Category Archives: Genesis

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Bereshit: Speech vs. Action

When God learned that the snake enticed Chava to eat from to eat fruit from the tree of knowledge, God said to the snake: “Ki Asita Zot” “Because you have done this…” (Genesis 1:14) The Midrash in Bereshit Rabbah 20:1 asks why God used the word “Asita,” which implies that the snake did an action, rather than the word “Dibarta” which would more accurately reflect the snake’s involvement, namely through speech. The Midrash ultimately uses the snake as an example of how evil speech is equivalent to evil action. Continue reading

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Parashat Bereshit

The book of Midrash entitled “Genesis Rabbah” is a compilation of Midrashim based on the book of Genesis, and the first 18 chapters are devoted to the creation story, found in Parashat Bereshit. Below are highlights from Genesis Rabbah’s take on the creation story: Continue reading

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Noah: All Aboard

Some people need an extra nudge to get out of bed in the morning. Noah needed an extra nudge to get onto the ark. The Torah states that Noah and his sons and his wife went into the ark “Mipnei Mei HaMabul” “because of the waters of the flood” (Bereshit 7:7). The Midrash in Genesis Rabbah 32:6 asks: Why does the Torah state that it was “because” of the flood waters that Noah and his family entered the ark? Didn’t God already tell Noah about the flood? Continue reading

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Parashat Noah

Noah is in the 1% of ‘Occupy Ark!’ “Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his generation” (Genesis 6:9) The Midrash in Genesis Rabbah 30:9 states that when the Torah says that Noah was righteous in his generation this means that Noah was righteous by the standard of his generation. Had Noah lived during the generation of Moses or Samuel, he would not have qualified as righteous!
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Lech Lecha: Homeland

The Midrash in Bereshit Rabbah 39:9 asks why God’s request for Avram to leave his homeland is so verbose. God tells Avram: “Go forth, from your land, from the land of your birth, from your father’s house” (Bereshit 12:1). The Midrash explains that the reason this verse contained so many words was because God wanted to acknowledge the extent of the sacrifice that Avram would have to make in order to enter Canaan. Continue reading

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Parashat Lech Lecha

Idols for Sale! Why did God choose Avraham to be the first Jew? Parashat Lech Lecha states that God told Avraham to leave his homeland for “the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1) but the Torah does not give any details about Abraham’s past. The following Midrash in Genesis Rabbah 38:13 gives us a glimpse into Avraham’s childhood: Continue reading

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Vayeira: Helicopter Parenting

“Helicopter parenting” is a buzzword in modern society. In Parashat Vayeira, we see Sarah’s strong reaction to Yishmael “playing” with Yitzchak (Bereshit 21:9). The authors of the Midrash wonder why this “playing” caused Sarah to have such a strong reaction to the point where she banished Yishmael and his mother Hagar. The Midrash in Bereishit Rabbah 53:11 suggests that Yishmael and Yitzchak were engaged in more than just child’s play. Continue reading

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Parashat Vayiera

Heat Wave Parashat Vayiera begins by telling us that there was a heat wave on the very day that Avraham welcomed some unexpected visitors. The Midrash in Genesis Rabbah 48:8 wonders why God created such hot weather that day. The Midrash states that when Avraham was recovering from circumcising himself, God thought, “Why should Avraham be in pain while the entire world is at ease?” Therefore, God created a heat wave while Avraham was in recovery as it says, “the day grew hot.” (Genesis 18:1) Continue reading

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Chayei Sarah: Ripe Old Age

Chayei Sarah is bookended by the loss of two major figures in Jewish history, Sarah and Avraham. By way of the following story, the authors of the Midrash (Bereshit Rabbah 62:2) ask whether this Parasha was really the right time for Avraham to pass away: Rabbi Akiva and his students used to sit and study under a fig tree, whose owner would get up early every morning and gather the fruit from this tree. Continue reading

