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Grave Mistake (Beshalach)

Preview: “Was it for lack of graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?” Some see this as the first recorded example of Jewish self-deprecating humor. But maybe the suggestion wasn’t meant sarcastically. Maybe the people meant it seriously. Indeed, they might have had good reason to. To realize why, just think back to Yaakov and Yosef’s deathbed requests…

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It’s All Coming Together Now (Tu B’Av)

Preview: Tu B’Av is a little-known holiday that Chazal associate with a bevy of Biblical events—from overcoming liability for the sin of the spies, to the case of Tzlofchad’s daughters, to reuniting with the tribe of Binyamin following civil war. These events are strewn across Tanach, seem to share little in common, and are never dated in Tanach itself to the fifteenth of Av. But careful study shows that they are, indeed, deeply connected—both to each other, and to the particular day to which Chazal date them. In fact, the key to figuring this all out may be to recognize that yet one other event falls out around the fifteenth of Av—one that Chazal never explicitly connect with this date: the war with Sichon, all the way back in sefer Bamidbar

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Now You’re Catching On (Mishpatim)

Preview: Rachel named her son “the child of my און;” and Yosef’s father-in-law was the “priest of און;” and Yaakov dubbed Reuven “the first of my און;” and the story of a boy named “אונן” is curiously situated in the middle of all these other events. Also: Rachel died through “אסון;” and Yaakov feared that he would lose Binyamin to an “אסון;” and Yosef married a woman named “אסנת.” What are we to make of all of this? Piecing together the puzzle, from Tanach to the midrash to ancient Egyptian literature.

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Hunger Games (Mikketz)

Preview: If you pay careful attention, you’ll notice that there’s a subtle play on words between the words רעב/רעבון  (hunger) and the words  ערב/ערבון (collateral/guarantee) that takes place in this week’s parshah.

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Just Do More (Vayeshev)

Preview: At every turn, Yosef succeeds because he does more than is asked of him: when searching for his brothers, when wardening in Egypt, and when interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams.

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Double Blind (Toldot)

Preview: The “sibling swap” Rivkah orchestrates against Yitzchak is simply a version of the very same ruse he had orchestrated a chapter earlier, against Avimelech. In fact, all of the major stories from sefer Bereshit through the beginning of sefer Shemot may have their roots in the ruse that the patriarchs pulled on Avimelech/Pharaoh – and the literary links are there to demonstrate it.

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Going Against the Grain (Tzom Gedaliah)

Preview: Ever notice that Gedaliah seems to have been obsessed with issues related to the “harvest?” Why is that? And why, for that matter, do we find “harvest” themes playing such an important role in the prophecies of sefer Yirmiyahu – where Gedaliah’s story is recorded – and in megillat Eichah, which Yirmiyahu wrote? And, while we’re at it: why did the exile which Yirmiyahu bemoaned last “seventy years?” Might these seventy years be related to the seven-year agricultural cycle known as “shemittah?”And might that cycle, in turn, have its roots in the seven-year agricultural cycle over which Yosef presided, back in Egypt?

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The Seven Year Plan (Re’eh)

Preview: Why does the Torah, in this week’s parshah, legislate the seven-year agricultural cycle known as “shemittah?” Might it have anything to do with an earlier such cycle: the seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of famine, over which Yosef presided as viceroy of Egypt?

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Gotta Hand it To Him (Vaetchanan)

Preview: Premeditated murder incurs greater guilt than “accidental” murder. That’s the argument underlying the Biblical institution of the “cities of refuge.” It’s also the argument which Reuven advances when trying to rescue Yosef from the hands of his brothers. Coincidence? Probably not, because this is far from the only detail about the refuge cities which evoke the sale of Yosef.

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Forget Me Not (Mattot)

Preview: The name “Machir ben Menasheh” translates loosely to something along the lines of “man-of-identity, son of man-of-forgetting.” Those in his grandfather’s generation became estranged from one another because they were lo makir, and, indeed, were mitnaker. So Machir, and his descendants after him, are the ones tasked with being makir – with re-establishing the family identity that was nearly abandoned under the strain of infighting and exile. That background helps explain the various stories told about this family, and suggests that Machir’s story may be a lot more significant than we tend to realize…

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