Student Teaching in the New Millenium

5771 Vayyeshev

In Genesis on December 21, 2010 at 5:55 am

Is the dream about the sheaves a prediction of the famine, and a prediction of the brothers’ conduct towards Joseph in Egypt?

Is the dream about the sun, moon and stars a prediction of Joseph’s experiences in Egypt? Jacob, I think, interprets the sun and moon to be himself and Rachel, who is dead. Is it possible that “sun” refers to the land of Egypt (Ra-worship, the sun god) and the moon refers to Israel (God worship, who creates light in darkness)? I agree with the eleven stars being the brothers. Are these dreams similar to Pharaoh’s in that the 11 sheaves and 11 stars are one, making them a double confirmation of what God intends to do? Joseph later tells Pharaoh this, saying the repetition is a confirmation of God’s intent. Is this what Joseph means when he explains his brothers’ actions to them?

Did all of the brothers really hate Joseph? Or only some? I don’t think the Torah ever says “all of his brothers hated him.” Hertz explains that the initial suggestion to kill Joseph came from Simeon. I can understand dislike if they knew Jacob favored Rachel, and Joseph, over them. This sets the stage for dislike, regardless of Jacob’s behavior, to me. Reuben’s intent was to deliver Joseph back to Jacob. Did he not really “hate” Joseph that much but saw the opportunity to reconcile with Jacob? Particularly, consider: for this to work, Joseph couldn’t know his true intentions. Reuben would have had to convince his brothers to leave Joseph in the pit, hide himself from Joseph, and come back to rescue him. A wild scheme. And would it work without some trust in Reuben by Joseph? Judah recommends they sell Joseph. Amos condemns this act, and I think I know why: defend the righteous, don’t sell them out. However, if Ibn Ezra’s placement of the story of Joseph and Tamar before this episode is correct, then Joseph already knows this (“She is more righteous than I.” Gen 38:26). If Judah had overtly defended Joseph from, say, Simeon and Levi, who murdered the men of Shechem to satisfy vindictiveness, would Joseph have survived? Was Judah defending Joseph? Or is Judah as bad as his brothers?

I think Amos reads the parsha as an indictment of behavior between people. I find it an outright condemnation of the brothers’ attitude towards Jacob. Does he question and contrast Judah’s behavior with Joseph?

Judah took a Canaanite woman to wife. Then he slept with Tamar, not as Tamar but as a harlot which, Hertz explains, has connotations in heathen worship. Judah’s easy proposition to Tamar makes me ask: was he familiar with this? I think he was. Which makes me ask: had he participated in this before? Perhaps taking part in the customs of his Canaanite wife? This is supported by 38:12, “Judah was comforted, and went up unto is sheep-shearers to Timnah.” Hertz explains that “Judah found it becoming to attend the Canaanite festivities in connection with the sheep-shearing.” I find “went up” to be an interesting choice of language here. The Hebrew is not “aliyah” but “yaal” which looks close. Also, how was Judah “comforted?” The Torah seems silent. Judah was not at home, in alien circumstances, and was surrounded by temptations. I think these points support a conclusion that Judah, temporarily, was seduced into a Canaanite way of life. His encounter with Tamar in this context was a result. Hence, “Neither shall the mighty deliver himself; Neither shall he stand that handleth the bow; And he that is swift of foot shall not deliver himself; Neither shall he that rideth the horse deliver himself.” (Amos 2:14-15) Judah couldn’t escape the results of his actions, any more than anyone else can, and he learned this lesson. I think this is why he saved Joseph from death. I think this is also why he became such a strong leader. Meanwhile, Joseph, under similar circumstances, remained loyal, “And he that is courageous among the mighty Shall flee away naked in that day, Saith the Lord.” (Amos 2:16)

Did Jacob ever learn about Judah’s episode? Or is this story the Torah’s equivalent to a wild spring break? Why did Judah take a Canaanite wife in the first place? This seems like something Reuben might do, why Judah? Is the point that Judah was chastened by his experiences while Reuben was not? Is the point that Judah was rendered wiser and less volatile than the kid who ran off with the girl from the other side of the tracks?

Is the Nazirite in Amos a reference to Judah? He was given wine to drink, or, he was urged to break his vow (or commitment, to follow the God of his father Jacob).

I think the Torah is making a statement about two different brands of leadership. Judah’s, and Joseph’s. Judah’s is a conscientious and brave form of leadership, prone to taking risks and making mistakes but open to learning from them, with honorable intentions. Hence, his understanding of what Amos says: actions have consequences. Is Amos making not one but two points? On one hand, if you do wrong, there is no escape from what you’ve done. On another hand, be responsible for your actions? Does this outlook enable someone to be sober yet visionary? Is there a difference?

Joseph’s brand of leadership is managerial and organized, but more secure and conservative in using what he is given. He remains loyal to God and God helps him in return. He is detail oriented and seems happy to do whatever he is tasked with. He works primarily with what he has been dealt, aside from asking the butler to help him get out of jail. His dreams are given to him by God, so he has foresight. But is he a natural visionary? Is he creative enough to think outside the box and lead Israel on his own merit? Does Joseph grow? Judah is less “courageous” in the Amos sense than Joseph, but Judah is more courageous about living life, making mistakes and growing. Is this what is necessary to lead? Is this part of why Judah won the kingship of Israel?

Hertz says that Joseph is the Jewish ideal. Is he truly, on his own? Judah seems t have qualities that Joseph lacks. Should we follow Judah? Should we follow Joseph? Each according to his blessings?

Do these different brands of leadership have a part to play in the later story of Israel?

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  1. Dear Talmid

    Your focus on how Amos reads the portion is ashlamta.
    I wonder what text Amos had.
    Or did he just hear the story as oral tradition?

    Note the depth of the characters, for better and worse.
    For me this is what makes the text divine
    no airbrushed high school yearbook portraits in Genesis.

  2. Are there airbrushed high school yearbook portraits anywhere in the Torah?

    I wonder how much time modern people spend comparing themselves to the characters versus relating to the characters. I wonder how much time modern people spend airbrushing themselves.

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