For the week ending 4 December 2004 / 21 Kislev 5765

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.


A Picture and a Thousand Words

"Then there was an opportune day when he entered the house to do his work no man of the household staff being there in the house" (39:11)

One of the great revolutions in the Torah world was the institution of the Daf Yomi. The Daf Yomi literally means "The daily page." In 1923, at the First International Congress of the Agudath Israel World Movement in Vienna, Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin proposed that every day across the world one page of the Babylonian Talmud should be learned. In this way, the entire Talmud could be completed in a little over seven years. The idea was eagerly received and has become a tremendous success. This Daf Yomi project has completed numerous cycles, and tens of thousands of Jews connect to their heritage daily through their "Daily Daf."

At the end of that Congress the heads of the worlds great Torah institutions gathered for the closing session. A photographer got up to record this momentous event. As he raised his camera many of those luminaries raised their hands in front of their faces. Because of their great modesty they did not want themselves to be photographed.

Rabbi Meir Shapiro stood up and said, "My masters, do not cover your faces! A generation is coming whose only link to their Judaism will be the light that shines out from your holy faces."

A picture is worth a thousand words.

In this weeks Torah portion, Potiphars wife, Zulaicha, repeatedly tries to seduce Yosef. Yosef was outstandingly handsome. So much so that when he would pass by, women peeling citrus fruit with sharp knives would cut into their fingers without feeling the pain, so entranced were they by his beauty.

Zulaicha tried to seduce Yosef for over a year. She began by changing her dress three times a day to attract his attention. When this failed, she tried bribing him with a thousand talents of gold. Yosef was unimpressed. Persuasion turned to coercion and she began to threaten him.

One day Zulaicha found her opportunity. The day of the Niles overflowing was a national religious holiday. All of Potiphars household went out to join the singing and dancing in praise of the Nile god. Ever the faithful servant, Yosef excused himself from these festivities and stayed at home to attend to his masters bookkeeping. Zulaicha, claiming a headache, also stayed at home, knowing that she and Yosef would be alone together in the house.

She dressed herself in her finest clothes and bedecked her hair with a crown of jewels. She perfumed herself with scent and her house with incense, and then she draped herself across the doorway where Yosef would have to pass to get to his work. When Yosef failed to appear, she called, "Yosef, why dont you go to your work?" As Yosef approached, she stretched her arm across the doorway to prevent him from passing and whispered "I swear, if you dont do what I want, youre a dead man."

Yosef made an oath that he would never acquiesce to her desires, but she persisted. He felt himself bombarded with a combination of threats and bribes. A vision suddenly appeared in front of him. He saw his father Yaakovs image and that of his mother Rachel. In the vision Yaakov said to him "Yosef! There will be twelve precious gems in the chosen (the breastplate of the kohen gadol) one for each tribe. If you sin, your place will be empty!"

The Divine Presence rested on the choshen; if Yosef had transgressed, his stone would have been removed, for G-d detests immorality.

Sometimes only the holy faces of our forbears stand in the breach to protect us against a world that glorifies immorality and the unbridled pursuit of pleasure.

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