Joseph: Technicolor Tzadik?

The complex character of Joseph raises questions about what it means to be righteous.

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Provided by Hillel’s Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning, which creates educational resources for Jewish organizations on college campuses.

The made-for-stage story of Joseph begins with this week's parashah, Vayeshev, and will continue for the next four weeks until the end of the book of Bereshit, Genesis.

From the outset of the parashah it is clear that Jacob favors Joseph among his ten sons, giving him the infamous "ktonet pasim," the coat of many colors, or ornamented tunic. This preferential treatment, as well as Joseph's penchant for sharing egocentric dreams, angers his brothers. The brothers react harshly, selling poor Joseph into Egyptian slavery. In Egypt, Joseph demonstrates surprisingly strong character by resisting the lurid designs of his boss's wife.

2 ...At seventeen years of age, Joseph tended the flocks with his brothers, as a helper to the sons of his father's wives Bilhah and Zilpah. And Joseph brought bad reports of them to their father. 3. Now Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age; and he had made him an ornamented tunic. 4. And when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of his brothers, they hated him so that they could not speak a friendly word to him.

5. Once Joseph had a dream which he told to his brothers; and they hated him even more. 6. He said to them, "Hear this dream which I have dreamed: 7. There we were binding sheaves in the field, when suddenly my sheaf stood up and remained upright; then your sheaves gathered around and bowed low to my sheaf." 8. His brothers answered, "Do you mean to reign over us? Do you mean to rule over us?" And they hated him even more for his talk about his dreams.

9. He dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers, saying, "Look, I have had another dream: And this time, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me." 10. And when he told it to his father and brothers, his father berated him. "What," he said to him, "is this dream that you have dreamed? Are we to come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow low to you to the ground?" 11. So his brothers were wrought up at him, and his father kept the matter in mind.

Your Torah Navigator

1. Do you believe that Joseph understood that the two causes of enmity against him--namely, his tendency to tattle on his brothers and receiving Jacob's favoritism--might lead to jealousy and disdain on the part of his brothers? If so, what do you think motivated him to still reveal his dreams to his brothers?
2. Based on these opening lines describing young Joseph, do you feel that his tribe should later merit the title "HaTzadik," or righteous?

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Rabbi Sharon Mars

Rabbi Sharon Mars is Northeast Community Program Coordinator and Jewish Educator at the Columbus, OH JCC. Previously she was the Campus Rabbi at NC Hillel.