Parshat Va Yeshev Bereshit (Genesis) 37:1 - 40:23
Tunic for Tunic
There are three things that can destroy the familial foundation:
All three were very active in the household of Yaakov. He favored Yosef over all his other children. He trusted Yosef’s word over those of his brothers and Yaakov gave special attention to Yosef, and gifts not afforded to the others.
”Now Israel loved Yosef best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age; and he made him an ornamental tunic.”
Yosef didn’t help the situation by being a tattle-tail to his father about the goings on with his brothers.
”…And Yosef brought bad reports of them to their father.”
The natural outcome was his older brothers developed envy against Yosef and distrusted him which led to a lot of strife between them.
”And when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of his brothers, they hated him so that they could not speak a friendly word to him.”
Yosef was also gifted with the ability to interpret dreams - his and those of others. However, at 17 years of age he lacked the wisdom to know when and to whom to share them. This led to his brothers selling him off into slavery.
”Once Yosef had a dream which he told to his brothers; and they hated him even more.”
”Come let us sell him (Yosef) to the Ishmaelites….they sold Yosef for twenty pieces of silver to the Ishmaelites, who brought Yosef to Egypt.”
Yaakov had spent many decades not seeing the fulfillment of HaShem’s promise to him. For years he served his uncle Lavan in Haran as more of a servant than a son-in-law. Then he lived in fear of his brother Esav’s vengeance upon his return to Canaan. Soon after, his favorite and most loved wife, Rachel, dies and can’t even be buried in the family burial cave his grandfather Avraham had purchased many years earlier. Then his first wife Leah dies too leaving him to raise his youngest two sons Yosef and Benjamin in the care of his two concubines who favored their own sons over them. He also had to bury is own father. Just when he begins to think that perhaps things might “settle down” he receives news from his other sons that Yosef, his most favored offspring, has been killed, dismembered and eaten by a wild beast. It is no wonder that Yaakov could not and would not be comforted by his other sons and daughters and his shiva for Yosef was unending.
”All his sons and daughters sought to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, saying, ‘No I will go down mourning to my son in Sheol.’ Thus his father bewailed him.”
The story of this dysfunctional family now digresses to reveal what became of Judah, the brother who changed the minds of his siblings from that of killing Yosef to the idea of selling him for profit; this is where the term “blood money” was born.
To offset their own feelings of guilt the brothers now lowered Judah in their esteem. That and seeing the intense grief of his father became more than Judah could bear. He takes and moves his own family some distance and goes into business with an Adullamite named Hirah.
However, moving away from his father and brothers didn’t remove the stain of his guilt and resulted in the ultimate death of his two oldest sons. The adage ‘the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree’ is befitting here. HaShem, in His mercy allows Judah to experience the same pain of loss that his actions against Yosef had caused his father. This act of kindness on the part of HaShem prepares Judah for the role he is destined to play as the forbearer of the roots of Mashiach and the yet to be revealed Davidic lineage. [SEE: Genesis 49:8-12]
This segue in the story also lays the groundwork for understanding the ancient practice of levirate marriage further developed and expounded on by Moshe in Devarim (Deuteronomy) 25:5.
I could get more into the birth of Judah’s twin sons with his daughter-in-law Tamar (tunic for tunic) but suffice it now to just say that Perez, like his name implies, was destined to be born first even though his twin Zerah put forth his hand first out of the womb.
While Zerah means brightness or great shining like the Sun; the name of his twin brother Perez means a Breach as of the Moon that waxes and wanes only to eventually be fully revealed in its full glory. Prophetically, Perez as the first-born of the Davidic line from Judah would, like the Moon have a kingdom that would come and go (wax and wane) only to be fully realized with the final Davidic king Mashiach.
Back in Egypt Yosef is doing really well after being sold to Potiphar, a high ranking priestly member in the court of Pharaoh. HaShem blesses all that Yosef touches enriching Potiphar so the young Hebrew slave is put in charge of the entire estate of Potiphar.
Of course, with great responsibility comes great opportunity for the evil inclination to raise its ugly head and it does so in the guise of Potiphar’s wife who is relentless in trying to tempt Yosef to bed her. His constant rebuff at her attempts only increases her desire for him. What is that old saying? - ‘Honey tastes sweeter when gotten from a fully protected, undefiled hive.’ (Mishnah - Uqsim 3:11)
She finally gets Yosef cornered one afternoon and tries to pull him to her bed chamber. He pulls violently away leaving his tunic in her hand and flees outside the home to the courtyard. Fearing Yosef might tell her husband of her actions she screams ‘Rape!’ Her servants round up Yosef and hold him until Potiphar comes home to his sobbing wife and the damning evidence held in her hand. Yosef is immediately thrown into Pharaoh’s prison for dignitaries of the State. This may indicate that Potiphar may have not been wholly convinced of his wife’s accusations. If he had been Yosef would have been thrown mercilessly into a slave prison where he would have literally starved or been beaten to death.
Again, HaShem blesses Yosef and the prison warden sees the hand of Adonai is on everything Yosef touches so he puts him in charge of caring for the most distinguished prisoners — in this case it is Pharaoh’s Chief Cupbearer and Chief Baker. This is where the earlier revelation of Yosef’s gift for dream interpretation comes into full measure.
Each of his two wards have a similar dream on the same night. They reveal their dreams to Yosef who gives them each its meaning. [SEE: Genesis 40:1-23]
Parsha Va-Yeshev leaves us hanging in mid-air. The Cup Bearer, having been reinstated to his former high position as server to Pharaoh has forgotten his promise to Yosef of pleading his case before the sovereign. What will happen next?
Stay tuned next Shabbat for the rest of the story.