Student Teaching in the New Millenium

Second Sons (5772 Vayeshev)

In Genesis on December 23, 2011 at 1:02 am

On Memorial Stones of Two Brothers, Olaus_Magnus, 1555

We recline at ease
Revel in our own splendor
Cheap towards fellow men

Amos 2:6 -3:8
Genesis 37:1 – 40:23




What is the meaning of Joseph’s childhood dreams? Does he foretell his primacy over his brothers? Does he foretell that he will rule over Israel? Does the dream of the wheat sheaves foretell his personal ascendancy over his brothers, or the ascendancy of Egypt over the other nations during the famine? Was the dream of the stars about him?

Behold, I have dreamed yet a dream: and, behold,
the sun and the moon and eleven stars bowed down to me.


Did the stars in Joesph’s dream really bow down to Joseph? How can I ask this question? It seems to me that the prediction of the sheaves is fulfilled when Joseph’s brothers visit him in Egypt for food. Does the stars dream mean the same thing? Here is Jacob’s interpretation of the dream:

His father berated him.
Are we to come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow low to you to the ground?”
So his brothers were wrought up at him, and his father kept the matter in mind.


Is Jacob truly berating Joseph? Or patronizing him as parents often do children with childish fantasies? Jacob’s response comes immediately after Joseph shares his dream with him in the text, before Joseph could continue or interpret the dream himself. Is Jacob discouraging Joseph from pursuing grandiose behavior? Joseph is a passive voice for the remainder of the parsha, and much of his story as well.

Either way, Jacob kept the matter in mind or, in other translations, withheld judgement. Why withhold judgement if the matter is settled? Is a settled matter equivalent to a judged one? Further, how can Joesph’s mother bow to him when she is dead?

Who could the stars be bowing to? Judah? How can I ask this? Jacob assigns Judah the birthright, so it would be appropriate for Joseph’s star to bow to Judah. I ask my readers: why not? Further, Judah establishes himself as a role model. His is the judgement and the leadership that his brothers eventually follow, and Jacob too, when Joseph requests Benjamin come down to Egypt. So too in this, the family bows to Judah. I ask my readers: why not?

If we accept this as so, how could Joseph have put himself in Judah’s place?

What second son doesn’t dream dreams of lording it over their older brothers? What third or fourth or fifth, or even first, doesn’t? Who doesn’t dream of having power over others at some point in their lives?

Amos rebukes Israel, saying

They recline on every altar
On garments taken in pledge.


There was once a man who was renowned for being stingy. One day, he decided he didn’t want to be called stingy anymore, so he asked a friend for advice. His friend said, “throw a banquet and invite everyone in our village. Prepare enough food to feed everyone twice over.” The man did as his friend said. At the banquet, the people promptly ate all of the food and complained of how stingy the man was. The man said to his friend, “you said if I did this thing, that I wouldn’t be called stingy anymore.” The friend replied, “it is because you did this thing simply to stop being called stingy, and did not do this thing to be truly generous.”

Of all the altars in the world we worship first and foremost at our own, and at that at the expense of neighbors and loved ones.


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