Archive by category "Torah Thoughts"

Mikeitz, 2017

Mikeitz, 2017

by Rabbi Corinne Copnick, C.M., M.A., M.R.S.

 

Mikeitz, occurring in the Torah portion sequence ten weeks after Simchat Torah, is a hopeful parasha to read at Chanukah. It concerns dreams and their interpretations, and how they impact our lives. It is also a biblical “type scene” of deception, which details an astonishing sequence of dramatic moments, as the parasha balances the Hebrew word shever (usually translated as grain, food) with sever (the dot is on the other side of the letter shin), which stands for hope. [1]

Our home

From childhood, I have been aware that dream interpretations are sought after because they evoke “the human desire to know the future and the belief that this foreknowledge must somehow be available to us” (Plaut, Essays, 281).[2]  My mother, whose imagination and sensitivity were both super-attenuated, was known to her friends as a great tea leaf reader. They would often gather at our home over tea and delicate pastries and persuade her to “read” their fortunes. In those days, tea bags were not in vogue, and if you wanted a reading, you didn’t use a strainer to keep out the tea leaves when you poured the tempting brew into the tea cup. Then, when you were finished imbibing the amber liquid, you turned the cup upside down in the saucer and let the tea leaves set. After an interval, the “reader” would interpret the pattern formed by the leaves. My mother also interpreted dreams, but only those of her family and close friends. I remember her cautioning me that one must only give positive interpretations. [3]

There is always a caution when it comes to dream interpretation. Divination (for example, predicting the future from sounds made by hissing snakes) has been traditionally frowned on in Jewish thought as representing pagan superstition. Thus dream interpretation in Mikeitz, suggests Nahum M. Sarna, represents “the first clash recorded in the Bible between pagan magic and the will of God…. [It] constitutes a polemic against paganism.” [4According to the Sages in the Talmud, “it is an open question as to whether dreams have a validity” (Berachot 55a).

For Joseph, the hero of Mikeitz, though, recounting his own dreams initially got him into a lot of hot water with his brothers. Understandably, they didn’t like the idea of bowing down to their younger brother, as his dreams suggested. Their jealous ire against him took the extreme form of casting him into a pit, selling him into slavery, and deceiving their aging father that Joseph had been killed. Later, when the enslaved Joseph is relegated to prison in the court of the Pharaoh, he impresses his fellow inmates by interpreting their dreams (much like my mother and the tea leaves), so much so that when the Pharaoh has troubling dreams, the released inmates recommend Joseph to his attention. Eventually, through his visionary interpretations and the practical solutions he suggests, a famine is averted in Egypt.  Joseph rises to become the Pharaoh’s right hand man, dressed in rich robes with ceremonial accessories to accentuate his status.

As Rabbi Gunther W. Plaut points out:

“Joseph was the first Hebrew who lived, so to speak in Diaspora, the galut. He became thoroughly assimilated, adopted the customs of his environment, changed his name, wore Egyptian clothes, swore by Pharaoh’s name (Gen. 45:15), and married an Egyptian wife. In Potiphar’s house and prison, he was still ‘the Hebrew’; as an Egyptian official, he became wholly Egyptian. He entered a new life of affluence and power, and the past seemed far away” [5](280).

But it never really went away. You can only travel so far from who you are. As Rabbi Plaut wrote the above words, he may have been thinking about the increasing assimilation of secular Jews into 20th century North American society. In any case, it is the Diaspora Joseph that his brothers will meet when they travel from a drought-stricken land to Egypt in search of provisions for their family. Although Joseph recognizes his brothers, they do not recognize him, and Joseph struggles with his conflicting feelings of revenge and love, amid concern for his ailing father. “What we achieve in disguise is never the love we sought, “Rabbi Sacks comments. “We don’t need disguises before God.” [6]

