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Ap. 11-B JOSEPH & His BROTHERS - lessons from four Haftarot

Yitzhaq Hayut-Man 30.12.2012 02:03
Ap. 11-B  JOSEPH & His BROTHERS - lessons from four Haftarot - Book of Genesis - Tribes of Israel - Jewish Future - Israeli-Palestinian - Future Bible - Joseph - Jewish-Christian - New Israel - Utopian writings - Bible study - Messiah


The relationship between Joseph and his brothers, as reflected in the Haftarot of the last four portions of Genesis, spells an important instruction for contemporary Israel.



The four acts among the brothers

In the Book of Genesis-Bereshit there is a myriad of stories, riddles, hints and coded comments that we would love to explore. Yet (as we have been arguing all along), the core story of the Book of Genesis is that of the conflicts between brothers, which repeat in six Acts under different names. These six Acts are already hinted in the first chapter of Genesis, which tells about the six "Days" of Creation, whereas the Seventh Day – the Shabbat - appears at the next chapter. In the first chapter of the next book (Exodus) appear the two brothers as partners in the Divine Work, Moshe (Moses) and Aharon (Aaron). The suggestion is that there is a creative process related to the fraternal strives of all Sons of Adam (Bene Adam).

The most dramatic and longest Act of fraternal strife is the 5th Act, involving Yoseph (Joseph) and his brothers which continues  for four Parashot.[1] These Parashot are vaYeshev, miQetz, vaYigash and vaYeḥi. Parashat vaYeshev, (Gen 37:1-40:23) tells how Yoseph's brothers envied him and cast him out of the community of Yisra'el (Israel) and into slavery. This ties in with the former acts where one brother was killed (Hevel-Abel), or sent to slavery (Ḥam as Kna'an-Canaan) or cast out (as Yishma'el) or tricked out (as Esav). Yoseph's brothers were ready to cast him out of Klal Yisrael (the Assembly of Israel) by any means - whether by killing, abandoning to die, or selling to slavery, it made no difference).

The tables are turned in parashat miQetz (Gen. 41:1-44:17) where Yoseph plays the Master-Slave game with his brothers who do not recognize him. In parashat vaYigash (44:18-47:27) they appear to get reconciled and accept (out of choice-less necessity) the seniority of Yoseph over them after they realized that they had committed a crime against him. In Parashat vaYeḥi the union of Yoseph and his brothers endures the death of their father and the House of Yoseph gets established with a senior position. The House of Yoseph gets two tribes, as the senior son would get, and the tribe of Menashe that gave up on the seniority to Ephraim, actually becomes two tribes. Therefore  in the final count the children of Raḥel (Rachel) become four tribes (though Binyamin eventually sided with Judah).

This account and process of reconciliation and reunion has crucial implications for the present state of Israel. Officially, and for most of its residents, Israel is and should be “A Jewish State”. The State of Israel is the product of Zionism – but this Zionism is exclusively Jewish, unmindful of non-Jewish Zionists who desire to become Israelites (and also non-Orthodox Jews, who make the majority of Diaspora Jews but get no legal religious recognition in Israel). At the core of this exclusivist attitude is a traditional concept of the formation of “The Jewish People” as one and the same to the Biblical “Chosen People of Israel”. This is a view of the Biblical story of the forefathers as a story of selection and separation, evidenced in the casting out of Ishmael and the separation from and avoidance of Esau by Ya’ạqov.

We have been arguing that the Biblical story is really one of gradual reconciliation leading to a plural framework of “Israel” - ideally made of twelve distinct communities, not all of them Jewish. Now, with the story of Yoseph and his brothers going on for four Parashot, let us look at their Haphtarot, which are taken from of the Biblical Books of the Prophets, to get the prophetic view of this issue.


