By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant This week’s Torah Parsha (BO) continues with the story of Exodus. God had already inflicted seven devastating plagues on Egypt, subsequent to the Pharaoh’s...
By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant
Pulitzer Prize winning book for 2016: “Joseph and His Multi-colored Coat”….A single father with twelve sons and one daughter, born to four different women (all now deceased); a dysfunctional family; partiality; resentment; hatred; deceit; a scenario comparable to the popular television show, ‘Real housewives of Egypt’; and, crimes and misdemeanors. No! This is not a bestselling novel; rather, it is the essence of this week’s Torah Parsha (VAYEISHEV).
After the slaughter at Shechem in last week’s Parsha (VAYISLACH), Jacob moved his family and property to a different area in Canaan. All of the sons (except for Benjamin, who was still a child) worked as shepherds in the fields. Joseph, who was thirteen years old, was clearly the favorite of their father, Jacob. There was a rationale for this sense of partiality. Joseph was the first-born of Jacob’s wife, Rachel, a woman, who he adored. The other sons, who were considerably older than Joseph, were both jealous and resentful of their subordinate status with their father. Joseph aggravated the situation by bringing evil tales about his brothers to Jacob.
“His brothers hated him, and could not speak peacefully to him” (1). Jacob thought that, perhaps, Joseph would earn more respect from his brothers, if he wore more dignified attire, while he was out in the field. With this in mind, Jacob had a splendid, multi-color, woolen coat woven for Joseph to wear. When the brothers saw Joseph wearing the coat, they just hated him more.
Joseph was an imaginative child. He told his brothers of two dreams which he had; the first in which eleven sheaves of wheat bow down to his; and, the second in which the sun, moon, and eleven stars all bow down to him, as well. So, his oldest brother said: “Will you reign over us, or will you govern us?” (2).
Eventually, the brothers acted on their emotions. They saw the ‘dreamer’ approach; and, they ambushed him, and threw him into an empty pit. Then, by chance, Judah (considered the leader of the group), noticed an Ishmalite slave caravan, on its way to Egypt. Joseph was sold to the Ishmalites.
Joseph’s time in Egypt was even more tumultuous than his life in Canaan. The Ishmalite traders sold him as a slave to a man named Potipher. This man worked for the Pharaoh, as chief of the prisoners.
From the time he left Canaan to his arrival in Egypt, Joseph had matured into a handsome young man, with impeccable manners, “and Potipher appointed him over his house; and, all he had, he gave into Joseph’s hand” (3). With Joseph’s promotion into the household, he attracted the attention of Potipher’s wife. She repeatedly tried to seduce him, with no success. To avenge her humiliation, she tore up her clothes, and accused Joseph of raping her. Joseph was immediately thrown into prison.
In jail, Joseph finds that two of his fellow inmates had worked for the Pharaoh…his former butler, and his former baker. Both happen to have symbolic dreams, related to their crimes. Joseph evaluates each situation, and concludes that the butler would be exonerated in three days; and, that the baker will be hung. Amazingly, Joseph’s dream interpretations became a reality. According to Rashi, these were not ‘Divine’ interpretations, because God was not involved. Rather, Joseph utilized his skills of deduction and reasoning to analyze the meaning of each dream (4).
(1) GENESIS (37:4)
(2) GENESIS (37:8)
(3) GENESIS (39:4)