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Torah Sparks

December 22, 2001/5762

Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Etz Hayim, p. 274
Triennial - Year I: 44:18 - 45:27 (Hertz, p. 169; Etz Chaim, p. 274)
Haftarah - Ezekiel 37:15-2 (Hertz, p. 178; Etz Chaim, p. 290)

Torah Portion Summary

(44:18-34) Judah passionately pleads with Joseph to spare Benjamin for the sake of their aged father, offering himself in Benjamin's place.

(45:1-27) Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers. He calms their fears, and sends them home to tell Jacob the good news and to bring him to Egypt.

(45:28-46:27) Jacob agrees to go down to Egypt to see Joseph. On the way, God speaks to Jacob in a vision, saying that He will accompany Jacob to Egypt. A list of the 70 people who went down to Egypt is given.

(46:28-30) Joseph and Jacob have a tearful reunion.

(46:30-47:10) Joseph appeals to Pharaoh to allow his family to settle in the region of Goshen. Pharaoh agrees. Jacob is presented to Pharaoh.

(47:11-27) Joseph's policies of distribution and rationing of food during the famine result in an increase in the wealth and power of the central government.

This Shabbat's Theme: Jewish Study and A Meaningful Life

(Jacob) sent Judah on ahead of him to Joseph, to prepare before his arrival in Goshen (Egypt)... (Gen. 46:28)

  1. After Jacob was informed that Joseph was still alive and that he is a ruler in Egypt, he sent Judah to prepare for the family's settlement in Goshen. The Sages seized upon the word used in the text, lehorot, which can be translated as "to point the way" or "to prepare" but also can mean "to teach". One Sage said that Jacob asked Judah to prepare a residence for the family. Another Sage said that Judah was asked to establish a house of study where instruction would be given to students. (Genesis Rabbah 95:2)
  2. Both Sages in the (above) Midrash were right; It is merely a question of priorities. Let us say that Jacob who assuredly had a sense for the realities in life (e.g. "You will give me bread to eat and raiment to put on...") was concerned that upon arrival in Goshen he find a roof over the head of his dependents. But Jacob was not satisfied with a residence alone. He insisted that there also be a place to study (spiritual matters) after initially building the residence... (Solomon D. Goldfarb, NYBR "Sermonic Sparks", Dec. 1971)
  3. We are the most Jewishly illiterate generation we've ever had. Let's admit that. We're affluent and successful but Jewishly illiterate. (Shoshana Cardin, chairwoman of United Israel Appeal, speaking at the CJF General Assembly in Boston, Nov. 1995)
  4. Question from E.H.W., a writer, lecturer and consultant: "I am perplexed. Lately, my growing interest in Jewish studies has taken so much of my time that I find myself neglecting my business and my clients. Sometimes I resent the time I am forced to spend on 'meaningless' work when I could be engaged in study and other mitzvot..." (See David Golinkin's booklet, Responsa in a Moment, Halachic Responses to Contemporary Issues, p. 43 ff. for his comprehensive and interesting response)
  5. It was a fascinating experience for me which proved to be quite instructive. One day, I went to the Mea Shearim neighborhood in Jerusalem to purchase a tallit. I arrived at a particular store, which had been recommended to me, at approximately 10:30 in the morning and was disappointed to see that the store was closed. As I stood there peering a bit forlornly through the display window, a Hasid came by, produced a key and unlocked the shutter. He bade me to enter. After having examined a few tallitot for about ten minutes, I decided on a nice large one and gave him the amount of money which he indicated it would cost me. He wrapped it up; I thanked him and walked out of the store. The Hasid followed me out of the store and proceeded to lock up the shutter again. I was really puzzled. Hadn't he just arrived for work? Why was he closing so soon? So I asked him why. His response still fascinates me to this day. He said that he had just come from the House of Study and saw me standing outside his store eager to purchase something. Having sold me the item, he determined that the money that I had given him was certainly sufficient for his needs and the needs of his family for the day. That being the case, he was returning to the House of Study and "G-d willing", he will be as fortunate tomorrow. (Author)
  6. If you stop your Jewish education before you reach your complete intellectual sophistication, then you will think about secular issues in a sophisticated way, but you'll analyze Jewish topics immaturely. The only way to pursue a meaningful Jewish life is to keep studying. (Judith Hauptman, quoted in Diana Blette's The Invisible Thread, 1989)
  7. Education that is essentially pareve - that's neutral and doesn't take a strong stand - has little chance of succeeding... All effective education has at its foundation a distinct and well-considered vision. (Seymour Fox, Vision at the Heart, 1996)

"Sparks" for Discussion:

The "mid-life crisis" comes in many forms and may not always occur precisely at the mid-point of our lives. One form of this crisiseffects even our younger people. As we engage in our occupations day in and day out to earn a livelihood, some people begin to wonder about the relevancy of their careers. Just how meaningful are they anyway? Do they really fit into a purposive existence?

Perhaps, when pondering these thoughts we might be tempted to follow the path "pointed out" by our ancestor, Judah, in this Shabbat's reading. While assuring that the future practical needs ofhis family would be met, he made certain also that there would a House ofStudy in the community to tend to their higher idealistic needs. Accordingly, for us, earning a livelihood (mundane but entirely necessary) should be coupled with a conscious effort to gain some kind of higher vision which Dr. Seymour Fox (above) alludes to by engaging ourselves in Jewish study.

But this is not happening in the Jewish community today, says Jewish leader Shoshana Cardin (above). Why? What can be done about it?

Also, do you think that the Mea Shearim Hasid (mentioned in the story above) was on to something very profound about life's priorities or do you disagree with his outlook on life?

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