Saturday, January 28, 2023

Parshat Vayeshev

Amos, a contemporary of the prophets Yeshayahu, Micha and Hoshea, was a simple shepherd by trade who was called upon by God to deliver words of admonition and warning to the wayward nation of Israel. He begins his words by taking an overview of the sins of Israel’s neighbors, explaining that Hashem’s mercies would allow one, two and three transgressions to go unpunished but, by the fourth offense, He will bring retribution upon that nation. And so, the opening chapters review the wrongdoings of Aram, Philistia, Phoenicia, Amon, Moav and even Yehuda. Our haftarah, however, begins with the navi’s focus on the sins of Yisrael, the target of his prophecies. Amos decries the moral corruption of the people, both in matters regarding the treatment of their fellow men and those regarding their relationship with God. Most important for our purposes is his opening accusation of the nation’s judges who were “selling the innocent for money,” decrying the widespread bribery that filled the land. Our Rabbis saw in the words “al michram bakesef tzadik,” literally “selling a righteous man for money,” an allusion to the sale of Yosef HaTzadik found in today’s parsha.

But that is not the only echo of the events in our parsha. The navi goes on, depicting examples of the sinful behavior of Israel including “v’ish v’aviv yelchu el hana’arah,” both child and father defile God’s name by going to the same maiden. And, although not considered a sin in the parsha, we do read of the incident when Yehuda, the father, is intimate with his sons’ former wife, unaware of who she was. Likewise, the tale of Yosef and his brothers found in the parsha marks the beginning of the story of Israel’s eventual settlement and enslavement in Egypt, while the haftarah reminds the nation that the God they’ve abandoned had taken them out of Egyptian slavery.

Most interesting, I believe, is the final section of the prophetic reading in which the prophet declares that there are no coincidences; that all takes place by the will of God. The story of Yosef is one that underscores that very theme. Here we have a seemingly simple story of human emotions—love, pride, jealousy and anger—that lead to foreseeable consequences. Yet when seen in a wider view, as Rashi indicates, it all led to the fulfilment of Hashem’s promise to Avraham that his children would be enslaved in a strange land.

God’s promises are eternal and unchanging. And if we merit it, we will see their fruition in our own time.

By Rabbi Neil N. Winkler

 Rabbi Neil Winkler is a past rabbi of the Young Israel of Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.


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