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Ch. 9: Parashat va’YESHEV (Gen. 37:1 – 40:23) - Settling, Awe and Descent

Yitzḥaq Ḥayut-Man & Tirẓah Arzi 10.10.2010 02:26
Ch. 9: Parashat va’YESHEV (Gen. 37:1 – 40:23) - Settling, Awe and Descent - Joseph - Bible study - Book of Genesis - Jewish-Christian

Starting the story of the most important character of Genesis - Joseph-Yoseph, the model ("Type") for the "Messiah Son of Yoseph".


Parashat va’Yeshev (Gen. 37:1 – 40:23)


1. The Brothers’ Envy of Yoseph and his claim for the Seniority
About Yoseph’s character

2. The Trek Towards the Brothers and the Encounter with Them

3. The Selling of Yoseph
The Ten – Minyan – and the Twelve

4. Yehudah and Tamar, the Descent and the Fertility

5. Yoseph’s Descent to Egypt and his exploits at Potiphar’s House.

6. Yoseph and Potiphar’s Wife

7. The Pattern of the Sexual Adventures of the Leaders of Israel.

8. Yoseph the “Master of Dreams”.

9. The descent of Yoseph to Mirayim and the Descent of the Souls to This World

Appendices (not yet installed):

Appendix ‘A’: Yoseph and his Brothers – the Twelve, the Ten, the Two and the Hidden Messiahship.

Appendix ‘B’: Yoseph as Archetype for Hidden Redemptive-Orders.

Appendix 'C':  Yoseph (Yusuf) in the Qur'an.  

Appendix ‘D’: Lessons from Parashat vaYeshev for our Own Times.



Va’Yeshev Ya’qov And Ya’qov would dwell.[1]” The motif of this Parashah is the Yeshivah – a Hebrew word meaning, literally “sitting”, as well as “dwelling”. It can be used, colloquially for “sitting” in prison, being incarcerated. Yoshev – sitting down – is in contrast with med – standing up.

Three “sittings” are treated in this Parashah: 1) the dwelling of Ya’ạqov be’Ere Megurei Aviv, be’Ere Kena’nin the Land of the dwellingmegurimof his father, the Land of Kena'n”. This dwelling was under conditions of Magor – namely terror or dreads – and submission, like one who “sits” incarcerated. 2) Such a “Sitting” – Yeshivah – is the sitting of Yoseph-Joseph in prison, down to which he would be brought in Egypt. 3) Between the two, there is still another “sitting”, both of Yoseph, who was brought down to the pit at Dotan, and meanwhile his ten brothers sat down to eat bread (37:25).

But there is not just sitting down, but also descent that accompanies us right in the beginning of each one of the seven parts of the Parashah. (These parts are the eight traditional sections of each Parashah for its reading aloud on Shabbat, made of seven divisions and then a last – maftir – which repeats the end of the seventh section) and only in the end, at the maftir, comes a raising or ascent).

Part 1: (which deals with the dreams of Yoseph, the envy of his brothers and with the covert struggle for seniority among the brothers) starts with “And Ya’qov dwelled (or would dwell) in the land his father had sojourned (or was terrorized), in the land of Kena’n” (37:1).

Part 2: (which deals with the lowering of Yoseph into the pit by his brothers, and the test of the seniority of Re’uven) starts with “And his brothers went to feed their father’s flock in Shekhem” (37:12), the going that brought them to commit the crime against their brother.

Part 3: (the sale of Yoseph and the passing of the seniority to Judah) “And it came to pass, when Yoseph was come to his brethren, that they stripped him of his coat, the long sleeved coat that was on him. And they took him, and cast him into a pit” (37:23).

Part 4: (Interlude: the descent of Judah from his brothers to Ạdulam, the affairs of Tamar and of Judah’s sons). “And it came to pass at that time that Yehudah went down from his brothers, and turned in to a certain ‘Adullamite…" “ (38: 1).

Part 5: (the descent of Yoseph to Egypt and his rise at the house of Potiphar). “And Yoseph was brought down to Mitsrayim, and Potiphar, the chamberlain of Par’oh… bought him.. “ (39:1).

Part 6: (the seductions of Potiphar’s wife – Yoseph cast down to the royal prison pit and there rises to eminence). “And it came to pass after these things, that his master’s wife cast eyes upon Yoseph; and she said, Lie with me” (39:7).

Part 7: (Yoseph interprets the dreams of the king’s butler and his baker). “And it came to pass after these things, that the butler of the king of Mitsrayim, and his baker, offended their lord the king of Mitsrayim” (40:1).

Maftir:And it came to pass on the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast for all his servants; and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants. And he restored – vayashev – the chief butler to his butlership again” (40:20-21).

Altogether, the various derivations of the Hebrew root Sh.B. appear eight times: 1. "And Ya'qov dwelt/would dwell (vayeshev-וישב) in the land in which his father had sojourned (37:1); 2. "And Re'uven said to them, Shed no blood… that he might save him out of their hands, to deliver him back (lehashivo-להשיבו) to his father (37:22); 3. "and they sat down (vayeshvu-וישבו) to eat bread" (37:25); 4. "And Re'uven returned (vayashav-וישב) to the pit; and, Yoseph was not in the pit (37:29); 5. "Then said Yehudah to Tamar his daughter in law, Remain (shvi-שבי) a widow at thy father's home, till Shelah my son be grown (38:11); 6. "And Yehudah sent the kid by the hand of his friend the Adullamite… And he returned (vayashav-וישב) to Yehudah, and said, I cannot find her" (38:20, 22); 7. "it came to pass, when she travailed… And the midwife took and bound upon his hand a scarlet thread, saying, This came first. And it came to pass, as he was drawing back (meshiv-משיב) his hand, that, behold, his brother came out" (38:28-29): 8. "And it came to pass on the third day, which was Par’oh's birthday… And he restored (vayashev-וישב) the chief butler to his butlership again…" (40:20,21).

Beneath the surface, the word vaYeshev has an additional meaning of lishbot Shevi – “to take captives”. The hero of the Parashah is not Ya‘ạqov but Yoseph, who descends to Egypt as a captured prisoner (as a symbol of the soul of the universal Man that descends to this world) in order to capture twelve tribes[2] for the future Israel.

The intense drama that becomes revealed to us here is the solution to the problem that already started with Qayin-Cain and Hevel-Abel and repeated between Yishma’ẹl and Yiẓḥaq, and between Ẹsav and Ya’ạqov: the casting out of one son because of the other son - who is favored, for whatever reason, by God, the father or the mother (generally from considerations of inheritance). But through the last four Parashot of Genesis, we shall reach to the solution of this problem.

We have shown in Parashat vaYee that the twelve sons of Ya’qov constitute a complete vessel, which can contain the rivalries among the brothers. But in this Parashah and its sequels, we observe the more detailed anatomy of this vessel, how it withholds the natural pressures of the brothers’ envy and rivalry.

