Aliya-by-Aliya Parshat VaYeishev 5759

[Numbers] are mitzvot in Sefer HaChinuch


First Aliya - 11 p'sukim (37:1-11) Yaakov has spent years away from his father's house and now has returned. The Torah indicates that it is through Yosef that Yaakov's legacy continues. 17 yr. old Yosef brings bad reports about his brothers to Yaakov. Yaakov loves Yosef above his brothers and gives him a special coat. As a result, the brothers hate Yosefand are unable to talk civilly to him. Yosef's two dreams (and his telling his brothers about them) increases the hatred and jealousy, and alarms Yaakov.

[sdt] These are the TO'L'DOT of Yaakov: Yosef... Should not the Torah have started with Reuven? This comes to show us, says the Gemara, that Yosef should have been Yaakov's firstborn, but G-d's mercy for Leah put her before Rachel in giving birth.

[sdt] The Gemara (Yerushalmi) wonders what Yosef reported about the brothers to Yaakov. R. Meir says, that they ate "limb from a living animal"; R. Yehuda says that they belittled the sons of Bilha and Zilpa and mistreated them; R. Shimon says that they cast their gaze upon the local women. R. Yehuda b. Pazi quotes theverse from Mishlei: "The scales and weighing stones of justice are HaShem's", meaning that a person is punished measure for measure. (Sources explain that the brothers did not do these things; Yosef misinterpreted what he saw.) In Yosef's case, the slaughter of a goat was instrumental in his abduction and the deception of his father; he was belittled and enslaved; he was accused of immoral behavior with Potifar's wife.

Yosef's second dream, about the Sun, Moon, and stars bowing to him, added fuel to his brothers' hatred. Yaakov's reaction was to point out the absurdity of the dream, since Rachel, represented by the Moon, had already died and would therefore not be bowing to Yosef. Rashi says two different things: (1) The dream was referring to Bilha who raised Yosef in Rachel's absence; and (2) even "true" dreams have an element of nonsense. These seem to be mutually exclusive statements - if the Moon represents Bilha, then the dream contained no nonsense. Yaakov seems to have purposely voiced the second notion in order to diffuse some of the brothers' anger.


Second Aliya - 11 p'sukim (37:12-22) The brothers are tending the sheep near Sh'chem. Yaakov sends Yosef to them. A stranger (some say, the angel Gavriel) helps him find them. (In the whole story of Yosef and his brothers, one can see that G-d has a plan which proceeds with the unknowing help of the brothers and other individuals. And yet, each person involvedacts of his own free will.) When the brothers see Yosef coming, they (some say, Shimon and Levi) suggest killing him. Reuven talks them out of it by suggesting that they not spill his blood, but throw him into a pit instead. The Torah testifies that Reuven really intended to save Yosef.

A point must be made about the concluding pasuk of this Aliya, which gives credit to Reuven for saving Yosef. Commentaries say that Reuven could have talked the brother out of the whole thing; instead, he suggested the snake- and scorpion-infested pit. Nonetheless, Reuven is credited for his intention to save Yosef. How much more so do we have to honor those who plan and succeed with good deeds and mitzvot.

Rashi says that Reuven truly intended to come back and save Yosef - that's good - but his reason was that he, as oldest, would take all the blame - that's not necessarily a nice reason. Nonetheless, he gets the credit for the good deed he planned on doing - even though it wasn't accomplished AND even though his motives were not pure. Again I say, it give you something to think about. What credit there is for proper motives, and for actual success.


3rd Aliya - 14 p'sukim (37:23-36) When Yosef arrives, the brothers remove his coat and throw him into a deep pit. The brothers sit to eat. (This is generally considered as a sign of callousness to what they have done.) When a caravan of Ishmaelites approaches, Yehuda suggests that it would be wrong to kill Yosef (Reuven's intentions notwithstanding, thebrothers expected Yosef to die in the pit); they should rather get rid of him by selling him into slavery. Through a series of transactions, Yosef ends up in Egypt as a slave to Potifar. When Reuven returns to the scene and discovers Yosef missing, he rends his garment and expresses his distress to the others. They slaughter a goat, smear the multi-colored coat in its blood and send it to Yaakov to identify.

