Wednesday, December 17, 2008



This week's portion is Vayyeshev.

The portion opens with Yaakov and his family settled peacefully in Israel. Problems quickly develop, though, as Yaakov's apparent favoritism toward Yosef (the 11th of his 12 sons), and Yosef's visions of future personal greatness, alienate his brothers. The brothers suspect that he Yosef out to harm them, and they first decide to kill him, then decide only to sell him. They fool their father Yaakov into thinking Yosef is dead, showing him Yosef's special striped cloak dipped in blood.

The Torah then interrupts the story of Yosef's travels by telling us about the troubles of Yehudah (the 4th of Yaakov's 12 sons) and his children. Yehudah had three sons. His eldest married a woman named Tamar, and died soon afterward. The second son married Tamar, as was the common pre-Sinaitic practice in order to guarantee support for a widow. (This practice is related to the Mitzvah of Yibbum, but is not quite the same.) The second son died, too. We are taught that their sin was in taking steps to prevent Tamar from becoming pregnant when they were together.

Rather than marry off his youngest son to Tamar, Yehudah told her to wait for him to mature. Tamar grew impatient, and fooled Yehudah into living with her himself; she disguised herself as a prostitute. Prostitution was not illegal before the presentation of the Torah at Sinai. Tamar became pregnant, without Yehudah knowing it was from him.

When Yehudah found out that Tamar was pregnant, he was upset - she was supposed to wait for Shelah, and was considered partially married to him already by dint of the expected marriage. Yehudah ordered that she should be killed. Tamar sent Yehudah some of the articles he had left with her, though, showing that she had actually been impregnated by him. Marrying Yehudah would have been a valid substitute for marrying Shelah, and so her actions had been legitimate.

The Torah portion then returns to the story of Yosef. Yosef was sold into an Egyptian's house, and he was successful in running the household. The lady of the house tried to seduce him, unsuccessfully. She was insulted and humiliated, and so she turned the story around, accusing him of attempting to seduce her. Yosef was thrown in jail.

Yosef was successful in helping run the jail, as he had been successful as a slave. He became acquainted with the king's butler and baker, both of whom were in jail for apparent attempts to harm the king. The two of them had dreams, and Yosef interpreted the dreams: The baker would die in three days, and the butler would be restored to his position. This was, in fact, what happened.

Yosef asked the butler to speak to the authorities about him, but the butler forgot once he was out of jail.

Have a great day,

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