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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Parshat וַיֵּשֶׁב – He dwelled

Posted by rabbiart on December 10, 2009

When we last left Yakov, he was still on his journey from Beth-El. We might say that he was still on his journey home. Where is Yakov’s home? Per the opening of this parshah, home is not necessarily the geographical place where we find ourselves, but most importantly, home is where our parents and grandparents lived. וַיֵּשֶׁב יַעֲקֹב, בְּאֶרֶץ מְגוּרֵי אָבִיו–בְּאֶרֶץ, כְּנָעַן It only happen to be that that Yakov lives in Canaan.

Our parshah parallels parshat Toldot.  That parshah opened by introducing Yitzhak, but quickly moved to the story of his son Yakov.  Our parshah opens by introducing Yakov, but even more quickly moves the focus to his son Yosef.  Like father, like son. Both quickly learn, in the modern phrasing, “it’s not about you.”  Perhaps the Torah is reflecting what most parents feel once they have children; live is no longer about them, but about their children.

Another interpretation… “Yakov dwelt”… Yakov wanted to live the remainder of his life in tranquility, surrounded by his family and attended to by the sons of his old age.  But almost instantly the story returns to conflict and animosity. Yakov will continue in his role as the man who struggles and wrestles. He cannot simply be the man who dwells in a tent.

We want to believe that the Torah’s story is the unfolding of HaShem’s design for creation; for the world.  But we are faced with the explosion of conflict among brothers and the arrogance of he-who-will-become-the-hero-of-the-story.  Is this the family dynamic that HaShem desires?

Rashi (relying on Midrash as is often the case) mentions the parallels between Yosef and Yakov.  The son looks like the father, is hated by the father.  Just as Yakov’s brother wanted to kill him, Yosef”s brothers want to kill him.

Were the brother’s justified in their animosity? According to the text, Yosef is a tattletale.

וַיָּבֵא יוֹסֵף אֶת-דִּבָּתָם רָעָה, אֶל-אֲבִיהֶם.

Yosef would bring bad reports about [his brothers] to his father.

Did Yakov, scarred by his own experiences, encourage this behavior?  As the story proceeds through Yosef’s two dreams of domination, the Torah hints that his father might be turning against him, or at least reconsidering his status as most-favored-son.

The Midrash is full of reactions to the animosity plainly evident in this story.  It attempts to retrospectively make everyone look better. About Yosef, commenting on the phrase “he was a son of his old age”, it says that he was a “wise son to him, Whatever he had learned from [the yeshiva of] Shem and Eber he gave over to him.  About the brothers, commenting on the phrase “they could not speak with him peacefully”, it says “from what is stated to their discredit, we may learn something to their credit, that they did not say one thing with their mouth and think differently in their heart.”

In this last remark we see the value of speaking the truth, or at least the truth as we perceive and understand it.  Even though (some of) the brothers are filled with hatred toward Yosef, they understand who he is and who he will become.  To them, he is “the dreamer”.

When his brothers call him the master of dreams, they are mocking him.  This point comes through much more clearly in the Hebrew, where the phrase is   בַּעַל הַחֲלֹמוֹת  (ba’al hakhalomot) the master of dreams.We the reader can see that rather than Yosef being in control  of his dreams, his dreams are in control of him.      At this point in the story his dreams are shallow, immature and vain. By the time we have traveled four parshiot with this family, we – and they – will see Yosef truly become a master of dreams.

When we read the Torah, we are all the characters. Each has something to teach us. We are Yakov, we are Yosef, we are each and all the brothers. Yosef grows, Yakov gains tranquility, the brothers learn to see the benefit of having a sibling who is a master of dreamery.  The Torah, as always, resonates with our own life experiences. We might want to dwell peacefully in tents, but we are thrust out to make our way in the world.  We might be jealous of siblings but it may be because we understand but cannot accept their essential nature.

Eventually, Yosef loves his brothers, they recognizes the value of his dreams, and Yakov lives out his last days in tranquility.  This parshah and the ones that follow it, can give us hope that in our lives we can move (if we need to) from suspicion and distrust to acceptance, respect and even love.  We can ride out the storms and arrive in a place of comfort and calm.

And in the meantime, we at least have one day out of seven.

Shabbat Shalom


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