What is a “Holy Convocation” and how does it affect us today?

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Center for Tanakh Based Studies

By: William J Jackson

The Torah tells us no fewer than 17 times to have a “Holy Convocation”.  In doing so, it is referencing to both the Sabbath and six out of seven Feast and Festivals.  So, since this is such a critical piece for God’s appointed times, shouldn’t we know exactly what He means by Holy Convocation? Please join us with this phrase study to ensure that we are honoring God the way He intended us.

Firstly, “Holy Convocation” in Hebrew is “Miqra Qodesh” (מִקְרָא־קֹדֶשׁ).  “Qodesh” meaning Holy, whereas “Miqra” could mean convocation or assembly.  Starting with Holy or qodesh, this word simply means holiness, sacredness and/or separateness.  When refereeing to God’s appointed times, this would infer a separation for God, making God centered and everything else irrelevant.

The second, and more controversial part of this phrase is miqra and is often interpreted as convocation. Webster’s defines a convocation as “an assembly of persons called together to a meeting”1.  Yes, convocation can be one of the definitions of miqra, but miqra has another definition which is “reading”2.  You see the root word of miqra is “qara”, which can mean to “recite, read, or proclaim”3.  So how do we decide which meaning to use or is it possible both meanings were interwoven for good reason?

There was a time when somebody was reading aloud, it implied there was a meeting taking place.  Likewise, it probably meant if somebody recited from the Torah during this meeting it was considered a Holy Meeting.  To validate this point, the word miqra can be synonymous with the word Tanakh because it stands for “that which is read”4. So, why did everyone have to assemble for a Torah reading?  Simple, it was a literacy issue.  Doctor Christopher A. Rollston, an Epigraphic Consultant for National Geographic, states “Literacy in ancient Israel and Judah was probably 15 or 20 percent of the population, at most,”5.  Additionally, not everyone had a Torah Scroll to read from.  For the average Israelite, there would have been a Torah Scroll at his or her local Synagogue.

However, during the Exodus they would not have had Synagogues as we understand them today, but they might have had a gathering where they recited God’s Word.  You see, if we look at Israel’s census in Numbers 26, we can total up the Israelite male population as 601,730.  If you add wives and children to this number, we can conservatively assume that there were over two million Israelites in the desert.  This would be a population larger than Houston, Texas (1,630,00 +) or the State of West Virginia (1,852,994).  Yet, in Deuteronomy, Moses gives speeches to these Israelites.  Begs the question, did Moses orate to 2 million plus people or did he adhere to advice his father-in-law Jethro gave him in Exodus 18:21.  This is where Jethro basically said to delegate – “…you should choose from among all the people competent men who are God-fearing, honest and incorruptible to be their leaders, in charge of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens”.  God also gives Moses this same advice earlier (Exodus 3:16, 18, Numbers 11:16).  In fact, this is how the Israelites did their first Passover (Exodus 12:21).  So, although there was a central point that things were done, one could assume that individual leaders took information back to their flocks and disseminated.

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Later, after Israel entered the promised land, the Israelites would have priests.  As you recall, back in Exodus 28:1, God makes the Levites priests.  Thus, once Israel enters Canaan, these priests by design become disperses among the tribes.  Evidence for this can be found in Numbers 35:6-7 where God distributes the Levites among 48 cities.  Once the written Torah was copied, people could read aloud the Words of God in a gathering, i.e. have a “Holy Convocation” as commanded by Leviticus 23. This would have been the beginning concept of the Synagogue.  There is evidence of these early meeting houses, both archaeologically and in the Tanakh.  In Jeremiah 39:8 it says that the Babylonians burnt down the Palace and people’s houses.  If the “people’s house”6 was just residences, it would simply be houses.  “People’s houses” could imply a public area of significance.  A place of worship would meet this profile.  The name “Synagogue”7 wouldn’t come for another 300 years after the Babylonian captivity.  Synagogue was a Greek word used to label Israel’s houses of worship during the Hellenist period, around 323 BCE8.

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Ruins of Synagogue in Basilica

Getting to our meaning for “Miqra” (convocation/reading), we need to ask ourselves was this public reciting of the Torah done out of design or convenience? It is true that today we all have a Torah, most of us have several.  So, when we read our Torah on Sabbath, are we not having a “Holy Reading”?  Yes, this would appear to meet the requirements, but “the writings” do communicate there is a benefit to community:

Psalm 119:63 I am a friend of all who fear you, of those who observe your precepts.

Psalm 133:1 “…Oh, how good, how pleasant it is for brothers to live together in harmony”.

Psalm 145:4 Each generation will praise your works to the next and proclaim your mighty acts.

Proverbs 27:17 Just as iron sharpens iron, a person sharpens the character of his friend.

Proverbs 27:9 Perfume and incense make the heart glad, [also] friendship sweet with advice from the heart.

Yet, when we look at Exodus 16:29 we are told not to leave our homes on Sabbath.  So by us band our family spending time with God within the confines of our homes we are having a  “Miqra Qodesh” (Holy Convocation).

References

1.   “Convocation.” Merriam-Webster. Accessed January 13, 2018. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/convocation.

2.   The Lockman Foundation. “Entry for מִקְרָא.” New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance. La Habra, CA: Zondervan, 2004.

