Last week’s Torah portion was entitled, Vayeshev, which means, “and he settled.” It covers Genesis 37: 1-40:23.
After more than 20 years of being away, Jacob returns to the Promised Land and settles in Hebron. In Chapter 37, we are introduced to Joseph, who is Jacob’s favorite son, born of Rachel, Jacob’s favorite wife. Jacob gives this favorite son a beautiful, multi-colored robe, a symbol of his favoritism. While Jacob and his sons are shepherds, it does not seem like Joseph does any actual work of a shepherd. Jacob’s favoritism for Joseph is one of the reasons why he is hated by his brothers.
Perhaps this special treatment of Joseph by Jacob could have been overlooked, but even though Joseph is the youngest brother at this time, in chapter 37, Joseph tells his father and brothers of two dreams where he is set apart and put in a higher position than his father and brothers. Indeed, he tells his father and brothers that they are bowing down to him in his dreams.
This ends up being the last straw for the brothers, and when Jacob sends Joseph out to check on them once again, as they are tending the sheep in Dothan, the brothers concoct a plan to kill Joseph. Reuben, the eldest, intervenes and the plot changes from killing Joseph immediately to taking his robe and putting him into a pit for the time being. Reuben plans to rescue Joseph later.
For reasons that go unexplained, Reuben leaves the remaining brothers and they end up hatching a new plot, which is to sell Joseph to a caravan of Ishmaelite traders who are passing by. The brothers do this and receive 20 pieces of silver for the deed. Reuben returns, dismayed to find Joseph gone. The brothers then decide to cover Joseph’s robe with animal blood and tell their father that he was attacked by a wild animal, which, of course, causes Jacob to fall into deep despair.
Chapter 38 describes an entirely unrelated incident and is about Judah and his daughter-in-law, Tamar. I want us to stay focused on the Joseph narrative today, so let me just say the main take-away from this chapter is that from the events that occur, Perez, the son of Tamar, is born. Perez is an ancestor of King David, and also an ancestor of Messiah Yeshua.
Returning to Joseph in Chapter 39, he is sold by the traders to a man named Potiphar, described as an Egyptian officer to Pharaoh himself. In time, Potiphar recognizes Joseph’s skills, and sees that the Lord is with Joseph, blessing all the work that he does. Potiphar puts Joseph in charge of everything in his household.
However, presumably because Joseph is so handsome, Potiphar’s wife desires to sleep with him. Joseph refuses, but Potiphar’s wife confronts him one day when no other men are in the house. When Joseph tries to escape, she grabs his outer garment and Joseph leaves the house without it.
When Potiphar returns, his wife tells him the lie that Joseph was trying to seduce her and shows him the cloak that she had grabbed from Joseph. In the same way that Jacob dressed to appear as Esau to get the birthright from Isaac and as when Joseph’s brothers brought back the robe covered in blood to make it appear that Joseph was dead, once again, a piece of clothing is used to tell a lie.
Well, Potiphar is furious and Joseph is imprisoned. It is another rung down on the ladder, from being favorite son of Jacob, to slave of Potiphar to prisoner in jail.
Once again, the Lord is with Joseph and the chief jailer recognizes Joseph’s talents and work ethic so that in time, the jailer gives Joseph the total responsibility of managing the prison.
In Chapter 40, we encounter both the chief baker and the cupbearer to Pharaoh who are in prison. They both have dreams, which Joseph interprets as the baker being hanged and the cupbearer being restored to Pharaoh’s service. Joseph asks the cupbearer to remember him when he regains his position, but although things happen exactly as Joseph said they would, the parasha ends with the cupbearer forgetting all about Joseph.
A major theme of this parasha concerns the changes that happen to Joseph’s status in life. He goes from favorite son to being put into a pit, to being sold into slavery to being put into prison. At every turn, there seemed to be some hope of deliverance. Reuben was going to save him from the pit, he went from being sold into slavery to managing Potiphur’s estate, and after being put in prison, the cupbearer was going to remember him after gaining his freedom, but all these hopes were dashed. In spite of what occurred, however, Joseph did not turn away from God. He always looked to the Lord and gave God the glory. Through all of life’s highs and lows, we need to be focused on looking to the Lord for our direction, praying for guidance and thanking Him in all circumstances even the difficult ones.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians can give us some guidance regarding this area. In Chapter 4, verse 4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” And in verse 6, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made know to God.” And finally, in verses 11 – 13, “…I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
May Paul’s words give added dimension and meaning to the life of Joseph in this parasha.