1 Redeeming Relevance in the Book of Genesis (Jerusalem: Urim Publications, 2006).</ref> is still with me. Anticipating a dialogue with my readers, I have found the enthusiastic responses of many of them most gratifying.
2 See Redeeming Relevance in Genesis, pp. 19–25, on the Torah’s use of the same written words to say different things to different audiences.</ref> In this way, the personal nature of true Torah study is what makes it into an authentic conversation with God. It is just such a conversation that is at the center of normative Jewish religious experience.
3 Mechilta on Shemot 35:1–4.</ref> Still, such explanations do not completely remove our uneasiness since, like the Bible critics, we also assume that the Torah should be more scientifically organized. We wonder why the Torah couldn’t express its teachings in a more straightforward manner. As a result, we become all too cognizant of the Bible critics’ underlying contention that the traditional school of reading the Bible is grounded in an artificial desire to forge order out of disorder. They tell us that such an approach can only be the result of submission to dogma at the expense of an objective search for truth.
4 Berachot 10a. See also Maharsha ad loc.</ref> encapsulates the concern through a brief discussion between R. Abahu and an anonymous Sadducee. It is well known that the Sadducees were enamored with Greek (i.e., rational) thought, so it is no coincidence that this one expected the Bible to be in strict chronological order. Hence, when the Sadducee cites an example of the Psalms being out of order, R. Abahu responds by saying that this is only a problem for you (i.e., based on your assumptions). We, however, says R. Abahu, view the order of the Torah as not purely chronological but also associational (semuchin min haTorah). Jewish tradition posits that the Torah is organized according to the relationship between the content or theme of one section and that which follows it.
5 See Yevamot 4a, where the Talmud identifies R. Yehudah as someone who believes that we cannot readily determine the meaning of such associations. Even though there are reasons for the order, they are entirely the product of a Divine stream of consciousness which defies our analysis. Thus, R. Yehudah feels we should generally not be looking for connections between one seemingly unrelated section and another proximate one. The opposing opinion tells us that trying to understand the connections between the different parts of this flow of consciousness is a legitimate and productive area of Torah study. This position maintains that we are actually able to arrive at true insights by attempting to understand the Divine stream of consciousness.</ref> So, it is not only legitimate for the Torah to be “out of order,” it is to be expected. More generally, R. Abahu was suggesting that there really can be order in “disorder.”
6 Though not directly related, Alisdair MacIntyre raised many an eyebrow not so long ago when he suggested that we reconsider the correctness of the Enlightenment’s paradigms shifts in his famous After Virtue (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981). ...
7 Indeed, it has been suggested that there are important parallels between the early development of mankind and the early development of the Jewish people. I first heard this idea from my friend and colleague, Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot, who subsequently pointed out that others have also made this comparison. See, for example, Amos Chacham, Da’at Mikra – Shemot (Jerusalem: Mossad haRav Kook, 1991), 16.
8 Devarim 17:16.
9 Bereshit 12:10 and 46:6, respectively.
10 Ibid., 26:1–2.
11 Ibid., 41:57.
12 Ibid., 13:10.
13 Devarim 11:10.
14 Shemot 16:3.
15 Bereshit 9:18–29.
16 While it is not exactly blessings that Noach gives Shem and Cham, certainly when compared to his treatment of Cham, it would be fair here to refer to them as blessings.
17 Sanhedrin 70a.
18 Redeeming Relevance in Genesis, pp. 67–68.
19 See, for example, Midrash Tanchuma, Parashat Lech Lecha 5 and Mechilta 13 on Shemot 12:33.
20 Tehillim 105:23, 27; 106:22.
21 Makkot 10b.
22 See, especially, Rabbi S. R. Hirsch in Chorev, Chapter 68.
23 An obvious question that this approach would raise is why the equally immoral Cana’anite descendents of Cham should have been the caretakers of the spiritually productive Land of Israel before they were spit out from it.
24 Devarim 11:10–12 (quoted at the beginning of this chapter).
25 Although a careful reading of all the Biblical wars and political conflicts forced on Israel as a result of its geographical location would certainly bear this out – as would a reading of regional history in general.
26 Devarim 32:15.
27 See Redeeming Relevance in Genesis, Chapter 5.
28 See, for example, Bemidbar 11:4–10.
29 The prominent role of jewelry in the construction of the golden calf leads the rabbis (Berachot 32a) to make the claim that the Jews would have been better off leaving such items in Egypt.
30 Bemidbar 16:13.
31 Ibid., 13:32.
32 The rejection of Egyptian materialism could additionally provide a novel explanation as to why the Jews may not have been eager to take the gold and silver that God told them to request from the Egyptians (see Berachot 9a-b). It was a reminder of the part of Egypt that they were specifically rejecting via the Exodus.
