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Vayeshev, Vayeishev, or Vayesheb (וַיֵּשֶׁבHebrew for “and he lived,” the first word of the parshah) is the ninth weekly Torah portion (parshah) in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading. It constitutes Genesis 37:1–40:23. Jews read it the ninth Sabbath after Simchat Torah, generally in December.

The parshah tells the stories of how Jacob’s other sons sold Joseph into captivity in Egypt, of how Judah wronged his daughter-in-law Tamar and discovered his transgression, and how Joseph served Potiphar and was imprisoned when falsely accused of assaulting Potiphar’s wife.

Joseph’s Brothers Sell Him into Captivity (1855 painting by Konstantin Flavitsky)



In traditional Sabbath Torah reading, the parshah is divided into seven readings, or עליות, aliyot. In the Masoretic Text of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), Parshah Vayeshev has three "open portion" (פתוחה, petuchah) divisions (roughly equivalent to paragraphs, often abbreviated with the Hebrew letter פ (peh), roughly equivalent to the English letter “P”). Parshah Vayeshev has one further subdivision, called a "closed portion" (סתומה, setumah) division (abbreviated with the Hebrew letter ס (samekh), roughly equivalent to the English letter "S") within the second open portion (פתוחה, petuchah). The first open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) spans the first three readings (עליות, aliyot). The second open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) spans the fourth through sixth readings (עליות, aliyot). And the third open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) coincides with the seventh reading (עליה, aliyah). The single closed portion (סתומה, setumah) division sets off the fourth reading (עליה, aliyah) from the fifth reading (עליה, aliyah).[1]

Joseph Reveals His Dream to His Brethren (watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

First reading — Genesis 37:1–11

In the first reading (עליה, aliyah), Jacob lived in the land of Canaan, and this is his family’s story.[2] When Joseph was 17, he fed the flock with his brothers, and he brought Jacob an evil report about his brothers.[3] Because Joseph was the son of Jacob’s old age, Jacob loved him more than his other children, and Jacob made him a coat of many colors, which caused Joseph’s brothers to hate him.[4] And Joseph made his brothers hate him more when he told them that he dreamed that they were binding sheaves in the field, and their sheaves bowed down to his sheaf.[5] He told his brothers another dream, in which the sun, the moon, and eleven stars bowed down to him, and when he told his father, Jacob rebuked him, asking whether he, Joseph’s mother, and his brothers would bow down to Joseph.[6] Joseph’s brothers envied him, but Jacob kept what he said in mind.[7] The first reading (עליה, aliyah) ends here.[8]

Jacob Sees Joseph’s Coat (painting circa 1816–1817 by Friedrich Wilhelm Schadow)

Second reading — Genesis 37:12–22

In the second reading (עליה, aliyah), when the brothers went to feed the flock in Shechem, Jacob sent Joseph to see whether all was well with them.[9] A man found Joseph and asked him what he sought, and when he told the man that he sought his brothers, the man told him that they had departed for Dothan.[10] When Joseph’s brothers saw him coming, they conspired to kill him, cast him into a pit, say that a beast had devoured him, and see what would become of his dreams then.[11] But Reuben persuaded them not to kill him but to cast him into a pit, hoping to restore him to Jacob later.[12] The second reading (עליה, aliyah) ends here.[13]

Third reading — Genesis 37:23–36

In the third reading (עליה, aliyah), Joseph’s brothers stripped him of his coat of many colors and cast him into an empty pit.[14] They sat down to eat, and when they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites from Gilead bringing spices and balm to Egypt, Judah persuaded the brothers to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites.[15] Passing Midianite merchants drew Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for 20 shekels of silver, and they brought him to Egypt.[16] When Reuben returned to the pit and Joseph was gone, he rent his clothes and asked his brothers where he could go now.[17] They took Joseph’s coat of many colors, dipped it in goat’s blood, and sent it to Jacob to identify.[18] Jacob concluded that a beast had devoured Joseph, and rent his garments, put on sackcloth, and mourned for his son.[19] All his sons and daughters tried in vain to comfort him.[20] And the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s captain of the guard.[21] The third reading (עליה, aliyah) and the first open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) end here with the end of chapter 37.[22]

Judah and Tamar (painting circa 1650–1660 by the school of Rembrandt)
Judah and Tamar (1840 painting by Horace Vernet)

