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Parshat Va-Yeishev


The story of Joseph (seen here in the “ornamented tunic” given to him by his father Jacob who “loved him more than any of his brothers”) is the ultimate cautionary tale about parental favoritism and sibling rivalry. Jacob’s sons were so infuriated by their father’s obvious feelings about Joseph (that colorful coat!) that they “hated him so that they could not speak a friendly word to him”. Far worse, after Joseph shares symbolic dreams that seem to brag about his elevated status, they conspire to kill him. (And you thought Jan Brady’s yelling, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” was bad.) Ultimately, thanks to the intervention of Reuben and Judah, the brothers instead cast him into a pit and sell him to “Midianite traders...for twenty pieces of silver”. Jacob, shown Joseph’s bloody “tunic” that the brothers have dipped in an animal’s blood, believes that his beloved boy is dead and “(mourns) for his son for many days”. Meanwhile, a new chapter begins for Joseph—and ultimately for the Jewish People—as he is brought to Egypt. There, Joseph works in the home of Potiphar, “a courtier of Pharoah and his chief steward” but after he attracts unwanted amorous attention from his master’s wife, she falsely accuses him of sexual assault and he is thrown in jail. (No, I am not trying to make a point about this week’s flood of Congressional resignations and/or drop hints about sexual McCarthyism. It’s really in there!) Imprisoned, Joseph interprets his cell mates royal dreams, a gift that eventually will lead to his freedom. In the middle of this week’s parsha we come across another dysfunctional family tale that is jarring to the modern reader. When Judah’s son Er dies, Er’s widow Tamar, according to ancient law, was entitled to marry her late husband’s brother Onan. But Onan “knowing that the seed would not count as his, let it go to waste whenever he joined with his brother’s wife...” But what he did was “displeasing to the Lord...” and Onan dies as well. Judah, fearing that Tamar is bad luck, refuses to turn over his son Shelah, next in line. So Tamar, a strong-willed woman determined to get her due, disguises herself as a “cult prostitute” and tricks her father-in-law into impregnating her. No words.... Shabbat Shalom!

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