage.
      • “[Levirate marriage] is a mitzvah that was sanctified by custom in the House of Ya’akov even before the Law giving, a mitzvah based entirely on the most moral conception of marriage and family life.
“Now, the moral character of marriage is connecting with its ultimate purpose, the begetting and rearing children.  A marriage that fails to attain this objective is incomplete, then, as regards its moral aspect. … This defect can be made good” one of the closes relative should continue the marriage with the childless widow.“
      • However, according to the Zohar, the principal purpose of marriage is for companionship, not procreation.  “It is not good for a man to be alone.”  [Genesis 2:18]
    • Some say that Judah was the first to invoke the levirate marriage rule as a divine commandment.  However, the rule was an ancient custom before biblical times.  “Levirate marriage was a vestige of fraternal polyandry – namely whereas a woman once married several brothers at a time, later she only married them in succession … In polyandry, men share the same woman in a ‘bond of brotherhood;’ it is ‘part of the relation of tribal brotherhood’ designed to ‘promote good fellowship among brothers.’  The woman was acquired in marriage, not for an individual man, but fore an entire household.”  The eldest brother contracted the marriage and younger brothers shared the wife.  “With the rise of individual economic interests, and the consequent breaking of the communal fraternal household, polyandrous marriage is necessarily broken up.” [Antonelli, Judith S. In the Image of God. A Feminist Commentary on the Torah.  Jason Aronson Inc., 1995. Pages 104-105, citing Briffault, Robert.  The Mothers. NY: Macmillan, 1927.  Italics in original; underlining added.]  According to this viewpoint, Onan must have been asserting his “individual economic interests” in 38:9.
  • 38:9 - Now Onan knew that the progeny would not be his, and it came about, when he came to his brother's wife, he wasted [his semen] on the ground, in order not to give seed to his brother.
  • 38:10 - Now what he did was evil in the eyes of the Lord, and He put him to death also.
    • Why was Onan unwilling to marry?
      • He does not wish to diminish his future property, i.e., split an inheritance with an heir.
      • Ramban states that any baby would be an incarnation of his brother’s soul, i.e., the baby would not be totally Onan’s.  Ramban’s commentary [on 38:8] does not exactly say this.  Instead:
        • He first cites Rashi, The son shall be called by the name of the deceased. [From Targum Jonathan ben Uzziel], i.e., Ur.
        • Ramban disagrees, citing Y’vamot 24a, which states that the brother-in-law (levir) is not obligated to name the son after the deceased brother.  He further offers the example of Ruth and Boaz, whose child was not named for Ruth’s deceased husband (Ruth 4:17).
        • Ramban then pointedly asks, “Now what evil did [Onan] think would befall him if his son would be named after his fathering a son?  On the contrary, most people desire to do such a thing.”
        • Furthermore, Ramban continues, the text reads, “Onan knew,” suggesting that that “having a child would make it impossible for him to avoid the situation of ‘establishing offspring’ for his brother.” [Footnote in Artscroll/Mesorah edition]  The text does not read, “Onan said,” which would imply that Onan objected about being forced to comply with the levirate rule.  Instead, Onan had full knowledge that the seed would not be his.
        • Ramban continues to discuss the virtues and value of levirate marriage and the “mystical concept” of transmigration of souls – see below.  
      • The concept of transmigration of souls is that the soul can be reincarnated in someone else.
        • According to Abarbanel, a dead person soul is passed to and through his brother who then transfers it to a child.  Abarbanel’s words, as cited in Munk’s commentary on 38:8 – “the soul of the one who died before it fulfilled its destiny on earth finds it most perfect reincarnation in the body of his brother.”
        • To Ramban, levirate marriage is based on a “great mystical concept … pertaining to the genesis of a human being.”  He does not state what this mystical concept in this commentary.  However, from his commentary on Job 33, he describes how the “soul of the deceased brother enters and inhabits the body of the infant born through the union of his widow with the brother (or some other relative of the deceased).  [Footnote in Artscroll/Mesorah edition]  
      • Robert Alter [The Five Books of Moses] writes, “Onan is troubled by the role of sexual proxy, which creates a situation in which the child he begets will be legally considered his dead brother’s offspring.”  In other words, he’s just selfish [Artscroll, The Chumash].  
      • Yet Onan might have been motivated by practical concerns.  Why should he produce an heir for his dead brother’s estate, which is in the community’s interests but not in his own personal interest? [Eskenazi, The Torah.  A Women’s Commentary]
    • What did he actually do?  
      • Rashi - He practiced coitus interruptus. [From Genesis Rabbah 85:5]
    • Onanism -  Me’Am Lo’Ez devotes 10 pages of text to the “sin” of masturbation, including remedies and repentance.  But Eli Munk does not consider “Onanism” to be masturbation.  Is this gonna be fun or what?

