Parashat Vayeshev at Leo Baeck Temple

As a child, my family would enjoy Hanukkah brunch at my grandmother’s home in Omaha, Nebraska. We would light the candles, say the blessings, and, without fail, eat to our hearts’ content. After the meal, my cousins, siblings, and I would relocate to the basement to play with toys, hide-and-seek, and even the occasional board game. One Hanukkah, I was feeling particularly mischievous, and I guess I might have said something that got on my brother’s nerves. Who can blame me? I was only a child. Angrily, he chased me for a good few laps around the basement, all because of something a little rude I said...

I don’t remember how the story ends, however, growing up, I can tell you that not every family gathering of mine was rainbows and butterflies. So too in our Torah with the infamous story of Joseph and his relationship with his siblings, our biblical ancestors did not always have rainbows and butterflies at their family gatherings, either.

My Jewish Learning, Summary of Introduction to Parashat Vayeshev

These are the descendants of Jacob. Joseph was 17 and a shepherd watching sheep with his brothers. In an evil manner, Joseph reported his brothers’ idle talk to his father. But Jacob loved Joseph more than all his other sons and made him an embroidered coat. When the brothers saw that their father loved Joseph more, they hated him.

(ד) וַיִּרְא֣וּ אֶחָ֗יו כִּֽי־אֹת֞וֹ אָהַ֤ב אֲבִיהֶם֙ מִכָּל־אֶחָ֔יו וַֽיִּשְׂנְא֖וּ אֹת֑וֹ וְלֹ֥א יָכְל֖וּ דַּבְּר֥וֹ לְשָׁלֹֽם׃

(4) And when his brothers saw that their father loved him (Joseph) more than any of his brothers, they hated him, and they could not speak a friendly word to him.

(א) ולא יכלו דברו לשלום, לדבר עמו בדברי שלום אלא בדברי מריבה:
(1) ולא יכלו דברו לשלום, any conversation with Joseph did not revolve around peacefully discussed matters of common interest, but concerned only matters of dispute between them.
(א) ולא יכלו דברו לשלום. מִתּוֹךְ גְּנוּתָם לָמַדְנוּ שִׁבְחָם, שֶׁלֹּא דִבְּרוּ אַחַת בַּפֶּה וְאַחַת בַּלֵּב: (ב) דברו. לְדַבֵּר עִמּוֹ:
(1) ולא יכלו דברו לשלום AND THEY COULD NOT SPEAK PEACEABLY TO HIM — from what is stated to their discredit we may infer something to their credit: they did not speak one thing with their mouth having another thing quite different in their hearts (Genesis Rabbah 84:9). (2) דברו means TO SPEAK TO HIM.

Guiding Questions

  1. How can we understand the role of Joseph in his family system?
  2. What can we learn from the fact that our ancestors could not speak peacefully to one another?
  3. Do any of the words of our above commentators resonate with you? If so, which one and why? If not, what comment might you add?