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Vayeshev, Vayeishev, or Vayesheb (וישב — Hebrew for “and he lived,” the first word of the parshah) is the ninth weekly Torah portion (parshah) in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading. It constitutes Genesis Jews in the Diaspora read it the ninth Sabbath after Simchat Torah, generally in December.
Joseph the dreamer
Jacob lived in the land of Canaan, and this is his family’s story. ( ) When Joseph was 17, he fed the flock with his brothers, and he brought Jacob an evil report about his brothers. ( ) Because Joseph was the son of Jacob’s old age, Jacob loved him more than his other children, and Jacob made him a coat of many colors, which caused Joseph’s brothers to hate him. ( ) And Joseph made his brothers hate him more when he told them that he dreamed that they were binding sheaves in the field, and their sheaves bowed down to his sheaf. ( ) He told his brothers another dream, in which the sun, the moon, and eleven stars bowed down to him, and when he told his father, Jacob rebuked him, asking whether he, Joseph’s mother, and his brothers would bow down to Joseph. ( )When the brothers went to feed the flock in Shechem, Jacob sent Joseph to see whether all was well with them. ( ) A man found Joseph and asked him what he sought, and when he told the man that he sought his brothers, the man told him that they had departed for Dothan. ( ) When Joseph’s brothers saw him coming, they conspired to kill him, cast him into a pit, say that a beast had devoured him, and see what would become of his dreams then. ( ) But Reuben persuaded them not to kill him but to cast him into a pit, hoping to restore him to Jacob later. ( ) So Joseph’s brothers stripped him of his coat of many colors and cast him into an empty pit. ( ) They sat down to eat, and when they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites from Gilead bringing spices and balm to Egypt, Judah persuaded the brothers to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites. ( ) Passing Midianite merchants drew Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for 20 shekels of silver, and they brought him to Egypt. ( ) When Reuben returned to the pit and Joseph was gone, he rent his clothes and asked his brothers where he could go now. ( )
Judah and Tamar
Judah left his brothers to live near an Adullamite named Hirah. ( ) Judah married the daughter of a Canaanite named Shua and had three sons named Er, Onan, and Shelah. ( ) Judah arranged for Er to marry a woman named Tamar, but Er was wicked and God killed him. ( ) Judah directed Onan to perform a brother’s duty and have children with Tamar in Er’s name. ( ) But Onan knew that the children would not be counted as his, so he spilled his seed, and God killed him as well. ( ) Then Judah told Tamar to remain a widow in his house until Shelah could grown up, thinking that if Tamar wed Shelah, he might also die. ( )
Later, when Judah’s wife died, he went with his friend Hirah to his sheep-shearers at Timnah. ( ) When Tamar learned that Judah had gone to Timnah, she took off her widow’s garments and put on a veil and sat on the road to Timnah, for she saw that Shelah had grown up and Judah had not given her to be his wife. ( ) Judah took her for a harlot, offered her a young goat for her services, and gave her his signet and staff as a pledge for payment, and they cohabited and she conceived. ( ) Judah sent Hirah to deliver the young goat and collect his pledge, but he asked about and did not find her. ( ) When Hirah reported to Judah that the men of the place said that there had been no harlot there, Judah put the matter to rest so as not to be put to shame. ( ) About three months later, Judah heard that Tamar had played the harlot and become pregnant, and he ordered her to be brought forth and burned. ( ) When they seized her, she sent Judah the pledge to identify, saying that she was pregnant by the man whose things they were. ( ) Judah acknowledged them and said that she was more righteous than he, inasmuch as he had failed to give her to Shelah. ( )
When Tamar delivered, one twin — whom she would name Zerah — put out a hand and the midwife bound it with a scarlet thread, but then he drew it back and his brother — whom she would name Perez — came out. ( )
Joseph and Potiphar
Meanwhile, Pharaoh’s captain of the guard Potiphar bought Joseph from the Ishmaelites. () When Potiphar saw that God was with Joseph and prospered all that he did, Potiphar appointed him overseer over his house and gave him charge of all that he had, and God blessed Pharaoh’s house for Joseph’s sake. ( ) Joseph was handsome, and Potiphar’s wife repeatedly asked him to lie with her, but he declined, asking how he could sin so against Potiphar and God. ( ) One day, when the men of the house were away, she caught him by his garment and asked him to lie with her, but he fled, leaving his garment behind. ( ) When Potiphar came home, she accused Joseph of trying to force himself on her, and Potiphar put Joseph in the prison where the king’s prisoners were held. ( )
