Vayeishev — Genesis 37:1 – 40:23

While quantum cosmologists claim there is no causation within the universe, we do not necessarily need a Hubble telescope to see how often life seems to overflow with an irreducible disorder and chaos. In our own family dynamic, for example, there is no shortage of jealousy, sibling rivalry, preferential treatment – all so integral to the narrative of Joseph.

Jacob singles out Joseph, born late, with his gift of a multi-colored tunic. The gift causes Joseph’s brothers to become murderously jealous, but Joseph recounts and interprets dreams of his siblings’ plots against him. The tunic serves as a leitmotif, that is a recurring symbol linking episodes of the narrative to Joseph’s trials: (1) it is dipped in blood per Reuben’s suggestion, thereby staving off the other brothers' desire to kill Joseph and instead allowing them to convince Jacob that his favorite son was devoured by a wild beast; (2) Potiphar’s wife attempts to seduce Joseph, but he flees, leaving the tunic in her hands; (3) finally imprisoned and stripped of his tunic, Joseph wears a prison garb.

Yet it is in this darkest of prisons that Joseph interprets the disturbing dreams of the chief butler and baker – both incarcerated for offending their royal master, the Pharaoh. Joseph’s expectations of intercession on his behalf, whether as the favorite son or as the dream interpreter in jail, lead nowhere.

Order and peace of mind follow disorder and chaos when we take the long view of our family history and the role each of us plays within its unfolding.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration is inspired by Genesis 37:24: "And they took him and cast him into the pit; now the pit was empty there was no water in it." Why does the text specify that there is no water in the pit into which Joseph is thrown by his brothers? Some commentators have pointed out that we refer to Torah as mayim hayim, the "living waters," a metaphor for how the Torah nourishes our lives. Perhaps, similarly, Torah here uses water in a metaphorical sense – Joseph is cast into a pit that is totally devoid of any psychological or physiological sustenance. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Vayeishev — Genesis 37:1–40:23

facebook_coverdesign_vayeishevGiven all the challenges and distractions life presents, settling the mind is no small feat.

When scripture states, "Now Jacob settled in the land where his father had sojourned, the land of Canaan" (Genesis 37:1), one way of understanding this settling is the primary, more literal one, that of Jacob's family putting down roots in a particular place. But we can also infer that Jacob himself is settling his mind.

Jealousy, sibling rivalry, preferential treatment – all necessary elements of intrigue in any gripping novella – are surprisingly integral to the narrative of Joseph. Jacob singles out Joseph, born late, with his gift of a multi-colored tunic. The gift causes Joseph’s brothers to become murderously jealous, but Joseph recounts and interprets dreams of his siblings’ plots against him. The tunic serves as a leitmotif, that is a recurring symbol linking episodes of the narrative to Joseph’s trials: (1) it is dipped in blood per Reuben’s suggestion, thereby staving off the other brothers' desire to kill Joseph and instead allowing them to convince Jacob that his favorite son was devoured by a wild beast; (2) Potiphar’s wife attempts to seduce Joseph, but he flees, leaving the tunic in her hands; (3) finally imprisoned and stripped of his tunic, Joseph wears a prison garb.

Yet it is in this darkest of prisons that Joseph interprets the disturbing dreams of the chief butler and baker – both incarcerated for offending their royal master, the Pharaoh. Joseph’s expectations of intercession on his behalf, whether as the favorite son or as the dream interpreter in jail, lead nowhere.

Ultimately, Joseph comes to realize that his own redemption depends on his finding a way to settle his mind so that he may see the dream life more clearly.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration shows the bloody tunic Joseph's brothers delivered to Jacob. The cloth is otherwise plain, a nod to the debate among Torah scholars about what is meant by the Hebrew description "kethoneth passim." Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan writes that this "may be translated as 'a full-sleeved robe,' 'a coat of many colors,' 'a coat reaching to his feet,' 'an ornamented tunic,' 'a silk robe,' or 'a fine woolen cloak.'" Whatever the tunic looked like, Jacob, in gifting it to Joseph, was perceived to be showing favoritism for his youngest son, thereby begetting the jealousy and rivalry. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Vayeishev -- Genesis 37:1–40:23

CoatLife is one big road with lots of signs. So when you riding through the ruts, don’t complicate your mind. Flee from hate, mischief and jealousy. Don’t bury your thoughts, put your vision to reality. Wake up and live!

The Hebrew Bible seems to go out of its way to counter this vision proffered by Jamaican reggae artist, Bob Marley (1945-1981). Jealousy, sibling rivalry, preferential treatment -- all necessary elements of intrigue in any gripping novella -- are surprisingly integral to the narrative of Joseph.

Jacob singles out Joseph, born late, with his gift of a multi-colored tunic. The gift causes Joseph's brothers to become murderously jealous, but Joseph recounts and interprets dreams of his siblings’ plots against him. The tunic itself serves as a leitmotif, a recurring symbol linking episodes of the narrative to Joseph’s trials: (1) it is dipped in blood per Reuben’s suggestion, thereby staving off the other brothers desire to kill Joseph and instead allowing them to convince Jacob that his favorite son was devoured by a wild beast; (2) Potiphar’s wife attempts to seduce Joseph but he flees, leaving the tunic in her hands; (3) finally imprisoned and stripped of his tunic, Joseph wears a prison garb.

Yet it is in this darkest of prisons that Joseph interprets the disturbing dreams of the chief butler and baker -- both incarcerated for offending their royal master, the Pharaoh. Joseph’s expectations of intercession on his behalf, whether as the favorite son or as the dream interpreter in jail, lead nowhere.

Ultimately, Joseph comes to realize that his own redemption depends on his developing a new, more mature appreciation of his ability to interpret dreams: how much is original and how much is a divine gift?

- Rabbi Glazer

Image credit: “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," by Jennifer Caprio, 2014 (costume design patterned on Marc Chagall’s stained-glass windows at Hadassah Medical Center, Jerusalem)