This week our parasha is Va’yeishev which means “And He Settled”, and covers Genesis 37:1-40:23. Parasha Va’yeishev covers the beginning of the life of Joseph and the reality of sins ability to appear in one generation and then the next as an unbroken destructive cycle.
Chapter 37 introduces us to Joseph, Jacob’s favorite son, who is given an ornate robe as a present from his father. Because he was Jacob’s favorite, his other brothers hated him. Jacob had seen the destruction favoritism in families brings in his own childhood, but sadly this issue would be repeated in his own. Joseph though did not make liking him easy for his brothers. He was blessed with supernatural dreams by the Lord and these dreams described him ruling over the rest of his family, his brothers of course did not take kindly to these visions.
Things eventually reached a head one day when Joseph was sent to find his brothers in the fields. As they saw him approach they decided to kill him by throwing him into a well and pretending an animal had done it. Reuben was the only one not comfortable with this plan and instead tried to save Joseph.
He suggested they put him into the empty well alive instead, hoping to sneak him back home. The other brothers decided this was a better plan and trapped Joseph in the well. But when they were eating merchants came by and Judah decided to sell Joseph into slavery. After this was done they staged Joseph’s death by dipping his robe into blood and bringing it back to their father. Jacob believed the scheme and mourned the supposed death of his son and stated that he would continue to mourn until he died. The chapter ends with Joseph being sold to Potiphar the captain of Pharaoh’s guard.
Chapter 38 breaks up Joseph’s story to tell us more about his older brother Judah. Judah firstborn son, Er, from his Caananite wife, dies right after marrying a woman named Tamar because of his wickedness. Because she never had a son with Er it was the responsibility of his brother Onan to produce an heir for his brother. Onan though did not want to fulfill this responsibility and had relations with Tamar, but never gave her the chance to become pregnant.
Because of this sin he was killed as well. The youngest son of Judah, Shelah was not old enough to marry and so Judah sent Tamar back to her father. When Shelah became of age Judah still did not want to give him to Tamar as a husband. So, Tamar snuck into the city as a prostitute and waited for Judah. Since her face was covered he did not recognize her when he laid with her. Afterwards he left with this veiled prostitute his seal and staff as insurance for later payment for the services she had provided.
Tamar though disappeared with these items, without Judah knowing it was his daughter-in-law he had slept with. Months later Tamar revealed herself as pregnant and was considered guilty of prostitution. Judah in his anger demanded she be brought out and burned to death. While she was being brought out she wrote a letter to him recorded in this chapter. We read, “I am pregnant by the man who owns these, see if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.” Judah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not sleep with her again. The chapter ends with Tamar giving birth to twin boys, Perez and Zerah.
Some commentators argue that this story was not present in the original text, but is clearly the sign of some sort of editorial meddling. Jewish Biblical Scholar Robert Alter brilliantly argues however in his book, The Art of Biblical Narrative, that this passage makes perfect sense from a narrative perspective. Thematically, and clearly shown in the Hebrew, it is very fitting that Judah, who lead the brothers in deceiving his father, was himself deceived by Tamar. In chapter 39 we will see Joseph have victory over sexual temptation where Judah failed.
Chapter 39 continues the story of Joseph after being sold as a slave. In Egypt, because the Lord was with him, Joseph prospered in everything he was placed in charge of. The Lord’s blessing was so great that Joseph literally ran the entire household and Potiphar trusted him with everything he owned. Time passed and Potiphar’s wife attempted to seduce Joseph on several occasions. Joseph would deny her requests every time but she refused to take no for an answer. Eventually she accused Joseph of attempting to rape her and Potiphar believed his wife over Joseph. For this crime Joseph was thrown in prison, but even in prison God’s blessing was with him. He was quickly put in charge of all the other prisoners and the prison warden, life Potiphar before him, placed him in charge of everything.
Time passed for Joseph in jail and one day the cupbearer and baker for the Pharaoh of Egypt were thrown into prison for offending the Pharaoh. One night they both had strange dreams that they were unable to understand. Joseph told them to share their dreams and through the Lord he would offer an interpretation. After hearing both of their dreams he told them that the chief baker would be killed in three days and the chief cupbearer would be restored to his position.
Joseph asked the cupbearer to remember him once he was freed and to get him out of prison. Three days passed and the prophecy of the dreams occurred with the baker killed and the cupbearer restored. Our parasha though ends on a somber cliffhanger, the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, he forgot him and Joseph’s imprisonment continued.
There are many lessons to be learned from Parasha Va’yeishev, but one that stands out to me is the cycle and consequences of sin. Jacob in his childhood experienced the consequences of favoritism with his own parents, which lead to him having to flee his parents’ home and the end of his relationship with his brother for many years. We see that Jacob repeated the same sin issue of favoritism with his own family and did not lead his family well in trying to put an end to the competition between his wives and the jealousy of his sons. It is also not by chance that Jacob, known for his clever schemes, is himself deceived in this parasha. Because of his sons scheme he will indeed mourn the supposed death of Joseph for many years.
Sin issues unchecked in families can manifest itself from one generation to the next, we have a powerful example of this in this parasha. So, we need to learn from Jacob’s family and not allow the sins in our families when we grew up to take root and grow in the next generation. Through Messiah Yeshua we have the Spirit of the Lord, and where He is present there is freedom. We can break the cycle of sin not only in our own lives, but in the generations of our families with the Lord’s help.
It is my prayer that each of us learn from Jacob’s family the dangers of jealousy, selfishness, and unchecked desires. May each of us experience the freedom that can only be found through Messiah Yeshua, freedom from sins vicious grip in our own lives, and freedom from the entangling sins in the generations of our families as well.