Seifer Bereishis (Genesis), psukim (verses) 37:1 through 40.23.
This is one of the more peculiar parshayos in Seifer Bereishis. Yosef is sold to Egypt because he's a pest, Yudah loses children at the drop of a hat, Yakov wails for his son, his son, his precious son! And in the middle of all this, apropos of seemingly nix at all, Tamar has one of the most disturbing sex-lives in the entire Torah.
So what, really, is this parsha about?
At first glance, Yosef is the main character, but the more we read, the more superficial his role becomes. He only functions really to show up the failings of people around him - his brothers, who finally have enough of him; his father, who should've learned from the family history that having favourites among the kinderlech brings nothing but trouble; Potiphar, who learns that his wife is not exactly an ideal help-mate; and a baker who learns that psycho-analysis does not necessarily bring comfortable answers.
Reuben, however, learns what responsibility is all about.
As the oldest son, he should've prevented the trouble between Yosef and the brothers from reaching the dangerous stage it did. He should've prevented them from taking drastic action. He should've not let their ire at Yosef become a cause for their father's heart-rending grief.
Between this parsha, the next one (Miketz: "At the end of" - psukim 41:1 thru 44:17), and the second Aliyah of Parshas Vayigash ("And he came close" - psukim 44:18 thru 47:27), Reuben learns a lot - specifically, how to take responsibility by being honest and considerate. This is not something he knew at the beginning. It was by his self-interest that things got so out of hand. The change starts with his discovery that Yosef is gone:
And Reuben returned to the pit. Behold, Yosef was not in the pit! And he rent his clothes. And he returned to his brothers, wailing "The child is not, and as for me, where shall I go?"
At this point, the brothers decide not to tell their father the truth, and they concoct a cover up. It works, but such a success one would not wish on one's worst enemy. Here's Yakov, giving voice to his despair:
"Alas, I will go down to Sheol, to my son, grieving!"
And Yakov refused to be comforted.
Then, out of nowhere, a tale is told from start to finish, about Yudah, his three kinderlech, and his daughter in law Tamar. The tale is very disturbing, but it is from this tale that the English language has derived the word onanism. That's one usefull thing we learn from this interruption.
After Tamar finally gives birth to two boys, one of whom will have a notable descendant, we return to Yosef. Maybe we learned something about responsibility along the way? Maybe we should've? Well, Yudah certainly did. This tale was about Yudah not being very responsible, Onan being an absolute putz on responsibility, and Tamar putting them both to shame on the issue. In short, it's about being responsible even if you have to do some strange and unappetizing stuff. So that's a second usefull thing we learn from this interruption.
Yosef, when last we saw him, was a spoiled brat being shlepped off by a bunch of Midianite horse and gofer copers. The tale takes us now to Egypt, where he's learning, somewhat painfully, that being arrogant brings problems. But on the whole, he really doesn't have such a bad time, and the basis is laid for the entire clan heading there in less than a generations time.
Oh, and dreams contain truth, clothes hide the truth. Something like that. I'm not quite sure how to deal with this, so please read the short version of the parsha I've plonked below, and let me know what you make of it. Thanks.
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37:1 And Yakov dwelt in the land of his father's transience, in the land of Kana'an.
37:2 These are the generations of Yakov: Yosef, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brothers, still a lad along with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives; and Yosef brought evil report of them to their father.
[ Note: four mothers, as the result of the rivalry between two women. And Yosef happily being a tale-bearer, currying favour with his dad. ]
37:3 Now Yisroel loved Yosef more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a robe of many colours.
[ Favouritism, which also caused the problem between siblings in previous generations of the family But here are more players, and the situation is much more complex ]
37:4 And when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.
[ The plurality of mothers makes the favouritism of the father stand out, and Yosef makes sure to make it all the more galling. Spoiled brat. ]
37:5 And Yosef dreamed a dream, and he told it to his brothers; and they hated him yet the more.
