David’s Corner – December 28, 2020


Genesis comes to an end in the portion, Va y’ hi, with Jacob blessing his children before he dies.  It’s not exactly touchy-feely.   While Jacob does generate positive feelings about Joseph and Judah, he has a long memory of escapades by Rueben, Simeon and Levi, and isn’t shy about busting them on it.

Finally Jacob gets to Benjamin, his youngest:  

“Benjamin is a ravenous wolf;

In the morning he consumes the foe,

And in the evening he divides the spoil.”  (Gen. 49:27)

Rather chilling isn’t it?  It’s the last thing one would expect to be said about Benjamin. He’s the cute kid everyone wants to protect, the one Jacob is adamant about NOT sending to Egypt as Joseph has ordered.

But there might be more to it than that.  First, remember that Benjamin’s mother, Rachel, died in childbirth.  Nor has Benjamin ever known his brother Joseph, because the eldest son of Rachel supposedly was killed by wild animals. So Benjamin has been left to his own devices in dealing with his tough elder half brothers. 

Then, once in Egypt, Benjamin may well have thought he had been a pawn in Joseph’s elaborate charade.  It’s not inconceivable that deep down he developed a certain chip on his shoulder.

In fact, Benjamin’s tribal descendants  will prove to be difficult customers in the time to come, as warriors battling not only external threats in the desert, but, in the Book of Judges, other Israelite tribes.  So accomplished will the Tribe of Benjamin be as soldiers, they will produce Israel’s first king, Saul.

Questions to think about:  Rachel’s two sons with Jacob both have a tangible connection with the Israelites’ future.  Joseph is linked to the Israelite migration to Egypt, and Benjamin is linked to the era of kingship.  Which other brothers are directly connected to Israel’s future?


David’s Corner – December 21, 2020

Is the story of Joseph merely a legend?

The story of Joseph has become a legend.  A young boy is forced to leave his family and work in an alien land.  He rises to great success and serves the ruler of this alien land.  His family joins him, carving an economic niche by doing work that natives look down upon and won’t do.  The family, with others like it, enjoy decades of success.  Then, gradually, the Israelites lose their advantage and status and will not know freedom again for a very long time. Ultimately they are liberated, and fight to take their promised land.

But is all this merely a legend?  Consider how elements of it have popped up over the centuries.  To begin, many of us have in our past a story of a youthful ancestor who walked across Europe, and then nearly penniless,  booked the cheapest steerage to the United States or Canada. Once established in the new land, the ancestor sent for his family.

As for rising to serve a ruler in this new land, think of Maimonides, who rose to become the physician to the sultan in Egypt.  Or, in our own time, think of the controversial Henry Kissinger, who forged the foreign affairs of the United States for two presidents, opening China in the process.

Ancient Egyptians looked down upon herding, while later European peoples looked down upon moneylending.  Jews filled these jobs to great success.

This happened, too, in Poland.  Jews, fleeing murderous German princes were actually invited into Poland.  Their particular talent?  Financial planning, as they helped manage estates.  Over centuries, the Jewish population in Poland grew to be in the millions.

As in ancient Egypt, the combination of enormous population increase and economic success was perceived as a threat by natives.  Before long, Polish Jews were second class citizens living under poverty conditions in Shtetls.    In our darkest moment as a people, these millions of Jews were not only enslaved in munition factories, but they were exterminated.  

Fortunately the story did not end there.  For just as the Israelites were liberated from slavery and fought for their promised land, so did survivors of the Holocaust fight to establish a new state in their old land.


David’s Corner – December 14, 2020

MIketz. (Genesis 41:1-44:17)

At the beginning of Miketz, Joseph rises from the dungeon.  The Pharaoh has had his disturbing dreams which no one can interpret to his satisfaction, and the Chief Cub Bearer remembers a “Hebrew youth.”  (Gen. 41:12). Before he can digest what is happening to him, Joseph is all dolled up, and whisked off to an appearance before the Pharaoh.

Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams as indicating there will be seven good years of harvest and seven years of drought.  But he doesn’t stop there.  He makes a pragmatic suggestion:  Get organized so that when the lean years come, the people won’t starve.  In fact, hire a competent person to oversee all this.  Guess who gets the job?

When the lean years come, everyone in the Middle East knows that there is grain available in Egypt, including Jacob and his remaining sons. (Gen. 41:57) Jacob dispatches all his sons to pick up the grain ration, except Benjamin, for fear of something happening to him.

