Servant of the Secret Fire

Random thoughts on books and life in the reality-based community

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The name I've chosen comes from "Lord of the Rings," when Gandalf faces down the Balrog in the Mines of Moria. My Hebrew name is Esther (which is related to the word for "hidden" or "secret") Serafina (which means "burning"). This seems appropriate because although I don't usually put myself forward, I do care very passionately about a lot of things. Maybe through these blogs I can share some of these passions, as well as less weighty ideas and opinions, with others.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

This week's Torah portion - meanderings

This is really a tough one since I've committed myself to concentrating on the fifth aliyah, which is extremely short this year. The story is that of Joseph and Potiphar's wife, which should leave a lot of opportunity for commentary, but unfortunately the really meaty part is in the sixth aliyah. All we are told this week is that Joseph was sold to Potiphar, that he was trusted by his master, that everything he touched turned to gold, and that he was "well built and handsome." Interestingly, the same Hebrew terms are used for his mother Rachel (yafei/ah to'ar viy'fei/ah mar'eh). This is the sentence that jumps out at me, maybe because it doesn't seem to relate to the previous verses, but of course it is a setup for the next part of the story.

Just before this chapter came the seeming digression of the Judah-Tamar story, although as many commentators argue, there is an implicit contrast set up here between Joseph's restraint in the face of temptation and Judah's lack of it. I would argue that there is also a practical safety angle here. A slave sleeping with his master's wife is far more likely to get into trouble than a respectable widower paying a prostitute, sacred or otherwise. Perhaps Joseph would not have been quite so virtuous in Judah's situation.

It's also pretty amazing that Joseph, a pampered seventeen-year-old suddenly seized by his own brothers and sold into slavery, should have enough aplomb and expertise to do so well, but then, like the children of Lake Woebegon, our biblical heroes, whatever their flaws, are all above average in ability. (Even Isaac, whom we generally consider to be a bit of a nonentity, reaps a hundredfold what he sows and hobnobs quite comfortably with kings and chieftains.)

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