FROM THE TORAH
At the end of last week’s Sedra Vayishlach, Jacob has returned from Charan to Canaan. Isaac dies and is buried by both of his sons, Jacob and Esau. At the beginning of this week’s Sedra Vayeshev, Jacob is described as “settling” in the land where his father had “sojourned.” But virtually all of the Sedra opens the saga of Jacob’s favored son Joseph, who spends his adult life involuntarily outside of that land, in Egypt. The seeds of Joseph’s displacement are revealed through the narrative, which includes the decisive role of dreams in his fortunes. The source of Joseph’s success in Egypt is presented as divine, but its hidden hand and Joseph’s conventional piety distinguish most of this Sedra as post-Patriarchal. An exception is the curious, dissimilar account of unconventional destiny in the arduous relationship of Judah and his sons with Tamar.
Joseph Emerges in Canaan
JOSEPH AND HIS BROTHERS
Now Jacob “settles” (Vayeshev) in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan. These are the generations of Jacob.
Joseph, a lad of seventeen years, was a shepherd of the flock, along with his brothers, the sons of his father’s wives Bilhah and Zilpah. He carried uncomplimentary reports of his brothers to their father. Israel loved Joseph the most of all of his sons, as Joseph was the son of his old age, and his father made for him a grand tunic. His brothers knew that their father loved Joseph more than he loved them, and they hated Joseph for it and could not speak peaceably to him.
JOSEPH SHARES HIS DREAMS
Joseph has a dream which he relates to his brothers: “We were binding sheaves in the field, when my sheaf stood up and your sheaves surrounded mine and bowed down to it.” This makes his brothers hate Joseph even more than before. “Do you intend to rule over us?” they say to him. In another dream that he relates to them: “The sun and the moon and eleven stars are bowing down to me.” For that dream his father rebukes him: Do you mean to say that I and your mother and your brothers will come to bow down to you on the ground? His brothers display anger, and his father remains guarded.
JOSEPH SEEKS HIS BROTHERS
When his brothers go to shepherd their father’s flock in Shechem, Israel sends Joseph from the Valley of Hebron to report on them to him. When Joseph arrives at Shechem, a man encounters him. He is wandering about in the field, and the man asks him, “What are you seeking?” “My brothers I seek,” he says, “pray tell me where they are shepherding.” “They have gone from here,” says the man, “but I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” So Joseph finds his brothers in Dothan.
THE BROTHERS CONSPIRE AGAINST JOSEPH
Seeing him from afar, the brothers conspire: “Oh look, here comes the master of dreams. Let us kill him and toss him into one of the pits and say that a ferocious beast has eaten him. Then we shall see what becomes of his dreams!” But Reuben determines to save him by arguing against taking his life: “Let us throw him into this pit in the wilderness, without any violence,” planning to save him from their hand and return him to his father. When Joseph reaches his brothers, they strip him of his grand tunic and throw him into the pit alive. The pit is empty, it contains no water.
His brothers sit down to eat. They see a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, its camels laden with aromatic spices to be brought down to Egypt. Says Judah to his brothers, “It doesn’t pay for us to kill our brother and then hide his blood. Instead let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, so that our hand will not be against him, because our brother is our flesh.” The brothers agree. When Midianite traders pass by, they pull Joseph out of the pit and sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. They bring Joseph to Egypt.
In the meantime, Reuben returns to the pit. When he fails to find Joseph there, he rends his garments and says to his brothers, “The boy is lost, what shall I do?” They slaughter a kid, dip Joseph’s tunic in its blood, and send it to their father, saying that they found it and asking him if he can identify it as Joseph’s. Jacob recognizes it, saying, “It is my son’s, a ferocious beast must have eaten him, Joseph was mortally wounded!” Jacob rends his clothing and puts sackcloth around his loins, and mourns for his son many days. His sons and daughters seek to comfort him, but he refuses to be comforted, “I will go down to She’ol mourning for my son!” Thus does his father bewail him.
Meanwhile, the Medanites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, a courtier of Pharaoh, the chief steward.
Judah’s Unique Line
JUDAH AND TAMAR
At this time Judah leaves his brothers and turns toward an Adullamite man whose name is Chirah. He marries the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua. They have three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah, who was born at Keziv. Judah takes a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name is Tamar. But Er is evil in the sight of the Eternal, so that the Eternal takes his life. Judah tells the next son Onan to cohabit with his brother’s widow as her brother-in-law, “and raise up offspring for your brother” (cf. Deuteronomy 25:5-6).
Knowing that the offspring would not be counted as his, Onan lets his seed be wasted upon the ground, thus depriving his brother of offspring. What he does is evil in the sight of the Eternal, so the Eternal takes his life also. Judah fears that the next son Shelah would suffer the same fate as that of his brothers. So he tells his daughter-in-law Tamar to remain as a widow in her father’s house until his son Shelah reaches adulthood. Tamar complies with that expectation.