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

The Roles the brother's play in Joseph's path

Torah Study with Rabbi Marder - 29 June 2013
Genesis 38:1-8
  • Naomi Rosenblatt [Wrestling with Angels, pages 327ff] on Joseph’s adolescence – did he ever grow out of it?  
    • Up to age 18 months, narcissism defines a child’s character.  This “inflated sense of self fades and the child comes to understand that he is not the center of the universe.”  Unfortunately, Joseph never realized that his exaggerated self-love would become self-destructive.
    • However, self-love can be valuable to keep one’s self-esteem, respect, and confidence.
    • Life is a balancing act between “giving ourselves enough love to nurture and protect ourselves from rejection, without allowing self-love to become what Oscar Wilde described as the ‘beginning of a lifelong romance.’ ”... 
  • Chapter 38 is a deliberate literary device and is not isolated from preceding and following narratives.
    • It’s an interlude that intensifies sense of suspense.  One wag suggested it was like at TV show, where a commercial interrupts the narrative; or “we’ll be right back after these messages.”
    • Common themes and key words and concepts that connect this chapter to the following and to previous chapters [Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary. Genesis, pages 263-264]
      • יָרַד, go down, descend, demote – also appears in 37:35 and 39:1
      • קָרָא, named –appears in 37:32-33 and 38:25-26
      • נחם, comfort, console –37:35 and 38:12
      • ערב, pledge –38:17,18, 20; 43:9; and 44:32
      • Kid from a flock –37:31 and 38:17,20
      • Deception and evidence – 37:32-33; 38:25-26
      • Female temptation 
    • Place names seem mystifying  [Sarna, page 264].
      • All are in the territory of the tribe of Judah.
      • Events and places are connected to the later life of David – see note on “Adullam” below.
    • This chapter marks the descent of Tribe of Rueben and ascent of Judah, the eponymous ancestor of the Jews.  
Leon Kass (The Beginning of Wisdom, pages 526ff) writes that the key question in the narrative is whether Jacob’s family can “hold itself together without fratricide and within the covenant; and if so, under whose leadership this can be accomplished.”  Originally, the successor to Jacob was to have been Joseph, but although an extraordinary person, was not leadership material.  He sought moral advantages with innuendo about his brothers and boasted to all about his dreams of grandeur, having no idea of how arrogant his behavior was to others.  Furthermore, what kind of a person can lead a family or nation if he is presumed to be dead?  
“But if not Joseph, then who?”
      • Reuben?  He’s well meaning but inept.
      • Simeon and/or Levi?  Each is too violent and hot headed [recall the reaction to Sh’chem]
      • Judah seems to be the only viable candidate, despite the problems he will encounter, such as leaving his brothers after the pit episode and the encounter with Tamar.  [There are eight other brothers that Kass does not mention, suggesting that they were unqualified.]
  • 38:1 - Now it came about at that time that Judah was demoted by his brothers, and he turned away until [he came] to an Adullamite man, named Hirah.
    • Demoted” - וַיֵּרֶד, Judah descended (went down) from his brothers; some say that he literally went down from the hill country of Hebron in 37:12, 14, 32 [Sarna, page 265]
      • To Rashi, the descent is spiritual, not physical.  Why was this section placed here, where it interrupts the section dealing with Joseph? To teach us that his (Judah’s) brothers demoted him from his high position when they saw their father’s [Jacob’s] distress. They said, “You told [us] to sell him. Had you told [us] to return him, we would have obeyed you.” [From Tanchuma Buber, Vayeshev 8].  In other words, the brothers are blaming Judah for the whole episode.
      • Sforno builds on Rashi’s commentary [cited in Munk, The Call of the Torah], “[Judah’s] culpability [for what he did to Joseph] was great and his wrongdoing in destroying the peace of the family now turned against him. Right in his own household death and jealousy among the brothers broke out. ‘Measure for measure’ – with the loss of his ownsons Judah will come to know the cruel suffering he has caused his father.”
      • Others link Judah’s descent to Joseph’s descent into Egypt (into slavery) [Midrash Rabbah 85:2, which states that both suffered spiritual declines].  The Midrash also relates the descent to the incident with Judah and Tamar in this chapter and with Joseph and Potiphar’s wife in chapter 39.  Ibn Ezra (cited in The Soncino Chumash) agrees: “the purpose of narrating the incident at this point is to contrast Judah’s conduct in the matter of Tamar with Joseph’s in connection with Potiphar’s wife.”
      • Yet another explanation of Judah’s descent can be found in his marriage to a Canaanite woman in 38:2 [Midrash Rabbah 85:2].
      • In his Torah Through a Zionist Vision, pages 111-112, [BS1225.53 .F434 2008] Abraham Feder writes about changing from a save-me-from-my-brother (fear, antagonism) feeling to a seeking-and-searching-for-my-brothers’ mentality – a journey from fear to love.  The act of  “going down” can transform attitudes from fear to love.  Joseph and Judah have to be “brought down” to a level of humility to reach maturity and realize bad behavior -- descent for the sake of ascent; or, go down to grow higher.
        • In the case of Joseph, he “descends” from a position of having a “tactless and graceless exhibition of his visionary talents” to being thrown in a pit, being sold to slavery, and coping with Potiphar’s wife.
        • Judah is transformed from the first-born leader to one without the persuasive power to save Joseph and then to the mistreatment of Tamar.
        • Both Joseph and Judah, after reaching the bottom and being humbled, develop a sense of empathy and an ability to cope with their crises.  Joseph overcomes the temptations of Potiphar, idolatry, and the cruelty of imprisonment to become Pharaoh’s vizier.  Judah admits his faults in the Tamar episode and goes on to father the line of David, through Peretz, Boaz, and Ruth.
      • Another view: Judah turned away in disgust (Rashi) from his brothers.  In his Self, Struggle & Change, (page 162) Norman J. Cohen writes, “Castigated by his brothers for not meeting the responsibilities he bore [presumably as first-born and leader for not doing more to save Joseph], Judah distanced himself from them.  It was almost as if he had been banished form their midst.”  However, the verb וַיֵּרֶד suggests that Judah took the initiative and separated himself from his brothers.  This “tells us much about Judah’s moral condition [at least with respect to his family].”
    • Etz Hayim (citing Tanhuma Solomon Buber edition) provides a concise summary of Judah’s situation: “He left either out of feelings of guilt for what he had done with Joseph or because his brothers blamed him.
    • Adullam is a real place, located about 18 kilometers northwest of Hebron, that would later be king David’s cave hideout -- 1 Samuel 22:1; 2 Samuel 2:13. This place also appears in Joshua 12:15, Micah 1:15, and Nehemiah 11:30.
    • חִירָה, Hirah [Chirah]
      • Linked to חִירָם Hiram, King of Tyre and an ally of Solomon, who supplied cedars of Lebanon for the Temple construction (1 Kings 7:13ff).  Midrash Rabbah 85:4 records a debate about Chirah’s identity.
        • He was the same person as Hiram because he was friendly to both Judah and his descendants David and Solomon (1 Kings 5:15).  If this were the case, he would have lived 1,200 years; the Midrash does the math.
        • Accordingly, others say that Chirah was someone else [but the Midrash gives no details].
      • According to Rashi, Judah entered into business partnership with Chirah.
  • 38:2 - And there Judah saw the daughter of a merchant [כְּנַעֲנִי אִישׁ,eesh Canaani”] named Shua, and he took her and came to her.
    • From Midrash Rabbah 85:2
      • כְּנַעֲנִי אִישׁ in this context cannot be a Canaanite man because it would be inconceivable that Judah or any of Jacob’s sons would associate or marry a Canaanite woman.  Furthermore, all peoples in that area were “Canaanites” and Shua was from Adullam, one of the many cities in Canaan, so labeling Shua a Canaanite would provide no new information.  In fact, Shua came from a different country and was not a Canaanite.
      • Prohibition against marrying Canaanite – in this context
      • Also, the name שׁוּעַ refers to a man of distinction, denoting nobility (Isaiah 32:5 and Job 34:19 [?]).  “By identifying the Adullamite man in this way, Scripture means to convey that the Children of Israel were held in such high regard that the most important people wished to become a part of their family (Eitz Yosef).”
    • The Midrash further justifies the meaning “merchant” by listing other places in Scripture and Talmud where Canaani means “merchant”.
      • Hosea 12:8 - A trafficker [כְּנַעַן] who has deceitful scales in his hand; he loves to oppress.  This is not the best image; the context is Hosea describing the deceit among the people Israel that precludes God’s mercy [Soncino].
      • Isaiah 23:8 – Who planned this on the royal Tyre, whose merchants were princes, whose traffickers [כִּנְעָנֶיהָ, literally, “her Canaanites”] were the honored of the earth?
        • Context of Isaiah 23: an enemy has attacked the commercial trading city-state of Tyre.  This chapter is a lament for this incident, but it is not clear whether it’s history or prophecy [Berlin, The Jewish Study Bible, page 827].
        • The word is used in parallel with סֹחֲרֶיהָsokherha,” a merchant.
        • This use appears to have a more favorable connotation than in Hosea.  The Canaanites were traders throughout the Mediterranean.   According to Soncino, this appears to be the source for the interchangeability of “Canaanite” and “merchant.” 
      • Zechariah 14:21 - Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah will be holy to the Lord of Hosts, and all who sacrifice will come and take of them and cook in them; and there will no longer be a trafficker [כְנַעֲנִי] in the House of the Lord of Hosts on that day.  
        • Rashi explains, “They will not require trafficking, as in Isaiah 23:8 [above].  Another explanation: There is no poor man here.”
        • Context: the prophet is describing the events that will lead to Jerusalem becoming the center of the world where God reigns over all [Berlin, page 1265].
        • “The money-making merchant, who exploited the pilgrims to the Sanctuary with the sale of animals and vessels, will disappear from the Temple.”  These “Canaanites” were skillful traders but did not respect Jewish traditions.  Such “trafficking” associated with worship at the Temple would be considered unworthy in the age predicted by Zechariah [Soncino].  In other words, “Canaani” in this context has an unfavorable connotation.
      • Other references [The Soncino Chumash]: Proverbs 31:24 and Job 40:30; also Nehemiah 13:16 ff
      • Talmud Pesachim 50a [Schottenstein/Artscroll edition plus footnotes] puts it all together.  A “Canaani” is a merchant, not a Canaanite (in violation of Abraham’s dictum for bidding marriage to a Canaanite).
From where do we know that the word kenaani can refer to a merchant?
Or does it mean a resident of Canaan?
The Gemara answers: it is written “Judah saw there the daughter of a prominent ‘kenaani’ and he married her.  What is meant by ‘kennani’ in this verse [38:2]?  If you say it literally means a Canaanite, how can that be?  It is possible that after Abraham came and warned Isaac not to marry a Canaanite, and after Isaac came and likewise warned Jacob not to marry a Canaanite, would Judah then go and marry a Canaanite?!  Of course not!  Therefore, the word kenaani in this verse clearly does not refer to a Canaanite.

Genesis 24:3
Genesis 28:1
Rather, R’Shimon ben Lakish said: the verse refers to the daughter of a prominent merchant … as it is written: A merchant with scale of deceit in his hand.
Hosea 12:8
The Gemara continues with references to Isaiah 23:8 and Zechariah 14:21, presented above.

    • Who is the woman, asks Radak.  Ramban answers – Judah wanted to marry a rich man’s daughter; she would be named Bat Shua as in 1 Chronicles 2:3.  Bat Sheva, whom David seduced in 2 Samuel 11, is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 3.5 as Bat Shua.  Recall that David is one of Judah’s descendants.
    • Judah was intimate with Bat Shua.
      • Radak – this is a legitimate cohabitation; marriage first, then intimacy
      • Verb וַיִּקָּחֶהָ could also mean, “marry.”
    • Elie Munk (The Call of the Torah, page 514) asks why the text goes to such length to say that Shua is a merchant although his is called a “Canaanite.”  His answer is based on the fact that the ancestors of David and the Messiah would come from non-Israelites as well as Israelites.  This gave David insight into sin and family dynamics.  
Munk writes, “By stressing the Canaanite origins of Judah’s wife, … the Torah [draws] our attention to [the fact that] the royal lineage of the house of David … descended on the maternal side from the perverse city of Sodom [19:15].  It goes back to the daughter of Lot who, through an incestuous union, gave birth to Moab, the forefather of a nation from which descended Ruth, David’s ancestor.  Just as the maternal side of the dynasty of the future messianic king was tainted by sin, so too the paternal side was affected by Judah’s wrongdoing.  He married a Canaanite woman and this was the beginning of his ‘fall’; he cohabitated with his daughter-in-law [Tamar] and from this forbidden union came Peretz, the paternal ancestor of David (Ruth 4:18-22).”
  • 38:3 - And she conceived and bore a son, and he named him Er.
  • 38:4 - And she conceived again and bore a son, and she named him Onan.
  • 38:5 -Once again she bore a son, and she named him Shelah, and he (Judah) was in Chezib when she gave birth to him.
    • First son is called עֵר, but no explanation given for this name, which means awake.  Also related to a word for childless or barren.  Was this an unconscious prophecy for this dude dying young and childless?  Midrash Rabbah 85:4 – Judah named him “Er” based on events that would soon occur [in 38:7].  The name is related to hu’ar [?], empty out of the world, meaning that he died young.
    • The second son is named אוֹנָן, “Onan”, related to root for strength or vigor; but actually means sorrow or pain, like Rebecca’s childbirth pain.  The name also conveys a sense of mourning and grief from a premature death (האֲנִינָ) Midrash Rabbah 85:4 – Tamar named him with prophetic insight because of his early death in 38:10.
    • Excerpt from Freakeconomics on naming children and their future … bottom line: names have no effect on child’s future socio-economic status. [, 3 July 2013] 
However, Midrash Rabbah 85:3 comments that Er’s and Onan’s premature deaths at age seven were primarily the result of Judah’s sins, since they were too young to be liable for their offenses (38:7,9).
    • Judah’s third son is שֵׁלָה (Shelah)
      • This name (from his wife) means drawn out (of the womb).  
        • The wife’s reasoning, according to Midrash Rabbah 85:4, is that he would establish a genealogical chain in the world (שַׁלשֶׁלֶת), i.e., he would bear children, unlike his brothers.  Was Tamar prophetic or what?  Today, she could be a successful bookie or stockbroker.
        • Others say that the name comes from the root for deceiving or disappointing (כזב  or שלה), i.e., the wife was displeased that Judah was not present at Shelah’s birth [Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary]. Furthermore, had Judah been present, he would not have agreed to this name [The Soncino Chumash, citing Sforno].
      • Location is כְזִיב, a real place, where Bar Kochba was born; his enemies called him “Bar Chazeev.”  From the Jewish Encyclopedia: Bar Kokba, the hero of the third war against Rome, appears under this name only among ecclesiastical writers: heathen authors do not mention him; and Jewish sources call him Ben (or Bar) Koziba or Kozba. Many scholars believe this name to have been derived from the city of Chezib (Genesis 38:5) or Chozeba (I Chronicles 5:22), although it is more likely that it was simply the name of his father. [, 3 July 2013]
      • Rashi asks why this place?  The name of the place [was] Chezib because she stopped giving birth; [this is] an expression similar to “You are to me as a failing spring (אַכְזָב)” (Jeremiah 15:18);“whose water does not fail (יְכַזְבוּ)” (Isaiah 58:11). Otherwise, what does Scripture intend to tell us? Moreover, in Genesis Rabbah (85:4) I saw: And she named him Shelah… She stopped [bearing].  She will have no more children, setting the stage for upcoming events (Tamar).
      • Ramban has a field day with this place name.  He disagrees with Rashi (above) and other explanations by Radak and Ibn Ezra.
        • To counter Rashi, Ramban comments: the text does not state that this was the last birth of Judah’s wife.  Even if it were, stopping after three children hardly warrants special mention.
        • Radak (also Rav Yosef Behor-Schor, 12th century, France) states that the prevailing custom was for the father to name the first son, the mother the second, and alternating thereafter.  However, at the third birth, Judah was not present in Chezib; thus, the wife named the newborn.  Ramban rejects this, stating that Judah was in Chezib when the birth occurred.  Furthermore, there should be no need to explain the breach of a minor custom.
        • Ibn Ezra’s commentary is that all of Judah’s sons were born in Chezib, thus justifying the mention of that place name.
        • Ramban’s own explanation of Shelah is that the word denotes something that stops and becomes undependable, citing 2 Kings 4:28, and is related to a similar word for one who acts inadvertently, i.e., when conscious thoughts become undependable.  Chezib is close to the root כזב, which has a similar connotation.  Thus, since the wife was in Chezib when she gave birth, the son received a name that reflected that place.  
Does this suggest that the name was given inadvertently?  Unconsciously?  “Oh, by the way, your name is “Selah.”

Also, Ramban and Midrash Rabbah 85:4 footnotes seem to imply that “chezib” can refer to the situation -- i.e., no more births – or to the place name.  It’s unclear which came first, i.e., the place was named Judah’s wife having no more children or the name was there already when the wife gave birth for the last time.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Meaning of the Meal... selling Joseph rather than killing him!

25 May 2013
Genesis 37: 25 - 28

  • What is absent from this text?  
    • Brothers’ dialogue in Chapter 42 with an Egyptian official, not knowing that he was Joseph.  Evidently, Joseph cried out for his life from the pit.

    42:21 - And they [the brothers] said to one another, "Indeed, we are guilty for our brother, that we witnessed the distress of his soul when he begged us, and we did not listen. That is why this trouble has come upon us."
    41:22 - And Reuben answered them, saying, "Didn't I tell you, saying, 'Do not sin against the lad,' but you did not listen? Behold, his blood, too, is being demanded!"
    This is an embellishment of Reuben’s plea in 37:22 and recalls the first of the Noachide Laws in Genesis 9:6 - Whoever sheds the blood of man through man shall his blood be shed ... [Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary. Genesis]
    Although there is no logical reason to connect their buying of grain to throwing Joseph into the pit, Reuben and the others still carry guilt feelings over this episode [Etz Hayim on 42:21].
      • From her tome The Mumuring Deep (pages 300 ff), Aviva Zornberg comments on Joseph in the pit, namely the conflicting stories about Rueben’s role in 37:22 and 42:21-22.
        • Ramban’s explanation – Torah never tells of anything that we already know on our own.  Ramban comments on 42:21: Scripture does not tell of Joseph’s pleading [in 37:22] …
          • “Because it is a well-known, natural thing … to beg for mercy;” 
          • Scripture wanted to be brief in describing this incident because it is described in detail elsewhere.  
    In other words the narrative is split between Chapters 37 and 42 [Zornberg, page 301].
        • Narrative is condensed to ameliorate the terror and not condemn the progenitors of the Tribes.
        • Leave to the reader’s imagination, like some horror films that do not show the gory scenes.  This can be more powerful that actually showing the special makeup effects.
        • Zornberg – brothers did not hear it; they had deaf ears.  The episode is reminiscent of Munch’s painting “The Scream” in that Joseph was silently screaming.  Zornberg writes, “Joseph’s anguish by the pit goes unrecorded precisely because the bothers did not hear it. No testimony can be offered to cries that fell on deaf ears.  Only after twenty-two years, and triggered by an almost fortuitous set of circumstances, the brothers suddenly hear for the first time how their brother cried for his life. “Indeed we are guilty’ [42:21] evokes a startled sense of contingency about this perception: a chance concatenation of events – Joseph’s demand that one of their number be imprisoned (42:18-20) – triggers a sudden retrieval of the past. [Italics in original; Zornberg also cites Or HaChaim to Genesis 42:21].
    37:25 - And they sat down to eat a meal, and they lifted their eyes and saw, and behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, and their camels were carrying spices, balm, and lotus, going to take [it] down to Egypt.
    • Genesis 37:25, eating a meal after tossing Joseph into the pit
      • Modern equivalents of eating after doing something horrible.
        • Nazi camp guards during the Holocaust
        • Serial killers enjoying a meal after releasing the tension
      • Why did the brothers sit down and eat?
        • Rashbam – they did not eat breazenly at scene of bloodshed and death and were out of direct view of the pit, thus distracting themselves.
        • Sforno – hearing Joseph’s cries suggests that brothers were acting in self-defense; how could they do wrong?  They had a clear conscience [cited in Artscroll/Stone Edition Chumash].
        • Eventually, punishment will be exacted on the brothers.
          • Midrash Tehilim 10:2 [from Braude, William G.  The Midrash on Psalms. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1959.  Volume 1, Pages 152-153] 
    Psalm 10:2 - With the haughtiness of the wicked man, he pursues the poor man. 
    Rashi – “he pursues,” as in Genesis 31: 36, where Lavan pursues Jacob.
    However, the Midrash states that this part of the verse refers to Lot, “who was taken captive through his being among the people of Sodom.”
    They [the poor] are caught in the plots that they have devised.
    The last part of this verse refers to the sons of Jacob.  “God long withholds His anger, but finally collects His due.  Thus … [He] said to the sons of Jacob: ‘in the midst of eating and drinking, you sold your brother. … Behold in the midst and eating and drinking, your own children will be sold in Shusan … [Esther 3:15, below]’”

    Joseph forgave his brothers after 22 years.  The Midrash then asks how much longer is a person absolved of wickedness remembered compared to one who has not been forgiven?

