BY ZOHAR ATKINS for JTS
Hearing Our Own Stories
Although we know how it ends, this week’s Torah reading can be, by turns, anxiety-provoking, cathartic, and unsettling. We know a reconciliation between the brothers will take place, but we don’t fully understand how. We know a peace deal will be reached, but we suspect that, like all new agreements, its character will be tenuous, fragile, and ad hoc, its consensus constructed atop a minefield of lingering resentments and fundamentally conflicting narratives.
Miketz - Rosh Chodesh Hanukkah
BY ARNOLD M. EISEN, JTS
Joseph, Hanukkah, and the Dilemmas of Assimilation
Ruminations about assimilation come naturally to Jews in North America during the winter holiday season. How much should a parent insist that Hanukkah is part of public school celebrations that give students a heavy dose of Christmas? How often should one remind store clerks who innocently ask Jewish children which gifts they hope to receive from Santa this year that there are other faiths observed in our communities, and other holidays? Intermarried couples are familiar with conversations about having a Christmas tree at home, or going to midnight mass, or allowing their kids to open gifts Christmas morning under the tree at their cousins’ home. The Hanukkah story is the perfect stimulus for such reflections, especially when read, as some historians do, not as a conflict between Jews and a tyrannical government, but as a dispute among Jews themselves over which Greek customs are acceptable and which cross the line to assimilation or apostasy.
BY EITAN FISHBANE, JTS
Yosef: A Light in the Darkness
Parashat Vayeshev takes us deep into the pain and alienation of being human, of yearning from a low place of darkness and suffering. And yet the narrative also conveys the power of hope—a longing for God and redemption, for spiritual and moral healing in our human relationships.
This week’s parashah crystallizes the dysfunctional family dynamics that are evident throughout the book of Genesis—the fraught father-son relationships, the painful intergenerational wounds of favoritism, the anger and resentment between siblings, and, deep down, the simple desire to be loved. Although we may cringe at the violence of the brothers toward Yosef, the narrative of Vayeshev also opens our hearts to the pain these sons felt at their father’s rejection—his greatest love reserved for Yosef: וְיִשְׂרָאֵל אָהַב אֶת יוֹסֵף מִכָּל בָּנָיו (“Yisrael [i.e., Ya’akov] loved Yosef most of all his sons”) (Gen. 37:3).
BY JONATHAN MILGRAM, JTS
Wrestling the Angels and the Demons within Us
In this week’s Torah reading, Parashat Vayishlah, we read of the patriarch Jacob’s journey home with his family after freeing himself and his entire clan from his father-in-law, Laban’s, control. Along the route, Jacob prepares himself for his eventual reunion with his older twin brother Esau, whom he fears to be vengeful. Right in the middle of the parashah, in between the description of Jacob’s preparations and his actual meeting with Esau, Jacob is involved in a transformative experience: a physical struggle with a stranger. He comes out of the encounter newly named “Israel” and, at least temporarily, limping.
By Dena Weiss for Hadar
ONCE UPON AN EYELASH
When we meet our foremothers, Leah and Rachel, we immediately learn about their appearance. The verses tell us specifically that Rachel was beautiful and Leah, less so. What motivates these verses and descriptions? Why does the Torah need to testify to how unattractive Leah is? The answer helps teach us a crucial lesson about Leah and through her story, about the nature of lashon ha-ra, of harmful speech, itself.