Thoughts on Parashat Vayeishev

This week’s parasha, Vayeishev, Genesis 37.1 – 40.23,[i] begins a narrative that will span the next three weeks, as we watch Jacob returning home, hoping to find rest as he “dwelled in the land where his father had sojourned” (37.1). Rabbi Pinchas H. Peli notes,

Jacob, at last, after years of wandering, hardships and conflicts, comes back to Canaan, the land of his fathers. He is now dominated by a desire to settle down and live peaceably surrounded by his family, children and grandchildren. He is well-to-do and respected. Even Esau is convinced that is better to have Jacob as a good neighbor, than as an enemy: they work out an arrangement for co-existence in the area.[ii]

But Jacob’s life was anything but settled. In 37.14, Jacob sends Joseph to his brothers in Hebron which begins Joseph’s journey from lowly shepherd, favored son and hated brother to prince of Egypt and family deliverer. In the narrative we see some of the hints about Joseph and his relationship in the family. First there is the statement, “These are the genealogies of Jacob. When Joseph was 17 years old (he was a youth) …” (37.2) and the eleventh son in birth order. Immediately, those reading the narrative realize that there is a special relationship between Jacob and Joseph. Instead of listing the full genealogy as with Esau in the previous chapter, only Joseph is mentioned. Then, there is the side note “he was a youth,” which Rashi, drawing on Genesis Rabbah 84.7 says, “he behaved childishly, fixing his hair and touching up his eyes so he would appear handsome.”[iii] Possibly a little vain in his youth, maybe even narcissistic. Jacob did not help matters in that he gifted his son with “a long-sleeved tunic,” possibly richly embroidered that served to set Joseph further apart from his brothers. Joseph did not help his relationship with his siblings from Bilhah and Zilphah, as he took it upon himself to “tattle to dad” about them (cf. 37.2), even if what he was saying was true. Finally, the dreams were just too much – even to the point of shaking his father’s resolve

Then his father rebuked him and said to him, “What’s this dream you dreamed? Will we really come—your mother and I with your brothers—to bow down to the ground to you?” So his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the speech in mind. (37.10-11)

Let’s return now to 37.14, Joseph was sent by his father to check on his older brothers. Jacob’s charge was to check on their welfare, but Joseph’s track record as a tale-barer and “daddy’s favorite” was just too much for his brothers to handle. You know the rest of the story, Joseph’s sundry trials, his brothers’ deception and Jacob’s heartache. All of this could have been avoided had Jacob not played favorites – possibly a trait he inherited from his parents – Isaac loved Esau, Rebekah loved Jacob. Perhaps as the Proverb says, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but a rod of discipline will drive it far from him” (Proverbs 22.15). Malbim suggests that the “rod of discipline” is “corrective education.”[iv]This admonishing follows on an earlier charge, “Train up a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not turn from it” (22.6). It was Jacob’s responsibility to train Joseph as well as his other sons and daughters. By apparently not doing so, he was robbed of the peace and tranquility that he could have had. On the other hand, the LORD provided Joseph with “corrective education” though his years of servitude and imprisonment.

The beginning of the Haftarah, Amos 2:6 – 3:8, ties mnemonically to Vayeishev as one of the three or four things that will bring about the judgement and discipline of the LORD – “For they sell the righteous for silver” (2.6, TLV and closest to the Hebrew). The Chabad translation, however, reads, “For selling an innocent man for money.” Either way, Joseph did not deserve the treatment he received from his brothers any more than the LORD deserved the treatment He received from Israel in turning their back upon His mitzvot. The passage ends with another connection to Joseph

For the Lord ADONAI, will do nothing, unless He has revealed His counsel to His servants the prophets. (3.7)

Even before Pharaoh’s dreams, Hashem showed Joseph his future position. In his youthful mindset he did not fully understand the dreams, but years later the reality of those dreams came to fruition. There have probably been times in all of our lives when we felt the LORD speak and we had a vision or a calling that we felt was from the Ruach. Sometimes the fruition or realization of that vision or calling comes quickly. However, more often than not, there is a time of preparation – sometimes years with seemingly no results. Our responsibility, like Joseph’s is to hold on to what we know was from the LORD and wait for it’s coming. In his short commentary, Solomon Colodner notes three attributes of which Joseph never let go,

Bitahon (trust) Throughout the trials of slavery and imprisonment, Joseph never lost his trust in God and a better future. The Hebrew word Emunah, (faith) is related to Emet, (truth). Trust a is vital prerequisite in any close relationship.[v]

Trust, faith, and truth must be the cornerstones of our lives as well. Rav Shaul told the believers at Philippi, “I am sure of this very thing—that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the Day of Messiah Yeshua” (Philippians 1.6). The writer of the discourse to the Hebrews continues with “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of realities not seen” (Hebrews 11.1). Faith in the Word of the LORD, whether we “see” its outworking or not. And in one of His last prayers to the Father, Yeshua praying for His followers requested, “Make them holy in the truth. Your word is truth” (John 17.17). We do not stand on our word or the word of the world – we stand on the truth of word of Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

[ii] Peli, Pinchas H., Torah Today: A Renewed Encounter with Scripture, Washington DC: B’nai B’rith Books, 1987, p 37.

[iii] (on 37.2)

[iv] Wengrov, Charles., Malbim on Mishley: The Commentary of Rabbi Meir Leibush Malbim in the Book of Proverbs, New York: Feldheim, 1982, p 232

[v] Colodner, Solomon., Concepts and Values, New York: Shengold Publishers, Inc. 1968, p 29.

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Michael Hillel with his wife Vered and their three children, made aliyah from the US in late 80s, and in biblical fashion has, for the last 27 years, done whatever his hands have found to do. In 2013 Michael began working on a MA degree in Messianic Jewish Theology. Using the tools learned from his studies, he has been writing teaching and devotional materials from both the Tanakh and Apostolic Writings. Since Messianic Judaism shares a communal context with both Judaism and Christianity, he incorporates material from both traditionally Jewish and Christian perspectives.