21st Century P’shat: 1-2 minute divrai Torah for each aliyah

Vayeishev

  1. Where Yaacov defied Fate – and became an Av because of it – Joseph seems to embrace it. He sees the dreams and shares them. As a servant of Fate, Joseph can be great, but he can never be an Av. But perhaps even more ominously, Yaacov ‘guards’ his dreams. Yaacov, for his favorite son, seems to treat Fate as something to protect. This, for a man like him, is dangerous.
  2. Joseph’s brothers refer to their brother as a dreamer – and somebody they must kill. Today, we see dreaming in a positive way; either it is a reflection of aspiration or it is prophecy. But, in Yaacov’s family, it was different. Dreams of Joseph’s sort are a future to be battled. But there are two ways to battle the status quo. One way is to build and the other is to tear down. When well-earned jealousy and anger enter the picture, the brothers contemplate murder – which falls into the destructive bucket.
  3. Joseph’s brother’s plan to sell him, but passing Midianites beat them to the punch. They sell him to Ishmaelites – people who from their cargo are clearly not slave traders. And then, stranger still, the Midianites are also the people who sell Joseph to the Egyptians. What are the Midianites doing in this transaction? The word Midian means to haggle or trade. Selling slaves was a specialty business. I’d suggest that the brothers may have failed to sell Joseph, so middlemen were necessary to make Fate into reality.
  4. Tamar’s act is another in a series of ‘immoral’ acts that define our history. These include the acts of Lot’s elder daughter, the marriage of Moshe’s parents that violate the sexual rules (almost every other one of which seems to belong in the category of big no-no), and the marriage of Ruth and Boaz which (from the straight-forward reading) would seem to be prohibited. Tamar upsets the status quo – but she does so constructively. But she does more than defined the genetic history of King David. She redefines Judah himself. Judah was a man who ‘went down’ from his brothers and hung out with a low-class friend and visited prostitutes (for his friend to pay off secretly) all while pretending to be moral. He took public morality to the point of ordering his daughter-in-laws execution for harlotry, something he had partaken in. But she raises him up – even in great danger. She doesn’t say “this is Judah’s”, she lets him admit the truth. And he does, he recognizes he had fallen, he does the right thing – and he rises in the face of adversity. These are the ways of leadership – but sometimes they must be brought out before they become real.
  5. At the beginning of the reading we see the Ishmaelites handing over Joseph. Why? Perhaps the non-slave trading Ishmaelites might only have been able to sell him wholesale. The price might not have been high enough and so they may have returned to Gerar with him. But the Midianites could get a better deal and enabled him to stay in Egypt. As we see later with Balaam, the Midianites are religious – but in the ancient way of respecting and defending the status quo. They are tools of Fate. And Joseph’s dream is a Fateful dream. Of course, the Jews exterminate them when they leave Egypt – it is part of our DNA to resist reality and undermine those who defend it.
  6. The Torah makes a special point of saying that Joseph faced no oversight. Why? In the first place, Hashem’s blessing of Potiphar’s House helps. But in both cases, his beauty and charisma play a key role. He is very Greek – wrapped up in Fate and physical beauty. But unlike Greeks, he continues to fear G-d, which rescues him.
  7. We come to the dreams of others. Now, Yosef interprets (for the first dreams, his brothers did). He recognizes dreams alone lack power. They need interpretation. This is the first step in his rise above Fate  – and thus his fulfillment of it.
    1. The Egyptians had wine, but grew no grapes. In Canaan, wine had been made for thousands of years (a new cellar from 1700 BCE was just found). But the Egyptians invented bread that rose and remained the world leader in it for millenia. It is their ‘living’ food, which is one reason we ban it on Pesach. The dreams are that the cupbearer/Israel will have his head lifted up to serve his King in a time of 3 somethings. On the same timeline, the baker/Egypt will have its head lifted off its shoulders. As it takes more than 200 years, this is 2+ centuries (rounded to three just as we’d round two and a half days to saying something will happen in three days).
    2. As part of this prophecy – both parties are in prison in the intervening years. The Israelites as slaves, and the Egyptians as people without creative ability locked into dependency on those same slaves.

Summary of Speech for Jared’s conversion (shortened because it borrows from the above and squished in with some later remarks):

As we see in this week’s parsha, Jews have a difficult relationship with Fate. It is a force to be fought. Jared points out that Jewish history is a history of resisting, painfully, the dictates of reality. This is who we are. Jared has joined this people. He was born one way. A statistician could predict his future. But he has chosen to fundamentally counter his reality. Whether it was triggered by an event in Jerusalem or done out of the blue, the act of converting to Judaism – of taking on our challenges – is an act of defiance. G-d creates for six days and rests on the seventh. But when he creates, he doesn’t get out a hammer and nails. He speaks and changes the status quo constructively. This is creation. And Jewish creation is epitomized by the challenging of our reality and all its shortcomings in a productive way. We see this borne out by Tamar – she challenges her reality, she breaks the rules, but she does so constructively. When Jared joined the Jewish people, he took on the characteristics of the Avot. Avraham was the first person to work with one other person and connect to them through that – namely his wife. Jared, by evidence of the many people here today, connects to others. Yitzchak connected across generations, we see that in Jared connecting Moses – his non-Jewish son – with his father who is also here. And Yaacov defies Fate. And in the very act of conversion, Jared does the same. We live in a world where Fate seems to be against us. Israel’s superpower sponsor is withdrawing the from the world – we are threatened by an extremist and increasingly powerful Persia. And we must resist. It is who we are. It is my beracha to Jared that he continue to defy Fate and build a Jewish life. And it is my beracha to the rest of us that Jared show us a bit of the defiance we need to create a better future and hasten the coming of Mochiach.

Leave a Reply