3.   Gesenius, Wilhelm. “Entry for קָרָא.” Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures. London, UK: Samuel Bagster & Sons, Limited, exact publication date unknown.

4.   BIBLICAL STUDIES Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation. Norton Irish Theological Quarterly.2007; 72: 305-306

5.   Rollston, Christopher A. Writing and literacy in the world of ancient Israel: epigraphic evidence from the Iron Age. Leiden: Brill, 2011.

 6.   Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi). “Yirmiyahu – Jeremiah – Chapter 39.” Tanakh Online – Torah – Bible. Accessed January 13, 2018. http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16036/jewish/Chapter-39.htm#showrashi=true

 7.   Lewis N. Dembitz, Wilhelm Bacher, “JewishEncyclopedia.com.” SYNAGOGUE – JewishEncyclopedia.com. Accessed January 13, 2018. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14160-synagogue.

8.   Art of the Hellenistic Age and the Hellenistic Tradition. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013. Retrieved 27 May 2013. Archived here.

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Why a three-day Journey?

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Center for Tanakh Based Studies

By: William Jackson

Many people, when thinking about the Exodus, hear that line in their head from the movie and song… “♪ let my people go ♪”. Truthfully, God did tell Moses to tell Pharaoh this, nine separate times (Exodus 5:1, 7:16, 26, 8:16, 17, 9:1, 13, 10:3, 10:4).  Yet, people assume that Moses was asking Pharaoh to release the Israelites from captivity.  Moses was just asking for the Israelites to “journey into the desert; so that we can sacrifice to Adonai our God” (Exodus 3:18, 5:3, 8:23).  He also asked to do this over a three-day period. Begs the question, why three days?  Certainly, sacrificing could have been done in just one day. In addition, we need to ask ourselves, what is the threat to Pharaoh here?  All the Israelites wanted was an extended weekend?  We can find these answers on the pages of Exodus, so let’s dig in.

Slave or Laborer:

For starters, our first misnomer is thinking that the Israelites were slaves. Believe it or not, the Torah only mentions one group of slaves in Egypt, and that was the Egyptians.  Some bibles take liberties with the word slave, so instead of relying on them, let’s look at the actual Hebrew. If we look at Genesis 47:19 we see that Joseph helped, make slaves out of the Egyptians.  Ironically, it was voluntary, since they were desperate to find a way to survive the famine.  The word used here is “Ebed” which means slave or servant.  This is the word used to describe Joseph in his relationship to Potiphar. The word used for the Israelite bondage is “Abad” which is forced labor.  This is the word to describe Jacob’s relationship to Laban (Genesis 31:41) and even the condition King Solomon had the Israelites build the Temple (1 King 9:21).  Now, just because it was forced labor verses slavery does not mean that the work was less torturous or demeaning.  But, there is an important point that is missed here if we were to assume the Israelites were slaves.  A slave owns nothing and is owned.  The Israelites, conversely, had property, Goshen (Exodus 8:22).  Likewise, they were expected to contribute the straw to make bricks (Exodus 5:7).  A slave’s master would be responsible for contributing resources and one of those resources is his slave. Likewise, if you were property and escaped, your master had the right to retrieve you.  On the other hand, if you were not property and left the jurisdiction of a tyrant, you were no longer controlled.

Three Days to the Border:

Pharaoh, who had a vested interest in keeping his conscripted labor, probably did not want to give them the opportunity to escape his control. So why not let them sacrifice for one day locally? Well, there was an issue with this as we see in Exodus 8:25 after the plague of the flies.  Here, Pharaoh concedes and tells Moses his people can sacrifice, but they will do it in Egypt. Moses retorts that the Egyptians will stone the Israelites because the Egyptians detest sacrifice (Exodus 8:26).  Therefore, Moses insists they will need three days to leave the land and sacrifice (Exodus 8:27). Thus, we know that it would take three days to get out of the region.  If we look at a map from that period, Egypt territory was a lot more extended than it is now (1).

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Egyptian Blasphemy:

So why did the Egyptians detest sacrifices?  Some historians might say the Egyptians worshiped animals, the truth is that they didn’t see animals as deities. More accurately, they saw some animals as symbols of their gods (2).  Therefore, sacrificing an animal would have been the highest sign of disrespect to their gods. Thus, the Israelites would have to get out of stone’s range before sacrificing. This is why sacrificing the Passover Lamb while still in Egypt showed a lot of “Chutzpah”. It also showed their commitment to God and the journey.

Sanctuary:

So, letting the Israelite travel outside of the Egypt’s reign of control would be the equivalency of allowing an East German free access to West Germany during the cold war, or allowing somebody entree into city of refuge.  Once that person could access safety, why would they return?  Pharaoh knew this, maybe that is why he was so passionate in perusing the Israelites after they took off on their trek.

Conclusion:

Granted Moses only beseeched for a three-day journey to Pharaoh on behalf of God.  It should be noted that he never said to Pharaoh he would be returning his people to the brickyards. Sure, some might say that this was a loophole, but, in the end, it was Pharaoh who told them all to get out of Egypt (Exodus 12:31-33).

References:

  1. “Map of The Egyptian Empire (Bible History Online).” Bible History Online. Accessed January 09, 2018. 

