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Ethan and Marisa each wrote a d’var Torah (translated as "a word of Torah"), which is a talk or essay based on the the weekly Torah portion that they chanted in Hebrew.  

Ethan's d’var Torah begins in the YouTube Video at 44:25 and a copy is included below:

Marisa's d’var Torah begins in the YouTube Video at 58:20 and a copy is included below:

Shabbat Shalom. My Torah portion is called Parashat Miketz and it takes place after Joseph was sold as a slave in Egypt. It tells how he became the Pharaoh's right hand man. Later, my sister will talk about when Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt asking Joseph for food because of the famine but they did not know they were asking their brother Joseph.


To go more into depth about my Torah portion, it talks about Joseph translating Pharaoh’s dream about 14 cows. There are 7 fat cows, and 7 ill cows. In the dream, the skinny cows eat the fat cows. Joseph tells Pharaoh that this was a sign from God that there would be 7 years of unbelievable harvest and then there would be 7 years of devastating famine. Pharoah promotes Joseph and has Joseph store crops during the years of plenty to be used during the years of famine.


My question, after reading my portion is: why would god make there be a famine in the first place? In other words, why do bad things happen? And why does God let bad things happen? Why would God let there be a famine where people would die of hunger?


There are many traditional answers to my question.


For example, some people say that bad things -- the famine in this case -- are all part of God’s plan. The famine was the first step to get Joseph’s brothers to Egypt and someday to get all the Jews into Egypt so they would eventually be liberated and become a people with a shared history.  This answer is important because when bad things happen it is often used to make excuses for God. For example sometimes you find that after a horrible hurricane some people will use the excuse that it’s part of God’s plan. This isn’t a good answer because it makes it seem that God is mean and unsympathetic. 


Another traditional answer to why bad things happen is that God isn’t really as powerful as people claim him to be. These people think that  God watches powerlessly as bad things happen like wars, pandemics, and natural disasters. However, I think this is a flimsy answer.  Why would God create the world and the ecosystem along with it and not have any control over it? It also makes it seem like everyone is powerless and that no matter what, everything will always be up to chance, and that makes me feel helpless. Religion shouldn’t do that.


One more traditional answer to why bad things happen is that things like the famine are a punishment. For example, a large group of people could have done something terrible such as praising idols, or start to believe there is more than one god, and God penalized them for it. A potential current-day example of this is that right now while we are all stuck in a quarantine because of a global pandemic that came almost out of nowhere. You can find people who will say that this is punishment for something like creating global warming and treating our planet so badly. I’m not a fan of this theory because it makes God out to be nasty and harsh, and it makes Judaism out as a non flexible thing that is very strict.


So in the end, I have my own belief, and it is that there is no God. In my opinion, all of the traditional answers that I’ve studied just didn’t make sense, something just didn’t add up. In Hebrew school we were taught a lot about different stories of the Torah, but with every single one of them I ended up just thinking, well how could this really have happened. It just didn’t make sense. What if something else was causing all of these bad things to happen? Going into middle school and having science as a core class I was taught about things like evolution and DNA. I found that these 2 things almost completely contradicted the idea of God, and that science happened to be the thing that I was looking for. After a good long while of pondering and thinking about it I came to the conclusion that science made more sense, that the famine or Covid-19 didn’t happen because God was powerless or made elaborate plans, it was because the Earth itself and the ecosystem caused it. So in the end, I started to believe in science instead.


However, even if I am right and God does not really exist there is a hopeful message in this. By God not existing it could mean that we as humans have the power. If God isn’t real that means that there really is no greater being controlling things, and this means we can take matters into our own hands.  We can change our own futures. For example, in the case of COVID, rather than wait for God to solve the problem, we are the only hope and need to create vaccines and social distancing measures to save lives.


Even if you do believe in God, there is still value in acting like God doesn’t exist. If you want something to happen, you shouldn’t wait around for God to do it. Instead , you should just act. If you do, then not only will you get it done but you will also feel accomplished in the process.


In summation, my answer to the question of why the famine happened is that there is no God. This absolutely doesn’t mean that people who believe in God are wrong, it just means that there are different beliefs and that is good for a community. However there was a quote by a rabbi named Abraham Jashua Heschel, who said “Pray as if everything depends on God but act as if everything depends on you.” I believe this is an important thing to understand because at the end of the day, sometimes believing doesn’t make everything better, and you have to take matters into your own hands when something must be done. This teaching is the bridge that connects people who don’t believe in God and people who do. Whether you are trying to do mitzvot, or want and need to do something about discrimination based on color, gender, or ethnicity, sometimes acting right away is the perfect approach.


Shabbat Shalom!

Shabbat Shalom. As my brother said, my Torah portion is called Parashat Miketz. He spoke about how Joseph rose to power through figuring out how to save food during a famine and about why God made the famine. My portion takes place after that.


As background to my portion, Jacob treated Joseph as his favorite son which made his other brothers jealous. They were so jealous that they threw him into a pit and left him to die, not knowing he was going to be turned into a slave in Egypt. This week's portion takes place many years later after Joseph rises to power as pharaoh's most trusted adviser.


