Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Parshas Mikeitz 5777

The Meaning of Joseph's Egyptian Name

The Torah writes (Genesis 41:45):
Pharaoh then gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-paneah; and he gave him for a wife Asenath daughter of Poti-phera, priest of On. Thus Joseph emerged in charge of the land of Egypt.
According to Targum Jonathan:
And Pharoh called the name of Joseph, The man who reveals mysteries
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan explains (in the Living Torah):
Many authorities state that this is a Hebrew translation of the Egyptian name that he was given, and that it means 'revealer of secrets' (Targum; Rashi; Septuagint; Josephus 2:6:1). Others say that it is an Egyptian name (Ibn Ezra; Radak, Sherashim). In Egyptian, Tzaphnath is tza-pa-neth meaning, 'the Neth speaks' or 'the god speaks.' Paaneach is pa-anakh, meaning 'the life,' where anach or ankh is the symbol of life. Hence the name can be translated as, 'Lord of life,' 'Neth speaks life,' or 'The God speaks and [this man] lives.'
Daas Zekeinim has a different opinion:
This name is an acronym, describing a person who is steadfast in the presence of strong urges. Potiphar had had no reason to believe that Joseph could not withstand such temptation. [Pharaoh wanted the world to know that Joseph had been completely innocent of any accusation. Ed.]
Shadal also explains:
It means "the savior of the world"

What is On?

The Torah writes (Genesis 41:45):
Pharaoh then gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-paneah; and he gave him for a wife Asenath daughter of Poti-phera, priest of On. Thus Joseph emerged in charge of the land of Egypt.

Targum Onkelos implies this was a city (ibid):
Potiphera, the prince / master of On
So does the Rashbam:
A minister in the city of that name as know from Samuel II 7:18 - "and the sons of David were priests". The meaning of the word must be that they were high positions (but not actual priests)
(the city of On / Aven is also mentioned in Ezekiel 30:17)

Targum Jonathan (ibid) learns this was a different city:
Potiphera, the prince of Tanis
Rav Saadiag Gaon in his Tafsir (ibid) learns it was a different city:
Potiphera, the prince of Alexandria
Shadal explains:
On is Heliopolis, the city of the sun where they worship the sun and every year make a celebration of the sun, and some way the word "On" means the city of the sun in Egyptian
(see also Jeremiah 43:13 where the "city of the sun" in Egypt is mentioned and see also Isaiah 19:18)

Ramban (ibid) explains differently:
It is possible that "On" was the name of his deity [i.e. Potiphera's]

The Man Who Persecuted the Brothers

The Torah writes (Genesis 43:14):
And may El Shaddai dispose the man to mercy toward you, that he may release to you your other brother, as well as Benjamin. As for me, if I am to be bereaved, I shall be bereaved.”
The simple explanation of the verse is that the man referred to by Jacob is Joseph

However, Sefer leMakesi Atik cites a Midrash (see Otzar HaMidrashim Vol 1, pp. 224) that originally Joseph want to greet the brothers in happiness and reveal himself but a person came and accused them of trying to kill him. That was the angel that originally found Joseph in the field and that was the man referred to in this verse.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Parshas Vayeshev 5777

Who Spoke to Joseph in Shechem?

The Torah writes (Genesis 37:14-17):
And he said to him, “Go and see how your brothers are and how the flocks are faring, and bring me back word.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron. When he reached Shechem, a man came upon him wandering in the fields. The man asked him, “What are you looking for?” He answered, “I am looking for my brothers. Could you tell me where they are pasturing?” The man said, “They have gone from here, for I heard them say: Let us go to Dothan.” So Joseph followed his brothers and found them at Dothan.

Rashi (ibid) explains based on a Midrash:
AND A MAN FOUND HIM — This was the angel Gabriel (Genesis Rabbah 84:14) as it is said, (Daniel 10:21) and the man (והאיש) Gabriel” (Midrash Tanchuma 1:4:22).
Sefer Mekasei Atik cites Baalei Tosfos al haTorah that this was the angel Rephoel

However, the Midrash cited by Rashi (Genesis Rabba 84.14) has another opinion:
Rabbi Yannai said - three angels appeared to him as it says "and the men found him", and "he asked the man", and "the man said"
(this is similar to what Rashi writes regarding Hagar earlier by the well)

HaEmek Davar (ibid) implies this was a prophet:
My brothers. And from where would he know who he [Joseph] was and who his brothers were? And furthermore, what is this question "tell me please where they are pasturing"? From where would he know? Rather, [it must be] one of the two these possibilities: Either he was a well-known man to them in his importance, or, he recognized him as an angel or prophet that knew everything to do with his brothers. And in truth, the Torah should have said "and he [Joseph] found a man", for it was Joseph that was wandering alone searching and found the man, not the man whow as walking on his way. Rather, the text comes to teach that the man was a messanger from Heaven, to encounter Joseph and bring him to such, and the man went and found him in that place.
Ibn Ezra (ibid) disagrees:
The simple explanation is that this was a random traveller
Additional notes:
  • The Rosh (ibid) discusses why Jacob send Joseph to the brothers if he knew that they hated him, and answers that it wasn't for sure that they would harm him but being in a dangerous place like Shechem was more of a concern
  • Some commentators explains that the field they went to was the field Jacob bought from Chamor, others (Rosh) say it was a random field

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Parshas Vayishlach 5777

Humans or Angels?