In a classic moment Joseph sees his brothers, yet they don’t recognize him.  Their bowing deeply to him returns him internally to childhood and his own dream of them bowing to him.  (Gen. 42:8)  One might expect that this would be Joseph’s moment of triumph, but instead he is a deeply conflicted soul.   Part of him wants to hug all his brothers, and part of him is still angry as hell at what they did to him.  

Questions for discussion:  How does Joseph deal with these conflicted feelings?  In the course of plotting a complicated stratagem, is he seeking revenge or rapprochement or both?  Why does Benjamin become a linchpin in this plan?   


David’s Corner – Decemer 7, 2020

Joseph Enters the Picture (VaYeshev)

Joseph begins as a pain in the ass to his brothers.  He is Jacob’s favorite son and isn’t shy about letting his brothers know, wearing the coat of many colors that his father has made for him.  Even more provocative, he tells them about dreams that could easily be interpreted as an assertion that he is superior to them. 

Is Joseph a goody goody?  What is his motivation for behaving the way he does?  Is he an innocent who doesn’t know any better or is he just overwhelmingly conceited?

His brothers are convinced he is the latter, and they fake his killing by an animal to cover the fact that they are literally selling him into slavery.  When shown the bloody coat of his favorite son, Jacob goes into deep mourning.

Yet there isn’t an ounce of haughtiness in Joseph when Potiphar buys him from slave traders and installs him in his household.  Joseph doesn’t need to be coached by HaShem or an angel of HaShem on how to behave.  Nor does he have some elaborate stratagem designed to trick anyone in order to serve his ambition.  

So when the torah tells us that In fact, “The Lord was with Joseph,” there appears to be a tinge of pride on the part of HaShem.  (Gen. 39:7). On his own, Joseph seems to have developed a way to get ahead through his own honesty and work ethic.  

Joseph is also smart enough to know that sleeping with Potiphar’s wife would not only be dangerous, but ungrateful.  Potiphar has put Joseph in charge of all his property.  Why betray him? 

Nor does Joseph whine to HaShem when Potiphar’s wife falsely accuses Joseph of making a pass at her and Potiphar has Joseph sent to prison.  Here Joseph’s self-confidence is displayed as finding his niche as an interpreter of dreams.  This will be the path to his rise.

Questions for discussion:  In what ways is Joseph similar to his father?  In what ways is he very different?  Is that important or not?  Why?


David’s Corner – November 30, 2020

Jacob's Test

From a petulant refugee and a mama’s boy to a powerful chieftain in his own right, Jacob has finally gotten the better of his sly uncle Laban.

It’s all up to Jacob now.  What will he choose to do?  Where will he choose to go?


Is there really any doubt?  Jacob knows he has unfinished business with Esau. Esau represents all of Jacob’s deepest guilt and fear.  Like many secretive fearful people, Jacob prepares to meet Esau by planning contingencies that assume that Esau will do his worst.  And then, like a small child seeking approval from a tough parent, Jacob shows his plan in detail to HaShem.  “Look Daddy!  I’m going to split my forces in two in case Esau decides to go after me.  Aren’t I smart?”


With his family dispatched ahead of him, Jacob waits alone for HaShem’s response.  Perhaps he expects one of those lovely oozy dreams like the one that features a ladder to paradise.  Or perhaps yet another bellowing assertion from HaShem that the covenant is Jacob’s.  If so, Jacob may have been disappointed.  HaShem sends another one of those nameless men who, as we’ve seen, appear throughout Genesis.  His mission?  Give Jacob a swift kick to the backside. 


In this bout of wrestlemania, Jacob manages to stand on his own.  So well does he hold off this man, the man tries to cheat by wrenching Jacob’s hip socket.  Jacob could easily have limped off into the sunset, but presses on in the match until the man cries uncle.  Remarkably, without cheating or whining, Jacob has earned HaShem’s respect.  He is renamed “Israel” for he has contended with a being both human and divine, and won. (Gen. 32:29  After that growth in self-confidence, could Jacob be anything other than ready to face Esau?


Questions for discussion:  Why do you suppose HaShem sends a cheater to fight Jacob?  Does Jacob’s response remind you of a certain film from the 70’s?  What spiritual values does that represent?  How does Jacob’s new identity reflect an important shift in his consciousness?


David’s Corner – November 16, 2020

Cunning and Karma

The pain Isaac suffers when he realizes his least favorite son, Jacob, through cunning, has stolen Issac’s first born blessing from his favorite son, Esau, is palpable.  At a key moment Isaac tells Esau that he cannot undo what has been done, but can only give Esau a lesser blessing.  But can Issac really blame Jacob totally?  Can he blame Rebecca?

