This week's parashah, Sh'mini, consists of three distinct parts that do not appear, on the surface, to relate directly to one to another. Let's begin by looking at a summary of each of these parts.
What a difficult portion Tazria is! It looks at issues of purity; birth; and illness of men and women, fabric and skin. Even without touching on leprosy (or whatever skin disease it is) there's plenty to discuss in this parashah!
M'tzora, the name of this week's parashah, refers to a person or a house afflicted with a skin condition called tzaraat. Often mistranslated as "leprosy," tzaraat is something totally different than what we, today, call leprosy.
This week's Torah portion, Acharei Mot, "After the death" [of two of Aaron's sons], continues the focus on ritual purity that began earlier in Leviticus, and begins the section of the book known as the Holiness Code.
As someone who has spent over forty years as a Jewish educator, I have always been fascinated by the Pesach seder. In fact, I have often said that it is the most perfect "lesson plan" ever created. The seder, when planned and done well, is truly "experiential education" at its best.
Parashat Vayeishev introduces the Joseph saga. When it begins, Jacob’s 11th son, Joseph, is a 17-year-old shepherd working in the fields alongside his older brothers. The text’s description of him as a “youth,” na-ar, is apt, both biologically and emotionally. As Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg writes: “Joseph behaves with the narcissism of youth, with a dangerous unawareness of the inner worlds of others” (Zornberg, Genesis: The Beginning of Desire [Philadelphia: JPS,1995], p. 253). He consciously tells Jacob malicious tales about the brothers and by wearing the beautiful, multicolored coat (or ornamental tunic) that Jacob has given him, flaunts the fact that he is the favorite son. It is thus not surprising that when Joseph’s brothers see that their father loves him more than they, they come to hate Joseph (Genesis 37:4).
Many years ago, I taught an adult education class on biblical heroes. Among those we studied was Joseph. We focused on Parashat Mikeitz and discussed Joseph’s contentious relationship with his older brothers and their later reconciliation.
As Parashat Vayigash begins, Joseph still has not revealed his identity to his brothers. With Joseph having framed his younger brother Benjamin for stealing his divining goblet, and consequently declaring that as punishment, Benjamin will be enslaved in Egypt, his brother, Judah, now beseeches Joseph to enslave him instead (Genesis 44:33). His plea comes after Judah reminds Joseph that he has an elderly father and describes in detail, why Benjamin did not initially go down to Egypt with the brothers and why, should he not return to Canaan, their father literally would die (Genesis 44:31).
In Parashat Korach, Moses’ cousin, Korach leads a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, demanding, “All the community are holy ... Why then do you raise yourselves above the Eternal’s congregation?” (Numbers 16:3). Often, Korach’s actions are interpreted to be the jealous behavior of one who sees himself as entitled to power. But what if his behavior reflects something different — a feeling of helplessness and a fear of being disenfranchised?