 

  1. Jackson, William J. “The Passover Lamb, making a commitment.” Center for Tanakh Based Studies. January 26, 2017. Accessed January 09, 2018.

 

Who was the Pharaoh(s) in the Torah?

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Center for Tanakh Based Studies

By: William J. Jackson

When we read the first four chapters of the Exodus we keep hearing about this dysfunctional Pharaoh.  He first forgets about what Joseph did for Egypt during the famine.  He then becomes threaten by the Israelites growing in numbers. As a cruel solution, he orders the Hebrew boys murdered.  Finally, it appears that Moses understandably confronts this inflexible Emperor to have the Israelites released from Egypt.  This Ruler is not a pleasant fella.  Yet, what if I said this was not correct, and that we are talking about several Pharaohs here not just one. Likewise, we are not only talking over a period but a span of 400-years in history where the context of each statement isn’t as straight forward as it seems.  So, lets grab our Torah, a history book and some physical evidence so that we can triangulate some worthy answers.

Genesis 41 – 50, Joseph Saves Egypt, (1886 – 1806 BCE)

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For saving Egypt during the famine, Joseph was promoted to a position second only Pharaoh. The Pharaoh that promoted him was more than likely King Senusret III.  This would have been during Egypt’s golden age, the 12th Dynasty (C. 2055-1786 B.C.).  Despite a seven year worldwide famine, Egypt would excel underneath Joseph’s charge.  This was due to the Abrahamic covenant gained through Joseph (Genesis 12:3).

Exodus 1, Israelites Multiply in Egypt, (1800 – 1700 BCE)

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At the time of Joseph’s death, Egypt moved into their 13 Dynasty.  It was almost like the death of Joseph ushered in Egypt’s dark age.  Within the Egyptian government there was much end fighting and jockeying for power that created an instability.  Additionally, since the end of the 12th Dynasty there had been an influx of foreigners entering Egypt due to famine.  Many, like the Israelites, came from Canaan. The Hyksos, which was a group of refugees from the middle east began to settle Egypt’s Nile Delta.  Remember, this was where the Israelites lived in Goshen.  The Hyksos population appear to have come into Egypt after the Israelites between 50 and 100 years.

Exodus 1:8, Israelites Oppressed by New King, (1600 BCE)

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The Hyksos gained in power and began to rule Egypt in the mid-1600 BCE.  This was the Fifteenth Dynasty of Egypt.  The Hyksos kings were “Egyptianized,” assuming the title of Pharaoh 1.  Now let’s read this Torah passage from this time frame:

Now there arose a new king over Egypt. He knew nothing about Yosef but said to his people, “Look, the descendants of Isra’el have become a people too numerous and powerful for us. Come, let’s use wisdom in dealing with them. Otherwise, they’ll continue to multiply; and in the event of war they might ally themselves with our enemies, fight against us and leave the land altogether.” – Exodus 1:8-10

The new King referred to in the passage might have been a Hyksos King, since they were the ruling class at this time. Therefore, he said, “He knew nothing about Yosef”.  As a foreign people why should they care about what Joseph did for Egypt over 200 years earlier.  Also, this King seems threatened by Israel’s numbers.  We need to be aware that the Egyptian were continually clashing with the Hyksos to regain power.  The enemy the King was afraid the Israelites would unite with may have been the Egyptians (Exodus 1:8-10). Why not, the Egyptians up to this were possibly still amicable with the Israelites.

Exodus 1:22, Pharaoh’s Order to Kill Firstborn, (1539 BCE)

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When we read Exodus 1, it appears to be the same Pharaoh, but it is probably not.  There are decades and much history that spans Exodus 1:8 and 22.  During the time frame that the Pharaoh ordered the first born Israelite babies killed, the ruler was probably an Egyptian Pharaoh after the Hyksos were defeated.  This would have been during 18th Dynasty and a time in Egypt known as the “New Kingdom”.  Many of these first Kings in the beginning of the 18th Dynasty would have had a distrust and grunge against any foreigners in their land. Granted, the Israelites were probably not Hyksos but there was guilt by association.  Both groups were from Canaan, both groups settled in Goshen generally during the same time and both groups were foreigners. So, the Pharaoh ordered “Every boy that is born, throw in the river; but let all the girls live.” This may have been an order towards all foreigners.

Exodus 2, The Birth and Adoption of Moses (1525 BCE)

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Thutmose I is a good fit for the Pharaoh whose daughter adopted Moses. The reason we finger him is because his son was more than likely the Pharaoh that would not release the Israelites. So, why can’t these be the same Pharaohs? Simple, in Exodus 2:23 we find out that the Pharaoh dies while Moses is in Median, so the Pharaoh that ordered the Hebrew boys killed and the Pharaoh who Moses argues with are two different Pharaohs.

Exodus 3, Moses Sent to Deliver Israel (1446 BCE)

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Thutmose II is the best candidate to be the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Firstly, he had a brief yet productive reign.  Secondly, history records his collapse with no son to succeed him2. This supports Exodus 11:5 that states the Pharaoh’s son will die.  Additionally, a recent CAT scan of Thutmose II reveals a boil scar3 possibly evidence of the plague of the boils (Exodus 9:8-35). Not only does Thutmose II corpse show boil scares but many of the Egyptian corps from this time do.

