Derech Tzofeh (“The Path of the Scout”) offers commentaries on Judaism from all diverse Jewish Scouting sources to incorporate the values inspired by the Torah, Talmud and Mishnah and relate them to the Scouting program.
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December 7, 2018 – Parsha Mikeitz
Today, I study in memory of a dear friend to many of us, Louis “Lou” Feigelson, z”l, of Ann Arbor, Michigan, who passed away on Wednesday – a lifetime Scout, Scoutmaster, Wood Badge trainer and Arrowman. His memory is a blessing, and he will be sorely missed.
This week the drama surrounding Joseph and his brothers continues in Parasha Mikeitz.
Joseph, sold into slavery in Egypt, has met two of Pharaoh’s chamberlains and interpreted their dreams, which turn out just as Joseph explained they would. Now, Pharaoh has had dreams that no one can interpret, and the chamberlain of the cup bearers brings Joseph out of prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. Joseph humbly explains that he has no power to interpret dreams, and only explains the dreams as God tells him.
Pharaoh’s dreams are of seven strong cows being devoured by seven weak cows, and seven healthy ears of grain being eaten by seven thin ears of grain. Joseph explains that Egypt will enjoy seven years of good harvests, to be followed by seven years of famine. Joseph explains the two dreams are really one, which means God is prepared to carry out the divine plan for Egypt very soon.
God’s message to Pharaoh – sent in the dream – includes a plan of action that Joseph explains. Pharaoh should appoint a wise man to take charge of the grain harvest during the seven good years, to store it for distribution during the seven years of famine. Pharaoh realizes God’s power and that Joseph understands it, and appoints Joseph his prime minister.
During the seven years of plenty, Joseph sees that grain is stored, so much that the granaries are filled. Joseph also marries Asenath, the daughter of Potiphar, the Egyptian court official who bought Joseph. Asenath and Joseph have two sons, Manassah and Ephraim.
When the famine comes, it affects the entire region including Canaan. Jacob sends his sons – all except the youngest, Benjamin – to Egypt to buy grain. In Egypt, they appear before Joseph to buy the grain – Joseph recognizes his brothers, but they do not recognize him. Joseph asks the brothers leading questions to find out about the welfare of his father and Benjamin, who is the only other son born of Rachel and therefore very close to Joseph.
Joseph tells the brothers that, if they return, they must bring Benjamin if they want to buy grain. The brothers take home grain and, when that is all gone, return to Egypt with Benjamin to purchase more. Before they return to Canaan, Joseph hides his silver goblet in Benjamin’s sack. As the brothers journey home, Joseph sends his servant to stop them, saying they have stolen his goblet. The men empty their sacks, and the goblet is found in Benjamin’s sack. We will learn what happens next week.
The story of the interactions among Joseph and the brothers is the usual theme studied in this parasha. I want to take a moment and discuss the other set of brothers mentioned this week – Manassah and Ephraim.
Manassah means “caused me to forget”.. Joseph named him so because with the birth of his son, God had caused Joseph to forget his hardship and his longing for his father’s household. Ephraim, from “to be fruitful,” caused Joseph to be thankful God had made him fruitful in Egypt, the land of his suffering. Even though these two boys grew up at the Egyptian court, surrounded by idol-worshippers and people who lacked character, the good influence of their father made them Morally Straight, Reverent to God, and Obedient to God’s commandments. That is why Jewish parents bless their sons, “May you grow to be like Ephraim and Manassah.”
May YOU grow to be like Ephraim and Manassah.
Shabbat shalom and happy Hanukkah!
November 29, 2018 – Parsha Vayeishev
This week’s parasha, Vayeishev, is best known for the story of Joseph and his brothers. It also reveals the beginning of both the Jewish people’s descent to Egyptian slavery and our ultimate freedom.
Joseph’s story follows a pattern in Genesis – the younger brother takes leadership of the family and the older brother(s) resent this. First Isaac, not Ishmael, becomes Abraham’s spiritual heir. Then Esau sells his birthright – the spiritual leadership of the family – to Jacob.
Now comes Joseph, who is Jacob’s favorite. Jacob even gives Joseph a wonderful coat of many colors. Joseph tattles to his father about his older brothers. He tells his brothers about dreams in which he rules over them. Naturally, his brothers resent and dislike him. The older brothers throw Joseph into a pit, then sell him to a caravan of Midianites. Joseph is taken to Egypt, where he is sold to one of Pharoah’s chamberlains. (Spoiler Alert: Jacob’s sons never tell their father what happened to Joseph, and Jacob is really sad for the next 20 years because he does not know what happened to his beloved son.)
At this point, the Torah turns to the story of Tamar. Tamar was the daughter of Noah’s son, Shem, a great scholar and teacher. Tamar and Joseph’s older brother, Judah, have twin boys. The first twin born, Perez, became the ancestor of King David, who in turn will be the ancestor of the Messiah (Moshiach). Moshiach will be the leader of the Jewish people when God brings forth our freedom and peace for all the world.
