Meiketz — Genesis 41:1 – 44:17

What happens when you are beyond eye-view?

To be beyond eye-view is to fall into oblivion and be forgotten. Recall how Joseph was cast away by his brothers earlier in the narrative, thrown into that "empty pit [bor]; there was no water in it!" (Genesis 37:34). In prison, Joseph is also trapped in the emptiness of the "dungeon [bor]" (Genesis 40:15). All Joseph needs is to be remembered, yet at each turn, everyone seems to forget him! Pharaoh comes closest to remembering this gift of Joseph, saying: "There is none so discerning and wise as you." (Genesis 41:39)

Joseph's repressed prowess continues to grow, given his gifts as dream interpreter as well as financial advisor to Pharaoh. In short order, Joseph is promoted to governor of Egypt and marries into the royal family. His wife, Asenath, (ironically, the daughter of Potiphar), bears him two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.

The wheel turns as famine spreads throughout the region, forcing Joseph’s brothers to come to Egypt to purchase grain from the prodigal son they had all but forgotten about. Joseph recognizes them, but they do not recognize their brother, who walks, talks, and for all intents and purposes is a fully assimilated Egyptian governor and citizen.

Accusing his brothers to be spies, Joseph demands Benjamin but settles for Simeon as hostage. Jacob sends Benjamin as an envoy only after Judah assumes responsibility for him. In a highly melodramatic turn, Joseph now receives his brothers hospitably, releasing Simeon and inviting them to dinner. Yet, he then plants a magical goblet into Benjamin’s sack and has his brothers pursued and searched by his men the next morning. The goblet is discovered, and Joseph arrests his brothers. The price for their freedom is giving up Benjamin as collateral; he shall be enslaved to Joseph. Reminiscent of his father Jacob, Joseph is remarkably adept at outmaneuvering his family and the society he has quickly assimilated into.

His quest to be remembered is our own need to not be forgotten nor let our lives be wasted in oblivion.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration depicts Joseph’s Egyptian burial mask. The face is meant to appear a little uncertain, and the mask likewise stands just off-center. The image is inspired by Genesis 41:45: "And Pharaoh named Joseph Zaphenath Pa’neach…" It’s significant that Pharaoh renames Joseph, making him the first biblical character not renamed by G-d. Joseph also takes an Egyptian wife. We might think of Joseph as the prototypical diaspora Jew. He may be fetishized and celebrated by the majority culture in which he finds himself, but his success and acceptance in Egypt ultimately allow him to save his family and sustain the ancestral line that will become the ancient Israelites. In his essay, The Blessing of Assimilation in Jewish History, Rabbi Gerson Cohen (z”l) argues that "not only did a certain amount of assimilation and acculturation not impede Jewish continuity, but...in a profound sense, [it] was a stimulus to original thinking and expression, a source or renewed vitality." There is a Hanukkah lesson there. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Meiketz — Genesis 41:1–44:17

facebook_coverdesign_mikeitzSometimes our hidden gifts reveal themselves to us in expected times and places. Pharaoh unveils this gift to Joseph, saying: "There is none so discerning and wise as you." (Genesis 41:39)

Joseph's prowess continues to grow, given his gifts as dream interpreter as well as financial advisor to Pharaoh. In short order, Joseph is promoted to governor of Egypt and marries into the royal family. His wife, Asenath, (ironically, the daughter of Potiphar), bears him two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.

The wheel turns as famine spreads throughout the region, forcing Joseph’s brothers to come to Egypt to purchase grain from the prodigal son they had all but forgotten about. Joseph recognizes them, but they do not recognize their brother, who walks, talks, and for all intents and purposes is a fully assimilated Egyptian governor and citizen.

Accusing his brothers to be spies, Joseph demands Benjamin but settles for Simeon as hostage. Jacob sends Benjamin as an envoy only after Judah assumes responsibility for him. In a highly melodramatic turn, Joseph now receives his brothers hospitably, releasing Simeon and inviting them to dinner. Yet, he then plants a magical goblet into Benjamin’s sack and has his brothers pursued and searched by his men the next morning. The goblet is discovered, and Joseph arrests his brothers. The price for their freedom is giving up Benjamin as collateral; he shall be enslaved to Joseph. Reminiscent of his father Jacob, Joseph is remarkably adept at outmaneuvering his family and the society he has quickly assimilated into.

Following our hearts and keeping them connected to our minds, like Joseph, offers us all new pathways to redeem us from most of life’s imprisonment.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is an expressionistic depiction of the seven famished cows that appear in the Pharaoh's dream. "And behold, seven other cows were coming up after them from the Nile, of ugly appearance and lean of flesh..." (Genesis 41:3) Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Aaron Miller's Bar Mitzvah

Miller2This Shabbat, we hope you'll join CBS as we celebrate Aaron Miller's bar mitzvah!

Aaron's message for the community is below.

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Hello, my name is Aaron Miller. I am a seventh grader at the Brandeis School of San Francisco. I like to play soccer, work with computers, read, and be with my younger brothers, Joshua and Ilan. Soon it will be my bar mitzvah, and my portion is Vayigash.

