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

It’s time for the Joseph story.  Get out the popcorn. 

Except for an interlude involving Judah and his daughter-in-law Tamar, this week’s reading is a single, tightly focused story that will take us to the end of Genesis over the next few weeks.  Jacob and his family are settled (he thinks) in Canaan.  Joseph, aged 17, is his favorite child.  Yes, Jacob is recklessly indulging in the same favoritism that tore apart his own boyhood family.  But he has good reason.  Joseph and Benjamin are the sons of his beloved, lost Rachel, and she died giving birth to Benjamin.  Joseph is good-looking (probably resembling his mother), intelligent, and capable. 

Further, while the firstborn does have priest-type privileges and a double portion of inheritance, he didn’t always become the head of the family.  Jacob’s oldest three sons have hardly distinguished themselves as potential leaders, we don’t know anything about Judah yet, and the middle sons are, well, middle sons about whom we learn nothing until Jacob is on his deathbed.  Jacob is clearly grooming Joseph to take over, giving him some limited supervisory duties and a coat that further denotes his status (yes That Coat, multicolored and/or long-sleeved).  This is all in the open.  Recall that Esau didn’t go after Jacob until he was tricked out of Isaac’s blessing.  There’s no trickery here, so Jacob probably thought the other sons would grumble but acquiesce.

Joseph, too, is blind to the depths of his older brothers’ resentment. He tells them of having dreams in which his brothers bow down to him.  In one, his brothers’ sheaves bowing down to his in the field.  In another, sun (father), moon (mother), and stars (brothers) bow to him.  Jacob scolds him, but he also sees this as divine confirmation of his choice.  He sends Joseph out to his brothers one day, and an unnamed stranger (an angel, nudging the story in the right direction?) tells him where they are.  The brothers kidnap him, rip off That Coat, throw him in a pit, and then don’t know what to do with him.  Reuben plans a rescue but to no avail, since Judah persuades the others 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.  Jacob believes his beloved son is dead and is inconsolable.

Now, the interlude: Judah, Jacob’s fourth son, marries a Canaanite woman, Shua, and they have three sons. Tamar marries the eldest, Er.  Er dies.  Because they were childless, Tamar marries his brother Onan.  Onan refuses to impregnate her and then dies.  Judah isn’t crazy about her marrying his last son, Shelah (wonder why).  Finally, Tamar poses as a prostitute, forces Judah to fulfill the levirate duty, and conceives twins, Perez (ancestor of King David) and Zarah.  Judah publicly praises her actions, saying “She is more righteous than I.” Here we get an inkling that, unlike his older siblings, Judah, can eventually grow into the leader the family will need.

Meanwhile, in Egypt, Joseph survives by his wits.  He gains the trust of his master, Potiphar, and the lust of Potiphar’s wife, who pesters him in a classic example of workplace sexual harassment, continually saying, “Lie with me.”  No subtlety there.  He hesitates (whence the use of a shalshelet, a rare cantillation mark signifying internal struggle and hesitation) and tries to placate her diplomatically.  Finally, she is humiliated when he runs away from her, leaving his coat in her hand, and that won’t do.  She accuses “that Hebrew slave” of attempted rape, and he’s off to prison.

In prison, Joseph again impresses the boss.  He also interprets the dreams of fellow prisoners, the chief wine steward (he’ll be freed in 3 days) and the chief baker (he’ll be executed in 3 days).  Though he asks the chief wine steward to put in a good word for him, the steward doesn’t, and Joseph remains in prison.

Different facets of Joseph have struck me over the years.  He’s a self-absorbed, spoiled teenager; tattletale; an ambitious conniver out for himself; a survivor; a kid who matures eventually but takes a long time to get over his ill treatment.  This year, I’m more willing to go easy on him.  He is very naïve and sheltered at the beginning.  He may have regarded his “bad reports” about the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah (37:2) as necessary.  It was Jacob who kept him otherwise apart from his older brothers. Yes, his telling his brothers those dreams was kind of snarky but well within the range of normal teenage behavior.  But he never openly says that he is the best of them and will be their master.  His gifts are evident from a young age, allowing him to rise effortlessly, but deepening his brothers’ enmity.  After he is sold, he grows more aware of the Lord’s presence in his life.  Only once does he fail to depend on the Lord, when he asks the chief wine steward to intervene.  Result? Another 2 years in prison.

