Vayeshev (And He Lived)
Genesis 37:1–40:23; Amos 2:6–3:8; John 2:13–4:42
“Jacob lived [yeshev] in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan.” (Genesis 37:1)
Last week, in Parasha Vayishlach, Jacob found himself wrestling with an angel as he prepared to reconcile with his brother Esau and return to the Holy Land.
In this week’s Parasha, Jacob, along with his 12 sons and one daughter, settled in Canaan, an ancient Egyptian term, referring to an area encompassing Israel, Lebanon, northwestern Jordan, and some western areas of Syria.
After the age of the Patriarchs, this area became known as Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel) or the Holy Land.
The use of the Hebrew word yeshev in the first verse of this Torah reading indicates that Jacob and his family truly settled in Canaan.
This verb has the connotation of putting down roots and living somewhere, rather than just resting temporarily while on a journey to another destination. The Hebrew noun yishuv, meaning settlement, is related to yeshev, which means sit, remain, dwell or settle.
The rabbis believe that the use of the word “yeshev” shows that Jacob, who was in his later years, desired to live peacefully and experience a sense of permanence or home.
In his life to that point, he had already been through more than his fair share of trials and tribulations: his brother threatened to kill him; his father-in-law deceived and cheated him; he was tricked into marrying the woman who was supposed to be his sister-in-law; the wife he did love died in childbirth; and his daughter was raped.
But that was not the end of Jacob’s troubles.
In this Parasha, Joseph (Yosef), Jacob’s favorite son, is sold to slave traders for 20 pieces of silver by his older brothers.
Jacob was devastated when his sons delivered Joseph’s bloodied tunic to him. They allowed Jacob to believe that Joseph was killed by a wild animal.
“He recognized it and said, ‘It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.’” (Genesis 37:33)
Jacob became so sad that he was inconsolable.
“All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.’ So his father wept for him.” (Genesis 37:35)
Peace in the Home
“Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age.” (Genesis 37:3)
Although this Parasha begins with Jacob settling in the Land, it quickly turns its attention to Joseph.
The story of Joseph is given considerable attention in the Torah, and compared to other characters, there is quite a bit written about him.
Though God had gifted Joseph with some very special abilities, these gifts did not save him from his brothers, who wanted to kill him.
They had the perfect opportunity to do so when Jacob sent Joseph to check on his brothers, who were tending sheep in Shechem.
Reuben intervened, hoping to rescue him later. Instead of killing Joseph, they ruthlessly threw him into an empty cistern.
The hearts of Joseph’s brothers were so cold to him that they callously sat down together to eat, ignoring their younger brother’s cries for mercy.
It seems that the other nine brothers had not entirely given up on the idea of killing him, so Judah also intervened, suggesting they could make a profit by selling Joseph to slave traders.
“Judah said to his brothers, ‘What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.’” (Genesis 37:26)
In considering what went wrong in this family, the rabbis do not lay the blame entirely on Joseph’s brothers, despite the fact that they hated him.
They also place some of the responsibility on Jacob, who loved Joseph more than his other sons.
He conferred special status on Joseph by giving to him a coat of many colors. This favoritism caused his brothers to envy and hate him.
Add to this family dynamic the intense rivalries of Jacob’s four wives—Bilhah, Zilpah, Rachel and Leah—each one striving to be the preferred wife. Of course, Rachel was the wife he had chosen, the one he loved best.
In Judaism, shalom bayit (peace in the home) is a revered concept of central importance.
This Parasha exposes a few factors that can disturb peace in the home—favoritism being one thing that sows discord in the family. Or in today’s vernacular, preferential treatment is one indicator of a dysfunctional family.
This Torah portion also reveals, perhaps, some of the difficulties that blended families encounter. Maintaining peace in the home can be a challenge when diverse personalities and relationships are involved. Of course, families do not have to be blended to experience this.
Considering the fact that even a monogamous marriage can be challenging, we can only imagine how difficult it was to maintain shalom bayit in Jacob’s household.
Perhaps many of us can relate to this.
Today, countless families are blended and step families are just one example of modern-day family dynamics. Often, children are forced to take sides in conflicts between parents while the children’s feelings and thoughts are ignored, discounted, criticized, etc.