But God was with Joseph, and gave him favor in the sight of the warden, who committed all the prisoners to Joseph’s charge. () When the Pharaoh’s butler and baker offended him, the Pharaoh put them into the prison as well. ( ) One night, the butler and the baker each dreamed a dream. ( ) Finding them sad, Joseph asked the cause, and they told him that it was because no one could interpret their dreams. ( ) Acknowledging that interpretations belong to God, Joseph asked them to tell him their dreams. ( ) The butler told Joseph that he dreamt that he saw a vine with three branches blossom and bring forth grapes, which he took and pressed into Pharaoh’s cup, which he gave to Pharaoh. ( ) Joseph interpreted that within three days, Pharaoh would lift up the butler’s head and restore him to his office, where he would give Pharaoh his cup just as he used to do. ( ) And Joseph asked the butler to remember him and mention him to Pharaoh, so that he might be brought out of the prison, for he had been stolen away from his land and had done nothing to warrant his imprisonment. ( ) When the baker saw that the interpretation of the butler’s dream was good, he told Joseph his dream: He saw three baskets of white bread on his head, and the birds ate them out of the basket. ( ) Joseph interpreted that within three days Pharaoh would lift up the baker’s head and hang him on a tree, and the birds would eat his flesh. ( ) And on the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, Pharaoh made a feast, restored the chief butler to his butlership, and hanged the baker, just as Joseph had predicted. ( ) But the butler forgot about Joseph. ( )
In classical rabbinic interpretation
Genesis chapter 37
Rabbi Johanan taught that wherever Scripture uses the term “And he abode” (vayeshev), as it does in Numbers “And Israel abode in Shittim” is followed by “and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.” In “And Jacob dwelt in the land where his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan,” is followed by “and Joseph brought to his father their evil report.” In “And Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt, in the country of Goshen,” is followed by “And the time drew near that Israel must die.” In “And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree,” is followed by “And the Lord stirred up an adversary unto Solomon, Hadad the Edomite; he was the king’s seed in Edom.” (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 106a.)it presages trouble. Thus in
Rabbi Helbo quoted Rabbi Jonathan to teach that the words of Babylonian Talmud Bava Batra 123a.)“These are the generations of Jacob, Joseph,” indicate that the firstborn should have come from Rachel, but Leah prayed for mercy before Rachel did. On account of Rachel’s modesty, however, God restored the rights of the firstborn to Rachel’s son Joseph from Leah’s son Reuben. To teach what caused Leah to anticipate Rachel with her prayer for mercy, Rav taught that Leah’s eyes were sore (as reports) from her crying about what she heard at the crossroads. There she heard people saying: “Rebecca has two sons, and Laban has two daughters; the elder daughter should marry the elder son, and the younger daughter should marry the younger son.” Leah inquired about the elder son, and the people said that he was a wicked man, a highway robber. And Leah asked about the younger son, and the people said that he was “a quiet man dwelling in tents.” ( ) So she cried about her fate until her eyelashes fell out. This accounts for the words of “And the Lord saw that Leah was hated, and He opened her womb,” which mean not that Leah was actually hated, but rather that God saw that Esau’s conduct was hateful to Leah, so he rewarded her prayer for mercy by opening her womb first. (
Rabbi Levi used Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 55b.)and to calculate that Joseph’s dreams that his brothers would bow to him took 22 years to come true, and deduced that a person should thus wait for as much as 22 years for a positive dream’s fulfillment. (
Rava bar Mehasia said in the name of Rav Hama bar Goria in Rav’s name that a man should never single out one son among his other sons, for on account of the small weight of silk that Jacob gave Joseph more than he gave his other sons, his brothers became jealous of Joseph and the matter resulted in the Israelites’ descent into Egypt. (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 10b.)
Reading 1 Chronicles reports, “for as much as he defiled his father’s couch, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph.” Nonetheless, Reuben was not jealous of Joseph, as reports, “And Reuben heard it, and delivered him out of their hand.” (Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 7b.)Rabbi Eleazar contrasted Reuben’s magnanimity with Esau’s jealousy. As reports, Esau voluntarily sold his birthright, but as says, “Esau hated Jacob,” and as says, “And he said, ‘Is not he rightly named Jacob? for he has supplanted me these two times.’” In Reuben’s case, Joseph took Reuben’s birthright from him against his will, as
Rabbi Judah ben Simon taught that God required each of the Israelites to give a half-shekel (as reported in Genesis Rabbah 84:18.)) because (as reported in ) their ancestors had sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for 20 shekels. (
Genesis chapter 38
The Mishnah taught that notwithstanding its mature content, in the synagogue, Jews read and translated Tamar’s story in . (Mishnah Megillah 4:10; Babylonian Talmud Megillah 25a.) The Gemara questioned why the Mishnah bothered to say so and proposed that one might think that Jews should forbear out of respect for Judah. But the Gemara deduced that the Mishnah instructed that Jews read and translate the chapter to show that the chapter actually redounds to Judah’s credit, as it records in that he confessed his wrongdoing. (Babylonian Talmud Megillah 25b.)
