For the week ending 24 December 2016 / 24 Kislev 5777

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.


A Problem of Peace

“And Yaakov dwelled...” (37:1)

The Midrash explains that Yaakov wanted to “dwell” in tranquility, and so G-d sprang upon him the troubles of Yosef.

What was this tranquility that Yaakov wanted, and why was he prevented from having it?

The Talmud (Berachot 64a) describes the different expressions appropriate for taking leave from the living and the dead. When one leaves a dead person, one should say "Go with peace!", but one should say to a living person, "Go to peace!"

The English translation of the word for “peace” — “shalom” — doesn't capture the nuance of one of shalom's most important meanings, which is “completion” or “perfection”.

The blessing that we give a living person is that they should “go to shalom”. Because their life is still storm-tossed with the challenges of this world; challenges that are necessary for them to achieve their shleimut, their perfection, we bless them they should achieve this. That they should go “to” peace.

A person who has left this world has already garnered up as much perfection as he was able, and thus our blessing is that he should take that perfection with him: "Go with shalom!" Go with the peace that you have already achieved in this world.

Yaakov Avinu thought that after all the stress and problems of his life, G-d would not challenge him further, and he looked forwarded to dwelling in tranquility with the fruits of his efforts in this world.

The troubles of Yosef were sprung upon him to teach him that he had still more to achieve here in this world. He was still going "to peace" and not "with peace."

  • Sources: Rabbi Yehoshua Malko on the Rambam as seen in "Shollal Rav"

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