Monthly Archives: December 2013


The Haftarah of Va’Eira (Linear Annotated Translation of the Haftarah of Va’Eira) is from the prophet Yechezkel, who addresses Egypt, and calls Pharaoh a “crocodile”. In the Parsha, G-d tells Moshe and Aharon to make a “sign” for Pharaoh: Aharon’s staff turns into a crocodile.

Why crocodiles?

The crocodile was the symbol of the Egyptian god of the Nile:

Rabbi Natan Slifkin, the “Zoo Rabbi”, explains why:

Crocodiles are the largest of reptiles. They can measure well over twenty feet in length, they account for more human deaths than any other large animal killing around a thousand people in Africa annually…A crocodile’s sense of smell is very acute, and its hearing is also excellent. It can detect the vibrations of a mammal moving around near the water’s edge. … The crocodile will submerge, and without a ripple in the water, it will cruise towards its prey. It knows exactly when the animal is approaching the water, and at that precise moment, it strikes. The crocodile’s powerful tail drives it forwards and it explodes out of the water like a missile. Once it has gripped onto its prey with its 66 teeth, there is little chance of escape. Larger prey is first drowned and then broken up into swallowable chunks. The crocodile breaks up a carcass by seizing a limb or part of the body and spinning on a horizontal axis. Using this method they have been known to spin a leg off a human at the hip. The prey is swallowed without chewing; their stomachs are the most acidic recorded for any vertebrate, allowing them to digest even the bones and shells of prey animals. … The Egyptians worshipped the crocodile, and they embalmed hundreds of them, after which they were wrapped in strips of cloth, just as the humans of the time. (The Power of Crocodiles)

In the Haftarah, Yehezkel quotes Pharaoh as saying, “The Nile is mine, and I made it”, reflecting Egypt’s attitude of invincibility and omnipotence. And G-d’s response is, roughly speaking: “I’ll show you who’s omnipotent, you arrogant reptile!” (Roughly. See the text for details.) Likewise, in the Parsha, when Aharon makes his staff turn into a crocodile, and so do Pharaoh’s magicians, Aharon’s crocodile eats the others. The Midrash says:

“Hashem said, this arrogant villain calls himself a crocodile? Go and tell him, “You see how this staff is a dry stick and turns into a crocodile, and can move and breathe, and swallows all those other staffs, but eventually it goes back to being a dry stick? You, too – I made you from a drop of liquid, and I gave you the kingdom, and you boasted and said “The Nile is mine and I made it”?! I’ll turn you back to nothingness and chaos. You swallowed all the staffs of the tribes of Israel, I will cause you to disgorge all that you have swallowed!” (Yalkut Shimoni Va’eira 181)

Turns out, G-d doesn’t like it when people think they’re invincible.

A deeper connection where the Haftarah sheds light on the Parsha: Va’Eira: Knowing Hashem

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

In Costa Rica

Me and a crocodile, in Costa Rica

Crocodile being fed. They like chicken.

Crocodile being fed. They like chicken wings.

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Va’Eira – Knowing Hashem

The Haftarah and the Parsha share the theme of G-d’s influence on history. They also share a textual structure which can be analyzed to give us additional information about the message of both texts.
The Haftarah, in which Yehezekel warns Egypt of its impending defeat in the hands of Nevuchanezzar contains the following verses:

וְיָדְעוּ כִּי אֲנִי ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵיהֶם
26) and they will know that I am Hashem their G-d
וְיָדְעוּ כָּל יֹשְׁבֵי מִצְרַיִם כִּי אֲנִי ה’
6) And all the residents of Egypt will know that I am Hashem
וְיָדְעוּ כִּי אֲנִי ה’
9) and they will know that I am Hashem,
וְיָדְעוּ כִּי אֲנִי אֲ-דֹנָי ה’
16) and they will know that I am G-d, Hashem.
וְיָדְעוּ כִּי אֲנִי ה’
21) and they will know that I am Hashem.