Many days pass. Tamar sees that Shelah has grown up but that she has not been given to him as his wife. In the meantime Judah’s wife, the daughter of Shua, dies. Judah’s period of mourning concludes. Judah, together with Chira his Adullamite friend, goes up towards Timnah to visit his sheep shearers. Tamar is told. She puts aside her garments of widowhood and enwraps herself, covering her face with a veil, and sits in an open place on the way to Timnah.
Judah sees her and takes her for a prostitute, as she has covered her face. Judah proposes an assignation, not knowing that she is his daughter-in-law. “What will be your payment?” she asks. “I will send you a kid from my flock,” he answers. She asks for a surety until then. “What surety shall I give you?” he asks. “Your seal and your cord and the staff which is in your hand.” These he gives her. He is intimate with her, and she conceives by him. Thereupon she goes and removes her veil and puts back on the garments of her widowhood.
Judah sends his Adullamite friend to give her the kid and collect from her the surety, but she is nowhere to be found. When the Adullamite asks about the prostitute that was in that place on the road, he is told by the local people that there was no prostitute there. Judah says: “Let her keep it lest we be derided. After all, I sent her the kid and you were not able to find her!”
About three months later Judah is told that his daughter-in-law Tamar has been unfaithful and that she is pregnant as a result. “Bring her out,” says Judah, “to be burned!” As she is being brought out, she sends the following message to her father-in-law: “I am pregnant by the one who owns these; see if you can identify to whom belong the seal and the cord and the staff!” Judah recognizes them, and he acknowledges, “She is more innocent than I, since I did not give her my son Shelah,” and he was not intimate with her again.
At the time of her delivery, there are twins in her womb. One puts forth his hand, and the midwife ties a crimson thread upon it to say that he came out first. But then he withdraws his hand, as it were, and his brother comes out first. To him she says, “What a ‘breakthrough’ you have made for yourself!” and so he is named Peretz (“breakthrough”). Then comes his brother, on whose hand is the bright red thread, and he is named Zerach (“brightness”).
Joseph Begins to Sojourn in Egypt
JOSEPH IN EGYPT
When Joseph is brought down to Egypt, he is sold by the Ishmaelites, who brought him down, to Potiphar, an Egyptian man. Potiphar is Pharaoh’s courtier and the chief steward. The Eternal is with Joseph. Joseph is a successful man and earns the favor of his Egyptian master, who places him over everything in his house and over everything that he owns. Because of Joseph, the Eternal blesses everything that the Egyptian owns, both inside his home and outside of it. The Egyptian trusts Joseph to take care of everything. The Egyptian himself attends only to his own food. In addition, Joseph is attractive in appearance.
JOSEPH AND POTIPHAR’S WIFE
After some time the master’s wife casts her eyes upon Joseph and beckons him, “Lie with me.” He refuses her: “My master has trusted me to do with everything in the house as I see fit. He has not withheld anything from me except you, in that you are his wife. So how could I commit this great evil and sin before God?” But every day she would speak the same way to Joseph, and just as often he would not agree to lie with her, to be intimate with her.
Then one day, when no others were in the house, Joseph comes in to do his work and she takes hold of his clothing, saying, “Lie with me!” Joseph runs out, leaving his garment in her hand. She summons the people of her house and says to them: “See, a Hebrew man has been brought here to harass us. He tried to rape me, and I called out in a loud voice, causing him to run away, but not without leaving some of his clothing with me!” She keeps the item until her husband returns home, and she relates the same story to him. Her husband is incensed over his servant’s alleged behavior and puts him in prison, where the king’s prisoners are kept.
JOSEPH IN PRISON
But the Eternal is with Joseph, extending His kindness to him and causing the warden of the prison to treat him favorably. The warden places all of the prisoners under Joseph’s authority, and Joseph comes to be in charge of everything that goes on there! The warden does not himself attend to those things that are put under Joseph’s control, in that the Eternal is with Joseph, and whatever Joseph does turns out well due to the Eternal.
DREAMS OF SOMMELIER AND BAKER
Later it happens that the king’s sommelier and baker commit offense against their master. Pharaoh angrily commits them to be detained in the home of the chief steward, and to the prison where Joseph is confined. The chief steward assigns Joseph to attend to them. They are in detention for some time.
Then, on one night, the two of them dream dreams, each one unique in itself and in its meaning. Joseph finds them, the next morning, upset. He asks them why, and they explain to him: We have each dreamed a dream, but there is no one to interpret its meaning. Says Joseph, “The meaning of dreams really belongs to God; please tell them to me!”
