Vayeishev (Gen. 37:1-40:23)

Yes, I remember where I was when Kennedy was assassinated, 50 years ago today.  I was in my sixth grade classroom, and we were cutting out bell shapes from construction paper, I think for Christmas decorations (why so early, I don’t recall).  Three years before, I had not wanted him to be elected; I had thought that since a Vice President was higher than a Senator, Kennedy should just wait his turn.  Once he got in, it was great fun.  Youth, beauty, elegance, charisma – the whole family.  He came to speak at Independence Hall on July 4, and I think I saw his pants leg.  I know that “Camelot,” his personal behavior, and the achievements of his presidency, not to mention the image of vigor (or “viguh”), were buffed and polished and sanitized by the overly complicit media.  But the inspiration and our excitement at the prospects of a wonderful future, including both literal and figurative moon shots, were real.

This week, we delve into the story of another handsome, charismatic young man, Joseph.  The portion is called “Vayeishev“, meaning “And he (Jacob) dwelled.”  But Jacob and his family are not dwelling peacefully in Canaan.  It is only about 9 years since he lost his beloved Rachel.   Joseph, her teenage son, is bright, gifted, and good-looking, probably resembling his mother.  Jacob favors him emotionally as Rachel’s son, and practically as a capable, future leader of the family and the famous coat (many-colored or ornamented or just long-sleeved – translations of “k’tonet passim” vary) is a designation of future leadership, despite his junior position in the family (younger siblings often leapfrog older ones in Biblical stories).  At 17, Joseph is bright, but not smart.  He blithely recounts a dream of his brothers’ sheaves bowing down to his and another, of the sun, moon, and stars (parents and brothers) bowing to him, either arrogantly uncaring or utterly clueless as to the effects on his brothers simmering hatred.  And the result of this story is well-known: his older brothers kidnap him, tear off The Coat, and throw him in a pit.  Reuben screws up a rescue attempt, and Judah persuades the others not to kill Joseph but to sell him to a passing caravan of Ishmaelites, which, according to Rashi, later sell him to the Midianites, who sell him as a slave in Egypt.

At this point, the focus temporarily switches to Judah, who has a little family misadventure of his own.  He marries a Canaanite woman, Shua, and they have three sons, Er, Onan (yes, that’s where we get the term “onanism”), and Shelah.  Tamar marries Er.  Er dies.  Because they were childless, Tamar marries brother Onan.  Onan spills his seed, as they say, effusing to impregnate her because the resulting progeny would count as Er’s.  Onan then dies.  Judah is naturally hesitant about marrying her to Shelah, who is too young anyway.  Shua dies, Shelah grows up, and there’s no wedding.  Finally, Tamar forces Judah to do the family duty, posing as a prostitute and conceiving twins by him, Perez and Zarah.  Why are we reading this?  Perez is an ancestor of King David.  The tribe of Judah will become the leading tribe eventually, so its progenitor’s stories are of interest.

Meanwhile, in the household of Potiphar, Joseph shines again and is given increasing responsibility, but is framed on a false rape charge.   In prison, he again stands out as someone special.  He correctly interprets the dreams of fellow prisoners, the royal wine steward (he’ll be freed) and the royal baker (he’ll be executed) and asks the wine steward to help free him.  The wine steward “forgets” about trying to pull strings for a mere Hebrew slave, and Joseph sits for two more years.

The portrait of Joseph as a teenager growing into adulthood feels accurate (though it’s been a while since I lived with any teens) as he has to deal with several changes of identity in a life that is full of contradictions.  He gets favored treatment from Jacob, but is hated by his brothers.  His dreams further stoke that hatred, but his ability to interpret dreams will enable him to save many from hunger (and at a nice profit for the Pharaoh).  His good looks and charisma help him rise as a slave but attract Potiphar’s lascivious wife, and refusing her lands him in prison.  Next week, we’ll read of still more identity issues, as he becomes viceroy of Egypt.

Shabbat shalom,


Teenager Posts

If you’ve ever wanted to explain to an adult what it’s actually like to live inside the brain of a teenager… there’s a Tumblr for that. To see our previous Teenager Posts roundup click here.

Teenager Post No. 17867 Headphones in, problems out.

No. 17854   I’ve been using Google for like 12 years and I have no idea what that “I’m Feeling Lucky” button is for.

No. 17848   Just a reminder that you don’t have to tell Facebook or Twitter goodnight.