Conclusion:

It is interesting that Pharaoh says he does not know God (Exodus 5:2). Yet, today we know God, but history does not know Pharaoh. Maybe this is because the important piece here is that these four Pharaohs that are confused for one are just an amalgamation.  Knowing who they were just isn’t important to the narrative of the Torah.  Thus, knowing the history of a pagan nation gives us a contrasting backdrop to the struggle of God’s people.  You see at the end of the day there is really on one that is important – the victory secured for us by God.

References:

  1. “Hyksos Egyptian dynasty.” Encyclopedia Britannica. November 08, 2017. Accessed December 31, 2017. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Hyksos-Egyptian-dynasty.

 

  1. Edersheim, Alfred. Bible history: Old Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995.

 

  1. Kaspar, Ed, Evidence of the Exodus: Scars from the plague of the boils, kasparedward@att.net, 2009

Joseph’s in Egypt, what you didn’t know.

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When you look through a pair of binoculars, you can’t just put them up against your face and expect to see things clearly.  True, you may be able to see something, but the image is usually obscured.  By dialing the focus wheel, things come into perspective.  This often holds true when studying Torah.  Sometimes we need the complete context to process what we read in Scripture.  For instance, by not understanding Egypt, there are many things in the Torah narrative that come across as disjointed (Genesis 41:37-57, 47:13-31).  For example, putting a foreigner over your government (Genesis 41:40)?  And how did God allow Egypt to thrive in a worldwide famine?  The answers are on the pages of Torah.  Come let us delve into the Torah while using the contextual history as our backdrop and give Joseph’s story its deserved dimension.

Prosperity in the face of Travesty:

Firstly, the term Pharaoh, which means “Great House”, came into existence around 1570 BCE, after Joseph and before Moses.  During Joseph’s time, the Pharaoh would have been called King1. This King, would have been Senusret III.  Senusret III reigned during Egypt’s golden age where the country experience great economic wealth.  Paradoxically, here we have a King who is an economic icon during a 7-year famine.  Now this 7-year famine wasn’t just in the middle east, history records it as being worldwide 2.   For us, as Believers, we can credit the Abrahamic covenant as the blessings that befell Egypt (Genesis 12:3) during this time of deprivation. As the King says about Joseph “Can we find anyone else like him? The Spirit of God lives in him!” (Genesis 41:38) and then he gave Joseph control. However, how easy is it for the king to relinquish control to an outsider?

Interestingly, Egypt was purposefully divided into parts by the King for the design of management.  This would be like states or provinces. Each territory had a “vizier” assigned to it that managed that area.  The vizier was second in command to the King. He was like a governor. Genesis 41:40 seems to imply that Joseph was made a vizier (governor).  However, the King says that Joseph will command “all the land” (Genesis 41:41).  Since Egypt was divided into at least two parts: Lower Egypt which is to the North and Upper Egypt to the South, it is possible that the King may have meant that Joseph would command Lower Egypt.  Lower Egypt was the more significant half because it possessed Memphis the capitol.  Likewise, with Joseph controlling the capital he might have had a significant influence on the other half of Egypt.  Additionally, Goshen where Joseph’s family lived, was in Lower Egypt. Alcohological findings now points to a Palace belonging to an Egyptian Official living in Goshen amongst the Semitics3. More than likely this is Joseph.

Establishing the mantle of leadership:

In Egyptian royalty a technique was adopted to help rule over the people.  It was called “Shemsu Hor”.  Basically, this was the king and his entourage parading through Egypt making the king’s presence and power known to his subjects. The ulterior motive for this was that the King was also assessing these areas for taxes.  Therefore, in Genesis 41:43, almost immediately after promoting Joseph, the King “had him ride in his second-best chariot; and they cried before him, “Bow down!” Thus, he placed him in charge of the whole land of Egypt.”.  This would not have only have been an Egyptian costume showing that a new ruler was in power, in addition it allowed Joseph to assess the area before the famines he predicted.

Egyptian Society Progresses:

As we read on, the famine got so bad that the people gave up everything, finally giving themselves into slavery (Genesis 47:19-21).  As Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago, said, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste”4 and so Joseph and the Egyptian government capitalized on the moment.  They secured all private property, turning around and issued seed to the people (Genesis 47:23).  They did this under the condition that the people would give 20% of their crops to the government (Genesis 47:26).  This is interestingly when we examine Egypt as an agrarian (farming) society.  You see, each community in Egypt was broken down into smaller communities called Nomes.  This would be like our modern-day cities and towns.  The peasants would work the land and give their proceeds to the head of their Nome.  This person was the land owner and was called a Nomarch. History records that during the reign of King Senusret III, the Nomarchs were eliminated. Likewise, during his reign, we see the development of a middle class.  Here, the history books appear stumped.  Yet, we look at the Torah we see the truth.  Simply said, Joseph cut out the middle man, this is because the need for Nomarchs was eliminated when the King owned all the land directly. Likewise, with the peasants now serving the government directly and having fair taxation, a thriving middle class would have been developed. Yes, 20% taxation does sound extreme, but today’s average American, between Federal and State taxes, pays more.

