This week’s Sedra sees Jacob settle in Hebron with his 12 sons, and then follows the trials and tribulations of Joseph, with which we are so familiar both through Torah stories and thanks to Andrew Lloyd Webber. In light of the dramatic political events of the last few weeks I wanted to look at the character traits that made Joseph rise to the top and made him such a great leader:
Yosef is described as a “lad - naar” in this week's parasha.
Rashi comments that this description shows that Yosef acted
childishly, he used to do his hair and would touch up his eyes
in order to appear good looking. Another description of Yosef
is that he was “a son of his old age” (referring to yaakov) - Rashi
says that this means his facial features were similar to his
At my Barmitzvah 45 years ago Rabbi Chaitowitz (z”l) said in his sermon that Joseph had been treasurer of Egypt just as my father was treasurer of Stanmore Shul. He also spoke of a Technicolour Dreamcoat which every school was singing about but made no mention of Judah and Tamar and their story which we read in Chapter 38 (Revii).
A question is asked by Chazal (our sages); ‘why did Yaakov deserve to have Joseph sold as a slave (all the while thinking that he was dead)?’ Surely a patriarch of the Jewish people, as righteous as Yaakov was undeserving of something so traumatic?
The patriarchs were on a completely different level to what we are on today, so we cannot judge them by our standards, however we find the answer to the question in this week’s sidra, which opens with the words ‘Vayeshev Yaakov’, ‘Yaakov settled/rested in the land’.
This is an action-packed Sedra. It is framed by two pairs of dreams, and has all the makings of a Greek tragedy -- albeit without the tragedy. The first two dreams represent hubris, with it being implied that Joseph is to lord it over his father and brothers. The last two – the dreams of the butler and the baker -- occur at the depth of his nemesis, and are the starting gun for the non-tragic catharsis which plays out in the following two Sedrot. And in between those episodes is enacted a separate drama, the story of Judah and Tamar. This is a tale of death and sex, remorse and rehabil
At the centre of the Sidra, in chapter 38, we find the story of Judah’s separation from his father and brothers. This was after Joseph's disappearance. The family was in a state of deep shock. Judah, who had proposed Joseph’s sale, blamed himself for doing so and went to live amongst the Canaanites. The Torah says that he went down from his family home.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “Joseph” with its universal themes and catchy tunes includes the song “Any Dream Will Do” – and in this Sedra there are four that deserve our attention. The first two feature Joseph as the central character, whilst at the end we are told about Joseph’s insightful explanation of the dreams of two of his fellow prisoners.
The main stories in the Sidra focus on Joseph and Judah whose tribes emerged as the leading tribes of the Israelite nation, later in Biblical history. In today’s Sidra they play a major role, as individuals. They clashed bitterly. This Sidra recounts their terrible and tragic downfall. Joseph ended up in a pit, sold as a slave and became a prisoner in Egypt. Judah severed all his connections with the family. His brothers disowned him. He married a Canaanite woman which was an act of betrayal of the highest order, contrary to the religious principles of his ancestors.
Rabbi Twerski , who is both Rabbi and psychiatrist, says that rationalisation is one of the most common drives utilised by the intellect to provide for the emotions. Since rationalisation consists of logical excuses to cover up the true reason behind behaviour, it is by definition false, and can dangerously mislead a person. Had each individual brother questioned himself honestly about why he was behaving immorally they together could have prevented the injustice of the sale and the deception.
This Sidra of Vayeshev is devoted, mainly, to the story of Joseph. It begins by telling us that when Joseph was young, he was cared for by Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives, because his own mother, Rachel, had died. Leah had six children of her own, so she had no time to look after Joseph. For this reason, Joseph normally spent his time with Bilhah and Zilpah’s children. Unfortunately, Joseph was not happy in their midst and did not feel that he was part of the group. He was probably still traumatised by his mother’s untimely death.