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Vayeshev – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

The story of Joseph and his brothers opens this week and continues until the end of Bereishit. It begins

Jacob dwelt in the land of his father's sojournings
וַיֵּ֣שֶׁב יַֽעֲקֹ֔ב בְּאֶ֖רֶץ מְגוּרֵ֣י אָבִ֑י

Jacob thought he was settled but it was not going to be a place of tranquillity and peace. His favouring of Joseph would have consequences. Joseph would compound matters, Reuben and Judah would act in ways they would both come to regret.

We never once see Joseph pray, nor does God speak to him as God. He is hated by his brothers, but we never hear of him trying to make peace. Wearing his special coat and boasting about his dreams he makes things worse. It will only be much later and after many adventures that he comes to realise that interpreting dreams can affect the lives of others. The special coat he would come to wear as the Visier of Egypt would initially disguise him. Later, he could throw off the coat and welcome his brothers.

Reuben offended his father by sleeping with Bilhah after the death of Rachel resulting him being denied the rights of a first born. Trying to make amends and protect Rachel’s son Joseph he acts by convincing his brothers not to kill him but to throw him in the pit,

ְמַ֗עַן הַצִּ֤יל אֹתוֹ֙ מִיָּדָ֔ם לַֽהֲשִׁיב֖וֹ אֶל־אָבִֽיו
in order to save him from their hands, to return him to his father

After Judah persuaded his brothers to sell Joseph rather than kill him he goes down to Canaan and marries a local woman against the injunction not to “marry out” The episode with Tamar causes him to review his own moral behaviour. He was complicit in the deceit of his father but he will eventually be the one to offer himself as a hostage to Pharaoh to save Benjamin from slavery.

None of us knows what the results of our actions might be. We are not inconsequential. The unknown man who guided Joseph to his brothers could not have foreseen what would happen. There is always hope and the possibility to make good.

Jacob despairs when he thinks Joseph is gone and he cries out

I will descend as a mourner to the grave

Despair is never justified. We have the opportunity, by our own actions, to put things right. There is always the chance to work towards peace, not just with others but with ourselves.

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