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Showing posts from January, 2017

Merit vs. Lineage: A Lesson from Reuven - Parashat Vayechi - January 13, 2017

This week’s parasha, VaYechi, describes the blessings that Ya’akov conveyed to his children at the end of his life.

The first blessing was to Ya’akov’s eldest son, Reuven. The blessing begins, “Reuven, you are my firstborn, my strength and my initial vigor, foremost in rank and foremost in power. Water-like in impetuosity – you cannot be foremost…” Based on this verse, the Midrash concludes that, at the outset, Reuven and his descendants had been given the rights to three positions of leadership – Firstborn, Priesthood (kehuna) and Kingship. All were lost when Reuven sinned by acting impetuously. As a result, these rights were each transferred to more appropriate recipients within Ya’akov’s family- the Firstborn to Yosef, the Priesthood to Levi and the Kingship to Yehuda.

From the perspective of this Midrash, rights and privileges are determined by merit. Originally, Hashem had intended Reuven - Ya’akov’s first-born – to be associated with all of the rights of leadership - the first…

Yosef and Yehuda: Models of Moral Leadership - Parashat Vayigash - January 6, 2017

This week’s parasha, VaYigash, presents the story of the reunification of Ya’akov’s sons and the family’s move from the Land of Cana’an to Egypt. At the end of last week’s parasha, Yosef set up a ruse in which Binyamin was accused of stealing a royal goblet. Our parasha opens with Yehuda’s plea to Yosef on behalf of Binyamin in the moments before Yosef’s revelation of his true identity to his brothers.

In this moment, Yosef and Yehuda demonstrate that they have become the leaders of b’nei yisrael – Yosef through his position of power in Egyptian society and Yehuda through his commitment to responsibility for Binyamin’s safety and his follow through on that commitment.

This week’s haftarah – a passage from Sefer Yechezkel – relates a prophecy that describes a future time for b’nei yisrael. In this famous prophecy, Hashem commands Ezekiel to make a demonstration to the people involving two wooden tablets. On one tablet, Ezekiel is to inscribe, “For Yehuda and the Children of Israel, hi…