Fourth reading — Genesis chapter 38

In the fourth reading (עליה, aliyah), chapter 38, Judah left his brothers to live near an Adullamite named Hirah.[23] Judah married the daughter of a Canaanite named Shua and had three sons named Er, Onan, and Shelah.[24] Judah arranged for Er to marry a woman named Tamar, but Er was wicked and God killed him.[25] Judah directed Onan to perform a brother’s duty and have children with Tamar in Er’s name.[26] But Onan knew that the children would not be counted as his, so he spilled his seed, and God killed him as well.[27] Then Judah told Tamar to remain a widow in his house until Shelah could grown up, thinking that if Tamar wed Shelah, he might also die.[28] Later, when Judah’s wife died, he went with his friend Hirah to his sheep-shearers at Timnah.[29] When Tamar learned that Judah had gone to Timnah, she took off her widow’s garments and put on a veil and sat on the road to Timnah, for she saw that Shelah had grown up and Judah had not given her to be his wife.[30] Judah took her for a harlot, offered her a young goat for her services, and gave her his signet and staff as a pledge for payment, and they cohabited and she conceived.[31] Judah sent Hirah to deliver the young goat and collect his pledge, but he asked about and did not find her.[32] When Hirah reported to Judah that the men of the place said that there had been no harlot there, Judah put the matter to rest so as not to be put to shame.[33] About three months later, Judah heard that Tamar had played the harlot and become pregnant, and he ordered her to be brought forth and burned.[34] When they seized her, she sent Judah the pledge to identify, saying that she was pregnant by the man whose things they were.[35] Judah acknowledged them and said that she was more righteous than he, inasmuch as he had failed to give her to Shelah.[36] When Tamar delivered, one twin — whom she would name Zerah — put out a hand and the midwife bound it with a scarlet thread, but then he drew it back and his brother — whom she would name Perez — came out.[37] The fourth reading (עליה, aliyah) and a closed portion (סתומה, setumah) end here with the end of chapter 38.[38]

Joseph and the Wife of Potiphar (painting circa 1816–1817 by Philipp Veit)

Fifth reading — Genesis 39:1–6

In the fifth reading (עליה, aliyah), in chapter 39, Pharaoh’s captain of the guard Potiphar bought Joseph from the Ishmaelites.[39] When Potiphar saw that God was with Joseph and prospered all that he did, Potiphar appointed him overseer over his house and gave him charge of all that he had, and God blessed Pharaoh’s house for Joseph’s sake.[40] Now Joseph was handsome.[41] The fifth reading (עליה, aliyah) ends here.[42]

Sixth reading — Genesis 39:7–23

In the sixth reading (עליה, aliyah), Potiphar’s wife repeatedly asked Joseph to lie with her, but he declined, asking how he could sin so against Potiphar and God.[43] One day, when the men of the house were away, she caught him by his garment and asked him to lie with her, but he fled, leaving his garment behind.[44] When Potiphar came home, she accused Joseph of trying to force himself on her, and Potiphar put Joseph in the prison where the king’s prisoners were held.[45] But God was with Joseph, and gave him favor in the sight of the warden, who committed all the prisoners to Joseph’s charge.[46] The sixth reading (עליה, aliyah) and the second open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) end here with the end of chapter 39.[47]

Joseph Interprets Dreams in Prison (painting circa 1816–1817 by Friedrich Wilhelm Schadow)

Seventh reading — Genesis chapter 40

In the sixth reading (עליה, aliyah), chapter 40, when the Pharaoh’s butler and baker offended him, the Pharaoh put them into the prison as well.[48] One night, the butler and the baker each dreamed a dream.[49] Finding them sad, Joseph asked the cause, and they told him that it was because no one could interpret their dreams.[50] Acknowledging that interpretations belong to God, Joseph asked them to tell him their dreams.[51] The butler told Joseph that he dreamt that he saw a vine with three branches blossom and bring forth grapes, which he took and pressed into Pharaoh’s cup, which he gave to Pharaoh.[52] Joseph interpreted that within three days, Pharaoh would lift up the butler’s head and restore him to his office, where he would give Pharaoh his cup just as he used to do.[53] And Joseph asked the butler to remember him and mention him to Pharaoh, so that he might be brought out of the prison, for he had been stolen away from his land and had done nothing to warrant his imprisonment.[54] When the baker saw that the interpretation of the butler’s dream was good, he told Joseph his dream: He saw three baskets of white bread on his head, and the birds ate them out of the basket.[55] Joseph interpreted that within three days Pharaoh would lift up the baker’s head and hang him on a tree, and the birds would eat his flesh.[56] In the maftir (מפטיר) reading that concludes the parshah,[57] on the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, Pharaoh made a feast, restored the chief butler to his butlership, and hanged the baker, just as Joseph had predicted.[58] But the butler forgot about Joseph.[59] The seventh reading (עליה, aliyah), the third open portion (פתוחה, petuchah), chapter 40, and the parshah end here.[60]

Amnon and Tamar (1892 painting by Alexandre Cabanel)

In inner-biblical interpretation

Genesis chapter 37

Genesis 37:3 reports that Jacob made Joseph “a coat of many colors” (כְּתֹנֶת פַּסִּים, ketonet pasim). Similarly, 2 Samuel 13:18 reports that David’s daughter Tamar had “a garment of many colors” (כְּתֹנֶת פַּסִּים, ketonet pasim). 2 Samuel 13:18 explains that “with such robes were the king's daughters that were virgins appareled.” As Genesis 37:23–24 reports Joseph’s half-brothers assaulted him, 2 Samuel 13:14 recounts that Tamar’s half-brother Amnon assaulted her. And as Genesis 37:31–33 reports that Joseph’s coat was marred to make it appear that Joseph was torn in pieces, 2 Samuel 13:19 reports that Tamar’s coat was torn.

In classical rabbinic interpretation

Genesis chapter 37

Rabbi Johanan taught that wherever Scripture uses the term “And he abode” (וַיֵּשֶׁב, vayeshev), as it does in Genesis 37:1, it presages trouble. Thus in Numbers 25:1, “And Israel abode in Shittim” is followed by “and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.” In Genesis 37:1, “And Jacob dwelt in the land where his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan,” is followed by Genesis 37:3, “and Joseph brought to his father their evil report.” In Genesis 47:27, “And Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt, in the country of Goshen,” is followed by Genesis 47:29, “And the time drew near that Israel must die.” In 1 Kings 5:5, “And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree,” is followed by 1 Kings 11:14, “And the Lord stirred up an adversary unto Solomon, Hadad the Edomite; he was the king’s seed in Edom.”[61]

Rabbi Helbo quoted Rabbi Jonathan to teach that the words of Genesis 37:2, “These are the generations of Jacob, Joseph,” indicate that the firstborn should have come from Rachel, but Leah prayed for mercy before Rachel did. On account of Rachel’s modesty, however, God restored the rights of the firstborn to Rachel’s son Joseph from Leah’s son Reuben. To teach what caused Leah to anticipate Rachel with her prayer for mercy, Rav taught that Leah’s eyes were sore (as Genesis 29:17 reports) from her crying about what she heard at the crossroads. There she heard people saying: “Rebecca has two sons, and Laban has two daughters; the elder daughter should marry the elder son, and the younger daughter should marry the younger son.” Leah inquired about the elder son, and the people said that he was a wicked man, a highway robber. And Leah asked about the younger son, and the people said that he was “a quiet man dwelling in tents.” (Genesis 25:27.) So she cried about her fate until her eyelashes fell out. This accounts for the words of Genesis 29:31, “And the Lord saw that Leah was hated, and He opened her womb,” which mean not that Leah was actually hated, but rather that God saw that Esau’s conduct was hateful to Leah, so he rewarded her prayer for mercy by opening her womb first.[62]

Joseph Recounting His Dreams (drawing by Rembrandt)

