The musings of a previously unemployed Jewish Freemason. I write about the job search, about Judaism, and about Freemasonry.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Beshalach: The Song of the Sea

This week's Torah portion starts the Exodus in earnest. Moses leads the Children of Israel to the Sea of Reeds (יַם-סוּף), rather than by the Philistine Highway, which would have been the quicker route. Taking the highway would have been shorter, but it also would have allowed the Egyptians to catch up with them more quickly. As we shall see, God hardened Pharaoh's heart one more time, and made him summon his army to retrieve or kill the Israelites in the desert.

Moses took the bones of Joseph with him. As I noted earlier, Midrash informs us that Serah bat Asher took special care to make sure that the Children of Israel remembered to take Joseph's bones with them. God went before them as a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night, as their guide. This cloud/fire pillar stayed with them the entire time they were in the Wilderness. God told Moses to let them camp, to appear to the oncoming Egyptian army is if the Children of Israel were lost in the desert, to spur the army to come get them. Pharaoh sent 600 of his own chariots, along with the entire chariot corps of Egypt, with enough infantry to support them, and spurred them on to catch up with the Israelites in the desert.

The Egyptian army catches the Israelites with their backs to the sea. They are trapped. The Israelites complain to Moses (not for the last time): "Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt? Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness." [Exodus 14: 11-12].

My rabbi likes to remark that this is one of the oldest Jewish jokes ever recorded. Egypt is a land of pyramids, tombs and sarcophagi. If they were all going to die, wouldn't it have been better to die where all the graves were?

God tells Moses to raise his staff and extend his hand over the sea, splitting the sea into two walls of water, with dry land between them. Moses does so, and the Israelites escaped through the parted sea to the other shore. God put the pillar of fire between the Israelites and the Egyptians to block the army. Once the Israelites were on the other side, the pillar of fire moved to the other shore, allowing the Egyptians to enter the narrow channel of dry land, but preventing them from reaching the other side. Their chariot wheels and horses' hooves began to stick to the muddy ground, and were stuck. Then God told Moses to move his hand and allow the sea to move back to its natural position, filling the channel with water and drowning the Egyptian army. Everybody drowned.

There is a lovely Midrash that Pharaoh was the sole survivor, but having lost his entire army, could never return to Egypt again, and wandered the earth as a destitute. Many years later, he settled in Nineveh and eventually became their king. When he was King of Nineveh, the prophet Jonah appeared and warned the city of Nineveh that if they did not repent their wicked ways, in forty days they would be overthrown. The former Pharaoh, hearing the prophecy, immediately repented and put on sackcloth and sat in ashes in penance. He had tangled with the Hebrew God once before, and was not stupid enough to try a second time.

In triumph, Moses and the Israelites sing a song, later to be called the Song of the Sea [Exodus 15: 1-18]. This is one of the most special and important liturgical songs in Judaism. The tune could be one of the oldest tunes still known. When this passage is recited in the Torah in a synagogue, the congregants stand up and sing along with the chanter. When this passage is written in a Torah scroll, it uses a special brick-like pattern that is very striking.

The song is also sung every morning during Orthodox services. One of my rabbis likes to recite Exodus 15: 2 as a nigun.
עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת יָהּ, וַיְהִי-לִי לִישׁוּעָה

In English: "The LORD is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation."

Exodus 15: 3 always gave me trouble, in the King James Version: "The LORD is a man of war: the LORD is his name." In Hebrew, Rashi interprets this as "The Lord is a master of warfare; YHVH is His name." This makes more sense. The idea that the One is a man of war is repugnant. No offense to my friends in the armed services, but the idea that the Great Architect of the Universe is (not "is like", but is) a man of war is too severe a diminishment of His being, and paints too destructive a metaphor. But the Master of All is a Master of War as well, but that is just one tiny facet of the Being named with the Ineffable Name.

