Oxford Jewish Thought

Lectures, essays, questions & articles

by Rabbi Eli Brackman

Parsha and Manuscript: Va’era - ‘The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart’

Manuscript - Vat.ebr.448 Vaera.pngIn the Torah portion of Va’era it discusses how after Pharaoh having enslaved the Israelites,[1] G-d hardened Pharaoh’s heart and brought on Egypt the ten plagues before persuading Pharaoh to let the Jews free. In the justification for the first plague of the River Nile turning into blood, it states: ‘The Lord said to Moses, "Pharaoh's heart is heavy; he has refused to let the people out.’ In fact, there are twenty occasions in the book of Exodus where it says that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened: once in the introduction of G-d to Moses before sending him on his mission to Pharaoh to let the Jews free,[2] a second, pertaining to the miracle of the staff that turned into a serpent,[3] once, as mentioned, in j… Read More »

Parsha and Manuscript: Shemot – ‘Comparing Israel to the stars’

MS. Michael 384, fol. 36 (1399) Shemot.pngIn the beginning of the book of Exodus, the Torah mentions the counting of the Jewish people who came down to Egypt, stating that there was a total of (only)[1] seventy people, as it states:[2]’And these are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt; with Jacob, each man and his household came: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin. Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. Now all those descended from Jacob were seventy souls, and Joseph, [who] was in Egypt.’


In addition, towards the end of the book of Genesis, there is a similar counting:[3] ‘And these are the names of the children of Israel who were coming to Egypt: Jacob and his sons, Jacob's firstborn was Reuben… all the souls… Read More »

Parsha and Manuscript: Vayechi – ‘ End of Days’

MS. Canon. Or. 81 Vayechi.pngIn the portion of Vayechi, it discusses the end of the life of Jacob and how before he passed away he gathered his children to bless them. It states:[1] ‘And Jacob called his sons and said, “Come together that I may tell you what is to befall you in days to come. Assemble and hearken, O sons of Jacob; Hearken to Israel your father.’


The question that arises is: while the blessings of the sons of Jacob are related to the second assembly: ‘Assemble and hearken, O sons of Jacob; Hearken to Israel your father,’ what was conveyed in the first assembly: ‘Come together that I may tell you what is to befall you in the end of days?’


Midrash and Talmud


There are twelve interpretati… Read More »

Parsha and Manuscript: Vayigash - ‘He leads me beside still waters’

MS. Oppenheim Add. 4° 188.pngIn the portion of Vayigash it discusses how Joseph provided food for Egypt, whereby it states first that he provided for his family:[1] ‘And Joseph sustained his father and his brothers and his father's entire household with bread according to the young children.’


It then continues with how Joseph sustained all of Egypt:[2] ‘So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them food in return for the horses and for the livestock in flocks and in cattle and in donkeys, and he provided them with food in return for all their livestock in that year.’


He guided them


The Hebrew term used for ‘providing for his family’ is: ‘va’yechalkel,’ which means ‘… Read More »

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