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Parashas Vayaishev


"This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 100 years or fewer."

In Parashas Vayischlach Jacob settled in Eretz Israel, after the many years working for Laban and studying in the academies of Eber and Shem.

Joseph, Jacob's first son by his wife Rachel, was a shepherd, 17 years old, he spent time with the sons of the Jacob's wives Bilhah and Zilpah. He would tell his father about his brothers's misbehaviour.

His brothers saw that Joseph was their father's favourite son, for example through such acts as when Jacob gave Joseph a beautiful tunic, and the brothers became jealous of Joseph.

What made Joseph's brothers even more jealous of him was when Joseph told his brothers a dream.

In his dream both Joseph's brothers and Joseph, were binding sheaves in the middle of a field. Suddenly, Joseph's sheaf arose and remained standing. The brothers' sheaves gathered around Joseph's sheaf and then even bowed to his sheaf.

Some time later, Joseph had another dream, and this time Joseph told his brothers and his father about it.

In this second dream that Joseph recounted, the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed to him.

Just as before, the brothers felt more animosity towards his brother, and felt like their own brother wanted to rise above them to rule as a king over them.

And since this time it was not just eleven stars, or sheaves, as in the first dream, that bowed down Joseph, his father Jacob realized that it was not just Joseph's brothers that bowed to him, but even Joseph's mother, and his father Jacob himself, that would bow down to Joseph.

Another time Jacob sent his son Joseph to his brothers, who were pasturing their father's sheep.

When they saw their brother Joseph, they conspired together to throw him into a pit, sell their brother to a caravan of slave traders,

and drench the beautiful tunic, which Jacob had given to his favourite son Joseph, in the blood of an animal.

When Jacob saw the bloody tunic that his sons returned back home, both Jacob and his first born son Reuben rent their garments and Jacob entered a period of mourning.

Meanwhile, Joseph was sold to Egypt, to Potiphar, a courtier of Pharaoh, the Chamberlain of the Butchers.

The Torah at this point takes an intermezzo to recount the incident of Judah and Tamar. Their reunion lay the foundation for the Davidic dynasty and the Messiah.

The fact that Judah lost two of his sons is interpreted by some as punishment, measure for measure, for having sold Jacob's son Joseph. Just as Jacob grieved when he saw Joseph's bloody tunic returned to him, so Judah grieved his two sons.

While Judah's and Tamar's reunion had to happen, another such reunion in Egypt did not take place: Potiphar's wife started making advances on Jospeh, which the latter always declined. Finally, Potiphar's wife conspired against Joseph, told her husband that Joseph, the "Hebrew slave", had forced himself on her, and left Potiphar no choice but to throw Joseph, the servant that had been running all of his activities, and that he certainly admired, into jail.

In jail, Joseph encountered the cupbearer of the king of Egypt, the Chamberlain of the Cupbearers of Egypt, and the baker of the king of Egypt, the Chamberlain of the Bakers.

Each chamberlain dreamt a dream on the same night. In the dream of the Chamberlain of the Cupbearers, a grapevine was in front of him. The grapewine had three tendrils that seemed to be budding. Its blossoms bloomed and its clusters ripened into grapes. The Chamberlain of the Cupbearers, in his dream, then took the grapes, squeezed their juice into Pharao's cup and placed the cup on Pharao's palm.

In the dream of the Chamberlain of the Bakers, three wicker baskets were on the Chamberlain's head. The uppermost basket contained all kinds of food that the baker had made for Pharaoh. Birds were eating the food from the basket on the Chamberlain's head.

Joseph interpreted both dreams. Regarding the first dream, he concluded that the three tendrils represented three days. Joseph then concluded that in another three days Pharaoh would lift up the head of the Chamberlain of the Cupbearers and restore him to his former position, in which he would place Pharaoh's cup in his hand.

Regarding the other dream, Joseph was less hopeful. He concluded that Pharaoh would lift up the head of the Chamberlain of the Bakers – Pharaoh would behead him.

Joseph asked the Chamberlain of the Cupbearers to put in a good word about him with Pharaoh to help him get out of prison earlier. Of this, the sages teach that an additional two years were added to Joseph's sentence – he had to stay for a total of twelve years – as he did not rely only on G'd but asked another inmate to help him. He should have realized that by sending the two Chamberlains into prison within him, and giving them their dreams, Hashem was already working towards Joseph's eventual liberation from prison.

In our generation, the opposite would be expected of us. G'd would want us to ask others for help if one is caught in a difficult situation.