Exodus 15: 11 is said before the Amidah prayer, the most sacred prayer in the prayer cycle, to be recited morning, noon and night, and an extra time on the Sabbath, and yet an extra time on Yom Kippur. "Who is like unto Thee, O LORD, among the mighty? who is like unto Thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?".

After this first song, Miriam, Moses' sister, took a hand drum and took all the women and danced and sang with them. Midrash has it that they also sang the Song of the Sea.

After this, Moses led the Children of Israel into the Wilderness. They traveled for three days without finding any water, and the people grew very upset. moses found them a spring of bitter water, and God showed Moses a certain type of wood that would render the water drinkable, and they were able to drink. They camped for a while in Elim, in an oasis of twelve springs of water and seventy date palms. After this, they entered the Wilderness of Sin (this has nothing to do with the English word sin, but is the Hebrew name of the area). There in the desert, the Israelites began to complain again, again wishing that they were back in Egypt: "Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger." [Exodus 16: 3].

God and Moses respond with the gift of manna. In Exodus 16: 4-36, a passage that has an important meaning today, the Torah describes how manna is to be the food for the Israelites in the Wilderness. Jews who are out of work, or who are worried about subsistence, recite this passage aloud every morning (except on the Sabbath). It is meant to summon God's aid in times of hardship.

I do this when I am unemployed, or low on funds. In a sense, this behavior could be interpreted as a desperate superstition, and I am not of the opinion that reciting this passage magically makes food appear. But it does reorient my consciousness around survival issues in a way that I find comforting and sustaining. I recite the passage after my usual morning prayers, while still wearing my tallit, and there is a prayer in the Orthodox prayerbook that goes with this passage that I recite as well.

That evening, a flock of quail swarmed the area where the Israelites were camping, providing enough meat for everyone to eat until sated. The next morning, the dew covered the camp, and when the dew evaporated, there was a fine layer of grains on the surface of the ground that almost looked like frost. Under Moses' direction, the Israelites collected the grains, which were manna, and doled out an equal portion for each person. Everyone got their fill of food. No matter how much each individual gathered, there ended up being about two quarts for each person. Moses warned them to eat their fill that day, and to leave nothing over until the next morning, exhausting their supply. Some faithless people hoarded their portions only to find that the next day it was full of worms and putrid. The next day, the manna appeared again. The manna that nobody gathered melted in the hot noonday sun. On Friday, the people found that they had gathered a double portion, about a gallon for each person, and they came and told Moses. Moses let them know that the second portion was for the Sabbath, which they were all to observe from now on.

On the Sabbath morning, the manna was not putrid and was without worms, and no new manna appeared, even though some stubborn people went out to collect it, violating the Sabbath.

Manna looked like white coriander seed, but it tasted like dough kneaded with honey. Moses told Aaron to collect a jar of it as a keepsake so that future generations could see what the Israelites ate in the Wilderness. Legend has it that the jar stayed in the Temple of Solomon until it was sacked by the Babylonians, and then lost to history.

Pretty soon afterwards, they traveled further into the desert, ran out of water, and the people began to quarrel with Moses. God told Moses to strike a rock with his staff, and it flowed with water. The rock is called Meribah. This is a different incident than the rock of Meribah in the Book of Numbers, where God tells Moses to touch his staff to the rock, and instead Moses strikes the rock, and for which God refuses to allow him to enter the Promised Land. I always thought that was a bit harsh, but I also understand that Moses is the prophet of the transition, and that it required Moses to die and Joshua to take over before the Israelites could enter Canaan. This requires a lot of thought, and I will discuss it later when we get to the Book of Numbers.

Finally in the Torah portion, the tribe of Amalek launched a surprise attack upon the Children of Israel. They are considered to be the descendants of Esau (I've said a lot about Esau previously), and have become a symbol for every group that has ever tried to exterminate the Jews. Thus Agag was the King of Amalek whom Saul destroyed with the prophet Samuel. Haman was said to be a descendent of Amalek. The Romans were considered Amalek by the Zealots, and the Spanish Jews regarded the Inquisition as Amalek. Twentieth century Jews regarded Hitler as Amalek, and there are extremists among the West Bank settlers who regard all Palestinians as Amalek.

