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Vayeshev – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

On Sunday we celebrate Chanukah recording the battle to save Jewish identity from being lost within Hellenistic culture around 200BCE.

We had been living under the relatively benign rule of the Egyptians. An Egyptian king, Ptolemy Philadelphus (who reigned from 285-246 BCE), even commissioned a translation of the Hebrew Bible for his library in Alexandria. Seventy-two translators from Jerusalem were sent to the Island of Pharos to translate the Torah into Greek!

The story of Joseph and his brothers covers the last 4 Sedras of Bereishit. In Vayeshev, the Torah juxtaposes two seemingly unconnected stories: The story of Joseph and the episode between Judah and Tamar.

We begin the story of Joseph, a favoured and seemingly spoilt child

he was a lad, and was with the sons of Bilhah and with the sons of Zilpah
וַיָּבֵ֥א יוֹסֵ֛ף אֶת־דִּבָּתָ֥ם רָעָ֖ה אֶל־אֲבִיהֶֽם:
and Joseph brought evil tales about them to their father

Those sons would have been Gad, Asher, Dan and Naftali, Intriguingly, all the sons of Jacob, together, cast Joseph into the pit after he proudly sets out his grandiose dreams: a further cause for jealousy. Judah refuses to kill Joseph but suggests selling him. His brother Reuben (they were both children of Leah) goes back to rescue him but is too late. We go on to read

וַֽיְהִי֙ בָּעֵ֣ת הַהִ֔וא וַיֵּ֥רֶד יְהוּדָ֖ה מֵאֵ֣ת אֶחָ֑יו
Now it came about at that time that Judah was demoted by his brothers

Judah will regain his relationship with his brothers after his acceptance that he had behaved badly with Tamar. However, it would be some time, and only after many adventures, before Joseph would come to peace with them.

Pride and jealousy, fear and failure to accept mistakes, these can all feature in our lives. They risk destroying families, communities and even our society.

On Sunday, as we light the candles of the Chanukiah, we recite the blessing

shehecheyanu v’kiy’manu v’higianu laz’man hazeh
for giving us life, for sustaining us, and for enabling us to reach this season

Somehow, despite squabbles and temptations, we still maintain our identity.

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