Rav Zutra bar Tobiah said in the name of Rav (or according to others, Rav Hanah bar Bizna said it in the name of Rabbi Simeon the Pious, or according to others, Rabbi Johanan said in the name of Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai) that it is better for a person to choose to be executed in a fiery furnace than to shame another in public. For even to save herself from being burned, Tamar in Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 43b.)did not implicate Judah publicly by name. (
The Gemara derived from zuz into the poor man’s door socket. One day, the poor man thought that he would try to find out who did him this kindness. That day Mar Ukba came home from the house of study with his wife. When the poor man saw them moving the door to make their donation, the poor man went to greet them, but they fled and ran into a furnace from which the fire had just been swept. They did so because, as Mar Zutra bar Tobiah said in the name of Rav (or others say Rav Huna bar Bizna said in the name of Rabbi Simeon the Pious, and still others say Rabbi Johanan said in the name of Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai), it is better for a person to go into a fiery furnace than to shame a neighbor publicly. One can derive this from where Tamar, who was subject to being burned for the adultery with which Judah had charged her, rather than publicly shame Judah with the facts of his complicity, sent Judah’s possessions to him with the message, “By the man whose these are am I with child.” (Babylonian Talmud Ketubot 67b.)a lesson about how to give to the poor. The Gemara told a story. A poor man lived in Mar Ukba’s neighborhood, and every day Mar Ukba would put four
Rabbi Johanan noted a similarity between the Hebrew verb “to break” and the name “Perez” (פָּרֶץ) in Babylonian Talmud Yevamot 76b.)and deduced that the name presaged that kings would descend from him, for a king breaks for himself a way. Rabbi Johanan also noted that the name “Zerah” (זָרַח) in is related to the Hebrew root meaning “to shine” and deduced that the name presaged that important men would descend from him. (
Genesis chapter 39
The Tosefta deduced from that before Joseph arrived, Potiphar’s house had not received a blessing, and that it was because of Joseph’s arrival that Potiphar’s house was blessed thereafter. (Tosefta Sotah 10:8.)
Rav Hana (or some say Hanin) bar Bizna said in the name of Rabbi Simeon the Pious that because Joseph sanctified God’s Name in private when he resisted Potiphar’s wife’s advances, one letter from God’s Name was added to Joseph’s name. Rabbi Johanan interpreted the words, “And it came to pass about this time, that he went into the house to do his work,” in ephod, and Jacob asked whether it was Joseph’s wish to have his name expunged from the ephod and be called an associate of harlots, as Proverbs 29:3 says, “He that keeps company with harlots wastes his substance.” Immediately, in the words of “his bow abode in strength.” Rabbi Johanan said in the name of Rabbi Meir that this means that his passion subsided. And then, in the words of “the arms of his hands were made active,” meaning that he stuck his hands in the ground and his lust went out from between his fingernails. (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 36b.)to teach that both Joseph and Potiphar’s wife had the intention to act immorally. Rav and Samuel differed in their interpretation of the words “he went into the house to do his work.” One said that it really means that Joseph went to do his household work, but the other said that Joseph went to satisfy his desires. Interpreting the words, “And there was none of the men of the house there within,” in the Gemara asked whether it was possible that no man was present in a huge house like Potiphar’s. A Baraita was taught in the School of Rabbi Ishmael that the day was Potiphar’s household’s feast-day, and they had all gone to their idolatrous temple, but Potiphar’s wife had pretended to be ill, because she thought that she would not again have an opportunity like that day to associate with Joseph. The Gemara taught that just at the moment reported in when “she caught him by his garment, saying: ‘Lie with me,’ Jacob’s image came and appeared to Joseph through the window. Jacob told Joseph that Joseph and his brothers were destined to have their names inscribed upon the stones of the
Rabbi Johanan said that he would sit at the gate of the bathhouse (mikvah), and when Jewish women came out they would look at him and have children as handsome as he was. The Rabbis asked him whether he was not afraid of the evil eye for being so boastful. He replied that the evil eye has no power over the descendants of Joseph, citing the words of “Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine above the eye [alei ayin].” Rabbi Abbahu taught that one should not read alei ayin (“by a fountain”), but olei ayin (“rising over the eye”). Rabbi Judah (or some say Jose) son of Rabbi Hanina deduced from the words “And let them [the descendants of Joseph] multiply like fishes [ve-yidgu] in the midst of the earth” in that just as fish (dagim) in the sea are covered by water and thus the evil eye has no power over them, so the evil eye has no power over the descendants of Joseph. Alternatively, the evil eye has no power over the descendants of Joseph because the evil eye has no power over the eye that refused to enjoy what did not belong to it — Potiphar’s wife — as reported in (Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 20a; see also Berakhot 55b.)