He points out that Joseph had three gifts that enabled him to reach such heights: First of all, Joseph dreams dreams himself; indeed, his double dreams are a sign that they are not simply imaginings. A repeated dream, Rabbi Sacks explains, is “a signal sent by God” to suggest that there is something deeper about the human condition.” Secondly, Joseph could interpret dreams, and thirdly — perhaps most important of all — he had the ability to implement dreams, transform them into realistic applications. “It’s easy to see what’s wrong,” adds Rabbi Sacks, referring to societal problems. “A leader has the ability to make it right.” [7]

In order to give this tale of multiple deceits a positive outcome, as the brilliant commentator Nechama Leibowitz explains, Joseph’s brothers eventually evidence a sense of responsibility towards one another. Also, while Joseph’s interactions with his brothers [at first] seem vindictive, he is actually facilitating “their growth and rehabilitation.” In other words, Joseph “forced his brothers to simulate experiences that would help them to confront their dark past and pave the way for a bright future.”

In a D’var Torah that I previously posted on my own website (www.rabbicorinne.com), I wrote about my personal belief that dreams are pointers to the future, and that we should believe in them. In a corroborating passage (Berachot 55a), Rav Hisda tells us that a dream that is not interpreted is like a letter which is not read. Dreams are the unopened letters of the soul. If we have the courage to open them, they point to the paths we need to follow – our soul paths – if only we can find the moral strength to do it. However, dreams, the Talmud also cautions, are only 1/60th of prophecy. That still gives us 59/60ths to fulfill. It takes a lot of hard work!

1. Three other episodes in the Bible center on deception: the episode that begins in Isaac’s tent, when Jacob deceives Esau; the deception in regard to Rachel and Leah’s marriage to Jacob; and the deception that takes place between Judah and Tamar (Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “The Power of the Dream,” Covenant and Conversation. www.Sacks. Aish.com/tp/i/sacks/233216101.html).

2. Plaut, Rabbi Gunther W.,  Gen. Ed., “Essays,” The Torah: A Modern Commentary, revised ed. (New York: Union for Reform Judaism, 2006), 281.

3. In writing this D’var Torah, I first toured interpretations of this parasha in previous years on the AJRCA website (www.ajrca.edu). Dr. Tamar Frankiel also accents the positive in her 2014 essay: “Joseph reads [dreams] so that a positive resolution can be found,” she writes. And in tractate Berachot, the rabbis say that “one should always give the dream a good turn” (Frankiel, Mikeitz, 2015). In Rabbi Janet Madden’s interpretation of the same parasha, she writes that, according to Berachot b, “realization of all dreams follows the mouth; that is, that the import of a dream depends upon the interpretation given to it” (Mikeitz, 2014). In addition, Rabbi Elihu Gevirtz notes that the Hebrew letters of lechem (bread) are the same as the letters for dream (chalom); both bread and dreams “sustain us and give us nourishment and satisfaction” (Gevirtz, Mikeitz, 2010).

4. Sarna, Nahum M. “Gleanings,” The Torah: A Modern Commentary, revised ed. (New York: Union for Reform Judaism, 2006), 282.

5. Plaut, Ibid., 280.

6. Sacks, Ibid.

7. Ibid.

 

 

 

 

©Rabbi Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2017. All rights reserved.

So Many Questions

So Many Questions

by Rabbi Corinne Copnick

 

Jewish responses to specific moral issues are often framed as questions: How does one survive the world as an outsider? Can a life be surrendered for another life – or other lives? Does my body belong to me? How can we use our freedom of will to sanctify life? What are the medical ethics involved in “beginning of life” and “end of life” issues? How do we approach human aging and death? What does it mean to view life through “la’asot” [to do, to take action] spectacles? How do we understand evil? Can there really be ethics in warfare? Is there a Jewish answer as to why bad things happen to good people? Are human beings the real beneficiaries of kindness to animals?

Credit: https://www.lbi.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/eretz-israel-struck.jpg

One wonders how the Jewish people – my people — survived just trying to answer all those questions, let alone transporting themselves from country to country over the generations. They were able to do so because they had a large body of collected wisdom in the Talmud, as well as the many other texts that commented on the Hebrew Bible, as well as on the Talmud itself. Over the centuries, the commentaries continued to grow.

They were also able to survive because they had a portable homeland, “Eretz Yisrael” (the land of Israel, often referred to as “Eretz,” the land) populated by Jewish values that have survived until today. Their prayers, facing the East, towards Jerusalem, continually reflected the internalized yearning for its eternal capital. Finally, after years of persecution and striving, in the middle of the 20th century, the State of Israel was reborn. And whether or not it is endorsed by any political entity, its eternal capital will always remain Jerusalem. It is also worthwhile to remember that in Hebrew, the word for Jerusalem – “Yerushalayim” – is plural, inclusive.

©️Corinne Copnick, 2017, Los Angeles. All rights reserved.

Va-yashev (Genesis 37:1- 40:26)

 

Va-yashev (Genesis 37:1- 40:26):

Recognizing the Intention to Transgress

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

 

 

“I am with child by the man to whom these belong….
Examine these: whose seal and cord and staff are these?”

Genesis 38:25

 

She said to him: “It was I.”

He said to her: “But in any case, my intention was to transgress.”

B. Kiddushin 81 b

Painting by Emile Jean Horace Vernet

On the agenda this week for my welcoming Jewish study group, Beit Kulam, now in its third year, is a Talmudic tale about a long-married, Jewish couple [1]. Over the years, their marriage has faded from romanticism to a purported asceticism in the name of holiness.  In other words, sexual relations are no longer part of their marriage. One day, as the wife goes out to market on Mondays and Thursdays, the husband, wailing aloud, begs God to repress his “evil impulses.” When the wife, returning to pick up a forgotten object, overhears him, she devises a scheme to attract him. Dressing like a prostitute, complete with disguising heavy makeup and jangling bracelets, she attempts to seduce him in the garden outside their home, and he propositions her. After their encounter, she demands that he prove himself by bringing her a pomegranate (the sign of his attraction) from the top of a tree, which he does. Then, once more dressed as his wife, she re-enters their home and lights the oven, but she is taken aback when husband immediately sits inside its fiery heat as penitence. As she attempts to reassures him that she, his wife, was the seductress – “it was I” – he still groans under the weight of his guilt. “But the intention to transgress was mine,” he answers.

At least, unlike some others who transgress in public life today, he can admit that he was wrong. (And she has the pomegranate to prove it, although that fact is implicit, not expressed, in the terse Talmudic story.)

There are some similarities in this Talmud story to the interaction between Tamar and Judah, one of the major stories (Joseph is the other protagonist) in our Torah portion this week, Vayashev. “Judah is the first person in the Torah explicitly to admit he was wrong,” writes my favorite Torah commentator, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. “…[T]his seems to be the moment at which he acquired the depth of character necessary for him to become the first real baal teshuvah” [2].

What happened in the Torah’s story to lead to this moment? Tamar, who was not Jewish, had been previously married to two of Judah’s sons, both of whom died. Er, the firstborn,it seems, was a sinner, while the second son Onan (bound by the custom of levirate marriage to marry his widowed, childless sister-in-law) did not want to have children and wasted his seed. Thus Tamar was unable to have a child to honor her first husband’s memory, especially since Judah hedged about letting his third son, Shelah, marry her – even though Shelah was actually bound by Jewish law to marry his brother’s widow.

Tamar was not going to put up with this evasion. So she took the only recourse open to her in biblical times: seduction. Disguising herself as a prostitute and putting herself in Judah’s direct path as he went to the sheep-shearing, you can guess what happened. He engaged her “services.” Not only did they have intercourse, she became pregnant.

When Tamar (as the prostitute) demanded payment for her “services,” Judah said he would send it to her, and when she asked something tangible as his pledge, he handed over the cord and seal proving his identity (a proof more significant than the simple pomegranate demanded in the later Talmudic Kiddushin story).