    Rabbi Moshe Taub at writes about the similarity between the Joseph and Purim stories, especially the relations between Esther and Ahashverosh and between Joseph and the Pharaoh (Genesis 41-43).
    Another reference: Fohrman, David.  The Queen You Thought You Knew.  Unmasking Esther’s Hidden Story.  OU Press, 2011. Pages 131 ff.  Rabbi Fohrman brings Benjamin and Judah into the picture.  For example, in Esther 8:10 Esther cries out against the destruction of the Jews of Persia; and in Genesis 44:34. Judah bemoans his father’s state of mind when told that Benjamin is gone. 
          • In Esther 3:15, Haman convinces Ahashverosh of the need to extermate Jews; after edict is sent out, the two sit down for a drink and meal.
    The couriers went forth in haste by the king's order, and the edict was given in Shushan the capital [to destroy, kill, and cause to perish all the Jews3:13], and the king and Haman sat down to drink, and [the Jewish community in] the city of Shushan was perturbed.
          • According to Midrash Tanchuma 9:2, there were other consequences (also mentioned in Pirke D’Rebbi Eliezer 38).
            • A famine occurred in Canaan, causing the brothers to “descend” to Egypt to buy grain.
            • The sin of selling Joseph was not expiated until the brothers died in accordance with Isaiah 22:14 - …this iniquity shall not be atoned for you until you die, said the Lord God of Hosts.  The “iniquity” was not recognizing God’s role in saving Jerusalem from a siege by Assyrians in 2 Kings 18-20.
            • Ten great Tannaim [Rabbis whose words were recorded in the Mishnah, 2nd century CE] were slain by the Romans at various times.
              (Cited in Weissman, Moshe.  The Midrash Says.  The Book of Beresahis.  Brooklyn: Bnay Yakov Publications, 1999.  Pages 356-357)
    • 37:25, “lifted their eyes” (עֵינֵיהֶם וַיִּשְׂאוּ, root אשנ, bear, raise, endure, suffer, endure, forgive; often connoting in the presence of God; mentioned over 600 times in Bible.)
      • Hirsch – not a casual look around but intentional; the brothers felt uneasy while they looked toward the pit, as though something ominous was about to happened.  Brothers are anxious and nervious.  Hirsch writes, the phrase “never denotes a mere casual glance; it always denotes an intentional, searching glance.  When the brothers sat down to eat, their conscience gave them no peace.  They kept looking in the direction of the pit.”
      • Maybe they were looking up at God, guiltily.
    37:27 - Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, but our hand shall not be upon him, for he is our brother, our flesh." And his brothers hearkened.
    28 - Then Midianite men, merchants, passed by, and they pulled and lifted Joseph from the pit, and they sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty silver [pieces], and they brought Joseph to Egypt.
    • 37:25, 27-28, the caravan and the Ismaelites
      • Rashi - Hebrew אֹרְחַת, as the Targum renders שְׁיָרַת, [אֹרְחַת] because of those who travel on the way (אֹרַח).  Orech Hayim, way of life, is part of the Shulchan Aruch
      • Ishmaelites are in verses 25 and 27; but they are called Midianites in verses 28 and Medanites in verse 36; what gives?
        • Many peoples seem to be involved in selling of Joseph, suggesting different sources of this story.  The redactor was clumsy in combining these stories.
        • Rashi on verse 28 – This is another caravan, and Scripture informs you that he was sold many times. [From Tanchuma Buber, Vayeshev 13]  The sons of Jacob [pulled] Joseph out the pit and sold him to the Ishmaelites, and the Ishmaelites to the Midianites, and the Midianites to Egypt. [From Midrash Asarah Harugei Malchuth]
        • Ibn Ezra – In Judges 8:24, Gideon suggests that Midianites were Ishmaelites because they wore golden earrings, like Ishmaelites.
          • Ishmaelites is a generic term for wandering merchants, not an ethnic branding, while “Midianite” suggests a specific ethnicity.  In any case, “Ishmaelites” descend from Abraham’s oldest son (25:12). Sarna suggests that the two narratives were interwoven.
          • Midian is also Abraham’s son by third wife (Keturah in 25:1-2)
          • Thus, all those involved in Joseph’s story were his kin.  Nahum Sarna (JPS Torah Commentary. Genesis) points out that because of this interwoven narrative, there was probably a close connection between Ishmael and Midian – after all, they were half-brothers – that heightened the tragedy of the sale to slavery.
        • Midrash Rabbah 84:17 – there was an ultimate benefit to whole world by avoiding famine in Egypt.  The Midrash states that the “sin” of the brothers “is remembered as a beneficial decree for the world, a hopeful outcome for the world, for it by allowing Joseph to descend into Egypt and there saved humanity [at least in Egypt and Canaan] from starvation from the world-wide famine. The brothers “sat to eat bread is written only to intimate [suggest] that one day, pursuant to his impending sale to Egypt [Joseph] would feed bread to all humanity.”  Other commentators suggest that the verse should be read, “they sat to feed bread” because the sale of Joseph to the Ishmaelites lead to sustaining humankind while he was viceroy of Egypt.
      • The caravan came from Gilad (hilly country east of Jordan River), where the principal industry was balms for healing, perfumes, and spices; it was the pharmacy of the Near East.  Other references to Gilad, attesting to the healing power of the balm:
        • Jeremiah 8:22 – “is there no balm in Gilad?” is a euphemism for crying out about what’s wrong with the world.
        • Jeremiah 46:11 - Go up to Gilead and take balm, O virgin daughter of Egypt; in vain have you increased medicines, you have no cure.
        • Jeremiah 51:8 - Suddenly, Babylon has fallen and has been broken; wail over her, take balm for her pain, perhaps she may be healed.
      • Does this episode represent retribution for Esau’s tears or for Ishmael’s banishment?  Jews will be punished in the long run – slavery in Egypt for hundreds of years.
      • Why, asks Midrash Rabbah 84:17 (and footnotes in the Artscroll/Kleinman edition), does the verse itemize the Ishmaelites’ cargo?  Usually they carried malodorous items such as hides and resin (naphtha and tar, according to Rashi).  This time, they carried better-smelling items to counter the otherwise foul odor.  In this way, God prepared for the presence of a righteous man, Joseph, by arranging for a sweet odor to please the soul. The pleasant odor from the spices – the same ones use for the Havdalah service that ends Shabbat – restores the soul as the holy day departs.  “God was indicating to the Joseph: your body is being enslaved and shackled by suffering, but our spirit can still remain free and soar.  God’s love smiles upon you eve in the darkness.  You may not see it with you eyes, but can see it with your soul.”
    In other words, Joseph was not subject to the usual malodors characteristic of nomadic caravans (Sarna).
    • 37:25 on “camels” גָּמָל, גמַלִים -- Not used in patriarchial narratives because they hadn’t been fully domesticated in mideast.  They were more ornamental and symbolic and used when something is important is about to happen, such as raising Joseph out of the pit.
    • 37:25 - Nahum Sarna [JPS Torah Commentary. Genesis] on gums and resins were used extensively in the Egyptian economy
      • Lotus – goat hair as perfumed beards or wigs.
      • A vital product in those time for body odor, i.e., perfumes and deodorizers before soap
      • In Genesis 43:11ff , the brothers take these products to the Egyptian people, after which Joseph serves them a meal.  The tables are turned.
    37:26 - And Judah said to his brothers, "What is the gain if we slay our brother and cover up his blood?
    • 37:26 - Judah tries something different and asserts leadership.
      • Rashi asks what’s the financial gain [profit] (בֶּצַע מַה) by killing him?  Appealing to the mercenary side of the brothers. This contrasts with the moral agrument by Reuben; however, Reuben wanted Joseph to die of starvation in the pit.
      • Munk citing the Maharsha’s words based on Talmud Sanhedrin 6b – there is no point in killing Joseph; we just want to get rid of him, so let’s send him away.
    Sanhedrin 6a-b [Schottenstein and Soncino online including footnotes] – Once the verdict [of a dispute between two parties] is reached [i.e., to pay or not liable], you [the judge] must not attempt to arbitrate a compromise settlement between the litigants.  Any such judge is a sinner and anyone who praises a compromiser is a blasphemer.
    One explanation of this ruling is from R. Meir, who says: This text refers to none but Judah, for it is written, And Judah said to his brethren, What profit [beza’] is it if we slay our brother? [37:26 above] And whoever praises Judah blasphemes, as it is written, He who praises the man who is greedy of gain [bozea’] has contempt for the Lord.  In other words [according to Rashi], Judah should not be praised for saving Joseph is this manner.  Since the brothers paid attention to his words, Judah should have gone farther and convinced them to return Joseph to his father.  The sages are saying that Judah’s suggestion to sell Joseph was not truly a compromise, but did he sin in his attempt to mediate?
      • Judah contributed along with Reuben to save Joseph’s life.  But Torah does not mention by name those who actually wanted to kill him.  The heroism of these two lives on.  Judah’s argument was somewhat more moral.
    Ramban writes, “Reuben had taught them [the brothers] that they should not shed blood with their hands, but should throw [Joseph] into the pit so that he would die there, for the punishment of one who causes death indirectly is not as sever as the punishment of one who actually sheds blood… And now Judah came and said, ‘even this will be considered murder for us, as thought we had killed him directly… A great punishment and a lesser punishment [Talmud Kiddushin 43a] is the only difference between [direct and indirect killings].”  Nevertheless, both [Reuben and Judah] spoke the truth.” Reuben distinguished between direct and direct murder while Judah added that indirect murder is still a grievous crime.

