Torah Reflections; Lessons in the weekly Torah portion and topics of Judaism, spirituality, observance and tradition

Torah Reflections from Torah Readers

Divrai Torah, weekly Torah portion summaries, lessons and essays on topics of Judaism, spirituality, observance and tradition.

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Parashat Vayeshev

For the week of Sat 17th Dec 2022 - כ״ג בְּכִסְלֵו תשפ״ג
Shabbat Mevarchim Chodesh Tevet
Parashat Vayeshev

The amazing story of Tamar

Inconspicuously sandwiched between the dramatic events of Joseph’s story is a single chapter dedicated to a woman named Tamar. Tamar, it turns out, is an amazing woman who is often overlooked, yet she has so much to teach us and is the matriarch of the most important lineage in Jewish history.

Did you know that...

At the end of his life, Jacob tells Pharaoh, "Few and unpleasant have been the days of my life" (Gen. 47:9). But were they really so bad?

Turning to last week's parasha: "And Jacob came to Shekhem, 'shalem,' complete" (Gen. 33:18). What is the specific connotation of "shalem"? He has survived the challenge of Esau, and he has survived the challenge of Lavan. Esau was out to kill him, and Jacob managed to dodge that threat. Lavan states at the end of parashat Vayetzei, "It is in my power to do you harm" (Gen. 31:29), indicating that Lavan also presented a real physical threat. But both of these threats did not come to pass.

Jacob has survived the external threats, and so he can now settle down, having achieved a state of being "shalem."

Jacob seeks tranquility. He has survived the external threats, and he now wants to concentrate on his family, focusing internally. The episodes with Dina and Reuven were disruptive, but Jacob still retains his dream for tranquility.

But then, "the ordeal of Joseph sprang upon him." The internal deterioration moves to another level with the episode of Joseph and his brothers, and Jacob is left with frustration and failure.

We now understand Jacob's statement to Pharaoh, "Few and unpleasant have been the days of my life." Jacob's dream was to be able to settle down and develop his family. But when the external threats ceased, the internal ones began to sprout, disrupting the family from all directions, leading to the ultimate frustration and failure, for Jacob's modest dream was left unfulfilled.

Parasha Summary

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Parashat Vayeshev introduces the lengthiest narrative in the book of Genesis: the story of Joseph and his brothers. Over the course of the next four parashiyot, we will follow the story of Joseph's meteoric rise to power as he grapples with fundamental questions of identity and purpose.

Parashat Vayeshev starts with Jacob living in Hebron with his 12 sons. The naravitive then focuses on Joseph, Jacob's favorite son. He buys him a coat of many colors. Joseph angers his brothers by telling them of dreams that he has where he interprets the dream as meaning that they will all one day bow down to him.

The brothers plot to kill Joseph but instead sell him into slavery. Joseph is taken to Egypt where he is sold to Potipher - the head of Pharaoh's slaughterhouse. Josephe is good at his work and he is elevated to manage the house of Potipher. Potipher's wife desires the handsome Joseph and when he rejects her advances, she tells her husband that Joseph threw himself on her. Joseph is thrown into prison.

In prison Joseph is made responsible for the other prisoners While in prison he correctly interprets the dreams of Pharaoh's chief baker and chief butler. The parasha ends with the butler returning to his job and forgetting Joseph.  

Second Opinion

Opinions, Essays, Cultural Observances

The lighting of the first Candle of Hanukkah or watching the World cup final?

With the World Cup finale falling at the exact same time as the lighting of the first Hanukkah candle (Israel time), what takes precedence? They are both events that provide joy and have values associated with them. Can one be postponed for the other? what is more important?

The Last Word

Social Religous, Cultural and Political Commentary

What the Emergency Room waiting area says about American Society

I’ve often thought that the measure of a society is how it takes care of the least fortunate in that society. Judging our American society by this measure would indicate that we are a very sick society. I feel that the ER waiting rooms across America are a good overall indicator of the health of our society.
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