Moses had Joshua assemble an attack force to respond to Amalek's attack, and Moses went to the top of the hill with his staff. As long as Moses held his hands up, Israel would prevail against Amalek, but whenever he would lower his hands, Amalek would prevail. Moses grew too tired to raise his hands, so they placed stones for Moses to sit on, and Aaron and Chur reached under his elbows to prop him up.

At this point, the Torah veers into genocidal sentiments. God tells Moses that He will totally obliterate the memory of Amalek from "under the heavens" [Exodus 17: 14].

There is one mitzvah (commandment) to blot out the memory of Amalek, and another to never forget their perfidy in attacking when Israel was weakest, and a third to remember Amalek. How do you resolve this? Especially since God commands Saul to exterminate every man, woman and child, and all the livestock of the tribe of Amalek? In fact, God punishes Saul for not exterminating everyone of Amalek.

The nice, liberal, touchy-feely way to resolve this is to decide that Amalek was indeed wiped out millennia ago, and that Amalek no longer exists, but is a memory about previous oppression and resistance.

I prefer to use the mitzvot about Amalek to remind Jews that we too exterminated a whole race of people, just as the Spanish did with the Arawaks of Jamaica. We were genocidal once, and we can be again if we are not careful.

Friday, January 27, 2012

New Job Again

The company I was working for went out of business last Thursday. I got word that Monday that it was my last week, without giving the reason why. I started looking that evening. On Thursday, the CEO called us all into a conference room and told us that that day would be our last day; that the company was shutting down.

I was able to find a contract-to-permanent job in the same building with another company that my company was intending to work with on a software project. I had an interview Tuesday morning, and was approved the next day. Yesterday I filled out the paperwork, and I start on February 6th. It took me four business days to find a new job, which isn't bad. I actually received three other permanent offers, one of which was exceedingly generous, but I want to work for the company I chose, doing the work I find most interesting. It will be lean for me until work resumes, but I'm actually getting a slight raise from my last job. I'm very pleased about this turn of events.

Bo: The First Passover

This week's Torah portion consists of the final three plagues and the first Passover. There is a plague of locusts and a plague of darkness, which the Torah describes as tangible, which is intriguing. In each case, Pharaoh concedes to Moses and Aaron, only to have God harden his heart, and take back his offer. God lets Moses and Aaron know that he is doing this so that future generations will know that the House of Israel began with ten miraculous plagues, and that the final plague, that of the Firstborn sons of men and beasts, will become firmly affixed with the nation of Israel in the collective psyches of the survivors.

In order that the destroyer does not slay the Israelites with the Egyptians, God commands the Israelites to slaughter young ruminants, either lambs or kids, and to splash their blood on the lintels and doorposts of their houses. The inhabitants are to eat the whole animal, who is not to be dressed or beheaded, and eat as much of it as they can, burning the remains to ashes that they cannot consume. They are to cook their dough without letting it rise, and to eat unleavened bread for the next seven days. They are to eat fully clothed, with their belongings packed up, and their staves in their hands, ready to make their escape. The day before, each Israelite is to borrow from their Egyptian neighbors as much gold and silver as they can carry (and God will move the hearts of the Egyptians to give it to them), so that they will have a treasury with which to form the new nation.

A Jewish tradition from a Baraita (from outside of Talmud or Midrash) tells that in the time of Alexander the Great, the Egyptians brought the Israelites before Alexander and charged them with borrowing and never returning their gold and silver, and demanded a fair return. In their defense, Gebiah ben Pesisa, speaking on behalf of the Israelites, asked the Egyptians for evidence, and the Egyptians presented the Torah as evidence, opened to Exodus 12: 36. Gebiah also presented the Torah, opened to Exodus 12: 40, and demanded back wages for 600,000 men for 430 years of slavery. The Egyptians, the Baraita informs us, dropped their case.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Va'eira: the plagues begin

In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that the Egyptian plagues make me very uncomfortable. What does it mean that God hardens the heart of Pharaoh, and then punishes him for having a hardened heart?