In this week's portion, the brothers came seeking help for the famine. Joseph recognized that these were his brothers who had tried to kill him. The brothers didn't recognize Joseph as their brother because they thought he was dead. Joseph sent them home to their father Jacob and told them to bring back Benjamin who the brothers had told Joseph was Jacob’s new favorite son.  He also commanded him to leave one of their brothers behind.


The brothers went back home to Jacob in Canaan and told Jacob everything that had happened, including how The lord of the land was being a jerk to them and sent them back home so they could collect their brother Benjamin. They told Jacob that the lord of the land said this was the only way to prove they were honest men. And if they proved so, they could get more supplies for the famine. Jacob didn’t want to give Benjamin to them for Jacob favored his son, his last link to his favorite wife, Rachel. One of his sons, Reuben, promised that if they were to take Benjamin they would bring him back safely.  Jacob then said, If something bad was to happen to Benjamin, Jacob would fall into the deep depths of hell itself. The brothers ultimately convinced Jacob and took Benjamin to Egypt with them.


After reading my portion I was left with several questions: Is Jacob a bad father since he favors two of his sons, Joseph and Benjamin? Is he responsible for the sibling rivalry and jealousy that caused the brothers to want to murder Joseph? By treating Joseph as his favorite son did he make him a brat and a bossy person? And what is different about Benjamin that the brothers don’t hate him?


First, I want to answer this last question about what was different between Joseph and Benjamin. It seems that Benjamin was nicer compared to Joseph.  When Joseph was Benjamin’s age,  he seemed to brag often because he was aware that he was his father’s favorite. Joseph once said to his brothers how he had dreamt a dream where he was being bowed down to by his own brothers. Quite a rude and even an offensive thing to say to them. I believe that because he was basically telling them how he was above them, which he was in the eyes of Jacob, his brother’s began to hate him. Since Benjamin didn’t do things like, this it might have had an effect on how the brothers perceived him.


However, is there another reason why they didn’t resent Benjamin when they did Joseph? Perhaps it was because the brothers saw how terribly shattered Jacob was at the loss of his most certainly favorite son after they had thrown Joseph into the pit and Joseph was pronounced dead. They could’ve then regretted throwing Joseph into the pit because since they deeply cared about Jacob it also shattered them to see him grieving so much. Now perhaps when Benjamin became known as the new favorite son, they felt like it could have been a do-over for them to redeem themselves for the wrong they did. They never would want to hurt their father again through hating their brother.


So now that we understand why the brothers’ treat Benjamin differently, we can ask why Jacob doesn’t grow and change in the same way they do. Why does he continue to favor one son over the others? 


Maybe Jacob continues to favor Benjamin because he was the last child of his favorite wife, Rachel, who died during his birth. And since he loved Rachel so much, he could have found it hard to cope. He could have fallen into depression and never dealt with her loss. Because of this, he didn’t grow as a person. If he had dealt with her loss, maybe he could have realized that he was hurting his other sons.


Actually, this is a very common thing to happen to people even now. Jacob wasn't just the father of Joseph and Benjamin, he was also a human. He was so upset about losing his wife that it changed his behavior. We know that depression can change your moods. It can also cause anxiety. Because of this, he relied on favoritism as a way to get a piece of Rachel back. He could have been so emotionally upset that he clung onto Benjamin because he thought it was the last part of Rachel he still had with him.


And this trauma would carry on through the generations.


Imagine the trauma of being one of Jacob's children. Both Joseph and his brothers would end up with problems from their dad’s behavior.


If you grow up, like Joseph, with all of the love in the world and are bathed with gifts and comfort and are never treated poorly, you might grow up thinking too highly of yourself causing you to accumulate bad qualities like being petty.


But if you grow up being treated less than your siblings, like Jacob’s other kids, you might learn to fend for yourself but you would also grow up jealous of your siblings and accumulate bad qualities like low self esteem, closing yourself up and not knowing how to deal with things. 


Jacob not working on his own problems caused many problems for his kids as well.

In conclusion, the answer to my question,“ Is Jacob a bad father since he favors two of his sons, Joseph and Benjamin?” is yes. I believe that he was a bad father. There’s no justification for mistreating your children, no matter what you’re going through. His favoritism created a long lasting sibling rivalry and hatred. This is why it's so important to get help. When Jacob didn’t get help, it affected more people than just himself. So here are some things that can help if you’ve had a trauma like Jacob:


  • One: Go see a therapist.

Now, it's obvious that a therapist is there to help you and it's a really good way to deal with things. I won’t say they'll work it out for you, but they will give you the tools to get through it yourself.

  • Two: Give yourself time.

It takes a lot of time to come to terms with what you are dealing with, whether it being losing someone dear or losing yourself in a way. 

  • Three: Ask for support.

Sometimes it’s great to be alone and that’s okay, but if there is someone who holds you dear and knows you’re struggling they will give you support. It's always better to have a shoulder to lean on.


Now those are a couple suggestions and there are many others, however the main idea is to make sure to deal with your trauma so you don't repeat the same mistakes others (like your parents!) do. 


Shabbat Shalom!

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