This is the destiny of two brothers: Joseph starts our journey to Egypt, where the Jewish people will follow him and live in slavery for generations until our first redemption, and Judah starts the line of Moshiach, the leader of our final redemption.
These things were foretold when God first promised Abraham that he and Sarah would be the ancestors of countless descendants. At the Covenant of the Parts, in Parasha Lech Lecha, God told Abraham: “Know with certainty that your offspring shall be aliens in a land not their own, they will serve them, and they will oppress them 400 years. … ” This means 400 years of slavery is coming, which is the period from this covenant to the Exodus. God continued, “To your descendants have I given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates River; the Kennite, the Kenizzite, and the Kadmonite … .” These lands will become part of Israel when Moshiach comes, as described in Isaiah 11:14.
But before we begin the story of our slavery, we will go through weeks filled with family drama and deception, heartbreak and sacrifice. As you read about it, you might look for whether the family members treat each other according to the Scout Law. Certainly the way Joseph’s brothers, who are considered righteous men, treated him in this parasha do not seem Friendly, Loyal or Kind. Is there some greater purpose in what they are doing, even if they do not realize it?
Don’t miss a parasha of this exciting tale.
November 23, 2018 – Parsha Vayishlach
I hope everyone has had a wonderful Thanksgiving.
This week, in Parasha Vayishlach, we pick up Jacob’s story as he leaves the home of Laban, his father-in-law, in Padan-aram. Jacob has lived there for 20 years and is traveling home to Canaan.
Jacob’s brother Esau lives in Canaan, and Jacob fears Esau still hates him because Jacob “stole” Esau’s birthright and blessing. Always the example of a good Scout, Jacob wants to Be Prepared. Jacob is very righteous, so the malachim(divine beings we think of as angels) help him. He sends malachim to seek out Esau. They return with the news that Esau and an army of 400 men are coming to Jacob!
Jacob takes a number of precautions. He divides his family, servants, herds and flocks into two camps so that if Esau strikes down one camp, the other will survive. He prays for protection. He tries to appease Esau: The next morning, he sends several groups of servants to Esau. Each group has very impressive gifts – flocks of goats, ewes and rams, and donkeys. Jacob orders his servants to tell Esau that these gifts are “Your servant’s, Jacob. It is a tribute sent to my lord, to Esau, and behold he himself is behind us.”
Jacob gets up in the middle of the night and takes his wives and 11 sons and crosses the ford of the River Jabbok. He returns alone to the other side, where he encounters a man and they wrestle until the break of dawn. The man cannot overcome him, so he hits Jacob in his hip-socket and dislocates it. By now, Jacob suspects the “man” is really one of the malachim. The man tells Jacob to let him go, and Jacob refuses unless the man blesses him. The man then says, “No longer will your name be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have fought with something divine and with man and have overcome.” (In Hebrew yisra is “to overcome” and El is one of God’s names.)
In the morning Esau and Jacob meet, have a tearful encounter, and reconcile. Jacob continues on his way with his family and household.
As part of Being Prepared, Jacob prayed. Part of his prayer especially appeals to me: “I have been diminished by all the kindnesses and by all the truth that You have done your servant; for with my staff I crossed the Jordan and now I have become two camps.” (Genesis 32:11). I like several things about this prayer.
- Jacob recognizes that he needs God’s help. Being Trustworthy means not only that people can trust you, but that you are willing to trust others who are worthy of trust. Jacob trusts God.
- Jacob is thankful. He says he has been diminished by all the kindnesses and truth God has shown him. Rashi explains Jacob fears that, since the time God blessed him many years before, he has sinned and is not worthy to be saved from Esau. By being thankful to God, Jacob is Loyal to God.
- Jacob is humble. He acknowledges to God that “with my staff I crossed the Jordan and now I have become two camps.” This means when he crossed the Jordan River to go to Padan-aram 20 years earlier, all he had was a staff – a walking stick. Now, because of God’s blessings, he has such a large family and household of servants and so many animals, he can fill two camps. Recognizing God’s importance in your life is the best way to be Reverent.
There is one other Scout connection I like about this prayer. To symbolize how he started with nothing, Jacob describes himself as having only a staff when he first crossed the Jordan. This is a piece of equipment that Scouts have had since the very beginning. When Baden-Powell described the first Scout uniform, it included a staff because he found it so useful in hiking and camping as to be necessary. A staff can be found almost anywhere and, if you make one from a strong branch that has recently fallen off a tree or is being pruned, it costs nothing. The Torah – our guide to living – is something else that is necessary as we hike along through life and can be acquired by everyone.
Next week we begin to learn about the Children of Israel’s journey down to Egypt, leading to centuries of slavery and then redemption. During this journey we will see leaders use staffs many times, and have the opportunity to think about what that represents.
So get ready for a trek through an inspiring story! Cinch your belt tight, double knot your hiking shoes, grab your hat and your water bottle. And don’t forget your staff.
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