Rabbi Dr. Raymond AppleRabbi Dr Raymond Apple AO RFD is Emeritus Rabbi of the Great Synagogue, Sydney. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem, where he publishes OzTorah, a weekly email list and website with Torah insights from an Australian perspective.
Most people would say, “Getting ready for Shabbat”. They’re right. Without proper preparation there can hardly be a Shabbat, just as every other great day has its lead-up. But there is an argument in favour of giving Friday an additional quality as a day important in itself.
Before my father got out of bed in the morning, he made a list of what he had to do that day. It gave his day a structure even though he didn't always achieve everything he had planned.
Using this analogy, let’s think about the days of the week. Everyone should start a week with an agenda. By Thursday night they may still have things undone or unfinished, and that’s where Friday comes in – a day to round off the week and complete its tasks. Not only in temporal terms, but spiritually.
Were there rungs of the spiritual ladder which you wanted to climb this week, mitzvot you hoped to do? Use Friday, and use it well.
INSIGHTS ON THIS WEEK'S TORAH READING:
BOWING ON THE HEAD OF THE BED:
As Jacob’s last moments approached, “he bowed upon the head of the bed” (Gen. 47:21).
Some commentators focus all their attention on the words, “head of the bed”: Rashbam, for example, says it simply indicates where Jacob was lying. The Septuagint changes mittah (bed) to matteh (staff), but this is unjustifiable and most scholars reject it.
The clue probably resides in the words “he bowed”, which Rashi takes metaphorically: “He turned to the Divine Presence”. From this the sages deduce that God is above the pillow of a sick person (Shab. 12b).
Others (e.g. Ibn Ezra) suggest that Jacob was showing deference to Joseph, not necessarily because his beloved son was the Egyptian viceroy, but because temptation had not turned him away from righteousness. Jacob realised how easy it was to compromise one’s standards because he himself had faced the same problem whilst living in Laban’s house, hence the rabbinic rhyme, Im Lavan garti, v’taryag mitzvot shamarti – “I lived with Laban, but (still) I kept the commandments”.
JOSEPH & THE EMBALMING
B’reshit ends with the death of Joseph. His body is embalmed and put in a coffin (Gen. 50:26). Generations later, say the sages, this enables the Israelites to find Joseph’s remains and take them back to the land of Canaan for burial.
In other cases embalming was performed as a routine Egyptian practice, but in relation to Joseph it was done to keep the body in a fit state to be able to be carried up to the Holy Land. A similar comment is made concerning the earlier embalming of Joseph’s father Jacob (Gen. 50:2), which was also done in order to preserve the patriarch’s remains so they could be brought to the Cave of Machpelah for burial.
These rabbinic explanations reflect the difficulty our ancestors had with the impropriety they associated with the methods of embalming. Later halachic thinking severely restricted the occasions when embalming could be performed. The occasional need to take a body for burial a long way away, e.g. in Israel, is recognised. But there must be no nivvul ha-met, desecration of the dead, e.g. by means of incisions over the major arteries or removal of the blood from the body.
All the more so must so-called cosmetic procedures be avoided, e.g. injecting a coloured dye, adding rouge to the face or puffing out the cheeks. The halakhah requires rabbinic approval in every case (see F. Rosner and M. D. Tendler, Practical Medical Halacha, 1980, p. 70).