mitzrayim

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Joseph teaches Pharaoh a lesson in fundamental forces

This week, we read in the Torah portion Vayigash (Gen. 44:18–47:27) about Joseph revealing himself to his brothers and Jacob coming to Egypt with his family. This storyline culminates by Joseph presenting his brothers and his father to Pharaoh. A curious thing, though—instead of presenting all eleven brothers, Joseph presents only five. This fact does not escape the attention of Rashi, who comments as follows: Joseph chose the weakest of his brothers to avoid conscription of the brothers to the military service in the Pharaoh’s army. This explanation always left me dissatisfied. Even if it explains why Joseph presented fewer than all of his brothers to Pharaoh, it does not explain the number—why five? Why not one, or two, or three? The number five in Hebrew is represented by the letter Heh. I submit to [...]

The End of Days II

This post is a continuation of the earlier post, The End of Days I. In this Torah Portion, Shemot, we read about the encounter between Moses and the Almighty at the Burning Bush. And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him (Moses) in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed… Moreover, He said: 'I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.' And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God. And the Lord said: 'I have surely seen the affliction of My people that are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their [...]

The End of Days I

In this Torah portion, Vayechi, Jacob, gathers his children to reveal to them “Ketz HaYamim”–“the End of Days.” Rashi explains that Jacob’s intention was to reveal the date of the coming of Mashiach (Messiah). Jacob called for his sons and said, "Gather and I will tell you what will happen to you at the end of days. (Gen. 4:1) However, he proceeds rebuking his sons without revealing to them the Ketz — End of Days. Rashi says that Jacob looked into the future and saw his children being in exile for a long time. Rashi says that the word “ketz” (end)—spelled in Hebrew Kof-Tzadik—has the numerical value of 190. (Kof=100, Tzadik=90. 100+90=190). Jacob gazed 190 years into the future and saw his children still enslaved in Egypt. He became depressed and Shechinah (Divine Presence) left him. [...]

From Purim to Passover

The Shulchan Aruch – the Code of Jewish Law – states that 30 days before Pesach (Passover) one needs to start learning the laws of Pesach. The simple meaning of this directive is clear – the laws are many and complicated and there is a lot to learn – so one needs to start early. There may be a deeper meaning in this, however. Let us recall that Pesach and Purim are exactly 30 days apart. To start learning about Pesach 30 days before, means to start learning about Pesach on Purim. Or, perhaps, the message is that from Purim we can learn about Pesach. The word Purim means “lot.” The story of Purim is about throwing lots. Evil Haman threw one lot to choose a month for the pogrom against Jews of [...]

Splitting of the Sea

Do you like riddles?  Here is a riddle – what do these two figures represent in the context of Exodus?   No Idea?  How about a hint? Still no idea? Okay, here is the answer: Yes, the first figure represents two doorposts and the lintel marked with the blood of Passover sacrifice, as it says: וְלָקְחוּ, מִן-הַדָּם, וְנָתְנוּ עַל-שְׁתֵּי הַמְּזוּזֹת, וְעַל-הַמַּשְׁקוֹף--עַל, הַבָּתִּים, אֲשֶׁר-יֹאכְלוּ אֹתוֹ, בָּהֶם And they shall take of the blood, and put it on the two side-posts and on the lintel, upon the houses wherein they shall eat it.  (Ex. 12:7) The second picture is of the splitting of the sea, as it says: וַיָּבֹאוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּתוֹךְ הַיָּם, בַּיַּבָּשָׁה; וְהַמַּיִם לָהֶם חוֹמָה, מִימִינָם וּמִשְּׂמֹאלָם And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground; and the [...]

It’s the time, stupid!

There is a continuous thread about the mastery of time that weaves through the last chapters of the book of Bereshit (Genesis) and continues through the beginning of the book of Shemot (Exodus). The story of Joseph’s incarceration ends with his successful interpretation of the dreams of the Pharaoh’s chief butler and the chief baker. Joseph's genius was not only in interpreting ordinary objects (tendrils of grapes and baskets of bread) as symbols of the units of time but in understanding that the engagement in time (manifested in the chief butler’s personally squeezing the grapes into the cup and placing the cup in Pharaoh’s hand) symbolized life for the chief butler and the passivity of the chief baker (who dreamt of baskets of bread sitting on his head, with birds eating from the baskets) [...]

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