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Dan Has Questions About Dreams, Jealousy, And More Dreams: Parshat Vayeshev

12/15/2022 09:32:16 AM


Dan Leemon

This week we delve into the story of Jacob’s (Israel’s) 12 sons.  The name of the Parshah is Vayeshev, meaning “and he resided” — Israel resides in the land of his father with his extended family of wives and children.  The Torah says Israel loves his son Joseph more than any of the other 11, so much that he made his a “ketonet passim” — a special coat of fine fabric that we believe was multi-colored.  The Torah says that Joseph’s brothers hated Joseph as a result.

- How do you think Joseph might have reacted to being so loved by his father, Israel?

- Is there anything the brothers could have done about this situation?

- Is it fair that Joseph’s brothers hated him because their father loved him the most?  

We quickly learn that Joseph is a dreamer — literally.  He has lots of dreams and tells others about them and interprets them.  Joseph dreams that he and his brothers are tying up sheaves of wheat out in the field, and that his sheaf stands tall and all the other sheaves bow to it — and he tells his brothers all about the dream.   He tells them about another dream where the sun, the moon, and 11 stars are bowing down to him.  

- How do you think his brothers interpreted these dreams?

- Why would Joseph tell his brothers about these dreams?

- How do you think his brothers reacted?

Here’s a thought:  If you dream about being better than your siblings, maybe keep it to yourself.   Sharing these dreams only made the brothers hate Joseph even more.  

The brothers go out to tend the flocks in the field.  Israel sends Joseph to see how they’re doing.  The brothers see Joseph approaching, and plan to kill him.  Reuben, the oldest, tries to dissuade them from killing Joseph, suggesting instead that they take away his fancy coat and throw him into a pit — so that he will be punished, but able to return to their father.

- What does this tell you about Reuben?  What was he trying to do?

While Joseph is in the pit, however, the brothers see a group of men from the land of Midian coming by — and Judah suggests they sell Joseph to the Midianites, which they do.  Reuben finds out about this and is very upset.  The brothers decide to put animal’s blood on the coat, and they return to Israel with it and show it to him. 

- What are the brothers trying to do?

Israel sees the coat and assumes that a wild animal has killed Joseph.  He mourns his son and cannot be comforted.  The brothers do not tell him the truth.

- Do you understand why the brothers are stuck with the lie they have told?  Can you think of an alternative?  Have you ever lied and wished you could take it back?

The Midianites sell Joseph to Potiphar, one of the senior servants of the current Pharaoh of Egypt.  Potiphar sees that Joseph is capable and successful in whatever he does, and believes that God is watching out for Joseph.  Potiphar makes Joseph the head of his household, overseeing and in charge of everything.  The Torah says that Potiphar’s house was blessed by God because Joseph was there.  Potiphar’s wife likes Joseph — whom the Torah says was very handsome — but Joseph will not give her the attention she wants, out of loyalty to Potiphar.  So Potiphar’s wife becomes angry and lies — telling Potiphar that Joseph has made fun of her and mistreated her.  So Potiphar puts Joseph in prison with the enemies of the Pharaoh.  Joseph is quickly put it charge of all the other prisoners.

- What do these stories tell you about Joseph?  What kind of person was he?  

- Joseph has certainly had some bad things happen to him — almost being killed, being thrown in a pit and sold into slavery, ending up in jail.  How would you describe him and his abilities in the face of all this hardship?

Two of Pharaoh’s servants, his cupbearer and his baker, do something wrong (we are not told what) and are put in prison with Joseph.  Each one has a dream which defies interpretation and troubles him, so together they go to Joseph for help.  The cupbearer dreams about a vine with three branches, each of which produces ripe grapes that the cupbearer squeezes into Pharaoh’s cup.  Joseph tells him that the three branches are three days, and that in three days the Pharaoh will take the cupbearer out of prison and give him back his job.  And Joseph tells the cupbearer that, if his interpretation is correct, the cupbearer should talk to Pharaoh about him, and get him out of prison, because he is innocent and was kidnapped and sold into slavery.  The baker then shares his dream — in which the baker had three baskets of bread on his head, and birds came and ate the bread.  Joseph interprets the dream as meaning that in three days time Pharaoh will have the baker executed.  

- What do you think of Joseph’s interpretations?

- What do you think dreams actually are?  Why do you think we dream?  Do dreams have hidden meanings?

Joseph’s interpretations come true — but the cupbearer does not fulfill Joseph’s request and does not get him out of prison.   The adventures of Joseph — clearly a resourceful, clever, and capable fellow — will continue next week!  In the meantime:

- What lessons do you take away from this week’s Parshah — about how to deal with your siblings, about lying, about trying to make the best of a bad situation?

Shabbat shalom,


Sat, February 4 2023 13 Shevat 5783