33 Ramban on Bemidbar 13:27.
34 See, for example, Vayikra 18:28.
35 This is in order to destroy the morally corrupt people who dwell in it. Thus, even this consuming of inhabitants that the spies believed to be the Land of Israel’s shortcoming could actually be seen as an additional dimension of its praise.
36 As indicated by the context of their presentation. The scouts praise the land before they show the fruit, and it is only afterward that they begin their next statement with the oppositional word, “however.”
37 The Cana’anite inhabitants are not described as particularly upstanding. Still, that is not to say that they never did meritorious acts for which they could have been rewarded. Moreover, this would be in line with the rabbinic notion that evil people get whatever reward is coming to them in the physical realm and not in the spiritual realm (see, for example, Rashi on Kiddushin 39b, s.v. matnitin).
38 So too can we understand the curious wording of the blessing said after minor foods, where we thank God not only for fulfilling our needs but also for creating our physical lacks to begin with.
39 That their relationship with God had deteriorated in Egypt is confirmed in Yechezkel 20:5–8. See also Seforno on Shemot 1:13–14 and Rabbi S. R. Hirsch on Shemot 1:9.
40 Redeeming Relevance in Genesis, pp. 114–16.
41 Shemot 4:11.
42 For this reason, some commentators try to explain Moshe’s claim in ways that attempt to avoid this problem.
43 Shemot 6:12, 30. According to some commentators, these two verses are actually reporting the same incident (see, for example, Rashi). Others note that the phrasing of the second verse, i.e., that Moshe is speaking “in front of God” rather than “to God” is a way of saying that Moshe is really muttering to himself rather than confronting God with this same claim once again (see, for example, Rabbi S. R. Hirsch and Ohr haChaim). Regardless, the very fact that the Torah reviews this unusual and previously defeated argument is certainly worth noting.
44 Shabbat 88b.
45 See, for example, Korach’s claims that Moshe’s leadership was based on personal vested interests, in Bemidbar 16:3.
46 Bemidbar 12:1–2.
47 Though we know that the Jews in the desert were not entirely beyond this either.
48 Shemot 4:13.
49 Both suggestions can be found in Shemot Rabba (3:4 and 3:16 respectively).
50 Indeed, the highly popular rabbinic tradition that Moshe would eventually reach the level of angels and shed all of his physical needs could be seen as a modified expression of this idea.
51 Devarim 34:1.
52 See Abarbanel on I Shmuel 16:2 who understands Moshe’s reluctance in Shemot 6:12 in this way as well.
53 Shemot 4:14–16.
54 Yerushalmi, Berachot 9:7.
55 Shemot 6:12.
56 See my unpublished essay entitled, “Herzl, Chutzpah and Heresy,” archived at www.cardozoschool.org.
57 Yonah 1:1–3. Admittedly, there are certain differences between the two stories. Most significant among them is the Mechilta’s suggestion (Parashat Bo 1) that Yonah’s reticence to bring the gentile city of Nineveh to repent was based upon his concern that God would then compare the repentance of Nineveh to the lack of repentance among the Jews. Still, the differences fail to fully account for the difference in God’s response.
58 Yonah 3:14.
59 That of R. Yehoshua ben Karcha in Zevachim 102a. This view is opposed by R. Yosi, who maintains that Moshe is punished by having his progeny demoted from serving as priests in favor of Aharon’s line.
60 Indeed, many great Jewish scholars have viewed humility as the most important virtue to acquire. See, for example, Igeret haRamban. Rambam also sees modesty as one of only two traits regarding which a person should not strive towards the golden mean but seek to take an extreme position (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot De’ot 2:3).
61 In fact, it is has been suggested that the exile brought about by Rome and its cultural descendants has been so long and bitter because the very core of this culture is the opposite of humility. See R. Eliyahu Dessler, Michtav m’Eliyahu, vol. 2, p. 51.
62 Vayikra Rabba 32:5. Though the extant versions of this midrash do not include clothing, various early commentators mention it, suggesting the existence of such a version.
63 See Ibn Ezra, R. Shmuel David Luzzatto, Malbim and R. Aryeh Kaplan (Shemot 2:10) on this point.
64 On Shemot 2:10.
65 See Bereshit Rabba 84:6, which suggests such an extended parallel between the lives of Ya’akov and Yosef. Nevertheless, a careful analysis of that comparison would show that many of the similarities are more coincidental. For example, the midrash tells us that both of their mothers had difficulty in childbirth, but in fact, the nature of these difficulties and their contexts are vastly different. (On some level, this and other differences create a “broken” analogy – one that is meant to set up a limited comparison as well as an important contrast.) The lives of young Ya’akov and Moshe, however, seem to parallel each other much more faithfully.
