This Week’s Torah Portion: Vayeshev

Name: Vayeshev

Reading: Genesis 37:1 – 40:23

Haftarah: Amos 2:6 – 3:8

Parsha Summary – Vayeshev

Joseph’s Coat of Many Colors

Joseph, aged 17, is tending the sheep with his brothers. He takes bad reports of them to their father. He is Jacob’s favorite child and Jacob gave him a striped (colored) coat. Joseph’s brothers see that Jacob loves him most and hate him.

Joseph’s Dreams

Joseph tells his brothers about a dream he had. In his dream, the brothers were binding sheaves of wheat, and the brothers’ sheaves bowed down to Joseph’s sheaf. The brothers ask if Joseph will rule over them, and hate him more.

In his second dream, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars bowed down to him. This time, Jacob rebukes his son.

The Brothers Sell Joseph

Jacob sends Joseph to check on his brothers who are tending to the sheep in Shechem. The brothers see him approaching and decide to kill him and throw his body into a pit, and claim that a wild animal ate him. Reuben hears this and tells them not to hurt him but only throw him in the pit, so that he can come back later and save him.

When Joseph arrives, they take his coat and throw him into a dry pit. They sit down to lunch and see an Ishmaelite caravan laden with spices and balms. Judah decides that they should sell Joseph to the passing Midianite caravan in exchange for 20 silver shekels. Reuben returns to the pit and sees that Joseph is gone. The brothers kill a goat, tear up Joseph’s coat, and smear blood over it. They take the coat to Jacob, who assumes Joseph is dead and goes into mourning.

The caravan of merchants sells Joseph to Potiphar, the Egyptian Pharoah’s captain.

Yehudah and Tamar

Judah leaves his brothers and marries a Canaanite woman. They have three children. The oldest marries Tamar, but he is a bad man and God kills him. She then marries the second son, who displeases God and is also killed. Judah tells Tamar to go home to her father as a widow until his youngest son is old enough to marry.

Judah goes to Timnah to shear his sheep. Tamar sees that the youngest son is grown and has still not been married to her. She removes her mourner’s clothing, wraps herself up and veils herself, and sits near Timnah.

Judah thinks she is a prostitute and gives her gifts as collateral for her payment. He sleeps with her and she becomes pregnant. He later here’s that his daughter-in-law is pregnant through prostitution and orders that she be burned. She says that she became pregnant by the man whose gifts she had, and Judah was identified as the father. They do not kill her and she gives birth to twins.

Joseph the Dream Interpreter

Joseph rises to a position of power in Potiphar’s house. Mrs. Potiphar tries to seduce Joseph; when he refuses her advances, she accuses him of rape and he is jailed alongside the head butler and head baker. They each have a dream:

joseph's dreamThe butler dreams that a vine sprouts three bunches of grapes in front of him; he squeezes the grapes into Pharoah’s cup. Joseph says that it means within three days Pharoah will restore him to his office and asks him to remember him to Pharoah because he is innocent.

joseph's dreamThe baker dreams that he carries three baskets of white bread and baked goods for the Pharoah and birds descended to eat the bread. Joseph says that within three days, Pharoah will hang the baker. Joseph’s predictions come true, but the butler forgets to remind Pharoah about Joseph.

Torah Takeaway

So much happens in this week’s Torah portion, it’s almost impossible to choose just one idea to focus on! Joseph’s story is long, complex, and often complication, and has barely even begun – it spans across four different Torah portions.

However, there is one theme that runs throughout Joseph’s story. It’s spelled out in Genesis 39:21-23:

But the Lord was with Joseph, and showed him kindness, and gave him favor in the eyes of the prison officer…because the Lord was with him, and everything he did, the Lord made prosper.

The Torah tells us twice that God was with Joseph, that God was kind to him, and made sure that everything he did was successful.

This begs several questions: if God was with Joseph, how could his brothers have thrown him into a well? Why wasn’t he protected from the pain and indignity of being sold into slavery? How did Joseph end up accused and jailed?

Joseph faced some seemingly insurmountable challenges – but the trials he overcame don’t mean that God wasn’t with him. Like the footprints in the sand, God was there, guiding Joseph through life and ensuring that everything would come together to put him in the strongest possible position ready to play his role in the Jewish nation’s story.

Joseph’s story is yet another reminder that God is always with us, and always knows what is best for us – even if we don’t see it at the time.