The chief sommelier relates his dream to Joseph: “There was a vine before me, and on the vine were three branches. As it was budding, its blossoms came up and its clusters ripened into grapes. With Pharaoh’s cup in my hand, I took the grapes and squeezed them into the cup, which I placed into the hand of Pharaoh.” Joseph then provides the interpretation: “The three branches are three days. In three days Pharaoh will ‘lift your head’ (show you favor) and restore you to your office, wherein you shall provide Pharaoh his cup, as before.” Then he adds: “But remember me when things are well, and mention me to Pharaoh, in order to free me from this prison. For I was stolen without cause from the Land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing to justify being put into prison!”
The chief baker, heartened by Joseph’s positive interpretation of his colleague’s dream, begs to relate his own: “There are three bread baskets upon my head, the uppermost basket being full of various baked foods for Pharaoh, and a bird is eating them from the basket ‘from upon my head.’” Joseph then provides the interpretation: “The three baskets are three days. In three days Pharaoh will ‘lift your head from upon you’ and impale you upon a wooden pole, and birds will eat your flesh from upon you.” And so it is, on the third day, the birthday of Pharaoh, that he makes a feast for all of his servants, and he “lifts the head of” (singles out) the chief sommelier and the chief baker from among all of his servants. He restores the chief sommelier to his previous office of providing Pharaoh his cup, but the chief baker he impales, as Joseph predicted by his interpretation.
Withal the chief sommelier fails to remember Joseph.
FROM ADAM & EVE TO DAVID
Genesis 3:20; 4:25-5:32 Sedra Bereysheet
When God created Man, He made him in the likeness of God, male and female. He blessed them and called them Man (Adam). The man named his wife Eve (Chava) because she was the mother of all that lives (chai).
1 Adam and Eve
Adam was 130 years old when he begat Seth and lived altogether 930 years.
His name means:
God has “provided” me (Eve) with another seed
in place of Abel, whom Cain slew.
He was 105 years old when he begat Enosh and lived altogether 912 years.
Then people began to call upon the Name of the Eternal.
He was 90 years old when he begat Kenan and lived altogether 905 years.
He was 70 years old when he begat Mahalalel and lived altogether 910 years.
He was 65 years old when he begat Jered and lived altogether 895 years.
He was 162 years old when he begat Enoch and lived altogether 962 years.
He was 65 years old when he begat Methusaleh and lived altogether 365 years.
He was 187 years old when he begat Lemech and lived altogether 969 years.
He was 182 years old when he begat Noah and lived altogether 777 years.
His name means:
he will provide “relief” from toil on the land cursed by God.
When Noah was 500 years old,
he begat Shem, Ham and Jephet.
Genesis 11:10-30 Sedra Noach
He was 100 years old when he begat Arpachshad, two years after the Flood,
and lived altogether 600 years.
He was 35 years old when he begat Shelach and lived altogether 438 years.
He was 30 years old when he begat Eber and lived altogether 433 years.
He was 34 years old when he begat Peleg and lived altogether 464 years.
He was 30 years old when he begat Reu and lived altogether 239 years.
He was 32 years old when he begat Serug and lived altogether 239 years.
He was 30 years old when he begat Nachor and lived altogether 230 years.
He was 29 years old when he begat Terach and lived altogether 148 years.
He was 70 years old when he had begotten Abram, Nachor and Haran,
and lived altogether 205 years. Abram married Sarai.
Genesis 12:1-17:27 Sedra Lech-Lecha
20 Abraham and Sarah
Genesis 21:1-8; 22:1-19; 24:1-67 Sedra Vayera & Sedra Chaye Sarah
21 Isaac and Rebecca
Genesis 25:19-32:3; 35:16-26 Sedra Toledot & Sedra Vayetze & Sedra Vayishlach
22 Jacob and Rachel and Leah
Jacob’s wives and handmaidens deliver 12 sons and 1 daughter:
Leah’s fourth son is Judah.
Genesis 38:1-30 Sedra Vayeshev
23 Judah and Tamar
They produce twins: Peretz and Zerach.
30 Boaz and Ruth
FROM THE PROPHETS
Haftarah for Shabbat Vayeshev
Whether it is for
three sins of Israel
or four sins,
for however many,
I shall not fail
Because they sell the righteous for silver
(cf. Genesis 37:28),
the poor for a pair of shoes.
Their greed for land
does not stop
at the dust on the head
[of mourning, cf. Joshua 7:6 et alibi]
of the poor.
A man and his father
go to the same young woman
(cf. Genesis 38:6 ff.).
Garments taken in pledge for a loan
you keep and lie down upon
next to any altar
instead of returning them
before the sun sets
(cf. Exodus 22:25)!
