Joseph and Mandela: Exemplars of Reconciliation (Vayehi, Genesis 47:28-50:26)

By Rabbi Toba SpitzerThe Torah portion of Vayehi brings to a close the story of Joseph and his brothers—the longest and most detailed of the family sagas in the book of Genesis. Reading this complicated narrative of family tension, cruelty, and ultimate reconciliation in the same week that the world mourns the death of Nelson Mandela, it is difficult not to hear echoes between the Biblical account of Joseph and the real-world experiences of the beloved South African leader.On the s … [Read more...]

Carl Jung, John Lennon, and Joseph: The Shadow & The Beautiful Boy (Vayigash, Genesis 44:18-47:27)

By Stephen Hazan ArnoffJoseph was a beautiful boy, so beautiful, in fact, that his father was bewitched by his beauty, loving him more than all of his other sons. In the “Testament of Joseph” — part of a collection from late antiquity purporting to tell the first-person account of each of the 12 sons of Jacob — Joseph is quoted as saying, “[God] gave me ... beauty as a flower, beyond the beautiful ones of Israel” (see James Kugel’s “In Potiphar’s House”).It was because of this beauty, alo … [Read more...]

Holding Gratitude & Disappointment: What We Learn from Leah (VaYetze, Genesis: 28:10-32:3)

By Shai HeldIt’s not often that a biblical character makes you want to cry, but if you pay careful attention to the matriarch Leah, she can break your heart.* Leah is married to Jacob, a man who does not love her — indeed, who barely notices her. According to the book of Genesis, Jacob arrives at his uncle Laban’s house and is soon smitten with Laban’s younger daughter, Rachel, who is, the text tells us, “shapely and beautiful.” As for Rachel’s older sister Leah, we are told only that she had … [Read more...]

You Can’t Go Home Again. Sort of. (Hayyei Sarah, Genesis 23:1-25:18)

By Rabbi Niles Elliot GoldsteinThe Torah portion for this week raises a critically important existential question, a query that writers, psychologists and seekers have asked for many, many years:  Can we ever really go home again?Hayyei Sarah, or The Life of Sarah, encompasses death and birth, ends and beginnings, and continuity. It offers a story about the polarity of mortal existence. It also highlights the cyclical, and sometimes paradoxical, nature of the human journey.The … [Read more...]

Noah: The Garden Versus the Tower (Noah, Genesis 6:9-11:32)

By Dr. Erica BrownIn the midst of the post-flood re-creation stories in this week’s Torah reading, we find two different responses to the tragedy of the world’s destruction. The first, in chapter 10, is the rebuilding and repopulation of the world. Like God himself in the first chapter of Genesis, Noah is responsible for plant and animal life and the regeneration of his own species.Part of this is accomplished through the release of animals from the ark and from Noah’s planting a vineya … [Read more...]