Vayeshev – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

This week, in Parshat Vayeshev we begin the story of Joseph which will fill the remainder of the Book of Bereishit. The title, “Vayeshev” is translated as “and he settled” but there are two apparently unconnected stories. Interposed with the story of Joseph is the story of Judah and Tamar.


Jacob had certainly settled; he was in Haran with his family around him. What he did not foresee was that by favouring Joseph he would set in train events that would disrupt his whole life. Joseph could not have envisaged his being settled in Egypt.

Judah, the brother who proposed selling Joseph into slavery had “gone down” to Canaan where he married a local Canaanite woman. Judah never expected that the marriage of Tamar to his first son Er would lead to her being widowed twice.

What seems to link these stories is that in each case good came out of tragedy.

For Joseph he refused to be seduced by the wife of Potiphar. He remained faithful to who he was and gained respect, even in prison. This would lead him eventually to become Vizier of Egypt.

For Judah, when he realises that he has misjudged Tamar, he admits he was wrong. He would go on to be the brother that offered to spend the rest of his life in slavery so that his brother Benjamin could go free. One of his sons, Peretz, would be the forefather of David

Change of fortunes, change of health, changes in our families and friends can all produce a sense of darkness. It is very easy to despair when things disturb our lives but they can lead to new and surprising futures.

This week as we light the chanukiah we have a choice of how we carry out this mitzvah. Shammai thought we should start with eight candles and gradually reduce the number each day. Hillel thought otherwise. He introduced the custom of lighting a new candle each day.

Today what we might see as a curse may be the beginning of tomorrow’s blessing. Looking forward to a brighter future and moving from darkness to light. That is something that can change a life.

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