    Wednesday, May 15, 2013

    Joseph's Brothers Plot...

    11 May 2013 Torah Study with Rabbi Marder
    • Rav Joseph Soloveitchik writes about the Joseph story, paying tribute to the Mizrahi (founder of the Israel religious Zionist movement, as opposed to Herzl, who was secular), and comparing Mizrahi to Joseph.  Joseph’s dreams betrayed insecurity; he’s wary that Jacob’s serenity will come to an end.  The dreams foreshadowed new skills other than farming and shepherding, a new economy.  Note the similarity to Zionism – building a new state with different labor skills than just book learning.  Brothers didn’t see this; they were too fixated on the present.  Neither did religious leaders.
    Mizrahi was in conflict with other religious leaders who opposed creation of a state of Israel because only God could do this.  Those leaders – mostly in Eastern Europe – saw that synagogues and study halls were filled and deduced that everything was OK.  They were also fixated on the present and thought, why bother to join the secular Zionists?  Mizrahi foresaw the destruction of East European Jewish institutions, to be replaced by Israel as the center of Torah study. 
    Source: The Rav Speaks: Five Addresses on Israel, History and the Jewish People by Joseph Dov Soloveitchik and Joseph B. Soloveitchik.  Toras HoRav Foundation, 1982.  
    • 37:18
      • “They saw him from afar” – brothers are far away from the moderating influence of Jacob.  Ralbag – they recognized his colorful coat, the mere sight of which enrages them.
      • “They conspired”
        • Rashi writes, “They were filled with plots and cunning.” 
        • Ramban comments “kill him before he gets too close,” i.e., at bow-arrow range or turn loose the dogs on him.  [Midrash Rabbah 84:14]
        • In other words, conduct long-distance killing without implicating themselves.
      • וַיִּתְנַכְּלוּ could be construed as a reflexive verb.  Brothers believed that Joseph was conspiring against them.
        • Sforno and Hirsch – brothers acted in self-defense; it was morally correct and mandated.  Killing someone before other person kills you is permissible: pre-emptive strike.
        • Context for this view of self-defense
          • Exodus 22:1 – killing a night burglar is mandated because there will probably be someone in the house and the burglar will be armed and prepared to kill.  Killing a day burglar is not permissible; expectation is that people are at work.
          • Sanhedrin 72a – can’t kill your son, relative, or friend.  However, killing is OK if a stranger.  Gemara formulates the reasoning behind the law.
          • There are opposite points of view, based on the contention that the burglar, day or night, will not kill and would just drop the goods and run.
          • This verse was used to justify assassination of Yitzak Rabin, but has been disputed.  There was no halakhic basis for this act.  No one can just pick a line of Talmud and interpret it for political purposes; this is disrespect of the texts and of rabbis.
        • Why this interpretation that the brothers were acting in self-defense? Because:
          • The brothers founded the tribes; they were not thugs.
          • The brothers never expressed regret for the act so sages thought there was justification for their actions.  
    • 37:19 –אָחִיו אֶל אִישׁ, literally, a man to his brother
      • Zohar: Shimon and Levi were the culprits; they were very much alike since they killed the Shechemites).  Jacob curses them in Genesis 49; other brothers are ruled out, according to Rashi’s commentary on that verse.
        • “And they said, each man to his brother, 'Behold, here comes the dream master'." (Genesis 37:19) This is Shimon and Levi, who were brothers in every respect
          [Zohar cited in Kabbalah Online at, accessed 13 May 2013; thank you Rabbi Marder for this reference.]
        • Rashi further develops this point in his commentary to Genesis 49:5: Simeon and Levi are brothers [and were] of one [accord in their] plot against Shechem and against Joseph: “So they said one to the other, ‘…So now, let us kill him…’ ” 
          • Who were “they”? If you say [that it was] Reuben or Judah, [that cannot be because] they did not agree to kill him. 
          • If you say [that it was] the sons of the maidservants, [that cannot be because] their hatred [toward him] was not [so] un-mitigated [that they would want to kill him], for it is stated: “and he was a lad [and was] with the sons of Bilhah” (Genesis 37:2). 
          • [It could not have been] Issachar and Zebulun [because they] would not have spoken before their older brothers. 
          • [Thus,] by necessity [we must say that] they were Simeon and Levi, whom their father called “brothers.” - [from Genesis Rabbah, Shitah Chadashah]
      • “This master of dreams as coming.” 
        • Robert Alter – הַחֲלֹמוֹת בַּעַל is not just “the dreamer,” but because of בעל, there is a sarcastic implication.  Alter writes, “The ba’al component suggests someone who has s special proprietary relation to, or mastery of, the noun that follows it.”  So, why is it “sarcastic?”
        • Midrash – all wrapped up in his dreams [Midrash Rabbah 84:14 + footnotes in Kleinman/Artscroll edition]
          • Joseph was a “possessor of dreams” who had come to yet again relate his dreams to the brothers.  They were displeased at the prospect of hearing yet another of Joseph’s dreams.  Otherwise, Joseph could have been described without the בעל.
          • The brothers were unwittingly prophesizing that the descendants of Joseph will worship Baal or idols.  In fact, that’s what those descendants – Jeroboam and Ahab – did.
        • Abravanel – more ways to make Joseph our master?  He fabricated his dreams as self-aggrandizement.
        • Sforno – someone who dreams excessively.
    • 37:20 – kill him now!
      • Pits – cisterns for water storage; if deep, impossible to climb out; often used as prisons.
      • Sarna on וְנַהַרְגֵהוּ (root גרה): the word connotes ruthlessness and violence, the same verb for Cain killing Abel.
      • Kill him and throw into pit is the denial of burial.  Robert Alter comments on the naked brutality of this act; it was an atrocity to leave a body unburied.
      • At the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, where Martin Luther King, Jr was killed, there is a plaque quoting this passage. 
      • Other references to dreamers: song “Beautiful Dreamer” by Stephen Foster; song “Imagine” by John Lennon; MLK’s “I have dream” speech. 
      • Rashi on “let us kill him …  and we will see what will become of his dreams:” The Holy Spirit says thus: They (the brothers) say, “Let us kill him,” but the verse concludes: “and we will see what will become of his dreams.” Let us see whose word will stand up, yours or Mine. It is impossible that they (the brothers) are saying, “and we will see what will become of his dreams,” because, since they will kill him, his dreams will come to naught. [From Tan. Buber, Vayeshev 13]