Or is there a feeling deep within that Issac himself is not innocent, that he has used his own cunning to gain an advantage?  Moreover, didn’t he employ his cunning in the exact same way that his father Abraham did earlier?  Recall that in a time of famine Abraham had to leave Canaan for Egypt, and for fear of losing his life and property, he instructed Sarah to pretend to be his sister.  When the Pharaoh discovered this, he was livid, and dispatched Abraham, Sarah and their retinue out of Egypt. (Gen. 12:12-20)

Later, Isaac tries a similar ploy with King Abimelech.  He puts forward that Rebecca is his sister.  When found out, he too asserts that he was afraid his wife would be taken because she is so beautiful and thus vulnerable.  But wouldn’t it have been safer to acknowledge Rebecca from the start as his wife? (Gen. 20)

Perhaps Jacob’s cheating his father is like the chickens finally coming home to roost. Is there a message here that cheaters do not necessarily prosper?  If so, why does this cheating seem to recur over and over again?

It is not as if it rewards the cheater with impunity.

Not only Issac who suffers.  From now on, Jacob will rarely experience moments of peace.  With his brother after him, he flees to his Uncle Laban.  Laban will trick Jacob into marrying Leah instead of Rachel, and forces Jacob, to work another seven years in order to “earn” Rachel.  Later, Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph, will be sold into slavery, and Jacob’s conniving sons will claim Joseph has been killed by a wild animal.  In this Hebrew clan, cunning and bad karma seem to go hand in hand.

Why do you suppose HaShem tolerates it?  Or perhaps HaShem is the instigator.  If so, why? Is it all about ending up in Egypt for four hundred years of enslavement, the ultimate karmic punishment?


David’s Corner – November 9, 2020

Hospitality, Modesty, and Consent (Genesis 18-24)

HaShem has not enjoyed great success in his creation of man.  When HaShem is fed up with how evil man behaves, he simply drowns all but Noach’s family.  It helps initially, but surviving generations of man soon returned to evil.

Then Abram comes along professing monotheism.  There is some hope.  What would happen, HaShem wonders, if he/she sent angels to tell Sarah that she, though now quite old, will bear a son?  Would the angels be taken advantage of and treated cruelly?

As it turned out, the opposite occurs.  Abraham and Sarah go out of their way to welcome the angels with a feast. (Gen. 18:6-8). This hospitality makes quite an impression on the angels.  One tell Sarah he will return in a year and she will have child.  Why is hospitality such an important cultural and spiritual value?  What does it convey?

Fast forward to after Sarah’s death and burial.  Abraham is now quite old and worries about Isaac’s future.  How to find a wife for him?  Abraham chooses the head of his household to find a wife from among Abraham’s relatives.  So discreet is this servant, that we never even learn his name.  Humbly, when he arrives at the well he asks HaShem to indicate which young woman is appropriate for Isaac on the basis of how modest and helpful she is.  (Gen. 24:12-15). Why is modesty such an important cultural and spiritual value?  What does it convey?

The servant meets Rebecca’s parents and tells them how Rebecca has been so modest and helpful.  He tells them that their kinsman Abraham has grown quite rich and that he is looking for a bride for his son, Isaac.  The servant gives Rebecca objects of silver and gold and garments.  He tells the parents he must return to Abraham with the good news.  The mother asks the servant if Rebecca can remain for ten days and then they can go.  The servant, perhaps worried that the opportunity will slip away, again asserts his need to return immediately to his master.  The mother cooly says, “Let us call the girl and ask for her reply.”  (Gen. 24:57) Rebecca is summoned and asked if she will go with the servant.  Her reply:  “I will.”  (Gen. 24:58-59). Why is consent an  important cultural and spiritual value?  What does it convey?  How do all three values collectively establish peace rather than violence?

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David’s Corner – November 2, 2020

The Angel Connection

Last week we looked at how an angel of HaShem, in the form of a man, caught up with Hagar and promised her scores of descendants, and a boy named Ishmael.  Is such an angel HaShem’s way of interacting with man?

When HaShem’s original covenant is made, however, HaShem seems to speak directly to Abram, changing his name to Abraham and Sarai’s to Sarah, and instructing Abraham about circumcision as part of the covenant.  (Gen. 15,17) Yet as events progress, angels seem to rapidly appear at opportune moments with life-changing information essential for the wellbeing of the intended recipient.

