Aliya-by-Aliya Parshat Vayeishev 5762

Numbers in [square brackets] are the Mitzva-Count from Sefer HaChinuch.

Kohen - First Aliya - 11 p'sukim - 37:1-11

Yaakov has spent years away from home and now has returned. The Torah indicates that it is through Yosef that Yaakov's legacy continues. 17 year old Yosef brings bad reports about his brothers to Yaakov. Yaakov loves Yosef above his brothers and gives him a special (striped) coat. As a result, the brothers hate Yosef and cannot talk civilly to him. Yosef's two dreams (and especially, his telling his brothers about them) increases their 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] Talmud 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 the pasuk 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, of the Sun, Moon, and stars bowing to him, added fuel to his brothers' hatred. Yaakov's pointed out the absurdity of the dream, since Rachel, 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 option in order to diffuse some of the brothers' anger.

[SDT] Why did the scholars of Bavel dress up so grandly? The Gemara in Shabbat asks. And it answers that they were not "Bnei Torah". (External polish to compensate for internal lack.) Says the Chatam Sofer, Yaakov gave Yosef a fancy coat so that the brothers would NOT be jealous of him, that they would view Yaakov's pampering of Yosef as a sign of his inferiority. (P.S. It didn't work out that way)

Levi - 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 involved acts 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.

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. It gives us something to think about. What credit must there be for proper motives, and for actual success.

Shlishi - Third 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 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, the brothers 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. The brothers slaughter a goat, smear Yosef's multi-colored, striped coat in its blood, and send it to Yaakov to identify.

[SDT] 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 the meat of a goat. Rivka dressed Yaakov in Eisav's special garment. The brothers took Yosef's special garment - theK'tonet Pasim - 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. (Think of the terrible anguish of the families of Israel's missing soldiers. Because of Yosef's story, Vayeishev is designated each year as SHABBAT SH'VUYEI V'LE'EDAREI TZAHA"L.)

[SDT] Rashi gives us another aspect of the "Measure for Measure" punishment of Yaakov. The pasuk says that he "mourned for his son MANY DAYS." Rashi says that it was 22 year! Yosef was 17 when he was sold. He was 30 when he stood before Par'o. That's 13. Seven years of plenty and the first two years of famine before father and son were reunited. That makes 22 years that Yaakov was without Yosef. This, says Rashi, is the exact length of time that Yaakov was away from Yitzchak. It includes the 20 years with Lavan, a year and a half in Sukkot, and six months in Bet El before Yaakov returned to his father's house. Remember that Yaakov had various good excuses, nonetheless...

R'vi'i - Fourth 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, Shela. Then Yehuda's wife dies. Yehuda travels to the area where Tamar lives. When she hears of his arrival and realizes that she has not been given to Shela 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.

[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.]

Yehuda recognizes that he is the guilty one, not Tamar, and he admits it. 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. It pervades the Book of B'reishit.

OBSERVATION... Note how the "measure for measure" sequence 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 matter) has his coat grabbed by Potifar's wife. Yosef leaves it in her hands as he runs from the house; the coat becomes the damning piece of evidence against him. Interesting, no?

Chamishi - Fifth 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. Then the Torah makes a point of telling us that Yosef was exceedingly good-looking.

[SDT] 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 over your disappearance and supposed demise and you are enjoying yourself? I shall make things rough for you too.

[SDT] The portion of Yosef in Potifar's house is juxtaposed to the episode of Yehuda and Tamar. The standard explanation is that the sale of Yosef caused Yehuda to lose the respect of his brothers. Rashi gives another, intriguing, explanation. He says that it is to equate Tamar and Potifar's wife - both of whom acted "for the sake of Heaven". Potifar's wife, says Rashi, saw via astrology that she was destined to have descendants that came from Yosef. She thought that she was the one and so she attempted to seduce him. She was just a bit off; it was, in fact, her daughter Os'nat that would bear Yosef's children.

SHISHI - 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 angers her.

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.

[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.

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 adds that Yosef spent 10 years in prison corresponding to the 10 brothers he reported on.

Sh'vi'i - Seventh Aliya - 23 p'sukim - 40:1-23

The last portion of VaYeshev tells of the dreams of the wine steward and the baker, both of whom had been imprisoned by Par'o for misdemeanors. Both dream on the same night and awaken in morning very agitated. After Yosef interprets the wine steward's dream in a positive manner, the baker asks Yosef to interpret his dream as well. Yosef predicts death for him. Both dreams come true: the wine steward is restored to his position of honor and the baker is hanged. Yosef asks the wine steward to be remember him to Par'o, but alas, he forgets Yosef and his promise to him.

Haftara - 19 p'sukim -Amos 2:6-3:8

Amos was an early prophet (and a sheep farmer - whatever that is), shortly after the kingdom split into Israel and Judea. He lived in Tekoa, Judea, but prophesied mostly in the Kingdom of Israel, where he tried to warn the people of the tragic end they faced. Amos warns the people that their behavior is repugnant before G-d and that He has already destroyed some of the neighboring nations for their misdeeds.

The first pasuk is the perfect connection to the sedra; mentioning the sale of Yosef by his brothers. Rabbi Jacobs points to several other textual and conceptual connections.