By Rabbi Miriam Berger, January 6, 2011

A five-year-old in the community came to see me to complain that God cannot be very nice if He killed Pharaoh's son. The theology behind the hardening of Pharaoh's heart has challenged Jews of every age and throughout the generations.

Resh Lakish, a talmudic sage, is quoted as saying, "When God warns someone once, twice and even a third time and that person does not repent, then and only then does God close the person's heart against repentance and exact punishment for his sins."



By Rabbi Pinchas Hackenbroch, December 29, 2010

The concept of free will is basic to human existence - the ability to make conscious decisions and to decide, to some extent, our fate. The entire notion of reward and punishment for the choices we make hinges on this principle. Yet God's hardening of Pharaoh's heart seems to undermine not only the principle of freewill but call into question the ability we have at any time to do teshuvah, to repent for our misdeeds.



By Rabbi Dr Charles Middleburgh, December 22, 2010

So much takes place in the first sidrah of the book of Exodus, so many events over so many decades squeezed into so few chapters, that it is all too easy to miss Exodus 4.24, describing something that occurred just before Moses returned to Egypt to lead his people from slavery to freedom. Having been given his instructions by God, having been told the dreadful end to which the process would lead for the Egyptians, Moses and his family depart from Midian for Egypt.



By Sally Berkovic, December 16, 2010

Sleep is an act of faith – "a 60th of death" (Talmud Berachot 57b) or more poetically "little slices of death", according to Edgar Allen Poe - and the miracle of waking up the next morning is acknowledged with Modeh Ani, some of the first words a child learns. The litany of bedtime prayers include the verse "The Angel redeeming me from all evil" - Jacob's blessing to Ephraim and Menashe - said with children as they drift off to sleep.



By Rabbi Benjamin Rickman, December 9, 2010

If the Torah narratives were made into a TV series, this week would be the finale. After more than 20 years of agonising separation, Jacob and Joseph are reunited. But how you might direct that reunion scene is not so simple for commentators are divided as to what took place..



By Rabbi Miriam Berger, December 2, 2010

Pharaoh is often portrayed as the bumbling leader who needs to be shown the way by the dashing Joseph but in Parashat Mikketz we can see a shrewdness in Pharaoh that our politicians would be sensible to emulate.



By Rabbi Pinchas Hackenbroch, November 25, 2010

Joseph, resisting the advances of his master Potiphar's wife, says that it was improper for him on two counts: firstly, because of the debt of gratitude that he owed Potiphar and, secondly, because it would be a terrible sin against God to commit adultery.

Rav Mordechai Gifter (1915-2001) raises an interesting question. Why, when repelling Potiphar wife's advances, did he not state why it was wrong and inappropriate for her, rather than him, to commit such an act? Rashi quotes a talmudic statement that even before the Torah was given, non-Jews were commanded against immorality.



By Rabbi Dr Charles Middleburgh, November 18, 2010

In the struggle between the twins, it is always Jacob who comes out on top. He gets the blessing and then everything follows on from there... but not neatly. Repeatedly, Jacob pays a heavy price for the deception that becomes second nature, and his life is a catalogue of gains and losses, the latter carrying much more pain than the former carry happiness.

If you buy into rabbinic propaganda, there is always an excuse for Jacob, always a justification to make him worthy of the title of third patriarch.



By Sally Berkovic, November 12, 2010

When Thomas Carlyle proposed "A fair day's wages for a fair day's work", it is unlikely he had Jacob and Laban's employment relationship in mind. Wages are a sore point in this week's parashah; initially, Laban appears very generous and asks Jacob "Tell me, what should your wages be?" Laban uses the word maskoret - the same word used for wages in Israel today. Jacob pauses.



By Rabbi Benjamin Rickman, November 4, 2010

The early narratives in the Torah are an opportunity to learn about and understand human relationships, before humanity's relationship with God takes centre stage.

Mother/son experiences are particularly complex. Men are often embarrassed to admit being able to relate to their mothers and tend to hide any deep feelings of filial love. Mothers learn to step back as their child grows up and will endeavour to act in the best interests of their child, perhaps regardless of the consequences.