The Haftarot:

The Haphtarah of vaYeshev is from the prophet Amos and it starts with the sins of Israel “because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes” (Amos 2:6) – which reminds of the selling of Yoseph through the brothers conception that he was not suitable for being a part of the assembly of Israel (Klal Yisra’el).[2] This Haphtarah ends with the declaration that the Lord Adonay will not do anything without revealing His secret to His prophets (3:7). Among the prophets, Amos was one of the Twelve Prophets (the minor prophets compared with the three main prophets), a format that parallels the Twelve Tribes (and three patriarchs,[3]) and whose prophecies are messages for the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

The Haphtarah of miQetz is from the 1st Book of Kings (3:15-4:1). These books are included among the Books of the Prophets, but deal with historic and practical matters. The connection of this Haphtarah to the Parashah is in its last sentence – that Shlomoh (King Solomon) became king over all of Yisra'el after all of Yisra'el saw that "the wisdom of God was in him, to do judgment", much like with Par’oh made Yoseph viceroy of the king because of his wisdom. But the connection is still deeper. “The Judgment of Shlomoh” puts the two mothers in a seemingly cruel test that somewhat resembles the testing of Abraham at the Ạqedah (the Binding of Isaac). Unless the true mother was ready to give away her baby, he would have been killed. In the Parashah of miQetz Yoseph put his brothers, and especially Judah, in the cruel test of forsaking Binyamin and delivering him to slavery, a measure for measure for their kidnapping and selling him. It was only the reminding of the suffering of the common father and the allegiance to him that brought the reunion of the Tribes of Israel. The mother (homeland) might be different, but the father (the belief system) is similar.

The most dramatic in the process is Parashat vaYigash and its Haphtarah is from the major prophet Yeḥezqel (Ezekiel).  It prophecies and demonstrates to the people of Judea the placing of the “stick for Yehudah and for the children of Yisra’el his companions” near to the stick for Yoseph “the stick of Efrayim and for all the house of Yisra’el his companions” and they ir becoming one tree (37:15-28). This vision of the restoration of all Israel comes right after the vision of the same prophet – about the dry bones that turn into living bodies (Ez. 37:1-14). Through this union forms the one tree of the resurrected reunited Israel – a blooming tree that has twelve branches (Shvatim – meaning both “tribes” and “branches”). This prophecy shows most clearly that the intent of the Biblical narrative is the reunification of Judah-Judaism with the “lost Ten Tribes” characterized mostly as “The House of Yoseph”.

The Haphtarah for parashat vaYeḥi is also from I Kings and tells of David’s testament to Shlomoh, as parallel to the testament of Ya’ạqov to his sons. Ya’ạqov purports to tell what will happen to each of his twelve sons at “the end of days”, but it deals not only with blessings but also with curses, and his prophecy starts with recalling the sins of his three eldest sons. In a similar practical manner, David in his testament commands Shlomoh to use his wisdom to get revenge against people that harmed him but he was prevented from avenging them by himself.

With this we come to the current situation of Israel, right before the 2013 elections. The most critical issue for the future of Israel is the solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As it seems now the much touted “Two State Solution” is dead. This means that sooner or later, and inevitably, the Palestinians would become Israeli citizens. Not just the present 20% of Israel’s population, but also those of the “West Bank” and in the course (or curse?) of events also those of the Gaza strip and at least some of the Palestinian Diaspora. Most Israelis fear losing the Israeli/Jewish character of Israel by a majority of Arab-Palestinian “Tribe”.

But it is the ideal Israel of the Bible that offers a practical means to prevent such a turn of events. There is the partial course of alerting the Palestinians to their factual Jewish origins and thus allowing their return to their original identity that is part and parcel of Israel (this policy is advanced by Tsvi Misinai, see www.the-engagement.org), whether by conversion to Judaism or the adoption of “Zionist Islam”. Yet the major safeguard for Israel’s future seems to be to add more “tribes” to Israel from “the House of Yoseph” (avoiding thus also the prospective Moslem majority). This scheme accords with Hugh Schonfield’s vision of uniting Judaism and certain parts of Christianity to realize the Biblical goal of a “Servant Nation”.

The issue that separates Jews and Christians is the attitude to the son of Joseph called Jesus/Yeshu’a – is he Jesus, the creator of heaven and earth and the only Son of God, or was he (as historian David Flusser and others asserted) the Yeshu’a who “was born a Jew, lived as a Jew and died as a Jew” who could be brought back to the fold, just as Yoseph was. We don’t have here the space to investigate this possibility, but can refer the reader to the newly reprinted e-book of “Jesus: a Biography” by Hugh Schonfield or many other recent books about the genuine (and non-Christian) Yeshu’a.



[1] Also in the Koran, the story of Joseph and his brothers is the most detailed telling of Biblical stories, being the contents of an entire Quranic Sura. (There are some possible relations between Quranic and Qumeranic passages). 

[2] The GRA (Gaon of Vilna) Qol haTor, chap. 2, 151.


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