Thoughts on Vayeshev

This week’s parasha is Vayeshev, (Jacob dwelled in the land of his fathers), Genesis 37:1- 40:23.[i] The Haftarah is found in Amos 2:6 – 3:8 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is John4:43–54.

The last couple of weeks we have noted that HaShem “works in all things for the good,” (from Romans 8:28).[ii] This week’s parasha continues this thread. We read in 37:12-17 of an unidentified man telling Joseph where he might find his brothers, like his father Israel had sent him to do. In his Torah commentary, Dr. Eliezer Diamond notes that on one hand the anonymous man might simply be present to affirm Joseph’s fidelity to his father even when the journey seems complicated.[iii] However, on the other hand a midrash suggests that the anonymous man was in fact the angel Gabriel,[iv] who by divine direction ensured that Joseph not only found his brothers, but set the events in motion for Joseph and ultimately for all of the sons of Jacob to sojourn in the land of Egypt. Returning to Rav Shaul’s writing to the Roman believers in Yeshua, immediately after the statement “all things for the good,” he states,

For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of HisSon, so that He might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those whom He predestined, He also called; and those whom He called, He also justified; and those whom He justified, He also glorified. 

Romans 8:29-30

Joseph was foreknown by ADONAI and was foretold his future (Genesis 37:5-10). What he was not told were the challenges and speed bumps along the way. ADONAI never tells the whole story, not ours, not our loved ones, not anyone’s. If He did, there would be no need for faith or trust. There would be no need to hope in His character or His promises. Joseph had seen the vision from ADONAI and he trusted in the vision. However, the journey to the realization of the vision led to a pit, slavery, prison, and exile before it was realized. It is possible as Rabbi Nachum Ish Gamzu proclaimed, that regardless of his circumstance, Joseph would say: this too is for the good, גם זו לטובה.[v] Because of Joseph’s attitude of faith and trust in HaShem, whether in Potiphar’s house or Pharaoh’s prison,“…ADONAI was with him, and ADONAI made whatever he did successful…” (Genesis 39:23).

Of course, this is not an easy attitude to maintain. In the natural, it is normal to complain about poor or unfavorable circumstances. It is common to attempt to circumvent the bad circumstances, hoping for a more favorable outcome. Such is the case with Judah and his daughter-in-law Tamar (Genesis 38:6-26). Judah married a Canaanite woman and began a family, eventually fathering three sons. Judah arranged the marriage of his first born, Er, to Tamar. Sadly, his son “was evil in ADONAI’s eyes, so ADONAI put him to death” (38:7). Judah then requested his second born, Onan, to fulfil the rite of the levirate (38:8; cf. Deuteronomy 25:5-6), in order to bear a son with Tamar as Er’s progeny. Onan refused to impregnate Tamar. His refusal “was evil in ADONAI’s eyes, so He put him to death also,” (38:10). Instead of giving his third son, Shelah, to Tamar, Jacob schemed to send Tamar, maintaining her widowhood status, back to her father’s house hoping to preserve the life of his third son (38:11). We will never know what the outcome of the marriage between Tamar and Shelah might have been, because instead of trusting in HaShem Judah enacted his own plan. In response to Judah’s scheming, Tamar also schemed. The end result was Tamar bore twin boys through Judah, her father-in-law (38:12-27). Interestingly, Perez, one of the twins, is listed in the lineage of King David in Matthew 1:3. There are a least two precepts in this narrative. The first is found in Proverbs 3 where we are encouraged to:

Trust in ADONAI with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

The second precept is the realization that HaShem can take our mistakes and make something wonderful out of them. Judah and Tamar’s scheming led to the birth of a son in the lineage of King David and Messiah Yeshua. In other words, even in our own scheming or errors, we should trust in the LORD that He will eventually “work in all things for the good.”

Remember that Sunday evening begins the eight-day celebration of the Festival of Chanukah. The historic background of the festival is found in 1 Maccabees 1-4. For those who may question its existence or relevance as a biblical holiday, consider that Yeshua was in the Temple during the Feast of Dedication – Chanukah (John 10:22).


[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

[ii] W. Hall Harris, “NET Notes” in The NET Bible, Copyright © 1996-2005 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C.

[iii] http://www.jtsa.edu/to-fulfill-a-mitzvah, last accessed on 29 November 2018.

[iv] PRE 38.

[v] See BT Ta’anit 21a.

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