66 Moshe’s seminal influence on the Jewish nation goes without saying. It was he who took them out of Egyptian bondage to become a nation. It was also he who brought them to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. If less obvious than in the case of Moshe, when we think carefully, a critical formative influence should be attributed to Ya’akov as well. Whereas the future of Avraham and Yitzchak’s mission had been tenuous up until now, by the time Ya’akov transmitted that mission to the next generation, it lay on solid footing. If for no other reason, Ya’akov simply had many more offspring than either his father or his grandfather. Even more important, however, is the fact that he was able to put an end to the previous pattern, whereby only one child would take on the mission of his father. By having twelve sons who all accepted his vision and then transmitted it to their own children, Ya’akov created the demographic basis for the Jewish people. In this way, his efforts to create the physical basis of the Jewish people parallel Moshe’s efforts to form the ideological basis of the nation later on.
67 This is most powerfully driven home by Lavan, who tells Ya’akov that he couldn’t have given him his younger daughter before his older daughter because “such is not the practice in our place.” Whether Lavan is lying or not, Ya’akov seems to accept the basis of the argument, showing agreement that Ya’akov is, in fact, not completely familiar with the ethics of his host culture.
68 There is a growing literature on the centrality of a person’s culture to his way of looking at the world and his resulting values. In the footsteps of Alisdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue (especially Chapter 10), communitarianism and multiculturalism have stressed the implausibility of some sort of abstract “man” in a cultural vacuum as had been implicitly assumed in classical liberalism. The leading representatives of communitarianism are Michael Sandel – see Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982) and Democracy’s Discontent (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), and Amitai Etzioni – see New Communitarian Thinking (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995). The leading representative of multiculturalism is Will Kymlicka – see Multicultural Citizenship (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995) and most recently Politics in the Vernacular (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001). See also the important emendation to Kymlicka’s thought by Avishai Margalit and Moshe Halbertal in “Liberalism and the Right to Culture” (Social Research 61:3; Fall 1994).
69 See Rashi on Vayikra 26:33 based on Sifra, Parashat Bechukotai 6:6. Accordingly, the “exile” of an accidental killer is softened by the stipulation that he be accompanied by his teacher or students into a city of refuge (Makkot 10a).
70 Bereshit 24:4, 7.
71 A contrast worthy of study but not obviously relevant to the present discussion is the difference in the relationship between Ya’akov and Moshe and their respective fathers-in-law. We will look at this contrast more carefully in Chapter 5.
73 See Shemot 18:2.
74 Though even this is far from clear. Some suggest that Tzipporah is not addressing Moshe at all, but rather their son. (See, for example, Rashi on Shemot 4:25, presumably based on the comments of Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel in Nedarim 32b.)
75 Shemot 18:2 (see Netziv) and especially 18:6, where Yitro refers to himself as Moshe’s father-in-law, to Tzipporah as Moshe’s wife, but to Gershom and Eliezer as Tzipporah’s children. Though the narrative seems to describe them as “his” (i.e., Moshe’s) sons in 18:5, the reference is not entirely clear and “his” could be referring to Yitro and not to Moshe (see Perush Yonatan on Targum Yonatan, which mentions this possibility). The one clear reference to them as Moshe’s children appears in Shemot 4:20, when Moshe has not yet returned to Egypt to focus on his mission. In other words, they may have begun as his children but they soon enough become his wife’s children.
76 Shemot 18:3–4.
77 Ibid., 4:20.
78 Ibid., 18:2. See Rashbam for an alternative explanation.
79 It is well-known that Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, the author of the somewhat autobiographical The Lonely Man of Faith, found great solace in the companionship of his wife.
80 One may then raise the question of why Moshe should have gotten married at all. I can think of two approaches to this problem. On a very basic level, a person has to develop into greatness. This means that the Moshe who married Tzipporah was not the same Moshe who would later separate from her. But there is perhaps another, more important answer. Marriage is an important part of human life and a person who does not know it from the inside cannot properly lead other people in living their lives. Even if celibacy allows a person to focus more on the spiritual (as with the Talmud’s Ben Azzai), it still prevents him from a deeper understanding of this central part of human existence. Though the receiver of the Torah could not be totally human, the first teacher of the Torah could not be anything but completely human. While Moshe had to be as removed as any human being would ever be, he simultaneously had to be personally familiar with what human life is about.
81 See Redeeming Relevance in Genesis, Chapter 2.
82 Shabbat 88b.
83 See Chapter 2, p. 40, for a related discussion of this midrash.
84 See note 7, above.
85 See Shemot Rabba 42:6.
86 Shemot 19:6.
87 Parallel to his dual identity is Moshe’s need for domestic bifurcation. He must be the completely objective leader of the Jewish nation as if he didn’t have a family, and yet he needed to be grounded in an actual family framework to allow him to relate to normative human experience.
88 It is in this spirit too, that Tosefot Yeshanim understands the statement in the Talmud that “converts are like a scab to the Jewish people” (Yevamot 47b). This Talmudic commentary implies that the convert does not have any role models and thus performs the mitzvot the way they are supposed to be performed and not necessarily the way they are actually performed. As such, his unusually model conduct is abrasive to the rest of the Jews, who are used to a lower standard since “this is simply the way things are done.”