I supported you in the Conquest of the Land,
I destroyed the Amorites from before you.
As imposing as they were,
I cut them down for you.
I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
I guided you in the wilderness for forty years,
so that you could possess the land of the Amorite.
I made some of your children Prophets and Nazirites,
but you gave the Nazirites wine to drink (cf. Numbers 6:2ff.),
and you ordered the Prophets not to prophesy!
The cart that you are riding
will collapse under you!
There shall be no escaping,
not for the swift,
nor for the strong,
not even for the courageous.
The archer shall not stand,
the rider shall not find refuge,
the bravest warrior
shall flee naked on that day—
declares the Eternal.
Heed the word
which the Eternal speaks
O Children of Israel:
You alone have I known
from all the families of the earth;
therefore I hold you accountable
for all of your sins,
and here are the signs:
You and I have walked together until now,
implying some agreement.
Can you hear Me roar
like a lion in the forest?
That means you
are My prey!
If the Prophet,
like a hunter,
has baited the trap
with his words,
should you not seriously anticipate
that capture awaits the unwary?
If a Shofar is blown in a city,
should the people not fear;
and if calamity befalls it,
was it not the Eternal’s doing?
The point is:
The Lord God will not do anything
without first revealing it
to His servants the Prophets.
A Lion has roared,
who will not fear?
The Lord God has spoken,
who will not prophesy?
FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH
Genesis Rabbah 84:4
The Work of Jacob’s Fathers
“Jacob settled in the land of his father’s sojournings (megurey),
in the land of Canaan.”
Abraham welcomed others to his belief in God. This is implied in the verse, “Abram took Sarai his wife and…all that they had acquired and the lives which they had made in Charan, and they went out…and came to the land of Canaan” (Genesis 12:5). “Lives which they had made?” Said Rabbi Elazar in the name of Rabbi Yosi ben Zimra: If all the inhabitants of the world got together to create even a single insect, they would not be able to, yet the Torah claims that Abraham and and Sarah had made lives?! What is meant are the converts to his faith that Abraham proselytized. Then why does the verse say “made” and not “converted?” To teach you that whoever brings another to Abraham’s faith has, as it were, created him!
Then, do you mean to say that Abraham proselytized and Sarah did not? No, for the verse says, “they had made”—Rabbi Chunia explained: Abraham converted the men, while Sarah converted the women.
Another implication of “they made” as a verb for conversion: It teaches that Abraham our Father made them whole, that is, he welcomed them into his home, he fed them and fully embraced them, he brought them under the wings of the Shechinah (Divine Presence)!
Our Father Jacob also welcomed others into his ancestral faith. This is manifest in the verses, “Jacob then instructs his household and all that are with him: ‘Remove the alien gods that are in your midst!’…” (Genesis 35:2), whereupon, “They hand over to Jacob all of their alien gods that are in their possession…” (ibid. 4).
It might appear that the Torah does not teach the same for Isaac. Where, then, do we learn the same of Isaac? Rabbi Hoshayah Rabbah taught in the name of Rabbi Judah son of Rabbi Simon: It is written here (at the beginning of our Sedra Vayeshev), “Jacob settled in the land of his father’s sojournings (megurey), in the land of Canaan.” Since it would have been sufficient to say “in the land of Canaan,” as we already know that Canaan was the land of his father Isaac’s sojournings, “megurey” can be read “meguyerey,” “’proselytes’ of his father Isaac,” teaching us that Jacob chose to settle in the place where his father’s proselytes were living!
Genesis Rabbah 84:5a
Consider what is written at the end of the preceding Sedra Vayishlach:
“These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom…”
Then comes the beginning of the present Sedra Vayeshev:
“Now Jacob settles…in the land of Canaan!”
What can we learn from the juxtaposition of the kings of Edom
and the chieftains of Esau (Genesis 36:40ff.) to the settlement of Jacob in the Land?
Rabbi Chuniah taught: This may be compared to one who was walking on the road and is frightened by a pack of dogs that he sees ahead. So, as he approaches them, he sits down. Similarly, when our father Jacob first saw Esau and his chieftains, he was afraid of them. But then he settles down (literally, “sits down”) among them.
Genesis Rabbah 84:5b
All By Virtue of Joseph!
“These are the generations of Jacob.
Joseph, a lad of seventeen years, was a shepherd…”
Our Sages taught this verse with the following punctuation:
“These are the generations of Jacob: Joseph!”