This matter finds its peak in the case of the dreams. Yet before the dreams become a matter of future prophecies, they are clearly seen as veiled desires of the psyche, which are not hidden to Yoseph’s brothers: “Shalt thou indeed reign over us? Or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us?” (33:8). The ancient contention over firstborn status is the contention over the kingship and the dominion over Israel, a struggle that would find expression in the passing of the kingship from King Saul-Sha’ul of the Tribe of Binyamin (brother of Yoseph as also son of Raḥel, the youngest brother) to David from the tribe of Judah, and in the division of the one kingdom into two – the Kingdom of Israel with ten tribes (who eventually disappeared) and the Kingdom of Judah which survived longer. But the contention has not ended even with the exile of the Ten Tribes, and even Jewish tradition speaks of the appearance of “Messiah Son of Yoseph” versus “Messiah Son of David” and of the restoration of the complete Israel of the Twelve Tribes (with which we shall deal in the following portions).

1.       The Brothers’ Envy of Yoseph and his claim for the Seniority

And Ya’ạqov dwelled (or would well) in the land his father had sojourned (or was terrorized), in the land of Kena’n” (37:1). Where does Ya’ạqov choose to live? “In the land his father had sojourned (megure – which can also mean "was terrorized")” - in a land of Magor-terror, marked by the fears of his fathers, the land whose sacred center is the site of the Aqedah (Binding of Isaac), which was then called YHWH Yir’eh – “the Lord would See”, an expression meaning also Yir’ah – complete awe and fear/terror. Also, Ya’ạqov said, as he rose from the divine epiphany “how dreadfull is this place(28:17). Thus, we find that his sojourn in the land was not with settled mind.

Actually, in the most frightening experience conceivable – the fright of a child whose father is about to slaughter him – Yiẓḥaq endured without fear, as the Bible mentions no expression of fear by Yiẓḥaq on the occasion of the Ạqedah. When is it told, “And Yiẓḥaq feared an exceedingly great fright – vayeerad Yiẓḥaq aradah gedolah ad me’od (27:33)? This happened when his beloved son Ẹsav came to him, brought him deinty foods and asked him for a blessing, and Yiẓḥaq discovered that he had been cheated, and has already exausted the blessing that he had prepared for Ẹsav. That is, his fear issued from worry over the expected bitter relationships between his two sons.

There is yet another possible meaning to Ere Megure Aviv as “the Land of his father’s soujourn as stranger - Ger”, which issues from the edict “Know surely that thy seed shall be a stranger (ger yiheye zar’kha) in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them and they shall afflict them four hundred years(15:13).[3] The hero of this Parashah, Yoseph, was taken down to Egypt to draw all of Israel to come to Egypt and become there evident soujourner in a strange land – Gerim – in order to ultimately add onto Israel and assimilate in its covenant also the mixed multitudes of Egypt. It would later be Moses who would call his son “”Gershom, for he said, I have been a stranger – Ger – in a strange land(Exodus 2:22).

These are the generations (Toldot) of Ya’qov, Yoseph being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brothers” (37:2). The beginning of this Parashah is the end of the role of Ya’ạqov. The generations of Ya’ạqov are his sons, and the scepter is immediately passed on to the sons, actually to the favored, beloved, son, whose life determined the life of the house of Ya’ạqov for the next two hundred years   

The story of the sons of Ya’ạqov actually starts with Yoseph, who was the almost youngest of the sons of Ya’ạqov. In the folowing, in Ya’ạqov’s blessings, we shall see how much he was connected with Toldot, namely with fertility.

The expression ro’h et Eav – “Shepherding with his brothers” has several meanings: first he was minding the flock with them,[4] and as the youngest brother, their servant, but apparently he then wanted to act as their shepherd (which is what the expression ro’eh et Eav literally means). Also the word ro’h is ambivalent, connected both with re’, which is a friend, as well as with r, which means “evil” or the opposite of good.[5]

And the lad was with the son of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives”. At the beginning of Yoseph’s working life, he had to serve the lower status among his bigger brothers, the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. We learn from this that there were divisions among the brothers/tribes, and the sons of Le’ah dwelt separately from the sons of Bilhah and of Zilpah.[6]

About Yoseph’s character

The sages and the Midrashim take for granted that Yoseph was an exemplary virtuous man – adiq – the very prototype of “the hidden adiq” (no doubt studying in a Yeshivah), and therefore assume that whatever he has done was well and good. But one aught to look at the plain text to gather from the few hints a convincing psychological portrait.

Yoseph might have conceivably take advantage of the differences between the sons of Le'ah and the sons of the maids, Bilhah and Zilpah, and gain the favour of his bigger brothers, in order to attain a senior status through their support. From a perspective of pragmatic thinking (which would characterize the adult Yoseph), he might have risen to leadership through them. He could have been one of a coalition of six (the four sons of the maids and his younger brother Binyamin), and it would have been enough for him to gain the favor of just one more from the sons of Le'ah (we shall later see that, in the final arrangement of the 12 tribes, there are four from the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah and three from the Sons of Rael – Ephraim, Menashe and Binyamin – versus five of the sons of Le’ah, as Levi moved to the center and gave up on estate and power).

But what, on the contrary, did Yoseph do? “And Yoseph brought to his father their evil report(37:2). Yoseph had no sense of respect towards his bigger brothers, and especially his brothers from the maids (who were apparently of lower status). Slander is a basic vice in human relationships and especially so in relations of brothers. It is possible that all that Yoseph said about his brothers was true and the need for truthful reporting was a part of the skills he acquired for setting the administration in which he would excel in the future. But here it was entangled with the question of trust among brothers, and brought to his demise. His eventual correction was when he was slandered by Potifar's wife with no guilt from his part, and became a prisoner. From then on, since he corrected his ways (for he could have told Potifar the ignoble truth about his wife) he started to rise.

And Now Yisra’el loved Yoseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age, and he made him a coat with long sleeves” (or with stripes). This sentence is irregular in several respects. Here, Ya’ạqov is called again “Yisra’el”, the name pertaining to his higher stature. On the other hand, the tense here is in simple past, rather than the “inverted future” used throughout, which seems to indicate this was a past favoritism that would, or should, not recurr. Then the sentence is not correct, as the expression “son of old age” – Ben Zequnim – is inaccurate, since Yoseph’s birth was at aran, when Ya’ạqov was still strong, and at that time, there already lived Binyamin, who was much younger. It is possible to say that this arbitrary preference of the father recalls the preference by God of Hevel-Abel over Qayin-Cain – a favouritism that brought to hatred and revenge. In the case of the first brothers, the revenge happened after the event, “And it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Qayin rose up againsy Hevel his brother, and slew him(4:8), whereas also in the case of Yoseph, we shall soon see that the revenge came later, in the field.

But, as we shall learn in the sequel, what at first seemed like favoritism by Ya’qov, and became a snag for Yoseph, was eventually proved as a long term move, which finally was paid back (hushav-הושב) through Yoseph’s love to his father Yisra’el and returned (heshiv-השיב) Yoseph to his brothers and he community of Yisra’el.

And when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him”. All his brothers hated him. Not only the oldest one, who might perhaps had concern about losing the seniority to the more loved son, but all of them to the last one, the sons of Le’ah along with the sons of Bilhah and of Zilpah, hated him. The envy of Yoseph was common to them all, and it arose further upon hearing Yoseph dreams, which he proudly ran to tell them.

