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.

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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.


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