89 Bereshit 11:26–31.
90 This consciousness could be one of the main functions of the sabbatical year, wherein a Jew temporarily relinquishes ownership of his agricultural land.
91 See especially Kli Yakar (also R. Bachya and Netziv) on Shemot 3:1 on why so many Jewish prophets (and leaders) had been shepherds in their youth.
92 See Abarbanel on Shemot 3:1.
93 The Jewish nation is compared to a flock and its rulers referred to as shepherds more than once in the Bible itself – see for example, Bemidbar 27:17, where Moshe asks for a worthy successor that will prevent the Jews from being “like a flock without a shepherd” and Tehillim 77:21, where Moshe and Aharon are described as the shepherds of the Jewish people.
94 Such as David and the sons of Ya’akov (and maybe Rachel and Tzipporah). If we expand this category to include herdsmen, we can also add Amos, Elisha and Shaul.
95 The comparison is most familiar to us from the Jewish liturgy, especially from the Avinu, Malkenu (Our Father, our King) prayer. Nonetheless, this imagery can already be found in the Bible – see, for example, Yirmeyahu 31:8.
96 The well-known comparison of Torah to water only reinforces the significance of the shepherd analogy.
97 See Malbim on Shemot 3:2, who makes this observation concerning Moshe.
98 Shemot 5:22–23. This parallels perfectly Moshe’s relationship with the actual sheep that he had once tended for his father-in-law. There too, he could have referred to the sheep as these sheep or your (Yitro’s) sheep but not as my (Moshe’s) sheep.
99 Ibid., 32:10. The discussion that precedes and ensues God’s suggestion is also worthy of note, in that God first calls the Jews Moshe’s nation, to which Moshe responds by calling them God’s nation.
100 Bereshit Rabba 77:3.
101 Bereshit 32:25–31.
102 Shemot 4:24–26.
103 Ibid., 34:28. (See also Rambam in Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah 7:6.)
104 Shemot Rabba 42:6 (emphasis mine).
105 We have admittedly skipped over mention of Shem, Cham and Yefet who, at least at one point, work in partnership. We have done so taking our cue from the Biblical text, which give us little detail about their relationship.
106 Avraham’s younger sons from Ketura seem to be in a different category and so, for all practical purposes, don’t really figure in to the rivalry that we find between Yitzchak and Yishmael.
107 I.e., Reuven, Yehudah and Yosef. See Redeeming Relevance in Genesis, Chapter 6.
108 It is interesting to note that this motif doesn’t get fully played out in the competition between Rachel and Leah, which can perhaps be more accurately viewed as following the conventions of another familiar motif – that of rival wives (e.g. Sarah and Hagar, Peninah and Chanah, etc.).
109 Bereshit Rabba 22:7.
110 Bereshit 38:6–9.
111 Ibid., 30:15.
112 Shemot 2:4. It is true that Moshe’s parents are also described anonymously at this point, but they are also not described as Moshe’s parents in the way that Miriam is described as Moshe’s sister. Moreover, the Torah doesn’t wait as long to reveal their names. See also Ramban on Shemot 2:1.
113 Ibid., 15:20–21.
114 Bemidbar 26:59.
115 Shemot 4:27.
116 Bereshit 33:4, 45:14 and 46:29.
117 The lack of complexity revealed in Moshe and Aharon’s reunion could also be due to the lack of previous exposure to each other, Moshe having grown up largely out of his home. At the same time, that doesn’t negate the fact that their reunion also reflects a lack of earlier conflict in comparison to the other stories.
118 See Targum Onkelos on Shemot 7:2, who writes that Aharon served as Moshe’s meturgaman (translator/public orator).
119 See Chapter 2.
120 Rashi, Ibn Ezra et al. on Shemot 4:13.
121 Shemot 2:11.
122 Shemot Rabba 1:31.
123 See II Shmuel 13:22–29 and I Melachim 1.
124 Shemot 2:5–9.
125 Bereshit 49:8–26.
126 See also R. Jonathan Sacks, One People (London: Littman Library, 1993), pp. 199–203, for an alternative, albeit similar, understanding of this theme.
127 See Seforno on Bereshit 27:29, who claims that this was exactly Yitzchak’s intention in his desire to bless Esav.
128 Bereshit 37:13–14.
129 See Rabbi S. R. Hirsch, “Lessons from Jacob and Esau,” in Collected Writings of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, vol. vii (Jerusalem: Feldheim Publishers, 1997), pp. 325–27.
130 Bemidbar 12:1–13. Though it is not clear from the text, we will follow the rabbinic interpretation that Moshe’s elevated level of prophecy led to a permanent separation from his wife (see Tanchuma, Parashat Tzav 13).