And Yoseph dreamed a dream, and he told it to his brethren; and they hated him yet the more”. This is the first mention of Yoseph’s special skill concerning dreams –having significant dreams, then an ability to interpret them. This seems like an inherited ability. Already Ya’qov was noted for his special dreams, but these carried practical messages. Ya’qov’s favorite son Yoseph excelled in dreams of grandeur and in interpreting the dreams of the great. The four dreams in this Parashah, his couple of dreams and the twin dreams of Par’oh’s servants would prepare him to deal with the twin dreams of Par’oh.[7]

For behold we were binding sheaves in the field ..” What delighted Yiẓḥaq about his son who he thought was sav? It was the smell of the field – “See, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed(27:27). Ya’qov tried to keep his beloved son in the camp, so that he would be “a dweller of tents” like him, but in his dream, the arena where Yoseph confronted his brothers was the wheat field, and eventually, Yoseph’s brothers banded on him in the shepherds field, in Ẹsav’s lot.

And lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and behold, your sheaves stood round about, and bowed down to my sheaf”. In the dream of Par’oh, which Yoseph would eventually solve, there first appeared ears of corn.

(In addition to the clear message of the dream that was immediately grasped by the brothers, there was here already a sign for Yoseph’s future role as provider of grain. Nowadays there is spreading the phenomenon of the “Crop Circles”, where patterns appear mysteriously in cereal fields, which many interpret as messages from other worlds (or from the Adamah, the living earth), thus adding contemporary interest to Yoseph’s dream.)

And his brothers said to him, shalt thou indeed reign over us?His brothers immediately interpreted that this had to do with kingship and dominion, and this was the first time that the possibility of kingship was raised in the house of Ya’ạqov. The brothers started considering the royal inheritance and wondering – would the future kings of Israel rise from the tribe of Yoseph?

(Ya’qov-Yisra’el represents, as we saw, the Sefirah Tif’eret. Along with its positive aspects, this Sefirah also has its negative or inferior aspect – pride and boasting – hitpa’arut. Yoseph, who would connect the promise of Israel with the world of Action, is very inclined to savor of the quality of hitpa’arut, and will have to pass still a demanding training course in order to get rid of it.)

Behold, I have again dreamed a dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars bowed down to me”. In Yoseph’s second dream, his hidden ambition received cosmic dimensions. This time what bowed were the sun and moon and eleven stars – and not to his sheaf or monument, but to him himself. And again, Yoseph did not keep this in his heart, but ran to tell it to his father and brothers.

(Yoseph was thus the first to dream the dream about the Kingdom of Israel. This appeared as a cosmic ego-trip, characteristic of his puerile state. His hidden quest for dominion was not denied, and eventually he became the most important ruler in the chief state in his times). But Yoseph had to make a great rectification (Tiqun), in order to reach the throne, and this Tiqun had to do with the difficulty of relating to his brothers. His entertaining thoughts of kingship brought upon him complete alienation from his brothers, their hatred of him and intention to kill him, his abduction and plotting to sell him, to slavery and years of imprisonment.)

2. The Journey Towards the Brothers and the Encounter with Them

And his brothers went to feed their father’s flock in Shekhem. And Yisra’el said to Yoseph, Do not thy brothers feed the flock in Shekhem? Come, and I will send thee to them”. The place where the dreadful encounter between Yoseph and his brothers took place is not at the environs of Ḥevron, but near Shekhem – not in the future domain of Judah, but at the future domain of Ephraim, son of Yoseph, and the center of the future kingdom of Israel. Is it only a coincidence that Shekhem was mentioned? This is the same city destroyed by the fanaticism of Shim’on and Levi with their “instruments of cruelty” (amas, 49:5 - the very same name of the fanatical Moslem terror organization), and this was precisely where Yoseph was sent to look for his brothers. We find that the connection is not coincidental, because the Bible Later tells us (Joshu’a 24:32) that Shekhem became the burial place of Yoseph. That is where Yoseph went and almost found his death.[8]

And he said to him, Here I am (hineni). And he said to him, Go, I pray thee, see whether it be well with thy brothers and well with the flocks; and bring me word again. So he sent him out of the valley of evron, and he came to Shekhem”. The answer “here I am”hineni – is complete response, just like the response of Abraham to God at the qedah. Unaware, Ya’ạqov would be repeating the story of the qedah and sacrifice his son. In this mission, he had to leave evron (about which it is said that “it makes all Yisra’el averim – friends”) to the place of the cruelest struggle – Shekhem, the place that his brothers had killed all its people – and that became to Ya’ạqov a source of pain that he did not stop his sons.

In Ya’ạqov’s eventual private blessing to Yoseph (48:23), he would be telling his son, “Moreover, I have given thee Shekhem ead l aekha”, which literally means “one shoulder (Shekhem) over thy brothers”, and pragmatically “one portion more than thy brothers”. But perhaps the word game hints to the event that happened at Shekhem between Yoseph and his brothers. But eventually, the word Shekkhem would be mentioned with a meaning of amity, “(together as) one shoulder” in the vision of the prophet Zephaniah (3:9) “For then I will convert the peoples to a purer language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him to serve him Shekhem Ead – with one consent”. The basis for that, however, is the reconciliation between the brothers the children of Yisra’el.

I seek my brothers – et Eay ani mevaqesh - tell me, I pray thee, where they feed their flock – efo hem ro’m?” That is what Yoseph said when he talked in the field with an unknown man. The term mevaqesh – “seeking” – has a double meaning in the Bible: The beloved in the Song of Songs is seeking her lover (3:1; 5:6), while king Saul, on the other hand, was seeking – mevaqesh – to kill David (I Samuel 20:1). There is a hint to the kind of seeking in that the word for feeding the flock - ro’m – can also be read “tell me… efo hem ra’m” - where are they evil, by what they might harm (hare’ạ) me.

And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near to them, they conspired against him to slay him”. Even if Yoseph intended to reconcile them, he could not, as the past had already determined their attitude, and when they saw him from afar off, without being able to perceive finer hints, they already spoke and conspired to slay him. “And they said one to another, Behold, this dreamer comes”. The instinctive hatred of the ignorant brothers to “the dreamer” brought to the horrid idea to perform an experiment “let us slay him, and cast him into some pit… and we will see what will become (of) his dreams” (literally, “what will be his dreams then”).[9]

These words were actually prophetic. Because really, after the brothers cast Yoseph into the pit, and after Potiphar did this again, we would see the dreams that Yoseph solved, and because of which he rose to that very prominence about which he dreamt his annoying dreams.

And Re’uven heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands; and said, Let us not kill him. And Re’uven said to them, shed no blood, but cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him; that he might save him out of their hands, to deliver him back to his far” (37:21-22). Re’uven (who is regarded in the Qabbalah as a man of compassion and love which tends to passion) tries to present leadership and to act responsibly. He actually prevents the murder of the brother and intends to save him, but since he cannot lead the brothers overtly, he schemes to outsmart them by cheating and to undo the act covertly. In this he makes another step towards the loss of his leadership that is passed on to Judah.