[ Now what purpose might a younger brother have, telling a dream with such arrogant and disturbing symbolism to his brothers? Better to have kept silent. But Yosef has not yet learned discretion. ]
37:6 And he said to them 'Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed.
[ The "dream-theme". ]
37:7 va hine we were binding sheaves in the field, va hine, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; va hine, your sheaves came round about, and bowed down to my sheaf'.
[ A sheaf is a collective, a metaphor for a tribe. Va hine = And behold, and look, and lo! Now see here. Looky! ]
37:8 And his brothers said to him 'will you indeed reign over us? or will you indeed have dominion over us?' And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words.
[ They recognized the arrogance of the dream, rather, the arrogance in the speaking of the dream But had not their father's dream of the ladders been also arrogant? Indeed, but not towards others ]
37:9 And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it to his brothers, and said 'Behold, I have dreamed yet a dream va hine, the sun and the moon and eleven stars bowed down to me'.
[ Yet Yosef adds to the arrogance. At this point, his brothers are really starting to hate him. ]
37:10 And he told it to his father, and to his brothers; and his father rebuked him, and said to him 'What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow down to you to the earth?'.
[ And expands it outward by also telling his father ]
37:13 And Yisroel said to Yosef 'Do not your brothers feed the flock in Shechem? Come, and I will send you to them'. And he said to him 'Here I am'.
[ If they are in Shechem with the flock, why are you still here? ]
37:14 And he said to him 'Go now, see whether it is well with your brothers, and well with the flock; and bring me back word'. So he sent him out of the plain of Hebron, and he came to Shechem.
[ But rather than do any actual work, observe them and report back to me - as that is a task you are well suited for. ]
37:18 And they saw him afar off, and before he came near to them, they conspired against him to slay him.
37:19 And they said one to another 'Behold, the dreamer comes'.
37:20 Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into one of the pits, and we will say 'An evil beast has devoured him; and we shall see what will become of his dreams'.
[ Bor = Pit. Plural: Borot. From this in English the word bore, with the same and similar meanings. ]
37:21 And Reuben heard it, and delivered him out of their hand, and said 'Let us not take his life'.
[ And think, if we kill one of our own now, what will we do when our father is gone, and some of us might have enemies. ]
37:22 And Reuben said to them 'Shed no blood; cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, but lay no hand upon him' --that he might deliver him out of their hand, to restore him to his father.
[ But why Reuben? And why this? Reuben, because the first-born has to be the model of responsibility And saving his brother, because he has to be a model of responsibility to all his brothers - his responsibility is to all of them. ]
37:23 And it came to pass, when Yosef was come to his brothers, that they stripped Yosef of his coat, the coat of many colours that was on him,
[ Even the coat becomes a reminder of the arrogance. ]
37:24 and they took him, and cast him into the pit--and the pit was empty, there was no water in it.
[ Poor grazing land, if the bottom of a well is dry. Or not a very deep well. ]
37:26 And Yudah said to his brothers 'What gain is it if we slay our brother and conceal his blood?
37:27 Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother, our flesh' And his brothers listened to him.
[ Sell him to the Arabs ]
37:28 And there passed by Midianite merchants and they pulled and lifted up Yosef out of the pit, and sold Yosef to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they took Yosef into Egypt.
[ By Midianites is meant the kin of Yethro - Dwellers in the wastes between the Negev and Mitzraim But why a distinction between Ishmaelites and Midianites? Because in Torah, distinctions are tribal, not racial And the tribal traditions are the points of conflict, not the racial characteristics. ]
37:29 And Reuben returned to the pit; va hine, Yosef was not in the pit; and he rent his clothes.
[ Rent his clothes - As a sign of mourning. ]
37:30 And he returned to his brothers, and said 'The child is not; and as for me, where shall I go?'