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Parashat Chayei Sarah

Parashat Chayei Sarah introduces us to the first human matchmaker, Avraham’s servant Eliezer. Eliezer is on a mission to find a wife for Yitzchak, and his first stop is a hot spot for singles: the well. At the well, Rivka graciously draws water for Eliezer and his camels. Israeli Torah scholar Nehama Leibowitz points out that the Torah emphasizes on three occasions that Rivka drew water for Eliezer and his animals in order to highlight her virtuosity and selflessness. That is a lot of shlepping for a complete stranger! Continue reading

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Toledot: Energy Drinks

The lines outside of Starbucks after Hurricane Sandy reminded me of the Esav’s statement in Parashat Toledot: “Give me some of that red red stuff!” (Bereshit 25:30) For centuries, scholars have wondered why Esav so desperately wanted to drink the “red red” stuff that Yaakov had cooked. Nahum Sarna, a 20th century Bible scholar, explained how the description of the Yaakov’s stew as “red red stuff” may indicate that Esav thought that the stew was made of blood. In the ancient Near East, blood was thought to have magical properties. Perhaps Esav, exhausted from hunting, thought that this stew would serve as a powerful and spiritual energy drink. Continue reading

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Parashat Toledot

“Two nations are in your womb” (Genesis 25:23) This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Toledot, highlights how the sibling rivarly between Yaakov and Esav began in utero. The Midrash in Genesis Rabbah 63:5 teaches that whenever Rivka stood near a house of Torah study, Yaakov attempted to exit her womb, and whenever she passed idolatrous temples, Esav struggled to get out. Continue reading

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Vayetze: Desperate Housewives of Haran

After Yaakov discovered that he had married the wrong sister, his father-in-law Lavan told him: “It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the older.” (Bereshit 29:26) Yaakov, who had never been short for words, did not respond to Lavan. Parashat Vayetze simply states that “Yaakov did so” and agreed to work for Lavan for another seven years in order to earn Rachel as his wife. Why was Yaakov silent? One possibility, offered by Bible scholar Nahum Sarna, is that perhaps Lavan’s words struck a chord in Yaakov’s past and reminded him of his own childhood struggles of an older versus younger sibling. Continue reading

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Parashat Vayetze

While American soap operas might be on their last legs, there is one soap opera that we tune into every year: the story of Yaakov, Rachel, and Leah. Since JDate had yet to be created, Yaakov needed to find a wife the old fashion way, by heading to the well. In Parashat Vayetze, Yaakov meets his gorgeous first-cousin Rachel and immediately kisses her and cries. The Midrash in Genesis Rabbah 70:12 states that kissing is “indecent” behavior except for in a few cases, including when family members unite (which is why the Midrash rates the scene in our Torah portion as “PG”). Continue reading

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Vayishlach: An Untold Story

Parashat Vayishlach contains a narrative that is “rated R,” one that is often skipped over in religious school. Chapter 34 of Bereshit describes how Dinah, the daughter of Yaakov and Leah, “went out” of the confines of her village and ended up in the city-state of Shechem. We do not know why Dinah left her hometown but we do know that the son of a Shechem aristocrat almost took Dinah as his wife. This narrative is replete with images of assault, force, love, and family ties, yet we never hear from the main character herself. Continue reading

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Parashat Vayishlach

While reunions are often celebratory occasions, they sometimes evoke mixed emotions. Yaakov is one person who certainly knows from pre-reunion anxiety. As Yaakov’s reunion with his twin brother Esav approaches, he is plagued by fears about how this reunion will play out. After all, the last time Yaakov and Esav were in the same town, Esav wanted to kill him!
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Vayeshev: Playing Favorites

Joseph's Coat Nail ArtA few months ago Good Morning America ran a story about a father who posted on his blog that he favored one son over the other. I shared this news clip with my day-school students, as we were at the time studying the story of Yaakov and his favoritism of Yosef. Yosef did not have such a great reputation among my students, since he went out of his way to share his self-aggrandizing dreams with his brothers. Upon watching the news clip, however, my students began to express feelings of empathy for Yosef, as he was burdened with the pressure of being the favorite son.