Interestingly, around this time, the King instituted a police force 2 to assist in him enforcing the law.  With recorded famines and possible upheaval, the police force may have been necessary. Likewise, it would have been beneficial because now Egypt no longer had middle managers (Nomarchs) to control the people.

Conclusion:

Sadly, there are many publications out there that dismiss the Israelites as being in Egypt between the 18th and 14th century BCE.  Likewise, our ancient history books have anomalies that cannot explain away simple facts like “How did Egypt thrive during a worldwide famine?”, “What happen to Egypt’s Landowners (Nomarchs)?” and “How did an emerging middle-class end up in Egypt during all of this?”.  Through God, these answers are simple.  Like a missing puzzle piece, the Torah “snaps!” in and the picture is complete.

References:

  1. Mark, Joshua J. “Ancient Egyptian Government.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. October 13, 2016. Accessed December 30, 2017. https://www.ancient.eu/Egyptian_Government/.
  2. “In Search of Truth.” Joseph’s 7 Year Famine Has Now Been Verified! – In Search of Truth. January 22, 2013. Accessed December 30, 2017. http://forums.insearchoftruth.org/viewtopic.php?t=3765.
  3. McCall, Thomas S. “Has Joseph’s Tomb Been Found in Egypt?” Zola Levitt Ministries. July 1999. Accessed December 31, 2017. https://www.levitt.com/essays/joseph.
  1. Finley, Allysia. “Republicans Won’t Let Chicago’s School Crisis Go to Waste.” The Wall Street Journal. August 25, 2017. Accessed December 30, 2017. https://www.wsj.com/articles/republicans-wont-let-chicagos-school-crisis-go-to-waste-1503701116.

Jacob: The Brother’s Blessings, Curses and Omens.

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Center for Tanakh Based Studies:

By: William Jackson

In Genesis 49 Jacob gives a deathbed omen to each of his twelve sons. These were not only blessings and curses, they were predictions as to the directions these men, who would later become tribes, would travel.  Some of Jacob’s predictions are calculations based off past actions and some are insights into the future.  Later, the Torah does hold some of these prophecies and some are still to take place.  Jacob gives us a wonderful road map that shows us, the Torah student, where the brothers came from and where the tribes will be going. Interestingly, over four centuries later, Moses gives confirmation of these prophecies in Deuteronomy 33, spurring more premonitions.  In order of birth, we have listed the brother’s prophecies and fulfillment.

  1. Re’uven (Tribe of Ruben)

Usually the mantle of leadership goes to the eldest son. As the book “Fatherless” tells us “Within Ancient Near East culture, the term “firstborn” anoints the oldest son with the assignment of special privileges and responsibilities. He was second to his father and had authority over his younger siblings.”1 Yes, Jacob confirms that Ruben is his first born (Genesis 49:3). Yet, as we see again and again in Torah, one can loss the benefits of their birthrights.  Ruben is no different.  Almost 50 years before this blessing Ruben sleeps with his father’s concubine (Genesis 35:22).  His ability to be distracted by self-indulgence and lack of loyalty would be shortcomings that would get in the way of his ability to lead.   Therefore, Dad says he is as “unstable as water” (Genesis 49:4) and takes away his authority to command. Validating this instability are two notable characters from Ruben’s linage.  They are Dathan and Abiram, which were cited for their rebellion against Moses in Numbers 16.  There is no wonder later when Moses acknowledges this tribe in his blessing, that the only thing he really says about them is that their numbers are small (Deuteronomy 33:6).  Consistent with Ruben’s character his tribe would later, in the 12th century BCE, decline to take part in the war against Sisera (Judges 5).

2. Shim‘on (Tribe of Simeon)

Did you ever know two people that when they got them together they were up to no good?  That is Simeon and Levi.  About 50 years before Jacob’s deathbed blessings, in Shechem, these two men massacred a whole village over a Prince raping their sister, Dinah. Granted, older brothers standing up for their sister is a good thing, but their methods of vengeance were both devious and extreme (Genesis 34).  Jacob acknowledges this as he confirms that Simeon and his brother are violent men (Genesis 49:5). So as a good parent, in Genesis 49:7, he encourages their separation. Thus, their tribes will be scattered. Simeon was drastically marginalized by this curse. Four centuries later during the second census of Moses, the tribe of Simeon was considered the smallest and weakest of all the tribes (Numbers 26:14).  Likewise, it was omitted from Moses blessing before entering the promised land (Deuteronomy 33:8). As well, the Book of Judges locates its territory inside the boundaries of the Tribe of Judah.  Thus, it was scattered.

  1. Levi (Tribe of Levi)

Did you ever hear someone say, “”If only he used his talents for good, instead of evil.”? Well, Levi was this guy and would get his chance to use his talents for good.  Yes, Levi and Simeon were toxic together, as Jacob knew (Genesis 34:25, 49:5). Therefore, as a good Dad, he separated his boys in his blessing.  Simeon would suffer for this by being minimized. Conversely, Levi would excel. As we know, Moses is probably the most noteworthy member of this tribe.  Of course, we have his brother Aaron and his family, the first priest of the Israel designated by God (Exodus 28:1–4).  This would mark the Levites as being Israel’s priests.  The Levites took this responsibility seriously.  Within the year of Aaron being made the head priest, they would be required to summons their well-known passion.  In the wilderness they would kill 3,000 Israelites who were falsely worshipping other gods (Exodus 32:26–29).  From this “golden café” incident Moses said of his tribe, the Levites, “You have consecrated yourselves today to Adonai, because every one of you has been against his own son and against his own kinsman, in order to bring a blessing on yourselves today.” (Exodus 32:29). As Israel’s priestly tribe they resided in the cities of refuge (Deuteronomy 4:43 and Joshua 20:7-8), which as Jacob predicted, kept them scattered. Other great men belonging to this tribe are the prophets Ezekiel, Habakkuk and Zechariah.  Samuel was latter adopted by this tribe.