[ As the youngest, a child. Hence the term yeled. Ha yeled einenu = the child (he) is utterly not! Ein indicates absence. And Reuven, as the oldest, knows that he has failed in his repsonsibility. But in conspiring to cover up, for as long as they do not know the fate of Yosef, the remaining brothers become a distinctly disfunctional family. It is evident, from their dipping the coat, that they have no reason to assume that anything other than the worst happened. So instead of going back and saying to their father Yakov "it was through our foolishness and irresponsibility our brother died", they decide instead to say "we do not know what happened, but you may assume that he died". ]
37:31 And they took Yosef's coat, and killed a billy goat, and dipped the coat in the blood;
37:32 and they took the coat of many colours, and brought it to their father, saying 'This have we found; know whether it is your son's coat or not'.
[ That coat of favouritism becomes the very medium of the unhappy message. ]
37:33 And he knew it, and said 'It is my son's coat; an evil beast has devoured him; Yosef is
without doubt torn in pieces'.
[ Metaphorically, precisely so - Midianites and Ishmaelites, twenty shekels. ]
37:34 And Yakov rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days.
[ And cloth, again, bears a message. ]
37:35 And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted, and said 'Alas, I will go down to Sheol, to my son, mourning'. And his father wept for him.
[ I would search for my son to the ends of the earth, even to the underworld if I could, because I so deeply want my son returned to me. Sheol is a place of silence and dust, where the dead go for eternity. The theme of a parent going to the underworld is mirrored in Greek and Sumerian legends. Sorrow for a child resonates alike in different cultures. ]
37:36 And the Midianites sold him into Egypt, to Potiphar, an officer of the Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.
38:1 And it happened at that time, that Yudah went away from his brothers, and started hanging out with a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah.
38:5 And she yet again bore a son, and called his name Shelah; and he was at Chezib, when she bore him.
[ So, by this time, nearly three years have passed since Yudah 'went in' to Shua. ]
38:6 And Yudah took a wife for Er his first-born, and her name was Tamar.
[ And dozen years at least, probably more, since the incident with Yosef and the pit. ]
38:7 And Er, Yudah's first-born, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him.
[ Yudah's son is taken from him, as Yakov's son Yosef was from him. Why so, even though Yosef was not dead? Because Yudah proposed to sell Yosef - if he can not value the son of his own father, and love his brother, can one assume that he appreciates his own son, the son of his wife? ]
38:8 And Yudah said to Onan 'Go in to your brother's wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her, and raise up seed to your brother'
[ Onan must've been at least thirteen, maybe older. So at this point, it has been around fifteen years at least since that incident with Yosef and the pit. ]
38:9 And Onan knew that the seed would not be his; and it came to pass when he went in to his brother's wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest he should give seed to his brother
[ Neither does Onan value the son of his own father, or love his brother Nor does he honour his parentz by dishonouring the obligation, and to boot, he uses but does not respect his wife. ]
38:10 And the thing which he did was evil in the sight of the LORD; and He slew him also.
38:11 Then said Yudah to Tamar his daughter-in-law 'Remain a widow in your father's house, till Shelah my son be grown up'; for he said 'Lest he also die, like his brothers' And Tamar went and dwelt in her father's house.
[ So Shelah was significantly younger, and Yudah feared for him, thinking that Tamar was somehow the cause of the deaths of the other two. And Tamar is asked to dwell apart from the last boy. ]
38:12 And in process of time Shua's daughter, the wife of Yudah, died; and Yudah was comforted, and went up to his sheep-shearers to Timnah, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite.
[ Yudah loses two sons as a parallel to Yakov losing one son, and loses his wife as a match to his wife losing a son over a wife and his daughter in law not having a husband. Not precisely the picture of the the ideal family here. Yudah is now alone, except for a son whom he wants to protect until adulthood, being his remaining seed, a widow daughter in law for whom he has to provide, though he fears that she will not be fortunate for him or his progeny (or else he would've wed the last son to her), and his friend Hirah, his drinking buddy and homeboy for over a decade and a half. ]
38:14 And she put off from her the clothes of her widowhood, and covered herself with her veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in the entrance of Enaim, which is by the way to Timnah, for she saw that Shelah was grown up, and she had not been given to him as wife.