Vision and the Revelation of Destiny
As a young man, Joseph, like his father and brothers, was a shepherd.
While we may not ordinarily associate shepherding with greatness, this Parasha reveals that Joseph was a man of tremendous vision.
Although his prophetic dreams imparted to him a revelation of God’s plan for his life, when he told his brothers about those dreams, it caused conflict. They perceived him to have a superiority complex.
“Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more.” (Genesis 37:5)
Even his father Jacob seemed disturbed by Joseph’s dreams.
“What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” (Genesis 37:10)
Still, because Joseph had a revelation of his destiny, he endured trials in Egypt with confidence and strength.
But he didn’t just understand his own dreams and destiny; he could interpret the prophetic dreams of others. This special gifting enabled him to interpret the dreams of the Pharaoh’s wine steward and chief baker when he was in prison.
Joseph correctly predicted that the cupbearer would be released in three days, but the baker would be hanged.
Because he foresaw this, he asked the cupbearer to mention to Pharaoh that he had been unjustly imprisoned.
“When all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. … The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph.” (Genesis 40:14, 23)
At the end of the Torah reading, the cupbearer seems to have forgotten all about Joseph, leaving him in prison. But while the situation continued to looked grim, God had actually positioned him to step into the fullness of his destiny as the governor of Egypt.
A Hope and a Future
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
This week’s Parasha brings hope to whatever situation we find ourselves in, whether we live alone or with family, whether our childhood was happy or sad, whether or not we have accomplished what we thought we should have by now.
God has a good plan for us.
While the envy, hatred, and cruelty of other people might play havoc in our lives, as it did in Joseph’s, we can hold fast to our confidence that God is in control. He knows how to transform whatever is meant for evil against us to a good outcome, as he did eventually for Joseph.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
The Haftarah (Prophetic Portion)
“They sold Joseph for twenty pieces of silver to the Ishmaelites.” (Genesis 37:28)
The Haftarah is connected to the Parasha through the theme of injustice and perhaps oppression, as well as a reference to selling the innocent for silver:
“They sell the innocent for silver.” (Amos 2:6)
The rabbis connect this verse to Joseph being sold as a slave for 20 pieces of silver.
Messianic Jews might connect this verse to Yeshua (Jesus) who was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver.
“When Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that Yeshua was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders.” (Matthew 27:3)
While 20 pieces of silver was the common price for a redeemed slave, 30 pieces was the compensation for a gored slave. Yeshua was “pierced” for our transgressions.
“If the bull gores a male or female slave, the owner must pay thirty shekels of silver to the master of the slave, and the bull is to be stoned to death.” (Exodus 21:32)
Judas was offered 30 pieces of silver in fulfillment of a Messianic prophecy, which states, “So they weighed out for my wages thirty pieces of silver.” (Zechariah 11:12)
Amos prophesied judgment against Israel for the sins committed by the affluent people of his day, including legal corruption, improper treatment of the poor, and other ethical and moral failures such as the following:
- Selling the innocent for financial gain (Amos 2:6);
- Denying justice to the oppressed and treating women as objects of sexual gratification (Amos 2:7); and
- Defiling themselves through idolatry and cruelty to the poor (Amos 2:8).
He asks the Israelites, “Can judgment come to a town if the Lord has not caused it?” (Amos 3:6)
God is in control and when judgment comes, sin is the reason.
God is attentive to the way we treat others. Mutual love and respect is foundational to all ethical, healthy relationships.
When we use someone for our own selfish purposes, especially those who are vulnerable, or when we fail to care for the poor and ignore the cries of the orphans and widows, we diminish ourselves.
And since each person is made in the image and likeness of the Creator of the Universe (Genesis 1:27), such conduct fails to recognize the spark of the Divine within a person.
But as important as our relationships with one another are, our most important relationship is with God. When we are right with Him, we will also make every effort to be right with each another.
Amos understood that the Israelites had to repent and turn back to Him, for the Lord told them: “Seek Me and live.” (Amos 5:4, 6)
The situation today in Israel and around the world is not much different from the time of Amos.
All of us desperately need God. Mankind is empty and lost without Him.
“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7)