Torah Portion: Vayeshev Genesis 37:1-40:23

HafTorah: Amos 2:6-3:8

Matthew 1:1-6, 16-25

A principle of Torah is that it is concise and not given to superfluous wording. So whenever we see that principle suspended we can be sure a deeper principle is at work. Such is found in Genesis 40. This chapter could have been told in a few verses rather than the 23 that we read here.


So what are we to learn from this chapter? What is the deeper meaning? Maybe it would help us to look back at Joseph’s life up to this point. At a young age he lost his mother. His brother’s hated him because his father loved him more. At 17 his own brothers sold him into slavery. He became a slave in Potiphar’s house. Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him and because of his refusal she accused him of attempted assault. He was then thrown in jail to spend the rest of his life. At this point he had every right to be bitter. He could have withdrawn into himself and allowed anger and thoughts of victimization to consume him. And he would have been justified for he indeed was a victim. His life had collapsed around him. As the son of a noble father he could have looked down on his fellow inmates in jail. He could have despised the wardens set over him for being a part of a system that perverted justice.

Rather than that we see a man given responsibility by these wardens. Joseph had the ability to roll up his sleeves and contribute rather than withdrawing. His past did not hold him captive. His love of G-d was evident. He never let his situations rob him of his humanity.

This brings us to Genesis 40:1-7. Joseph could have made life hard for Pharaoh’s two officers jailed with him, for they were part of a system that put him where he was. But what did he do in verses 6-7? First he did not ask, “Why are your faces down cast.” He already knew the answer to that. He added the word, “today.” What does that tell us? He saw their mood had changed. He noticed the pain of these men enough to see that today they were sadder than normal. He never stopped reaching outside himself. And ultimately it was this simple act of caring that brought salvation to the world!

He saw their distress, responded and decoded their dreams. It was his interpretation of their dreams that later brought him to the attention of Pharaoh. It was his wisdom that motivated him to fill Egypt’s storehouses. And it was the filled storehouses that fed a starving world – including his family from which came the Messiah. What would have been had not he been sensitive to another’s pain?

In a way he speaks to us all who fight against the unfairness of the world and the urge to blame and to hate. Why should we care when no one seemed to care about us? When we read this story we can see the difference that it can make. The New Testament tells us to love our enemies in Matt. 5:43-48. Yeshua tells us, as Joseph does, our ability to rise above our past and reach out to the world is what will change the world. A little light dispels the darkness. It just might make all the difference in the world.

Portions taken from an article written by Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson