Torah Portion: Vayeishev (And He Dwelt) B’resheet (Genesis) 37-40
Haftorah Reading: Amos 2:6-3:8
Tonight we take a long look at Joseph’s life from his teen years to adulthood. Through these years we can see many things in his life that can speak to us directly. In the beginning we see a boy, the favorite of his father, who was given a beautiful coat. We see a boy who was not very perceptive about how to relate to his brothers. All this caused his brothers to hate him.
Also in this portion we see dreams introduced into scriptures in a new way. In the past G-d spoke to people in dreams but here dreams had to be interpreted. Joseph had a gift of interpreting dreams. This portion also introduces the use of clothing as a way to give insight into what is going on in the verses, such as Tamar being dressed as a prostitute, Joseph’s coat from his father and later his coat being torn off by Potiphar’s wife. In Hebrew the word for clothes is beged, which can also mean to betray. Clothing can be seen as a device to conceal who we really are. A perfect example would be in the case of Tamar when Judah went into her without knowing she was his daughter in law. Clothes play a big part in our lives and society.
I asked you to think this week about what event in Joseph’s life had the largest impact on him and the future of his people as well as other nations. When we read of his life this week how did you feel about him? Did you feel sorry for him? How did he personally cope with what he experienced? On the surface, it seemed like he went from one traumatic event to the next. Hated by his brothers, sold by them as a slave, eventually ending up in the house of Potiphar where he rose to be the head of the house answering only to his master. Then he was falsely accused of trying to seduce his master’s wife and was sent to prison for a crime he did not commit. As far as he knew he could be there for life. How did these events affect him? How would they affect you? It wasn’t fair! He was being punished for things over which he had no control. Our reading ended with a verse stating that the butler to Pharaoh forgot Joseph when he was released from prison after Joseph had interpreted a dream about his release. Genesis 40:23. Do you think Joseph was anger with the butler?
As we look at Joseph through these years we see him seemingly never bitter to the point of despair. We see G-d able to not only deliver him repeatedly but also to bless him. We see a man who saw all these things in his life as part of G-d’s plan for him.
Joseph’s life was a beautiful example of looking at life as not just a sequence of random events but a life directed by G-d. We live life forward but only understand it by looking backwards. A disappointment today is only a stepping stone to fulfillment tomorrow. As we reflect on our lives we should be able to see the hand of G-d directing our life. The choice on how we view the events in our lives is up to us. We can choose to go our own way. We can choose to be eaten up with bitterness and anger or we can forgive. We can grow through difficulties and reach places spiritually that we could not have had had it not been for seeing others and ourselves through G-d’s eyes.
Joseph is a wonderful example for us. If you remember, when he was in prison, he passed by the butler and baker of Pharaoh who had been sent to prison. Genesis 40:5-7. He noticed that they seemed down. The verse said they were sad. Here Joseph was wrongly imprisoned yet he was able to notice that these two guys were sad. He went up and asked them, “Why do you look sad today?” If we were in Joseph’s place would we notice someone else’s pain instead of focusing only on our own? To me this is the most important moment in Joseph’s life. It spoke of who he was at his core. He cared enough to go outside of his own suffering and show concern and compassion toward another human being. This speaks greatly to me of who we should be. We should be a light not darkness. We should be concerned about the people around us. We never know what effect a kind word can have. We are to be representatives of a loving G-d. Stay tender in G-d and let Him use you everyday, no matter what you personally might be experiencing.
In the life of Joseph this kind interest in another person changed everything, not only for him but also for the world. G-d used him to be the first person in scripture to begin to fulfill the promise of G-d to Avraham back in Genesis 12. All this because he took a minute to ask these two men how they were doing.
Another incident in Joseph’s life that can help us everyday to become all we can be involved his encounter with Potiphar’s wife. We read in Genesis 39:7-9 where he was approached by Potiphar’s wife and she asked him to lie with her. His response was immediate, “And he refused.” He did not go through any internal debate about the pros and cons. He just said no. He refused.
Often, when we are faced with temptation, if we are not careful, we get into a debate. We weigh the pros and cons. Who would know? Maybe just this once… When temptation comes into our life we sometimes hesitate in our response. Joseph is a wonderful example of how we should react. No debate, just refuse immediately. The evil one is constantly looking for an opening. Usually it begins with a small thing and then before we know it we are somewhere we never meant to be.
Happy Chanukah to you all. We will be celebrating Chanukah at our meeting next week. You are welcome to bring any Chanukah dish you would like to share with the group. We will meet at 5 o’clock instead of 4 o’clock next week.