The Torah writes (Genesis 32:4):
Jacob sent messengers ahead to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom
Rashi (ibid) explains:
Rashi's source is the Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 75:4):
Messengers - these were of human flesh and blood and the Rabbis learned that these were actual angels
(Josh Waxman's parshablog explains the disagreement further and also links to Sefer haYashar that says these were Laban's messengers trying to provoke Esau)

Why Was Jacob Left Alone?

The Torah writes (Genesis 32:23-25):
That same night he arose, and taking his two wives, his two maidservants, and his eleven children, he crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After taking them across the stream, he sent across all his possessions. Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.

Radak (ibid) writes:
after having transferred the children, wives, etc, he transferred his property, inert objects, the animals having swum across. After he had safely seen to it that everything had crossed he remained solitary on the far bank to check if anything had been left behind inadvertently. Our sages in Chulin 91 explain that the righteous who are so concerned with not laying claim to anything which is not absolutely theirs, are also careful not to waste any hard earned acquisitions, even if small.
However, the Rashbam (ibid) disagrees:
after he had transferred all his belongings to the other side of the river, so that the only one still to be brought across was he himself. The reason that he wanted to cross only after everyone else had already crossed was that he intended to flee in a different direction so as to avoid a face to face encounter with Esau. An angel engaged him in a physical fight, his purpose being to prevent Yaakov from fleeing. Only in this way could G’d’s promise to Yaakov that Esau would not harm him be fulfilled.

Esau, the Vampire

The Torah writes (Genesis 33:4):
Esau ran to greet him. He embraced him and, falling on his neck, he kissed him; and they wept.
Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer (37:1) writes:
When he came back to the Land of Canaan, Esau came to him from Mt. Seir in extreme anger to kill him ... Esau said that I will kill Jacob with my teeth and my mouth and will suck out his blood as it says "and he ran to kiss him", don't read it as kiss but as bite but Jacob's neck became as hard as marble and Esau struck his teeth on it...
(Midrashim also discuss that Esau was born with teeth - see also Rabbi Nosson Slifkin's post)

(See also our post last year about Benjamin being a werewolf)

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Parshas Vayeitzei 5777

Why was the well covered with a rock?

The Torah writes (Genesis 29:2-3):
There before his eyes was a well in the open. Three flocks of sheep were lying there beside it, for the flocks were watered from that well. The stone on the mouth of the well was large.When all the flocks were gathered there, the stone would be rolled from the mouth of the well and the sheep watered; then the stone would be put back in its place on the mouth of the well.
The Shadal explains (29:8):
Because of the agreement they made among themselves that no one is allowed to use the water from the well alone
Radak explains further (29:2):
seeing that there was no other source of water nearby to water the flocks of the people of Charan, the local people had placed an extremely large and heavy rock on top of it so that only in the presence of all the shepherds would the flocks be watered so as to ensure a fair distribution of the available water. This would also help to avoid wasting water remaining in the troughs when no other flock had already lined up at the troughs. Placing such a large stone on the well then was a device designed to help everyone entitled to this water to receive his fair share in the presence of all the shepherds.
Chizkuni provides another reason (ibid) [see also Rashbam]:
And the large stone was placed on the mouth of the well so nothing alive or utensils fall into it and also so others don't draw water from it
HaEmek Davar (29:3) adds another reason:
First that would place it on the mouth of the well and then move it around to make a good cover - all of this because of magic

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Parshas Toldos 5777

Whom Did Rebecca Ask for Advice?

The Torah writes (Genesis 25:22):
But the children struggled in her womb, and she said, “If so, why do I exist?" She went to inquire of the LORD
Rashi explains:
AND SHE WENT TO ENQUIRE at the school of Shem
Radak explains why:
Some of our sages (quoted by Rashi) say that she went to the academy of Shem in order to inquire from him about the meaning of such strange goings on inside her. The truth is that Shem was still alive at that time for he survived Avraham by 31 years. If Shem was identical with Malki Tzedek he would have resided in Jerusalem at that time. Why are we told all this? To draw our attention to the fact that she bypassed her father-in-law Avraham, who we would think, was better qualified than Shem to answer her question. Avraham remained alive until Esau and Yaakov were 15 years of age.
Ibn Ezra gives two other answers:
Through a prophet
(see also Chizkuni and Rashbam)

or through Abraham himself for he did not die until his grandsons were 15
Ralbag (ibid) explains slightly differently:
And she went to ask G-d from prophets - His servants - which were there in those days like Shem, Eber and their students ... and He answered her through prophecy
Ramban answers that she prayed:
We don't find [the language of] "inquiry" except in regards in regards to G-d that it is prayer
Shadal explains slightly differently:
She prayed to G-d and the word of G-d came to her either through a prophecy or a dream
The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 63 as quoted in LeMakesei Atik) explains:
through an angel

Who Gave Jacob His Name?

The Torah writes (Genesis 25:26):
Then his brother emerged, holding on to the heel of Esau; so they named him Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when they were born.
Rashi provides two answers:
The Holy One, blessed be He, thus named him
Another explanation is: his father called him Jacob because he was grasping Esau’s heel
Rokeah (as quoted in LeMakesei Atik) says it was Abraham

(see also Josh Waxman's parshablog on this)

(see our earlier post about who named Esau with the name Edom)