[ She may have been significantly older than Shelah, even if she had been younger than Er. But if she is not to have Shelah as a wife, what is to become of her? And will she be able to find another mate, now that she is no longer prime marriage material, and associated with two dead husbands besides? If she is to remain a widow, how will Shelah provide for her when he inherits from his father? She'll be mere bagage then, with none to advocate for her. If Yudah will not do the honourable thing and marry her to Shelah now, why assume that Shelah will ever even take care of her in the future? ]
38:15 When Yudah saw her, he thought her to be a harlot; for she had covered her face.
Because covering the face allows anonymity.
38:17 And he said 'I will send you a kid of the goats from the flock' And she said 'Will you give me a pledge until you send it?'
38:18 And he said 'What pledge shall I give you ?' And she said 'your signet and your cord, and your staff that is in your hand' And he gave them to her, and came in to her, and she conceived by him.
38:19 And she arose, and went away, and put off her veil from her, and put on the clothes of her widowhood.
38:20 And Yudah sent the kid of the goats by the hand of his friend the Adullamite, to receive the pledge from the woman's hand; but he found her not
[ Why did he send his friend? Was he ashamed? But consider, had he himself gone, and been questioned about his journey by kin or associates, he would've had to lie. But his friend could, if questioned, say that he was there on behalf of a friend, without lying. ]
38:23 And Yudah said 'Let her take it, lest we be put to shame; behold, I sent this kid, and you have not found her'
[ Let us not court shame - if she has the pledges, she can redeem them. We have made a good-faith attempt to requite them. ]
38:24 And it came to pass about three months after, that it was told Yudah, saying 'Tamar your daughter-in-law has played the harlot, and even worse, look! She is with child by harlotry'. And Yudah said 'Bring her forth, and let her be burnt'.
[ Because this concerns the honour of the family, and brings shame on everyone that Yudah claims as kin, and would even affect Shelah's chances of a decent shiduch. ]
38:25 When she was brought forth, she sent to her father-in-law, saying 'By the man whose these are I am with child'. And she said 'Note, I beg of you, whose these are - the signet, the cords, and the staff'.
[ Thus proving that she went and got, from the family into which she married, that which they had not given her - another generation for that family, and her right to the respect that they had denied her. ]
38:26 And Yudah acknowledged them, and said 'She is more righteous than I, forasmuch as I gave her not to Shelah my son'. And he knew her again no more.
[ And Yudah gets a continuation of his family, as an object lesson, in part assuaging of the loss of two sons ]
38:27 And it came to pass in the time of her travail, that, behold, twins were in her womb.
[ What, more twins! Does this never stop!?! ]
38:28 And it came to pass, when she was in labour, that one stuck out a hand; and the midwife took and bound on his wrist a scarlet thread, saying 'This came out first'.
38:29 And it came to pass, as he drew back his hand, that, behold his brother came out, and she said 'Why did you blaze a trail for yerself?' So his name was Peretz.
[ For having set forth first - Ma paratzta aleicha paretz, va yikra shemo peretz. ]
39:1 And Yosef was brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh's, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him of the hand of the Ishmaelites, that had brought him down thither
[ But in this we go back in time again - not 'meanwhile, back at the ranch', but 'elsewhere and back when'. ]
39:2 And the LORD was with Yosef, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian.
[ For one's status is with one's master - the servant of a ditch digger has less status that a ditch digger, the servant of a donkey driver has the smell of his trade on his shoes. ]
39:3 And his master saw that the LORD was with him, and that the LORD made all that he did to prosper in his hand.
