For the week ending 21 December 2019 / 23 Kislev 5780

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 theMashiach.

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 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.


Picking up the Tallit

“For indeed I was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews” (40:15)

Rabbi Arthur Kohn zt”l was the Rabbi of a synagogue in Finsbury Park in London. Finsbury Park Mosque was a well-known hotbed of radical Islamic Judeophobia. In 2004, its imam, the notorious Abu Hamza al-Masri, was arrested by British police after the United States requested his extradition to face trial. He was later charged by British authorities with sixteen offenses for inciting violence and racial hatred and, in 2006, a British court found him guilty of inciting violence and sentenced him to seven years' imprisonment. On October 5, 2012, after an eight-year legal battle, he was extradited from the UK to the United States to face terrorism charges and on April 14, 2014 his trial began in New York. On May 19, 2014 Hamza was found guilty of eleven terrorism charges by a jury in Manhattan and on January 9, 2015 he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

On the “baby slopes” of his terrorist career, Hamza and his cronies once vandalized Rabbi Kohn’s synagogue. As Al Webb, United Press International reported at the time, “LONDON, April 30 2002 (UPI): “Windows have been smashed, a swastika daubed on a rabbi's lectern and holy books ripped apart at a London synagogue, triggering fears that a wave of anti-Semitic attacks on Jews and Jewish religious sites across continental Europe may have reached Britain. "This is the first incident in the country that resembles what's happening on the continent," a spokesman for British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks told journalists. "In terms of desecration, this is one of the most disturbing attacks we have seen." Police said the attack appeared to have been planned. Vandals smashed their way into the building by breaking more than 20 windows, then used green paint to inscribe a huge, Nazi-style swastika on the lectern and splash across the Ark, where the synagogue's Torah — biblical scrolls — were kept. They stomped on Israel's Star of David flag, splattered more paint on it and ground it into the sand they dumped on the floor. Prayer books were torn to pieces, shawls and skullcaps slung into excrement that was mixed in with the sand and ceremonial wine was emptied into the mess.”

Then Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, journeyed to Finsbury Park and asked, Rabbi Kohn, “What are you going to do?” Rabbi Kohn replied, “My father was a rav in Berlin. After Kristallnacht, they came and asked him, ‘What are you going to do?’ He picked up his charred tallis and said, ‘Look, it’s a little bit burned, so what, I’m going to continue.” Picking up his paint-spattered tallit, Rabbi Kohn said to Rabbi Sacks, “Look at my tallis, there’s a little bit of paint on it, I’m going to continue.”

“For indeed I was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews”

Despite its risks, Yosef identified himself with the Jewish People (see also 39:14). For this he earned the privilege of being buried in Eretz Yisrael — something that even Moshe did not merit. Whether we are in Berlin, in London, or in Jerusalem, the world at large would prefer us not to identify as Jews, but in every generation we will pick up our ‘tallit’ whether it is charred or stained and proclaim to the world, “Am Yisrael Chai!” “The people of Israel live!”

  • Sources: Devarim Rabbah 2:5; story heard from Rabbi Moshe Cantor

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