Maggid ben Yoseif / Jerusalem Torah Voice in Exile

Od Yoseif Chai 

(Joseph is still alive!)

Part 3: Portents of the enmity and vexation between Joseph and Judah

Commentary on Parashat Vayishev
TORAH: Genesis 37:1— 40:23
HAFTORAH: Amos 2:6 — 3:8
December 8, 2001 — 23 Kislev 5762

© 2005 Maggid ben Yoseif


This is the third of the six weeks of special commentary on the Torah portions that record the birth, mission and death of Joseph. This commentary is being written and disseminated to determine whether the Torah may allude to a plan to Return the non-Jewish Assimilated House of Joseph to be reunited with the Jewish House of Judah. In fact, we submit that such a plan is mystically hidden in the circumstances surrounding Joseph’s birth, life and interaction with his brothers, especially Judah, and through Jacob’s interaction with Esau through the descendants of Joseph.

Such a return would naturally involve the biblical inheritances of the House of Joseph (the historical/biblical borders of Ephraim and Manasseh) together with the biblical territory of Benjamin. It may be no coincidence that these same territories define the entirety of the region today known as the Shomron or Samaria. Also, the same territories are sought to comprise the northern 2/3rds of the proposed Palestinian State. This threat to Eretz Yisrael underlines the need to resolve this historical sibling rivalry by first understanding it.

In this week’s portion, the enmity between Joseph and his brothers comes to a head as the brothers who are envious of the favor given to him by their father, plot to have him sold into slavery. We also learn that through a series of calamities that befall Joseph, he is falsely accused and winds up in prison. Yet all of this is to refine his character while in exile and separation from his brothers and his father, so that a true tzadik emerges in the end.

The Haftorah plays on the theme of the selling of a righteous man (a tzadik) and the higher standards Hashem demands of the righteous, all timely messages for the children of Joseph and their special preparation and refining by fire before they also may be reunited with Judah.

Maggid ben Yosef

Portion of the Kohen:  Genesis 37:1-11
The same word —
toldot — which describes a long list of descendants of Esau in Chapter 36 describes the one descendant of Jacob in 37:2: Joseph! Yet we know that Jacob had 12 sons and a daughter. The Tanchuma explains this by likening Esau to chaff or tares that try to choke the seed of Joseph. Again, the Tanchuma describes a potential rivalry of leadership between Judah and Joseph with the imagery of a lion and a bull standing head-to-head. Obviously there could not be two leaders so the mystical sages wrote that Joseph’s seed — the seed that would eventually give Jacob the upper hand over Esau — would have to be hidden until it matured.

The fact that Joseph acted as a na’ar (an immature young man) and brought evil reports of his brothers, indicates that he — and his seed — would need great trials and persecutions to bring about their maturity. However, the mystics call Joseph the yesod or foundation. Just as Avraham was constantly tested in the area of hesed, (the extent of his kindness in the face of persecution), Isaac in the area of gevurah or inner strength, Jacob in the area of emet or truth, Joseph’s test was to be the area where he faced his greatest challenge — the very brit shalom (covenant of peace) he was accused of disrupting.

As Rashi stated, “Jacob’s truth and Joseph’s “peace” are the spiritual armaments that could negate Esau’s jealousy and hatred.” As we have seen in earlier studies, Joseph is being specially conditioned to face Esau. Obviously some kind of physical confrontation is anticipated with the descendants of Esau. At the same time the feelings of jealousy and hatred which Joseph easily aroused perhaps because they were a mirror of his own soul before it was refined, have no place among Israel. This enmity and vexation ultimately will defeat Israel as it represents an assimilation of Esau’s character. We see then that the true area of battle between Esau and Israel is the soul.

Joseph’s dreams depict him as the leader Hashem has chosen among the children of Jacob, yet we know that Jacob later gives the scepter to his son, Judah. The sages write that Jacob cannot reign, however, without Joseph. This is why Rehoboam approached the House of Joseph after his father, Solomon’s death. That proved disastrous and resulted in the the split of the Kingdom because of Judah’s vexation of the House of Joseph.

The fact that Joseph’s sheaf arose independent of his brother’s may point to a sovereign move of Hashem within the family of Joseph and possibly apart — at least initially — from Judaism. The imagery of the sun and moon, connected to Jacob and Rachel is also mystically telling, especially after the later institution of the
Rosh Chodesh, which is instituted through Joseph and commanded for all of Israel (Psalm 81:5-6). Each month we commemorate Rosh Chodesh — the renewal of the Moon (Rachel) by recalling the covenant sealed between King David (of Judah) and Jonathan (heir apparent to the monarchy of the House of Joseph). We recall that Jonathan charged King David to remember the House of Joseph when he came into his kingdom. Similarly in the prophet Isaiah, the moon (Rachel) again becomes as bright as the sun.

Portion of the Levite:  Genesis 37:12-22
Verses 12-14 open a portent for the reason Hashem would later return the House of Joseph.

