Parashat VaYeshev

Friday, December 7, 2012 · Posted in , , ,

Parashat VaYeshev
Bereishit 37:1 - 40:23


Yaakov settles in Kenaan
Yosef's dream
Yosef sold into slavery
Yehudah and Tamar
Yosef imprisoned in Egypt


37:1 Vayeshev Ya'akov be'eretz megurei aviv be'eretz Kena'an
Yaakov settled in the land of his father's residence, in the land of Kenaan.
A year after his war with the Kenaani kings Yaakov left his home in Shechem and settled in Chevron, where his father Yitzchak lived.  He left his livestock in Shechem, because that area had very good pasture. (Sefer HaYashar)

That year Leah died. Sefer HaYashar states that when Leah died, she was 51 and Yaakov was 106.  Since Yaakove was born in 2108, Leah died in 2215.  Since this was a year after the wars with the Amori kings, the war took place in 2214.  Also according to this, Leah was born in 2165 and married Yaakov when she was 28.  Yaakov and his sons buried her with great honor in Machpelah Cave.

In VaYishlach it states that Yaakov went to his father Yitzchak in Chevron, and 'Esav went to the land of Seir (35:27).  Here the Torah repeats the fact that "Yaakov settled in the land of his father's residence."  This alludes to the fact that the merit of his father Yitzchak saved Yaakov and his sons from 'Esav.

'Esav left the area completely.  Only Yaakov and his sons remained in the land of Kenaan.  They took legal possession of the land by homsteading on it (chazakah), so that no one else could make any claim on it. (Yafeh Toar, p. 461)

The second thing that this verse teaches is that tzaddikim must endure suffering in this world; they must live difficult lives, without any rest.  This was true of Yaakov. (Yafeh Toar, p. 461b)  From the day that he left Charan, he did not have a moment's peace.

There is another lesson that we learn from this verse.  The Torah literally says, "Yaakov settled in the land of his father's residence (megurei)."  The word מְגוּרֵי (megurei), comes from the root גור (gur), meaning to "sojourn" or live in some place temporarily.  It is also the root of the word גֵר (ger), denoting a proselyte or convert to Judaism.  The verse can thus be read, "Yaakov settled in the land of his father's proselytizing."

Avraham taught people about G-d and proper behavior, thus proselytizing them into the true faith, as we saw in Lech Lecha.  Yaakov emulated him, and did the same. (Bereishit Rabbah)  We find evidence for this in Yaakov's statement, "Get rid of the foreign gods that are among you" (35:2).  Obviously, Yaakov was not speaking to his family.  What would they have to do with foreign idols?  Furthermore, if he was speaking to members of his family, why did call them "gods" rather than "idols?"  Yaakov was actually speaking to people from the Shechem area who had come to him in order to become proselytes. (Yafeh Toar)

Incidentally, this verse also teaches us that Yitzchak, too, engaged in proselytizing his neighbors.  The Torah therefore says that "Yaakov settled in the land of his father's proselytizing."

Although there were many places in Kenaan where Yaakov could have settled, he wanted to live in proximity to Mount Seir.  Experienced travelers know how to deal with fierce dogs.  When dogs see a stranger coming, they begin to bark.  If the man runs away, the dos run after him and bite him.  It is best to stand still among them.  When the dogs see a man who is not afraid of them, they remain quiet.

Similarly, Yaakov was concerned that such "wild dogs" as 'Esav and Elifaz.  He did not want to live far away from them, lest they think that he considered them his enemies.  He therefore settled in the part of Kenaan where he would be close to them.

The Torah tells us this just before relating the story of Yosef.  G-d had promised Yaakov that Yosef would be 'Esav's arch-adversary, and would have the power to protect him from his brother.

Furthermore, when Yaakov had lived elsewhere, such as in Sukkot and Beit-el, even when he had some respite form his fear of 'Esav, he did not have true tranquility.  This was only attained when he settled in the area where his father had lived. (Yafeh Toar)


2 Eleh toldot Ya'akov Yosef ben-shva-esreh shanah hayah ro'eh et-echav batzon vehu na'ar et-benei Bilhah ve'et-benei Zilpah neshei aviv vayave Yosef et-dibatam ra'ah el-avihem
This is the history of Yaakov; Yosef at the age of seventeen years, would tend the sheep with his brothers, and the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives. Yosef brought back bad reports about them to their father.

