For the week ending 24 December 2005 / 23 Kislev 5766

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 Reuven’s instigation, to throw him into a pit instead. Reuven’s 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 Yosef’s tunic in goat’s 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, Pharaoh’s Chamberlain of the Butchers. In the Parsha’s sub-plot, Yehuda’s son Er dies as punishment for preventing his wife Tamar from becoming pregnant. Onan, Yehuda’s second son, then weds Tamar by levirate marriage. He too is punished in similar circumstances. When Yehuda’s 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 master’s 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 Pharaoh’s wine steward, who is reinstated, and the dream of Pharaoh’s baker, who is hanged. In spite of his promise, the wine steward forgets to help Yosef, and Yosef languishes in jail.


In The Land Of The Lotus-Eaters

“…their camels bearing spices, balsam and lotus…" (37:25)

We live in an era of tremendous prosperity. In the history of the exile of the Jewish people, rarely has there been a time when we have enjoyed such comfort and stability. The great temptation of affluence and security, of course, is to forget that we are still in exile.

In this week’s Torah portion, the brothers cast Yosef into a pit. When they see a caravan of Yishmaelim approaching they decide to sell Yosef as a slave. The camels of these Arabs are laden with spices, balsam and lotus. This is unusual. A typical Arab caravan would carry kerosene. (It seems that Arab trading in petroleum is far from a modern occurrence.) Kerosene has a powerful and unpleasant smell. G-d didn’t want Yosef to suffer the fumes of the kerosene, and thus He arranged that he should be spared the bad smell on his journey into exile.

We are much like Yosef being carried into exile surrounded by a pleasant scent. As yet, there has been no ingathering of the Jewish People, no end to our exile. It’s easy to forget that we are living in a gilded cage. Even though G-d lightens the burden of our exile by letting us breathe the sweet smell of spice, we must never imagine that we are breathing the breath of freedom.

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