God instructs Moses to inform the Israelites about the Covenant, and the upcoming Exodus, but because of the troubles they have had with the Egyptians because of Moses, they do not care to listen to Moses. So God tells Moses to speak to Pharaoh about letting the Israelites go. Included in the plan is the idea that Pharaoh will resist (because God will interfere with his judgment and harden his heart), which will allow God to present a number of gruesome miracles to the Egyptians. The intention was to sear into the consciousness and memory of the Egyptians the power of God. To me, this smacks of the tribalism of the cruder aspect of the God of the Torah, that He favors the Israelites at the expense of the other nations, and that outsiders are outside of His mercy. It also smacks of the revenge fantasies of an oppressed people.

In an audience with Pharaoh, Aaron throws down his staff, and it turns into a viper. Pharaoh's court sorcerers throw down their staves which also turn to vipers, but Aaron's viper devours the other vipers before turning back into a staff of the same thickness as before. This does not impress Pharaoh.

This sets into motion a series of ten plagues God wreaks upon the Egyptians. God has Moses tell Aaron to strike the Nile with his staff, causing the water to turn into blood. This causes all water in Egypt to turn into blood, even the water in wells and cisterns. All the fish in the Nile died of the pollution. Because Pharaoh's sorcerers also could turn water into blood, Pharaoh was not impressed.

After a week of this, God tells Moses to ask Pharaoh again to release the Israelites, threatening an infestation of frogs. Pharaoh refuses, and frogs appear everywhere, and annoy the Egyptians. This annoys Pharaoh, even though his court sorcerers can also summon frogs. Pharaoh summons Moses and Aaron, and asks them to beg God to remove the frogs, promising the release of the Israelites and a big sacrifice to God if He will remove the frogs. God relents and the frogs all die, leaving stinky frog corpses throughout Egypt. The people clear the stinky frog corpses away, and Pharaoh reneges on his promise.

God next sends a plague of lice, which swarm and annoy the Egyptians. Pharaoh's sorcerers cannot reproduce the trick, and the lice bite all the animals and humans in Egypt. Pharaoh's sorcerers warn him that this is the finger of God making this happen. Pharaoh refuses to relent.

The next plague is a plague of arov (עָרֹב), the translation of which is in dispute. In the Midrash, Rabbi Nechemia thinks they are flies, but Rabbi Yehuda thinks they are a mixture of wild animals. More of the later Torah commentators regard them as wild animals. The King James Bible has them as swarms of flies. For the first time, the arov will attack only the Egyptians and not the Israelites.

Pharaoh partially relents, and allows the Israelites to sacrifice to God in Egypt, but Moses holds out for a full release. Moses refuses. Pharaoh then allows the Israelites to travel for three days into the desert to sacrifice to God, as long as they pray for Pharaoh as well. But as soon as Moses prays the creatures away, Pharaoh hardens his own heart, and reneges on his promise.

The next plague is that of livestock: horses, cattle, sheep, donkeys and camels in the possession of the Egyptians all die. But none of the Israelites' livestock are affected. But this did not move Pharaoh to release the Israelites.

The next plague is a plague of boils. Moses throws a handful of furnace soot into the air before Pharaoh, and it lands and causes boils on the flesh of the animals and people wherever it lands. The court sorcerers are affected so badly by this that they cannot appear in court to refute Moses and Aaron. This time, God forces Pharaoh to be obstinate, and he refuses to let the Israelites go. God tells Moses to tell Pharaoh that the only reason God hasn't killed off the Egyptians yet is because he wants survivors to remain who can tell the story of God's power.