The history of the generations of Jacob came by virtue of Joseph and for his sake. For did not Jacob flee to Laban so that he could meet Rachel (future mother of Joseph)?! Those generations were “put on hold” until Joseph was born—that is implied by what is written, “When Rachel had borne Joseph, Jacob asks Laban for leave to his native land…” (Genesis 30:25): That is to say that the birth of Joseph helped Israel overcome its fear of evil Esau, who stood between them and their Land! Who then brings them down to Egypt? Joseph! Who enables their livelihood? Joseph! The Red Sea was split also by virtue of Joseph: “The waters saw You, O God, the waters saw You; they were convulsed and stirred up to their depths” (Psalms 77:17)! “With Your strong arm You redeemed the children of Jacob and Joseph” (Ibid. 16). Rabbi Yudan son of Rabbi Shimon said: (By the repetition of “waters” [ibid. 17]) “we learn: not only was the Red Sea split by the virtue of Joseph, but the Jordan (cf. Joshua 3-4) was as well!”
Genesis Rabbah 84:8
Envy Among Brothers
Said Resh Lakish in the name of Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah: One must not treat one son differently from the other, for because of a grand tunic that our father Jacob made for Joseph, “they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him” (Genesis 37:4).
Genesis Rabbah 84:9
The Relief of Speaking Ill
“Do not hate your brother in your heart;
instead reprove your fellow
and bear no sin concerning him.”
“His brothers knew that their father
loved Joseph more than he loved them,
and they hated Joseph for it
and could not speak good to him.”
Said Rabbi Ahava bar Zeira: Out of the Torah’s censure of the brothers, that they could not speak good to him, you can discern their credit: They could speak ill to him! For, by contrast, when Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar and then rejected her (II Samuel 13:1ff.), her full brother “Absalom spoke not with Amnon good or bad, but Absalom hated Amnon because he had raped his sister Tamar” (ibid. 22). Whatever was in Absalom’s heart, good but especially bad, did not come out but roiled his heart to order the killing of Amnon (ibid. 28-29), whereas here, “They could not speak good to him” (Genesis 37:4), implying that they could speak ill to him: “Do you intend to reign over us, do you intend to rule over us” (Genesis 37:8)? Whatever was in their heart for denigration of their brother went out through their mouth. Matnot Kehuna (Issachar Berman ben Naftali Hakohen, 16th cent.): Being unable to subdue the hatred that was in their heart, they exposed it when they spoke to him. So ultimately they did not kill him: “Hate not your brother in your heart; instead reprove your fellow and bear no sin because of him” (Leviticus 19:17)!
Talmud Shabbat 22a
Throwing Joseph into the Pit
“Reuben determines to save Joseph…:
‘Let us throw him into this pit…without any violence,’
planning to save him from their hand
and return him to his father…
They…throw him into the pit alive.
The pit is empty, it contains no water.”
And Rav Kahana (also) taught that Rav Nathan ben Minyomi expounded in the name of Rabbi Tanchum: Why did Scripture say, “The pit is empty, it contains no water” (Genesis 37:24)? From the statement, “The pit is empty,” would I not know that “it contains no water?!” The meaning of the additional words, “it contains no water,” is a talmud (an oral teaching inferred from a written redundancy), viz., the pit’s emptiness was limited to its lack of water: yes it was empty of water, but it did contain snakes and scorpions!
Eyn Ya’akov Shabbat 22a
Etz Yosef Commentary
(Chanoch Zundel ben Yosef, 19th cent.)
The Miracle of Joseph in the Pit
“’The pit is empty, it contains no water’ (Genesis 37:24b),
meaning that it is only water that it does not contain,
but it does contain snakes and scorpions!”
Allowing that the redundant words, “it contains no water,” imply that it did contain something else, how do I know that it was snakes and scorpions that it contained and not, for example, branches and stones? Answer: If it had contained branches and stones, then it would not be “empty,” whereas snakes and scorpions would be contained in the pit only as they enter and leave through holes and crevices, the pit itself thereby being “empty!” And if you then question how Reuben could have intended to save Joseph alive since there were snakes and scorpions entering and leaving, capable of killing him and likely to do so, the answer to that question is that the brothers did not know that there were snakes and scorpions in the pit! For if they had known, then they would have seen that Joseph remained alive despite his being thrown into a pit of snakes and scorpions because of a miracle. Indeed how would they have agreed to sell him if they had seen that he was the object of a miracle?! (Attributed to Minchat Yehudah, an early supercommentary on Rashi compiled by Yehudah ben Eliezer of Troyes in 1313 and published in Leghorn in 1783)
Genesis Rabbah 84:17
Hope Springing from Sin
“God hears their cry,
and God remembers His covenant
with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.”
“Thus says the Eternal:
At the fulfillment of Babylon’s seventy years…
I shall establish for you My promise of favor
to bring you back to this place…
to give you a future and a hope!
