For the week ending 20 December 2003 / 25 Kislev 5764

Parshat Vayeshev

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Yaakov settles in the land of Canaan. His favorite son, Yosef, brings him critical reports about his brothers. Yaakov makes Yosef a fine tunic of multi-colored woolen strips. Yosef exacerbates his brothers hatred by recounting prophetic dreams of sheaves of wheat bowing to his sheaf, and of the sun, moon and stars bowing to him, signifying that all his family will appoint him king. The brothers indict Yosef and resolve to execute him. When Yosef comes to Shechem, the brothers relent and decide, at Reuvens instigation, to throw him into a pit instead. Reuvens intent was to save Yosef. Yehuda persuades the brothers to take Yosef out of the pit and sell him to a caravan of passing Ishmaelites. Reuven returns to find the pit empty and rends his clothes. The brothers soak Yosefs tunic in goats blood and show it to Yaakov, who assumes that Yosef has been devoured by a wild beast. Yaakov is inconsolable. Meanwhile, in Egypt, Yosef has been sold to Potiphar, Pharaohs Chamberlain of the Butchers. In the Parshas sub-plot, Yehudas son Er dies as punishment for preventing his wife Tamar from becoming pregnant. Onan, Yehudas second son, then weds Tamar by levirate marriage. He too is punished in similar circumstances. When Yehudas wife dies, Tamar resolves to have children through Yehuda, as this union will found the Davidic line culminating in the Mashiach. Meanwhile, Yosef rises to power in the house of his Egyptian master. His extreme beauty attracts the unwanted advances of his masters wife. Enraged by his rejection, she accuses Yosef of attempting to seduce her, and he is imprisoned. In jail, Yosef successfully predicts the outcome of the dream of Pharaohs wine steward, who is reinstated; and the dream of Pharaohs baker, who is hanged. In spite of his promise, the wine steward forgets to help Yosef, and Yosef languishes in jail.


In Sheeps Clothing

"And Yosef had been brought down to Egypt" (39:1)

It never fails to amaze me how our hidden agendas can rule our lives like wolves in sheeps clothing.

Rashi explains that the juxtaposition of the incidents of Yehuda and Tamar, and that of Yosef and Potiphars wife, is to emphasize that both women acted for the sake of Heaven, that their motives were altruistic. If so, why is Tamar regarded as a righteous woman, a tzadeket, and Potiphars wife considered cursed, wanton, and evil?

Even when faced with death by burning, Tamar refused to expose Yehuda as the father of her unborn twins. From her selflessness we learn that it is better to throw oneself into a fiery furnace than to humiliate someone in public (Sota 10).

However, there is more to Tamars action. At this point, Tamar knew that she was pregnant with twins, and that on her progeny was founded the entire plan for Jewish salvation, the lineage of King David and, eventually, Mashiach. And with all that she still demurred from humiliating Yehuda in public, even if it meant that Mashiach should not come, and that all that was planned should never materialize. Tamar didnt stop for one minute to weigh up one side against the other. She knew that it was forbidden to humiliate Yehuda. End of Story.

Potiphars wife knew by means of astrology that she was destined to have descendants from Yosef. However her astrological predictions were not accurate enough to foretell whether this offspring would come directly through her or though her daughter (as in fact turned out to be the case). Nevertheless, she made every effort to seduce Yosef. The dress she wore in the morning for him was replaced by a different one in the afternoon. At every opportunity she tried to woo him with words, with money, and with threats.

How was she able to determine so definitively that her astrological prediction referred to herself and not to her daughter?

Enter desire.

Exit altruism.

Potiphars wifes physical attraction to Yosef had no problem convincing her altruism that she, and not her daughter, was to be Yosefs consort.

Nothing is more dangerous, and nothing is more difficult to identify than selfishness masquerading as altruism. Thats the ultimate wolf in sheeps clothing.


Based on Lev Eliyahu

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