Commentaries point out that just as Yaakov had deceived his father with a goat and a garment, so too was he deceived with a goat and a garment. The dish prepared by Rivka for Yaakov to serve his father was made from goat meat. Rivka dressed Yaakov in Eisav's special garment. The brothers took Yosef's special garment - theK'tonet Passim - and smeared it with goat's blood. This is a stark example of "Mida k'neged mida" - measure for measure. Yaakov is inconsolable.

This is considered an indication that Yaakov subconsciously knew that Yosef was alive; one naturally accepts consolation for the dead after a time, but not for the missing.

Try to imagine what it was like for Yaakov Avinu, and what it is like for the families of Israel's missing soldiers. This is why this Shabbat was chosen as Shabbat Ne'edarei Zahal. See the Special Features section.


4th Aliya - 30 p'sukim (38:1-30) Subsequently, Yehuda leaves home and befriends an Adullamite.

[sdt] Why is the story of Yosef interrupted to tell us about Yehuda's situation? Rashi tells us that Yehuda was no longer looked up to by his brothers. After they saw the terrible effect on Yaakov of the Yosef business, they blamed Yehuda for not talking them out of the whole idea. Hence the term "And Yehuda went down from his brothers..."

There he meets and marries the daughter of Shu'a, who bears him 3 sons. He marries off his eldest Er to Tamar. When Er dies, the next brother Onan, marries his brother's widow. When Onan also dies, Tamar is left to wait for the third son, Shelah. Then Yehuda's wife dies. Yehuda travels to the area where Tamar lives. Whenshe hears of his arrival and realizes that she has not been given to Shelah yet, she disguises herself. Yehuda, thinking she is a prostitute, sleeps with her. She asks and receives 3 items as security that he will send her payment.

When it becomes known that Tamar is pregnant, Yehuda is summoned. Assuming that she has acted sinfully, he is prepared to have her punished. Tamar produces the 3 items and announces that she is pregnant by their owner.

[sdt] The Gemara teaches that one must avoid embarrassing another at all costs - it is better to be thrown into a fiery furnace than embarrass someone. We learn this from Tamar, who did not denounce Yehuda, even though she would have been considered guilty of immorality had Yehuda not owned up to his actions.

Yehuda recognizes that he is the guilty one, not Tamar. She gives birth to twins (one extending his hand first, the other actually being born first). They are named Peretz (ancestor of King David) and Zerach.

Note the repeat of the confused firstborn theme.

(Commentaries explain that prior to Matan Torah, any close relative could take the childless wife of the deceased; after the Torah was given, only the brother qualifies for YIBUM.)

[sdt] Note how the "measure for measure" punishment continues. Yaakov deceives his father with a garment (Eisav's) and fans the jealousy of his son's against Yosef with the "coat of many colors". He is deceived (and devastated) by that same coat when the brothers bring it back to him all bloodied. Yehuda is "troubled" by his garment which he gave to Tamar as one of the three securities for his promise to pay her with goats. (P'tilim, says Rashi, refers to Yehuda's cloak.) Yosef, the victim (but not free of guilt in the affair) has his coat grabbed by Potifar's wife. Yosef leaves it in her hands as he runs from the house; the coat becomesthe damning piece of evidence against him. (See further on.) Interesting, no?

G'MATRIYA: Potifar gave everything into Yosef's care except for "the bread he ate". Rashi says this is a euphemism for his wife. Baal HaTurim supports Rashi's words with a G'matriya.

KI IM HALECHEM ASHER HU OCHEIL (except for the bread which he ate) = 20+10 (30) + 1+40 (41) + 5+30+8+40 (83) + 1+300+200 (501) + 5+6+1 (12) 1+6+20+30 (57) = 724.

HI ISHTO (she is his wife) = 5+10+1 (16) + 1+300+400+6 (707) = 723.