We saw earlier that G-d had informed Avraham that his descendants would be subjugated in a foreign land for 400 years (15:13).  Since that time, 198 years had passed.  30 years passed between the Pact between Halves (Berit bein HaBetarim).  When G-d made the above statementand Yitzchak's birth.  When G-d made the pact with Avraham, he was 70, and when Yitzchak was born, he was 100.  Yitzchak was 60 years old when Yaakov was born, and, as in written in VaYishlach, Yaakov was 108 years old when he arrived in Chevron.  Adding it up we have 30+60+108, a total of 198.  The time had come for the decree to be set in motion.  Therefore, Yosef was sold, eventually causing all of Yaakov's family to emigrate to Egypt. (Yafeh Toar, p. 462)

The Torah says, "This is the history of Yaakov; Yosef..." Although Yaakov had 12 sons, the Torah goes on to speak about Yosef in particular.  It was Yosef who was responsible for the most important episode in Yaakov's life, his emigration to Egypt. (Rashi)

The Torah also tells us of the high moral standards of Yaakov's sons. At the end of VaYishlach, all of 'Esav's sons were immoral, and many bastards were born into the family.  The Torah immediately speaks of Yaakov's chronicles and his family line, to contrast it with that of 'Esav.  When it comes to sexual morality, the two were worlds apart.

When Yosef was 17 years old, he left the academy.  He had brought his father a bad report about Leah's sons, Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yehudah, Yissachar and Zevulun.  He told his father that they had sinned by eating flesh from a living animal and by flirting with the local girls.  He even hinted that they might be suspected of sleeping with them.  He also reported that Leah's sons were demeaning the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah and were calling them "slaves' sons." (Rashi)

It is difficult to imagine that Yaakov's sons would do such things.  And if they had, why was reporting it considered sinful on Yosef's part?  Why is he considered to have slandered his brothers if he was merely reporting what he saw?  Obviously, he was not making up stories.  (Mizrachi. Zohar; Sh'nei Luchot HaBerit)

Leah's sons did not do anything forbidden by the letter of the law.  Yosef merely misinterpreted their actions and assumed that they were doing wrong.

This was the dispute between the brothers.  When Yosef saw them eating such flesh, he went according to his own opinion, and reported that they were eating flesh from a living animal. (Kesef Nivchar; Rabbi Yosef of Trani)

When shepherds saw that an animal was sick, it was the practice to cut off its ears and tail as a cure.  They assumed that this would remove the bad blood.  Yosef's brothers made use of this practice.  Seeing them do this, Yosef assumed that they were going to eat these parts. (Targum Yonatan)

Leah's sons often referred to Dan, Naftali, Gad and Asher as "slaves' sons" because their mothers, Bilhah and Zilpah, had been slaves.  Although Yaakov gave them their freedom before he married them, their status remained low because they had once been slaves.  Yosef was very displeased with such usage, because it seemed as if those four brothers were born while their mothers were slaves.

Leah's sons often had dealings with women, because women came to buy sheep and other provisions from them.  This was their business.  It was completely permissible, and the brothers did nothing even to cause themselves to have bad thoughts.  Yosef, however, maintained that they should have avoided conversing with women entirely, and he considered their transactions to be sinful. (Mizrachi)


37:3 VeYisra'el ahav et-Yosef mikol-banav ki-ven-zekunim hu lo ve'asah lo ktonet pasim
Yisrael loved Yosef more than any of his sons, for he was the son of his old age, and he made him a long, colorful cloak.
 Yaakov loved Yosef because he was born when Yaakov was already quite old.  He also loved him because he was extremely intelligent young man.  Yosef learned from Yaakov all the Torah knowledge that Yaakov had learned during his 14 years in the accadem of Shem and Ever.

Of course, Yitzchak had also taught Yaakov quite a bit, but this Yaakov did not have to teach to Yosef.  Since Yitzchak was still alive, Yosef could learn from him directly.  It is better to learn from the master than from his student   Although the academy was also still in existence, Yaakov taught Yosef himself rather than send him there, because he did not want him to be far away.



4 Vayir'u echav ki-oto ahav avihem mi-kol echav vayisne'u oto velo yachlu dabro leshalom
His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, and they hated him. They could not speak to him peaceably.
Since the brothers were tzaddikim, they could not be hypocritical.  They were not like people who appear to be friendly while harboring deep hatred.  Such hypocrisy is in itself sinful.

According to one opinion, the coat was the cloak that Yaakov received when 'Esav sold him his birthright.  This cloak originally belonged to Adam.   It would fit only a firstborn son.  Since the birthright had been taken away from Reuven because of a minor sin that he committed, as outlined in Parashat VeYechi (49:4), the cloak was given to Yosef.

37:5 Vayachalom Yosef chalom vayaged le'echav vayosifu od sno oto
Yosef had a dream and he told his brothers, and they hated him even more.
6 Vayomer aleyhem shime'u-na hachalom hazeh asher chalamti
He said to them, "Listen to this dream that I dreamt.
7 Vehineh anachnu me'almim alumim betoch hasadeh vehineh kamah alumati vegam-nitzavah vehineh tesubeynah alumoteychem vatishtachaveynah la'alumati
Behold, we were binding sheaves in the middle of the field. Behold my sheaf rose and stood up straight; and behold your sheaves surrounded it and prostrated themselves to my sheaf."
 "I understood the dream to mean that the time will come when your products will not grow, and mine will remain standing.  You will have to come to me for food.  I also see that one of my descendants (Yerovo'am) will be a king, and will set up two golden calves (1Melachim 12:28).  Although he will consider them merely royal symbols, your descendants will worship them as gods (2Melachim 17:16).  I also foresee that you will try to hid something about me from my father, saying, 'a noxious beast devoured him' (37:20).  You will try to harm me and hide it from my father.  But the merit of my mother Rachel, who kept quiet when her father tried to mislead our father, will protect me and I will survive."

In Yosef's account of the dream, he used the word "behold" (hineh) three times.  This alluded to the three times that his brothers would have to come to Egypt, as we shall see in Parashat MiKetz and VaYigash.

37:9 Vayachalom od chalom acher vayesaper oto le'echav vayomer hineh chalamti chalom od vehineh hashemesh vehayareach ve'achad asar kochavim mishtachavim li
He had another dream and told it to his brothers. He said, "Behold! I dreamed another dream. The sun, the moon, and eleven stars were prostrating themselves to me."
10 Vayesaper el-aviv ve'el-echav vayig'ar-bo aviv vayomer lo mah hachalom hazeh asher chalamta havo navo ani ve'imcha ve'acheycha lehishtachavot lecha artzah
He told it to his father and to his brothers. His father rebuked him, and said to him, "What is this dream that you dreamed? Shall I, your mother and your brothers come and prostrate themselves on the ground to you?"
After Yoself related this dream to his brothers, he told his father about it in their presence.

Yaakov likened to the sun, as we have noted in VaYetze.  The moon denotes Rachel, while the even stars are Yosef's eleven brothers.

Yosef did not relate his first dream to his father.  Since his brothers had already interpreted it by saying, "Will you be king over us?" (37:8), he did not need to tell it to his father.  But when he had this second dream. his brothers had nothing to say about it.  Yosef told it to Yaakov so that he would give it a good interpretation.  Yoself knew that the results of the dream depend on its interpretation.

Yosef's father scolded him because he was causing hatred between himself and his brothers.

Yaakov, said, "Will I and your mother come and bow down before you?  Your mother is already dead!  The dreams you have are meaningless.  If there is any truth in your dream, it means that the Resurrection will occur in my lifetime, and the dead will be brought back to life.  When your mother is resurrected, your dream will come true.

What Yaakov did not know was that the moon could also allude to Bilhah, Rachel's handmade, who had raised Yosef as her own son.

11 Vayekan'u-vo echav ve'aviv shamar et-hadavar
His brothers were jealous of him but his father kept the matter in mind.
Some say that Yaakov knew that Yosef's dream could come true.  The Torah therefore says that Yaakov "kept the matter in mind."  He knew that it would come true but, as our sages say, "Just as grain cannot be without chaff, so dreams cannot be without fiction."  Yaakov assumed that the fictitious element in the dream was its prophecy that Yosef's mother would bow down to him.  There was no fiction in this dream.  It alluded to Bilhah, who was a stepmother to Yosef.

Others say that the verse, "his father kept the matter in mind," indicates hope.  He said, When will that day come?"

37:12 Vayelkhu echav lir'ot et-tzon avihem biSh'chem
His brothers went off to pasture their father's sheep in Shechem.
In Hebrew, this sentence contains the usual untranslated preposition אֶת (et):  "His brothers went off to pasture (et) their father's sheep..."  In the Torah scroll, the letters of the word et have dots over them.  Such dots usually denote the deletion of a concept.  The brothers' primary intention was not to tend sheep but to conspire and plan what they would do to Yosef.


37:15 Vayimtza'ehu ish vehineh to'eh basadeh vayish'alehu ha'ish lemor mah-tevakesh
A man found him going astray in the field. The man asked him, "What are you seeking?"

Some say that this "man" was the archangel Gavri'el who had disguised himself as a human.  He found Yosef blundering in the fields, not knowing where to go.  This also says something about Yosef.  He was so eager to obey his father that he looked all over for his brothers.  Another person would have gone straight home when he did not find his brothers immediately.  It was also decreed by Providence that someone would show him the way so that he would fall into his brothers' hands.

Others say that Yosef encountered three angels here.  The word אִישׁ (man) is therefore repeated three times in this account.


19 Vayomru ish el-achiv hineh ba'al-hachalomot halazeh ba.
One man said to another, "Here comes the dreamer
20 Ve'atah lechu venahargehu venashlichehu be'achad haborot ve'amarnu chayah ra'ah achalathu venir'eh mah-yihyu chalomotav
Now, come let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; and we will say that a wild beast devoured him. Then we will see what will become of his dreams."

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