There are five instances of the phrase “and they will know that I am Hashem” in a single chapter. The pronoun “they” in the first and the fifth instance refers to the Jewish People; in the middle three, it refers to Egypt.

The Parsha, which describes the plagues of Egypt, contains the following verses:

ו ז) וְלָקַחְתִּי אֶתְכֶם לִי לְעָם וְהָיִיתִי לָכֶם לֵא-לֹהִים וִידַעְתֶּם כִּי אֲנִי ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם
(6:7) I will take you to be My people, and I will be your G-d, and you will know that I am Hashem your G-d….
ז ה) וְיָדְעוּ מִצְרַיִם כִּי אֲנִי ה’ בִּנְטֹתִי אֶת יָדִי עַל מִצְרָיִם
(7:5) Egypt will know that I am Hashem when I stretch out My arm over Egypt …
ז יז) בְּזֹאת תֵּדַע כִּי אֲנִי ה’:
(7:17) In this you will know that I am Hashem …
ח יח) לְמַעַן תֵּדַע כִּי אֲנִי ה’ בְּקֶרֶב הָאָרֶץ:
(8:18) … so that you will know that I am Hashem in the midst of the land.
ח’ יד) בַּעֲבוּר תֵּדַע כִּי אֵין כָּמֹנִי בְּכָל הָאָרֶץ:
(8:14) … so that you will know that there is no one like me in all the land.
י ב) וּלְמַעַן תְּסַפֵּר בְּאָזְנֵי בִנְךָ וּבֶן בִּנְךָ אֵת אֲשֶׁר הִתְעַלַּלְתִּי בְּמִצְרַיִם …וִידַעְתֶּם כִּי אֲנִי ה’:
(10:2) So that you shall tell your sons and grandsons what I did to Egypt … and you will know that I am Hashem.

Here there are six instances of the same phrase. The first and the last are addressed to the Jewish People and the middle four to Egypt. The first two are at the beginning of the Parsha, when G-d reviews the plan of Exodus with Moshe. They state the goal of the Exodus, which is two-fold: first, that Jewish People will come to know Hashem; second, that Egypt would. The middle three verses are stated during the plagues, once at the beginning of each triplet grouping[1]. In them, Moshe informs Pharaoh that the purpose of the upcoming plagues is that he, Pharaoh, should know Hashem. The final verse completes the pattern by repeating that the Jewish People should know Hashem.

Thus, both the Haftarah and the Parsha are structured so that the outer framework addresses the Jewish People, while the inner section, the main content, addresses Egypt. This tells us that while the goal of the Jewish People knowing Hashem is important, the Torah’s objective is that all the nations of the world know G-d, not only us.

Being that G-d made us His People and gave us the Torah, we sometimes think that we are His only concern. However, if G-d did not care whether or not Egypt knows Hashem, then neither Moshe nor Yechezkel would have been told to repeat it to them three times.

But what does it mean, to “know Hashem”? What exactly does G-d want us and the Egyptians to know, when He says “and then you will know Hashem”?

Hashem refers to the 4-letter Name that is never pronounced[2]. It is made up of 4 letters: yud, heh, vav, and heh, which are the letters used in the verb “to be”. Normally, the Name is therefore interpreted as: “I was, I am, and I will be”, and translated as “the Eternal”. This is accurate, but in our context, unsatisfying. In what way do the plagues show that G-d is eternal? In what way does Egypt’s defeat by Nevuchadnezzar, described in the Haftarah, show that G-d “was, is, and will be”?

R’ Yoel bin Nun teaches[3] a completely different way to understand the verb “to be”, the proof text of which happens to be found in this week’s Parsha. In the warning before the plague of Pestilence (Dever), Moshe says:

הִנֵּה יַד ה’ הוֹיָה בְּמִקְנְךָ אֲשֶׁר בַּשָּׂדֶה בַּסּוּסִים בַּחֲמֹרִים בַּגְּמַלִּים בַּבָּקָר וּבַצֹּאן דֶּבֶר כָּבֵד מְאֹד:

(9:3) The Hand of Hashem will be on your flock … a heavy pestilence.

