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Who Was Meant to Bow? (Vayeshev)

Note: The following is a brief write up of some ideas to be presented this Shabbos at Congregation Ahavas Achim in Highland Park, NJ. For the accompanying source sheet with cited references, please click here. 

And Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream that I dreamed. There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood stationed upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words. He had another dream, and told it to his brothers, saying, “Look, I have had another dream: the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said to him, “What kind of dream is this that you have had? Shall we indeed come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow to the ground before you?” So his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind (Gen. 37:5-11).

Did Yosef’s dreams predict that his brothers would one day bow down to him? That’s certainly how the dreams ultimately played out—but maybe that’s not how they had to play out. After all, the Gemara tells us that “a dream not interpreted is like a letter not read.” Rashi explains: if a dream remains without interpretation then “it cannot be fulfilled for either good or bad, since all dreams follow their interpretation.” Indeed, it was precisely from the story of Yosef’s dreams that R. Elazar derived the principle, “all dreams follow the mouth of the interpreter.” And the Malbim applies this principle explicitly to Yosef’s dreams, arguing that Yosef shared the dreams with his brothers not because he sought to proclaim himself their eventual ruler, but rather because “he assumed that his brothers loved him, and believed that they would offer a favorable interpretation of his dreams, inasmuch as ‘all dreams follow the mouth.’” (more…)

Partners and Precedents (Vayetze)

The following is a brief write-up of some ideas originally presented as part of a series on midrash at Congregation Ahavas Achim in Highland Park, NJ. 

During his valedictory address to bnei Yisrael, Moshe confers the following blessing upon the tribes of Yissachar and Zevulun:

And to Zebulun he said: “Rejoice, Zebulun, in your endeavors, and Issachar, in your tents” (Deut. 33:18).

Rashi, citing the medrash, explains the significance of this blessing as follows:

Zebulun and Issachar entered into a partnership: Zebulun would dwell at the seashore and go out in ships, to trade and make profit. He would thereby provide food for Issachar, and the members of Isaachar would sit and occupy themselves with the study of Torah. (Gen. Rabbah 99:9). (more…)

The Men in the Middle (Balak)

When you study Tanakh carefully, you begin to notice that many of its protagonists bear striking similarities to each other. In literary terms, such characters are referred to as “mirror characters.” We have compared many mirror characters together in the past, including Yitzchak and Noah, Shimshon and Avshalom, and Yosef and Tamar. There are dozens of others. (more…)

“Man Shall Not See Me And Live” (Ki Tissa)

In the third book of his mythological epic, Metamorphoses, the renowned Roman poet Ovid recounts the legend of a certain Greek hunter by the name of Narcissus. Narcissus is a sixteen year old boy of supreme beauty who happens upon his own reflection for the first time when passing by a fountain in the woods. For Narcissus, this is an ecstatic experience: never before has he beheld such a pleasant sight! In fact, the boy is so moved by his own appearance that he finds himself unable to tear himself away from it. And yet, the moment cannot possibly last forever. Narcissus eventually realizes this, and it sparks a crisis for him, because he doubts that he will ever find someone whom he loves as much as he loves himself. So he decides that he is not even going to try. Instead of returning to society, and subjecting himself to inevitable disappointment, Narcissus simply stays in place, waiting patiently “till death shuts up [his] self-admiring eyes.” (more…)

Six Approaches to Moshe’s “Heavy Mouth” (Shemot)

Note: A portion of this essay, originally posted in 2015, has been reprinted in Moe Mernick’s The Gift of Stuttering, published by Feldheim Publishers and available here: http://www.feldheim.com/the-gift-of-stuttering.html.

The English language offers us many idioms to describe those who experience difficulty speaking. If one enunciates poorly, we might say he has “marbles in his mouth.” If his voice is raspy, we’d say he has a “frog in his throat.” And if he’s unusually reticent, we’d say that he’s “tongue tied,” or that the “cat’s got his tongue.”

But what does it mean if we say that someone is “of heavy mouth and tongue?” That is how Moshe refers to himself in our Torah portion (Exod. 4:10). Though many of us are familiar with this expression, we don’t often pause to consider its precise meaning. Let’s do that this week. Together, we will look at six approaches to understanding the phrase “כבד פה וכבד לשון:” four proposed by traditional commentators, and two based on cultural context which we’ll piece together ourselves. (more…)