This weeks Parsha, Parashat Vayeshev (
he dwelled), focuses on Jacob and his sons, and in particular, on Joseph and his compelling journey with his eleven brothers. The Parsha begins with Jacob settling in the land of Canaan-
The Parsha comments,
These are the generations of Jacob (37:2) and then immediately begins telling the story of Joseph and his relationship with his family. In other words, the description of Jacobs heritage begins with a description of Jacobs son, Joseph, and the boys actions at the age of seventeen.
The Torah describes Joseph as a young shepherd who would bring back negative reports to his father regarding certain brothers. The Torah also tells us that Jacob, now called Israel, loved Joseph more than the rest of his sons, because Joseph was born in Israels old age and Israel made Joseph an intricate wool coat, And when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him (37:4).
At this time, Joseph dreams a dream and shares it with his brothers. In the dream, Joseph dreams that he and his brother are binding sheaves in field. Suddenly, Josephs sheaf rises and stands upright and all the sheaves of his brothers gather around his sheaf and bows down to it. Upon hearing the content of his dream, the brothers ask him-
You rule over us like a king and govern us? And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words (37:8).
Joseph dreams yet another dream and relates it to his father and to his brothers. In this second dream, Joseph dreams that the sun, the moon, and eleven stars bowed down to him. When Joseph relates the content of this second dream, Israel rebukes Joseph saying,
What is this dream you have dreamt? Will I, your mother and your brothers bow to the floor to you? And his brothers envied him but his father kept the thing in mind (37:10-11).
Josephs brothers then go to Shechem to feed their fathers flock of sheep. Israel sends Joseph to Shechem to check on his brothers and on the sheep and to return with word. Joseph finds a man straying in the field and the man asks him what he is searching (Rashi comments that this was the angel, Gabriel). Joseph inquires as to the whereabouts of his brothers and the man tells him that he overheard them saying they should travel to Dothan.
The brothers spot Joseph from afar and plot to kill him. They plan to throw him into a pit and claim that a wild beast has devoured him,-
And we will see what becomes of his dream (37:20).
Reuben overhears their plan and urges them not to spill any blood, but instead to put him into a specific pit and not cause him harm, so that he could return later, retrieve Joseph from the pit and return him to their father.
When Joseph reaches his brothers, they strip his fine wool coat from him, take and throw him to a pit, and the pit was empty, there was no water in it (37:24).
The brothers then sit down to eat, and they see a caravan of Ishmaelites approaching from Gilead, on the way to Egypt, with camels laden with spices and balm and ladanum.
Judah says to his brothers,
What is our gain to kill our brother and cover it up? Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother, our flesh (37:27). The brothers agree and lift Joseph from the pit and sell him to passing Midianites for twenty silver coins. When Reuben returns to the pit and finds Joseph missing, he rips his garments in mourning and tells his brothers,
The boy is gone. And where shall I go?
The brothers take Josephs coat, slaughter a goat and dip the goat in the kid goats blood. They bring the coat to their father and ask him to acknowledge that it is Josephs. And he knew it, and said,
It is my sons coat; an evil beast hath devoured him; Joseph has been torn to pieces (37:33).
Jacob tears his garments, puts sackcloth on his loins, and mourns for his son many days (37:34). Although his family attempt to console him, Jacob refuses to be comforted, saying,
No, but I will descend to the grave mourning my son (37:35). Meanwhile, the Midianites had sold Joseph into Egypt unto Potiphar, an officer of Pharaohs, the captain of the guard.
The Parsha then relates the story of Tamar and Judah. Judah marries Shua, a Canaanite woman, and they bear three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah. Er marries Tamar and Er was wicked in the sight of the L-rd; and the L-rd slew him (38:7). Onan refuses to marry Tamar and perform the duty of a husbands brother unto her (38:8) and the thing which he did was evil in the sight of the L-rd; and He slew him also (38:10). Judah tells his daughter-in-law to stay as a widow in her fathers house until his youngest son is old enough to marry her and Tamar went and lived in her fathers house. Judahs wife passes away, and Judah was comforted and went up unto his sheep-shearers to Timnah, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite (38:12). Tamar hears that her father-in-law was going up to Timnah and she disguises herself and waits for Judah at the entrance of Enaim, for she saw that Shelah was grown up, and she was not given to him as a wife (38:14).
Judah does not recognize his daughter-in-law and mistakes her for a harlot. Disguised, Tamar asks Judah to give her his seal, his cord and his staff as a pledge and he comes to her and she conceives. Tamar then leaves and Judah sends his friend to retrieve his belongings from the harlot, but the people of the place tell him,
There has been no harlot here (38: 21).
Three months later, when Judah hears that Tamar is pregnant, he demands that she be executed for prostitution. When she is brought out, however, Tamar sends a message to Judah asking him to identify his belongings, saying,
I am pregnant by the man who owns these (38:25). Judah is forced to acknowledge his possessions, and admits,
She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her Shelah my son. (38:26). Tamar gives birth to twin boys, Perez and Zerah.