After introducing “the line of Jacob,” Genesis 37:2 cites only Joseph. The Gemara explained that the verse indicates that Joseph was worthy of having 12 tribes descend from him, as they did from his father Jacob. But Joseph diminished some of his procreative powers in order to resist Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39:7–12. Nevertheless ten sons (who, added to Joseph’s two, made the total of 12) issued from Joseph’s brother Benjamin and were given names on Joseph’s account (as Genesis 46:21 reports). A son was called Bela, because Joseph was swallowed up (nivla) among the peoples. A son was called Becher, because Joseph was the firstborn (bechor) of his mother. A son was called Ashbel, because God sent Joseph into captivity (shevao el). A son was called Gera, because Joseph dwelt (gar) in a strange land. A son was called Naaman, because Joseph was especially beloved (na’im). Sons were called Ehi and Rosh, because Joseph was to Benjamin “my brother” (achi) and chief (rosh). Sons were called Muppim and Huppim, because Benjamin said that Joseph did not see Benjamin’s marriage-canopy (chuppah). A son was called Ard, because Joseph descended (yarad) among the peoples. Others explain that he was called Ard, because Joseph’s face was like a rose (vered).[63]

Rabbi Levi used Genesis 37:2, 41:46, and 45:6 to calculate that Joseph’s dreams that his brothers would bow to him took 22 years to come true, and deduced that a person should thus wait for as much as 22 years for a positive dream’s fulfillment.[64]

Joseph’s Dream (illustration from the 1890 Holman Bible)

Rava bar Mehasia said in the name of Rav Hama bar Goria in Rav’s name that a man should never single out one son among his other sons, for on account of the small weight of silk that Jacob gave Joseph more than he gave his other sons (as reported in Genesis 37:3), his brothers became jealous of Joseph and the matter resulted in the Israelites’ descent into Egypt.[65]

Noting that in Genesis 37:10, Jacob asked Joseph, “Shall I and your mother . . . indeed come,” when Joseph’s mother Rachel was then dead, Rabbi Levi said in the name of Rabbi Hama ben Haninah that Jacob believed that resurrection would take place in his days. But Rabbi Levi taught that Jacob did not know that Joseph’s dream in fact applied to Bilhah, Rachel's handmaid, who had brought Joseph up like a mother.[66]

Noting that dots appear over the word et (אֶת, the direct object indicator) in Genesis 37:12, which says, “And his brethren went to feed their father's flock,” a Midrash reinterpreted the verse to intimate that Joseph’s brothers actually went to feed themselves.[67]

Reading in Genesis 37:15–17 the three parallel clauses, “And a certain man found him,” “And the man asked him,” “And the man said,” Rabbi Yannai deduced that three angels met Joseph.[68]

Noting that Genesis 37:21 reports, “And Reuben heard it,” a Midrash asked where Reuben had been. Rabbi Judah taught that each one of the brothers attended to Jacob one day, and that day it was Reuben's turn. Rabbi Nehemiah taught that Reuben reasoned that he was the firstborn and he alone would be held responsible for the crime. The Rabbis taught that Reuben reasoned that Joseph had included Reuben with his brethren in Joseph’s dream of the sun and the moon and the eleven stars in Genesis 37:9, when Reuben thought that he had been expelled from the company of his brothers on account of the incident of Genesis 35:22. Because Joseph counted Reuben as a brother, Reuben felt motivated to rescue Joseph. And since Reuben was the first to engage in life saving, God decreed that the Cities of Refuge would be set up first within the borders of the Tribe of Reuben in Deuteronomy 4:43.[69]

Joseph's Brothers Raise Him from the Pit in Order To Sell Him (watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)
Joseph Sold by His Brothers (illustration from a Bible card published 1907 by the Providence Lithograph Company)

Reading Genesis 37:21, Rabbi Eleazar contrasted Reuben’s magnanimity with Esau’s jealousy. As Genesis 25:33 reports, Esau voluntarily sold his birthright, but as Genesis 27:41 says, “Esau hated Jacob,” and as Genesis 27:36 says, “And he said, ‘Is not he rightly named Jacob? for he has supplanted me these two times.’” In Reuben’s case, Joseph took Reuben’s birthright from him against his will, as 1 Chronicles 5:1 reports, “for as much as he defiled his father’s couch, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph.” Nonetheless, Reuben was not jealous of Joseph, as Genesis 37:21 reports, “And Reuben heard it, and delivered him out of their hand.”[70]

Interpreting the detail of the phrase in Genesis 37:23, “they stripped Joseph of his coat, the coat of many colors that was on him,” a Midrash taught that Joseph’s brothers stripped him of his cloak, his shirt, his tunic, and his breeches.[71]

A Midrash asked who “took him, and cast him into the pit” in Genesis 37:24, and replied that it was his brother Simeon. And the Midrash taught that Simeon was repaid when in Genesis 42:24, Joseph took Simeon from among the brothers and had him bound before their eyes.[72]

