Commentary on Parashat Vayeshev, Genesis 37:1 - 40:23
Commentary on Parshat Vayeshev, Genesis 37:1-40:23
Provided by the Union for Reform Judaism, the central body of Reform Judaism in North America.
- Jacob shows favor to his son Joseph, whom the other brothers resent. Joseph has dreams of grandeur. (Genesis 37:1-11)
- After Joseph’s brothers have gone to tend the flocks in Shechem, Jacob sends Joseph to report on them. The brothers decide against murdering Joseph but instead sell him into slavery. After he is shown Joseph’s coat of many colors, which has been dipped in the blood of a kid, Jacob is led to believe that Joseph has been killed by a beast. (Genesis 37:12-35)
- Tamar successively marries two of Judah’s sons, each of whom dies. Judah does not permit her levirate marriage to his youngest son. She deceives Judah into impregnating her. (Genesis 38:1-30)
- God is with Joseph in Egypt until the wife of his master, Potiphar, accuses him of rape, whereupon Joseph is imprisoned. (Genesis 39:1-40:23)
“Look, I [Joseph] have had another dream: And this time, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” And when he told it to his father [Jacob] and brothers, his father berated him. “What,” Jacob said to him, “is this dream you have dreamed? Are we to come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow low to you to the ground?” So his brothers were wrought up at him, and his father kept the matter in mind.” (Genesis 37:9-11)
What does Joseph’s dream tell you about God’s plan?
What does the manner in which Joseph relates the dream tell us about him?
Right after this episode, Jacob sends Joseph, his most beloved son, on a distant mission to report back about his brothers. Jacob knew that the other brothers were jealous of Joseph. Why then do you think that Jacob put his son in harm’s way?
Jacob was aware of the tension that Joseph’s dreams created in the family. What do you think the text is implying by stating that Jacob “kept the matter in mind”? (Genesis 37:11)
Joseph’s mother, Rachel, had died giving birth to his brother Benjamin, yet Jacob says “I and your mother” when referring to Joseph’s dream. What do you make of this?
By the Way…
“His father kept the matter in mind.” R. Levi said: He [Jacob] took a pen and recorded the day, the hour, and the place. R. Hiyya interpreted: And his [Joseph’s] brethren envied him; but Jacob’s [Heavenly] Father–the Divine Spirit–bade him, “Keep the matter in mind [because the matter will be fulfilled].” R. Levi said in the name of R. Hama b. R. Hanina: Jacob did indeed foresee these events impending. Said Jacob, “If my ledger has been scrutinized, what can I do?” (Genesis Rabbah 84:12)
“There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries and has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what is to be at the end of days…. O king, the thoughts that came to your mind in your bed are about future events. The One who reveals mysteries has let you know what is to happen.” (Daniel 2:28-29)
The meaning of the expression, “What is this dream you have dreamed?” is the same as “What is man that You are mindful of him?” (Psalms 144:3) (Nachmanides, Commentary on the Torah, Genesis 37:11)
What are we, that You are mindful of us? What are we, that You should care for us? (Gates of Prayer, p. 147)
A person dreams at night that which he thinks about during the day. (Talmud, B’rachot 55b)
Days are like scrolls: Write on them only what you want remembered. (Bachya ibn Pakuda in Gates of Repentance, p. 233)
Genesis Rabbah implies that Jacob’s note taking was divinely inspired. Do you agree?
In Genesis Rabbah, R. Levi suggests that Jacob not only recognized something noteworthy about Joseph’s dream, he also acted upon it: By writing the incident down, he committed it to memory. Do you have any mental pictures of moments in your life that you have made a point of remembering?
According to Daniel, there are many mysteries that God reveals to us if we are mindful of them. What are some of the ways in which we can be more mindful of the world around us? How does one “see” sanctity?
Psalm 144 (and the adaptation of it in Gates of Prayer) states that God is mindful of us. Does this mean that our actions are incorporated into God’s decisions about our future?
Compare and contrast Jacob’s question in Genesis 37:11 to Psalm 144:3. Why do you think that Nachmanides compared them to one another?
If dreams are hints of the future and what we think about affects our dreams (according to Talmud, B’rachot), do you believe that what we think about also affects our future?
If days are the scrolls of our lives as Bachya ibn Pakuda states, how can we make them a “good read?”
What can you recite from memory? How do these sayings, songs, stories, or psalms affect the way you see the world? How do they affect your actions?
Do you know people who have memorized certain prayers of our faith, such as Psalm 23? Has this helped them in times of need?
That which we are mindful of becomes a part of us: We view the world through such filters. When we see the world in a certain way, we act accordingly, and through our actions, the world actually changes.
Rather than allowing our minds to be filled with whatever bombards us, we should choose to be like Jacob, who sought to record words and moments of transcendence. Although he couldn’t foresee how the divine plan would unfold, he was keenly aware that it was being acted out around him and that he and his family were central to it.
Our prayer book and worship services offer us the opportunity to be mindful of words that evoke the sense of a world imbued with God’s Presence. They help us experience many more mindful moments.
Here are some prayerful thoughts from Gates of Prayer. If we choose to be mindful of words such as these, we can change our own lives and, by extension, the world.
With compassion God gives light to the earth and all who dwell there; with goodness God renews the work of creation continually, day by day. (p. 301)
Help us to become co-workers with You, and endow our fleeting days with abiding worth. (p. 193)
Let not the tears that must come to every eye blind us to Your goodness. (p. 333)
Pray as if everything depended on God; act as if everything depended on you. (p.157).
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Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.