131 Sifrei on Bemidbar 12:2.
132 Bemidbar 12:5–9.
133 Ibid., 12:11.
134 See R. Yitzchak S. Reggio (Perush haYashar) on Bemidbar 12:11.
135 Indeed, the concept of complete equality is, to a large extent, a modern myth. At base level, it is true that every human being is endowed with a sacred Divine image and it is precisely because of this that one life may not be sacrificed for another (Sanhedrin 74a). At the same time, it is plainly evident that some people play more vital roles than others and for this reason Jewish law proposes a hierarchy concerning the ransoming of captives, returning lost objects, etc. (Horayot 13a). That being the case, teamwork should not be mistaken for absolute equality.
136 Shemot 32:22.
137 Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer 17, based on the comparison of Bemidbar 20:29 and Devarim 34:8.
138 Avot 2:4.
139 Shemot 32:27.
140 See Ohr haChaim on Shemot 32:27, who notices this redundancy.
141 Sanhedrin 85a-b.
142 For example, speaking of (the sensual joys of) Shabbat as a taste of the world to come (Berachot 57b).
143 In this regard, the phrasing of the commandment to love reacha (your friend or neighbor; Vayikra 19:18) appropriately limits the object of one’s love to something accessible to the average man. Reacha limits the obligation to a person in one’s community and not to every person on the face of the earth. Granted, we are also commanded to love the stranger (ger), but this too has been traditionally understood to be speaking only about the stranger in our midst. Moreover, this latter command is one that comes with a certain emphasis in the text, indicating its difficulty. (See Chapter 7, note 12, for elaboration on the connection between a commandment’s emphasis and its difficulty.)
144 Bereshit 12:14–20.
145 Ibid., 20.
146 Ibid., 23:3–19.
147 Ibid., 14:10–24.
148 See Chapter 3.
149 For our present purposes, we are assuming that the various names for the man referred to as Moshe’s father-in-law (i.e. Yitro, Re’uel, Chovev) all describe the same person, whom we will, for simplicity’s sake, call Yitro. While this point is a matter of debate and there are those who suggest that the various names refer to different people, most of the relevant citations are, in any case, from sections where the father-in-law is explicitly referred to as Yitro.
150 Bereshit 29:18.
151 Shemot 2:21.
152 Bereshit 29:26–7.
153 Ibid., 30:25–35, 31:22–24.
154 Shemot 4:18.
155 Bereshit 31:43.
156 Shemot 18:1–6.
157 Bereshit 31:53.
158 Of course Yitro’s sacrificing only to God would be a foregone conclusion if he himself had completely converted to the Jewish faith, as indicated by many rabbinic statements. We will explain later, however, that such a reading doesn’t seem to fit well with the text’s simple meaning, nor does it seem to be a consensus position among the sages. As a result, we will assume that Yitro had not completely left idolatry at this time and that he made a conscious choice to worship only the Israelite God in Moshe’s presence.
159 Shofetim 19:1–10. Whether the Torah, or the Bible as a whole, uses the corresponding word “chatan” to mean a son-in-law with similar intentionality is less clear. See, for example, Bereshit 19:12–14.
160 Bereshit 29:19.
161 Ibid., 31:43.
162 Shemot 4:18.
163 The Torah emphasizes the centrality of acceding to such a request in an interesting twist, where it is Yitro who is requesting to take leave of Moshe (Bemidbar 10:30). At that point, the tables are turned and the father-in-law is the more vulnerable guest – all the more so since Moshe’s stature has eclipsed that of his father-in-law. Recognizing the basic equality between them, Moshe also limits himself to trying to convince Yitro to stay and steers clear of anything more coercive.
164 Shemot 18:23.
165 Obviously, there are limits to this. Though we can be sensitive to the religious sensitivities of the other, Jewish law demands an uncompromising stance towards any foreign religious practice or belief deemed detrimental to our mission as Jews.
166 See Malbim and Me’am Loez on Shofetim 19:13–14, who point out this unusual double epithet but give somewhat different explanations.
167 Ruth 1:11–12.
168 Shemot 4:18.
169 Bemidbar 10:29.
170 Ibid., verse 30.
171 Of course, this can also be attributed to Moshe’s absence; whatever influence Moshe had upon him waned when the two men were apart.
172 See the first opinion in the Mechilta on Shemot 18:1. That being said, it is also true that the second opinion in the Mechilta as well as the Targum Onkelos try to deflect the negative implications of such a term by translating the word according to its secondary meaning, leader, as per its apparent usage in II Shmuel 8:18.
173 Shemot 18:11. While the same claim could be made about the Israelites’ rhetorical question in the song at the sea (ibid., 15:11), “Who is like You among the gods (elim)?”, the fact that it is phrased as a question makes it easier to interpret otherwise. (Whereas a statement is based in a speaker’s frame of reference, a question is directed more toward that of one’s interlocutor. Though the Jews are not speaking to anyone in particular, it is possible that they are addressing all of mankind who, for most of history, held polytheistic beliefs.)
