Parashat Vayeshev – Erev Shabbat 9 December 2023
Week of 3-9 December 2023
Torah portion: Genesis 37:1-40:23 Haftarah: Zech 2:14-4:7
Theme: Where is God?
As I am reading today’s parasha I cannot help but wonder: how is this God’s Word? Why are these stories included in the holy Torah? What are we to learn from them? Of course, if we follow the rabbinic way of reading the Torah, these are exactly the sort of questions we should be asking. God’s blessing through the Torah does not always come to us in straight-forward meanings and easy answers.
As I am in the middle of teaching a course on the Old Testament theology, my first question was: where is God in these stories? Chapter 37 does not have a single mention of God and chapter 38 only mentions God a couple of times as the one who caused the death of those, God had deemed bad. In comparison to these two, chapter 39 is flooded with references to God or the LORD. It emphasizes again and again that God is with Joseph in whatever he does and wherever he goes. And the text also reveals Joseph’s piety when he refuses to sin against God (39:9) and states that it is only God who reveals the meanings of dreams (40:8).
I propose that these references to God hold the key to understanding the puzzling structure of our parasha, namely, why a story about Joseph is interrupted to tell us about the dubious ways Judah got his offspring, before returning to Joseph and his successful career in Egypt. The Torah tells us that there is a reason why one offspring is blessed and the other not; why some people have to die and others prosper. Even though we might not always see it, God is behind it (of course, the rabbis saw God even behind the events in chapter 37, see Rashi’s commentary on verses 15 and 20).
But there is more to it. These stories teach us that the world is not only made up of men and women working and plotting for themselves. The world events are not all God’s doing either. God has given us freedom with which we can make or break our destinies and fortunes. There is a mysterious space for God to bless or ruin our plots. While we are alive this relationship between humans and God is always evolving. At this stage in Genesis, the writer seems to favor Joseph over Judah and his family. But Judah’s family story is left unfinished as if to say: “Watch this space, there will be more to happen here.” So, keep on reading!
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. How would you interpret the balance between God and humans in shaping this world? 2. Think about the unfinished stories in your life. Where is God in them?
Bibliography: Rabbi Y.I.Z. Herczeg, Rashi. The Torah: with Rashi’s Commentary: Translated, Annotated, and Elucidated. Bereshit/Genesis. (New York: 1999)
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Rota Stone, New Zealand, Bat Kol Alumna: 2002, 2003