Parashat Va-Yeshev

November 27, 2021

by Bettijane Eisenpreis

And when he told (his dream) to his father and brothers, his father berated him. “What,” he said to him, “is this dream you have dreamed? Are we to come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow low to the ground?” So his brothers were wrought up at him, and his father kept the matter in mind.

One time, when his brothers had gone to pasture their father’s flock at Shechem, Israel said to Joseph, “Your brothers are pasturing at Shechem. Come, I will send you to them.” He answered, “I am ready.” — Genesis 37:10-13

At this point in the story, we know that Joseph was Jacob’s favorite because he was Rachel’s son. But we also know that Joseph has been indiscreet by telling his dreams to his brothers and father, that the brothers are furious with him, and Jacob “kept the matter in mind.”

If, as the Bible says, Jacob loved Joseph best, he has a strange way of showing that love. Jacob should know that the brothers hate Joseph; still, he sends the boy to spy on them and report back. As the adult in this relationship, shouldn’t Jacob know better? Doesn’t he realize that sending his pampered boy off on this dubious errand is a recipe for disaster? He may wish to teach Joseph a lesson about humility, but this is a strange way to do it.

The Patriarchs do not have a stellar record of dealing with their children. Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac when the Lord stopped him by providing a ram. Isaac let Jacob trick him into giving him the birthright that belonged to Esau. And now Jacob sends Joseph off on a dangerous errand. I could say they lack a woman’s touch, but Rebecca was the one who thought up the plan to hoodwink Isaac – so even the ladies are not totally blameless.

Each story shows that the people of the Bible are not perfect; they are just fallible human beings. Yet, in all these stories, the hero triumphs at the end. Who is responsible for their ultimate success? We might be tempted to say “God,” but people played an important role as well. Doesn’t it seem likely that Abraham suddenly became aware that he was about to kill his beloved son and, looking in desperation for a way out, became aware of the ram? Jacob, after years working under Laban, grew into a mature and intelligent adult. As for Joseph, being removed from his family and exiled in Egypt forced him to learn from his errors and become not only wiser but more compassionate.

The Book of Genesis is replete with examples of the way human beings behave to each other – and it is certainly not a pretty picture. Still, the People of Israel survived, marching on from defeat to defeat, and from strength to strength. And we must admit, it makes a fascinating story!