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   by Jacob Solomon

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Who said to whom, and in what circumstances?

(a) Are you trying to reign over us?

(b) Do not shed blood.

(c) He is our brother, our own flesh.

(d) Identify, if you please: is it your son's coat, or is it not?

(e) Identify, if you please: to whom do this seal, this coat, and this stick belong?

(f) He placed all that he has under my control.

(g) The Hebrew slave that you brought to us came... to make a mockery of me.

(h) Do not interpretations belong to G-d?

(i) Mention me to Pharaoh.

(j) The three baskets are three days.


(a) Joseph's brothers to Joseph, after revealing his obviously dominating role in the dream about the sheaves. (37:8)

(b) Reuben to the other brothers of Joseph, in persuading them not to kill Joseph. (37:22)

(c) Judah, to the other brothers of Joseph, in persuading them to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites, rather than being directly responsible for any harm that would come to him. (37:27)

(d) Joseph's brothers to their father Jacob, after they dipped Joseph's cloak of distinction in goat's blood and sent it to him. (37:32)

(e) Tamar to Judah, in an effort to make him own up as being the cause of her extra-marital pregnancy. (38:25)

(f) Joseph to Potiphar's wife, to impress on her how succumbing to her seductions would be a great breach of trust. (39:8)

(g) Potiphar's wife to her husband, maliciously and falsely slandering Joseph after he refused her advances. (39:17)

(h) Pharaoh's chief butler and baker, after they were thrown into prison, came under Joseph's ward, and wished him to interpret their dreams (40:8).

(i) Joseph to the chief butler, when they were both in prison. (40:14) As the chief butler would be reprieved, he asked him to tell Pharaoh to show justice to himself as well.

(j) Joseph to the chief baker, when they were both in prison. (40:18) The dream centering on the three baskets meant, in effect, that he only had three more days before meeting his death.


From where does Rashi derive the following ideas and values?

(a) Righteous people should not expect life to be easy.

(b) G-d makes the punishment fit the crime (two sources).

(c) All dreams contain elements of falsehood.

(d) Putting another person to shame in public is an extremely serious offense.

(e) Even pagans may act with the best of intentions.

(f) It is immoral for person to become self-indulgent when someone else is suffering on his account.

(g) Even the righteous can find it difficult to resist the advances of a married woman.

(h) Trust in G-d comes before trust in Man.


(a) From the opening phrase 'Jacob settled' (37:1), rather than merely 'Jacob sojourned', Rashi quotes the Midrash that infers that after his many trials and tribulations, Jacob wished to settle down and lead a quiet life. Scarcely having done so, however, came the trauma of the disappearance of Joseph. The Midrash (Gen. Rabba 84:6) observes that though the righteous seek tranquility, G-d says: 'Are the righteous not satisfied with what awaits them in the World to Come that they expect to live at ease in this world too?'

(b) Firstly, regarding the 'evil report' (37:2): Rashi quotes the Midrash (ibid. 84:7) that it included negative details on their eating habits, and their social and sexual relations. For each item, Joseph received Divine punishment in kind - for example, the encounter and aftermath of the incident with Potiphar's wife was retribution for his allegations on the details of his brothers' intimate relations. Secondly, Judah lost his valuable pledge when he attempted to redeem it with a goat kid, as he had promised (38:23). Because he was involved in deceiving his father with goat's blood (37:32), he himself was punished through a goat - which a few months later matured into a very embarrassing situation (38:26).

(c) Jacob stated to have ridiculed Joseph's second dream, including in his retort: '[Will] I your mother, and your brother, bow down to you?' (37:10) For Joseph's mother, Rachel, could not bow down to Joseph, as she was no longer alive.

(d) When Judah sentenced Tamar, his own daughter-in-law, to death for becoming pregnant though harlotry, she did not shame his by openly naming him as the father. Instead, she gave him the chance to own up himself by producing the three items that formed the pledge. (38:25) Rashi quotes the Talmud (Sotah 10b), which explains her reasoning. "If he admits it voluntarily, well and good; if not, let them burn me to death, but let me not publicly disgrace him".