Interpreting the words, “the pit was empty, there was no water in it,” in Genesis 37:24, a Midrash taught that there was indeed no water in it, but snakes and serpents were in it. And because the word “pit” appears twice in Genesis 37:24, the Midrash deduced that there were two pits, one full of pebbles, and the other full of snakes and scorpions. Rabbi Aha interpreted the words “the pit was empty” to teach that Jacob’s pit was emptied — Jacob’s children were emptied of their compassion. The Midrash interpreted the words “there was no water in it” to teach that there was no recognition of Torah in it, as Torah is likened to water, as Isaiah 55:1 says, “everyone that thirsts, come for water.” For the Torah (in Deuteronomy 24:7) says, “If a man be found stealing any of his brethren of the children of Israel . . . and sell him, then that thief shall die,” and yet Joseph’s brothers sold their brother.[73]

Rabbi Judah ben Ilai taught that Scripture speaks in praise of Judah. Rabbi Judah noted that on three occasions, Scripture records that Judah spoke before his brethren, and they made him king over them (bowing to his authority): (1) in Genesis 37:26, which reports, “Judah said to his brethren: ‘What profit is it if we slay our brother’”; (2) in Genesis 44:14, which reports, “Judah and his brethren came to Joseph's house”; and (3) in Genesis 44:18, which reports, “Then Judah came near” to Joseph to argue for Benjamin.[74]

Joseph Sold into Egypt (watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

Rabbi Judah ben Simon taught that God required each of the Israelites to give a half-shekel (as reported in Exodus 38:26) because (as reported in Genesis 37:28) their ancestors had sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for 20 shekels.[75]

Reading Genesis 37:32, “and they sent the coat of many colors, and they brought it to their father; and said: ‘This have we found. Know now whether it is your son's coat or not,’” Rabbi Johanan taught that God ordained that since Judah said this to his father, he too would hear (from Tamar in Genesis 38:25) the challenge: Know now, whose are these?[76]

Reading Genesis 37:36, a Midrash asked how many times Joseph was sold. Rabbi Judan and Rav Huna disagreed. Rabbi Judan maintained that Joseph was sold four times: His brothers sold him to the Ishmaelites, the Ishmaelites to the merchants, the merchants to the Midianites, and the Midianites into Egypt. Rav Huna said Joseph was sold five times, concluding with the Midianites selling him to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians to Potiphar.[77]

Judah Gives his Signet, Bracelets and Staff in Pledge to Tamar (illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible)

Genesis chapter 38

The Mishnah taught that notwithstanding its mature content, in the synagogue, Jews read and translated Tamar’s story in Genesis 38.[78] The Gemara questioned why the Mishnah bothered to say so and proposed that one might think that Jews should forbear out of respect for Judah. But the Gemara deduced that the Mishnah instructed that Jews read and translate the chapter to show that the chapter actually redounds to Judah’s credit, as it records in Genesis 38:26 that he confessed his wrongdoing.[79]

Rabbi Berekiah taught in the name of Rabbi Samuel ben Nahman that the term “and he went down” (וַיֵּרֶד, vayered), which appears in Genesis 38:1, implies excommunication. The Midrash told that when Joseph’s brothers tried to comfort Jacob and he refused to be comforted, they told Jacob that Judah was responsible. They said that had Judah only told them not to sell Joseph, they would have obeyed. But Judah told them that they should sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites (as reported in Genesis 37:27). As a result, the brothers excommunicated Judah (when they saw the grief that they had caused Jacob), for Genesis 38:1 says, “And it came to pass at that time, that Judah went down (וַיֵּרֶד, vayered) from his brethren.” The Midrash argued that Genesis 38:1 could have said “and he went” (וַיֵּלֶךְ, vayelekh) instead of “and he went down” (וַיֵּרֶד, vayered). Thus the Midrash deduced that Judah suffered a descent and was excommunicated by his brothers.[80]

Tamar (2009 painting by and copyright Lidia Kozenitzky; for licensing information, double-click on the image)

