Weekly Reading Insights

VaYeshev 5763

Overview of the Weekly Reading: Vayeshev, First Day of Chanukah
To be read on 25 Kislev 5763 (Nov.30)

Torah: Gen. 37:1-40:23;
Haftorah: Zacharia 2:14-4:7 (for Chanukah, describing the Temple menorah)
Mevarchin Chodesh (the New Month Blessing)

Stats:Vayeshev, 9th out of 12 in Genesis, contains 0 positive mitzvot and 0 prohibitive mitzvot.
It is written on 190 lines in a parchment Torah scroll, 28th out of 54 in overall length.

Vayeshev describes how Yosef shepherded with his brothers and brought bad reports of them to Yaacov. Yosef was Yaacov's favorite son, to whom he gave a colorful coat, but this favoritism bred jealousy towards Yosef. By reporting in detail two dreams he had, Yosef provoked even more jealousy. One day, the brothers went to shepherd in Shechem, and Yaacov asked Yosef to go to them. Seeing Yosef approach, the brothers plot to kill the 'dreamer'. Reuven stopped them and suggested throwing Yosef into a pit instead, in the secret hope of saving Yosef later. After removing his coat, the brothers threw Yosef into the pit. In Reuven's absence the remaining brothers sold Yosef to merchants who were on their way to Egypt.

To hide their deed, the brothers dipped Yosef's coat in goat blood. Believing his son killed by wild animals, Yaacov grieved inconsolably. Yosef was sold to Potifar, captain of Pharaoh's guard. Meanwhile, Yehuda married and had three sons, Er, Onan, and Shela. Er married Tamar. When Er died in consequence of a sin, Yehuda told Onan to marry Tamar and have a child to carry on Er's name. Onan died as well due to his sins. Yehuda was reluctant to let her marry his third son. When Yehuda went to shear sheep, Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute and became pregnant from Yehuda. As payment to the 'prostitute' he doesn't recognize, Yehuda promised a goat, and as collateral gave her his seal, wrap, and staff. Sentenced to death for unlawful pregnancy, Tamar sent Yehuda his seal, wrap and staff, hinting to her innocence but protecting him from embarrassment. Yehuda declared Tamar's righteousness. Tamar gave birth to twin boys, Peretz and Zerach.

In Egypt, Yosef became manager of Potifar's house, but attracted the attention of Potifar's wife. Because Yosef evaded her advances, she became angry and accused Yosef of trying to rape her. Yosef was subsequently imprisoned. He became the supervisor of the other prisoners. Pharaoh's butler and baker were imprisoned in the same dungeon. Each dreamt a dream which Yosef interpreted correctly: The baker was to be sentenced to death, but the butler would be returned to his position. Yosef asked the butler to mention him to Pharaoh, hoping this would free him. Yet when the butler was released, he forgot his promise to Yosef.

FROM THE CHASSIDIC REBBES (V:09-63 VaYeshev, Chanukah )


"There has been no harlot here." (38:21)

No element of impropriety surrounded the birth of Peretz and Zerach; the entire incident was all part of the Divine plan that would lead to the birth of Moshiach, who will be a descendant of Judah. The reason for the circuitous and concealed manner in which this came about was solely to divert the attention of the Satan.

(Rabbi Meir of Premishlan)


The proper time to light the Chanuka menora is "when the sun goes down," when night begins to descend upon the earth. For a Jew is never to fear darkness, even a spiritual one, as even a little light of Torah and mitzvot dispels much gloominess. Likutei Sichot (from L'Chaim #247) The Eighth Day of Chanukah is a spiritual culmination. The number "seven" relates to the normal cycle of events within nature. "Eight" has a connotation of higher than nature. On the other days, our effort to overcome darkness with light is only partial. On the eighth and final day, however, we kindle all the lights. It is when all of the energy of the previous seven days comes to a focus. We go all out. We live Chanukah. On this day, we can internalize Chanukah's lesson better than on any of the others: never surrender, even to an enemy who appears stronger. Through this process, we draw the strength to light up the darkness throughout the rest of the year.

