Larchmont Temple Chevra Torah

Questioning faith in the parsha


Parashat Vayeshev289

V.2 Joseph was a shepherd with his brothers, but he was a youth with the sons ofBilhah Zilpah, his father’s wives. RASHI.. .That is to say he was regularly found with the sons of the secondary wives, for his brothers, the sons of Leah, would often denigrate him. [cf. TANCHUMA 7]
RASHBAM… His youth was spent associating with his stepbrothers; he kept socially aloof from Leah’s sons, which made him seem distant, and caused his brothers to hate him.
IBN EZRA.. .The sons of the maidservants, since he was young made him “Na-ar—[the] “who served them…
V.3 Now Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age…
TARGUM ONKELOS.. .Now Israel loved Joseph best, for he was ben yekunim—a wise son to him… RAMBAN.. Ben Zekunim, that is, he was bom to him during his old age. ONKELOS translated, “He was a wise son to him.”… The correct opinion, however, appears to be that the phrase refers to the custom of older parents choosing one of their children to attend to their personal needs, to remain by his side constandy—his ben %’kunav, and so “wise”in his eyes, for he knew just what to do for him.
V.5-8 Joseph had a dream which he told to his brothers, and they hated him even more….
He said to them: Hear if you please, this dream that I dreamt. Behold, there we were binding sheaves in the field, when my sheaf stood up, and your sheaves gathered round and bowed low to mine.” His brothers said, “So you want to rule over us!?… ” N. SARNA… In the case of Joseph’s dreams, the language of communication is symbolic. God does not figure explicidy in the content of they dream; yet it is taken for granted that He is the source of the message conveyed. The predictive aspect was universally assumed, in the ancient world, and thus was reason enough for the brothers to take Joseph seriously. However, since the dream was also recogni2ed to be inseparable from the dreamer, reflecting his own needs and wishes, Joseph bore a measure of responsibility for his highly egocentric vision of superiority… VILNA GAON… Since Joseph understood the dreams to be prophetic, he was required to reveal them, lest he be guilty of the sin of withholding prophecy from those for whom it was intended. ALSHECH.. .Torah points to a number of psychological errors Joseph committed. Aware that his brothers could not speak peaceably to him, he should not have provoked them into conversation, certainly not by sharing his dreams. Still less should he have told them the contents of his dream. Even less, should he have related the dream in a boastful manner. For the brothers’ reaction was: they continued to hate him even more; they hated him due to his dreams; they hated him because of how he related his dreams. RADAK.. .The theme of the dream—sheaves of wheat, cannot be missed, for it was in connection with this very grain that Joseph arose to greatness.
RAMBAN .. .Three times “vHinei—Behold, “for it underscores that Joseph’s dream was more than fantasy, for this term in Scripture introduces something of substance.. .Thus their response: ‘You will never be king or any kind of authority over us!”
OR HaCHAYIM.. .It is axiomatic that when a dream is perceived as vividly as though one were awake, it attests to its Providential nature. Thus Joseph kept emphasizing, “v’Hinei—look here,”as if true.
V.9-11 He dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers, saying ‘This time. ..the sun, the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”
He related it to hisfather and his brothers.. .Hisfather scolded him, saying.. .His brothers werejealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.
AKEDAT YITSCHAK.. .Although employing a different metaphor, it is essentially the same dream, and a dream repeated indicates the certainty of fulfillment. ETZ HAYIM.. .This dream, with its celestial setting, presents Joseph’s innermost aspirations, including his parents among those who will be subservient to him. Jacob berates him publicly in hopes of easing the tension. RASHI… “his father scolded hint’ because his son was breeding hatred against himself.
MIZRACHI.. .But Jacob’s scolding him was not because he was surprised at the dream’s content, for he did not consider the matter at all impossible.
ALSHECH… “va-y’kanu vo ” Earlier they hated him for his dream, but now they were jealous.. .For his visions were not mere products of egotistical fantasy. They contained some real possibility of fulfillment…
The brothers hate Joseph not only for Jacob’s favoritism.. .they hate him also for his dreams.. .Joseph’s rise to high station will begin with his ability to interpret the dreams of others. Now we find ourselves in a similar position, obliged to become dream interpreters, beginning with the dreams of Joseph himself.
