Weekly Reading Insights: Vayeishev 5784



Overview of the Torah Reading

To be read on Shabbat Vayeishev, Shabbat Mevarchim, 26 Kislev 5784/Dec.9

Torah: Gen.37:1-40:23; Num. 7:18-23; Haftorah: Amos 2:6-3:8

Vayeishev is the 9th Reading out of 12 in Genesis and it contains 5972 letters, in 1558 words, in 112 verses

Vayeishev 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.

An Essay from
Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, Director of Ascent

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Yosef's exile begins with his father telling him, "Go and see the shalom (the peace) of your brothers" (Bereishit/Genesis 37:14). Rabbi Bunim of P'shischa explains that, in fact, Yaakov was giving Yosef instruction for his future survival. The word shalom is usually translated as peace. Its root word is shalaym-whole or complete. Yaakov was exhorting Yosef that, wherever he looked, he should strive to always see the positive (even concerning his brothers who wished to harm him), rather than the negative. Yosef followed this advice for his entire life and became an example for all of us how a positive attitude can help us overcome challenges.

This week's portion, Vayeishev is not just a story about Yosef, but really a description of the Jewish people's trials through their many exiles. On a deeper level, it is what G-d expects from us now in this time of contradictions when we are surrounded by both good and bad, light and dark, justice and injustice.

Yosef was torn from his family and sold as a slave in a foreign country. He could have resigned himself to his fate and given up. Not Yosef. He excelled in his master's home, bringing honor and wealth to the household. The verse says, "the Egyptian [Potifar] was blessed for Yosef's sake" (Bereishit 39:5). What was the outcome? Yosef was thrown into prison. Rather than succumb to despair, Yosef again excelled, both in his work, and also by doing favors for Pharaoh's ministers.

Then it happened again. After Yosef helped Pharaoh's ministers interpret their dreams and he asked for their help, they forgot about him! Finally released, Yosef rose to be second only to Pharaoh. It would have been easy to take vengeance upon all those who had treated him badly. But again, Yosef chose to energetically devote himself to his work, bringing blessings to Egypt and the entire world, saving them from famine.

This is the story of the Jew in our exiles. Following the example of Yosef's persistence and optimism leads to our success. The final redemption will come from the Jew never quitting. Like the Chanukah dreidel (spinning top), Yosef never stopped moving.

Rabbi Chaim of Sanz says we must do more than just not quit. The redemption will come specifically through helping others. He once asked someone to accompany him to raise money for a needy family. The person's answer was that he was too busy (albeit with good things like learning Torah). Rebbe Chaim answered him with a question. There are two verses in Bereishit where we find the word ha-eesh"the man". In last week's portion, Vayishlach - "And the man struggled with him" (Ibid. 32:25). Rashi says this was an angel, the spiritual minister of Eisav, Yaakov's nemesis. In our portion, concerning Yosef, we read, "And a man found him [Yosef]" (Ibid. 37:15). Rashi says this was the angel Gavriel. How did Rashi know this? Rabbi Chaim answered that Rashi knew from the context of the stories.

In last week's portion, Yaakov asked the minister for a favor-that he bless him. The angel's initial response? "Release me, because dawn is approaching and I have to join the other angels in singing praise" (Ibid. 32:27]. He did not have time. From this answer it was clear that this was the minister of Eisav, a man who was not concerned about others. On the other hand, with Yosef, the angel first asked him "What do you need?" This angel offered help. From this we understand that this was the (good) angel Gavriel.

This is the lesson for each of us! As the Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches us, acts of goodness and kindness, seeking the shalom/peace of others, will bring our personal redemption and the final redemption with Mashiach.

We also learn to be optimistic and positive from the Maccabees in the story of Chanukah. Like Yosef, never giving up, he won the impossible battle.

Shabbat Shalom , Shaul

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For last year's essay by Rabbi Leiter on this week's Reading, see the archive.


Specifically, for an overview of the recommended articles in the columns:
Holy Zohar, Holy Ari, Mystic Classics, Chasidic Masters, Contemporary Kabbalists, and more, click to Vayeishev
one sample:

Chasidic Masters

The Stubborn Note

By Yosef Y. Jacobson

When it comes to temptation or addiction, you can't be rational and polite. You must be determined, ruthless and single-minded. The moment you begin explaining and justifying your behavior, you are likely to lose the battle. Only after an absolute and non-negotiable "no" can you proceed with the intellectual argument behind your decision.

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