3. The Selling of Yoseph

The process of conspiring to slay Yoseph was somewhat complicated, and its execution a bit incompetent (enough to release the brothers of the guilt of actually selling their brother into slavery). “And Re’uven heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands; and said, Let us not kill him” (37:21). Re’uven heard about the scheme, which means that he did not initiate it, and that the idea was first discussed like in committees before it was brought to the full assembly. When the idea was brought to Re’uven’s attention, it was already with the standing of a social decision, that Re’uven did not find in himself the power to oppose it openly and cancel it, but he found a way to change it: “Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him”, this he proposed with a hidden aim “that he might save him out of their hand, to deliver him back to his father”. All the ten brothers then cooperated, and together did three things: first they stripped Yoseph of his striped coat that their father had given him and which raised their envy; secondly, they cast him into an empty pit; and thirdly, they went to another place to eat their bread in quite and not attend in case he would plead for them to save him.

And the pit was empty; there was no water in it”. The first pit, the one that the brothers cast Yoseph into, was empty without water – without the aspect of esed-Grace; the second “pit” that Yoseph was cast into at Potiphar’s command, was the pit of Egypt that basks in the water of the Nile, and he got there because of Potiphar’s wife, who sought to bring him into her own well.

And they sat down to eat bread”. In the later Parashat Miqe, the brothers converse between them and mention that eating: “Truly, we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear” (42:21). That is, they conducted their meeting while in the background of their conversing they could still hear the pleadings of their brother from the pit.

The ten brothers who cast Yoseph into the pit and then set nearby to eat bread are mentioned each year on the day of fasting. On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, at the Musaf prayer, we read the case of the Ten Martyrs, including Rabbi Aqiva, who were killed fifteen centuries later, after the time of the Bar Kokhva Revolt. The prayer recalls a legend, according to which the Roman ruler had them executed with the charge that this is the punishment that becomes the Jews for the selling of Yoseph: “And he started with ‘And these are the judgments which you shall set before them’ (Exodus 21:1), plotting to bring ‘And he who steals a man, and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death’ (Exodus 21:16)”.[10]

The choice of precisely ten martyrs was apparently not happenstance but symbolic. At that period, the Jews story of the ten martyrs intended to show the Jews the full extent of their destruction.

And they sat lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a company of Yishma’elites came from Gil’ad” (37:25). “Lifting up the eyes” generally reveals an especially potent vision: Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the three angels and a time later the place of the Ạqedah and the entangled ram that replaced Yiẓḥaq. Yiẓḥaq lifted up his eyes and saw the caravan of camels, in which came Rivqah, who also lifted up her eyes and saw Yiẓḥaq Ya’ạqov lifted up his eyes and saw the great army of Esau, who at the same moment lifted up his eyes and saw Ya’ạqov. Interestingly, it was the distant sight of a company of Yishma’elites that brought the brothers the inspiration to change their plan. It seems that the memory of Yishma’el who was cast out came to them and that there is no need to kill the brother who threatens to take the seniority, enough to cast him out to the desert.

And Yehudah said to his brothers, What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood? Come, and let us sell him to the Yishma’elites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother and our flesh. And his brothers hearkened to him”. Compared with the covert plan of Re’uven to change the murderous plan of the brothers, which he did not dare to present to the rest of his brothers, Yehudah proposed a greedy alternative “business plan” that could be presented in the plenum and reach consensus. This way, the seniority and leadership passed from Re’uven to Yehudah who said “What profit is it if we slay our brother… for he is our brother and our flesh”. Even before the moral consideration, Yehudah poses the practical calculation of profit and loss. But without adding the moral reason there would have remained pure greed, as was attributed by the Christians to the Jews, and which found its peak expression in drawing the fictitious greedy characters of Judas Iscariot[11] and Shylock. Thus Yehudah confesses about Yoseph being “our brother and our flesh”.

Yet it seems from the strange circumstances described in the book that the brothers did not get the chance to perform their scheme and make a financial profit from their abduction of their brother, when “then there passed by Midyanim, merchants”. These did not waste a minute and pulled Yoseph from the pit and immediately sold him to those same Yishma’elites for twenty pieces of silver. This exonerated the sons of Ya’ạqov from the guilt of selling Yoseph, not because of the goodness of their heart, but because the Midyanim overtook them. Also the Yishma’elites, descendents of Abraham, did not carry guilt for the selling of Yoseph, as they bought him on good faith and honest price, as was common those days. (See Appendix ‘C’ for a connection between Yoseph and the sons of Yishma’l, in the Qur’an (Sura 12).

And Re’uven returned to the pit; and, behold, Yoseph was not in the pit; and he rent his clothes. And he returned to his brothers, and said, The child is not; and I, where shall I go?”. It is evident from Re’uven’s behavior that he did not know about the scheme of the rest of his brothers, and thus that he had already lost his leadership. Twice is mentioned here the word vaYashov – “returned” – which is much like the name of the Parashah – vaYeshev – both in leaving the circle of the plotters and in returning to them.

And they took Yoseph's coat, and killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the coat in the blood. And they sent the coat of long sleeves, and they brought it to their father; and said, This we have found; know now whether it be thy son's coat or no”. Here Ya’ạqov suffered a terrible punishment, aimed a measure for measure to what he had done to his brother Ẹsav. Just as Ya’qov had slaughtered a kid of the goats, put his fur on his hands and put on his brother’s clothes in order to deceive his father, likewise the sons of Ya’ạqov slaughtered a kid of the goats to mark thereby their brother’s cloth, in order to deceive their own father. Ya’ạqov was still unconscious of what his favoritism towards Yoseph caused, and even in his mourning showed his absolute preference to Yoseph “but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down to my mourning into She’ol”.

4. Yehudah and Tamar, the Descent and the Fertility

Here is brought as an interlude, the strange affair of Yehudah and Tamar. “And it came to pass at that time, that Yehudah went down from his brothers, and turned in to a certain Ạdulamite, whose name was irah” (38:1).

Yehudah went down from his brothers” then as now, the majority of Jews – that is, of Yehudah – do not wish to mingle with the other tribes and to return them, but to act as “a people that dwell alone” of bil’ạms curse (Num. 23:9).

And Yehudah saw there a daughter of a certain Kena’anite, whose name was Shu’” (38:2). Yehudah went down from his brothers, and there his passions arose up. It seems that eventually, all the sons of Ya’ạqov (apart from Yoseph) married Kena’anite women, and Yoseph an Egyptian woman (as Abraham did with Hagar) – but Yehudah was their pioneer in breaking off the quast semi incestuous relation with Abraham’s family. All we know of Yehudah’s wife is her father’s name – Shu’ (yet this happens to be the stem of the name Yeshu’ son of Yoseph, the Jew who would become the Christian Messiah).

And Yehudah took a wife for ‘r his firstborn, whose name was Tamar” (38:6). The name Tamar means “a date Palm”, but it also has to do with Temurah, that is, Transformation, for Yehudah. It is worth noting how appropriate was the name Tamar for Yehudah’s rectification. Tamar is the cause for Hatmarah, for a decisive change of quality, in Yehudah’s seed. Instead of the seed or Ẹr and Onan, there returns the seed of Yehudah. The story is a precursor of the Story of Ruth, when the seed of Maalon and Kilyon, whose names mean “illness” and “perishing”, is lost, but their continuation comes from the seed of Bo’z, meaning “In him (bo) courage (z) and power”.

