For the week ending 5 December 2015 / 23 Kislev 5776

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 exceptional 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 prison, 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 prison.


Train Spotting

“In order to save him (Yosef) and to return him to his father…” (37:22)

Every British schoolboy knows the legend of King Canute (995-1035) who stood facing down the sea and commanded it not to come any further. He ended up with wet feet and a lot of royal egg on his face.

It’s like trying to stop a runaway train hurtling toward the end of the line by standing in front of it and valiantly raising your hand and saying, “I command you stop.” All that will do is cause a rather nasty mess on the tracks.

You’d do much better (and save the railway company a large cleaning bill) by trying to find the place where you can divert the train to a harmless siding so that it can dissipate its speed and come to a slow stop.

People are a lot like trains.

When someone is utterly determined to do something wrong, the worst thing you can do is to stand on his tracks and put out your hand to stop him. You’re liable to get run over verbally — or worse.

You have to divert him slowly from his lethal trajectory.

This is exactly what Reuven did to save his brother Yosef.

The brothers hated Yosef and were determined to kill him. Had Reuven tried to stop them by telling them to spare him, such was their hatred that they would have ignored him. Rather, he diverted their energy into a less lethal plan. He persuaded them to dispose of Yosef without having blood on their hands, by putting him into a pit full of snakes and scorpions. Then Reuven, bit by bit, would mollify their evil intent and spirit Yosef away — back to his father.

Much more effective than trying to stop a runaway train...

  • Sources: based on the Ralbag as seen in Talelei Orot

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