When Judah learned about Tamar’s pregnancy, however, he was furious. Of course, he didn’t realize that his son’s widow had disguised herself as a prostitute, and that he, her father-in-law, was the one who had impregnated her. So he demanded that she be put to death for adultery. But Tamar held the winning card: she produced Judah’s cord and seal to prove that he was the father. Why had she done it? To perpetuate the memory of her husband [3].

And so Judah admitted his transgression. He was indeed the father, and his son’s memory would forever live on. In addition, both Tamar and Judah ended up being remembered in Jewish history as courageous (she for attaining her goal through clever deception, he for confessing his error). Admittedly, Tamar used the only weapon she had, her sexual self, to attain her aims, but I have to keep reminding myself to see the story through the lens of biblical times (heroic Tamar forces powerful but honest Judah to tell the truth) and not from a contemporary perspective (it’s time sexual predators of both genders changed their behavior).

The Tamar and Judah story is also a good reminder to get promised payment for business transactions in writing!

 

 

[1] B. Kiddushin 81 b. Retold by Ruth Calderon, “Libertina,” A Bride for One Night: Talmud Tales, trans. Ilana Kurshan (Philadelphia: JPS, 2014), 39.

[2] Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “The Heroism of Tamar,” www.Covenant and Conversation, (Vayashev 5775, Dec. 8, 2014).

[3] It is ironic that Tamar, along with the now famous Moabite woman called Ruth, both originally non-Jews, was to become an ancestor of King David.

 

 

Va-yishlach: (Genesis 32:4-36:40)

 

Va-yishlach: (Genesis 32:4-36:40):

Sexual Violation in the Bible and Now

A D’var Torah by Rabbi Corinne Copnick

 

“Now Dinah, the daughter whom Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the daughters of the land. Shechem, son of Hamor the Hivite, chief of the country, saw her, and took her and lay with her by force. Being strongly drawn to Dinah, daughter of Jacob, and in love with the maiden, he spoke to the maiden tenderly. So Shechem said to his father Hamor, ‘Get me this girl for a wife”(Genesis 34:1-4).

 

Va’yishlach, the Torah portion for this week, is read in our synagogues just as the current news cycle revels in the salacious details of sexual violation in our secular world. As high profile men are publicly disgraced for a sliding scale of offences that include harassment, groping, assault, or rape, we reflect that human nature has not changed since biblical times.

Credit: http://www.pictorem.com/collection/900_Lucretia%20and%20Tarquin.jpg

First of all, this portion details Jacob’s fearful return to the Promised Land, his wrestling match with the angel (which leaves him with a permanent limp but rewards him with the new name of Israel), and his bittersweet reunion, and then parting, from his brother Esau. Following these episodes in chapter 34, is the story of Dinah, who never gets to say a single word about her feelings or fate. The pages of the Torah do not give her the opportunity to speak out about her probable rape by a neighboring Canaanite prince, Shechem, the son of his pagan tribe’s important chief, Hamor the Hivite. Nor can she say a word about her brothers’ subsequent actions to punish the offender – and his entire tribe as well by wholesale circumcision — nor about the death of her rapist, who claimed to have fallen in love with her after he violated her. Whatever she might have had to say about the consequential death of Shechem –  perhaps she loved him too – the pages of the Torah do not permit her to say anything. Her feelings simply don’t count.

And so Dinah, Leah’s last child, and Jacob and Leah’s only daughter, remains silent through the centuries. We don’t know how she feels, and we don’t know how she was treated once she was taken from Shechem’s house and returned to the bosom of her family. Even today, women in some parts of the Middle East and elsewhere who bring dishonor and shame to their families by being raped, are not treated well, and in many cases (some of which Rabbi Laura Geller enumerates) killed by their own relatives – even though they are the victims. Fortunately, in the Torah’s account, the punishment seems to fall on the male perpetrator and his family rather than on Dinah, but we simply don’t know.  Rabbi Jonathan Sacks remarks that Dinah is a blank page onto which we project our own feelings and opinions.