5th Aliya - 6 p'sukim (39:1-6) In "meanwhile back at the ranch" style, the Torah returns us to the story of Yosef. Yosef serves in Potifar's house and brings success to his master. He is well-liked by all, and is given much responsibility. The Torah makes a point of telling us that Yosef was exceedingly good-looking.

The Midrash says that Yosef was aware of his looks and became too comfortable in Potifar's house. Things were going well, he had good food and drink, and he began "curling his hair". G-d (so to speak) said to Yosef: Your father is in agony and you are enjoying yourself? I shall bring on the "bear" (a reference to the aggressivewife of Potifar).


Sixth Aliya - 17 p'sukim (39:7-23) Potifar's wife casts her eye upon Yosef. She repeatedly attempts to seduce him. His constant refusal (emphasized by the unusual, strong, persistent note - the "shalshellet" on the word "And he refused") angers her.

[sdt] The Sfat Emet calls our attention to to sequence of verbs - And he refused, and he said... First and foremost when a person is being led into temptation, he must stand firm and refuse to go. THEN, if warranted, he can explain his reasons. The refusal must come first. This is a lesson we learn from Yosef HaTzaddik.

She grabs him on a day when no one else is in the house. Yosef flees, leaving his coat behind. (This is the second time he has left his coat in the hands of others.) Potifar's wife denounces Yosef to all who will listen, and Potifar has no choice but to have Yosef imprisoned.

G-d "favors" Yosef in prison, and Yosef becomes well-liked and respected there too. Even in his troubled circumstances, Yosef is watched over favorably by G-d.

[sdt] Commentaries see the episode of Potifar's wife as an appropriate punishment for Yosef: (a) having been vain about his good looks, (b) having reported to his father that his brothers had been "lifting their eyes" to the local girls, and (c) experiencing libelous accusations against himself, as he had reported the "evildoings" of the brothers to their father.

Baal HaTurim says that Yosef spent 10 years in prison corresponding to the 10 brothers he reported on.


Seventh Aliya - 23 p'sukim (40:1-23) This concluding portion of VaYeshev tells of the dreams of the wine steward and the baker, both of whom had been imprisoned by Par'o. Both dream on the same night and awake the following morning very agitated. After Yosef interprets the wine steward's dream in a positive manner, the baker asks Yosef to interpret his dreamas well. For him, Yosef predicts death. Both dreams come true: the wine steward is restored to his position of honor and the baker is hanged. Yosef asks to be remembered to Par'o, but alas, the wine steward forgets his promise & Yosef.

This episode poses an important question: what is the balance between faith in G-d and human effort. Was wearing a gas mask and going into a sealed room during the Gulf War the correct thing to do, or should we have sufficed with T'hilim & confidence in G-d's Divine protection? Was Yaakov proper in preparing for appeasementor war with Eisav, or should he have been praying full time? Should Yosef not have asked the wine steward to put in the good word with Par'o?

The answers are yes, no, sometimes, maybe, could be. The Sages present Yaakov as doing the right thing by his multi-faceted plan. The criticism is in his "over-fear" of Eisav. Similarly, it was the responsible thing for us to seal a room and be diligent about gas masks. That was our HISHTADLUS, our efforts to "help ourselves".But to panic and "fall apart" when the siren sounded, that might have indicated a lack of faith.

Commentaries say that Yosef should not have relied on the wine steward because of the combination of who Yosef was, who the Sar HaMashkim was, and the implications in that particular situation. Yosef should not have asked the W.S. for help, lest he say: His own G-d might help with dream decoding, but I was the one who gothim out of jail. In other words - Chilul HaShem. Each situation must be evaluated on its own.


19 p'sukim - Amos 2:6-3:8 Amos was a resident of Tekoa, south of Jerusalem, who was one of the earliest of the prophets whose prophecies are recorded in Tanach. In this portion, he calls upon Israel to repent its ways. The connection to the parsha is obvious - in the parsha we read of the first transgression of the children of Israel. There is specificreference to the sin of "selling the righteous one for silver and the poor for a pair of shoes". This can be directly related to the sale of Yosef.