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Prophetic Betrayal of Joseph...

Updated: Dec 22, 2022


Torah Portion: Parashat Vayeshev (“and he dwelt”)

Shabbat: Dec. 17, 2022 / Kislev 23, 5783

Torah: Gen. 37:1-40:23

Prophets: Amos 2:6-3:8

New Covenant: Matt. 1:1-6;16-25; John 10:22-30


The Shema

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength”. Deut. 6:4-5


Last week's Torah (i.e., Vayishlach) recounted how Jacob had wrestled with a mysterious Angel before returning to the Promised Land to be reconciled with his brother Esau. No longer named Ya'akov ("heel holder" [of Esau]), but Yisrael ("prince of God"), a transformed Jacob finally returned to Hebron to see his father Isaac, nearly 34 years after he had left home. However, on the way back home his beloved wife Rachel died while giving birth to his twelfth son Benjamin.

This week's portion begins with Jacob living back in the land promised to Abraham and Isaac with his 12 sons, but the narrative quickly turns to Jacob's favorite son Joseph, who was seventeen years old at the time. The Torah states that Jacob loved Joseph more than all his other sons since he was "the son of his old age," and he was the firstborn son of his beloved wife Rachel. Indeed, Jacob made him an ornamented tunic to indicate his special status in the family.

As the favored son, Joseph's job was to oversee the activities of Jacob's concubines sons (Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher) and to bring "reports" about their activities back to Jacob. However, this role as the overseer and "favored son" was too much for the other brothers, and they became jealous of him and hated him. To make matters worse, Joseph related two dreams to his brothers that foretold that he was destined to rule over them, increasing their envy and hatred of him (the implication of the dreams was that all of Jacob's family would become subservient to him). Jacob rebuked Joseph for arousing his brothers' hatred, but he inwardly took note and waited for the fulfillment of the dreams.

The portion records that one day the brothers went out to pasture their herds, but when they saw Joseph coming to check on them, they conspired to kill him, though later they decided to sell him to some slave traders instead. The brothers then staged Joseph's death by dipping his special tunic into goat's blood and bringing it to their father, who was deceived into thinking that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.

Meanwhile Joseph was purchased at a slave trade by Potiphar, a captain of Pharaoh's guard. The LORD was "with Joseph," however, and blessed everything he did. In fact, soon he was promoted to be the head of Potiphar's entire household affairs. Potiphar's wife then began enticing Joseph to have an affair with her, and though he steadfastly refused her advances, she later falsely accused him of attempted rape. Potiphar was understandably outraged (at his wife?) and threw Joseph into the royal prison, but again God showed him favor there and soon was appointed to a position of authority in the prison administration.

The portion ends with two prophetic episodes in Joseph's life that eventually would bring him to the attention of Pharaoh himself. While in prison, Joseph met Pharaoh's wine steward and chief baker, both incarcerated for offending their king (according to Rashi, a fly was found in the goblet prepared by the butler, and a pebble in the baker's confection). Both men had disturbing dreams which Joseph correctly interpreted; in three days, he told them, the wine steward would be released but the baker would be hanged. Joseph then asked the wine steward to advocate for his release with Pharaoh. Joseph's predictions were fulfilled, but the wine steward forgot all about Joseph.


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