Three angels show up at Abraham and Sarah’s ranch, and one says he will be back in a year to confirm Sarah has had a child.  The other two angels save most of Lot’s family from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. (Gen. 18, 19 )

When Issac is born, bad feeling over succession seems to have returned, and Sarah insists that Hagar and Ishmael disappear into the unforgiving desert.  With water gone, Hagar lays Ishmael down to die. Once again an angel appears, reminding Hagar of HaShem’s promise that “I will make a great nation of him.” (Gen. 21:9-19) and directs Hagar’s sight to a well of water.  Ishmael survives to become a bowman, and Hagar is able to find a wife for him in Egypt.  (Gen. 21:20-21)

In a remarkable symmetry, a similar scene occurs later with Issac, who has followed his father Abraham up the mountain in order to be sacrificed.  Here an angel (perhaps the same one?) stops Abraham at the last possible moment, and directs Abraham’s sight to a ram caught in a thicket.  It will be that ram that will be sacrificed, not Issac.  Further, because Abraham did not resist the order to sacrifice Issac, now HaShem’s blessing will insure that Abraham’s descendants will be “as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sands on the seashore.” (Gen. 22:11-18)

Do you believe that HaShem speaks through anonymous angels, of whom you are unlikely to meet again?  Have you met such a person and has that meeting made a difference in your life?  Join us for a discussion on Saturday November 7th at 10:00 A.M.


David’s Corner – October 26, 2020

Sarai and Hagar (Genesis 16:1—16)

Abram and Sarai are now old and Sarai has long not been able to bear Abram an heir.  “Consort with my maid,” she says, hoping at least that if Hagar, the maid, has a male child, Abram will have an heir. Abram heeds her request (16:1-3).

So Hagar conceives and the relationship between Hagar and Sarai has changed.  Now that Hagar is pregnant, Sarai feels that Hagar holds Sarai in less esteem (16:4).  Is this what is worrying Sarai or is she more worried that once Hagar’s child with Abram is born, that child will not be considered as Sarai’s heir?  Is this mere jealousy?  What could Abram say to Sarai to calm her down?      

How does Abram respond?  When Sarai tells Abram to decide between Hagar and her (16:5), Abram passes the buck back to Sarai.  “Your maid is in your hands.  Deal with her as you think right.” (16:6) Leaving it up to Sarai is a great idea while she absolutely hates Hagar?  Surprise, surprise, Sarai treats Hagar harshly and Hagar, in response, hits the road.  
 An angel of the Lord locates Hagar and asks her where she is going.  “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai.” (16:9)  The angel tells Hagar to go back and put up with the abuse.  Why?  Because Hagar is a servant who must do what her mistress wants?  Because it will build character?  Because Hagar’s descendants will be too many to count? (16:10)

Earlier, I asked what could be said to calm Sarai down.  Now it’s Hagar’s turn.  That last bit about Hagar’s descendants might be seen as at least partially enticing.  Then the angel tells Hagar that the child will be a boy.  The boy’s name?  Ishmael, which means, “the Lord has paid heed to your suffering.” (16:11)  One can see Hagar’s shoulders begin to relax.
 But then, the angel tells Hagar that Ishmael will be a “wild ass of a man; His hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him.” (16:12)  Would you go back to abuse after being “comforted“ in such a way? 

 Join a zoom discussion to discuss texts like this on the 1st and 3rd Saturday at 10:00 A.M. 


David’s Corner – October 19, 2020

Noach (Gen. 6:9-11:32)

I love this strange story of the Tower of Babel.  HaShem has gone to the trouble of drowning everyone but Noach and his family.  Everyone who survived into the future thus must have been descendants from Noah’s family.

As everyone at this point is one of Noah’s descendants, it stands to reason that “Everyone on earth had the same language and words.”  (Gen. 11:1)

With this seeming advantage, the survivors cheerfully learn how to make bricks and bitumen as mortar, and begin to build a large tower.  Why? To make a name for ourselves; else we shall be scattered all over the world.”  (Gen. 11:4).

This raises some questions.  Why is it so important to make a name for themselves? Are they looking for someone’s approval? Will pleasing HaShem keep them from being scattered? Why are they so afraid to be scattered all over the world?  Are they afraid their familial ties will be destroyed in another flood? 

Here’s what is so interesting.  HaShem scatters them anyway.  And not only that, but he screws up their heads.  They can’t understand each other anymore because they are all speaking different languages.  The tower goes kaput.

What is the point of this weird fable?  Why does HaShem decide to scatter these descendants of Noah?  What about their behavior has offended HaShem?  Have they been too arrogant?  Is HaShem annoyed at their fear of being scattered?  Does HaShem want them to Iive a life of more adventure?  Is he intending to create multiculturalism?

If you like discussing questions like these, come join us for our new Saturday morning discussion group, which will meet every first and third Saturday of the month.  The next session will be on November 7 at 10:00 AM.