Blog Vayeshev Kislev 23 5780 בלוג וַיֵּשֶׁב, כ”ג כסלו תש”פ
The title of the parashah is Vayeshev, which means “And he settled” referring to Jacob, but in reality, he travelled from place to place and never really settled anywhere. Now he would take time to rest and that is when we turn to the stories of Joseph and Judah. From this narrative, our sages later developed the idea of the two types of Mashiach. The Creator, on the other hand, is the writer of the script and He knows what happens from the beginning to the end. He is letting us know that He will always cover and protect His people Israel, no matter what and that it doesn’t depend upon our behavior. In contrast, our sages teach that everything depends upon Israel; for example, if we would all just observe one Shabbat, then all would go well for us. Our prophets, however, warn us that we will go from bad to worse and suffer the consequences. Let us understand that we are all responsible for what happens in this world, even if we choose to ignore it. As long as we have a voice, we must stand up for what is right. “Open your mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy. Open your mouth for the dumb, in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction.” Mishlei (Prov.) 31:8-9 tells us that we need to speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves.
Throughout the book of Bereshit, the story of our patriarchs is developed, beginning with Abraham, Isaac, and now Jacob and his twelve sons. Abraham, without knowing where he was going, followed the directions of the Creator toward the land of Canaan. Risking everything, he put his faith (emunah) into action and developed trust (bitachon). The Creator made several covenants with Abraham, one being the covenant of the parts, Brit Habetarim, during which he received the prophecy that his “descendants would be oppressed and slaves in a foreign land for 400 years” Ber.15:13. Our sages help us to understand that this prophecy began with the birth of Isaac since they calculate that the Israelites lived in Egypt for around 200 years. In Vayeshev, the Creator shows how we became slaves in Egypt. The narrative begins with Joseph, Jacob’s eleventh son from his favorite wife, Rachel. Here, it is obvious that Joseph was his favorite son. This is a recipe for disaster. If you were the eldest or the one who previously felt important, naturally you would be jealous and even develop hatred for the favored child. Jacob had a beautiful coat made for Joseph, indicating to all his children that he would be his successor. This goes contrary to the teachings of Torah that states that the first son of the number one wife, even if she is hated, must receive the inheritance of the firstborn, the behor. How could Jacob have been so blind? He knew what happened between him and Esau. Let us examine how we can apply these teachings to help us in our lives today.
We, humans, have the capability of communicating with one another, yet our biggest problem is that we fail to do so when it is most necessary. If we have been hurt by someone and we hold it in our hearts without confronting the other person, what happens? Time rarely heals it; rather it grows like a cancer within, even though the one who hurt us might not even realize what they did or said. If we would simply approach that person, we could allow them to explain themselves. That could diffuse the entire drama. The ten brothers could have gone to their father to express their anger but perhaps they didn’t, because of their great respect for him. They could have spoken to Joseph and tried to get him to change his attitude. There is great power in good communication. How many of us presume to know the intentions of another person even if they are not true? It’s all in the mind and that bitter root poisons our soul. This happened to Joseph’s brothers to the point that they were ready to kill him. Instead, they sold him and told Jacob that he was killed by an animal. Here we see the idea of “midat keneged midat – measure for measure”. Jacob had deceived his father by putting the skin of a lamb on him to disguise himself as Esau. Here, his brothers killed a lamb, put its blood on Joseph’s coat, and lied then to Jacob about Joseph’s death.
Now the story of Judah will be developed. Why here? Reuben, the first-born of Leah should have inherited the rights of the behor. He lost it because of his affair with Bilhah. Next in line would have been Shimon followed by Levi, but we know that they lost it because of what they did at Shechem. The right then fell to Judah, the fourth son of Leah. The Torah teaches us that there is an order. Although Jacob’s favorite was Joseph, the behor need to fall to Judah. This is where the idea of the two redeemers arise, Joseph, the suffering Messiah and Judah, through King David, the conquering Messiah. The bottom line of these stories is that we need to learn from our elders so that we do not make the same mistakes. When we do not do things in the right way, there are consequences. The Creator promised us that He would never abandon Israel, whether or not we have faith, whether we are good or bad, whether or not we follow the Ten Commandments, but He didn’t say that we would not suffer the consequences for our behavior.
Israel fell captive to the Egyptians for many years and when they left, they would be free. Every Shabbat, we read the Ten Commandments, the first one being, “I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of slavery.” What does it mean to be free of slavery? It means that we have the capacity to be ourselves, to make our own choices and to depend upon ourselves. Our life is a process and we know that we can be our own worst enemy. Joseph descended to the lowest depths in prison and when he finally acknowledged and accepted who he was, he was set free.
Sunday night we will celebrate the first night of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, a Feast of Dedication. It is the time to declare that “we will not assimilate to the values of this world”. We will hold fast to the values of the Torah. Joseph did; no matter what circumstances he went through, he held onto the principles and values of his fathers. Let us choose to do the same. Hanukkah Sameach!