This translation of “הויה” as “will be upon” is awkward and inaccurate. In English, the verb “to be” is intransitive. The sentence, “I am to the object” is ungrammatical and meaningless. “I am upon the object” can be parsed, but it refers to your location upon the object, not to your action upon it. According to
R’ Yoel bin Nun, Biblical Hebrew does have a transitive, active, form of the verb “to be”, and the verse should be read: “The Hand of Hashem will be acting upon your flock.”

If the verb “to be”, “הוה”, is active, then we could say that in this form, it means “to make happen”, “to create.” In that case, Hashem’s name doesn’t only mean, “I was, I am, I will be,” it means, “I make happen.”

This is why “ado-nai” is the name that we use for “Hashem” when we pray or read the Torah. They are synonyms: “the One who makes everything happen” is the One who is the Lord of everything, the only authority, the only source of all that exists.

Throughout the Haftarah, the term that Yechezkel uses to refer to G-d is אֲ-דֹנָי ה’ . An accurate (although very cumbersome) translation would be: “The Lord of all, the One Who causes everything to happen – past, present, and future.” This term reinforces the message of the Haftarah, that G-d shapes history as He pleases. The purpose of G-d’s warning to Egypt, both before the plagues of the Exodus and before their defeat by Nevuchadnezzar a thousand years later, is that they need to know, understand, and realize, that all events are caused by Hashem, the Source of all that happens. All catastrophic phenomena that affect the water, the land, or the sky, all cataclysmic forces of history – everything that happens has a single Source.

This is our mission as a nation, expressed for the very first time in the Parsha of Va’Eira : to show the world that our G-d, Hashem, rules the world in every possible sense.

To do that, we ourselves must “know that I am Hashem”:


[1] As we know from the Passover Seder, the plagues are divided into 3 groups (דצ”ך עד”ש באח”ב); each group contains 3 plagues (the 10th plague is a superset). Within each group, there is a pattern reflected in the Text: the first plague in a group is introduced with a command to Moshe to meet Pharaoh in the morning, the second is introduced with a command to Moshe to “come to Pharaoh”, and the third has no introduction and concludes by describing the reaction of Pharaoh or his people to the plagues. This pattern is repeated three times, creating a square structure of 3×3, which allows us to extract meaningful parallels from the relationship of the plagues in the same rows or columns. The phrase “so that you shall know G-d” is part of the structure.

[2] It appears that it had been used during the time of the Tanach, but eventually was restricted to the Temple, where the Cohen Gadol (High Priest) would say it out loud on Yom Kippur. As it has been close to 2000 years since anyone has heard it, we no longer know how it was pronounced. We say “ado-nai” instead, and we shall explain why.

[3] A lecture at the Ymei Iyun Tanach at Michlelet Herzog at Gush Etzion, 2012

[4] The verse that begins this Parse, “וָאֵרָא אֶל אַבְרָהָם אֶל יִצְחָק וְאֶל יַעֲקֹב בְּאֵל שַׁדָּי וּשְׁמִי ה’ לֹא נוֹדַעְתִּי לָהֶם”,  “I have appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov as “El Shadai”, and my Name Hashem I have not let them know”, begins to make sense in this context. The forefathers knew and used the name “Hashem”, but they never had a chance to see the G-d of History in action.

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Copyright © Kira Sirote 
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

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Shemot is one of the few Haftarot where there is a serious divergence between the custom of the Sefardim and Ashkenazim. The Sefardim read the first chapter of Yirmiyahu, which describes his reluctance to become a prophet, dovetailing beautifully with Moshe’s reluctance to take on his role. It is also read for Matot.

But the custom of Ashkenazim is to read a chapter from Yeshayahu that does not appear to have any connection to Moshe, nor to the Exodus. True, its first verse, הַבָּאִים יַשְׁרֵשׁ יַעֲקֹב , has one word in common with one of the words in the first verse of the Parsha: וְאֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הַבָּאִים מִצְרָיְמָה, but this is unusually tenuous. There is nothing special about these words, nor are they unique to these two texts; a quick search shows that they are used all over the Tanach. Nor is there a Midrash that connects the two phrases, which is how we normally figure out if it’s significant or not.

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Shemot

Here is a serious connection, though, where the Haftarah sheds light on something obscure in the Parsha: The mouth that will speak with G-d

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Shemot – The mouth that will speak with G-d

The Haftarah of Shemot describes a society drunk on its own wealth and power, arrogant, self-centered and haughty. Yeshayahu attempts to warn them of the approaching disaster, but their cynicism deafens them to the prophet’s message. He expresses his frustration at his inability to connect with them:

כִּי בְּלַעֲגֵי שָׂפָה וּבְלָשׁוֹן אַחֶרֶת יְדַבֵּר אֶל הָעָם הַזֶּה
Only with a twisted tongue, and in a different language,
should one talk to these people?! (Yeshayahu 28:11)

Yeshayahu wonders if there is anyone out there that can still be reached:

אֶת מִי יוֹרֶה דֵעָה וְאֶת מִי יָבִין שְׁמוּעָה גְּמוּלֵי מֵחָלָב עַתִּיקֵי מִשָּׁדָיִם
Whom can one teach knowledge? Who can understand what he hears?
Just-weaned babes, who left the breast (Yeshayahu 28:9)

It is possible that his answer is actually a rhetorical question, and should be read thus: “Who can I talk to? Nursery-school children?!” It is also possible that this is not sarcasm, but rather a genuine answer. The prophet might be saying that even though society as a whole is twisted by its cynicism and arrogance, there is still hope for their children. They might retain enough innocence and purity to hear his message, to accept the Torah that he has to teach them.

In order to highlight the innocence and trust of the children, Yeshayahu uses the imagery of nursing. This is not incidental; the nursing relationship is a symbol of full dependence and full trust. Here is how David HaMelech references it in Tehillim:

(א) שִׁיר הַמַּעֲלוֹת לְדָוִד ה’ לֹא גָבַהּ לִבִּי וְלֹא רָמוּ עֵינַי וְלֹא הִלַּכְתִּי בִּגְדֹלוֹת וּבְנִפְלָאוֹת מִמֶּנִּי:
(ב) אִם לֹא שִׁוִּיתִי וְדוֹמַמְתִּי נַפְשִׁי כְּגָמֻל עֲלֵי אִמּוֹ כַּגָּמֻל עָלַי נַפְשִׁי:
1) A song of ascent for David-
Hashem! My heart did not become conceited, and my eyes did not become haughty,
and I did not walk in ways too great or too mighty for me.
2) If I did not liken and compare my soul,
to a nursing infant with his mother,
as a nursing infant was my soul.

In order to have a relationship of pure trust with G-d, David visualizes himself as a nursing infant looking up at his mother. By nature, a baby has complete trust in his mother to provide him with what he needs. Our relationship with G-d should be similarly unencumbered by our own conceits and by the self-delusion that we know better than He does.

By using this image, Yeshayahu expresses his hope that children who were only recently weaned retain their ability to trust others to provide them with what they need. If so, they will be able to listen to the Torah that he has to teach them. If not, if they are already cynical, then it will fall on deaf ears.

The Midrash takes the Haftarah’s point about the nursing being a prerequisite for being able to absorb the Torah, and applies it to Moshe Rabbeinu.

