Parashat Vayeshev
Shabbat Mevarekhim Hahodesh
December 23-24, 2016 – 24 Kislev 5777
Annual (Genesis 37:1-40:23): Etz Hayim p. 226-245; Hertz p. 141-151
Triennial (Genesis 37:1-37:36): Etz Hayim p.226-233; Hertz p. 141-145
Haftarah (Amos 2:6-3:8): Etz Hayim p. 246-249; Hertz p. 152-154


Who’s That Man Walking…
Rabbi Steven Wernick, Executive VP and Chief Executive Officer, USCJ

In his book based on the Joseph stories, Living a Life that Matters, Rabbi Harold Kushner asks an interesting question: “Who’s the principle character?”

Is it Jacob who favors Joseph such that his brothers conspire to kill him?

Is it Joseph who just had to share his dreams with his brothers, further alienating him from them?

Is it Judah who leads his brothers in their bloodlust?

Is it Reuven who prevents fratricide and instead throws Joseph in a pit to rot?

Potiphar? Or his wife?  The Ishmaelites?

If you look closely, the principle character is anonymous.

You know the story, the brothers are tending the flock.  Jacob sends Joseph to spy on them.  He heads to Schechem when suddenly “a man came upon him wandering in the fields. The man asked him, “What are you looking for?” (Genesis 37:15)

The Torah calls him only Ish — a man.

From where did this person come?  Why does he approach Joseph?  His question is asked as if he already knows the answer.  And then when Joseph replies that he is looking for his brothers, this Ish knows not only where they have gone, but more importantly exactly who his brothers are!

There are certainly minor characters in the Torah, but no superfluous characters.

Kushner devotes a whole chapter to this Ish, “Best Actor in a Supporting Role.”

Who is this Ish?

Maimonides suggests that this Ish, like the mysterious being who wrestles with Jacob a generation earlier is an Angel.  After all, he knows the answer to the question before the question is even asked!

Ibin Ezra understands him just to be a man, who happens to be in the right place at the right time.  A chance encounter, of little significance in and of itself, sets in motion the rest of Jewish history — slavery, redemption, Torah — all of it right up to our own time.

A Vort for Parashat Vayeshev
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty

Vayeshev is a very sad parashah – it is a series of falls and declines. It begins with Jacob seeking to dwell comfortably in Eretz Yisrael and ends with Joseph in an Egyptian prison.  In between Joseph is cast down into the pit, Judah “went down (yered) from his brothers,” and Joseph “was brought down / hurad” to Egypt.  The late Rav Pinhas Peli pointed out that all 112 verses in Vayeshev start with the letter “vav,” a letter of sadness/pain, “vai..,” except for nine – the number of candles on the Hanukkah Menorah, including the shamash.  Hanukkah, which begins on Motsei Shabbat, occurs roughly at the winter solstice, when the dark portion of the day reaches its peak.  We start with one candle and add each day, to increase the light in the world and in our lives.  Shabbat shalom v’Hanukkah Sameach!

Table Talk
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

The Joseph story! He has big dreams but the reality can be tough. He falls low and rises again. God is with him, but his good looks attract unwanted attention. Joseph’s roller-coaster of a life takes off in this Parasha, with the story of his brother Judah developing simultaneously.

1) Joseph has 2 dreams that he tells his brothers (37:5-10). What happens in each dream? How do the brothers understand the dreams? What is their reaction? What is Yaakov’s reaction?

2) Chapter 38 is a break in the Joseph story to focus on Judah and his family. Judah marries (38:1-5). Who does he marry? How does this differ from the marriages of his father and grandfather? How many children does she bear him? Who names the children? Why might it be significant who names a child?

3) Judah’s oldest son marries a woman named Tamar (38:6-11). Who chooses her to be Er’s wife? What happens to her husband, Er? What happens to her at that point? (This is what is called a levirate marriage.) What happens to her when Onan dies as well?

4) Back to Joseph: Potifar’s wife is very mad at Joseph’s refusal (39:7-15). Holding his garment as incriminating evidence, she calls in all the servants and tells them (her version) what happens. Look at what she says: How does she make sure that the servants will turn against Joseph? Why does she not call Joseph a servant? Why does she call him a ‘Hebrew’?

5) A careful reading of the rest of the story will show us that Potifar does not believe his wife (39:16-23). What would Potifar have done to his slave Joseph if he believed his wife’s story about Joseph’s behavior towards her? What does he do? If he does not believe her, why does he do this to Joseph?

Guidelines about Hanukah Candle Lighting from
Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein of the Conservative Yeshiva

1. Preferably candles should be lit early – at sunset or, according to some opinions, when the stars come out. But if not feasible then, one may light into the evening (“when the last people come home from the market”).
2. Where possible, the hanukiah should be placed where it can be seen publicly. Ideally by one’s front door on the left side or in the window facing the public thoroughfare. (Be careful with curtains.)
3. Candles should set up from right to left but lit from left to right, always light the new candle first.
4. You should use candles that will burn for at least a half hour after dark; note regarding Erev Shabbat, next point.
5. On erev Shabbat: a) Hanukah candles are lit BEFORE Shabbat candles and b) since this is done early, the candles should be big enough to remain lit for at least a half hour after dark.
6. On Motzei Shabbat, while there is a difference of opinion, many light the hanukiah before doing havdalah, in order to prolong Shabbat, at least symbolically.