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Parashat Vayeshev- Preparing For The Future


Parashat Vayeshev tells the story, not of sibling rivalry but a story of an argument about future-proofing the Jewish People.

Parsha Summary

1. Sibling rivalry in Jacob’s home
2. Joseph’s dreams
3. Joseph is sold to Egypt
4. Judah and Tamar
5. Joseph in Potiphar’s house
6. Joseph imprisoned
7. Joseph interprets the dreams of the butler and baker.

Joseph and his brothers

Parashat Vayeshev introduces us to one of the most famous and beloved stories in the Bible, Joseph and his brothers. This is a long story that is spread over the final four parshiyot of Genesis. Joseph and his brothers explore the themes of sibling rivalry, faith, repentance, redemption, rehabilitation and reconnection. The story of the young boy who had dreams of being a leader enthralls us.

Joseph’s Two Dreams

The Parasha opens with Jacob presenting Joseph with his special cloak, which raises the anger of his brothers. The Parasha continues to describe two dreams that Joseph has. In the first dream, the brothers are all in the field bundling sheaves of wheat when all of a sudden, the sheaves of the brothers stand up and bow down to Joseph’s wheat. In the second dream, Joseph witnesses how the sun, moon and stars all bow down to him. This time, not only are his brothers angry but his father is too. “Will your father, mother and brothers prostrate themselves to you?” At this point, Rachel has died, and Jacob dismisses the dreams publicly but, knowing his own experiences with Divine dreams, he quietly guards them to see what will become of them.

The Interpretation of the Dreams

Josephs dreams

What was the dream all about? What was it about them that bothered Joseph so much and drew so much anger from his brothers? Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik (1903-1993) known in modern Orthodox circles simply as the Rav, offered a marvelous homiletic interpretation. The Rav suggested that the dreams were more than the dreams of grandeur of a young man, but pre-empted the future of the Jewish People.

Jacob and his family lived in the land of Canaan. They were shepherds and lived a quiet life. In the first dream, Joseph sees himself and his family gathering wheat. This is an ancient activity that has been performed for generations. The brother’s wheat bows down to his. This already is a change; the older brothers bow down to the younger brother. This is not correct, it is against the normal way, where the younger children defer to the older brother.

In the second dream, the celestial bodies bow down to Joseph. It is as if the universe is agreeing with him. What was the issue that was being discussed? The Rav suggested, that there was an argument between Joseph and his brothers regarding the future. The brothers believed that the world that was, was the world that is. There is no change, our father was a shepherd as was our grandfather and great-grandfather. There is no reason to believe that this should not continue.

Change is Coming

change is coming

Joseph believed that a great change was coming and if we do not prepare for these changes we will not survive. What had sustained our ancestors would not help with the new world. The world of the fathers was about to end and a new chapter in Jewish history was about to begin. Would we be ready? This was the question. The brothers did not understand what Joseph was suggesting and rejected his ideas out of hand. But Jacob saw something and he watched to see what the outcome would be.

The brothers argued that no matter what the world would become, we have our traditions and values. There is no reason why this should not change. What we have received as a tradition from the house of Abraham will be enough, we do not need any changes to our education or way of life.

Joseph was convinced that the brothers were wrong. That they would bow down to him and accept that Joseph was correct.

It is interesting, that Jacob gave Joseph a coat of many colors. Jacob saw in Joseph the future, and that he was to rule over the family. Embedded within the gift of the coat was a warning. The Jewish People are made up of different ideologies and philosophical perspectives on how to serve Hashem. By giving Joseph the coat, Jacob may have been teaching not only Joseph but the brothers too, that the future of the Jewish people would need both sides to succeed.

However, when the coat was presented it only caused resentment, anger and pain. Jacob’s dream of the brothers working together would turn into a nightmare when Joseph disappears and seems to have died. 22 years would pass before the brothers would be reunited, and would learn to live a Jewish life in a new world and new reality.


Don’t Shoot The Messenger

It should be noted, that when the Jewish People finally descended to Egypt, Jacob sent Judah first to establish a yeshiva in Goshen (Rashi based on the midrash). Jacob understands that there is a synthesis between the two positions of Joseph and his brothers. The world will change. However, we need to prepare for the changes and the upheaval that will come. We must accept that change is
inevitable and needs to be addressed and acted upon for the successful transmission of traditions and values. To dismiss the words of the messenger and not accept what they are saying, is detrimental and it causes so much pain that could easily have been avoided.

Parashat Vayeshev always falls in the week leading up to Chanukah, the message of the Parasha echoes the celebration of Chanukah. To prepare for upheaval to our Jewish way, in a manner that leaves us stronger and more committed to our faith, our people, our heritage and our mission.

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