By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant
For more than two decades, Jacob lived with the guilt and knowledge of his own iniquity, against both his brother, Esau, and his beloved father, Isaac. In last week’s Torah parsha, Vayishlach, we read how the burden of these emotions quickly evaporated when Jacob went to Canaan and Esau met him with benevolence and fraternal good will.
This week’s parsha, Vayeishev, begins: “Jacob dwelt in the land of his father’s, in the land of Canaan” (1). At this point in Jacob’s life, it would be logical to expect that he was living a quiet and peaceful retirement. Jacob had ten adult sons (six from his first wife, Leah; two born by each of his handmaidens, Bilah and Zilpa). These men worked as shepherds, as well as tending to the land and to the livestock. Joseph, Jacob’s seventeen year old son, was the first-born of his beloved wife, Rachel; and, “was loved more than all of his children” (2). At home were his other two children: Dinah (daughter of Leah), and Benjamin (a youngster, the second son of Rachel).
Joseph was raised as ‘royalty’, with unconditional love and few boundaries. Consequently, he developed an exaggerated sense of grandeur and entitlement. “Joseph’s arrogance was enhanced, when Jacob had a multi-colored coat designed for him” (3). The Midrash is critical of Jacob, for showing favor to one child over others (4).
Joseph’s entire upbringing resulted in a personality which is self-absorbed and totally insensitive to other’s feelings. He had two dreams which he related to his brothers: In the first dream, he and all of his brothers were binding sheaves of grain. Joseph’s sheaf stood upright, while his brothers’ sheaves encircled it, and bowed down before it. In the second dream, which he also told to Jacob, “the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were prostrating themselves to me” (5). The second dream even stupefied his father. It may have been the only time in Joseph’s seventeen years, that Jacob actually criticized him (6).
However, Jacob was totally oblivious to the deep hatred and resentment which each of his older sons felt for Joseph. After listening to the dreams, the older sons went back to the pasture in the area of Dotham. Jacob told Joseph to find his brothers and “see to their welfare, and the welfare of the flocks” (7). Joseph sauntered towards them in his multi-colored coat, and they saw an opportunity to rid themselves of the ‘dreamer’. They ambushed him and threw him into an empty pit. Then, by chance, Judah (considered the leader) noticed an Ishmaelite slave caravan on its way to Egypt. Joseph was sold to the Ishmaelites.
The Ishmaelites sold Joseph to a man named Potipher, who was ‘Chief of Prisons’ in Egypt. A more mature, handsome Joseph attracted the attention of Potipher’s wife. She attempted to seduce him and was rejected. To avenge her humiliation, she accused Jacob of raping her, and he was immediately thrown into jail. In prison, Joseph met two of his fellow inmates who had worked for the Pharaoh. Both happened to have symbolic dreams related to their crimes. Joseph evaluated the dreams and, amazingly, they became a reality. The butler was exonerated and the baker was hung. According to Rashi, these were not ‘Divine’ interpretations, because God was not involved. Rather, Joseph utilized his skills of deduction and reasoning to analyze the meaning of each dream (8).
(1) GENESIS (37:1)
(2) GENESIS (37:3)
(4) Midrash Rabba (Genesis 84:8)
(5) GENESIS (37:9)
(6) www.TorahSparks.org, Yeshiva, Jerusalem
(7) GENESIS (39:4)
(8) Rashi (On Genesis)