20/21 Dec: Vayeshev: Shabbat comes in 3:38 pm, ends 4:48 pm
Parashat Vayeshev – Joseph’s Prophetic Dream
This week’s Torah portion opens by describing a ticking time bomb of a family: older sons working hard in the field, while a favoured child receives gifts and praise and brings ‘evil reports’ of his brothers back to the parents. Ya’akov (Jacob, the father) is only alerted to a potential problem when Yosef (Joseph, the favourite child) begins to share his dreams with his family – dreams in which the brothers are all bowing down to Yosef. Ya’akov finally turns his attention to the matter, and even attempts some kind of equalisation between brothers by sending Yosef out to the field, but it is apparent that the hatred runs too deep. The brothers conspire against Yosef, throw him into a pit, sell him into slavery, and tell their father that the boy died out in the field.
Ya’akov is distraught. The brothers keep their secret. Eventually, after a tumultuous journey involving slavery, false accusations, and imprisonment, Yosef will rise to power in Egypt as Pharaoh’s right-hand man. The Torah, which usually wastes no word,s and is conservative on details, focuses in on the growth and development of Yosef. He becomes a tzaddik, a righteous man – and a powerful man, too.
When the brothers rejoin Yosef’s story, Yosef’s dream becomes reality. His brothers bow down to him. However, real life is not as glamourous as the dream. Yosef’s brothers throw themselves at his feet in an attempt to save the youngest, Binyamin.
Finally standing in the place of his dream must feel like a cruel, ironic twist. At the end of this narrative, Yosef learns that while he has been through a whole character arc – in which he has grown, changed and learnt – so have his brothers. The brothers who meet him years later are not the same as the brothers who threw him into a pit.
We are all the main characters of our own stories. We follow our own narratives, our ups and downs, and experience our own character development. It can be easy to forget that everyone else is doing the same.
May we all learn to allow each other room for growth.
Rabbi Natasha Mann
So in terms of a punishment for the people of Noah’s time, the flood and the destruction of all living things does seem a bit extreme. One of my rabbis, Rabbi Brad Artson argues, that is exactly the point the Torah is trying to make.
Destruction, even when it comes from the God who is “slow to anger and abounding in kindness” bursts beyond any manageable or fair limitations. Even punishments, originally intended to be measured and reasonable, provoke unanticipated suffering and hardship.
Rabbi Paul Arberman.
Abraham Joshua Heschel believed that Adam’s sin was primarily in hiding from God and from himself. This is not, in Heschel’s eyes, an abstract idea; we all hide from God and from ourselves. Heschel expresses it thus in the third verse of his poem I and Thou:
” Often I glimpse Myself in everyone’s form,
hear My own speech – a distant, quiet voice – in people’s weeping,
as if under millions of masks My face would lie hidden. ”
Heschel is describing a personal experience in which he has hidden from himelf, his essence absorbed within society. His face is masked, hidden from view, making the idea to “know thyself” impossible.
I’m not sure why we hide from ourselves so well when we are young — or perhaps we just don’t take the time to think through who we are — but I can say definitively, that one of the great joys of getting older is the unmasking — getting to know yourself — what you actually enjoy or don’t enjoy doing.
Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman