Vayeshev: Actors in a drama

Everyone involved in the story of Joseph seemingly follows his own individual course of action, but the result is a historic change in the dynamics of the family and the trajectory of Jewish history.

Rabbi Berel Wein

Judaism Discovering Torah
Discovering Torah

In the emotional drama that will consume the balance of the sections of this book of the Torah, we are witness to a very difficult family situation and the dynamic consequences that it creates. The Torah itself testifies to the love and favoritism that Jacob shows towards his son Joseph. We can well understand this relationship since Joseph strongly resembles his father physically, is extremely talented and precocious, and is the son of Jacob's beloved wife, Rachel. However Jewish tradition raises objections to the overt favoritism shown to Joseph by Jacob when he bestows upon him the special garment that signifies their bond and love for one another. 

We can also understand why Joseph himself felt so special, and, in his mind, justified in lording it over his brothers by telling them of his dreams and ambitions. Again, the traditional commentaries to the Torah found fault in his youthful arrogance and lack of judgment. We can also appreciate how hurt the brothers were by the actions of their father and their brother. They were so hurt that they felt that Joseph was an existential threat to their very survival as a family and future nation. Here we are faced with a situation where all the leading people involved in the story are both right and wrong at the very same time. We can appreciate the feelings of each of the parties to the story, and yet we are aware of the disaster and trauma that are destined for each of them.

There is an over-arching drama that is being enacted here in the story of Joseph and his brothers. Jewish tradition teaches us that we are all somehow mere actors in the great story of human civilization that is being presented on the stage of the history of the Jewish people. Even though each of the individuals involved in the narrative presented in this week's Torah reading acts on his own, the sum total of their actions will result in the descent of the Jewish people into Egyptian slavery and eventual redemption and the acceptance of the Torah at Sinai. 

We recite in our daily prayers that there are many thoughts and intents in the hearts of human beings, but that eventually it is the guidance of Heaven that will prevail. Nowhere is this basic understanding of the pattern of Jewish history more evident than it is in this week's narrative of Joseph and his brothers. Everyone involved seemingly follows his own individual course of action, but the result is a historic change in the dynamics of the family and the trajectory of Jewish history. Only if we step back and view the entire chain of events in its totality can we begin to see this emerging pattern as the will of Heaven guiding the family of Jacob and the Jewish people.