Thursday, November 21, 2013

Parsha Vayeishev – “And he settled”

Parsha Vayeishev – “And he settled” 

Torah              Bereishit 37:1- 40:23
Haftarah          Amos 2:6-3:8
Brit Chadasha Matthew 21:1-23:39
                      Acts 7:9-16

Ya'akov's life had been a long and difficult road. It has been said that before he was even born, he struggled with his brother Esav (Bereishis Rabbah 63:6) – Rashi stated that the 'generations' of Yitzak in Toldot were the two natures (Ya'akov vs Esav). Ya'akov grabbed Esav's heel while emerging from his mother's womb, and continued on by grabbing his birthright and blessing. Continuing his struggles, he worked for his Uncle Lavan for two decades, during which his uncle changed his wages several times. On the way back home, he had to deal with Lavan's search for missing idols, juggle wives, and wrestled with the Angel of G-d for His blessing. In light of all this, was it too much to ask for a little reprieve? Apparantly HaShem disagreed – retirement was not to be, as of yet.

Ya'akov had seen the first two Patriarchs wait until the last moment to determine/announce the family heir, and had ugly scenes / nasty situations to work through. He took a hard look at his sons, and came up with an alternative solution: Being the בֶן זְקֻנִים (Son of his – Ya'akov's old age) would make Yosef his ideal heir. Rashi makes three simple statements that all tie together for a pretty convincing explanation – 1) Drawing from Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer (ch. 38), Yosef was born of Ya'akov's beloved wife in his old age (even though Binyamin was younger); 2) Drawing from Onkelos, Yosef was a wise son to Ya'akov – the wisdom received from Shem and Eber had already been given over to Yosef; and 3) Drawing from Bereishis Rabbah (84:8), Yosef's features,זִיו אִיקוֹנִין, resembled those of Ya'akov. Although this was an honorable decision, the unfolding of events – making Yosef the heir and giving him the fine woolen (amazing technicolor dream?) coat – was not necessarily timed the best. Ya'akov also did not take into consideration the rest of the family. With the history between the boys – the inherited jealousies from the mothers, combined with Yosef's dreams and his being Daddy's corporate spy – the situation was a landmine waiting to go off! And off it did go – the same two brothers who had righteous indignation for Shechem when he defiled their sister Dinah turned their indignation toward young Yosef. They wanted to kill this young man, and they were convinced that they were in the right. It is possible to come to that same conclusion, but that discussion must wait for another time. Suffice it to say, that in the scheme of things, Yosef was put in a dry pit which was probably full of snakes and scorpions until he was removed and sold into slavery, eventually in Egypt/Mizraim. His coat was dipped in animal blood, and shown to his father, who assumes his heir to be killed by animals, and starts his 22-year-long mourning period.

Scene changes to the theme of Yehudah and his family. He marries, has 3 sons, and starts to develop his life message. His firstborn and heir is aptly named Er (meaning heir). He was determined to not make the same mistakes as his father – the oldest would be his continuation. Er gets married Tamar, but does not want to ruin his wife's girlish figure, so does not have kids. G-d kills him for his evil. So much for Yehudah's plan for the 'perfect' heir. Levirate marriage comes into play, and his brother Onan marries Tamar. He refuses to raise up an heir for Er, and G-d kills him as well. Fear enters stage left, and Yehudah refuses to allow Tamar to wed Shelah his third-born after making her wait for him to grow up. Tamar knows she is to be the carrier of the seed royal, and takes matters into her own hands. She takes off her widow attire and dresses as an harlot to get Yehudah's attention. She gets his full attention, and keeps his drivers license, medical ID bracelet, and class ring (rather his walking stick, his cord, and his signet) to make sure he makes good on his pledge. When he is about to have her killed for being unfaithful, she secretly sends the items back to him as a reminder. He publicly declares his sin and her life is redeemed. She has twins, including Pharez the predecessor of King David.

Channel changes back to Yosef, in Egypt/Mizraim. He works for Potiphar, Pharaoh's slaughterhouse minister. Yosef's work ethic takes him to the top, and runs the show. Mrs. Potiphar thinks he should be hers, as well, but Yosef cannot bring himself to betray either HaShem or her husband, so he runs. Since she had hold of his coat, it stayed when he did not, and she showed the 'proof' of Yosef's alleged evil. Yosef got promoted to inmate-first-class. Again, his work ethic took him to the top, and he used his abilities to help others.

The Baker and Butler of Pharaoh (probably some of the officers that sentenced him) had dreams which troubled them. Yosef went out of his way to try to ease their troubled souls, and interpreted their dreams. On Pharaoh's birthday 3 days later, their dreams came true – the baker was hanged, and the Butler was restored to his position serving Pharaoh. Even though Yosef pleaded with the Butler to remember him upon his restoration, he was forgotten in prison for another 2 years.

Fear is an important issue in these narratives. We find that our 2 main characters had different ways of interfacing with it – 1) Yehudah let fear paralyze him, but 2) Yosef used fear to keep him focussed upon HaShem. May we choose his way.

Shabbat Shalom.

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