So here goes: First of all, controversy through the centuries has quite despicably, in my view, revolved around whether Dinah, in modern parlance, “asked for it” by “going out to see the daughters of the land.” This is the antiquated thinking of classical (and even some contemporary) rabbis who prefer women to be modestly dressed – even better, in some Middle Eastern countries, veiled from head to toe – and hidden in their own homes, away from the sight of unrelated men. Curiosity about what’s outside your tribe? Want to learn more about the world? Get an education? Stuff it! Stay home, cook, and look after the kids. So, according to these classical rabbis (yes, shamefully), if Dinah had stayed home like a good girl should (or today, dress appropriately for the office), she wouldn’t have been raped.

Then there’s the argument that centers around whether or not Dinah was actually raped. Perhaps, based on the translation of three Hebrew verbs used sequentially to describe what Shechem did to Dinah, she was not raped at all? Perhaps it was consensual?The first verb, vayineh, could be alternatively translated as “raped, violated, or lay with her by force.” The n-h root could be translated as “oppress, overpower, humiliate, subdue.” None of them sound good to me, however.

Dr. Shawna Dolansky, who warns that we should beware of reading this story from a 21st century viewpoint, nevertheless elaborates on this verbal theme, particularly on the verb, “innah,” which is somewhat untranslatable but usually rendered in English as “rape.” She suggests that it means to “debase” or “lower a person’s status,” but most likely from her family’s perspective. So we don’t really know if Dinah consented, nor exactly what Shechem did when he “innahed” her. In any case, it was apparently to the extent that he fell in love with her.

To his credit, though, he did the honorable thing and asked Dinah’s father, Jacob – like Shechem’s father, Jacob was also an esteemed man in the land — for her hand in marriage. Jacob agrees to the marriage, but, in consultation with his numerous sons, with this condition: Since a Jewish women can only marry a circumcised male, Shechem’s whole tribe, along with him, must undergo circumcision as well.

Although Shechem and his father agree to both the marriage and the circumcision, a truly evil act takes place while the whole tribe is convalescing and unable to defend themselves. Two of the brothers, Shimon and Levi, surreptitiously descend on them and kill all the males of the tribe. There are whispers that they had secretly plotted to take advantage of the men in order to confiscate their property and cattle. Jacob, who has always had friendly relations with his neighbors, is so distraught that he feels he must move away in order to prevent vengeful retaliation.

The Torah should really be read straight through like a novel. Shimon and Levi defend themselves with this question: “Should he [Shechem] have been allowed to treat ours sister like a whore?” (Genesis 34:31). It’s a question that would surely have resonated in that time and place. In fact, writes Lewis M. Barth, “the misogynistic orientation of classical Rabbinic Judaism infuses many midrashic comments on this text with statements linking Dinah and her mother to prostitution. Probably the Rabbis reread the final question [above]…as a declarative sentence. The Rabbis’ comments specifically blame Dinah for being raped and being the cause of the slaughter of Shechem, Hamor, and all the males of their community.”

The biblical text, however, does not suggest that Shechem treated Dinah like a whore. We are told that he was drawn to her, and, although admittedly after the act of taking her, in love with her, and that he talked to her tenderly. Since he asked to marry her, surely he did not consider her to be a whore. At any rate, somewhat later in the text, Shimon and Levi get their come-uppance. Jacob does not speak well of them in his bedside oration, and Shimon and Levi are not assigned property in the Holy Land (Genesis 49:5-7).

Thousands of years later, Anita Diament’s The Red Tent (1997), while an historical fiction that invented a sequential period in Egypt, tried to substantially provide Dinah’s voice amid the atmosphere of the times. Of course it was widely read and appreciated – and still is – countless women. Fortunately, there are many female, as well as male, voices (besides lawyer Gloria Allred) that speak out for the Dinahs of this world today.

