Yaakov settles in the land of Canaan. His favorite son, Yosef, brings him critical reports about his brothers. Yaakov makes Yosef a fine tunic of multi-colored woolen strips. Yosef exacerbates his brothers’ hatred by recounting prophetic dreams of sheaves of wheat bowing to his sheaf, and of the sun, moon and stars bowing to him, signifying that all his family will appoint him king. The brothers indict Yosef and resolve to execute him. When Yosef comes to Shechem, the brothers relent and decide, at Reuven’s instigation, to throw him into a pit instead. Reuven’s intent was to save Yosef. Yehuda persuades the brothers to take Yosef out of the pit and sell him to a caravan of passing Ishmaelites. Reuven returns to find the pit empty and rends his clothes. The brothers soak Yosef’s tunic in goat’s blood and show it to Yaakov, who assumes that Yosef has been devoured by a wild beast. Yaakov is inconsolable. Meanwhile, in Egypt, Yosef has been sold to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s Chamberlain of the Butchers.
In the Torah portion’s sub-plot, Yehuda’s son Er dies as punishment for preventing his wife Tamar from becoming pregnant. Onan, Yehuda’s second son, then weds Tamar by levirate marriage. He too is punished in similar circumstances. When Yehuda’s wife dies, Tamar resolves to have children through Yehuda, as this union will found the Davidic line culminating in the Mashiach.
Meanwhile, Yosef rises to power in the house of his Egyptian master. His extreme beauty attracts the unwanted advances of his master’s wife. Enraged by his rejection, she accuses Yosef of attempting to seduce her, and he is imprisoned. In prison, Yosef successfully predicts the outcome of the dream of Pharaoh’s wine steward, who is reinstated, and the dream of Pharaoh’s baker, who is hanged. In spite of his promise, the wine steward forgets to help Yosef, and Yosef languishes in prison.
A True Shepherd
“Yosef at the age of seventeen was a shepherd with his brothers by the flock…” (37:2)
“Because Hashem loves only those who love the Jewish People. And the greater the love a person has for the Jewish People, the greater is Hashem’s love for that person. These are the true shepherds of Israel. Hashem desires them greatly because they sacrifice themselves for their flocks and seek out their good. They exert themselves on behalf of the Jewish People, seeking their welfare in every way possible. They stand in the breach to defend them (the Jewish People) by praying for the nullification of harsh decrees against them and open the gates of blessing for them. It’s like a father who loves no one more than someone whom he sees truly loves his son. This is something that experience testifies to.” (Mesillat Yesharim – The Path of the Just, by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto)
For forty years and more, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein was the address for the most complex and difficult halachic questions. He lived on the Lower East Side of New York City.
One day the sound of a car crash pierced the tranquility of his study. A Torah student flew through the door of his apartment with terrible news. Right outside Rabbi Feinstein’s apartment, a car had run down and killed a young Jewish boy.
“That’s not possible,” said Reb Moshe.
“But I saw him lying there.” said the student.
“It’s not possible that the boy is Jewish,” said Reb Moshe. “Go back and check, please.”
The student returned to the scene of the accident. Ambulances and police were now crowding the street. Clearly beside the motionless boy there was a yarmulke. The yeshiva student returned to Reb Moshe. “It’s true.” “He’s Jewish.” “It’s not possible,” said, Reb Moshe. “Go and check again.”
The student returned once again to the street. A crowd of people had now gathered around. Out of the crowd, a young Jewish boy emerged and asked one of the police officers for his yarmulke. “This belongs to you?” quizzed the policeman. “Yes. This boy was shouting anti-Semitic slogans at me and he chased me across the street. My kippa flew off my head as I was running. The yellow cab that ran him down just missed me.”
The yeshiva student was stunned. He returned to Reb Moshe and told him the story. “But Rebbe, how were you so sure that the dead boy wasn’t Jewish? The age of prophecy ended more that two thousand years ago.”
Reb Moshe looked at him. “For more than forty years I have sat at this desk. My entire life has been involved with the welfare of the Jewish People. It is not possible that a Jewish boy would die in such a way right under my window.”