    Wednesday, May 08, 2013

    Joseph went to find his brothers.... geography and more

    4 May 2013 – Rabbi Sarah Weissman
    37:12 - And his brothers went to pasture their father's flocks in Shechem.
    • 37:12 
      • Hirsch on middle of verse - brothers’ angst is because they find Joseph threatening. Also, את has extra dots on top of letters – like those when Esau “kisses” Jacob; it’s a pretense; Esau was not really happy to meet Jacob.  Here, there may a deception; the brothers are not really tending father’s flocks but to themselves – a pretext to get away from Joseph.  Not doing what they’re supposed to be doing –making plans.
    The source of Hirsch’s commentary on the dots is Midrash Rabbah 84:13. את normally serves as a direct object marker.  In this case, the dots served to negate the direct object, so that “their father’s flocks” cannot be the direct object. The sentence can be read as two clauses: “And his brothers went to pasture” and “their father’s flocks [were] in Shechem.”  “Scripture is thus saying that they went to “pasture,” – to indulge -- themselves.”  [Footnotes to Midrash Rabbah, Artscroll/Kleinman Edition]
    • Zohar - את represents the shechinah, God’s presence, as brothers go to Sh’chem (שְׁכֶם).  The brothers seem evil now, but they are ancestors of the Tribes.  Sages have difficulty with this.  This teaching is parallel to the one that God was with Jacob in the pit and in Egypt.  Munk (citing Zohar) writes, “The brothers were pious and righteous men [and] were accompanied by the Divine Presence.  It hovered above them and was with them when Joseph was sold.  It stayed with them despite the way the treated Joseph, for they constituted the nucleus of the future Jewish nation.”
    • Is Sh’chem an evil place?  Dinah gets raped, but the brothers become united. 
    • So, why did they go to Sh’chem?  
      • Nahum Sarna [JPS Torah Commentary] gives two reasons.
        • Since the brothers were pastoral nomads, they moved to where there was adequate forage.  Sh’chem fit that bill, since it was well watered and had fertile soil.
        • Sh’chem was also a place of family heritage, since Jacob dwelled there in 33:18-20.  Furthermore, in those days, Sh’chem was considered sacred (שְׁכֶם מְקוֹם) because of the plentiful water supply [Sarna’s commentary on 12:6].
      • Others remark that the brothers went there to find brides to counter Joseph’s assertions of flirting.  By marrying, they would remove such suspicions and demonstrate greater piety than Joseph, who had made no such efforts [Me’Am Loez, citing Yafeh Toar, page 464].
      • The brothers put their trust in God, Who had caused Sh’chem’s population to (1) fear them as in 35:5; or (2) forget the Dinah revenge massacre in 34:25-29 [Artscroll Chumash, citing Radak]
    • Did brothers sin by throwing Joseph into the pit?  This sin was punished later by reading the ten martyrs on Yom Kippur …
    37:13 - And Israel said to Joseph, "Are your brothers not pasturing in Shechem? Come, and I will send you to them." And he said to him, "Here I am.
    37:14 - So he said to him, "Go now and see to your brothers' welfare and the welfare of the flocks, and bring me back word." So he sent him from the valley [depth] of Hebron, and he came to Shechem.
    • 37:13-14
      • Jacob is called “Israel” – why?  
        • He wants brothers to be united; thus “children of Israel.”  Is God behind this scene? Isn’t God always “behind the scenes?”
        • “Israel” is used her to reflect his “higher spiritual nature as the architect of the national destiny.” [Artscroll Chumash, citing R’Bachya]
      • Israel says to Joseph, go see how your brothers and the flocks are doing (welfare, שְׁלוֹם, of the brothers and flocks), and bring back good words.
        • Israel wants Joseph to find the wholeness of his brothers – their good qualities and virtues, not their bad qualities, and see his brothers in a good light in contrast to the  “evil tales (“bad reports” per JPS translation) of 37:2 [Etz Hayim, citing Simchah Bunem].  
    Hirsch writes, “Ya’akov senses that there is a rift between Yosef and his brothers, and he does not want it to deepen.  A the same time, he wants to test Yosef’s feelings toward his brothers.”  Thus, Israel gives Yosef no specific assignment beyond inquiring about his brothers’ “welfare.”
    • In other words, Israel wants family harmony.
    • Israel’s real motive was to determine the status of his flocks. Are the brothers doing their job as shepherds?  Is he using Joseph in his role as a tattler?
    Probably not.  Midrash Rabbah 84:13 states that while it seems natural for Jacob to ask about the welfare of his sons, knowing the status of his flocks is also a legitimate question.  It is incumbent for a person to ask about the state of a resource from which he derives benefit.  After all, an individual is obliged to protect and maintain his wealth, lest he plunge into poverty.
      • On the other hand …
        • Rashi remarks, “Shechem [is] a place destined for misfortune. There the tribes sinned, there Dinah was violated; there the kingdom of the house of David was divided, as it is said: “And Rehoboam went to Shechem” (I Kings 12:1). [From Sanhhedrin 102a 
        • Jacob feared the Hivites (Shechemites) would attack in revenge for the massacre there in 34:25-29 [Me’Am Lo’Ez, citing Sefer HaYashar and Targum Yonathan; also in Munk].  An intelligence mission?
    • “Valley of Hebron?”  Wait!  Hebron is on a hill.  Vey iz mir! Vats goin’ on?
      • It’s metaphorical - Israel is sending Joseph on a profound mission to fulfill a prophecy. God is deeply connected in this process.
      • Rashi - But is not Hebron on a mountain? It is stated: “And they ascended in the south, and he came as far as Hebron” (Numbers 13:22). But [it is to be understood that he sent him] from the deep counsel of the righteous man who is buried in Hebron (i.e., Abraham), to fulfill what was said to Abraham between the parts (Genesis 15:13). [From Genesis Rabbah 84:13]
      • חֶבְרוֹן מֵעֵמֶק can also be translated “depth of Hebron,” suggesting that Joseph was sent to carry out the “profound, deep design” of Abraham (15:13), who was buried there.  Given the dangers of going to Shechem (above), Jacob would be justified in sending servants to inquire about his flocks.  However, that he sent his favorite son shows that the divine presence was acting through Jacob’s actions. The profundity of the design is revealed by the (relatively) short-term bitterness of slavery and the long-term benefit of building a nation [in Exodus and subsequent texts] and bringing the people closer to Torah and God [Artscroll Chumash; Midrash Rabbah 84:13; Talmud Sotah 11a].
    37:15 - Then a man found him, and behold, he was straying in the field, and the man asked him, saying, "What are you looking for?"
    16 - And he said, "I am looking for my brothers. Tell me now, where are they pasturing?"
    17 - And the man said, "They have traveled away from here, for I overheard them say, 'Let us go to Dothan.' " So Joseph went after his brothers, and he found them in Dothan.
    • 37:15-17
      • A man found (met) Jacob.
        • Perhaps by chance?  Or another point of divine intervention?  Actually, three angels appearing as one man according to Midrash Rabbah 84:14, because in these verses, “man” is mentioned three times.
        • Rashi writes that this is [the angel] Gabriel, as it is said: “And the man Gabriel” (Daniel 9:21). [From Tanchuma Vayeshev 2]
        • Ramban – the man was a regular person, but used by God for Divine will; however, this diminishes God’s workings.  Ramban writes, “This story is … written to inform us that ‘the decree of God is truth, and the effort is falsehood.’ That is, man cannot escape his Divinely ordained fate.  For the Holy One, Blessed is He, arranged a guide for [Joseph], without his knowledge to bring into [the brothers’] hands.  It was this that our sages had in mind when they said (Bereshis Rabbah 84:14 – see below) that these three ‘men’ mentioned in [these three verses] were angels – that this whole story did not occur for naught, but to teach us that ‘it is Hashem’s counsel that prevails’.” [Artscroll, citing Ibn Gabriol Mivchar Ha Peninim, 43:48 and Proverbs 19:21]
        • Midrash Rabbah 84:14 explains: it is written that “a man found Joseph, asked him, and said to him;” not the other way around, suggesting that this “man” was actively pursuing Joseph.  Who but an angel would be looking for Joseph in a vacant field?  Furthermore, only an angel could tell Joseph where his brothers are located.
        • Rambam agrees that this man is an angel, sent so that Joseph would continue his mission if he was unable to locate his brothers [Etz Hayim].
      • דֹתָן, “Dotan,” is related to דת, “dat,” religion or law/decree.
        • Are the brothers looking for a law or loophole to find a reason/justification to kill Joseph?
    Rashi on דֹתָינָה  נֵלְכָה , let us go to Dothan - to seek regarding you legal pretexts (דָתוֹת נִכְלֵי), by which they could put you to death. According to its simple meaning, however, it is a place-name, and a Biblical verse never loses its simple sense.
      • מִזֶּה נָסְעוּ, literally, “they traveled from this” – brothers are on the wrong path, yet they are fulfilling to fulfill God’s decree.
        • Rashi on “They have traveled away from here:” They removed themselves from brotherhood.
        • Dothan was a city, not a pasture area, suggesting that the brothers were in the city sampling its pleasures [singles bars?] and neglecting the flocks (the “wrong path” above)
    • Clues to Joseph’s character: his answer to the man’s question, what are you looking for, in 37:15 is in 37:16, “I am looking for my brothers.”  Not power, fame, wealth, envy hatred, or approval; only my brethren. [Tauber, page 298]. Furthermore, Joseph readily agreed to his father’s request to go to his brothers in 37:13, despite the potential danger of his brothers’ hatred, envy, and jealousy.  His reply included the word הִנֵּנִי, here I am, thus honoring Jacob and suggesting humility and enthusiasm [Midrash Rabbah 84:13].
    • General discussion: free will vs fulfilling God’s will – may seem to be opposite.  How should these events be judged?