The Parsha then returns to the story of Joseph and his experience in Egypt. G-d is with Joseph and Joseph becomes very successful. Potiphar realizes that God is with Joseph in all his doings, and Joseph finds favor in Potiphars eyes. Potiphar appoints Joseph over his household and all that was his and from the time Joseph is appointed, G-d blesses the whole house of Potiphar on behalf on Joseph. Joseph is described as handsome in form and an in appearance. Potiphars wife casts her eyes upon Joseph and she says to him,
Lie with me (39:8) but Joseph refuses, saying
How can I commit this evil act and sin against my G-d? (39:9)
Potiphars wife continues speaking to Joseph day after day, but Joseph refuses to listen and to be with her. One day, Joseph enters the house to work and finds no one in the house. It is then that Potiphars wife catches hold of his garment, and urges him again,
Lie with me (39:12). Joseph flees from her clutches, leaving his garment in her hand. Potiphars wife sees this and uses the opportunity to call to to the people of her house, telling them
Look, this Hebrew man was brought to make a mockery of us, he came to lie with me, but I cried out with a loud voice. When he heard that I raised my voice, he left his garment with me and he ran away outside. (39:14-39:15) She tells Potiphar a similar account and Potiphar flares up in anger, and puts Joseph in the jail where the kings prisoners were held.
G-d is with Joseph even in jail, and Joseph finds favor in the wardens eyes. The warden places everything in Josephs hand, and whatever Joseph does, he is successful.
It so happened that at that time, the butler of the king of Egypt and his baker for the king offend the king and he places them in the same jail as Joseph. Each of the two men dream a separate dream on the same night, each man according to the interpretation of his dream, the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were bound in the prison (40:5). In the morning, the two appear troubled and Joseph asks them why. They reply that they dreamt a dream but they do not have an interpreter to interpret it. Joseph replies to them,
Do interpretations not belong to God? (40:8) and asks them to relate the dream to him.
The butler explains his dream first, describing, There is a grapevine in front of me, and on this vine were three branches, and as it was budding, its clusters then grew into ripe grapes. And Pharaohs cup was in my hand; and I took the grapes, and pressed them into Pharaohs cup, and I gave the cup into Pharaohs hand (40:9-11).
Joseph tells the butler that the three branches represent three days, and that in three days, Pharaoh will life up the butlers head and return him to his old post and the butler will give Pharaohs cup into his hand, just as he used to do before he was placed in jail. Joseph then tells the butler to remember him and to mention him to Pharaoh so he can leave jail,
For indeed I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews; and here also have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon (40:15).
When the baker saw that Joseph had interpreted the butlers dream correctly, and the baker tells Joseph his dream: Three wicker baskets were on my head, In the top basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head. (40:16-17).
Joseph replies that the three baskets represent three days, and that in three days, Pharaoh will lift his head up from off of him and will hang him on a tree, and the birds will eat the flesh from him.
On the third day, which was Pharaohs birthday, Pharaoh makes a feast for all his servants. He restores the butler to his original post and the butler places the cup on Pharaohs palm. And the baker he hangs, just as Joseph had interpreted. And the butler does not remember Joseph, he forgets.
And Reuben said unto them: Shed no blood; cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, but lay no hand upon him--that he might deliver him out of their hand, to restore him to his father (37:22).
What were Reubens motives here?
Reuben was the true first born, the first son of Leah and Israel. His plan was to rescue Joseph and return him peacefully to his father, thereby winning over his fathers love. Just as Israel and Esau fought over the birthright, so did Reuben and Joseph struggle to capture their fathers love.
The word ישראל (Israel in Hebrew) contains all the first initials of our forefathers and mothers:
י (Yud): Yitzchak, Yaakov
ש (Shin): Sara
ר (Reish): Rachel
א (Alef): Abraham
ל (Lamed): Leah
וילכו אחיו לרעות את צאן אביהם בשכם
And his brothers went to feed their fathers flock in Shechem (37:12)
Which brothers wanted to kill Joseph?
It was Simeon and Levi because they were prone to violence after dealing with Shechem and his violation of Dinah. Because they were in the same city, the same feelings arose.
והבור רק אין בו מים
And the pit was empty, there was no water in it (37:24).
Rashi ask the question: Why was it necessary for the Torah to write there was no water in it. If the pit was empty, of course there was no water in it!
Rashi answers that there was no water in it, but there were snakes and scorpions in it.
ויקחו את כתנת יוסף וישחטו שעיר עזים ויטבלו את הכתנת בדם
And they took Josephs coat, and killed a he-goat, and dipped the coat in the blood(37:31)
Just like Jacob tricked his father, Isaac, with animal skins when disguising himself as Esau, the brothers trick Israel with animal skin.