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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Parshat Vayeshev

Posted by rabbiart on April 21, 2008

This Shabbat we read a complex and disturbing story of family dynamics and dysfunction. By the time we get to the third verse of our reading, we are confronted with a father who visibly favors one of his children. By the fourth verse we see that all of Yosef’s brothers are aware of his father’s favoritism, and cannot stand to be around him. And by the fifth verse Yosef is telling his brother’s of his dreams; dreams that — for better or worse — represent his future supremacy over them.
What parental impulse drives Yakov to send Yosef to visit and then report back on his brothers? The text does not speak to this, so we must consult the midrash — or make our own midrash — on this point. Since we read the Torah in a cycle, we of course already know what will happen. The brothers will be cruel to their brother and their father at the same time. But eventually, they will all be brought together by events, and reach a reconciliation.
We see many points of view reflected in this story. The story, because of its multiple points of view and seeming inconsistencies, is one of the places in the Torah where the “documentary hypothesis” can be seen. Just as there are multiple stories visible in our text, we see multiple stories being told about affairs of state in the middle east today. Indeed, much of the fight is over who owns the story, and therefore who is right, who is wrong, and what actions or settlements might be justified.
It’s probably a good thing that this family was not leading the Annapolis Middle East peace conference that happened earlier this week, as it is not exactly a model of family harmony and togetherness. On the other hand, perhaps this family story is somehow representative of the dynamics in that area of the world. If so, we could hope for an eventual resolution to the conflicts in the Middle East. If this family can go through the trials and travails of which we are reading, and reach a peaceful, perhaps even heartfelt, resolution, then perhaps the political families of the middle east can do so as well. Perhaps we can find a way to all live in one story together; a story of peace, security and friendship.


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