Parashat Mikkets
Shabbat Hanukkah
December 30-31, 2016 – 2 Tevet 5777
Annual (Genesis 41:1-44:17): Etz Hayim p. 250-270; Hertz p. 155-166
Triennial (Genesis 41:1-41:52): Etz Hayim p. 250-257; Hertz p. 155-158
Maftir (Numbers 7:48-53): Etz Hayim p. 809; Hertz p. 599
Haftarah (Zecharia 2:14-4:7): Etz Hayim p. 1269-1272; Hertz p. 987-989

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Egyptian and Jewish Eating Practices
Dr. Joshua Kulp, Rosh Yeshiva, Talmud teacher, and one of the founders of the Conservative Yeshiva

In many cultures, eating together is a sign of fraternity, friendship and covenant.  In Genesis 14:17, after Abraham was victorious in war, King Melchizedek of Shalem brings out bread and wine and blesses Abraham. When Abraham is visited by God’s messengers/angels, he brings them into his tent and offers them food. In my favourite television show, Game of Thrones, when one Westeros lord provides bread and salt for a visitor, it is a sign of peace (albeit a rule mostly observed in its breach).

So when one ethnic, religious or national group refuses to eat with members of another group, it symbolizes one group’s abhorrence of the other. Refusing to eat with others is not simply an attempt to prevent intermingling. Rather, it is a statement that the members of another group are considered polluted and would contaminate through eating together. This is exactly what happens in Genesis 43:32, when the brothers come to Egypt for the second time. “They [the Egyptians] served him [Joseph] by himself and them [the brothers] by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, for the Egyptians could not dine with the Hebrews, since that would be abhorrent to the Egyptians.”  Note that Pharaoh has appointed Joseph to be second in command throughout Egypt. He has given Joseph economic control over the entire land and dressed him in regal clothing. But Egyptians do not eat with the abhorrent Hebrews and therefore even Joseph, and all the more so the brothers, cannot eat with Egyptians.

There are echoes of such practices throughout Jewish history and they can be found in rabbinic literature. Most notably, several rabbinic texts forbid a Jew from eating any food processed by a non-Jew, including bread, cheese, wine, and cooked vegetables. These foods are not prohibited because their ingredients are prohibited. Rather, the very fact that non-Jews processed/cooked such food causes them to be prohibited. Christians and Muslims also maintained similar prohibitions and for a fascinating description of all three religions I would suggest reading David Freidenreich’s book, Foreigners and Their Food.

In contrast, the kashrut laws were not designed to be a means by which Israelites/Jews deem other people polluted. They were not and are not a means to prevent Jews from sharing a table with non-Jews. Indeed, as long as the ingredients of the food are kosher, traditional halakhah creates virtually no ban on sharing food with non-Jews (wine is a notable exception). My grandmother, one of the great influences on my life, was a German Orthodox Jew who maintained high standards of kashrut. Yet she always taught us that being religious is not a way to withdraw from contact with the rest of the world. She travelled all over the world and broke bread with Chinese, Egyptians, Europeans and probably a host of other people I cannot remember. Kashrut is a means by which we relate to God, to the concept of holiness and through which we take note of the sanctity of animal life. It is not a statement about our abhorrence of other people.

A Vort for Parashat Mikkets
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty

In both of Pharaoh’s dreams bad (cows, sheaves of grain) devours good; the good is no longer even evident (41:21).  The Sfat Emet (R’ Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, 19th Poland) said that Joseph not only read the two dreams as one, but also realized that the good years would sustain the bad ones.  Sometimes it’s hard to see the points of good, of light, in dark, difficult realities.  “All that was within [et kol asher b’hem]” that Joseph “opened” in 41:56, said the Sfat Emet, was all the good and light that was hidden, according to God’s plan, in the seven bad years.  The light is not always visible in the darkness; it is our job to seek it out, the way Jacob did.

 

Table Talk
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

This Parasha is usually read on Chanuka. Joseph is rushed to Pharaoh to interpret his dreams, helps prepare Egypt for an impending famine, and meets his brothers while disguised as an Egyptian. Benjamin eventually comes down to Egypt, and all seems well until Joseph’s silver goblet is stolen by… Benjamin?!

1) Joseph is the dreamer and the interpreter of dreams. What dreams has Joseph been associated with so far? The dreams always seem to come in pairs. Why do you think that is the case?

2) Pharaoh’s dreams tell of a famine. What plan does Joseph present to get Egypt through the famine? Whose plan is he presenting?

3) When the brothers arrive in Egypt the Second to the Pharaoh (Joseph) treats them harshly and even keeps Simeon there until they will return with the youngest brother, Benjamin. But he gives them food and returns their payment in their bags. Why do you think that he returns the payment? Is this an act of kindness? Why?

4) Judah succeeds where Reuben failed. Compare the offers of Reuben (42:37-38) and Judah (43:1-10). Why do you think that Jacob listened to Judah but not to Reuben? Try to find at least 2 reasons.

5) In honor of Chanuka and for those waiting for grades, here is a Chanuka riddle:

Rabbi Tarfon, a Tana (Mishnaic period rabbi) would grade the answers of his students (Bereshit Rabba 91). The bright answers received the “grade” Kaftor Va’Perach (‘knobs and blossoms!’) but those that showed feeble thinking receive the withering grade “Lo Yered Beni Imachem” (‘my son shall not go down with you.’) For the source of the 2 “grades” look at Ex.37:17-22 and Gen.42:37-38. What was Rabbi Tarfon referring to in each case? How are both connected to Chanuka?

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