And Yehudah said to Onan, Go in to thy brother's wife, and perform the duty of a brother in law, and raise up seed to thy brother. And Onan knew that the seed would not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in to his brother's wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother”. The father asked “to raise up the seed” for his dead son, and for this end, Onan was requested to give from his seed, and he, in effect, refused. It is evident that the struggle among brothers – the main motif of the Book of Genesis - and the selfishness endured even after the death of the older brother.

The request for giving of seed is like the request for sacrifice; it is the means to connect beyond death, tying the newborn body with the soul and spirit, namely the name and identity, of the father[12]. Onan was ready to enjoy coitus with his brother’s wife, but not to contribute of his seed in order to preserve the memory of his brother alive.

Then said Yehudah to Tamar his daughter-in -law, Remain a widow at thy father's house, till Shelah my son be grown; for he said, Lest perchance he die also, as his brothers did. And Tamar went and dwelt in her father's house”. Yehudah did not deal honestly with Tamar. He promised and did not mean to keep his promise because of his concern over his one remaining son, and she took initiative to get the matters between them straight by her own cheating (which includes her in the list of the manipulating mothers, like Rivqah who sent her son disguised and Raḥel who connived to change with Le’ah and who stole the idolons): “And she took off her widow's garments, and covered herself with a veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place, which is by the way to Timnath; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given to him for his wife”.

When Judah saw her, he thought her to be a harlot; because she had covered her face. And he turned to her by the way…”. Here returns the word “Vayet” – “turned by the way” once more, turning away from the straight path – but also means setting up a tent, foundation. Yehudah would be chastised for the gap between his private behavior when away from his brothers and his public behavior. He has no compunction to go to a harlot, but is ready to get his daughter in law burnt alive if she prostituted. But Tamar knew how to set their common tent.

“…And Judah said, Bring her out, and let her be burned. When she was brought forth, she sent to her father-in-law, saying, By the man, whose these are, am I with child; and she said, Discern, I beg you, whose are these, the signet, and the cord, and the staff”. These were Yehudah’s signs of status and distinction as a respected public figure and the first among his brothers. Yoseph had his striped (long sleeve) coat as his mark of distinction over his brothers – and his brothers removed it from him and then passed it to his father as testimony. Here Tamar stripped Yehudah of his marks of distinction and passed them as testimony.

This story, which begins with the descent of Yehudah, is brought in the Parashah as parallel to the story of the descent of Yoseph to Egypt and of handing him to Potiphar, the chamberlain (or eunuch) of Par’oh. The motif of the clothing serves as further interesting parallel between them: Yehudah left with Tamar his insignia, and later, when she showed them, he confessed, “she has been more righteous than I”. Yoseph, when he avoided sexual entanglement with his master’s wife, left his garment in her hand, and she used it later as apparent evidence for his guilt (The Qur’an adds more details for the evidence of the garment here, see below). The term Beged – garment – is used not only as clothing, but also in its other Hebrew meaning of “betrayal”, and thus used in a role in proving faith. Three times in this Parashah is garment used to describe different stages of betrayal.

And Judah acknowledged them, and said, She has been more righteous than I; because I did not give her to Shelah my son”. Here Yehudah modeh – confesses – that what he did was not honest. The name Yehudah is not only from Todah-hodayah (“Now I will praise the Lord” – Odeh et YHWH – 29:35), but also from Hoda’ah – confession/admission. In this instance Yehudah comes at last to identify with the name that his mother gave him and with his soul essence – namely with his immortal and unique Neshamah (in the word Neshamah, there are the letters of Shem – namely “Name”, and Mah – “What”, from the sense of Mahut – essence).

Yehudah stands, in fact, to trial, and confesses – modeh - “(She) has been more righteous than I(38:25). “She” means the unconscious, the passionate and the suppressed part in me, she was more right than I, than my respectable figure of the leader, which covers an ordinary person. The confession by Yehudah of his illegal parenthood is also an admission of the scriptural editors in the “racially impure” origin of King David, the Messiah. Tamar, like Ruth the Moabite, engaged in the genetic improvement of the Jewish soul through hybridization[13]. There is marked similarity between the fertility/sexual initiatives of Tamar and of Ruth, though Ruth brings with her also proscribed seed, in contrast to the promise – or warning – “An Ammonite or a Mo’avite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the Lord for ever (Deut. 23:4).

And he knew her again no more” – velo yasaf d. Here, in Yehudah’s restraint in relation to Tamar, is hinted the name of Yoseph, who became a symbol of sexual restraint in the parallel story.

And it came to pass in the time of her labor, that, behold, twins were in her womb”. The birth of Yehudah’s twin sons from his daughter-in-law parallels the birth of Ya’ạqov and sav, where the second held the heel of the first, but was even more extreme, where the one behind pushes his brother and emerges before him. An event of the change of the order of birth of twins is so unusual and biologically unlikely, that it is evidently included as having much significance. In the birth of the sons of Yehudah, from whom would eventually emerge the kings of Israel, David and Shlomoh, the order of seniority is completely reversed. Ya’ạqov bought seniority from his older brother, Ephrayim was placed as senior to his older brother by his grandfather Ya’ạqov, whereas Pere took care of this affair right from the womb, managed to emerge the first and to grab the crown.

5. Yoseph’s Descent to Egypt and his exploits at Potiphar’s House

And the Midianites sold him to Mirayim (Egypt) to Potiphar, an officer of Par’oh's, and captain of the guard(37:36). This is how ends the report about the attempted sale of Yoseph by his brothers, before the story of Yehudah and Tamar. But when the narrative returns to tell of Yoseph’s exploits in Egypt, the version is somewhat different: “And Yoseph was brought down to Mirayim; and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, a Mirian (Egyptian), bought him from the hands of the Yishma’elites, who had brought him down there(39:1). In the former story, about the brothers, it is actually written that he was brought down by the “Mdanim” rather than the usual spelling of “Midyanim”, and Mdanim literally mean “quarrels” – so it was the quarrels among the brothers that really brought him down there. Now, in the next version, in the context of Yoseph’s interactions with people of Egypt, we learn that the “Yishma’elites” brought him to Egypt, perhaps because Hagar, Yishma’el’s mother was an Egyptian.

In any case, in both versions, the name of the officer who buys him is “Potiphar”. A rather similar Egyptian name would appear at the peak of Yoseph’s success in Egypt. There he would marry with “Asenat the daughter of Poti-phera priest of On(41:45). There are interpreters who identify Yoseph’s future wife with the daughter of his first Egyptian master, but it does not seem likely that Potiphar, also called Saris Par’oh – Par’oh’s Eunuch” was the father of a girl, or that the captain of the guard was the priest of On, the center of the Egyptian priesthood. There is a certain connection between these two figures, but it is a more covert one. The name “Potiphar” – as well as Par’ (Pharao) - recalls the Hebrew word “Par”, namely Bull, and the blessing of Piryon, namely fertility. The fertility (and eroticism) goddess of Egypt was ator, who had a cow’s head (Also in Israel, the calf had special cult significance, e.g. the Golden Calf and the Calves placed at the Temples at Bet-El and Dan).