  1. Y’hudah (Tribe of Judah)

Even though he was only the fourth oldest, he took the foreground with his brother and distinguished himself in dealing with Joseph during the famine. Likewise, as evidence that Judah is a stand-up guy, we have the story of Tamar in Genesis 38.   Because of these testimonies of his leadership, Jacob likens him symbolically to a lion. In addition, Jacob says that the scepter will not pass from this tribe until he comes to whom [obedience] belongs (Genesis 49:10). In Deuteronomy 33:13-16 Moses gives extensive praise and blessings to this tribe before entering the promised land.  It is no wonder the linage of this tribe has born people like King David, King Solomon, Naomi, Isaiah, Daniel and Ezra.

 5. Dan (Tribe of Dan)

Jacob said this tribe would judge its people (Genesis 49:15) and be called a viper on the road (Genesis 49:17).  True, this tribe would provide many of the key judges in the book of Judges, with Samson being the most famous of that era. Likewise, Samson, and his unconventional ways of handling a situation, could be considered that “viper on the road”.

  1. Naftali (Tribe of Naftali)

Jacob says that this son is a doe set free that bears beautiful fawns (Genesis 29:21).  This certainly is not a very masculine image. Later, in Moses’ blessing of the “Naphtali is abounding with the favor of the Lord and is full of his blessing; he will inherit southward to the lake” (Deuteronomy 33:23). Over 30 years after Moses’ blessing we find in Joshua 19:32–39, that Naphtali’s land was in northern Israel, bordering Asher’s territory, and the Sea of Kinnereth.  Later, the controversial warrior Barak belong to this tribe.  Barak was commanded by God to lead an Army of Israelites against their Canaanite enemy (Judges 4:6–9).  Barak insisted that Deborah the prophetess accompany him, which ended up giving her all the credit for the victory (Judges 4:17–22). Maybe this fulfills Jacob’s tender image of Naftali.

 7. Gad (Tribe of Gad)

As Jacob so apply puts it. Gad means troop, i.e. soldier (Genesis 49:19). These were very committed warriors making sure their families were protected and denying themselves property until victory was won (Numbers 32:16-19). Moses praises their tenacity in battle and willingness to fight for God (Deuteronomy 33:20-21). It is fitting that the prophet Elijah was from this tribe.  Elijah, a determined prophet of God.  He came straight at the Canaanite deity Baal, defending the worship of God. Additionally, God performed other significant miracles through Elijah, including resurrection, bringing fire down from the sky, and entering Heaven alive “by a whirlwind”.  Elijah, like Gad, was very intense.

  1. Asher (Tribe of Asher)

Jacob says that Asher will provide food for the King (Genesis 49:20), in addition Moses says that he will wash his feet in oil (Deuteronomy 33:24).  On the surface this is a confusing picture, but both imply richness and wealth.  As we will find out some of Canaan’s most fertile ground will be given to this tribe (Joshua 19:24-31).

  1. Yissakhar (Tribe of Issachar)

Jacob compares Issachar to a strong donkey because they submit to forced labor (Genesis 49:14-15). Some feel that this image of Issachar depicts an agrarian people (farmers). To validate this point, we see the land of Issachar described in Joshua 19:17-23. It included the plain of Esdraelon, which was and still is the richest portion.  Not much is known about this tribe, but in their linage, are great prophets like Elisha.  Who consequently was found by Elijah “plowing with twelve yokes of oxen in front of him” (1 Kings 19:19).  This would testify to agricultural demeanor of these people.  Additionally, we have the prophet Hosea, who was made to be stubborn (like a donkey) in a relationship with a questionable woman.  This was an enology put on by God to depict how God feels about being in a relationship with those who constantly turn away from him to sin. Although Issachar, as a people, are common and unappealing, there is something in their personality we can all relate to.

  1. Z’vulun (Tribe of Zebulun)

Jacob says this tribe will settle by the seashore and will be a harbor for ships (Genesis 49:13). Moses’ blessing on the tribe was that Zebulun would prosper in their overseas dealings with nations (Deuteronomy 33:18-19). To validate this Zebulun land’s eastern border was the Sea of Galilee and the western border being the Mediterranean Sea (Joshua 19:10-16).

  1. Yosef (House of Joseph)

Understandably, Jacob would call this son a “fruitful plant” (Genesis 49:22). Joseph not only provided protection and good land for Israel in Egypt but, both his sons would be blessed as tribes. Thus, Joseph is not usually listed as a tribe.  The tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, his sons, are listed in his place giving Joseph a double portion.