“They cast him into the pit…
then they sit down [vayey’sh’vu] to eat bread…”
Said Rabbi Achva bar Zeira: The sin of the brothers is a remembrance for the world, it is a future hope for the world. “Then they will sit down [veyey’sh’vu] to eat bread…” because Joseph will provide bread to eat for all of the starving inhabitants of the world (cf. Genesis 47:13ff.)!
Rashi: They caused Joseph thereby to provide bread for all inhabitants of the world who found their way to Egypt, as is written, “Joseph provided sustenance…”(Genesis 47:12ff.).
Matnot Kehuna (Issachar Berman ben Naftali Hakohen, 16th cent.): As a result of their selling Joseph, he went down to Egypt and saved the world from hunger with corn and bread.
Maharzu (Ze’ev Wolf Einhorn, 19th cent.): It is inconceivable that the brothers were so happy about casting Joseph into the pit that they sat down for a meal. As the Midrash interprets (cf. Genesis Rabbah 84:18), they spoke among themselves and came to the conclusion that they loved Joseph but that selling him was a sad necessity, as “God remembered Rachel…and He opened her womb” (Genesis 30:22) for good, and that when “they sat down to eat bread, they lifted their eyes…” (Genesis 37:25) in hope “…as our eyes are to the Eternal our God so that He may be gracious to us” (Psalms 123:2)!
Yalkut Shimoni Vayeshev 142
Curse and Corruption
“His brothers pull Joseph out of the pit
and sell him to the Ishmaelites
for twenty pieces of silver.”
The ten brothers sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. Each of them received two pieces of silver, with which he purchased a pair of shoes:
“I shall not fail
to punish Israel
because they sold
the righteous for silver,
the poor for a pair of shoes.”
Why did they use their proceeds to buy shoes?
Zayit Ra’anan (Abraham Abele Gumbiner, 18th cent.): A person without shoes is, as it were, confined to the sky since the Eternal cursed the ground on account of the disobedience of Adam, the first man (cf. Genesis 3:17). Therefore his descendants need shoes to protect them from direct contact with the ground. Joseph, the most beautiful of men, represented Adam to the highest degree and was therefore considered, as much as Adam, the cause of the Eternal’s curse and the need to wear shoes. That is why each of Joseph’s brothers chose to sell him for a pair of shoes!
Yerushalmi Shekalim 2:3
Machatzit Hashekel (Contribution of the Half-Shekel)
Pidyon Haben (Redemption Amount of the Firstborn Son)
“Everyone who is counted
shall contribute half of the sacred shekel,
which is twenty gerahs,
as terumah for the Eternal.”
Rabbi Judah and Rabbi Nechemia: One said that the half-shekel was to atone for the sin of the golden calf which they committed halfway through the day, and the other said that since they sinned after the sixth hour of the day, they would give a half-shekel, which was the equivalent of six grammata.
Rabbi Joshua of the School of Rabbi Nechemia in the name of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai: Because they transgressed the Ten Commandments, each one would give ten gerahs, which is the half-shekel.
“His brothers sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites
for twenty pieces of silver.”
Rabbi Berechia and Rabbi Levi in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish: Because they sold the firstborn of Rachel for twenty pieces of silver, everyone shall redeem his firstborn son for twenty pieces of silver, viz. twenty dinars, which are the equivalent of five selas (Korban Ha-eydah).
Rabbi Pinchas in the name of Rabbi Levi: Because they sold the firstborn of Rachel for twenty pieces of silver, so that the share of each culpable brother was two pieces of silver, viz. two dinars, the equivalent of a half-shekel, therefore “everyone who is counted shall contribute half of the sacred shekel” (Exodus 30:13)!
Yalkut Shimoni Vayeshev 142
The Brothers’ Extended Conspiracy
“The brothers dip Joseph’s tunic in the blood of a kid…
Jacob recognizes the tunic, saying,
‘It is my son’s, a ferocious beast must have eaten him…!’
Jacob mourns for his son many days.”
“The Medanites sell Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar…”
The brothers conspired among themselves not to tell their father Jacob what had actually occurred, that in fact Joseph was not dead. Judah, however, pointed out that they were only nine in number, as Reuben was not among them when they sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites (cf. Genesis 37:28-29), and a cherem (a collective sacred oath) requires a minyan (quorum) of ten! What did they do?
They drafted God into a partnership with them, thereby making the minyan and establishing the cherem. When they told Reuben about the cherem, he recognized its binding force upon him also and remained silent along with his brothers. Even the Holy One, blessed be He, about whom is written, “Praise the Eternal, O Jerusalem…, who declares His words to Jacob, His laws to Israel” (Psalms 147:12,19), did not say a word about this because of the cherem!