And the Lord was with Yoseph, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Mirian(39:2). The expression “the Lord be with” – vayehi YHWH et – shows great intimacy with the Lord. Yoseph in his acts embodies the very divine Being (YHWH), and the masters of Kabbalah (Mequbalim) explain that he became the vehicle of the divine attribute of Sefirah of Yesod – Foundation.

This verse is exceptional in having the word “vayehi” (translated above as “was”) repeat three times in one sentence. This word, vayehi, already appears in the first verses of Genesis (vayehi erev vayehi boqer – (And there was evening and there was morning”) and it is quite reminiscent of the Name of YHWH.[14]

And his master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand. And Yoseph found favor in his sight, and he served him; and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he had he put into his hand”. The clear sign that the divine Being dwelling upon a person is that this person finds favor – en - in every one’s eyes. About Noa it was said “But Noa found favor (or grace – Ḥen) in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen, 6:8) and also “Noa was a just man and perfect” – Tsadiq tamim (6:9). So in parallel to Noa, Yoseph’s finding favor – Ḥen is an evidence for his being a Ẓadiq. In the Qabbalah, it is used to see a connection between “Tsadiq” and the Sefirah of Yesod (Foundation), noting the verse “the righteous – Tsadiq – is an everlasting foundation” (Proverbs 10:25). This way, Yoseph came to represent the Sefirah of Yesod.


6. Yoseph and Potiphar’s Wife

And it came to pass after these things, that his master's wife cast her eyes upon Yoseph; and she said, lie with me.” Yoseph was brought down to Egypt, but he might have descended still lower. Potipharr’s wife “nas’a yneha el Yoseph”, literally “cast up her eyes towards Yoseph”, which means that in a certain sense she was on a level below his, and tried to lower him onto her.

Behold, my master knows not what is with me in the house, and he has committed all that he has to my hand; There is none greater in this house than I; neither has he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife”. The test is a loyalty test to the master. The Midrashim, and following them the Qur’an, have emphasized the great temptation that Yoseph faced and the praise that he deserved. Yet not only that Yoseph did not receive his due recompense, but also he was punished for a false accusation.

The Biblical interest in the details of the sexual adventures of Yehudah and his sons finds its parallel in the story of Yoseph in Potiphar’s house. Yehudah was tested through Tamar and Yoseph through Potiphar’s wife. Onan tried to solve the test by severing the connection between the enjoyment of sex and the commitment to procreation, whereas Potiphar’s wife continued, after Yoseph’s refusal, to nag and implore him each day “to lie by her or to be with her” (even without intercourse).

In this competition for chastity and social morality, Yoseph won over Yehudah, and gained from the sages the title of “adiq”. Later interpreters claimed that the temptations that Yoseph faced seem to them a much harder trial from all the trials that the patriarchs underwent.

The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought to us, came in to me to mock me; And it came to pass, as I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled out.” It is worth noting the language in which she slandered him: first, “See, he has brought in a Hebrew to us to mock  (leaeq) us; he came in to me to lie with me”, and then “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought to us, came in to me to mock (leaeq) me”. The euneuch husband, who brought the handsome slave into his home, might be especially sensitive about being mocked for sexual matters. There seems to be here a “measure for measure” with the case of Yitshaq who was meaeq – “sporting with Rivqah his wife” (26:8) under the eyes of Abimelekh the king of Gerar.

7.  The Pattern in the Sexual Adventures of the Leaders of Israel.

The misadventure of Re’uven with his father’s concubine is mentioned at the last Parashah: “And it came to pass, when Israel lived in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father's concubine; and Israel heard it. Now the sons of Jacob were twelve(35:22). This will keep affecting the relationship of the son with his father, reaching its peak in Ya’ạqov’s “blessing” for his sons, where Ya’ạqov actually cursed his firstborn because of this misdeed. Yoseph, on the other hand, is blessed by a somewhat enigmatic blessing, generally translated as “Yoseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall” (49:22), but the Hebrew Ben Porat Yoseph, ben Porat ale Ayin, Banot tsa’ada ale shur can be read, more literally, as “A son of Fertility is Yoseph, like the fertility by a water spring, young women walk to look at him(49:22). That is, his father was proud of the fertility of his beloved son and of the adoration of young women that he received (this accords with the account about Yoseph in the Midrash and the Qur’an, see append ix 'C' below).

The case of Yoseph and Potiphar’s wife appear after the account of Yehudah’s sexual trials with Tamar. If we look into the matter, we find a systematic motif. Yehudah and Yoseph are candidates for leadership among the tribes. An additional, natural, candidate is Re’uven - the firstborn. When we come to the ideal arrangement of the Tribes, as they camp around the Tent of Meeting, we find there four tribal standard-bearers: Standard (Degel) of the Camp of Yehudah, Standard of the Camp of Ephrayin (namely – Camp of Yoseph), Standard of the Camp of Re’uven and Standard of the Camp of Dan. These then are the four who have the characteristics and destiny of leadership.

We do not learn directly of the sexual trials of Dan, but the most notorious representative of Dan, Samson-Shimshon the Judge (who is possibly already hinted at Ya’ạqov’s blessing), gets often entangled with women all through his years of leadership, and particularly non-Israelite women: he married a Philistin-Palestinian, to his parents displeasure, from her he went to a Philistin-Palestinian harlot, and in the end he was betrayed by his Philistine lover (The Book of Judges, from chapter 14 to 16).

We have here thus an outstanding pattern: we do not know anything about the wives of any one else of the sons of Ya’ạqov-Yisra’el, who apparently married respectable Canaanite women, who had the approval of their father. The leaders of the camps, though, had affairs, or stood trials, with wives of “the uncircumcised”, generally married women, and were distinguished by their strong sexual urge, as the sages said, “whoever is greater than his friend, his urge (Yeer) is greater” (Bavli, Sukkah 52a). It seems that for the purpose of leadership, a man must contend with his urges, with the women without and his feminine side within. Moreover, the Israelite religion regards dual partnership, sex (heterosexual) and fertility with the outmost importance. Thus, Shimshon-Samson “the monk” (Nazir) was characterized by active sexual life, in contrast with Christian monasticism.

We have already discussed the case of “the kings who reigned in the Land of Edom before there reigned any king over the Children of Yisra’el” – where only the eighth of then, Hadar, is mentioned as one who had a wife. We noted there that the woman was the distinction and rectification of this king, about whom no death was mentioned.

8. Yoseph the “Master of Dreams”.

And Yoseph's master took him, and put him in the prison, a place where the king's prisoners were bound; and he was there in the prison. Parashat vaYeshev, which opens with “sitting” in a land of fear and gor, ends with the “sitting” of Yoseph in the prison. In this settlement[15], in which he spent quite a few years, Yoseph likely set there and studied the arts of government in the most truthful way. Not a books study, but practical learning through confrontations with the most difficult elements that the regime found. And Yoseph’s most characteristic ability was in giving explanations and solutions to the meanings of dreams.

