Vayeshev (Genesis 37:1 – 40:23)
I had to run and grab a notebook while reading this week’s portion. I didn’t think I’d be able to keep the train of thought if I just read all the way through. It’s one of the reasons I love Genesis — there’s just so much depth. Vayeshev is another jam-packed story. It’s the first part of the story of Yosef (Joseph) and squished in the middle is the story of Yehudah (Judah) and Tamar. This post is fairly long because I just kept finding more and more that I hadn’t considered before!
These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren, being still a lad even with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought evil report of them unto their father. (Gen 37:2)
The key thing to note here is that Joseph was serving with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah — not the sons of Leah. Think about it. If you were the sons of the concubines and your brother, the son of the favorite wife (Rachel), ratted you out — wouldn’t you be pissed and hate him?
It’s interesting that it’s Judah, who is one of Leah’s sons, that is the leader of the pack when it comes to trying to kill Joseph, but it’s Reuven, also a son of Leah who tries to save him.
This passage also made me wonder what the name “Dotan” means. I know there is a nice Israeli guy who reads my blog named Dotan, but it also appears here as the location where Joseph finds his brother (Gen 31:17). I know it’s an ancient city, but my curiosity goes to the deeper meaning. According to my dictionary, the word (דֹתָן) means: religion, faith, belief, gospel; law, rule; decree. That seems very appropriate for the place that Joseph’s fate will be decided.
And they sat down to eat bread; and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites came from Gilead, with their camels bearing spicery and balm and ladanum, going to carry it down to Egypt. (Gen 37:25)
What caught my attention here is the appearance of the Ishmaelites. Perhaps this was intended as a reminder to Joseph’s brothers about what can happen when you cast out a brother. (i.e. Issac & Ishmael).
And there passed by Midianites, merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they brought Joseph into Egypt. (Gen 37:28)
I also was surprised to realize that Joseph’s brothers never actually sell him off. I seemed to remember that always being the story. They never get to do it. The Midianites (the ancestors of Moses’ father-in-law) find Joseph first and sell him to the Ishmaelites. I don’t even know how to process that part; Jethro’s ancestors selling Joesph into Egypt – that’s a master’s thesis until itself!
I discovered several new things for myself in the section of the story around Potiphar’s house. Firstly, that Potiphar was the captain of the guard — his home becomes the first level of a descent and rebirth story. Joseph must pass through the guardian’s challenge before he can prove himself worthy. His time in Potiphar’s house transforms him from the silly selfish boy he was into a man of moral values and ethics.
And it came to pass, as she spoke to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her. (Gen 39:10)
A text note in my edition of the Torah commented that this phrasing was very unusual, and the specific wording “to be with” was usually in reference to God. That got my head spinning. I started reading the rest of the passage looking at Potiphar’s wife as a goddess figure and that led all over the place. There is one theory that the 10 plagues are actually a war between the Hebrew God and the Egyptian gods. Apparently there is a matching god to each plague. So consider if Potiphar’s wife was a goddess (or a priestess) and Joseph insulted her by NOT “being with her” and that’s why he was thrown into the dungeon.
This is where the story of Joseph clearly seems to become a death and rebirth story. I’m hardly the first to comment on that. It kept bringing to mind the Descent of Inanna. Especially, when Joseph is thrown into the dungeon and then becomes the care taker of that realm.
And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it. (Gen 39:22)
Joseph isn’t just a prisoner — he is the one who is second in command to the “keeper of the prison.” Soon he will be second in command to Pharaoh, but first he must humble himself and work for the king of the underworld. I also found the symbolic appearance and removal of food and drink through the cup bearer and baker very interesting. The cup bearer (butler) who redeems Joseph in the end, also bears the tool that Joseph will use for divination and will play a large role in his testing of his brothers in Genesis 44.
And in process of time Shua’s daughter, the wife of Judah, died; and Judah was comforted, and went up unto his sheep-shearers to Timnah, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. Genesis 38:12).
There is so much to be found in the story of Judah and Tamar, but there was one thing that really got my attention this time, and that was sadness about yet another nameless woman. Judah’s wife, the ancestress of King David is only called “the daughter of Shuva.” The insult on it’s own is bad enough, but in the following lines Judah’s friend who goes sheep sheering with him, IS mentioned by name. How can this man be more worthy of being named that that of the mother of Judah’s children. I notice this more and more as I read and study. I especially take note of any woman who has gained the honor of being mentioned by name and adding those like “Bat Shuva” to the list of those who haven’t.
[tags]torah, vayeshev, genesis, parshat, commentary, kohenet, וישב[/tags]