“Your brothers are “pasturing” in Sh’chem, are they not? Come I will send you to them…. Go now, look into the welfare of your brothers and the welfare of the flock and bring me back word.”

The word pasturing is written as the plural form of ra’ or evil. Jacob seems concerned that his other sons may face some evil and after the slaughter of the Shechemite men that is not unlikely. Since Joseph was too young to be involved in the slaughter, he is immune from its repercussions. So Sh’chem later becomes the portion of Joseph deeded to him by Jacob. From a spiritual view, Joseph has a stake in the welfare of his brothers in this region. The same is true today especially since ancient Sh’chem is today the Palestinian stronghold of Nablus, where Joseph’s tomb lies desecrated under a Moslem mosque and the boasts of the 10 Arab nations in Psalm 84, that “the ne’ot (pastures where the tzaddikim were buried) of God have become ours for a possesion.”

Jacob sends Joseph to
Shchem from m’eymek Hevron (the depth of Hebron), yet Hebron (with the exception of the tomb of the Patriarchs) is on a mountain top. This lends credence to the prophetic portent tying Joseph to the patriarchs, again, independent of his brothers.

The mystics also connect verses 15-17 which describes Joseph’s vain attempts to locate his brothers as “blundering” in the field. The word blundering is to’eh representing the gematria of three exiles, the tav, the 400 years from the birth of Isaac until the return from Egypt which affected all of Jacob’s family; the ayin, the 70 years of exile by the House of Judah in Babylon and the hey, the current exile of the House of Joseph among Edom which would end some time after the 5,000th year from the Creation of Adam but before the 6,000th year. By some accounts we are currently in the year from the Creation of Adam of 5762, however the Encyclopedia Judaica records a 238-240 year mistake in the Seder Olam Rabbah by which the years from Creation have been reckoned, meaning the Return of the House of Joseph is either imminent or past due.

It is also mystically significant that Joseph finds his brothers in
Dothan, which the sages connect to the Dati or Torah observant. In other words, through his return first to Hashem and Torah Joseph will be able to locate his brothers.

Before Joseph is able to see them however, they see him coming from afar and plot to get rid of him. Only Reuben, the one son of Leah who later has no inheritance on the west side of the Jordan (or you could say no design on Joseph’s inheritance) and later Judah intervene to keep the other brothers from killing Joseph. Judah was punished “measure for measure” with the loss of his two sons, and the humiliation of having to publicly identify his tunic given to Tamar when he thought she was a harlot. Tamar challenged Judah with the words, “identify if you please.” These were the same words that confronted Jacob about Joseph’s torn and bloody tunic. The rabbis conclude that Judah was nevertheless the major conspirator behind the sale of Joseph into slavery and the deception of faking Joseph’s death. And thus, his later trials in Egypt when confronted by Joseph until he was willing to give his life for Joseph’s younger blood brother, Benjamin.

Third Portion:  Genesis 37:23-36
Rashi and Mizrachi both make special mention that the pit into which Joseph was thrown was empty, no water was in it. Naturally if it was empty, it would also be dry so why the redundancy? By acting as judge and jury over Joseph, his brothers “measure” was the same judgment they decreed for Joseph, an empty pit devoid of water. Here is a portent that will serve to distinguish the sons of Joseph,from the other tribes of Jacob. While the
Ru’ach Hashem (spirit of Hashem) can be merited by any of Jacob’s progeny, the indwelling Ru’ach becomes exclusive to the descendants of Joseph as evident by the later declaration of the Egyptian Pharaoh who declares Joseph as being a man “in whom the Spirit of God dwells.”

Similarly, the descendants of Joseph are marked with a kind of mystical imprint and spiritual drawing distinct from the Jewish people and the other goyim with whom they dwell in exile. Some of the Torah sages also relate the m'dah knegged m'dah "the measured judgment" to the redemption of the firstborn for the same amount Joseph was sold to the Midianites. If so, the m'dah represents an atonement of some kind for Joseph's brothers' act of selling Joseph.

Jacob makes two declarations, which as a prophet, must come to pass. First, he declares,
tarof tarof Yoseif! (Torn, torn is Joseph!). This means Joseph would be scattered far and wide into every Gentile family, culture and race until the day which is now dawning when Hashem is regathering him. Secondly, Jacob refused to comfort himself and said, “For I will go down to the grave mourning for my son.” Even though he was reunited with Joseph in Egypt, Hashem holds a tzadik responsible for his words to the hair’s breath. So there are at least two voices crying from beyond the grave for Joseph’s return: Rachel in Jeremiah 31:15-18 and here, Jacob.