Genesis chapter 40
Rabbi Samuel ben Nahman taught that the Sages instituted the tradition that Jews drink four cups of wine at the Passover seder in allusion to the four cups mentioned in which says: “‘Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand; and I took the grapes, and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and I gave the cup into Pharaoh’s hand.’ And Joseph said to him: ‘This is the interpretation of it: . . . within yet three days shall Pharaoh lift up your head, and restore you to your office; and you shall give Pharaoh’s cup into his hand, after the former manner when you were his butler.” (Genesis Rabbah 88:5.)
Rabbi Eleazar deduced from the report of Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 55b.)that “the chief baker saw that the interpretation was correct” that each of them was shown his own dream and the interpretation of the other one's dream. (
According to Maimonides and Sefer ha-Chinuch, there are no commandments in the parshah. (Maimonides. Mishneh Torah. Cairo, Egypt, 1170–1180. Reprinted in Maimonides. The Commandments: Sefer Ha-Mitzvoth of Maimonides. Translated by Charles B. Chavel, 2 vols. London: Soncino Press, 1967. ISBN 0-900689-71-4. Sefer HaHinnuch: The Book of [Mitzvah] Education. Translated by Charles Wengrov, 1:91. Jerusalem: Feldheim Pub., 1991. ISBN 0-87306-179-9.)
On Shabbat Hanukkah I
When Hanukkah begins on Shabbat there are two Shabatot that occur on Hanukkah. In this case Parashat Vayeshev will occur on the first day of Hanukkah, as it does in 2009 and the haftarah is Zechariah 2:14–4:7.
The parshah is cited or discussed in these sources:
- “The Story of Two Brothers.” Egypt, circa 1225 B.C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., James B. Pritchard. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 23–25. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969. ISBN 0-691-03503-2.
- Homer. The Iliad Book 6 (Bellerophon accused of rape); Book 9 (Phoenix and father’s concubine). Greece, 8th–6th Century B.C.E.
- Euripides. Hippolytus Athens, 428 B.C.E. (Phaedra's false accusation of rape).
- Deuteronomy 25:5–10 (levirate marriage).
- 2 Samuel 11:2–12:13 (admission of sexual sin); 13:18 (garment of many colors).
- Jeremiah 31:14 (31:15 in NJPS) (refusal to be comforted for lost son of Rachel); 39:6–13 (thrown into a pit).
- Daniel 2:1–49; 4:1–5:31 (interpreting dreams).
- Philo. On the Unchangeableness of God 25:119. Alexandria, Egypt, early 1st Century C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged, New Updated Edition. Translated by Charles Duke Yonge, 168. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Pub., 1993. ISBN 0-943575-93-1.
- Josephus. Antiquities 2:2:1–2:5:3. Circa 93–94. Reprinted in, e.g., The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged, New Updated Edition. Translated by William Whiston, 52–57. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Pub., 1987. ISBN 0-913573-86-8.
- Qur'an: 12:4–42. Arabia, 7th century.
- Mishnah Megillah 4:10. Land of Israel, circa 200 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., The Mishnah: A New Translation. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 323. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-300-05022-4.
- Tosefta: Berakhot 4:16, 18; Sanhedrin 1:3; Sotah 6:6, 9:3, 10:8; Niddah 1:7. Land of Israel, circa 300 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., The Tosefta: Translated from the Hebrew, with a New Introduction. Translated by Jacob Neusner. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Pub., 2002. ISBN 1-56563-642-2.
- Jerusalem Talmud Peah 8a. Land of Israel, circa 400 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., Talmud Yerushalmi. Edited by Chaim Malinowitz, Yisroel Simcha Schorr, and Mordechai Marcus, vol. 3. Brooklyn: Mesorah Pubs., 2006.
