In the opening verse of this week’s Torah portion is says:
א וַיֵּשֶׁב יַעֲקֹב, בְּאֶרֶץ מְגוּרֵי אָבִיו–בְּאֶרֶץ, כְּנָעַן. 1 And Jacob dwelt in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan.
There are two verbs to describe “dwelling”: one, indicating permanence (lashevet – לשבת), and one, indicating temporariness (lagur – לגור). The first (y.sh.v – י.ש.ב.) is related to y.tz.v.- י.צ.ב – stability, and denotes standing firmly, undisturbed. By contrast, the second, (lagur – לגור) denotes being a ger – גר, a transient resident, living in a place where one does not belong; living in fear (אשר יגורתי בא לי).
Jacob, who already told us “עתה הייתי לשני מחנות” – now I’ve become two camps (Genesis 32:11), continues to be stretched between two opposites: he is so ready for stability, finally, after being in exile for decades; maybe he even thinks that he deserves it; that it will happen automatically; that his wandering days are over. He wants “lashevet”, but change and unrest are inevitable. Which of the two will manage him? And us? Are we driven by a desire for peace and quiet, “laying low”, “not causing any trouble”, and what are we willing to pay for that? Are we driven by fear, and what do we give up for that? What is it that manages us?
We are told about two tragedies in Jacob’s life: Dina, his only daughter, is raped (chapter 34) and Joseph, his beloved son, is almost killed and then sold by his brothers not to be seen by his family for 22 years (chapter 37).
Our sages point out the many ways these stories are intertwined. Rachel and Leah were pregnant at the same time. Dina, they tell us, was going to be born to Rachel, but Leah, in a gesture of kindness (in return for Rachel allowing her to marry Jacob, rather than be embarrassed), prays for her sister, so that she can be the mother of at least as many tribes as the maidservants, and the babies are “switched”: Leah is now pregnant with Dina while Rachel – is carrying Joseph.
We learn many things in the Torah from usage of similar words. Dina and Joseph both have strong ties to Sh’chem in the heart of the Shomron (Samaria): this is where Dina is tortured; this is where joseph is sold; this is where much later, King David’s kingdom will be split. In addition, the two brothers who “take revenge” in Dina’s case are no other than the same brothers who sell Joseph.
The midrash continues: Dina gets pregnant and bears a daughter. Jacob decides to send the child away, lest people “will speak” about him and his family, or worse, contemplate to kill the young girl. She travels to Egypt where she becomes a servant in a minister’s home, like an orphan without a family, who seems to have lost everything. No doubt, she noticed the handsome servant. Does he look similar? familiar? Do they feel “at home” with each other? Share same language? Accent? Favorite foods? Dreamworks’ “Joseph, King of Dreams” expands on the midrash further: It is that girl, whom later we know as Osnat, who brings Joseph gifts and songs when he’s thrown into the pit, and will later become Joseph’s wife, and the mother of the two tribes, Ephrayim & Menashe, the grandchildren of Jacob, Rachel & Leah.
Menashe & Ephrayim are also the ones mentioned in the Shabbat blessing we give our boys. Why not Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Moses and Aaron? Rather, Menashe & Ephrayim? But they are the ones who stand for unity and peace in the Jewish people – the grandchildren of two rival sisters; the two brothers who grow up in a foreign land, in a foreign palace, yet do not forsake their identity.
These Torah portions are always read at this time of the year, near Hanukkah, in the dark of winter, when the days are short, reminding us that though it can take time and come in unexpected ways, darkness ultimately gives way to light.
Three times a day Jews all over the world pray for Jerusalem, the city King David declared our capital more than 3000 years ago. Even if we consider this prayer “newish”, let’s say “only” 1500 years old, it would mean 1500 (years) X 365 (days/year) X 3 (times / day) X as many millions of Jews there are in the world, all together making a very huge number. And yet, it turns out that sometimes, one person, stating the obvious, can become a big deal.
It is interesting to compare the recent (2017) statement by US president Trump to the 1917 Balfour Declaration and the 1947 U.N. Resolution (what is it with the number 7??). Were these latter statements true game changers or did they too, in many ways, state the already obvious? Being accepted by others, is nice, whether one is a teen or a state on the verge of its 70th anniversary, and yet, in both cases, we should first know who we are for ourselves.
The song – “stripes robe“: