Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Bo 5777

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

"Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places"

Posted on February 1, 2017

This week's portion of Bo features the actual Exodus from Egypt.  The climactic text is very familiar from Passover Seders and movies, but it is no less dramatic for its familiarity.  Moses and Aaron warn Pharaoh that the final plague is coming.  God tells the Israelites to sacrifice a lamb and put its blood on their doorposts to protect themselves from the coming calamity. At midnight the Angel of Death visits the homes of every Egyptian, from the Pharaoh on his throne to the prisoner in the dungeon, and the firstborn male son of every household dies.  Even the livestock lose their firstborn sons. 

After long refusing freedom to the Israelites, after ten plagues and every underhanded manipulation he could invent, Pharaoh finally gives up.  He literally throws the Israelites out of Egypt saying, "Go away from my people!" 

There is an ironic twist at the end of this freedom narrative in Bo, even before the Pharaoh's fruitless quest to recapture the Israelites at the Sea ends badly for the Egyptians in next week's portion of B'Shalach. Pharaoh has already ordered Moses and Aaron to leave his land, but before they can go, when he says,

"Be gone! But bless me first."

This is a strange thing to say to your enemy, to whom you are now, essentially, surrendering-get out, now!  But before you go, give me a blessing...

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Bo 5777

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Va'era 5777

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

Will the Wicked Continue to Flourish?  No—Plagues and Justice

Posted on January 26, 2017

As this week’s portion of Va’era begins, the Israelites are in Egyptian slavery, and the mysterious figure of Moses has returned to try free them from bondage.  In Va’era, God brings about a series of plagues that traumatize the Egyptians, and bedevil the Pharaoh, king of Egypt: blood, frogs, lice, wild beasts, boils, and cattle disease serially afflict the land and its inhabitants, or at least the non-Israelite inhabitants.  In next week’s portion of Bo, three more plagues will come—hail, locusts, and darkness—all leading up to the final plague and the climactic death scene of the slaying of the first-born and the Exodus, the great moment in which our ancestors are freed from slavery.  It is the model for narratives of deliverance and emancipation ever after. 

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Va'era 5777

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Shemot 5777

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

The Start of Something Big

Posted on January 18, 2017

This week we begin reading Exodus, second book of the Torah, with the great Torah portion of Shemot.  I admit to being a bit biased here, as this was my own bar mitzvah Torah portion, but certainly Shemot is one of the greatest sections of Torah of all.  It begins with a kind of coda on Genesis, recounting how the first family of Breisheet, made up of Jacob and his many sons and their descendants, all move down to Egypt, where Joseph is the effective ruler of the country.  They settle in Goshen, in the north of Egypt, and flourish there.

And then the fateful events that set the future of our people begin: Joseph and his generation pass away, a new dynasty takes over in Egypt which doesn’t remember Joseph and his contributions, and the Israelites are now viewed differently.  As they grow in numbers and wealth the new Pharaoh worries: these immigrants might serve as a fifth column in the event of invasion.  They speak a different language, worship a different God.  Their hair is curlier, their noses larger, their skin a bit darker, perhaps.  They certainly have funny accents.  They look like trouble. 

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Shemot 5777

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Vayechi 5777

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

 Choosing Our Own Destiny

Posted on January 11, 2017

This week we complete the story of Joseph, and of his great father Jacob, with the final Torah portion of the book of Genesis, Vayechi.  It begins with the description of the death of Jacob, now also known as Israel, and the final blessings that Jacob gives to his many sons.  These blessings contain predictions about the future success or failure of the tribes that will descend from Jacob’s sons, the b’nai Yisrael.  The prophecies for the sons are delivered in the form of an extended poem.

In the midst of this literary serving of blessing and prediction, there is a brief narrative episode in which Joseph, who knows his father is dying, brings his own two sons, Jacob’s grandsons Menasseh and Ephraim, to him for a blessing.

In keeping with an ongoing theme in Genesis, Jacob blesses the younger son, Ephraim, before the older son, Menasseh.  When Joseph tries to correct his father, Jacob assures him that this blessing order is intentional: both boys will father great tribes, but the younger will exceed the older in accomplishment.  We still use this blessing each Friday night when we bless our own sons today, both in temple and at home.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Vayechi 5777

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Vayigash 5777

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

 

Magnanimity and Grace

Posted on January 4, 2017

This week’s Torah portion of Vayigash begins with the climax of the great Joseph story that fills the last sections of the book of Genesis.  Joseph is the powerful ruler of Egypt, richest country in the ancient world.  His miraculous ascent from slavery and prison to the heights of political power is the stuff dreams are made of, and he is the master of all he surveys, subservient only to a Pharaoh who trusts him completely.  He is handsome, rich, hugely powerful, with a wife and two fine sons, completely assimilated into Egypt’s elegant culture, and still comparatively young.  The world sits at his manicured feet.

But wait, there’s more!  For into this idyllic scene blunder Joseph’s early tormentors, the very half-brothers who taunted him and beat him up.  These are the conniving thugs who stripped him and tossed him into a pit in the earth and sat down to eat lunch, debating, in his hearing, whether to kill him or just abandon him to thirst and starvation--and then sold him into slavery in a foreign land instead.   

Now, twenty years later or so he has had the opportunity to return the favor, to exact at least a psychological vengeance on these half-brothers.  After a sequence of twists and turns Joseph has manipulated them into a state of confusion and terror, unmanned these arrogant unruly rural ruffians into fearful submission.  He has had his dish of revenge served cold, and seems to have enjoyed it. 

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Vayigash 5777

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