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Jacob settles in the land of Canaan and his favorite son Joseph, brings him critical reports about his brothers. Jacob makes Joseph a fine tunic of multi-colored woolen strips. Joseph exacerbates his brothers’ hatred by recounting prophetic dreams of sheaves of wheat bowing to his sheaf, and of the sun, moon and stars bowing to him, signifying that all his family will appoint him king. The brothers indict Joseph and resolve to execute him.
When Joseph comes to Shechem, the brothers relent and decide, at Reuven’s instigation, to throw him into a pit instead. Reuven’s intent was to save Joseph. Yehuda persuades the brothers to take Joseph out of the pit and sell him to a caravan of passing Ishmaelites. Reuven returns to find the pit empty and rends his clothes. The brothers soak Joseph’s tunic in goat’s blood and show it to Jacob, who assumes that Joseph has been devoured by a wild beast; Jacob is inconsolable.
Meanwhile in Egypt, Joseph has been sold to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s Chamberlain of the Butchers. In the Parasha’s subplot, Yehuda’s son Er dies as punishment for preventing his wife Tamar from becoming pregnant. Onan, Yehuda’s second son, weds Tamar by levirate marriage. He too is punished in similar circumstances. When Yehuda’s wife dies, Tamar resolves to have children through Yehuda, as this union will found the Davidic line culminating in the Mashiach.
Meanwhile, Joseph rises to power in the house of his Egyptian master. His extreme beauty attracts the unwanted advances of his master’s wife. Enraged by his rejection, she accuses Joseph of attempting to seduce her, and he is imprisoned. In jail, Joseph successfully predicts the outcome of the dreams of Pharaoh’s wine steward (who is reinstated) and his baker (who is hanged). In spite of his promise, the wine steward forgets to help Joseph, who continues to languish in jail.
MAFTIR: Genesis 40:20-23 ~ page 151
HAFTARAH: Parashat Amos 2:6- 3:8 ~ pages 152-154
Amos was a resident of Tekoa, south of Jerusalem, who was one of the earliest of the prophets whose prophecies are recorded in Tanach. In this portion, he calls upon Israel to repent its ways. The connection to the parashah is obvious, where we read about the children of Israel’s first transgression. There is specific reference to the sin of “selling the righteous one for silver and the poor for a pair of shoes”; this can be directly related to the sale of Joseph.
Parashah Study Questions
- Does G-d ever speak directly to Joseph? Why does he assume his dreams are divine?
- Commentaries note the similarity of Joseph’s two dreams (v. 37:5-10) to Isaac’s blessing of Jacob (v. 27:28-29). Does this similarity explain Jacob’s reaction to Joseph’s dreams?
- Does it make sense that Reuven wanted to be the one to save Joseph and bring him back to his father? Is there a reason why he would desire to improve his father’s impression of him (v. 37:21)?
- Although commonly translated as “captain of the guard’ what does the root word “Tabach” mean and how does it relate to Joseph’s story (v.38:36)?
- Most commentaries feel Joseph was not correct in asking the “sar ha’mashkim” to intervene on his behalf to free him from jail (v.40:12-15). Was Joseph expected to rely only on G-d?