    Wednesday, May 01, 2013

    Two Dreams...Reactions and who were they about Really????

    27 April 2013, Rabbi Adam Rosenwasser
    37:9 - And he again dreamed another dream, and he related it to his brothers, and he said, "Behold, I have dreamed another dream, and behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were prostrating themselves to me."
    37:10 - And he told [it] to his father and to his brothers, and his father rebuked him and said to him, "What is this dream that you have dreamed? Will we come I, your mother, and your brothers to prostrate ourselves to you to the ground?"
    • 37:9-10, Joseph’s second dream
      • Why two dreams?
        • Robert Alter [Five Books of Moses] – sign of what will happen in Joseph’s life – a series of doublets.  Alter writes, “Doublets are a recurrent principle of organization in the Joseph story, just as binary divisions [see below] are an organizing principle in the Jacob story.  Joseph and Pharaoh have double dreams; the chief butler and chief baker dream their pair of seemingly parallel, actually antithetical dreams.  Joseph is flung into a pit and later into the prison-house.  The brothers make two trips down to Egypt, with one of their number seemingly on each occasion.  And their descent to Egypt with goods … mirrors the descent of the merchant caravan, bearing the same items, that at first brought Joseph down to Egypt.” [Underlining added]
    “Binary divisions” in Jacob’s life refer to his lack of completeness, although he supposedly arrived “complete” or “whole” (שָׁלֵם) in Sh’chem in 33:18. In fact, his entire life had been a series of divisions such as splitting his clan into two groups upon learning of Esau’s impending arrival (33:1); struggling with his twin brother for their father’s blessing (27:34ff); two sisters battling for his love; and two flocks, one uncolored and the other colored (30:32ff). [From “Completion,” a sermon by Shmuel Herzfeld. Thanksgiving 2004.  Accessed 29 April 2013 at, “ Vayishlach 2”]
      • Double verb in Hebrew suggests importance and emphasis, often translated as “verily.”  Does Rabbi Adam mean וַיַּחֲלֹם עוֹד חֲלוֹם, “he dreamed another dream” and   חָלַמְתִּי חֲלוֹם, “I dreamed a dream?”  In other words the same root, םלה, is used for the verb “dream” and the noun “dream.”
      • First dream is earthy, agricultural; second is in the sky, more spiritual.
      • First dream – Jacob doesn’t get involved; second dream, Joseph tells his father, too.
      • First dream is childish – “my sheaf is bigger than yours.”
    • In the second dream, Joseph doesn't ask for his brother’s attention as in the first dream.  They are inured to him, resigned to hear a dream.
    • Symbols of sun, moon, eleven stars
      • About his family?
      • About nations?  Alter [citing other sources] writes that the “eleven stars” refer to eleven ancient constellations; but is this blasphemy?  In ancient cultures, rulers were associated with celestial hosts, e.g., Pharaoh is the sun.
    • Tells dream to father and brothers.  Jacob reacts by rebuking/admonishing him, asking essentially, “Who are you, you dreaming dreamer?”  Jacob may have been settled but is not unsettled.  Brothers see that Jacob is upset and perhaps this was incentive for them to toss Joseph in the pit.  Perhaps Jacob saw what he had done in raising Joseph – spoiling him and making him the favorite son.
    • Recall that Joseph just tells the dream and does not interpret it.
    • Jacob, too, had dreams (wrestling, ladder); was he afraid?  He knows what’s happening but the brothers are clueless.
    • Rabbi Jack Tauber (Yalkut Ya’akov.  Lessons from Bereshit.  Chapel Hill, NC: Professional Press, 2000.  Pages 294-295) on the differences between the two dreams:
    The first dream was about a larger sheave of wheat, suggesting that Joseph would be wealthier than his brothers, who then might need Joseph’s financial help in the future.  This engenders the strong dislike for Joseph, although the brothers could acknowledge that Joseph could indeed become wealthier by just a stroke of luck.  However, the second dream involving stars, sun, moon -- and by extension the brothers -- bowing before Joseph was too much for them to bear.  Joseph was in effect saying to his brothers, not only will I be wealthier but better than you.  It should be no surprise that hatred from the first dream turned into envy and jealousy [37:11] in the second dream, setting the scene for the eventual casting into the pit and selling to slavery.
    • Another reading from R’ Bachya (cited in Artscroll/Stone Edition of the Chumash): after the first dream, the emotion was hatred but not jealousy because the brothers saw Joseph as a child and no threat to them.  After the second dream, however, when the brothers, in their wisdom, realized that the source of Joseph’s dreams was Providential and that he would become their master, the hatred turned to jealousy [37:11].
    37:11 - So his brothers envied him, but his father awaited the matter.
    • 37:11 
      • New verb וַיְקַנְאוּ, envied him or were jealous of him (JPS: wrought up).  
        • Old verb was שְׂנֹא, “hated” (37:5).
        • Other uses of קנא root:
          • 1 Kings 19:10 – jealousy for God, longing for God.  And he [Elijah] said: "I have been zealous [קִנֵּאתִי] for the Lord, the God of Hosts, for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant. They have torn down Your altars and they have killed Your prophets by the sword, and I have remained alone, and they seek my life to take it.
          • Numbers 25:11 – zealousness of Phineas.  Phinehas the son of Eleazar the son of Aaron the kohen has turned My anger away from the children of Israel by his zealously avenging Me [קִנְאָתִי  אֶת בְּקַנְאוֹ] among them, so that I did not destroy the children of Israel because of My zeal. 
          • Numbers 5:14 – man filled with rage and jealousy over his wife not playing by the rules.  … a spirit of jealousy had come upon him and he became jealous of his wife, and she was defiled, or, a spirit of jealousy had come upon him and he was jealous of his wife, and she was not defiled.
          • A few other places according to various concordances.
      • Brothers’ reaction is different.  Hasidic story [from Greenberg, Aharon Yaakov. Torah Gems. Chemed Books & Co., Inc.: Brooklyn, 1998]  on who should succeed a recently deceased Yeshiva head.  In every Parsha, there is a good and evil, except Vayeshev, where everyone was righteous.  Every candidate for the new yeshiva head was good candidate.  Yet Joseph was a brat …
      • Unlike previous behavior, Jacob doesn’t support Joseph on hearing this dream.  Then he “took note” i.e., changed his mind.  Hassidic story [source: Torah Gems as above] - Jacob saw the envy in the brothers and realized that there may be some truth in this dream as a prophecy.
      • Jacob was manipulative as a youth; does he see the same behavior in Joseph?  If so, that’s worrisome.

    Wednesday, April 17, 2013

    Joseph - why his brothers hated him - Parental favoritism - interpreted.