  1. Binyamin (Tribe of Benjamin)

Jacob says about Benjamin “…(he) is a ravenous wolf, in the morning devouring the prey, in the evening still dividing the spoil” (Genesis 49:27). We have several testimonies of Benjamin’s warlike nature recorded in the Tanakh (Judges 20:15–16; 1 Chronicles 8:40, 12:2; 2 Chronicles 14:8, 17:17).  However, the image of Benjamin is not only that of a warrior, it has a darker tone talking about “devouring prey” and dividing spoils”.  This is captured in the Book of Judges which recounts Benjamin’s rape of a concubine belonging to the tribe of Levite. This resulted in a battle at Gibeah (Judges 19–20). With a complex personality, it is only fitting that Benjamin should have a complex family line with people like King Saul, Jeremiah and Esther in his linage.

 13. Manasseh (Tribe of Manasseh)

Made up the house of Joseph.

Manasseh and his brother Ephraim were not Jacob’s sons, but were his grandsons. Thus, they are missing from the deathbed blessing in Genesis 49.  However, Jacob did speak to these two boys at his deathbed before his sons arrival in Genesis 48.  Interestingly, at this meeting, although Manasseh was the eldest, Jacob denies him the blessing as the eldest son, giving it to Ephraim (Genesis 48). This seems to be a recollection of when Jacob had taken the eldest birthright from Esau 70 years earlier. Also at his deathbed, he claimed that these two boys were now his (Genesis 48:5).  This seems a bit awkward for Joseph but, it would allow these boys to grow into tribes and possess the land in Canaan.  Interestingly, about 400 years later we have one of Manasseh’s greatest granddaughter, Zelophehad, beseeching Moses for ownership of property because she had no male heirs. Moses, after consulting with God, developed rules designed to keep property within a family (Numbers 27:1–11). It is interestingly how Manasseh, at the beginning, would be denied his blessing, but he would spawn a people that would protect the rights for those not blessed.

Additionally, after entering the promised land, we sometimes hear the tribe of Manasseh referred to as the “half-tribe” of Manasseh. This is due to some of the tribe deciding to reside east of the River Jordan (Numbers 32:33; Joshua 13: 29–31) outside the allotted boundary. Also, the tribe of Manasseh has mixed reviews.  During the time of Joshua, they refused to clear the land of “the Perizzites and Rephaites” (Joshua 17:12-18). Yet, 200 year later a warrior from this tribe by the name of Gideon would give them a lasting reputation. As we know, God would have Gideon reduce his force from 32,000 to 300 worthy fighters (Judges 6-8).  With this elite force God would have Gideon defeat a superior enemy. With these reduced numbers, no one could doubt God’s intervention.

 

  1. Ephraim (Tribe of Ephraim)

As we discussed when talking about Manasseh, when Jacob gives his blessing to his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh, he chose to bless the younger Ephraim first, despite Joseph’s protests. Thus, Jacob observed that Ephraim would be greater than Manasseh (Genesis 48:5–21). Ephraim, along with Manasseh, made up the house of Joseph. These brothers had a lot of similarities.  Both sibling tribes neglected to clear foreign enemies from their land (Exodus 23:23–25; Judges 1:29; Joshua 16:10). In addition, both tribes have mixed reviews when referring to their reputations.   First, we see Ephraim turning away from God by doing wicked (Isaiah 28:1–3), and then we also find the tribe recognizing the need to repent and obey the prophet Oded’s instructions (2 Chronicles 28:12). This tribe has given us so many excellent people like Joshua, Deborah the Prophetess and Huldah (Female Prophetess mentioned in 2 King 22)

 

Conclusion:

As we can determine from Jacob’s sons and later tribes, none are perfect, and all have flaws. In short, they are just like us.  We see many who have lost their blessings due to their sinful natures and others, despite their shortcomings, redeeming themselves. In many cases, the brother’s weaknesses have become strengths and in some cases strength have become weaknesses.   Yet, at Jacob’s deathbed, regardless of their diversities, these men came together.  Regrettably, over a millennium after these blessings the tribes will be lost to each other through the Assyrian captivity2 of 740 BCE. Yet, to context this, it was the travesty of a famine that brought Jacob’s family together.  So, we need to remember that we have troubles that are prophesized in our own future3.  These troubles will start our “end-times” and will mark the time for God to bring the tribes together once again (Jeremiah 23:3, 31:7-8; 32:37, Isaiah 11:11-12, 16).

 

Please join us on Sabbath.  We will be giving you a 20-question quiz testing your knowledge on Jacob’s sons and the tribes.

 

References:

  1. Birdsong-Saunders, Mary Ann, Fatherless: Broken to Whole Hope Through Prayer, West Bow Press, 2016, Chapter 3
  2. Umberto Cassuto and Elia Samuele Artom, The Books of Kings and Chronicles modern view, (1981)
  3. Jackson, William J. “End Times Prophecy.” Center for Tanakh Based Studies. January 17, 2017. Accessed December 28, 2017. https://center-for-tanakh-based-studies.com/2017/01/17/end-times-prophecy/.

The Hanukkah Shuffle

judah-maccabee-potato-head

Center for Tanakh Based Studies

By Danielle Jackson

This Hanukkah game gives us both an educational and creative way to exchange gifts for this Holiday.