Rav Zutra bar Tobiah said in the name of Rav (or according to others, Rav Hanah bar Bizna said it in the name of Rabbi Simeon the Pious, or according to others, Rabbi Johanan said in the name of Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai) that it is better for a person to choose to be executed in a fiery furnace than to shame another in public. For even to save herself from being burned, Tamar in Genesis 38:25 did not implicate Judah publicly by name.[81]

The Gemara derived from Genesis 38:25 a lesson about how to give to the poor. The Gemara told a story. A poor man lived in Mar Ukba’s neighborhood, and every day Mar Ukba would put four zuz into the poor man’s door socket. One day, the poor man thought that he would try to find out who did him this kindness. That day Mar Ukba came home from the house of study with his wife. When the poor man saw them moving the door to make their donation, the poor man went to greet them, but they fled and ran into a furnace from which the fire had just been swept. They did so because, as Mar Zutra bar Tobiah said in the name of Rav (or others say Rav Huna bar Bizna said in the name of Rabbi Simeon the Pious, and still others say Rabbi Johanan said in the name of Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai), it is better for a person to go into a fiery furnace than to shame a neighbor publicly. One can derive this from Genesis 38:25, where Tamar, who was subject to being burned for the adultery with which Judah had charged her, rather than publicly shame Judah with the facts of his complicity, sent Judah’s possessions to him with the message, “By the man whose these are am I with child.”[82]

Rabbi Johanan noted a similarity between the Hebrew verb “to break” and the name “Perez” (פָּרֶץ) in Genesis 38:29 and deduced that the name presaged that kings would descend from him, for a king breaks for himself a way. Rabbi Johanan also noted that the name “Zerah” (זָרַח) in Genesis 38:30 is related to the Hebrew root meaning “to shine” and deduced that the name presaged that important men would descend from him.[83]

Genesis chapter 39

The Tosefta deduced from Genesis 39:5 that before Joseph arrived, Potiphar’s house had not received a blessing, and that it was because of Joseph’s arrival that Potiphar’s house was blessed thereafter.[84]

Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife (1649 painting by Guercino at the National Gallery of Art)
Joseph and Potiphar's Wife (1631 painting by Guido Reni)

Rav Hana (or some say Hanin) bar Bizna said in the name of Rabbi Simeon the Pious that because Joseph sanctified God’s Name in private when he resisted Potiphar’s wife’s advances, one letter from God’s Name was added to Joseph’s name. Rabbi Johanan interpreted the words, “And it came to pass about this time, that he went into the house to do his work,” in Genesis 39:11 to teach that both Joseph and Potiphar’s wife had the intention to act immorally. Rav and Samuel differed in their interpretation of the words “he went into the house to do his work.” One said that it really means that Joseph went to do his household work, but the other said that Joseph went to satisfy his desires. Interpreting the words, “And there was none of the men of the house there within,” in Genesis 39:11, the Gemara asked whether it was possible that no man was present in a huge house like Potiphar’s. A Baraita was taught in the School of Rabbi Ishmael that the day was Potiphar’s household’s feast-day, and they had all gone to their idolatrous temple, but Potiphar’s wife had pretended to be ill, because she thought that she would not again have an opportunity like that day to associate with Joseph. The Gemara taught that just at the moment reported in Genesis 39:12 when “she caught him by his garment, saying: ‘Lie with me,’ Jacob’s image came and appeared to Joseph through the window. Jacob told Joseph that Joseph and his brothers were destined to have their names inscribed upon the stones of the ephod, and Jacob asked whether it was Joseph’s wish to have his name expunged from the ephod and be called an associate of harlots, as Proverbs 29:3 says, “He that keeps company with harlots wastes his substance.” Immediately, in the words of Genesis 49:24, “his bow abode in strength.” Rabbi Johanan said in the name of Rabbi Meir that this means that his passion subsided. And then, in the words of Genesis 49:24, “the arms of his hands were made active,” meaning that he stuck his hands in the ground and his lust went out from between his fingernails.[85]