The descent of Yoseph “to Mitsrayim” is a descent to the depth, to the subconscious of the nation.[16] From here to the interpretation of dreams, the way is clear. Freud, the prophet of the therapeutical use of dreams, said that “dreams are the royal road to the unconscious” [check!]. As he was interpreting their dreams to “the chief of butlers and the chief of bakers”, Yoseph was also conducting an analysis of himself, and the ARI (Luria) treated with great detail the saying of the Zohar that “As the sages said that Yoseph knew and became very glad, a he was hearing these dreams, as they all indicated the occurrences to him in his being sold and exiled, and his rise to the kingship”

There is no other Biblical figure so identified with dreams as Yoseph. When we discussed the Garden of Eden and the issue of the Tree of Knowledge, we have compared between the imagining (medame) Adam; the experiencing (ovah) avah; and the guessing (menaesh) serpant-Naash. The dream is a phenomenon of imagination rather than guesswork. Guessing is made from the consciousness of self-interest, while the dream comes from the sub-conscious where there operates the whole pattern of the human soul (the divine image and likeness), and it raises aspects that may heal and complete the limited situation that is recognized consciously. There are even Kabbalah and Hasidic sources that mark Yoseph as a prototypical messianic figure and “a serpent of holiness” (Naash shebiQedushah), that rectifies what was wronged by the serpent in the Garden of Eden.

An example of turning concepts around is in that Hebrew words have their (generally) three-letter root, and each root has six permutations, many of which may not be meaningful. In the case of dream – alom - the root is .L.M. for which five of the six possible permutations are meaningful: .L.M (dream) / .M.L. (compassion) /
Ḥ.L (forgive) / M.L.Ḥ (salt, sailor) / L.Ḥ.M (fight, bread). This shows that in the dream all combinations are possible, even those that may not be actualized in the waking world.

Yoseph’s fate is of rectifying that which appeared in dream. The dreams about the sheaves of his brothers bowing to his sheaf and the sun and moon and stars bowing to him, in fact became fulfilled, but not necessarily in the sense of the “Ego Trip” that they seemed to symbolize. Yoseph attained the status of ruler, in order to become the helper of his brothers and their rescuer. The dreamer – Ḥolem – turned to be the provider of bread – Leḥem.

Yoseph’s brothers showed clearly the deadening influence of society towards the creative and inspired individual: “Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and throw him into some pit… and we shall see what will become of his dreams”. Yoseph was cast to the pit and from that to prison, but also there not only indeed “we shall see what will become of his dreams”, but that he would become an accepted expert in matters of dreams, who interprets the meaning of their dreams for the important persons he serves. By virtue of this talent - to bring the understanding of the hidden world that is hinted at through dreams for his service and for the service of others, Yoseph arrived to Par’, to become his chosen senior adviser. Yoseph was capable better than all his brothers to connect the life of action with the potential in the hidden spiritual worlds. Yoseph brought to realization that which was given only to imagination or guessing. The brothers, who walked the ways (halakhot) of the Land of Kena’an, would not have attained to the Kingdom if it were not for him.

9. The descent of Yoseph to Mirayim and the Descent of the Souls to This World

In Parashat Bereshit we showed the approach of the Qabbalah (the Zohar) that the seven days of creation correspond to the seven lower Sefirot (Sefirot haBinyan“the Sefirot of Building”), and then we showed in the sequel that a similar process of emanation occurs with the Patriarchs (“behibar’am – beAbraham”) and that the three Patriarchs, Abraham, Yiẓḥaq and Ya’ạqov correspond to the Sefirot of esed, Gevurah and Tif’eret. The process of Creation and in parallel of the emanation of the Sefirot, reaches its conclusion in Parashat Bereshit in the Day of the Shabbat (in which God desisted/rested from his work – shavat). In Parashat vaYeshev (the two words are closely related in Hebrew), we are approaching the parallel aim when Yoseph continues the chain and corresponds with the Sefirah below them – the Sefirah Yesod.

According to the Qabbalah, the eternal soul, the Neshamah - which is an immortal “part of the superior God” (eleq Eloha mima’l) at the divine “world of Ailut”, where there is no separation – is “hewn” and separated into an individual soul and descends at birth to dwell in the human body and connect it to the three distinct Worlds of Beri’ah, Yetsirah and Assiyah.

Therefore, the Neshamah descends to the world of Beri’ah-Creation (which is an unlimited world, just as thought in unlimited), and descends further to the worlds of Yeirah-Formation and Assiyah-Action (which, according to the Kabbalah, are the components of “This World” - Olam haZeh). Thus is made a chain of “Neshamah (Divine Soul), Ru’a (Spirit) and Nefesh (Soul)”. The World of Yeirah, in which operates the Ru’a-Spirit, is a world of limitations in time and form, but its limited images change and flow like music. The Neshamah descends still further, to the lower and extremely limiting World of ssiyah-Action, in which it is difficult to move and change a situation. In this world, the Neshamah may appear as Divine Nefesh (Nefesh Elohit) that can control the natural-instinctive “Animal Soul” (Nefesh Behemit). This double descent of the Neshamah can be regarded as a “Descent to Egypt” – Yeridah l’Mirayim – in the sense of there being two straightsMearim – two contractions with their kinds of troubles – arot – that threaten to split this soul-chain.[17]

In terms of form, the form of Mirayim - “twin Straights” – is a pupae-like rounded one formed of a cylinder or ball with two narrow waists – like the straights of the neck in a human-like form. A good example of this is the form that repeats 32 times in the pattern on the ceiling of the Dome of the Rock. In this form, which is anthropomorphic (to the extent that it is possible to represent an anthropomorphic form in the non-figurative Moslem art) there are three parts. The upper part – head like (marked by the letter ש - Shin) – symbolizes the Neshamah; the middle part – reminiscent of the chest (marked by the letter א - Aleph) – symbolizes thus the Ru’a-Spirit; and the lower part – reminiscent of the belly (marked by the letter מ - Mem) – symbolizes the Nefesh.

              Ch. 9: Parashat va’Yeshev (Gen. 37:1 – 40:23) - Settling, Awe and Descent                                                                                Ch. 9: Parashat va’Yeshev (Gen. 37:1 – 40:23) - Settling, Awe and Descent 

     [The pattern at the Dome of the Rock, with one of the 32 figures enlarged]      


The Qabbalah exegesis connects Yoseph with the Sefirah of Yesod, and thereby connects him also with Ever haBrit – “the organ of Covenant” – namely the male organ. This organ is the means of the male to cleave to the female, in order to return and find his completion: “that is why a man leaves his father and mother, and cleaves to his wife; and they become one flesh(Gen. 2:24). Of the whole body, this one organ seems as if to leave the body in order to go down, to penetrate and to unite with the other body.

Most of the activity o Yoseph in the manifest world was within the hidden realm, in the domain of thinking and planning towards the ultimate action. Yoseph’s brothers did not know that their lost brother still works for them as his own secret agent (and agent of the God of the Hebrews), till he became the ruler of Egypt; and Par’h did not know that by Yoseph’s turning all his people to become slaves to him, Par’h, he is sowing the seeds of social discontent that would eventually break out in the fleeing of whole populations from the land of Egypt.