My son and I found some particular aspects about Joseph that sparked our curiousity. When my child first told everyone in kindergarten that we were celebrating Chanukah at home, he felt very lonely, as he was the only child celebrating the holiday.

When he learnt that Joseph and his sons, Ephraim and Menashe, were also at one point the only ones who followed the G'd of Israel in the land of Egypt, my wife and I could both tell how our son drew a parallel to his own life.

When I was a child, I had other role models in the Torah, but my interest was sparked later as an adult when I realized that Joseph, compared to other righteous individuals, would probably be considered on a plane by himself. Another interesting teaching can be derived from the fact that since Joseph did not indulge Potiphar's wife's requests, G'd would later free Joseph from the Evil Eye. As this constitutes something that can only be achieved very rarely, my takeaway from this is that we, who can be affected by the influence of the Evil Eye, should try as much as possible to guard our vision, thoughts, and actions. The sages like to explain sinning this way: The eye sees, and the heart desires. If we manage to constrict and control the things were are exposed to, the eye has nothing to see and the heart has nothing to desire that would be harmful for it. To the contrary even, at that point we can finally see clearly and appreciate the beauty of the things that are permitted to us.

An interesting observation I've made regarding the episode of Joseph and Potiphar's wife and Jospeh and the Chamberlain of the Butchers is that in the first case, one could almost argue that Joseph should have mentioned his concern to Potiphar. It seems like an omission on Joseph's part to not have informed the master of his household about an act like this. One might even say that it was because Joseph did not tell his "master" Potiphar that he was put into prison. Once in prison, it was not Joseph's lack of communication that made him stay in there for longer than planned. It was in fact the contrary, the words that Joseph failed to utter in freedom, he now wasted in imprisonment, causing him to stay in prison for an additional two years. While it may perhaps not completely accurate to say that Joseph could have avoided prison if he had informed his "master" about the events at home, it could be argued that once Joseph was in prison, it was time for him to realize that G'd wanted him there for a reason, and it was no longer the time to rely on humans to get him out of there.

This Parashas contains a lot of Joseph's dreams. While for someone of Joseph's stature, dreams can be considered prophetic devices, the sages agree that for people living in our generation, a dream, no matter how strong, is essentially meaningless and one should not base their life decisions on a dream.

I myself have some dreams that I still remember to this day, and what helped me move forward from these dreams was to find the most optimistic interpretation of whatever it was that was on my mind during the dream, and then dispel any illusions with the light of truth, reason.

Another way to think about dreams is when one envisions a dream that is very common in popular culture: People who are stressed in their every day work life like to dream of a holiday, often in a sunny location like Hawaii. And sometimes, someone might not just think about a holiday destination during their wake hours but even at night when they are sleeping – then one would be having a real dream. If one was to dream about a nice holiday in sunny Hawaii, it could be said that one should have realized that the dream that one had was a dream in Hawaii – but the actual dream that one has is that one's regular life is more like the life in the dream about one's holiday in Hawaii. So the actual dream could be the one that was not had, but the one that was uncovered by reflecting about the dream that was had.

Also, it seems to me that the Chamberblain of the Cupbearers, despite probably not following the Noahide commandments, is someone who performed his duties and service very dilligently.

When Abraham looked for a wife for his son Yitzchak, Abraham sent his servant Eliezer to find one. The Torah describes this task of Eliezer in quite some detail, which many sages understand to mean that G'd appreciates people doing the tasks assigned to them very much.

The Torah hardly chronicles any of the deeds of either Shem or Eber, but we do know that both were righteous Noahides, ancestors of Abraham, and we also know that Jacob studied both at the Academy of Shem, and also at the Academy of Eber.

In the War of the Five and Four Kings, in which Abraham emerges the victor over the Four Kings, and saves Lot, the First King of the Five Kings is Cherleodamer, who is Eber. At the end of the war, Shem, Abraham's and Eber's ancestor has a meal with Abraham after the War, while Eber did not attend this meal.

Surely, as righteous Noahides both Shem's and Eber's whole life was service of the greatest level in the eyes of G'd, and so I believe it is for this reason that so little of their deeds is recorded. One could go so far and claim that everything they did was righteousness and service of G'd.

The sages agree that the Chamberlain of the Cupbearers was moved into prison by G'd, as a way to provide a way out of prison for Joseph. It is agreed by the Sages that the Chamberlain of the Cupbearers should have put in a word for Joseph earlier, but despite this, I still think that the Chamberlain of the Cupbearers was someone who fulfilled his duties diligently, which is considered highly by G'd.

Salome B
Samira Lopes Coelho


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