Most of us know the story well: Moses follows God’s commands and ascends Mt. Sinai amid smoke and thunder, to receive the Ten Commandments, to be carved out of solid stone by God, using a fingertip of lightning. Moses appoints Aaron, his brother and the High Priest, to supervise the Israelites during his absence. But Aaron is a poor classroom monitor, as I like to say, and he gives the fearful, misbehaving Israelites free rein to do as they wish—and they disobey God’s express command, using a large amount of their Egyptian gold and silver to build a Golden Calf, despite being expressly forbidden to perform idol worship.
Call me Aaron ben Amram v’Yocheved. The Kohen Gadol? Yes, I am; I admit it; I am the High Priest. But, before that, I was the middle child, born following Miriam, my sister, the Bechorah, the First-Born, the Passed-Over One, the Dancer-and-Singer, the Poet-Prophetess.
What is significant is that the laws in this parsha, Mishpatim, deal exclusively with civil matters—property rights, indentured servitude, working animals, road construction, etc. How can we find holiness in these mundane matters?
Come in, Stranger! Take a cup of barley beer from me, and sit here by the fire…
Scene: c. 1338 BCE. A Desert campfire, shortly after the Splitting of the Reed Sea. Three men sit around, sharing a flask of honey-mead liquor: one, a Stranger; Elazar, a Hebrew, and son of Moses; Hotep, an Egyptian. Elazar the Hebrew speaks.
Synopsis: Moses and Aaron confront Pharaoh—which one? Ramsses II, Thutmose III, perhaps even Hatshepsut, the Woman Pharaoh—the actual identity is not important to the Torah Narrative, which never gives more details than are considered necessary to tell the Story. The Theme is Clash of the Titans, in this case between Adon-i, God of the Israelites, vs. Pharaoh, god of the Egyptians. Here are some of the Actors, both Major and Minor:
Scene: A Receiving Room in Pharaoh Seti I’s Palace, 19th Dynasty, 1291-1278 BCE. The Meeting between the Pharaoh and Jacob. Note that Seti uses the Royal “We” when speaking, since He represents all of Egypt, is Himself a Demigod, and that Native Egyptians did not think highly of Canaanites.
Vayigash (ויגש) Torah Portion: Genesis 44:18 – 47:27 Haftarah: Ezekiel 37:15 – 37:28 Scene: Heliopolis, 1886 BCE. About 3 o’clock in the morning, in the small study of Joseph, Vice-Pharaoh to Sesostris III, Minister of Farms, Provisions, and Agriculture, Chief Adviser Plenipotentiary to His Majesty, Pharaoh Sesostris III, most important king of the 12th Dynasty, […]
Vayayshev (וישב) Torah: Genesis 37:1 – 40:23 Haftarah: Amos 2:6 – 3:8 Scene: Sheol, the Afterlife. A small metal table, such as one would find in an old-fashioned café in Paris, perhaps, or Greenwich Village. Two uncomfortable-looking but necessary metal chairs with curved metal backs, suitable for two ladies of fashion to sit and chat. […]
Night on Mount Seir, the tribal portion of Esau, also called Edom (Hebrew, “red”) for his red hair, beard, and freckled complexion. He is chieftain of a large clan, intermingled with Canaanite sub-clans; we will never learn the time or place of his death, or his age at his passing. Even the genealogical lists in Gen. Chap. 36 stress his wives’ side of the Edomite Family, not his own. The Author(s) of Genesis clearly found Esau’s life and destiny to be inconsequential to the remainder of our Genesis Story, which will next focus on Joseph ben Jacob, who will bring his brothers down to Egypt, there to become the Children of Israel.