But when the brothers arrived in Egypt many years later and discovered Joseph there, they canceled the cherem and told Jacob, “and the spirit of Jacob their father became alive” (Genesis 45:27)! Why “became alive?” Had the spirit of Jacob previously expired? Rather, because of the cherem, the Holy Spirit had departed from him, but when they canceled the cherem, the Holy Spirit returned to him as before!
Genesis Rabbah 84:19
“In the meantime, Reuben returns to the pit.
When he fails to find Joseph there,
he rends his garments and says to his brothers,
‘The boy is lost, what shall I do?’”
“The sons of Reuben…
Be’erah his son…
was chieftain of the Reubenites.”
(I Chronicles 5:1,6)
The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Reuben: Never before has a man sinned against Me and then repented for it. You are the first! I therefore promise you that your grandson will arise and be the first to prophesy repentance. Who is he? He is the Prophet “Hosea, son of Be’eri” (Hosea 1:1), who said, “Return, O Israel to the Eternal your God” (Ibid. 14:2)!
Genesis Rabbah 84:19
“Judah says to his brothers,
‘It doesn’t pay for us to kill our brother and then hide his blood.
Instead let us sell him to the Ishmaelites…’
So they slaughter a kid, dip Joseph’s tunic in its blood,
and send it to their father, saying,
‘We have found this:
please identify it;
is it your son’s or not?’”
“Tamar sends the following message to her father-in-law Judah:
‘I am pregnant by the one who owns these;
please identify to whom belong
the seal and the cord and the staff!’”
According to Rabbi Yochanan, the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Judah: You said to your father, “Please identify” this tunic, which you dipped in blood to make him believe that his beloved son was killed by a wild animal, so by your life Tamar can challenge you with the same words, “Please identify” the surety that you gave her for your private assignation, lest you actually cause the death of a virtuous member of your family!
Genesis Rabbah 84:21
When is Consolation Full?
“Jacob rends his clothing and puts sackcloth around his loins,
and mourns for his son many days.
His sons and daughters seek to comfort him,
but he refuses to be comforted:
‘I will go down to She’ol mourning for my son!’”
A Roman lady asked Rabbi Yosi: It is written, “Judah was the mightiest of his brothers…” (I Chronicles 5:2), and after his wife dies, “Judah’s period of mourning concludes…” (Genesis 38:12). But Jacob, who was the father of all the mighty brothers, “refuses to be comforted!” Rabbi Yosi answered her: We find comfort with respect to the dead, but we do not find comfort with respect to the living.
“The Eternal afflicted the child
that Uriah’s wife had borne to David,
and the child became critically ill.
David entreated God on behalf of the child.
He fasted. He came in and spent the night
lying on the ground…
When he understood that the child had died,
David got up from the ground, bathed, anointed,
and changed his clothes.
He went to the House of the Eternal
and prostrated himself.
Then he went home and ate.
To his puzzled servants he explained:
‘When the child was still alive,
I fasted and wept,
for I thought:
Who knows but that the Eternal
will be gracious to me and let the child live?
But now that he is dead,
can I bring him back?
I will go to him,
but he will not come back to me.’”
(II Samuel 12:15-23)
Maharzu (Ze’ev Wolf Einhorn, 19th cent.): When one sees his dead before him or even receives news of his demise, he can let go of hope that the loved one may return. But if (like Jacob), he does not see his dead lying before him or has not received conclusive news of his demise, hope never departs from his heart and he cannot let go of that expectation.
Genesis Rabbah 85:2,5-8; 86:3
“The Medanites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar…”
“At this time Judah goes down from his brothers…”
“When Joseph is brought down to Egypt,
Potiphar, an Egyptian man, acquires him from the Ishmaelites.”
Why is the account of Joseph’s going down to Egypt
interrupted by the account of Judah’s going down from his brothers?
Rabbi Elazar taught that what seems like an interruption is actually the apposition of two accounts which commonly display the crisis of “going down.” Joseph was brought down, through the conspiracy of his brothers, to a land of idolatry and enslavement. Judah, in departing from his brothers, is brought down to the degradation of Canaanite culture.
Rabbi Yochanan explained the juxtaposition of the two accounts to support his teaching that the words “Please identify” uttered by Tamar to Judah was just retribution for the same words uttered by Judah, heartlessly, to his father Jacob. See Genesis Rabbah 84:19 “Just Retribution” above.
Rabbi Samuel bar Nachman understood the juxtaposition to reflect the pure motives of both Tamar with respect to Judah and Potiphar’s wife with respect to Joseph: each woman was acting for the sake of Heaven!