The next plague is a plague of brutal hail, hailstones so big that they can kill whoever goes outside, man or beast. The hailstones kill every human and animal who is outside when they fall. They smash every tree, and destroy all the crops. The hail does not fall on the Israelites. Pharaoh relents.
And Pharaoh sent, and called for Moses and Aaron, and said unto them, I have sinned this time: the LORD is righteous, and I and my people are wicked. Entreat the LORD (for it is enough) that there be no more mighty thunderings and hail; and I will let you go, and ye shall stay no longer. [Exodus 9: 27-28].
But as soon as Moses prays the hail away, Pharaoh hardened his heart, and would not let the Israelites go, just as God had predicted.

What are we to make of this? To modern sensibilities, this seems protracted and cruel. And yet, we remember this story to this day because of the number and magnitude of these plagues. From our viewpoint, we know that Israel is released, the Egyptian army is drowned in the Red Sea, and the Hebrews return to the Promised Land and eventually form a kingdom there. These plagues build momentum for the exodus to follow.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Shemot: a Voice from the Burning Bush

The Book of Exodus begins with a telling of the names (shemot in Hebrew) of Joseph's brothers who followed him into Egypt. It recounts the dynastic changes in Egypt that led to the new dynasty having a very different relationship with the Hebrews than the dynasty in Joseph's day. The Egyptians were enemies with the Hyskos, a Semitic tribe in the region, and the new dynasty regarded the Hebrews, as Semites, as a fifth column in their fight with the Hyskos. The Hebrews in four centuries had grown very prosperous and prolific, and they became a distrusted minority group in Egypt.

Just as Joseph had enslaved the Egyptian peasants during the famine, the Egyptians enslaved the Hebrews, and made their conditions very bitter. In order to control their population, the Pharaoh ordered that the midwives put all Hebrew male babies to death. This they were very unwilling to do. As the Hebrew population increased, Pharaoh then ordered all Hebrew male babies thrown into the Nile and drowned.

When Amram ben Kehoth and his wife Jochebed had their third child, they were very afraid that he would be killed by the Egyptians. They hid him in an ark made of papyrus and pitch, and placed it in the rushes on the banks of the Nile river, and hoped for the best. Pharaoh's daughter was bathing in that part of the Nile, and she discovered the ark, and took pity on the baby.

She adopted the baby as her own son (Midrash says that she was infertile), and chose Jochebed as his wet-nurse. Midrash also informs us that his older sister, Miriam, was his nanny as a child. He grew up to be a mighty prince of Egypt. But he still had sympathy for his people. When he saw an Egyptian overseer beat a Hebrew man to death, Moses murdered the man and hid his corpse. The next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting, and when he admonished them, one of the men responded: "intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian?" [Exodus 2: 14].

Pharaoh ordered Moses to be executed for murder, and Moses fled to Midian to evade his sentence. Midrash suggests that Moses spent forty years in Egypt, forty years in Midian, and forty years in the Wilderness leading the Hebrews back to Israel.

In Midian, Moses could re-invent himself. He came upon a watering-hole. The seven daughters of Jethro, a prominent priest of Midian were being harassed by some shepherds. Moses came to their aid. In thanks, Jethro invited Moses into his family and gave him his daughter Zipporah as his wife. Yet another meeting at a watering hole that led to marriage. Moses waited out his death sentence, which would end when Pharaoh died, and took on the life of a shepherd in Midian.

Moses was tending his flocks near Mount Horeb. There is a midrash that a baby lamb was exhausted and collapsed, and Moses cradled the lamb around his neck, with its legs draped around his shoulders. God saw this, and realized that he was sufficiently compassionate to become the leader of the Israelites and the Lord's greatest prophet.

Moses spied a thorn bush on fire. It was burning, but the thorn bush was not being consumed by the flames. Fascinated, he stopped to investigate.

God spoke to Moses from the burning thorn bush, telling him not to advance any closer, and to remove his shoes, as the place was holy ground. Masons are familiar with this, for reasons that are mentioned in the Entered Apprentice degree. This is the moment of Moses' initiation. God revealed Himself to Moses as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God told Moses that He heard the cries of suffering of the Hebrews in bondage in Egypt under a new Pharaoh, and that He had appointed Moses to be the agent of His deliverance, to help God convey the Hebrews to a land flowing with milk and honey (erets zavat chalav). Honey here means date honey, not bee honey.