174 Even if Yitro’s return to Midian is not made totally clear from Bemidbar 10:29–33, this is certainly his explicitly expressed original intention, and many of the classical commentators conclude that the Torah would have let us know if he changed his mind and decided to stay with the Jews. See, for example, Abarbanel and Ohr haChaim. See also Seforno, who holds that Yitro went back to Midian, but agreed to send his own children with the Jews.
175 Indeed, the rabbinic voices that would like to understand otherwise are hard put to explain this behavior, speculating that he went back to Midian to convert his countrymen. Such statements notwithstanding, had Yitro actually converted, one wonders why neither Biblical nor rabbinic texts discuss his conversion per se, in the same way as we find with Ruth. At the same time, that doesn’t mean that we should discount him from being a righteous gentile. According to many early and late rabbinic authorities, it is enough that he gives sacrifices to the God of Israel, at least as one of several deities that he worships, in order for him to be considered a righteous gentile and not an idolater.
176 Shemot 18:1.
177 Ibid., verse 18.
178 Sifrei on Bemidbar 10:29.
179 Berachot 20a.
180 One is reminded of Arthur Green’s treatment of Rebbe Nachman’s hesitations in assuming the position of Chassidic rebbe in Tormented Master (Woodstock, Vermont: Jewish Lights, 1992), especially pp. 40–48.
181 Bereshit 3:7.
182 Ibid., 3:10. Several commentators note this peculiarity. See, for example, R. Moshe Alshich and Abarbanel on Bereshit 3:10.
183 Ibid., 3:21. Described as kotnot ohr, or “skin-suits,” it is not clear whether this means that they were made from some type of leather (i.e., suits made from skins) or whether they were simply “suits for the skin.”
184 Shabbat 10b.
185 Bereshit 38.
186 Even as the text says that her crime is sexual infidelity, the nature of this infidelity is not clear. See Ramban on Bereshit 38:24.
187 See Rashi, Seforno, Rashbam et al. on Bereshit 38:14.
188 See Ibn Ezra on Bereshit 38:14.
189 Bereshit Rabba 85:7.
190 Sotah 10b.
191 See, for example, Rabbeinu Bachya on Bereshit 38:15, who suggests that it was the way of prostitutes to cover their faces so that they would not be recognized (in the same way as a thief would cover his face today).
192 Bereshit Rabba 85:7. While the question the rabbis ask is meant to illuminate the simple understanding of the text, the answer they give is admittedly quite conjectural, indicating the difficulty of finding a more grounded resolution to this issue. Although, they were certainly better expositors of the text than we, we will nonetheless suggest a different answer later in this section.
193 The text doesn’t clearly inform us whether marrying Yehudah was indeed her plan. Whatever the reason for her confronting him, it was certainly connected to her being mistreated by him. Challenging someone who is shown later to have the power over her life and death is certainly something for which she would require courage.
194 Sotah 10b.
195 As mentioned in note 15 above, the Biblical text leaves open many questions regarding Tamar’s motivations and the strategy she was planning to use when she confronted Yehudah. As such, it is not clear whether she had planned the questionable behavior at the outset or only hastily improvised it due to the unforeseen reaction of Yehudah. Seforno is of the opinion that Tamar expected Yehudah to recognize her, which would have allowed her to tell him her grievance. See also Abarbanel.
196 This helps us appreciate the commentaries that hold that Tamar’s decision was the result of some sort of ruach hakodesh (holy intuition). See, for example, Ohr haChaim on Bereshit 38:14.
197 Bereshit 38:14, 19.
198 In line with the approach of Rabbeinu Bachya. See note 13, above.
199 See, for example, Rashi on Bereshit 38:11, based on Bereshit Rabba 85:5.
200 One of the items that comprised the surety was a garment that Yehudah had probably needed to take off. Maybe here too, Tamar was trying to drive home the idea that clothing is contingent and not part of a person’s essence.
201 Bereshit 38:26.
203 Whether the final words of Bereshit 38:26 are telling us that Tamar and Yehudah continued to live conjugally or ceased to do so is actually a matter of great debate. We have followed the approach of the rabbis in tractate Sotah, who posit the former. (See Torah Temimah ad loc., note 34, who lends support to this reading and also Netziv ad loc., who suggests a third understanding of the verse.)
204 Bereshit 38:26.
205 Ibid., 37:32.
206 Bereshit Rabba 85:11.
207 A further allusion that the brothers are relying too heavily on Yosef’s clothing is the response of the two individuals that disagree with the brothers’ assessment of Yosef – when first Reuven and then Ya’akov hear about what has happened to Yosef, they both tear their clothes. We will take up this idea again later in the chapter.