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Parashat Vayeshev

“Don’t give up Joseph, fight till you drop, We’ve read the book and you come out on top!” These words, from the popular musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, ring true in this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Vayeshev. We are initially introduced to Yosef who has “come out on top,” as he is the favored son of Yaakov, and is bestowed with a multicolor coat. Yosef is not afraid to boast about his favored status, as he subjects his family to hearing the details of his self-aggrandizing dreams. Continue reading

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Miketz: I Dreamed a Dream

“I dreamed a dream” may sound like it comes from the trailer for the upcoming movie Les Miserables, but these words also touch on a theme from this week’s Parasha, Miketz. After all of the magicians and wise men of Egypt were unable to explain Pharaoh’s dreams about cows and ears of corn, Yosef comes to the rescue. Not only does Yosef interpret Pharaoh’s dreams but he also goes on to offer Pharaoh the idea that someone should oversee preparations for the famine in Egypt. Continue reading

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Parashat Miketz

Have you ever woken up and tried to analyze the meaning of your dream? Thanks to the efforts of Sigmund Freud and others, dream interpretation is now a hallmark of psychoanalysis. Long before Freud, there lived another Jew who came to be known for his cutting-edge dream interpretations, namely, Yosef. In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Miketz, Pharoah is plagued with confusing dreams that contain images of undernourished and overfed cows, as well as healthy and dried-out ears of grain. Continue reading

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Vayigash: Movin’ On Up

“Man plans and God laughs” is a popular Yiddish proverb. After throwing him into a pit, the brothers thought that they would never see Yosef again. In quite a turn of events, Yosef reveals himself to his brothers in Mitzrayim. While Yosef may no longer bear his coat of many colors, he is now well-coated as the distributor of food rations in Egypt. Yosef attributes his success entirely to Hashem and reassures his brothers that they should in no way feel responsible for his “plight.” Yosef even states that Hashem brought him to Egypt so that he could now save their lives from the famine. Continue reading

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Parashat Vayigash

How many of us have family stories that seem to get embellished each year? In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Vayigash, we read about Yaakov who does a reverse commute from Israel to Egypt. Yaakov, who was overly joyed at the news that Yosef was alive, decided to immediately go down to Egypt with the rest of his family to see Yosef. It was not easy to transport an entire family from Israel to Egypt, without the advent of cars or airplanes, but this did not stop Yaakov from reuniting with his beloved son. Parashat Vayigash features extensive lists of Yaakov’s children and grandchildren, ultimately declaring that a total of seventy people went down to Egypt. Continue reading

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Vayechi: Final Blessings

This week’s Parasha features the origin of the blessing that many parents offer their sons on Friday evenings, “May God make you like Ephraim and Menasheh.” When Yaakov went to bless his grandsons, he put his right hand on Ephraim, the younger son, and his left hand on Menasheh, the older son. Yosef thought that this must be a mistake, as he believed that his older son should receive the first born blessing. Yaakov however, tells Yosef: “I know my son, I know.” (Bereshit 48:19) The Midrash in Genesis Rabbah 97:4 teaches that Yaakov’s response is meant to not only convey that he is intentionally giving the first-born blessing to the younger son but that he is also aware of patterns of his family’s past, ranging from child favoritism to birthright swaps. Continue reading

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Parashat Vayechi

Sibling rivalry presents as a major source of conflict throughout the book of Bereshit. At the conclusion of the section of sons’ blessings, the Torah states “Every one according to his blessing, he [Yaakov] blessed them.” (Genesis 49:28) The Midrash in Genesis Rabbah 97:1 explains that the Torah states “he blessed them” rather than “he blessed him,” as would be grammatically appropriate, to teach us that Yaakov gave an equally unique blessing to each son. The Torah ultimately emphasizes that in his last days, Yaakov was careful to not use favoritism when distributing the blessings. Continue reading

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