ותאמר אחותו אל בת פרעה האלך וקראתי לך אשה מינקת מן העבריות : ומאי שנא מעבריות? מלמד, שהחזירוהו למשה על כל המצריות כולן ולא ינק, אמר: פה שעתיד לדבר עם השכינה יינק דבר טמא? והיינו דכתיב: +ישעיהו כח+ את מי יורה דעה וגו’, למי יורה דעה ולמי יבין שמועה? לגמולי מחלב ולעתיקי משדים.
“His sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call a nursemaid from the Hebrews?”: Why the Hebrews? It teaches us that Pharaoh’s daughter took Moshe to all the Egyptian women, and he would not nurse. He said, “The mouth that will speak with the Presence will nurse from something impure?!” As it says (Yeshayahu 28): “Whom can you teach knowledge, etc? Just-weaned toddlers, who left the breast” That is, to whom should He teach knowledge, and who will understand what he hears? The one who drew away from the breast. (Talmud Bavli Sotah 12b)

This Midrash points out a gap in Moshe’s story: we know that Moshe’s sister got his mother to be hired as his nurse, but why would Pharaoh’s daughter go out of her way to look for a Hebrew nursemaid in the first place?

Let’s look at the verses in the Parsha, right after Pharaoh’s daughter draws him out of the Nile:

ז) וַתֹּאמֶר אֲחֹתוֹ אֶל בַּת פַּרְעֹה הַאֵלֵךְ וְקָרָאתִי לָךְ אִשָּׁה מֵינֶקֶת מִן הָעִבְרִיֹּת וְתֵינִק לָךְ אֶת הַיָּלֶד:
ח) וַתֹּאמֶר לָהּ בַּת פַּרְעֹה לֵכִי וַתֵּלֶךְ הָעַלְמָה וַתִּקְרָא אֶת אֵם הַיָּלֶד:
ט) וַתֹּאמֶר לָהּ בַּת פַּרְעֹה הֵילִיכִי אֶת הַיֶּלֶד הַזֶּה וְהֵינִקִהוּ לִי וַאֲנִי אֶתֵּן אֶת שְׂכָרֵךְ וַתִּקַּח הָאִשָּׁה הַיֶּלֶד וַתְּנִיקֵהוּ:

7) His sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call you a nursemaid from the Hebrews, so she could nurse the child for you?”
8) Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go”. The girl went, and called the mother of the child.
9) Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take care of this child and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” The woman took the child and nursed him. (Shemot 2)

This is a lot of detail for a story that is otherwise very sketchy. It might have just said:

His sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call you a nursemaid?”
Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go”. The girl went, and called the mother of the child.
Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take care of this child and I will pay you.”

If all we had was the shorter version, we would have missed the focus on nursing, and the insistence that the nursemaid be “from the Hebrews”. But what difference did it make to Moshe’s life that he was nursed – not just raised, but specifically nursed – by his mother, and not by some Egyptian woman serving in the palace?

The Midrash takes the verse from the Haftarah and reads it thus: “Who can G-d teach Torah to? One who rejected the breast.” It asserts that if Moshe had not rejected Egyptian nursemaids, G-d would not have been able to use him as a conduit for the Torah. He would not have been able to absorb it.

The nourishment that one gets from nursing is not only physical. The baby receives not only the calories and vitamins of the milk, but also the connection with the human being who nurses him. This is why there is an expression that a person absorbs his values “with his mother’s milk.” And the values and mores of Egypt were not something that Moshe Rabbeinu could absorb and still be able to hear G-d. “The mouth that will speak with the Presence will nurse from something impure?!” It is inconceivable that the person whose mission was to learn and then teach all of the Torah would have nursed from an Egyptian.

The Haftarah teaches us that learning Torah has a prerequisite: our relationship with G-d. If we are able to trust Him like a nursing child trusts his mother, than we can be open to learning Torah. If we turn cynical and derisive, like Yeshayahu’s generation, than our minds will reject His words the way they rejected Yeshayahu’s.

The Midrash takes it one step further. If the values that we are fed with our mother’s milk are “Egyptian” and incompatible with Torah – such as treating human beings as objects, cynicism and haughtiness – then it will be impossible for us to have a relationship of trust with G-d, and impossible to receive the Torah.