     Torah Study 4/13 - with Rabbi Marder -
    Genesis 37:1-6

    ·      A righteous person is never “settled.”  Instead, life is a series of challenges to be dealt with.
    ·      In 37:2, Joseph tattled on his brothers.  Leads to teaching of judging the whole person; give the benefit of the doubt; identify the good, do not focus on the bad aspects of other’s behavior.
    ·      Alan Morinis – Mussar on evaluating others.  It’s unnatural to view the positive in other people; instead focus on imperfections.  We must train ourselves to see honor in people.  Everyone, no matter how strange, is the image of god.  Suggests “visualization,” a technique that finds good in people … see bad people as babies who have been denied the ability to be nursed and comforted.  Bottom line: see people in a positive light, but be cautious about your personal safety.
    ·      37:3 – contrary to Leviticus, why do brothers hate Joseph
    *     Israel loved Joseph more because he was a son of his old age, the last of Jacob’s sons while in Padam Aram.
    *     Munk [The Call of the Torah] – ironic that Jacob, who grew up in dysfunctional family, took no steps to preclude brotherly dysfunctions.
    *     Rashi give three interpretations based on wordplay: (1)זְקֻנִים בֶן  for he was born to him in his old age (Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, ch. 38). (2) Onkelos rendered: for he was a wise son to him. Whatever he had learned from Shem and Eber he gave over to him. (3) Another explanation: for his (Joseph’s) features (זִיו אִיקוֹנִין) resembled his own (those of Jacob). [From Genesis Rabbah 84:8]
    -  (1) Child of Jacob’s old age …
    -  (2) Joseph was wise: in Kiddushin 32b, Jacob went to Yeshiva and passed his learning to Joseph.
    -  (3) Joseph looks like Jacob.
    -  Why three interpretations?  Perhaps Rashi wasn't sure.
    -  Commentary on Rashi 2nd reason– Yakov Kameninski [?] – Jacob knew Joseph would be exiled in Egypt; just as Jacob was exiled.  Joseph would emerge unscathed because the teachings fortified him.
    -  On 3rd reason – more than just a resemblance; spiritual essence in Joseph was as in Jacob.
    -  More on “son of old age”
    s  Ramban – one caretaker child in this case, Joseph; he was constantly in Jacob’s presence.  He had understanding of the elder.  Why wasn't Benjamin give this role?  Benjamin was born eight years later; he wasn’t as wise; when born, Joseph was already loved/imprinted on Jacob.
    s  Abravanel – Joseph acted with maturity toward his father, but more juvenile toward his brothers.
    s  Hirsch – old age is when we contemplate our lives and pass on our heritage; Joseph is the heir of Jacob’s wisdom and accomplishments; he was the most likely to carry on the family legacy.
    s  This story is a description of one family over many generations; it’s not normative or prescriptive.  They are real people who are not perfect.
    -  Munk  on patriarch’s behavior: showing love in public, making distinctions in public.  There are texts on proper child-raising in the Torah and Talmud.
    -  Naomi Rosenblatt [Wrestling With Angels] on Joseph as a gifted, charismatic child …
    ·      The Coat
    *     Nahum Sarna [JPS Torah Commentary] – meaning is unclear; in the story of Amnon and Tamar (his half-sister) in II Samuel, Tamar wore a similar garment to show high status.
    *     Richard Friedman on Amnon-Tamar episode: In both cases [Joseph and Amnon-Tamar], beautiful coats are torn.  But in Joseph’s case, it’s covered with blood, suggesting that the coat is associated with violence.
    *     RaDak [Rabbi David Kimchi] - A cloak that covered hands and feet so that manual labor would be difficult.  Joseph was not supposed to work in manual labor, but was to be an rich man’s son.
    *     [Sarna] Archeology and ancient art shows such garments with color panels as worn by dignitaries or ambassadors.  “Coat of many colors” comes from the Vulgate and Septuagint translations.

    Wednesday, April 03, 2013

    Focus on Joseph's Story....

    Howard's Notes from Torah Study 3/30 with Rabbi Marder

    ·      General comments on the style of this chapter (Genesis 37):
    *      From here to end, Genesis is mostly about Joseph, except for Judah-Tamar episode [Chapter 38] and Jacob’s blessing [Chapter 49].
    At our current study pace, we will reach Chapter 49 in early 2017.  This statement is a mathematical extrapolation only, not a judgment of the class, its teachers, or its students.
    *      Jacob’s descendants became slaves in Egypt; Esau’s descendants dwelt in the Seir hill country.
    *      Nahum Sarna [JPS Torah Commentary. Genesis, page 254; and Understanding Genesis, pages 211] on literary style: the Joseph story is the longest narrative in the bible and is mostly secular (or so it seems); there are no divine revelations. God is not in Joseph’s life; he is not mentioned as one of the patriarchs [Exodus 2:24, Talmud Brachot 16b].  Yet there are hints of the divine presence, behind the scenes, a worker of the master plan by God to save Jewish lives.  The seemingly haphazard events of meeting a man who knows the location of his brothers (37:15); encountering a caravan of trades going to Egypt (37:25,28); scenes in Potiphar’s house (39:2,9) and in prison (39:21 ff); and interpreting dreams (40, 41) suggest that God is present and that the secularity of the story is superficial.
    *      In contrast, Richard Elliot Friedman, in his The Hidden Face of God states that God disappears in the bible, fading away from Genesis to the end [Book of Esther]. God withdraws from the Book.
    Friedman writes, “God disappears in the Bible … The Bible begins … with a world in which God is actively and visible involved, but it does not end that way.  Gradually through the course of the Hebrew Bible … the deity appears less and less to humans, speaks less and less.  Miracles, angels, and all other signs of divine presence become rarer and finally cease.  In the last portion of the Hebrew Bible, God is not present in the well-known apparent ways of the earlier books.  Among God’s last words to Moses, the deity says, ‘I shall hide my face from them.  I shall see what their end will be’ (Deuteronomy 31:17, 32:20).  By the end, God does just that.”
    Apparently, that trend begins with the Joseph story.
    *      Also, in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, God has no presence, even in the Temple.
    -  No revelations, appearances; books feel different – no awe; a post-revelation world, not unlike today.  Deity is present but is not physically detectable.  God has withdrawn and become a force for hope and faith.  The balance of power shifts from God to human; humans take over responsibility.  God’s “face” becomes less public and more private.
    -  Before, people confronted or wrestled with God.  But Joseph’s story focuses on earthy scenes of people. Joseph is endowed a special [god-like] power to interpret dreams to see the future.
    *      Joseph’s character changes more dramatically than Noah, Abraham, or Jacob.
    *      Rabbi Marder’s favorite Midrash: If we all shut up for one minute [figuratively, I assume], we’d hear the voice of Sinai.
    ·      37:1-2, Jacob settled וַיֵּשֶׁב
    *      Contrast with Esau, who left the land.
    *      Munk, citing Midrash and other sources:
    -  Two verbs, one to settle (וַיֵּשֶׁב), other temporary (sojourning) (מְגוּרֵי)
    -  Jacob wanted to settle down, to peace and quiet, in the land promised to his ancestors.  Munk writes, “After his many ordeals, Jacob wanted to live in peace in the land where his father had been merely a stranger and a wanderer.  He felt that he had the right to the peace and quiet of his hopes … in Canaan.”  But God’s providence prevented this from happening.  Jacob felt like Iyov (Job) 3:25, “I was not at ease, neither was I quiet, and I did not rest, yet trouble came.”
    Talmud Brachot 64a [Soncino online] - The disciples of the wise have no rest either in this world or in the world to come [because they are always progressing in their spiritual strivings], as it says, ‘They go from strength to strength, every one of them appears before God in Zion' [Psalm 88:4].

    Various translations of Psalm 84:8, חָיִל אֶל מֵחַיִל
    s They go from host to host; he will appear to God in Zion
    s  JPS: “… rampart to rampart”
    s  Artscroll/Schottenstein Tehilim (and others): “… strength to strength”
    -  Rashi on 37:2 … when you get to paradise, you can be at peace.  In this world, one can never find peace; there’s too much action here.  There is no “happily ever after.”
    -  A person goes from struggle to struggle (not necessarily strength to strength) until you achieve peace; then you die [paraphrasing Psalm 84:8 above].
    *      Even the righteous will have such struggles and never achieve tranquility, according to Rav Gedaliah Schorr (1910-1979) – Rosh Yeshiva … [cannot find English translations of his commentary]
    -  Service to God never ends.
    -  Jacob thinks that his life has ended with loss of Joseph – it didn’t.
    -  One generation keeps working to help the next one.
    ·      37:2 – these are the generations of Joseph – usually a genealogy follows, but it doesn’t.  Instead it’s the chronicles of Joseph. 
    *       Translations of תֹּלְדוֹת [tol-dot]
    -  JPS/Plaut: “the line of”
    -  Alter: “lineage”
    -  Munk; Kaplan; Artscroll/Stone: “chronicles”
    -  Friedman: “records”
    -  Hertz; “generations”
    -  Fox: “begettings”
    *      Rashi [above] – pattern of Joseph’s life will be similar to that of Jacob.
    *      Munk – Joseph is resilient; he’s down, he’s up; this type of life is what happens to the Jews.  “The whole history of Jacob’s descendants is reflected in Joseph’s life.”  Sufferings were for the sake of eventual elevation.
    -  Munk cites the Chofetz Chayim’s teachings: “When the time comes for the Messiah, the nations will acknowledge that all the trials and sufferings which have befallen us during our exile were ultimately states in our ascent.  ‘And you shall say on that day, "I will thank You, O Lord, for You were wroth with me; may Your wrath turn away and may You comfort me.[Isaiah 12:1]  So, just as with Joseph’s life, in the final analysis the tribulations and torments willed by Providence are seen to be truly beneficial.”
    -  Munk further cites Rashbam, whose commentary is directly opposite of above; he believed in straightforward literal meaning of the text, not fanciful midrashim.  Rashbam interprets the term תֹּלְדוֹת to mean simply children or new generations.