(Lubavitcher Rebbe)



Selected with permission and adapted from the three-volume English edition of
Shney Luchot HaBrit -- the Sh'lah, as translated, condensed, and annotated by Eliyahu Munk.
Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (1565-1630), known as the 'Sh'lah' - an acronym of the title, was born in Prague. A scholar of outstanding reputation, he served as chief Rabbi of Cracow, and more famously, of Frankfort (1610-1620). After his first wife passed away, he remarried and moved to Israel in 1621, where he became the first Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Jerusalem. He later moved to Tiberias, where he is buried, near the tomb of the Rambam.

The Torah reports Joseph as being 17 years old. This number was not reported without good reason. We have explained how Jacob in his capacity of representing the emanation tiferet, which is the “home” of the four-letter Ineffable Name, embodies that name, and how in particular the letter vav in that four-lettered-Name alludes to Jacob. We have also described Joseph as a miniature dimension of that letter vav, and how Joseph too serves as a kind of vehicle for G-d’s Name in a “miniature” way. That “miniature” is the mystical dimension of what we call “mispar katan,” i.e. numerical values arrived at by omission of all digits “0.” [Thus, the numerical value of the letter yud would be 1, instead of 10, due to dropping the zero.) The mispar katan of the four-letter Name amounts to 17 (yud=1;+ hei=5; + vov=6; + hei=5; totaling 17). A way of remembering this is the verse: hodu l’Hashem ki tov, “praise G-d for He is good”; the numerical value of tov is 17. This is why the Torah reports Joseph’s age when he was 17.

Chanukah in Kabbala

An essay from Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent

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(W:09-63 VaYeshev)

In connection with the 19th of Kislev, the day of the first Lubavitcher (the Alter) Rebbe's liberation from prison, the following is a concept he wrote about his teacher, the Maggid of Mezritch, whose yartzeit is the same day: "It would often happen that my teacher would verbally express an idea, and although it could be heard, would not be understood by the casual listener. It was as though he was speaking to himself. The reason for this is that spiritually positive ideas enter the world from very high and pure spiritual levels. The purpose of my teacher's unintelligible talk was to allow that particular concept to enter the world in a revealed way.

By expressing those words, even just the letters of the phrases, my teacher was drawing them into this plane and allowing them to be absorbed and expressed by others, even by someone on the other side of the world. When that other person would make an effort, in Torah study and prayer, his mind would open up, allowing him to capture this idea that my teacher had drawn down. Were it not the case that my teacher would have drawn this idea into the world, no matter how hard someone would try, he would never be able to grasp that holy idea, because the idea was still in Heaven. This is why his speech was not always understood, because it did not really apply to the listeners."

One of the commandments in the Torah (and the Noahide laws) is the prohibition to eat a limb from a living animal. In this week's Torah portion, this is one of the sins Yosef told his father that his brothers performed, consequently causing his brothers to hate him (see Rashi 37/2). Our tradition teaches that our forefathers followed all of the Torah laws even before it was given to the Jewish People on Mt. Sinai. Yet there is a question if a person could be considered actually Jewish before this. Joseph believed that he and his brothers were not yet Jews, while they were of the opposite opinion.

One of the differences is in relation to the commandment of eating a limb from a living animal. This commandment applies to both Jews and non-Jews with one difference. Once an animal is ritually slaughtered, it is permissible for a Jew to eat it, whether or not the animal is still moving. This is not the case for a non Jew. As long as the animal is still moving, it is still considered alive and forbidden to a non Jew. This is one case where by ritually slaughtering an animal, Jews have a more lenient ruling. Joseph complained to his father that his brothers were not observing the commandments properly. He was relating to the seven Noahide laws. The brothers disagreed with him in principle, and resented his bringing their father into the argument.

Rebbe Michil explains about this: What is the inner meaning in eating a limb from a living animal? Every physical thing has a spiritual life-force. The purpose of a Jew's eating is to isolate and elevate the divine aspect contained in the food. When an animal dies, its spiritual energy is evenly distributed in the entire animal, so that every separate piece of meat has some of that energy. Practically speaking, that divine spark is what we extract from food by eating during the week, and these sparks are elevated on Shabbat. However, when an animal is still alive, the soul is a unified, indivisible entity. Even if an animal loses a limb, the soul of the animal remains intact within the animal, but there is no life force in that dismembered limb. If a person eats from that limb, he is eating raw physical substance with no divine spark or value! The eating is serving no good purpose. Therefore, it is forbidden like other unkosher food.

Happy Chanuka!

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul Leiter

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