For the week ending 1 December 2018 / 23 Kislev 5779

Parshat Vayeshev

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Yaakov settles in the land of Canaan. His favorite son, Yosef, brings him critical reports about his brothers. Yaakov makes Yosef a fine tunic of multi-colored woolen strips. Yosef exacerbates his brothers’ hatred by recounting prophetic dreams of sheaves of wheat bowing to his sheaf, and of the sun, moon and stars bowing to him, signifying that all his family will appoint him king. The brothers indict Yosef and resolve to execute him. When Yosef comes to Shechem, the brothers relent and decide, at Reuven’s instigation, to throw him into a pit instead. Reuven’s intent was to save Yosef. Yehuda persuades the brothers to take Yosef out of the pit and sell him to a caravan of passing Ishmaelites. Reuven returns to find the pit empty and rends his clothes. The brothers soak Yosef’s tunic in goat’s blood and show it to Yaakov, who assumes that Yosef has been devoured by a wild beast. Yaakov is inconsolable. Meanwhile, in Egypt, Yosef has been sold to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s Chamberlain of the Butchers. In the Parsha’s sub-plot, Yehuda’s son Er dies as punishment for preventing his wife Tamar from becoming pregnant. Onan, Yehuda’s second son, then weds Tamar by levirate marriage. He too is punished in similar circumstances. When Yehuda’s wife dies, Tamar resolves to have children through Yehuda, as this union will found the Davidic line culminating in the Mashiach. Meanwhile, Yosef rises to power in the house of his Egyptian master. His exceptional beauty attracts the unwanted advances of his master’s wife. Enraged by his rejection, she accuses Yosef of attempting to seduce her, and he is imprisoned. In prison, Yosef successfully predicts the outcome of the dream of Pharaoh’s wine steward, who is reinstated, and the dream of Pharaoh’s baker, who is hanged. In spite of his promise, the wine steward forgets to help Yosef, and Yosef languishes in prison.


All Singing!!! All Dancing!!!

“...and the birds were eating them from the basket above my head.” (13:17)

Baruch Hashem, I have had the privilege to be a Gemara Rebbe in Ohr Somayach for more than twenty years.

And as every Gemara Rebbe knows, the times they are a’ changing.

There, I just used one of the most successful techniques I know for fighting weapons of mass distraction: Verbal Ritalin©.

I didn’t say “times are changing”. I deliberately made an oblique reference to a song that has entered the public consciousness. I used “verbal Ritalin”. I don’t think that many kids with attention deficiencies are slow. Just the opposite! They’re too fast for the teacher. Arguably, the modern media have produced a generation whose pick-up rate is much faster that it was. True, it may be more superficial, but the media trains kids to latch on very quickly.

So what happens is that the student has understood the teacher, and then he is not fed new information immediately, and the teacher is now saying the same thing in a different way, and so his mind wanders. But if we can control to where the mind is wandering, we can bring our student back in a flash.

Yes, to be a teacher today requires us to be an all-singing all-dancing one-person entertainment channel.

“Two people holding a tallit”. A Breslover chassid holding one end of a tallit and a litvishe bachur holding the other. What color is the tzizit?

What’s the difference between being responsible for theft and negligence? Negligence is when you drive your friend’s Bentley Continental down to the Damascus Gate and get out leaving the key in the ignition and the engine running…

I try and much as I can to slip into my explanation of the Gemara references from popular songs or sayings that the talmidim will recognize and subconsciously say, “Where does that come from?” I’ll even sing a line in falsetto. I have a pretty good gravelly super-bass American announcer voice, “Coming to a city near you!”

This is what I call verbal Ritalin — reinforcing the talmud's tendency to go off-topic, to where I want it to go so I can keep his attention.

“...and the birds were eating them from the basket above my head.”

How did Yosef know that the baker was a walking dead man? In normal circumstances birds are frightened of Man. If a bird will come and peck at a basket on top of a man’s head, it’s a sure sign that the man is not even a scarecrow. The birds eating from a basket on a man’s head gives the game away. It’s a small subconscious alarm bell planted in the narrative that tells all. It’s verbal Ritalin.

in a world where our students are dreaming, we have to be the early bird that catches their dreams.

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