As to the dream’s manifest content, the brothers can hardly be mistaken. It is a dream of rule and dominion, in which Joseph, standing supreme as ruler, is paid homage by his self-abasing brothers. It is an unbrotherly dream that, even more than the ornamented tunic, denies the brothers their equal place in the house of Israel….
But the brothers—and most readers—do not notice the oddest feature of the dream, the dominant image of sheaves. What kind of shepherd dreams of sheaves of wheat? The imagery of the dream belongs to another place, to a more fertile place.. .Joseph’s dream is foreign… And the second dream, more grandiose than the first, hopes to take advantage of Jacob’s presence to get his brothers to accept the dream’s unpalatable truth.. .But in this dream, the heavens do not declare the glory of God but instead bow down to the superiority of Joseph, the exemplary human being. As we shall see, this vision of cosmic mastery is part and parcel of the meaning of Egypt— the place where man, through technology, magic and administration, tries to force nature to her knees. Joseph, from his youth, has Egyptian dreams. [The Beginning of Wisdom, pgs 517-519]
Rabbi SHLOMO RISKIN… On a deeper level, the argument between the brothers may have been about much more than familial jealousy; it may have been a profound conflict between two antithetical ways of life.. ..The brothers are shepherds, their lives are their flocks.. .But Joseph dreams of sheaves of corn, the symbol of agricultural society. His dreams then may allude to an ideological rivalry between the new world of the farmer and the old world of the herdsman, the nomad. The very first sibling rivalry in the Bible emerges from the struggle between these two different ways of life.. .The shepherd preserves and maintains the status quo.. .without destroying or essentially changing that within his charge.. .He weaves an inner harmony with nature. Farming is just the opposite.. .The farmer’s job is to transform nature. The Mishna specifies 11 stages in the manufacture of bread, all of which are forbidden on the Sabbath because they create a basic change in the natural world order.. .The shepherd is conservative; he wants things to remain as they are. He is content to leave the wodd as it is, seeing his major task in preservation. The revolutionary is the farmer; he is the transformer. Placed into the world to “subdue it, “he makes the world yield its secrets.. ..His major task is to improve things, and to change.. .Joseph’s brothers are for the old way; and the land of Israel with its mixture of desert and oasis is the perfect place to perpetuate it.. .Joseph is symbolic of a psychology of advancement, the transformation of nomadic existence into an agricultural and eventually an industrial nation. And if it takes the family to foreign places, so be it. After all, it is the Abrahamic mission to be a “blessing for all the families of the earth.”
The imagery of the second dream takes this theme to a higher level. The sun, moon and stars are not simply familial symbols; the heavens are the zenith of Joseph’s aspirations. He desires to conquer the cosmos.. .The rebuke, mingled with respect, which Jacob expresses upon hearing of Joseph’s dreams foreshadows the blessing he will eventually give his sons. He gives Joseph the blessing but not the birthright, because he is sensitive to the intrinsic danger of his dream. One can reach for the stars, but dare not forget his foundations as he does.. .Yet Jacob knows well, neither Joseph nor Judah—who gets the birthright, can prevail alone. …These two brothers need each other, for one without the other is incomplete… [Torah Lights, Riskin . .pages 234-236]
Hanukah, which always falls during these Torah readings, represents the eternal struggle between two forces: a Hellenistic Jewish mind which found in Greek philosophy the more progressive direction for Judea.. .and the Hasmoneans, who would have rather given their lives than given up the Torah’s commandments. Our tradition speaks of not one but two Messiahs, the Messiah ben Yosef and the Messiah ben David. Judah guards the tradition—protecting what is good and worth holding onto, while Joseph will apply God’s teaching to new situations, confronting technology, psychology, philosophy, to achieve the biblical dream of uniting heaven and earth… .In Rav Kook’s words, “the old must be made new, and the new must be made sacred.” The truth lies in a synthesis between the two—in the ability of Josephs and Judahs to work together to bring light and leadership to our lives.


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