208 See Zvi Grumet, “Patriarch and King – Two Models of Repentance,” in the soon-to-be-published Ohr Chadash: Writings from the Beit Midrash of Avraham Avinu (Jerusalem: David Cardozo Academy).
209 For more on the process of his rise to leadership, see Redeeming Relevance in Genesis, Chapter 6.
210 Some commentators suggest that this narrative occurred before the sale of Yosef (most notably, Ibn Ezra, on Bereshit 38:1). Such a suggestion may paradoxically strengthen our contention, that Yehudah’s interaction with Tamar would be a prerequisite to his reevaluation of Yosef, in the sense that the Torah must feel very strongly about a conceptual sequence in order to upset the chronology. According to this chronology, we may say that the lesson Yehudah learned from Tamar did not completely sink in until the Yosef story further unfolded. To simplify matters, however, here we will assume that the major encounter of Yehudah and Tamar took place after the sale of Yosef.
211 See Chapter 1.
212 This unusual placement is noted by Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Rabbenu Bachya and others.
213 See Thomas Mann’s humorous, fanciful account of the tunic’s lineage and Yosef’s hunger for it in Joseph and his Brothers (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986) pp. 314–23.
214 Bereshit 37:10.
215 See Ohr haChayim and Kli Yakar on Bereshit 37:23.
216 Bereshit 37:23.
217 Op. cit. note 215.
218 Bereshit 39:6.
219 Midrash Tanchuma, Parashat Vayeshev.
220 Bereshit 41:14.
221 Ibid., verse 42.
222 Ibid., verse 14.
223 Ibid., 45:22.
224 The two exceptions are in Bereshit 35:2 and in Tehillim 102:27.
225 Midrash Tanchuma, Parashat Vayigash.
226 Bereshit 27:15–16. That the Torah considers clothing to be significant in the life of Ya’akov himself can be surmised from the fact that it is completely silent about of all of his predecessors’ interactions with clothing. The last time we read anything about clothing was with Adam and Chava. In contrast, we have three mentions of clothing with Ya’akov even before the Yosef and Yehudah narratives begin. See also Bereshit 27:27 and Bereshit 28:20.
227 Jewish tradition, lists “clothing the naked” as one of the classical ways of emulating God’s kindness. See Sotah 14a.
228 See Bemidbar Rabba 4:8 and Tanchuma Yashan, Toledot 12.
229 On Bereshit 3:21, comparing this verse to Vaykira 8:13. This usage of the hiph’il (causative/plural) verb appears only in these two places, since it is the only time that we see one figure clothing more than one other character.
230 Although there are only two such stories in the Torah, there are a few more in the rest of the Tanakh. For example, when King Shaul uses his own armor to cover David (I Shmuel 17:38) and when God tells Yeshayahu that He will dress Elyakim ben Chilkiyahu (Yeshayahu 22:21.) In general, these stories follow the outline we will describe, i.e., the benevolence of someone who covers another with new and better clothes. (The story of Haman’s clothing Mordechai in the book of Esther is typical of the irony of that book, wherein Haman plays the role of the, in this case reluctant, benefactor who imitates God.)
231 It is perhaps not surprising that another midrash identifies this cloak too with the one given by God to Adam (See R. M. Kasher’s Torah Shelemah, Bereshit 3:21, note 184), while still another identifies it with the clothing of the Kohen Gadol (see Talmud Yerushalmi, Megila 1:12). It appears that there is even a Midrashic tradition that combines both of these opinions, identifying the clothing of Esav with both the bigdei kehuna and Adam’s clothing; see Torah Shelemah, Bereshit 27:15, note 66. However, Esav’s clothing is more commonly associated with a different conception of the first clothes given to Adam, according to which the clothes have less to do with the bearer’s relationship with God (i.e., kehuna) than they do with his dominion over the animals (See Yalkut Shimoni, Bereshit 62 and Bereshit Rabba 65:16). Though one could combine both themes, saying that the garments that gave dominion over animals were also those of the sacrificial rite, there don’t appear to be any midrashim that do so. Since the latter association of Esav’s clothes with Adam’s “animal clothes,” is more common, we may conclude that the connection between Esav’s clothing and the bigdei kehuna remains tenuous, whereas the connection between Adam’s garments and the bigdei kehuna is more grounded in the Biblical text and its accompanying interpretive tradition.
232 Bereshit 41:39.
233 See Redeeming Relevance in Genesis pp. 87–88, concerning the significance of a name change in the Bible. See also Rosh Hashanah 16b and Maharal in Chiddushei Aggadot.
234 See Bereshit 27:33–41.
235 See Chapter 3.
236 In the sense that the squabbles that ensued among Ya’akov’s wives and subsequently among his children were caused by his unplanned marriage to Leah, which was in turn caused by his weak status and power as a stranger in Lavan’s home. (See also Chapter 3.)