- Babylonian Talmud: Berakhot 7b, 34b, 43b, 55a; Shabbat 22a, 49b; Pesachim 50a; Yoma 35b; Megillah 10b, 22b; Chagigah 3a; Yevamot 34b, 59a; Ketubot 67b; Nazir 23a, 23b; Sotah 3b, 7b, 9a, 10a, 10b, 11a, 13b, 36b, 43a; Baba Kama 92a; Baba Metzia 59a, 117a; Baba Batra 109b, 123a; Sanhedrin 6b, 19b, 52b, 102a, 106a; Shevuot 16b; Makkot 9a,10a, 23b; Avodah Zarah 5a, 36b; Horayot 10b; Zevachim 88b; Chullin 92a, 113a; Arachin 15b, 16a; Niddah 8b, 13a, 13b, 28a. Babylonia, 6th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Talmud Bavli. Edited by Yisroel Simcha Schorr, Chaim Malinowitz, and Mordechai Marcus, 72 vols. Brooklyn: Mesorah Pubs., 2006.
- Rashi. Commentary. Genesis 37–40. Troyes, France, late 11th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Rashi. The Torah: With Rashi’s Commentary Translated, Annotated, and Elucidated. Translated and annotated by Yisrael Isser Zvi Herczeg, 1:409–46. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1995. ISBN 0-89906-026-9.
- Zohar 1:179a–193a Spain, late 13th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., The Zohar. Translated by Harry Sperling and Maurice Simon. 5 vols. London: Soncino Press, 1934.
- Jami. Joseph and Zuleika. Persia, 15th Century. In, e.g., Joseph and Zuleika. Translated by Charles F. Horne. Kessinger Pub., 2005. ISBN 1-4253-2805-9.
- Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan, 3:36. England, 1651. Reprint edited by C. B. Macpherson, 454. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Classics, 1982. ISBN 0140431950.
- Moshe Chaim Luzzatto Mesillat Yesharim, ch. 4. Amsterdam, 1740. Reprinted in Mesillat Yesharim: The Path of the Just, 55. Jerusalem: Feldheim, 1966. ISBN 0-87306-114-4.
- Irving Fineman. Jacob, An Autobiograhical Novel. New York: Random House, 1941.
- Thomas Mann. Joseph and His Brothers. Translated by John E. Woods, 14–15, 17–18, 36–37, 43–92, 130, 257, 269-71, 274–75, 303-04, 309, 315–1107, 1254–86. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. ISBN 1-4000-4001-9. Originally published as Joseph und seine Brüder. Stockholm: Bermann-Fischer Verlag, 1943.
- A. M. Klein. “Joseph.” Canada, 1944. Reprinted in The Collected Poems of A.M. Klein, 11. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1974. ISBN 0-07-077625-3.
- Donald A. Seybold. “Paradox and Symmetry in the Joseph Narrative.” In Literary Interpretations of Biblical Narratives. Edited by Kenneth R.R. Gros Louis, with James S. Ackerman & Thayer S. Warshaw, 59–73. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1974. ISBN 0-687-22131-5.
- Elie Wiesel. “Joseph, or the Education of a Tzaddik.” In Messengers of God: Biblical Portraits & Legends, 139–73. New York: Random House, 1976. ISBN 0-394-49740-6.
- Edward L. Greenstein. “An Equivocal Reading of the Sale of Joseph.” In Literary Interpretations of Biblical Narratives: Volume II. Edited by Kenneth R.R. Gros Louis, with James S. Ackerman, 114–25. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1982. ISBN 0-687-22132-3. *Adele Berlin. Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative, 60–61. Sheffield: The Almond Press, 1984. ISBN 0-907459-24-2.
- Marc Gellman. “The Coat of Many Colors.” In Does God Have a Big Toe? Stories About Stories in the Bible, 61–64. New York: HarperCollins, 1989. ISBN 0-06-022432-0.
- Aaron Wildavsky. Assimilation versus Separation: Joseph the Administrator and the Politics of Religion in Biblical Israel. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1993. ISBN 1-56000-081-3.
- Francine Rivers. Unveiled: Tamar. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 2000. ISBN 0-8423-1947-6.
- Joseph Telushkin. The Ten Commandments of Character: Essential Advice for Living an Honorable, Ethical, Honest Life, 91–94, 129–32. New York: Bell Tower, 2003. ISBN 1-4000-4509-6.
- Robert Alter. The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary, xx, xxii–xxiii, xl, 206–29. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2004. ISBN 0-393-01955-1.
- Esther Jungreis. Life Is a Test, 106–12, 240–41. Brooklyn: Shaar Press, 2007. ISBN 1-4226-0609-0.
- Academy for Jewish Religion, California
- Academy for Jewish Religion, New York
- American Jewish University
- Bar-Ilan University
- Department for Jewish Zionist Education
- Jewish Theological Seminary
- Orthodox Union
- Parshah Parts
- Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld
- Reconstructionist Judaism
- Sephardic Institute
- Tanach Study Center
- Union for Reform Judaism
- United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth
- United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
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