God tells Moses to appear before the new Pharaoh and plead for Pharaoh to let the Hebrews leave Egypt. In the movie "The Ten Commandments"  the new Pharaoh Rameses is Moses' childhood rival in the Egyptian court. Scripture does not relate this detail. Moses asks God what name (remember that this Torah portion is called shemot or "names". God replies: "I AM THAT I AM". [Exodus 3: 14]. The Hebrew, אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה, could be translated: I was, am and will be what I was, am and will be. Biblical Hebrew only has two verb tenses, the perfect tense and the imperfect tense. The Kabbalists regard this name as the holiest utterable name of God, and associate it with Keter, the Crown, or first sefirah of the Tree of Life, the primordial and cosmic concept of oneness.

He also teaches Moses the Ineffable Name, the Tetragrammaton, and tells Moses to reveal this name to the Hebrews in Egypt. One of the names for God in Hebrew is HaShem, or the Name.

Moses wants proof he can show the Hebrews, and God enchants his shepherd's staff so that it can turn into a snake at Moses' will. I do not know the Masonic significance of this, but it does appear on some Masonic tracing-boards. I own a Wade & Butcher Masonic Straight Razor, most likely manufactured in the 1880s, and it has a Masonic tracing-board etched into the blade, with the staff turning into a snake. Mine is not in as good condition as the one in the photo, but they are the same model:

Please let me know in the comments if you know the Masonic significance of this symbol.

Moses sought and gained his father's leave to return to Egypt with his wife and children. During the journey back to Egypt, something weird happened called the "Bridegroom of Blood".
"And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the Lord met him, and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me. So he let him go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision." [Exodus 4: 24-26].
 It is so weird that the Authorship school of scriptural tradition marks it down as a textual omission.  The traditional interpretation is that God tries to kill Moses, and Zipporah responds by grabbing a flint and circumcising their son, Gershom (or it could be Eliezer). Then she threw the severed foreskin at Moses' feet, and declared, "Surely a bloody husband art thou to me." [Exodus 4: 25]. The term "bloody husband" (chatan dimim) has also been translated as "bridegroom of blood".

It doesn't make much sense, and many scholars are troubled by this passage, especially in its use of pronouns. Who is the "him" that the Lord sought to kill? Which son was circumcised? At whose feet did she throw the foreskin? Who let who go? Why did the Lord want to kill whomever He sought to kill?

God told Aaron to meet Moses his brother in the desert, and they met at Mount Sinai, and embraced and Aaron kissed him, and they shared their stories with each other. They returned to Egypt and gathered the elders of the Hebrews together and announced their plan for liberation, showing the people the miracles God gave them to show them, and won them over. Moses gained an audience with the new Pharaoh, and asked in the name of YHVH to let the Hebrews go, but Pharaoh did not recognize YHVH, and refused. Moses and Aaron warned Pharaoh that plagues would come if they were not liberated, but Pharaoh demanded that they all get back to work.

 As punishment, he ordered that the slaves no longer be given straw for the bricks they were forced to make, but rather to gather the straw themselves, without reducing their quota. These were adobe bricks that required straw to hold them together.

Their foremen were flogged for not making their quota of bricks. In their anger, they blamed Moses and Aaron for their troubles. They consulted God about how His plan was making their lives worse, and God told them to watch His plan unfold, how Pharaoh would be forced to let them go.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Vayechi: Bring my remains back to Israel

In this week's Torah portion, the last in the book of Genesis, the story of Joseph ends, and the story of Moses is set up. In last week's Torah portion, Jacob and his descendants settle in Goshen, in Egypt, to escape the famine that is ravaging the land of Canaan. His son, Joseph, has become the vizier to the Pharaoh, and has invited them to live with him in plenty. Jacob has told his sons upon hearing the news that Joseph is alive that he wanted to see him one last time before he died. Now that they are reconciled, Jacob is ready to give up the ghost.

Upon his deathbed, Jacob asks Joseph to ensure that his remains will be buried in the cave where Abraham and Isaac are buried. Joseph agrees, but Jacob insists that he swear an oath. Joseph brings his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, to be blessed by their grandfather. Jacob adopts them, which is very strange. He tells Joseph that Ephraim and Manasseh are to be considered his sons, rather than Joseph's, and tells him that any further children he has are to be Joseph's, and are to inherit through their older brothers. Joseph places his sons before Jacob in order of their birth, with Manasseh (the older) on Jacob's right, and with Ephraim (the younger) on Jacob's left. But Jacob crosses his hands, giving the blessing of the oldest child to Ephraim. Joseph moves to uncross Jacob's hands, but Jacob insists that the blessings be reversed. He prophesies that Ephraim will become a great nation. This is especially odd because Judges 12: 6 tells us that Israel fought a war against the Ephraimites, and slew 42,000 of them in a single battle.

In any case, Jacob blesses Joseph as well, and tells him that his bones will end up in his ancestral land. Indeed, when Jacob died, the Egyptians embalmed his corpse, and escorted it to the Cave of the Patriarchs at Machpelah where it was buried. Interestingly, Joseph died before his other brothers, and before he died, he asked them to promise to bury him there, too.

On his deathbed, Joseph prophesies to his brothers that at some time in the future, God will lead the children of Israel out of Egypt and back to the land promised to their ancestors, and at that time, they must bring Joseph's remains with them. When he dies, the Egyptians embalm him and place him in a sarcophagus.

My rabbi informed me of a midrash about Serah, the daughter of Asher. Serah is the only granddaughter mentioned among the grandchildren of Jacob in the previous Torah portion [Genesis 46: 17]. Because of the patriarchal nature of society in the time of the Torah, women are rarely mentioned in the Torah, unless they have done something extraordinary, like the daughters of  Zelophehad, Malhah, Noa, Hogia, Milcah and Tizrah, who ask Moses a question about Torah that he cannot answer, forcing him to consult with God in their behalf, creating the first inheritance for women in the Bible. Serah bat Asher is also mentioned in Numbers 26: 46 during the census of those Israelites who will enter the land of Israel after the forty years of wandering, where she would have been over 440 years old. The Talmud tells us that she lived the entire time, and was the one who reminded Moses not to leave Egypt without Joseph's remains:
But whence did Moses know the place where Joseph was buried? — It is related that Serah, daughter of Asher, was a survivor of that generation. Moses went to her and asked: 'Dost thou know where Joseph was buried?' She answered him, 'The Egyptians made a metal coffin for him which they fixed in the river Nile so that its waters should be blessed'. [Babylonian Talmud: Sotah 13a].
The midrash suggests that Serah bat Asher lived before the Israelites went down to Egypt, and lived long enough to leave Egypt with them, and survived the journey and returned to Israel with the tribe of Asher. Taken as a legend, her life provides a marvelous continuity for the children of Israel.

There are lots of stories about Serah bat Asher. One legend suggests that it was she who informed Jacob that Joseph was alive. Fearing upsetting the old man, she composed a tune and played it on the lyre, and inserted the news in the lyrics of her song. Jacob was so moved that he blessed her, and said to her "may you never die." As a result, she lived on the earth for a long time, and like Enoch and Elijah, entered the afterlife while still bodily alive. She was the one who first listened to Moses when he returned to Egypt after witnessing the Burning Bush. A final legend suggests that she departed from the world when the tribe of Asher was exiled from Israel by Shalmaneser V of Assyria during the conquest of Samaria.

It is customary in Torah study, when a student or group of students finishes studying a book of Torah, to say: chazak chazak v'nitchazek. This could be translated as "Be strong! Be strong! And may we be strengthened."
חזק חזק ונתחזק