The story of Yoseph which starts at this Parashah, is the story of bringing all the Children of Israel down to Egypt, like the entry of the male seed cells into the female womb, in order to beget offspring from there. The descent to Egypt was designed for the growth of the People of Israel, until it would have the capability to conquer the land – which probably could not happen if they dwelled in the populated Land of Kena’an (which the sin of Shim’on and Levi closed for them). Ẹsav preferred to leave the land and “went to another country away from his brother Ya’ạqov(36:6), but apparently also because in Mount Se’ir, his tribes could reach independence quickly. Yoseph left, not of his own choosing, as a pioneer before the camp, and that organ that inseminates symbolizes him.

Yoseph’s protracted activity in This World of woe was in the occult action, in thoughts that precedes action. Yoseph’s brothers did not know that their lost brother was working for them as a self-appointed (or appointed by YHWH God of the Hebrews) secret agent, until he became the ruler of Egypt; and Par’oh did not know that while Yoseph was turning the whole population of Egypt into slaves of Par’oh, he was seeding social unrest, which would eventually flare up in the form of the escape of a whole population from the land of Egypt.

[1] As explained in the introduction, the original Hebrew text is actually written in a special future tense, indicating that the events reported are prophetic no less than past historical. They are ever recurring, but of special timely significance to our present period.

[2] In Hebrew, “Tribe” is Shevet, whereas “to clone” is le-Shabet.

[3] The calculation of the time of soujourn in a strange land not their own actually starts with Abraham and his sons in the land of Kena’an (before it would become “Land of Israel”).

[4] The unique Hebrew word “et” is usually a preposition when acting upon an object, but it can also mean “together with” as in “these are the names of the children of Israel who come to Mirayim (Egypt) with (et) Ya’qov” Exodus 1:1).

[5] These two meanings are implied by the command “ve’ahavta le’Re’kha kamokha”, generally translated as “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18), but actually meaning both “love thy friend as thyself” and “love thy evil side as (part of) thy self”.

[6] It is reasonable to assume that the tents of these four mothers were situated to the four cardinal directions from the tent of Ya’ạqov, and divided the camp into four quarters. Within such a setup, Yoseph would have had more opportunities to run into his father’s tent, as he would be running to and fro between the sons of Bilha on one hand and the sons of Zilpah on the opposite side.

[7] See extension about “Yoseph the Master of Dreams” at section 8 of the Parashah.

[8] From the identity of the place, we can get the hinted meaning, that the adventures of Yoseph in Egypt were destined to become also a correction for the violent acts of Shime’on and Levi in Shekhem. They could have converted a whole city to the Lord, but prevented it; whereas Yoseph was brought down to Egypt to collect there converts, until when the children of Israel would leave Egypt, they would be numbered 600,000 men and more people.)

[9] “Dream” – in Hebrew Ḥalom (חלום) has Gematria value of 84. Whereas 84 = 3x4x7 – the product of symbolically important number. In a dream the different and sometimes contradictory characteristics of the numbers may join.

[10] This dire event happened during the reign of the emperor Hadrian, who tried to uproot Judaism, forbade the circumcision, deported the Jews from Jerusalem which he destroyed and built in its place the city of Iliya Capitolina with the Jupiter Temple complex on the Temple Mount. However, in taking upon himself, not fully aware, to be the avenger of Yoseph from his brothers, it is as Hadrian also took upon himself a load of historical entanglements, which brought eventually to the conversion of the pagan religions he tried to nurture to Christianity.

It is possible to draw parallels between Yoseph and the emperor Hadrian as among the greatest rulers in the ancient world. Hadrian strove much to integrate all the religions of the Roman Empire into one system, and built throughout the empire systems of temples for the integration of the religions. In Rome, he built the Pantheon, and the twelve major Gods that he selected were placed in a system where they face each other. (Architect Tuvia Sagiv has recently shown that the circle of the foundations of the outer colonnade of the Dome of the Rock is congruent with the foundations of the dome of the Pantheon in Rome, and it is likely that Hadrian’s temple complex at Jerusalem included a similar Pantheon, upon the foundations of which was eventually erected the Dome of the Rock.)

Rabbi Aqiva (who actually was “son of Yoseph”) contrary to him did not believe in the twelve and did not believe that the Ten Tribes are likely to return (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 110b).

[11] Bishop John Shelby Spong, in his book " Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes" (1996), shows that the whole story and identity of Judas Iscariot is fictitious, built gradually from one Gospel to another as the Church was becoming increasingly anti-Semite.

[12] According to the belief of the Kabbalah, the source of the male seed is in the brain of the father, and it passes through the spine to the penis, which corresponds to the Sefirah of Yesod (“Foundation”), which is also called adiq. The sexual union is called “union of Yesod in Yesod” (of the mother).

[13] The performance of the sexual duties of the brother in law to maintain his brother’s family is called “Yibum”. The Mekubalim call the spiritual improvement of the soul “The Secret of the Yibum”, in which a soul integrates, or is inseminated by, additional souls of great merit and becomes their living agent.

[14] In the sequel we shall learn about the assignment of the twelve tribes of Israel to the twelve possible permutations of the four-letter Name of YHWH. According to the ARI, the three tribes of “The House of Yoseph – Aphrayim, Menashe and Binyamin – correspond with the permutations that begin with the letter Vaw (ו): WHYH, WYHH, WHHY, all quite close to v/wayehi.

[15] In Hebrew Yeshivah, which means literally “sitting” is also a religious academy, where students study all day long.

[16] According to the Lurianic system of the Qabbalah, the reason that the dreams of the two officials who were kept in prison (chief of the butlers and chief of the bakers) were both of threefold pattern (three tendrils on the vine and three baskets) is that they pertain to the three chiefs with whom Yoseph dealt (chief of butlers, chief of the bakers and Potiphar Sar haTabaim, here in the literal meaning of “chief of cooks”), who symbolize the three brains (or intelligences) that a man has (according to the Qabbalah:) of Wisdom-okhmah, of Knowledge-Da’at and of Understanding-Binah. These three brains control the body, as they descend through the neck by three pipes or Mearim (straights): the trachea, the gullet (esophagus), and the carotid artery. The ARI’zl demonstrates with painstaking detail that the incarceration of Yoseph in the prison was his own Mirayim (Hebrew for Egypt, and literally “Twin straights”). Not a descent to the geographic Mirayim-Egypt, but to Mirayim to the narrows Mearim – of the throat, to the state of choked throat which we all know.

[17] In the language of the Kabbalah, the term “GaR” (acronyme of Gimel – three; Rishonot – initials ones) denotes the three upper Sefirot of Keter (Crown), okhmah (Wisdom) and Binah (Understanding) from which the Neshamah (Eternal, Divine Soul) derives. The descending Neshamah becomes (just like Yoseph) a Ger be’Ere Nokhriyah – “Stranger in a strange land”. The six Sefirot below these three are the characteristics of the Ru’a, and they are among the attributes of lam haYeirah. The lowest of these six Sefirot is that of Yesod, also called “The adiq” (The Righteous One”), and it – like Yoseph the Tsadiq who represents this Sefirah – injects the GaR further, to the lower World of Action-ssiyah. Yoseph was lowered twice to the bottom pit, and managed not to sink in there, but to emerge strengthened from the pit. 

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