Daf HaShavuah: Vayeshev
We meet Joseph as a seventeen-year-old who tells tales on his brothers. Jacob favours Joseph, presenting him with an ornate, coloured coat. This contributes to the brothers’ jealousy, as do Jacob’s recurrent dreams in which his entire family bows down to Joseph. Oblivious to the fraternal hostility, Jacob sends Joseph to report on how his brothers are faring while shepherding the flocks. A mysterious man directs Joseph to Dothan, where the brothers are gathered. When they see him approach, they plan to kill him, but Reuben persuades them to throw him into a pit instead. They strip Joseph of his coat and throw him into the pit. Then, sitting to eat, they spy a band of Ishmaelite and Midianite traders passing by. Judah suggests selling Joseph into slavery rather than letting him die, and Joseph is sold for twenty pieces of silver. Jacob refuses to be comforted over the supposed “death” of his son, saying, “No, I will go down mourning to my son in Sheol”. In Egypt, the Midianites sell Joseph to Potiphar, the chief steward of the Pharaoh.
Meanwhile, back in Canaan, Judah marries a Canaanite woman, Shua, and they have three sons: Er, Onan and Shelah. Judah marries his eldest son to Tamar and when Er dies childless marries Tamar to the next son Onan. God kills Onan too, and Judah hesitates before giving son number three. He tells Tamar to return to her parents’ home and wait. Some years later, Judah’s wife having died, he goes to Timnah. Tamar dresses like a prostitute and sleeps with Judah, demanding his staff and his ring in lieu of payment. Months later, when he hears that she is pregnant, he orders her execution when she presents his own emblems to him. He realises that she is more in the right than he is, and she gives birth to twins, naming one Perez (the ancestor of King David and the Messiah) and the second Zerah.
Joseph, in Egypt, quickly gains the favour of his new master, becoming his assistant in the house. There, Potiphar’s wife lusts after Joseph, trying to force herself on him. When she fails, she accuses him of trying to rape her. Potiphar imprisons Joseph, but even there the chief jailer favours him.
Sometime later, Pharaoh’s baker and his cupbearer are imprisoned. Each has perplexing dreams, which trouble them. Joseph says to them “surely the Eternal One can interpret dreams” and when they recount their dreams, he informs the cupbearer that Pharaoh will soon pardon him. He then tells the baker that Pharaoh will find him to be guilty and will execute him.
Events occur exactly as Joseph predicts, but the cupbearer forgets about Joseph and his abilities as soon as he is restored to high office.
Based in The Bedside Torah by Rabbi Bradley Artson
Questions for discussion
1- Who do you think is this mysterious man who directs Joseph to his brothers?
2- How can it be that Potiphar didn’t execute a slave who he believed betrayed him and tried to rape his wife?
3- What does Joseph mean by saying that God interprets dreams through him? Can we say this of all of our abilities? God solves maths problems through me for example?