(e) Rashi (to 39:1) quotes the Midrash (Gen. Rabbah 85:2), which explains Potiphar's wife's pursuit of Joseph. It brings the tradition that she saw in the astrological signs that she was to become an ancestress of [part of] the Israelite nation, and it was not clear whether this would be achieved though her or through her daughter. Later, Joseph is stated to have married her daughter (see Rashi to 41:45). [The Egyptians of that era are implied by the text to be pagans - see Ex. 12: 12.]

(f) Joseph's being 'handsome of form and handsome of appearance' (39:6), is highlighted by Rashi to his detriment: he was having too much of a good time whilst his father was mourning his supposed death. That provoked his fall though Potiphar's wife.

(g) Rashi (to 39:11) quotes an opinion in the Midrash (Gen. Rabbah 87:7) that when 'Joseph came to the house to do his work', he actually intended to let her seduce him, but at the last moment he saw an image of his father and he resisted the temptation.

(h) Rashi. (to 40:23), quotes the Midrash (Gen. Rabbah 89:3), which criticizes Joseph for putting his faith in the Egyptians, rather than a greater weighting of faith on the Almighty.


1. What was the significance of the special coat that Jacob gave to his son Joseph (a) according to the Sforno, (b) according to the Kli Yakar?

2. Why, according to (a) the Sforno and (b) the Gaon of Vilna, did Joseph relate his dreams to his brothers instead of just keeping them to himself?

3.How, according to the Ramban, was Tamar's successful enticement of Judah a worthy action?

4. Why, according to the Haamek Davar, does the rare wavering 'shalshet' note appear above the word 'vayema-ain' (he refused)? (39:8)

5. Why, according to the Midrash (Deut. Rabba 2:5) did Joseph gain the privilege of being buried in Israel, in contrast to Moses, who was buried outside the Holy Land?


1. The Sforno holds that the coat that Jacob gave to Joseph was a sign of leadership, which Reuben, the eldest son, had forfeited following his getting involved in his father's intimate personal matters. The Kli Yakar states that the coat symbolized his new position as the 'firstborn' in the family.(In fact the text itself [Chron. I 5:1] explicity states that the birthright was transferred from Reuben to Joseph's descendants for that reason brought above.)

2. The Sforno writes that Joseph was too young and innocent to know when to keep things to himself. The Gaon of Vilna, however, sees the dreams as Divine Prophesy, and as such, he was obliged to relate them.

3. The basis of the story of Judah and Tamar is 'yibum' - levirate marriage (38:8), whose details are expounded in Deut. 25:5-10. The Ramban explains that at the heart of 'yibum' is the notion that the soul of the dead man gains a new life though children produced by his brother's relationship with the woman who was once his wife. Before the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, 'yibum' was not confined to the brother, but could be carried out by any male relative of the deceased... which in this case would have included her father-in-law, Judah.

4. According to the Haamek Davar (the Netziv of Voloyzhn), Joseph unhesitatingly refused Potiphar's wife's 'persuasions' - that is indicated by the vertical stroke in the 'Masora' text after the word 'Vayama-ain'. However, her obvious position of power made it impossible to turn her down point blank, so he had to use a series of explanations to tactfully steer her away.

5. The Midrash distinguishes between Joseph's and Moses' respective behavior when in a foreign land. Joseph, in Egypt, described himself as a 'Hebrew' - openly - even when in prison (40:15), and thus he was eventually buried in the Holy Land (Josh. 24:32) In contrast, Moses, in Midian, was described by Jethro's daughters as being 'an Egyptian' (Ex. 2:19), and Moses is not recorded by the text to have done anything to change that impression.


Why did Jacob's own sons 'graze their father's sheep' in the pastures of Shechem (37:12)? Less than a decade previously, Jacob's two sons, Simeon and Levi had massacred the male inhabitants of Shechem (34:25). Why did they have to pick the most dangerous of all places to carry on their business?

My efforts at tackling the issue raised above may be found on the Shema Yisrael website for Parashat Vayeshev for 5761.

Parashat Vayeshev (and others) from previous years may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Also by Jacob Solomon:
Between the Fish and the Soup

From the Prophets on the Haftara


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