“Tamar sees that Shelah has grown up
but that she has not been given to him as his wife…
She puts aside her garments of widowhood
and enwraps herself, covering her face with a veil,
and sits in an open place [b’fetach eynayim] by the road…”
Rabbi Ammi: She sat, literally, “in An Opening of Eyes [b’fetach eynayim],” but we have not found anywhere in Scripture a place with that name. The expression seems to teach that she settled her eyes upon the Gateway to which all eyes turn [b’Fetach eynayim], in accordance with, “The eyes [eyney] of all turn hopefully to You…” (Psalms 145:15), and she prayed: May it be Your will, O my God, that I shall not go out from this House empty!
Alternatively: “In an opening of eyes [b’fetach eynayim]” means that she opened for Judah his eye, telling him, “I am pure (not a menstruant), I am free (unmarried)!”
“Judah sees her and takes her for a prostitute,
as she has covered her face.
Judah turns to her by the road
and proposes an assignation,
not knowing that she is his daughter-in-law.”
Said Rabbi Chiya bar Zavda: A man should become familiar with the faces of all of his female relatives, so that he does not unknowingly become intimate with one of them. Whence do you learn this? From Judah: “Judah sees her and takes her for a prostitute…” Why? “…as Tamar had covered her face” when she was in the house of her father-in-law!
Indeed, covering the face is an act of modesty rather than promiscuity!
Alternatively: “Judah sees her” from a distance “and takes her for a prostitute” at first, but as he “turns to her by the road,” he sees that “she has covered her face,” concluding then that she could not be a prostitute.
But would Judah would knowingly consort with a stranger by the road?
Rabbi Yochanan explained: He tried to pass by her. But the Holy One, blessed be He, stationed there an angel commissioned to stoke sexual desire. It said to him: Judah, where are you going? Whence will kings emerge? Whence will redeemers arise? “So he turns to her by the road…” against his will, not for his pleasure! See “From Adam & Eve to David” above.
“Potiphar’s wife casts her eyes upon Joseph and beckons him, ‘Lie with me.’
He refuses her… But every day she would speak the same way to Joseph,
and just as often he would not agree to lie with her…
Then one day, when no others were in the house,
Joseph comes in to do his work
and she takes hold of his clothing, saying, ‘Lie with me!’
Joseph runs out, leaving his garment in her hand.”
Rabbi Joshua ben Levi: She saw in her astrological signs that she or her daughter was destined to bear a son with Joseph.
“Let the astrologers arise to save you,
stargazers, by knowing their movements,
protecting you from what [mey-asher] is coming upon you!”
She was only uncertain as to whether it would be she or her daughter, as Rabbi Ayvu interpreted the Prophet, “informing you of some of what [mey-asher] is coming upon you,” some but not all!
“Pharaoh…gives Joseph for a wife:
Asenat daughter of Poti Phera…”
Who is Poti Phera?
Potiphar is Poti Phera.
So it was the daughter of the wife of Potiphar who was destined to bear a son with Joseph!
“Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph on that day, saying:
‘By you shall Israel bless, saying:
May God make you like Ephraim and like Manasseh…’”
Talmud Ketubot 67b
As Tamar is being brought out to be burned,
she sends a private message to her father-in-law:
“I am pregnant by the one who owns these;
see if you can identify to whom belong
the seal and the cord and the staff!”
“It is a high degree of tzedakah
when the recipient does not know who is the giver,
even when the giver knows who is the recipient.
Such giving follows the greatest of the Sages,
who would visit discretely the doors of the poor
and anonymously leave them money.”
(Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 249:8)
A poor man lived near Mar Ukba. Every day, on his walk home from the House of Study, Mar Ukba would pass by the door of the poor man and leave him four zuzim in a safe and secret place. The recipient did not know who was the giver, but he was curious. So one day he determined to go out and watch for his benefactor, so that he could see for himself who was providing him this benefit.
As it turned out, on that very day, Mar Ukba was delayed at the House of Study, so that his wife came out to look for him. She found him there, and they began their walk home together. When they were seen heading for the poor man’s door, the poor man was alerted and started out to find them. But Mar Ukba and his wife quickly eluded him and ran into a furnace that had recently been scraped out.
Why did they run into a furnace? Said Mar Zutra bar Tuviah said Rav:—or according to others, Said Rav Huna bar Bizna said Rabbi Shimon Chasida:—or according to others, Said Rabbi Yochanan in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai: It would be better for one to throw oneself into a white-hot furnace than to cause the face of another to turn white from embarrassment!
Whence was this teaching derived? From the example of Tamar, who was impregnated by her father-in-law Judah when she was disguised as a prostitute and then falsely accused by him of criminal harlotry. She had proof that Judah was the father but refrained from exposing him publicly. She sent the evidence to him privately and waited until he acknowledged that she was innocent. Rashi: She would have allowed herself to be executed by burning (Genesis 38:24) had he not acknowledged her innocence!