This is why it was important for the Torah to emphasize to us that Moshe Rabbeinu, the conduit of the Torah, refused Egyptian women, and was nursed by his own mother.

PDF for printing 3 pages A4
Copyright © Kira Sirote

In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

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The Haftarah of VaYechi continues the story of the Haftarah of Chayei Sarah, the transition from King David to King Shlomo.

Despite only being 12 verses long, because it references events and personalities in David’s life, it required quite a bit of back story to explain those few verses. And, by popular request, I included a post-script that describes how things actually work out.

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of VaYechi

As for connections – just as it says “ויקרבו ימי דוד למות “, The time of David’s death drew near, and it says, “ויקרבו ימי ישראל למות” – the time of Yisrael’s death drew near.

They each use this time to reflect on their lives and tie up loose ends – and leave things for their sons to deal with, for better or for worse. See : Unfinished Business

Here’s a Midrash that I like very much:

אמר רבי שמואל בר נחמני וכי ימים הם מתים אלא אלו הצדיקים אע”פ שהן מתין ימיהן בטלים מן העולם אבל הם עצמן קיימים
R’ Shmuel Bar Nachmani said: it says (literally) “The days of David came close to death”. Do days die? Rather, righteous people, even though they die and their days are gone from this world, they themselves live on. (Tanhuma Zot Habracha 7)

This Parsha is called VaYechi – “he lived”. We say, “David Melech Yisrael Chai VeKayam!” – David lives. And we say, “Od Avinu Chai!” our father, Israel, lives.

In the consciousness of the Jewish People, Yaakov and David are both still very much alive.

And now I’ve done the Haftarot for all of Sefer Breishit.  Chazak Chazak VeNitchazek!

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The Haftarah of VaYigash is from Yehezkel, and begins with the reconciliation between Yosef and Yehudah, as does the Parsha.

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of VaYigash

For a deeper look at the differences between Yosef and Yehudah, and what it means to us: Oseh Shalom Bimromav

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VaYigash: Oseh Shalom Bimromav

The Haftarah of VaYigash begins with the reconciliation of Yehudah and Yosef:

טז) וְאַתָּה בֶן אָדָם קַח לְךָ עֵץ אֶחָד וּכְתֹב עָלָיו לִיהוּדָה וְלִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל חֲבֵרָיו,
וּלְקַח עֵץ אֶחָד וּכְתוֹב עָלָיו לְיוֹסֵף עֵץ אֶפְרַיִם וְכָל בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל חֲבֵרָיו:
יז) וְקָרַב אֹתָם אֶחָד אֶל אֶחָד לְךָ לְעֵץ אֶחָד וְהָיוּ לַאֲחָדִים בְּיָדֶךָ:
16) You, son of man, take one branch, and write on it “For Yehudah, and for the children of Israel, his partners” and take one branch, and write on it “For Yosef, the branch of Ephraim, and for all the children of Israel, his partners.”
17) Bring them together into one branch, and they will become one in your hand. (Yehezkel 37)

Yechezkel describes the reunification of the two political entities of the Jewish People during the time of the First Temple: the northern kingdom, Israel, also known as Ephraim or Yosef, and the southern kingdom, called Yehudah. According to the Haftarah, this reunification will be one of the first steps of Redemption; ultimately, the Jewish People will all be one nation with one country. While this might sound obvious, in truth, it is far from trivial.
The Haftarah is not just talking about uniting two different countries called “Yosef” and “Yehudah”; but rather, untiting two different fundamental prototypes within the Jewish People, represented by the terms “Yosef” and “Yehudah”.