In Vayigash, Joseph is now the second in command to Pharaoh. Joseph’s brothers go to him for food because there is a famine in Egypt, not knowing that he is their brother. Joseph tells them to go get their youngest brother (Benjamin), or he will not give them food. They bring Benjamin to Joseph, and Joseph reveals himself as the brother whom they assumed to be dead. Joseph gives them food and money for the famine.

The famine hits the Egyptian people, and Joseph sells food to them. He takes their money, land, and cattle. Then the people offer themselves as payment, making them slaves to Pharaoh in exchange for food. Joseph makes them slaves, but he also gives them seeds so that the people can plant their own fields when the famine is over. They will then have to give one-fifth of their food to Pharaoh during the harvest.

I am donating money to MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, because my portion makes you think about what people do in order to get food, and I want to help prevent that. I am also collecting food to donate to the JFCS food pantry. I feel that food scarcity is a big problem in the world today, and I want to do what I can to help fix it.

Thank you to my amazing tutor Marilyn, who helped me learn my Torah and Haftarah. Thank you to Rabbi Glazer for being a great teacher and rabbi. Thank you to my family, who listened to me practice my drash over and over, and who are always positive.

Please note that any JFCS food pantry donations should be dropped off at CBS before or after Shabbat. Bins are located in the Rainbow Courtyard, behind the stairs, and near the CBS Family Preschool entrance off 15th Avenue. Thank you for participating in this mitzvah!

Vayigash -- Genesis 44:18-47:27

800px-Pindar_statueBorn to an aristocratic family near Thebes in or about 522 BCE, Pindar is considered by some scholars to be the greatest of the classical Greek poets. He once wrote that:

Even wisdom has to yield to self-interest."

But where does one draw the line?

Namely, how much self-interest inheres in Judah’s seemingly selfless pleading for the release of brother, Benjamin? This is that dramatic moment where Judah is called upon to facilitate the role of rapprochement as he approaches Joseph. It is this very act of loyalty amidst a history of loyalties betrayed that is so heart-wrenching, to the point where Joseph, the governor of Egypt, finally pushes aside his seeming disinterestedness to reveal his true Jewish identity to his brothers. Shame and remorse overcome the brothers, but Joseph comforts them, explaining the divine hand in this drama.

Rushing back to Canaan with the joyous news, Jacob is informed that his favorite son, Joseph, is still alive. They all return to Egypt with their families—seventy souls in all — and the bereft father is reunited with his favorite son after 22 years apart.

Joseph continues to prosper as governor of Egypt, selling stored food and seed during the famine. As a result, Pharaoh awards Jacob’s family the entire country of Goshen as a place to settle, so that the blessing of assimilation continues for the Israelites amidst their apparent Egyptian exile. How much does our own self-interest dictate the level of our connection to the spaces we occupy and the relationships we cultivate? And where then can wisdom be found?

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Image credit: Bust of the poet Pindar, Roman copy from original of the mid-5 century BC; collection of Napoli, Museo Archeologica Nazionale.

Nathan Marks' Bar Mitzvah

Nathan2015PHSaThis Shabbat, we hope you'll join the CBS community as we celebrate Nathan Marks' bar mitzvah and toast his coming of age!

Nathan's message for the community is just below.

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Sholom. My name is Nathan Marks. I am a 7th grade student at the Presidio Hill School. When I’m not studying for my bar mitzvah, I enjoy reading books and cooking.

In my parsha, Miketz, the Pharaoh has two dreams, and then Joseph interprets them. Joseph says that the dreams mean there will be seven years of good harvest and then seven years of famine. The Pharaoh then appoints Joseph as second in command of Egypt, and he supervises the collection and distribution of grain. The famine was all over the region, and Joseph’s brothers (except for the youngest one, Benjamin) come to get grain because they are starving in Canaan. The brothers do not recognize Joseph, but Joseph recognizes them. Joseph says that he will give them grain, as long as they bring their youngest brother brother back from Canaan and leave one brother, Simeon, with him as a safety deposit. The brothers go back to Canaan and tell their father, Jacob, that they have to bring Benjamin to Egypt to get Simeon back. Once the brothers return to Egypt, Joseph sets out a magnificent feast for them, but he leaves the room to cry because he is overcome with so many feelings. While they are eating, Joseph tells his servants to fill his brothers’ bags with gold and Benjamin’s with a special silver goblet. In the morning, after they set off, Joseph tells his men to chase after them, and instructs them that the one with the goblet will have to stay with him.

Like in the parsha, my mitzvah project -- raising money for the San Francisco Food Bank -- is to help people who are food insecure (they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.) Like Jacob, most of us have the ability to help people who are food insecure get food. A group of friends helped me with packing apples into boxes. We packed about 29,000 pounds of apples in one afternoon! I am also donating a portion of any gifts I receive for my bar mitzvah to the food bank. Thank you to Rabbi Glazer for being there to help me, and to Marilyn Heiss for helping me with my torah and haftorah and my d’var torah. Also thanks to my family for being there.