Firstly, the game requires that everyone brings one gift.  The gift should not be gender specific.  We established a gift price of $10.00 max.  Also, don’t put your name on the gift.

Rules for Playing:

To begin, everyone takes a “random” gift from the table (take any gift except your own). The reader just keeps his/her random gift (until the end).  The reader will read the attached Hanukkah Story.

1 – Every time the word “Hanukkah” is read, you must lift your hands and say, “Hanukkah!!”

2 – Every time the word “Maccabees” is read, you must shout out, “Yeah” and then pass your gift, three times to the right.

3 – Every time the word, “Antiochus” is read, you have to say, “Boooo” and do the thumbs down, and then pass your gift, two times to the left.

4 – At the end of the story, everyone needs to be sure that they don’t have their own gift that they brought, if they do, they get to exchange their gift with the person that is seated 4 seats from their right.

4 – Now… everyone will draw a word (the words will be in a container for you to draw from). You will either draw the word, “Hanukkah” or you will draw the word “Antiochus” and ONE person will draw the word “Maccabee’s.”

A – If you drew the word “Hanukkah” you can exchange your gift with anyone else’s gift in the room ~ or ~ you can simply keep the gift that you have!!

B – If you drew the word “Antiochus” (Boooo), we still love you though! But; you just keep the gift that you have.

C – If you drew the word “Maccabee’s” you exchange your gift with the reader.

D – Now open your gifts – “Happy Hanukkah !!”

 

 

A Kid-Friendly Version of the Hanukkah Story

BY: RABBI SARA Y. SAPADIN

Long ago, before even our grandparents’ grandparents’ grandparents were alive, the land of Israel was ruled by a wicked king named Antiochus (Boooo) Epiphanes.

King Antiochus (Boooo) counted many Jews among his subjects, and, just like so many of us today, our Jewish ancestors lived their lives according to Jewish custom and tradition. Like us, they celebrated Shabbat and marked the festivals of Passover, Sukkot, and Shavuot. Unlike us, though, our Jewish ancestors worshiped at the ancient Temple in the city of Jerusalem. This Temple was the holiest of holy places, the center of Jewish life.

But King Antiochus (Boooo) did not want to rule over a nation of many religions and many cultures; he wanted to rule one nation with one religion and one culture. He wanted all the people of his land to live the way he lived and to pray the way he prayed, according to Greek customs – and this meant that he did not want the Jewish people to dress differently or worship differently or eat differently.

 Under King Antiochus (Boooo), the practice of Judaism was completely abolished. He forbid the Jews from celebrating Shabbat, and he forbid the Jews from observing the festivals. He also forbid the Jews from reading or studying Torah. But perhaps worst of all, King Antiochus (Boooo) forbid Jewish worship in the Temple, and he turned the holy Temple into a place that became very unholy, making a real mess by setting up idols and altars to Greek gods inside.

Many Jews were afraid for their lives, so they felt forced to follow the king’s orders. But one group of brave souls decided that they would not submit to the king; they would not worship foreign gods or give up their Jewish way of life. This group was called the Maccabees (Yeah), and they were determined to take back their Temple and defend their religious freedom.

  The Maccabees (Yeah) were led at first by a man named Mattathias, and then, later, by his son Judah. Compared with the King’s army, they were small in number, but they were mighty in spirit. With faith and relentless determination as their guides, the Maccabees (Yeah) won a stunning victory over the King’s army. They fought hard and, against all odds, they won.

 The Maccabees (Yeah) successfully took back the Temple from King Antiochus (Boooo), but they were heartbroken to discover that the King had not taken care of their holy space. They got to work cleaning and purifying it, and they removed all the foreign idols and altars the king had set up inside. They lovingly cleansed every inch of the Temple, and then, on the 25th day of the month of Kislev, the Maccabees (Yeah) held a glorious rededication ceremony. The word “Hanukkah(Hanukkah!!) means “dedication,” and it comes from the moment when the Temple was triumphantly returned to the Jewish people.

 The most famous story about that rededication comes from our Talmud, where we read that, when the Maccabees (Yeah) walked into the Temple, they found only enough oil to light the menorah (lamp) for one day – but miraculously, that small amount of oil lasted for eight days, which is exactly how long it took to get new oil.

 Today, our celebration of Hanukkah (Hanukkah!!) lasts eight days, in honor of the miracles that occurred so many years ago. We light eight candles on the hanukkiah (one candle the first night, two the second night, and so on) and we eat latkes (potato pancakes) and other foods fried in oil. We spin the dreidel, whose letters remind us “Nes Gadol Haya Sham,” “A great miracle happened there.” We give and receive chocolate gelt (coins) and often exchange gifts, too.

 With every Hanukkah (Hanukkah!!) candle we light, we illumine the most important messages of all: that we must always work to find light in the darkness, and we must always work to keep the light of religious freedom burning for all people, for all time.

Print and cut these tickets out.  Fold them in half hiding so that the name isn’t showing and place them in a container you can’t see through. 

 

 

 Hanukkah        

 

  Antiochus   

 

 Hanukkah        

 

  Antiochus   

 

 Hanukkah        

 

  Antiochus   

 

  Hanukkah        

 

  Antiochus   

 

  Hanukkah        

 

  Antiochus   

Maccabees  

 

 Antiochus