Vayeishev - A Sedra full of meaning

This Parshah contains the full spectrum of emotions. Love, hate, jealousy, despair, lust and shame. From the depth of the love of Ya'akov for Yosef to the shame of Reuven. This Sedra has it all. And it's messages are of crucial importance to us today.

(א) וַיֵּ֣שֶׁב יַעֲקֹ֔ב בְּאֶ֖רֶץ מְגוּרֵ֣י אָבִ֑יו בְּאֶ֖רֶץ כְּנָֽעַן׃

(1) And Jacob dwelt in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan.
  • The Sedra starts with Ya'akov attempting to find tranquillity in Cana'an, according to Rashi.
  • This Ya'akov has worked for fourteen years to be able to marry Rachel, has fled from Lavan and faced Esav and an army of 400. He is tired.
  • The ordeal of Yosef's disappearance lasts a total of 22 years.
(לד) וַיִּקְרַ֤ע יַעֲקֹב֙ שִׂמְלֹתָ֔יו וַיָּ֥שֶׂם שַׂ֖ק בְּמָתְנָ֑יו וַיִּתְאַבֵּ֥ל עַל־בְּנ֖וֹ יָמִ֥ים רַבִּֽים׃ (לה) וַיָּקֻמוּ֩ כָל־בָּנָ֨יו וְכָל־בְּנֹתָ֜יו לְנַחֲמ֗וֹ וַיְמָאֵן֙ לְהִתְנַחֵ֔ם וַיֹּ֕אמֶר כִּֽי־אֵרֵ֧ד אֶל־בְּנִ֛י אָבֵ֖ל שְׁאֹ֑לָה וַיֵּ֥בְךְּ אֹת֖וֹ אָבִֽיו׃
(34) And Jacob rent his garments, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days. (35) And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said: ‘Nay, but I will go down to the grave to my son mourning.’ And his father wept for him.

Rabbi Sacks quotes a midrash which says, "One can be comforted for one who is dead, but not for one who is still living"

"In other words, Ya'akov refused to be comforted because he had not yet given up hope that Yosef was still alive"

I think this summer the collective panic when Hamas had announced they had captured Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul z"l, and that there was so much confusion to whether he was alive at all, that for me at least I personally would have rather he be dead, as terrible as that sounds, just for his family and his own sake. His and the body of Hadar Goldin are still not with their families.

It is very interesting to see the way Chazal deal with Yosef, on one hand we have opinions which explain away his actions as either all part of a Divine plan in which Yosef is playing his part or one in which Yosef is behaving like an impetuous teenager.

  • Yosef is a unique character in Tanach
  • He reminds me of someone trying to get onto a graduate scheme. He spends much of his time trying to impress others.
  • He also seems keen on getting himself into dangerous and precarious situations before trying to extricate himself.

(ה) וַיַּחֲלֹ֤ם יוֹסֵף֙ חֲל֔וֹם וַיַּגֵּ֖ד לְאֶחָ֑יו וַיּוֹסִ֥פוּ ע֖וֹד שְׂנֹ֥א אֹתֽוֹ׃

(5) And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it to his brethren; and they hated him yet the more.

Yosef splits opinion!

Rashi says that it is prohibited for a person to withhold prophecy and the Abarbanel comments that Yosef thought as a person confides in a friend, Yosef could also confide in his brothers.

The Radak says that: Yoseph knowing that his brothers hated him, wanted to enrage them more.This flirting with danger get's him thrown in the pit and sold to Potiphar. Sforno comments: Yoseph was immature, and made an unwise move.

The very fact that Yosef got himself into this situation can be seen a an example of his rash judgement.

It is also interesting to see the story of Tamar and Yehuda in this sedra too, why is it here?

Yehuda and Tamar's tale is also relevant to us today. Rabbi Sacks draws a comparison between Ruth and Tamar, Yehuda and Elimelech both sought Canaanite women for them or their sons. In both scenarios the women end childless.

Tamar's future is controlled by Yehuda who refuses to let her marry his youngest son Shelah, because his two previous sons died when married to her.

This state, in which Tamar is an aguna, an involuntary widow, is still an issue today and there have been several cases which I have seen of these women enlisting the help of others to free themselves.

It is something incredible courageous about Tamar that she is able to turn the tables and catch Yehuda out. These brave actions result in the line of David going through her and Ruth.

So why does this happen now? An beautiful explanation for this is given in Bereishit Rabba and is echoed by the Rebbe. He explains that all these events are linked, Yosef being sold and Tamar giving birth to Yehuda's son Perez and Zarach, that they are all helping to bring the Mashiach closer.

As it says:

"The brothers were busy selling Yosef, Yosef was busy with sackcloth and fasting, Reuven was busy with sackcloth and fasting, Ya'akov was busy with sackcloth and fasting, Yehuda was busy finding a wife - and Hashem was creating the light of Melech HaMashiach"