[ Meaning that his master saw that he was capable and intelligent, and worth reposing trust in. ]
39:4 And Yosef found favour in his sight, and he ministered to him And he appointed him overseer over his house, and all that he had he put into his hand.
[ Butler to the captain of the guard of Pharaoh, with much trust reposed in him. ]
39:5 And it came to pass from the time that he appointed him overseer in his house, and over all that he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian's house for Yosef's sake; and the blessing of the LORD was upon all that he had, in the house and in the field.
[ The captain of the guard had no reason to distrust Yosef, nor to regret in any way appointing him overseer. ]
39:6 And he left all that he had in Yosef's hand; and, having him, he knew not aught save the bread which he did eat And Yosef was of beautiful form, and fair to look upon.
[ Because he was still young - being still, as his brother Reuven put it, a 'yeled'. ]
39:7 And it came to pass after these things, that his master's wife cast her eyes upon Yosef; and she said 'Lie with me'.
[ A young beautiful boy, who was always in her eyes, while her lord was often elsewhere And the wives of powerful men, having little to occupy them, stray easily. She may well have been a rancid old hag by then, but as the wife of a powerful man, she knew she was beautiful. ]
39:8 But he refused, and said to his master's wife 'Behold, my master, having me, does not know all the details of the house, and he has put all that he has into my hand,
[ Yosef explains why he cannot breach the trust his master reposes in him, thus indirectly telling the wife of his master that she should act in a like manner. ]
39:9 he is not greater in this house than I, neither has he kept back any thing from me but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?'
[ It is not good to lecture your boss's wife. And if she is already known to have a shaky ethical sense, how much more likely that you will regret lecturing her! No common sense, that boy. Still as dumb and as arrogant as the day he was sold. ]
39:10 And it came to pass, as she spoke to Yosef day by day, that he hearkened not to her, to lie by her, or to be with her.
[ Here we see that her particular arrogance is not to deviate from her own deviant self-indulgences. ]
39:11 And it came to pass on a certain day, when he went into the house to do his work, and there were none of the men of the house inside,
[ Even less common sense - he should've at all times made sure of a chaperone. Honesty must be seen. ]
39:12 that she caught him by his garment, saying 'Lie with me'. And he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out.
[ And the garment will tell a false tale, like the previous garment which marked the favour measured him. ]
39:14 that she called to the men of her house, and spoke to them, saying 'See, he has brought in a Hebrew to us to mock us; he came to me to lie with me, and I yelled'.
[ And by the evidence of the garment, a new version of events is spun. But in neither case does the garment truly reflect reality. ]
39:16 And she kept his garment by her, until his master came home.
39:17 And she spoke to him these words, saying 'That Hebrew servant, whom you brought to us, came to me to mock me'.
[ She casts the blame directly at her husband - he brought in the Hebrew servant, it was his servant, whom he so respected, that acted so! Potiphar, you putz! ]
39:19 And it came to pass, when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spoke to him, saying 'After this manner did your servant to me'; that his wrath was kindled.
[ But was he angy at Yosef, or at his wife? The name Yosef does not occur in this sentence, there is still hope. ]
39:20 And Yosef's master took him, and put him into the prison where the king's prisoners were bound, and there he was in the prison.
[ Sorry, no hope! Potty had no choice but to believe his wife, even if others could vouch for Yosef's character. Could an impulsive man have risen to captain of the guard, or stayed long in that position? But if no one spoke for Yosef, why did not Yosef speak for himself? Because if he wasn't believed by the Captain, yet still told other's of what the captain's wife had done, he would've been a weakness to the captain - would he have survived long? Perhaps, in realization of his peril, he kept his mouth shut. ]
39:21 But the LORD was with Yosef, and showed kindness to him, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.
[ In a place where all orders are obeyed, and hierarchy distinguishes between even those being 'punished'… ]
39:22 And the keeper of the prison committed to Yosef's hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatever they did there, he was the doer of it.