  1. The Hivites were a nation that descended from Canaan, son of Ham, son of Noah (Genesis 10:17). The first time they play an active role in the Bible is when Shechem the Hivite raped Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah, and full blood sister of Simeon and Levi (Genesis 34).” (Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, eds. The Jewish Study Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).
  2. Rabbi Laura Geller, “The Silence of Dinah and Other Rape Victims: The Bible focuses on Jacob’s and his son’s reactions, but not on those of the victim herself.” My Jewish Learning, with permission from The Torah: A Woman’s Commentary, edited by Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Audrey L. Weiss (New York: URJ Press and Women of Reform Judaism, 2008).

  3. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “Vayishlach,” Covenant and Conversation, www.rabbisacks.org/vayishlach.

  4. Susanna R. Cohen. “Why We Must Speak Out Against Sexual Violence,” https://reformjudaism.org, 11/30/2017.

  5. Dr. Shawna Dolansky, “The Debasement of Dinah: A Historical-Critical Reading,” https: The Torah.com, 11/29/2017. Dolansky claims that the narrative “never states that Dinah was raped or coerced into sexual intercourse….and that the verb ‘innah’ is used in many places throughout the biblical text in ways that cannot be translated as rape.”

  6. According to Deuteronomy 22:28-29, in Jewish law, if a man rapes an unattached woman, he must pay a fine to her father, and not only is he required to marry her, but also he can never divorce her (Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, eds. The Jewish Study Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004) 69.

  7. Lewis M. Barth, “Difficult Stories Raise Difficult Questions,” Vayishlach, Genesis 32:4-36:43, https://reformjudaism.org/learning/torah/2017.

  8. Richard Elliott Friedman, ed. Commentary on the Torah: With a New English Translation and the Hebrew Text (New York: Harper, 2003)118.

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2017. All rights reserved.

Vayetse (Genesis –  28:10 –32:2)

Vayetse (Genesis 28:10 –32:2):

Rivalry, Fertility and Infertility, and Surrogacy

“Give me children or I shall die” (Genesis 30:1).

A D’var Torah by Rabbi Corinne Copnick

 

Photo credit: https://3c1703fe8d.site.internapcdn.net/newman/gfx/news/hires/2015/mayapple.jpg

This parasha is a veritable soap opera of a chapter. It revolves around familial intrigue, trickery, and competition, initially between twin brothers for the birthright (both material and spiritual) that, in the biblical world, belonged rightfully to Esau, the elder son, a hunter rooted in the physical world. Although Esau was the firstborn son from Rebecca’s womb, Jacob, the more reflective younger son, is better suited to become the spiritual carrier of Jewish precepts into the next generation.

In the midst of this male battle for leadership supremacy, another kind of rivalry emerges: that of two women, Leah and Rachel (again a story of rivalry between the older and the younger), as these sisters compete in the realm of fertility, infertility, and surrogacy – and even romantic love. Both sisters sequentially become Jacob’s wives, but not in the order usually accepted in biblical times (birth order is a frequent theme in the Torah). Customarily, the older sister marries first, but not in this story, in which the trickster, Jacob — smitten with Rachel from the moment he glimpses her at her father’s well – is himself deceived by Rachel’s father, Laban (who is also Jacob’s uncle) into marrying the veiled older sister, Leah, instead. Yes, it’s complicated. This biblical deception is the reason’s why the groom lifts the bride’s veil before they finalize their vows, even in contemporary ceremonies, to ascertain that he is getting the right bride!

In his 2014 book, The Lost Matriarch, author Jerry Rabow explores the relationship between the two sisters [1]. He suggests the possibility that, with compassion for her older sister, it is actually an empathetic Rachel who arranges the deceptive marriage to Jacob, so that Leah will not be humiliated in the eyes of her community. However, it is Rachel’s father (also Jacob’s uncle), Laban, who is the chief deceiver here. He requires Jacob to work seven years tending his flocks in order to gain the hand of Rachel. But then Laban switches sisters in the marriage ceremony, and Jacob must work another seven years in order to gain his first love as his bride. (Spoiler alert: Jacob is permitted to marry Rachel after he has completed the first week of his seven-year travail – but he still has to work out the full time.)