Near the end of Parshat VaYigash, Yaakov sends Yehudah to Egypt to prepare for the family’s migration. The Midrash states the following:

ואת יהודה שלח לפניו זש”ה המשל ופחד עמו עושה שלום במרומיו (איוב כה) …א”ר שמעון כל הרקיע של מים והמלאכים של אש ומשרתיו אש לוהט ואין המים מכבין את האש ולא האש שורף את המים יהודה ויוסף זה ארי וזה שור אתמול מתנגחין זה עם זה ועכשיו הוא משלחו אצלו שנאמר ואת יהודה שלח לפניו הוי עושה שלום במרומיו.
And Yehudah he sent before him: It says, “Oseh Shalom Bimromav – He makes peace in His Heavens” (Job 25)… R’ Shimon said: the sky is made of water and the angels are made of fire, but the water does not put out the fire, and the fire does not burn up the water. Yehudah and Yosef: one is a lion, the other is an ox. Yesterday, they were attacking each other, and now Yaakov sends one to the other, as it says, “And Yehudah he sent”?! Thus: “He makes peace in His Heavens.” (Midrash Tanhuma VaYigash 6)

According to this Midrash, Yehudah and Yosef are polar opposites; getting them to cooperate is so difficult, it is comparable to the peace that G-d makes in the Heavens between fire and water.

Not only are Yosef and Yehudah opposites, they are even hostile, “attacking each other.” According to another Midrash, at the beginning of this Parsha, when Yehudah approached Yosef, he was prepared to use violence to achieve his goal of rescuing Binyamin:

ד”א ויגש אליו יהודה…ר’ יהודה אומר הגשה למלחמה, היך מד”א (שמואל ב י) ויגש יואב והעם אשר עמו למלחמה
Yehudah approached him: …R’ Yehudah says, “approach” is for war, as it says, “Yoav and his army approached for war”. (Breishit Rabbah VaYigash 93)

What makes Yehudah and Yosef so different, why is it so difficult to get them together, and why does the Haftarah list their unification as the very first step in the stages of Redemption?

Yosef is driven, from the very beginning, to provide for others. He excels at making the most of all possible resources at his disposal. He speaks all languages, can participate in any culture, can function at the highest levels in government, in economics, and in the sciences. His goal is the betterment of the Jewish People, and of mankind as a whole.

Yehudah, in contrast, represents the inward-facing aspect of the Jewish People. For him, family comes first, and he will do anything to protect them. In his zeal to do so, he sometimes makes mistakes (erring on who is considered “family” and who is not), but he acknowledges these mistakes, takes responsibility and learns from them. King David, Yehudah’s most illustrious descendant, is the ultimate expression of this trait – his definition of “family” included all of Israel, and his life’s goal was to gather them all under his protection. Yehudah has a strong spiritual side: it was King David who composed Tehillim (Psalms), which reflect our unique and personal connection with G-d.

Yosef, then, represents our ability to participate in the world at large; Yehudah represents our unique spiritual contribution as the Jewish People.
These two very different mindsets have been competing within the Jewish People throughout our history. When we work toward the betterment of humanity, as Jews are driven to do, should our contributions be material, or spiritual? Are we a nation like others, or are we a family that needs to protect itself from outside forces? Do we face outward, like Yosef, or inward, like Yehudah? There are practical ramifications to these questions, and over the centuries, it has caused actual conflict. The two sides fight like an ox and a lion, and get along like fire and water.

The Haftarah tells us that in order to bring about Redemption, Yosef and Yehudah need to come together and become one. We need Yosef’s talents and abilities, and we also need Yehudah’s emphasis on our uniqueness. We need to be cosmopolitan and universal, contributing to the world, and we also need to be insular and inward-facing, devoting ourselves to our own connection with G-d.

May G-d, who makes peace in the Heavens between fire and water, also make peace between the different attributes and strengths within the Jewish People, so that we can all flourish and “become one in His hand.”

For more on the differences between Yosef and Yehudah, and a discussion of Moshiach ben Yosef and Moshiach ben David, see R’ Kook’s eulogy of Theodore Herzl. I’m not aware of an English translation, but for partial translation and more analysis based on R’ Kook, see, and,d.bGE

PDF for printing, 2 pages A4

Copyright © Kira Sirote

In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l

לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

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