Torah Portion:  Vayeishev (And He Settled) B’resheet (Genesis) 37:1-40:23

Haftorah Reading: Amos 2:6-3:8

Tonight we read one of the most important Torah portions of the year. There are many points to ponder. Let’s begin with what was the basis for my question this week. This involved Reuben and his attempt to save his brother Joseph from the hands of his other brothers.

This portion began with Joseph the dreamer, Jacob’s favorite son of his old age, was definitely not held in high esteem by his brothers. Joseph shared with his brothers his dreams of his apparent feeling that he was superior and this did not endear him to them. Then, we come to the verses where his father sent him out to see how the brothers were doing with the sheep. We are familiar with the story and know what happened next. The brothers, as they saw him coming their way, devised a plan to kill him.  Reuben suggested instead of killing him they spare his life and put him in a pit. They agreed to this plan.  Then, they decided to sell him to an approaching caravan that was headed to Egypt. 

It says in Genesis 37:21, “But Reuben heard it and he delivered him out of their hands.”

What seems odd about this verse?  It sounds as if Joseph was saved but instead he was sold into slavery. As we know Reuben came back later with the intent to return the lad to his father. However, he was too late. Joseph had been sold and was on his way to Egypt. In Genesis 37:29 we read of Reuben’s reaction when he returned and found Joseph gone. So why does the scripture say Reuven saved him?

Reuben was devastated to see Joseph gone from the pit. He could not see the end result of his actions. He thought he had failed. He, like us in our own lives, could not read the end of the story. He only knew his brother was gone.  I think scripture is making the point that Reuben’s intent to save his brother was treated by G-d as a righteous act. Our intent is important. When we are given a situation our responsibility is to do the right thing, what G-d is showing us to do. We must leave the results to G-d. Only years later did Reuben see the end of the story when the whole family went down to Egypt. There G-d made them into a mighty nation and Joseph was already there to give them the opportunity they needed.

If Reuben had not acted in a righteous way, saving his brother’s life, Joseph would have been killed, not sold into slavery. He would not have been sold to Potiphar, been thrown into prison falsely, not met the butler of Pharaoh, come to the attention of the king and become the viceroy of Egypt and saved the family of Jacob.

For sure the people of Israel would have become slaves regardless. Look at Genesis 15:13 where G-d tells Abraham that his descendants would be slaves for 400 years. However, G-d’s plan was for events to happen this way. Reuben did not have the advantage of reading the book to the end. That is really not the important part. The lesson for us is to do the right thing, to reach out because it is who we are supposed to be as G-d’s people.  We allow the Father to deal with the results. We usually do not know how our acts will affect a person. Our responsibility is to do what we can and allow G-d to work through what we have done.  It is looked at as righteousness by G-d. We are to be the hands of G-d in giving a hand to someone in need. What G-d does with our acts of kindness is His business. Only He knows the end of the story. In Hebrew the word for acts of loving kindness is Hessed. May our lives be filled with them. Each of us can make a difference in someone’s world.

Lastly, I want us to talk a bit about an odd story in our portion that seems to not fit into the flow of the main theme of Joseph’s life. We find this story in Genesis 38. The opening verse reads, “At that time Judah went down.” The last time we read about Judah he had come up with the plan to sell Joseph back in Chapter 37. Here we see him continue this downward spiral in his life. In this chapter he married a Canaanite woman and had three sons. Was he, as a child of Jacob, to take a wife from the Canaanites? No. Then we see the fate of two of his three sons. The first one married a woman named Tamar. He was an evil man and G-d took his life. The next son refused to perform the duties of his position as the second son and he also died. Even though he promised to do so, Judah did not allow his third son to marry Tamar. So she took matters into her own hands and sat, dressed as a harlot with her face covered, beside the road that Judah would be traveling. She sat at a place called in Hebrew, “Petach Eniem” which means Opening of the eyes. (Genesis 38:14) In Genesis 38:12 Torah says Judah was “going up.” So here Judah begins his spiritual journey back up. Later when confronted with the evidence of who was the father of the babies Tamar was carrying, Judah confessed his sin. He could have remained quiet and let Tamar be stoned to death but he chose to confess his sin. How do we deal with conviction when we sin? Do we walk away when asked to “identify this” as in the story of Tamar? Do we keep our eyes shut and continue down our own path or do we open our eyes and acknowledge our sin and allow G-d to redeem us?