Chanukah starts tomorrow night.  The daily Torah readings are from Numbers and are about the sacrifices (what else…) for the dedication of the Tabernacle, paralleling the re-dedication of the Temple after the Maccabees’ victory.  I’ll write about the holiday next week.

Shabbat shalom and Chanukah sameach,



by Weekly Bang Staff    Posted: 06-16-2008(Viewed 2197 times) 

Top Biblical Personalities in Your Workplace (selected)
Abraham – Considered a pioneer in the field, founded the company through much family sacrifice
Joseph – Dreams of being star CEO, and is annoyingly public about it. His clothing is flamboyant, but he sure is a charmer.
Potiphar’s Wife – The first sexual harassment claim in the workplace
Tamar – The office harlot, who somehow brings integrity to those around her
Leah – Even after developing most of the future of the company, still feels second class to her arch nemesis Rachel
Sarah – She laid off Hagar… for the good of the company.
Isaac – Only has his job cause his father Abraham started the place
——————-  (pp. 1, 4, 6)

Quotes about Naiveté
I was so naive as a kid I used to sneak behind the barn and do nothing. Johnny Carson

The greatest gift I’ve been given is being naive, because I don’t know what I can’t do. And when you don’t know what you can’t do, you think you can do everything. Kelsea Ballerini

When I wrote ‘Runaways,’ I was a naive kid who thought that all parents were evil. Now that I’m a wise old man with children of my own, I am certain that all parents are evil. Brian K. Vaughan 

It is well for the heart to be naive and the mind not to be. Anatole France



Dream Jokes (selected)

I dreamt I wrote The Hobbit the other night.  I think I was Tolkien in my sleep.

Had a nightmare once about being trapped in Panama during a snowstorm. Turns out I was just dreaming of a white isthmus.

I had a recurring dream once.

I would tell you about my dream involving a Lion, a Witch and a Wardrobe, but it’s Narnia business.

A friend is convinced that everyone dreams in black and white.  I told him I dream in colour, he told me “it’s just a pigment of your imagination” …

A chap I know got a role where he was paid to sleep.  It was his dream job.



Puns about Food (selected, from 2012)

  1. A baker stopped making donuts after he got tired of the hole thing.
  2. Bakers trade bread recipes on a knead to know basis.
  3. Bakers earn the majority of their income in the morning, they earn most of their dough at yeast by a leaven o’clock. emelvee – North Carolina
  4. A good baker will rise to the occasion, it’s the yeast he can do.
  5. When asked about rumors that he owned a bakery, Shakespeare replied, ‘It’s much a-dough about muffin.’ Beakybird – Illinois, USA
  6. When baking dog biscuits, be sure to use collie flour. Bob – Corvallis, OR


We Made a Sommelier Taste All the Trader Joe’s Two-Buck Chucks (excerpt, IGP comments in italics)

Taster No. 1: Our resident sommelier for the evening, Sam Lipp is the current general manager of NYC’s Union Square Cafe,

Taster No. 2: Girlfriend

Scale 1-10.  Here’s one example of the 8 different varieties of $2 wine they tasted:

Sauvignon Blanc [Note: they had just misidentified the pinot grigio as the sauvignon blanc.]

Sommelier: “It smells like weed! Dammit, I think he poured us the Sauv Blanc now to show us how wrong we were. [Editor’s Note: I sure did] Let’s get past the cannabis overtures. This wine tastes of every wine. It has zero defining varietal characteristics. This one is terrible — it’s approximately half a step from Mad Dog.”
Score: “2.”
What is it?: “Pinot Grigio.”

Girlfriend: “Generally speaking, wine isn’t supposed to smell like skunks. Also it’s hard to sniff and keep your mouth open at the same time. It smells like grapes, for sure. And Laffy Taffy, the green one. And I was gonna say bananas, but you can’t squish bananas into a drink. We’re really selling this one. I can’t drink any more of this.”
Score: “3.”
What is it?: “Wine product, like the stuff you can get in a deli.”


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