As we begin the new cycle of the Torah reading I can’t help but feel — for lack of a better phrase — “been there, done that.” I don’t want to hear about sibling rivalry or the patriarchs or matriarchs — has not every story been told? What might be a new takeaway from the looming Book of Bereshit?
Not so fast, jaded Torah scholar. Even the most learned of sages, with some minimal exertion, are able somehow to find a new take on the parashah! With a plethora of books, classes and websites — the sky’s the limit! Virtual learning is at a ridiculous all-time peak! Get thee to a real or cybernetic Beit Midrash — and step on it! Much Torah is waiting for your perusal!
That said, I am here for you. Perhaps you need a little jumpstart to the battery, a gentle defibrillator paddle to the chest, a caffeinated, concentrated dose of Seattle’s best into the system to shock the Torah into you? I offer you a thought-provoking puzzle of a Bible quiz to convince you there is indeed something left for you to learn. Those of you who pride yourself on your Torah acumen — live it up with this contest of lesser-known biblical figures!
Name the obscure character from the Book of Bereshit! Test your knowledge by reading the description and checking at the end for answers. Good luck! May the best Talmid chacham win!
1. In the olden days, before the invention of GPS, folks used to ask people for directions when lost. I am mentioned but once in the Book of Bereshit at an extremely critical moment. If not for me, the Israelites might never have made it down to Egypt, there might never have been 10 plagues, or, for that matter, a Passover!
2. Everyone knows the more prominent person with the same name as me from the Book of Judges — most are shocked to know I am even in the Book of Bereshit. But, indeed, here I am wrapped in a shroud of morbidity. I appear simply to be mourned and buried under the oak tree in Beth-El.
3. Josephus says of me that I “exceeded all men in strength, and was very expert and famous in martial performances... and first of all invented the art of working brass.” Seen as the original forger of bronze and iron, believe it or not I have a Pacific Northwest connection: “Tubal Cain Mine” is the name of an abandoned copper mine in the Buckhorn Wilderness, east of Olympic National Park in the State of Washington.
4. Equipped with a sweet-smelling name, I bore Abraham six sons. Others may have gone west, but as for my sons and me, “Go east” was our instruction. Swirls of legends surround my descendants. Is Abraham the father of the Eastern faiths as well?
5. After “The Four and the Five King War,” I, the “King of Justice” go out to Abraham after the battle to free his nephew Lot and greet him with bread and water. Seen as the archetypical priest, I am gifted with, maser — tithing — a benevolent gesture by Abraham indicating gratitude to the Almighty. Surprise! I get a shout-out in the Book of Psalms. Check it out in Chapter 110.
6. Here, another instance of a name assumed later by a character who becomes way more famous than his namesake. This time, though, I’m of apocryphal fame. Ironically, though, my name sounds very Jewish and very laudatory; I bring only bitterness and disappointment to my in-laws, Rebecca and Isaac.
7. Not Harrison Ford, but indeed “The Fugitive.” I hang tight on a plank hanging from Noah’s Ark. I bring news from the front to Abraham. Reviews in Midrash are mixed as to whether or not I am a good guy or another despicable, lascivious man. The jury is still out on that one.
8. Mother of two of the tribes, I am neither Leah nor Rachel. Daughter of the Potiphera priest of On and married to Joseph, there are those who argue, among them the Midrash in Pirke De Rabbi Eliezer, prepare yourself for this: I am not the daughter of Potiphera, but instead I am the long-lost niece of Joseph, daughter of Dinah. You decide — but first come up with my name!
9. We are the other set of twins in the Book of Bereshit. With Yaacov and Esav grabbing the twin spotlight, we need to get our names out there! We are another case of who came first? Red thread to the rescue. A foreshadowing of the red-thread charm? Who’s to know? But wait, there’s more. How’s this for stigma? Our mother was our father’s daughter-in-law. Ouch!
10. Obviously, I’ve been under the radar quite a bit. But here it goes, confession time: I am the mother of the despised and detested Amalek, he of wipe-them-out-fame. As concubine to Eliphaz, Esav’s son, it is I, as the Talmud reports, a princess seeking to convert, ready to exchange a life of royalty, who was rebuffed by the forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. History must tell the tale of that ignominious slight.
Congratulations to all participants! The rest is commentary…go learn!
1. The Ish — Genesis 37:15.
2. Devorah, Deborah — Genesis 35:8.
3. Tuval Cain — Genesis 4:22.
4. Keturah — Genesis 25:1.
5. Malkitzedek — Genesis 14:18.
6. Yehudit, Judith — Genesis 26:34.
7. HaPalit aka Og the King of Bashan — Genesis. 14:13.
8. Asneth — Genesis 41:45.
9. Peretz and Zerach — Genesis 38:29, 30.
10. Timnah — Genesis 36:12.