237 Bereshit 50:25.
238 See Chapter 6 of Redeeming Relevance in Genesis for a discussion of Yosef’s foreignness in the eyes of his brothers. As discussed there, Yosef was truly more capable of being Egyptian than they. Pharaoh may well have sensed this when he made the decision to “clothe” Yosef in Egyptian garb.
239 See notes 181–183 and their associative text, above.
240 Bereshit Rabba 20:12.
241 It might be said that the natural world works perfectly. Even were we to grant such a position, it certainly cannot be said that the world of human interaction and communication could claim any type of perfection.
242 See note 231, above.
243 See Shemot 24:5 and Bemidbar 3:45.
244 See Bemidbar Rabba 4:8, which claims otherwise. Still, it would be difficult to find any textual basis for the notion that the firstborn wore priestly robes. Moreover, this is based on the idea that the garments of Adam and Chava were priestly garments, which, even in the world of Midrash, is a point of contention. See note 53, above.
245 An interesting answer to this question is suggested by the rabbinic reading of Vayikra 9:7, wherein God’s command that Moshe bring Aharon close to the ritual service is understood to mean that Aharon did not feel fit for the job (see Torat Kohanim and Rashi). This would, of course, parallel the hesitation of Ya’akov and Yosef when they were dressed by Rivka and Pharaoh respectively, as discussed earlier.
246 Indeed, as mentioned in Chapter 1, note 1, there are important parallels between the creation of mankind and the creation of the Jewish people. At the same time, the radically differing circumstances of these two stories would make us expect the parallels to be inexact.
247 See R. Yitzchak Greenburg’s monograph entitled “Judaism and Modernity” (Ramat Gan: Lookstein Center, 2006), p. 34.
248 See Seforno on Shemot 24:18.
249 Sotah 10b, based on Bereshit 38:15.
250 This is really another way of saying what we described before as the moral imperative to wear clothing that honestly represents who we are.
251 Bereshit 38:15.
252 Sotah 10b.
253 Most often, the prehistory of nations is treated in very general fashion before, so to speak, getting to the meat of the story.
254 See Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi’s treatment of this in Zakhor (New York: Schocken, 1989), pp. 10–13.
255 Shemot 12:14–20.
256 Ibid., 12:14, 17.
257 The possible exception to this would be the description of Rosh Hashanah as zikaron teruah in Vayikra 23:24. There, the term can, nonetheless, also be understood as referring to the teruah (the shofar blast) and not to the actual day.
258 Bemidbar 5:15.
259 Shemot 13:9.
260 Indeed, the rabbis suggest that this highly unusual offering consisting of barley, which in those days was generally animal food, is meant to remind the woman involved to understand that she acted like an animal (Sotah 14a).
261 See Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath (New York: The Noonday Press, 1991), p. 7.
262 In fact, these two other central commandments are mentioned a few verses later but, whereas the first mention of the holiday is directly from God, the next discussion, where these commandments are given, is via Moshe (Shemot 12:21–28).
263 While in many places the Torah gives the same command in both negative and positive versions, here we have two distinct and separate commandments which do not at all need to imply each other. In fact, the observance of Pesach Sheni (see note 15 below) doesn’t include the prohibition of chametz even though the eating of matzah is commanded (Pesachim 9:3).
264 It is intuitive that the less likely we believe someone will heed a command, the greater our need to emphasize it and provide ample reward and/or punishment to reinforce its fulfillment. Such an idea finds further substantiation in the mitzvah of the sabbatical year, obviously a difficult one to impose on a heavily agrarian society. There we find a highly unusual emphasis of the commandment’s reward, certainly meant to engender greater observance of a mitzvah that, true to the Torah’s expectation, had a historically mixed performance record.
265 Mechilta, Shemot 13:8.
266 It is true that even Pesach and Sukkot have a seasonal agricultural theme and that the other holidays have also become associated with historical events. Nonetheless, Pesach and Sukkot stand out in their explicit connection to specific occurrences.
267 This idea is further supported by the unusual institution of Pesach Sheni, which allows those who are not able to celebrate Pesach, to celebrate an abbreviated version of the holiday one month later (Bemidbar 9:9–12). This is clearly not the case with the Torah’s other holidays.
268 The Torah command to wave the lulav on the first day of Sukkot seems to have little to do with any historical consciousness of the day (see Sukkah 37b-38a). In any case, even if we include this commandment, the observance of Sukkot mandated by the Torah still remains more rudimentary than Pesach.
269 Ramban on Shemot 13:16 brings this most eloquently to our attention, while at the same time giving many examples of other commandments designed to remind us of the Exodus.
270 See, for example, Alei Shor, vol. 1 (Be’er Ya’akov, Israel: Otzar haSefarim, 1978), pp. 8–70.
271 Sifrei on Devarim 6:6.