[ This, and the previous psook, indicate that the failing of the captain's wife was a shadow known to the captain, and to the keeper of the prison - one who betrays a trust is not given a second chance again quite so soon. ]
39:23 The keeper of the prison looked not to any thing that was under his hand, because the LORD was with him; and that which he did, the LORD made it to prosper.
[ That a prisoner is so trusted, in a place and a hierarchy where misplaced trust will have extreme consequences, and yet where there will be so much temptation to slip, is not easily otherwise explained. ]
40:1 And it came to pass after these things, that the butler of the king of Egypt and his baker offended their lord the king of Egypt.
[ See, even the inner servants of the Pharaoh have reason to fear slip ups and consequences - how much more so a 'mere prisoner'? ]
40:2 And Pharaoh was pissed at his two officers, against the chief of the butlers, and against the chief of the bakers.
40:3 And he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, into the prison, the place where Yosef was bound.
[ Thus showing that, in fact, the prison was one of the areas under the control of the captain of the guard, and so here is more substantiation for the idea that the captain of the guard knew of his wife's weakness, and still trusted Yosef. ]
40:4 And the captain of the guard charged Yosef to be with them, and he ministered to them, and they continued a season in ward
[ Chou En-Lai, during the cultural revolution, had scholars and artists for whose safety and well-being he had especial reasons to fear, locked up in certain prisons over which his office had control. While conditions were believably unpleasant, there was enough food, red guards were kept at bay, and medical care was as good as outside at that time Many prisoners later felt tha, but for being in those jails, they would have perished, and were grateful to premier Chou ever afterwards for saving them. A prison can be a safe environment. The captain of the guards wife might have good reason to fear if Yosef survived, and a powerful women can be very dangerous. ]
40:5 And they dreamed a dream both of them, each man his dream in one night, each man according to the interpretation of his dream, the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were bound in the prison.
40:8 And they said to him 'We have dreamed a dream, and there is none that can interpret it' . And Yosef said to them 'do not interpretations belong to God? Tell it me, I pray you'.
40:9 And the chief butler told his dream to Yosef, and said to him 'In my dream, behold, a vine was before me,
40:10 and on the vine were three branches; and as it was budding, blossoms shot forth, and clusters thereof brought forth ripe grapes,
[ A metaphor of the passage of time in stages ]
40:11 and Pharaoh's cup was in my hand; and I took the grapes, and pressed them into Pharaoh's cup, and I gave the cup into Pharaoh's hand'.
[ And a result at the end of that time. ]
40:13 within three days Pharaoh shall uplift you and restore you to your office, and you shall give Pharaoh's cup into his hand, as you did before when you were his butler.
[ Things will flourish again, as they did before. ]
40:14 But have me in your remembrance when it shall be well with you, and be kind, I pray, to me, and mention me to Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house.
40:16 When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was good, he said to Yosef 'I also saw in my dream, va hine, three baskets of white bread were on my head,
[ Three units of time, but not a progression - this ain't good. ]
40:17 and in the uppermost basket there was of all manner of baked food for Pharaoh; and the birds ate them right out of the basket on my head'
[ The purpose will not come to fruition, but will be wasted, as if for naught ]
40:18 And Yosef answered and said 'This is the interpretation thereof the three baskets are three days;
[ The measure of time ]
40:19 within three days shall Pharaoh lift up your head from off you, and shall hang you on a tree, and the birds shall eat your flesh from off you '
[ It's for the birds. ]
40:20 And it came to pass on the third day, which was Pharaoh's birthday, that he made a feast to all his servants and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and the head of the chief baker among his servants
40:21 And he restored the chief butler again to his butlership and he gave the cup into Pharaoh's hand
40:22 But he hanged the chief baker, as Yosef had explained to them
40:23 But the chief butler did not remember Yosef, but forgot him.
[ No happy ending yet. But remember how things with Yudah turned out better than could've been expected? ]