Rabbi Johanan said that he would sit at the gate of the bathhouse (mikvah), and when Jewish women came out they would look at him and have children as handsome as he was. The Rabbis asked him whether he was not afraid of the evil eye for being so boastful. He replied that the evil eye has no power over the descendants of Joseph, citing the words of Genesis 49:22, “Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine above the eye [alei ayin].” Rabbi Abbahu taught that one should not read alei ayin (“by a fountain”), but olei ayin (“rising over the eye”). Rabbi Judah (or some say Jose) son of Rabbi Haninah deduced from the words “And let them [the descendants of Joseph] multiply like fishes [ve-yidgu] in the midst of the earth” in Genesis 48:16 that just as fish (dagim) in the sea are covered by water and thus the evil eye has no power over them, so the evil eye has no power over the descendants of Joseph. Alternatively, the evil eye has no power over the descendants of Joseph because the evil eye has no power over the eye that refused to enjoy what did not belong to it — Potiphar’s wife — as reported in Genesis 39:7–12.[86]

Joseph Faithful in Prison (illustration from a Bible card published 1907 by the Providence Lithograph Company)

The Gemara asked whether the words in Exodus 6:25, “And Eleazar Aaron’s son took him one of the daughters of Putiel to wife” did not convey that Eleazar’s son Phinehas descended from Jethro, who fattened (piteim) calves for idol worship. The Gemara then provided an alternative explanation: Exodus 6:25 could mean that Phinehas descended from Joseph, who conquered (pitpeit) his passions (resisting Potiphar’s wife, as reported in Genesis 39). But the Gemara asked, did not the tribes sneer at Phinehas and (as reported in Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 82b and Sotah 43a</ref> question how a youth (Phinehas) whose mother’s father crammed calves for idol-worship could kill the head of a tribe in Israel (Zimri, Prince of Simeon, as reported in Numbers 25). The Gemara explained that the real explanation was that Phinehas descended from both Joseph and Jethro. If Phinehas’s mother’s father descended from Joseph, then Phinehas’s mother’s mother descended from Jethro. And if Phinehas’s mother’s father descended from Jethro, then Phinehas’s mother’s mother descended from Joseph. The Gemara explained that Exodus 6:25 implies this dual explanation of “Putiel” when it says, “of the daughters of Putiel,” because the plural “daughters” implies two lines of ancestry (from both Joseph and Jethro).[87]

Genesis chapter 40

Rabbi Samuel ben Nahman taught that the Sages instituted the tradition that Jews drink four cups of wine at the Passover seder in allusion to the four cups mentioned in Genesis 40:11–13, which says: “‘Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand; and I took the grapes, and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and I gave the cup into Pharaoh’s hand.’ And Joseph said to him: ‘This is the interpretation of it: . . . within yet three days shall Pharaoh lift up your head, and restore you to your office; and you shall give Pharaoh’s cup into his hand, after the former manner when you were his butler.”[88]

Rabbi Eleazar deduced from the report of Genesis 40:16 that “the chief baker saw that the interpretation was correct” that each of them was shown his own dream and the interpretation of the other one's dream.[89]

Amos (illustration by Gustave Doré from the 1865 La Sainte Bible)


According to Maimonides and Sefer ha-Chinuch, there are no commandments in the parshah.[90]


The haftarah for the parshah is Amos 2:6–3:8.

On Shabbat Hanukkah I

When Hanukkah begins on Shabbat, there are two Shabatot that occur during Hanukkah. In this case, Parshah Vayeshev occurs on the first day of Hanukkah (as it did in 2009) and the haftarah is Zechariah 2:14–4:7.

Further reading

The parshah is cited or discussed in these sources:



Early nonrabbinic

Classical rabbinic



External links



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  1. ^ See, e.g., The Schottenstein Edition Interlinear Chumash: Bereishis/Genesis. Edited by Menachem Davis, 217–42. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2006. ISBN 1-4226-0202-8.
  2. ^ Genesis 37:1–2.
  3. ^ Genesis 37:2.
  4. ^ Genesis 37:3–4.
  5. ^ Genesis 37:5–7.
  6. ^ Genesis 37:9–10.
  7. ^ Genesis 37:11.
  8. ^ See, e.g., The Schottenstein Edition Interlinear Chumash, at 220–21.
  9. ^ Genesis 37:12–14.
  10. ^ Genesis 37:15–17.
  11. ^ Genesis 37:18–20.
  12. ^ Genesis 37:21–22.
  13. ^ See, e.g., The Schottenstein Edition Interlinear Chumash, at 223.
  14. ^ Genesis 37:23–24.
  15. ^ Genesis 37:25–27.
  16. ^ Genesis 37:28.
  17. ^ Genesis 37:29–30.
  18. ^ Genesis 37:31–32.
  19. ^ Genesis 37:33–34.
  20. ^ Genesis 37:35.
  21. ^ Genesis 37:36.
  22. ^ See, e.g., The Schottenstein Edition Interlinear Chumash, at 227.
  23. ^ Genesis 38:1.
  24. ^ Genesis 38:2–5.
  25. ^ Genesis 38:6–7.
  26. ^ Genesis 38:8.
  27. ^ Genesis 38:9–10.
  28. ^ Genesis 38:11.
  29. ^ Genesis 38:12.
  30. ^ Genesis 38:13–14.
  31. ^ Genesis 38:15–18.
  32. ^ Genesis 38:20–21.
  33. ^ Genesis 38:22–23.
  34. ^ Genesis 38:24.
  35. ^ Genesis 38:25.
  36. ^ Genesis 38:26.
  37. ^ Genesis 38:27–30.
  38. ^ See, e.g., The Schottenstein Edition Interlinear Chumash, at 233.
  39. ^ Genesis 39:1.
  40. ^ Genesis 39:2–5.
  41. ^ Genesis 39:6.
  42. ^ See, e.g., The Schottenstein Edition Interlinear Chumash, at 235.
  43. ^ Genesis 39:7–10.
  44. ^ Genesis 39:11–12.
  45. ^ Genesis 39:16–20.
  46. ^ Genesis 39:21–23.
  47. ^ See, e.g., The Schottenstein Edition Interlinear Chumash, at 238.
  48. ^ Genesis 40:1–4.
  49. ^ Genesis 40:5.
  50. ^ Genesis 40:6–8.
  51. ^ Genesis 40:8.
  52. ^ Genesis 40:9–11.
  53. ^ Genesis 40:12–13.
  54. ^ Genesis 40:14–15.
  55. ^ Genesis 40:16–17.
  56. ^ Genesis 40:18–19.
  57. ^ See, e.g., The Schottenstein Edition Interlinear Chumash, at 242.
  58. ^ Genesis 40:20–22.
  59. ^ Genesis 40:23.
  60. ^ See, e.g., The Schottenstein Edition Interlinear Chumash, at 242.
  61. ^ Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 106a.
  62. ^ Babylonian Talmud Bava Batra 123a.
  63. ^ Babylonian Talmud Sotah 36b.
  64. ^ Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 55b.
  65. ^ Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 10b; see also Genesis Rabbah 84:8.
  66. ^ Genesis Rabbah 84:11.
  67. ^ Genesis Rabbah 84:13.
  68. ^ Genesis Rabbah 84:14.
  69. ^ Genesis Rabbah 84:15.
  70. ^ Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 7b.
  71. ^ Genesis Rabbah 84:16.
  72. ^ Genesis Rabbah 84:16.
  73. ^ Genesis Rabbah 84:16.
  74. ^ Genesis Rabbah 84:17.
  75. ^ Genesis Rabbah 84:18.
  76. ^ Genesis Rabbah 84:19.
  77. ^ Genesis Rabbah 84:22.
  78. ^ Mishnah Megillah 4:10; Babylonian Talmud Megillah 25a.
  79. ^ Babylonian Talmud Megillah 25b.
  80. ^ Exodus Rabbah 42:3.
  81. ^ Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 43b.
  82. ^ Babylonian Talmud Ketubot 67b.
  83. ^ Babylonian Talmud Yevamot 76b.
  84. ^ Tosefta Sotah 10:8.
  85. ^ Babylonian Talmud Sotah 36b.
  86. ^ Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 20a; see also Berakhot 55b.
  87. ^ Babylonian Talmud Bava Batra 109b–10a; see also Exodus Rabbah 7:5.
  88. ^ Genesis Rabbah 88:5.
  89. ^ Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 55b.
  90. ^ Maimonides. Mishneh Torah. Cairo, Egypt, 1170–1180. Reprinted in Maimonides. The Commandments: Sefer Ha-Mitzvoth of Maimonides. Translated by Charles B. Chavel, 2 vols. London: Soncino Press, 1967. ISBN 0-900689-71-4. Sefer HaHinnuch: The Book of [Mitzvah] Education. Translated by Charles Wengrov, 1:91. Jerusalem: Feldheim Pub., 1991. ISBN 0-87306-179-9.