No. 17811   Anyone would be lucky to date me.  I was “a pleasure to have in class.”

No. 17515   I seriously just wanna cuddle up and watch an old disney movie with hot chocolate and ignore life and everyone and everything.

No. 16931   Being the last person still laughing too much at a joke is a very big problem in my life.


Kid’s Instructions on Life

“Wear a hat when feeding seagulls.” – Rocky, age 9

“Sleep in your clothes so you’ll be dressed in the morning.” – Stephanie, age 8

“Don’t flush the john when your dad’s in the shower.” – Lamar, age 10

“Never ask for anything that costs more than $5 when your parents are doing taxes.” – Carrol, age 9

“Never bug a pregnant mom.” – Nicholas, age 11

“Don’t ever be too full for dessert.” – Kelly, age 10

“When your dad is mad and asks you, ‘Do I look stupid?’ don’t answer him.” – Heather, age 16

“Never tell your mom her diet’s not working.” – Michael, age 14

“Don’t pick on your sister when she’s holding a baseball bat.” – Joel, age 12

“When you get a bad grade in school, show it to your mom when she’s on the phone.” – Alyesha, age 13

“Never try to baptize a cat.” – Laura, age 13

“Never spit when on a roller coaster.” – Scott, age 11

“Never do pranks at a police station.” – Sam, age 10

“Beware of cafeteria food when it looks like it’s moving.” – Rob, age 10

“Never tell your little brother that you’re not going to do what your mom told you to do.” – Hank, age 12

“Remember you’re never too old to hold your father’s hand.” – Molly, age 11

“Listen to your brain. It has lots of information.” – Chelsey, age 7

“Stay away from prunes.” – Randy, age 9

“Never dare your little brother to paint the family car.” – Phillip, age 13

“Forget the cake, go for the icing.” – Cynthia, age 8

“Remember the two places you are always welcome – church and Grandma’s house.” – Joanne, age 11

“When you want something expensive, ask your grandparents.” – Matthew, age 12


Attention, parents!

The small boy was lost in a mall and was delivered to the local police station where deputy gently tried to learn names of his parents.

– Okay, sonny, now tell me how your mom and dad are called?

The boy stopped crying for a second and blurted out:

– Honey and Sweetheart, officer!


Parents and Their Kids

  • Murphy said to his daughter, “I want you home by eleven o’clock.” She said, “But Father, I’m no longer a child!” He said, “I know, that’s why I want you home by eleven.”
  • The man passed out in a dead faint as he came out of his front door onto the porch. Someone dialed 911. When the paramedics arrived, they helped him regain consciousness and asked if he knew what caused him to faint. “It was enough to make anybody faint,” he said. “My son asked me for the keys to the garage, and instead of driving the car out, he came out with the lawn mower.”
  • A woman meant to call a record store but dialed the wrong number and got a private home instead. “Do you have ‘Eyes of Blue’ and ‘A Love Supreme’?” she asked. “Well, no,” answered the puzzled homeowner. “But I have a wife and eleven children.”
    “Is that a record?” she inquired. “I don’t think so,” replied the man, “but it’s as close as I want to get.”
  • Pride is what you feel when your kids net $143 from a garage sale. Panic is what you feel when you realize your car is missing.



When my older brother and I were little we were always playing Robin Hood. Only thing was, he was always Robin Hood and I had to be Little John.
After a while I got sick of this and told him I wasn’t playing any more.
“Ok” he said. “We’ll play a different game and you can be Robin.”
“Brilliant” I said. “Who are you gonna be?”
“Batman” he said.

By: oughwee  | report

“We don’t always see eye to eye, but I want you to know I love you like a brother. Well, maybe not a brother. More like a cousin. Or a step-nephew.”
“Gee. Thanks, dad.”

anonymous post | report


Weird Dreams

A guy tells his psychiatrist, “I always have this weird dream at night. I am locked in a room with a door on which there is a sign. I try to push it with all my strength, but no matter how hard I try, it won’t budge.”

The psychiatrist muses, “Interesting.” But tell me what does the sign on the door say?

The guy replies, “It says ‘Pull’”!!!


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1 Response to Vayeishev (Gen. 37:1-40:23)

  1. stanley cohen says:

    Based on Onan’s adventure, I am surprised that some anti-abortion Bible fundamentalist has not suggested that life begins – not even at conception but – at ejaculation. Hence, Onan’s death penalty for the murder of seed (= the unborn).


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