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Parshat Vayeshev

Updated: Dec 8, 2023

Parshat Vayeshev:

In our Parsha an incredible link binds together Yosef and his father Yaakov, in many ways we can think of Yosef as a kind of Tikkun (rectification) of what has transpired before in the life of Yaakov – as the Rambam[1], Rashi and other classical Torah commentators term “Maaseh Avot Siman Le’banim” which is a quintessential principle in Torah study “whatever occurs to the father is a sign for the children”, the Patriarchs are caught in a cycle of interwoven experiences.

Both Yaakov and Yosef had significant dreams of prophecy: Yaakov's dream at Har HaMoriah[2] was of angels ascending and descending a ladder connecting heaven and earth. Similarly, Yosef's dreams[3] not only foresee his future supremacy but also hint at his unique role as the sustainer of the people of Israel in times of famine and hardship.

Yosef is the favoured child[4] of his father, this fact arouses great jealousy amongst his brothers – much like Yaakov’s mother[5] who favoured Yosef over his brother Esav - This preferential love sets them apart and sets the stage for significant trials in their lives.

With the help of his mother, they deceived Yitzhak who was blind and upon his death bed, with the skin of goats to provide the hair on Yaakov’s arms to replicate the natural hairiness of Esav and he placed upon himself Esav’s clothes: Yaakov used Esav's garments[6] to secure the blessings, Yosef is given a special cloak by Yaakov and this becomes a catalyst[7] for his brothers' jealousy, and it is ultimately the blood of goats upon that garment which is used to trick his father into thinking he has died.

Yaakov was served Laban for 20 years under slave like conditions, Yosef was in captivity for approximately thirteen[8] years from the time Joseph was sold by his brothers to the time he left prison (Some of that time, Joseph was in Potiphar’s service before he was wrongly accused by Potiphar’s wife; the rest of the time, he was in prison.) Although not equal in duration of time or location, they nonetheless share the same experiences: Both father and son lived in exile: Yaakov fled to Haran, and Yosef was sold to Egypt, however, they both eventually prosper in these foreign lands and return enriched.

Both Yaakov and Yosef possessed an enormously high spiritual level: Yaakov, the “Ish Tam” dwelling[9] in tents of learning, and Yosef the “Tzaddik”, who maintains righteousness[10] even in a morally challenging environment like Egypt:

His ability to maintain his religiosity and identity inviolate mirrors the struggle of the Jewish people during the time of Chanukah.

Just like the Maccabees, Yosef was heavily outnumbered; he too was a solitary figure of righteousness in an immoral society. Yet, he stood firm, much like the oil that miraculously burned for eight days. Yosef, too, outshone and outlasted his environment, illustrating the same miracle: that spiritual purity can endure against any situation.

Moreover, we see in Yosef's tale, the transformation of darkness into light. Yosef’s adverse experiences, from being sold into slavery to being unjustly imprisoned, culminated in him rising to the rank of viceroy in Egypt. This follows the Chanukah theme of transforming times of darkness and adversity into opportunities for growth and illumination.

Yosef personifies the true message of Chanukah: Spiritual determination can defy overwhelming forces of darkness, much like the Chanukah candles that shine in the cold winter night, the victory of Good over Evil.

May we draw from the lessons of Yosef and from Chanukah that in a world permeated with darkness and confusion, we too can be beacons of light in our individual capacity and share our influence with the world.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Jonathan Goldschmidt 2023 ©

[1] First mentioned in his commentary on Parshat Lech Lecha.

[2] Genesis/Bereshit 28:12

[3] Ibid: 37:5

[4] Ibid: 37:3

[5] Ibid: 25:28

[6] Ibid: 27:15

[7] Ibid: 37:3

[8] Joseph was 17 years old when his brothers sold him to the Ishmaelites (Genesis/Bereshit: 37:2). By the time he was released from prison and appointed as head over Egypt, Joseph was 30 years of age (Genesis/Bereshit: 41:46) – Several Rabbinical sources seem to suggest it was 12 complete years.

[9] Genesis/Bereshit: 25:27

[10] Midrash Tanchuma: Vayeshev: 4

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