So then Jacob has two wives to satisfy, no small commitment in biblical times when a woman’s chief role is to procreate – to bear, tend, and cook for lots of children. Indeed, the plight of barren women is a recurrent theme in the Hebrew Bible. Leah proves to be very fertile, while, for an unbearably long time, Rachel is unable to conceive. But as Leah, who has her own reason to despair, initially produces four sons (Reuven, Shimon, Levi, and Yehudah), she names the first three to reflect her hope that each of their births will induce Jacob to love her.

Rabbi Ilana Grinblatt, who teaches Midrash (the traditional body of stories that imaginatively emerged to fill in the gaps in the Torah), wrote compassionately about these four sons in a Torah commentary posted by the Board of Rabbis of Southern California:

“Leah longed for her husband’s Jacob love so desperately that she named her first three sons after that desire. She named her first son Reuven -which means ‘see son” because she said, ‘God has seen my suffering and now my husband will love me.’ Leah named her second son Shimon which means ‘hear-suffering’ because she said, “God has heard that I am hated.” She named her third son Levi which means “join me” and said, “Now my husband will be attached to me. Yet, when she had her fourth son she said, “Hapa’am” – this time, I will thank God, and so she named him Yehudah which means ‘thank God’ ”[2].

“The Bible made Leah a Matriarch, but it took Midrash to make her a heroine,” comments Jerry Rabow [3]. He also comments extensively, but from a less flattering, male point of view, on the names that Leah bestows upon her children who have no choice in the matter.

Meanwhile, Rachel remains childless, weeping for her children, as the broken notes of the shofar’s call are said to symbolize. Driven by despair –“Give me children or I shall die” (Genesis 30:1) —  she enlists the help of a surrogate, her handmaid, Bilhah, and implores Jacob to impregnate Bilhah, with the consequent birth of Dan and Naphtali [4].

Not to be one-upped by Rachel, Leah, who by this time had thought she was finished with child-bearing, enlists her own handmaid, Zilpah, and, through Zilpah’s surrogacy with Jacob, another two sons, Gad and Asher, are born.

An early version of enhancing fertility with medicinal drugs occurs when Leah solicits Rachel to give her some of the mandrake roots (believed to assist conception) that Rachel has managed to obtain, and Rachel complies. Thus Leah is enabled to add to her family through her own procreative ability, and before she is finished, although she has given up trying to get Jacob to love her, she has given birth to two more sons, Isaacher and Zebulun. Eventually, Leah also gives birth to a lone daughter, Dinah, destined to bring dishonor to her family.

As for Rachel, with the help of the mandrake roots, she is finally able to conceive in great joy, and Joseph, is born. He is destined to be sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, but will eventually rise to become the right hand man of the Pharaoh of Egypt, but we don’t know that yet. Sadly, Rachel dies in childbirth with her second son, Benjamin, who will be much loved by his grieving father. Eventually, but much later, all the brothers – and their father – will be reunited.

Or as the title of a very popular 1970s television sitcom told its audience, “It’s All in the Family.” But Genesis told such fascinating, complicated stories of family relationships first. To be continued….

 

 

[1] Jerry Rabow, The Lost Matriarch: Finding Leah in the Bible and the Midrash (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2014).

[2] Rabbi Ilana Grinblatt, “Vayatze,” Board of Rabbis of Southern California Torah commentary, 2017 (info@boardofrabbis.org).

[3] Rabow, 187.

[4] My 2008 book, Cryokid: Drawing a New Map, details assisted reproduction in contemporary times, but surrogacy through concubines was already an accepted fact of life in biblical times. Cryokid is available on Amazon.com. It was a finalist in the 2009 Indie Next Gen Awards of Excellence.

 

 

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2017. All rights reserved.