Fourth Portion:  Genesis 38:1-30
The interruption of the
toldot of Jacob: Joseph, here in Chapter 38 with the story of Judah’s indiscretion with Tamar is certainly curious. It could be contrasted with the conduct of Joseph in his hour of temptation with the wife of Potiphar. Since the messiah ben David will hail from Judah, some of the mystics see the placement of this story as indicating that part of the messiah’s mission will be to save the sons of Joseph and make it possible for them to return and be reunited to the family. Indeed, we do see a reference to the messiah hidden in verse 17 where Tamar replies “Provided you leave a pledge until you send it (the promised kid from the flock as her hire as a k’deishah or temple prostitute). First, the Torah records her reply in the masculine, Vatomer or and he said. (See also verse 25). Secondly, the gematria of shalchecha (you send) is 358 or the same as moshiah (messiah). The mystics also link the signet to a wedding ring and the wrap and staff to a tallit and pole for the wedding canopy. Thus, Judah took Tamar, who he had pledged to his son, to wife. Tamar’s marriage to Judah therefore sets a precedent — upon which a revived Sanhedrin must someday rule — that either (not both) the father or the son may consummate a marriage arranged by the father. Earlier we had a precedent that a shaliah (Eleazar, the servant of Abraham sent on behalf of his master, Isaac), could betroth a wife for the one who sent him.

The Torah will later clarify that a husband cannot consummate a marriage with his betrothed wife if she plays the harlot before the consummation of that marriage. The House of Joseph through its idolatrous leadership was described by Hashem as a harlot wife when he gave the House of Israel a
sefer critut ("book of cutting off", divorce or get) because of the Northern Kingdom’s infidelity. Yet the mystical interpretation of the marriage of Judah to Tamar sets the precedent for shaliaot (messiahs) to be sent after an assimilated people who may be recognized according to Halachah by the term b’nai El Chai, sons of the Living God.(Hosea 2:1).

Fifth Portion:  Genesis 39:1-6
The descent of Joseph to Egypt is according to Hadar Zekeinim, the means that Hashem decreed the Divine Presence itself to descend with Joseph. If so, to some degree, the full manifestation of the Divine Presence awaits Joseph’s return from exile.

Sixth Portion:  Genesis 39:12-23
Resuming the story of Joseph in exile, with which we are all familiar, after Joseph is falsely accused of attempting to accost Potiphar’s wife and is imprisoned, verse 21 states that Hashem endowed Joseph with
chased (translated charisma). This may be the source of that well of living water which Joseph merited not on his own behalf but because of the judgment of his brothers. There in another “hole,” Hashem also caused Joseph to prosper in everything to which he put his hand with so much favor that he was hardly supervised by the prison warden. The attainment of this chased -- by not being judgmental -- by the descendants of Judah and Joseph will be a key to the reunion and reconciliation of Joseph and Judah.

Seventh Portion:  Genesis 40:1-23
The dreams’ traditional interpretations are given in the text itself. From a mystical view, we submit that the dream of the  Cupbearer represented a message to Joseph himself. The Chamberlain of the Cupbearers will remember him two years later. The grapevine with its tendrils that bud represent Joseph himself. But he must wait until they later blossom and ripen before he (Joseph) can be placed in Pharoah’s hand. It is only the timing which Joseph does not completely understand re: the word Hashem has sent to him about when he will stand before Pharoah. The three days, in Joseph’s case, represent the beginning of a third year or two years completion. It is on the third day (the beginning of the third year) and specifically on Rosh Hashanah, birthday for both Pharoah and Joseph, that the dream is fulfilled. The Chamberlain of the Cupbearers remembers Joseph (the grapevine that has then ripened). Similarly, while the mystical imprint in the souls of the children of Joseph is a tremendous spiritual asset, the children like the father, have difficulty with the timing. Thus descendants of Ephraim attempted to return to the land of Canaan prematurely and were massacred.

Haftorah:  Amos 2:6 — 3:8
As though standing on a soap box, the prophet points to the corners of the land as decreeing judgment against Israel’s hostile neighbors. You can hear the crowd egging him on, “Atta boy Amos, stick it to ‘em.” But then he turns to Israel and decrees that their idolatry, their adultery, even their murder, Hashem could overlook but not the persecution of the poor and the greed that caused the rich and powerful to take advantage of the helpless and to pervert justice.

As Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, Amos begins his judgment with the decree:

 “For three rebellious sins of Israel — but should I not exact retribution for the fourth — for their having sold a righteous man — a tzadik — for silver and a destitute one for the sake of a pair of shoes?”

There is no question that the sale of Joseph into slavery was considered a pesha (rebellious sin) by Hashem, as are all sins against justice, mercy and purity. But in referring to Hashem's deliverance of Israel from the Amorite and the Egyptian and Israel's protection in the Wilderness, Amos is also taking aim at the ingratitude of the children of Israel. This may be because in the final analysis, if one gives it some thought, ingratitude is rooted in the soul of iniquity. So exacting is Hashem toward those who would mature and ripen.

Shabbat Shalom & Hashem's love & blessings,

Maggid ben Yosef


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