Commentary on Parashat Vayeshev, Genesis 37:1 - 40:23
These are the descendants of Jacob. Joseph was 17 and a shepherd watching sheep with his brothers. In an evil manner, Joseph reported his brothers’ idle talk to his father. But Jacob loved Joseph more than all his other sons and made him an embroidered coat. When the brothers saw that their father loved Joseph more, they hated him.
Joseph dreamed a dream. The brothers did not want to hear the dream and hated him even more. But Joseph said to them, “Please listen to this dream. We’re piling up wheat in the middle of the field and my wheat pile arose and stood upright and your wheat piles formed a circle around me and bowed down.”
“Are you to become king over us,” asked the brothers hatefully, “or perhaps do you rule over us already?”
Then Joseph dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and father. “The sun and the moon and 11 stars bowed down to me,” he said. His father rebuked him, “What kind of dream is this? Shall I, your mother and your brothers come to bow to the ground before you?” His brothers now envied him and his father kept the matter in mind.
The Brothers Plot Against Joseph
The brothers went to tend to their father’s sheep. Later, Jacob sent Joseph to check on them. He found his brothers, but as he approached, they imagined Joseph plotting against them and believed that he deserved to die.
They said to one another. “Behold, here comes the master of dreams. Come let us kill him, let us throw him into one of the pits and say that a wild beast ate him. Then we shall see what becomes of his dreams.”
Reuben, the eldest son, heard this and rescued Joseph from their hands. Reuben said, “Do not spill any blood, throw him into this pit but do not lay a hand on him.” Reuben left planning to return later and bring Joseph back to their father.
The brothers seized Joseph, taking his coat and throwing him into the empty, waterless pit. Suddenly, a caravan of Yishmaelites came on the horizon. They were going to Egypt.
So Yehudah says to the others. “Hey, let’s sell him. After all, he is our brother, our own flesh.” For twenty pieces of silver, Joseph was sold to the caravan going to Egypt.
When Reuben returned and saw Joseph was gone, he tore his clothes in mourning. Then they decided to slaughter a goat and dip Joseph’s coat in the blood. They returned home and Jacob recognized Joseph’s coat immediately. He tore his clothes in mourning as he learned of the wild beast tearing his son apart. Everyone tried to console Jacob but he refused to accept consolation, saying, “For I will go down to my son, mourning, into the grave.” And so, his father wept for him.
Meanwhile, Joseph was now sold to Potiphar, the chief of the cooks for the Egyptian Pharaoh.
Yehudah & Tamar
Yehudah, who had had the idea to sell Joseph, removed himself from his brothers and married in another land. He became a father to many children. His first-born son, Er, married a woman whose name was Tamar.
But, Er was evil in the eyes of God and God caused him to die. The second son was also displeasing in the eyes of God and God caused him to die. Yehudah then decided Tamar would stay with them and he would give her his youngest son in marriage. When Yehudah does not follow through on his promise, Tamar goes out one night dressed like a widow. She sat waiting for Yehudah to come home from shearing sheep.
Mistaking Tamar for a prostitute rather than his daughter-in-law, Yehudah is intimate with Tamar and she conceives their child. Later Yehudah finds out that his daughter-in-law Tamar has prostituted herself and become pregnant. He orders her to be burned (not realizing that she is the prostitute with whom he was intimate) until she shows him the gifts that he had given her. Yehudah recognizes them saying, “Tamar is more righteous than I because I did not give her my youngest son as I had promised.” Yehudah did not ever become intimate with Tamar again, but there were twins in her womb.
Joseph The Interpreter
In Egypt, Joseph was flourishing, with God’s help, under Potiphar. He became Potiphar’s personal servant and overseer of his property. Then Potiphar’s wife sought to be intimate with Joseph. Joseph refused, saying “How can I possibly commit such a great wickedness against Potiphar and a sin against God?”
In response, Potiphar’s wife blamed Joseph for trying to seduce her. Potiphar was livid to hear such news and cast Joseph into the Pharaoh’s dungeon. But God was with Joseph and caused Joseph to find favor in the eyes of the chief of the prison.
The chief of the prison selected Joseph to oversee all the other prisoners, for it was known that God was with Joseph and that whatever Joseph did, God caused it to succeed.
Then the Pharaoh’s butler and baker were sentenced to the jail where Joseph was the overseer. They both dreamed one night. The next morning Joseph could see they were troubled. They told him that they each had vivid dreams and were seeking an interpreter.
“Do not interpretations belong to God?” said Joseph. “Please tell it to me.”
The chief butler went first. “I had three vines which bloomed into cluster of ripe grapes. I pressed the grapes into the Pharaoh’s cup and gave it to him.”
“Your job as butler will be restored in three days,” interpreted Joseph. “Now please remember me to the Pharaoh if this comes true, so I shall get out of jail. I am innocent.”
Then the baker told his dream. “There are three baskets of all kinds of baked foods and the birds ate them out of the basket on my head.”
“The three baskets equal three days,” interpreted Joseph. “In three days, the Pharaoh will hang you and the birds will eat your flesh.”
It came to pass on Pharaoh’s birthday that he made a feast for all his servants, including the baker and the butler. The Pharaoh restored the chief of butlers, but the chief of bakers was hung as Joseph predicted. However, the chief of the butlers did not remember Joseph and forgot him.
Parashat Vayeshev Discussion Questions
1. The text tells us that Joseph’s brothers hate him. What does it mean “to hate?” Do you hate anyone? Is it possible to love and hate someone at the same time?
2. Do you agree with Joseph that “dream interpretations belong to God”? Why or why not?
3. What is God’s role in the dreams in this Torah portion? What is God’s role in your dreams?
Reprinted with permission from Jewish Family & Life!
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.