This week’s parsha, Vayeishev, is best known for the story of Joseph and his brothers. It also reveals the beginning of both the Jewish people’s descent to Egyptian slavery and our ultimate freedom.
Joseph’s story follows a pattern in Genesis – the younger brother takes leadership of the family and the older brother(s) resent this. First Isaac, not Ishmael, becomes Abraham’s spiritual heir. Then Esau sells his birthright to Jacob. Now comes Joseph, who is Jacob’s favorite. Jacob even gives Joseph a wonderful coat of many colors. Joseph tattles to his father about his older brothers. He tells his brothers about dreams in which he rules over them. Naturally, his brothers resent and dislike him. The older brothers throw Joseph into a pit, then sell him to a caravan of Ishmaelites. Joseph is taken to Egypt, where he is sold to one of Pharoah’s chamberlains. (Spoiler Alert: Jacob’s sons never tell their father what happened to Joseph, and Jacob is really sad for the next 20 years because he does not know what happened to his beloved son.)
At this point, the Torah turns to the story of Tamar. Tamar was the daughter of Noah’s son, Shem, a great scholar and teacher. Tamar and Joseph’s older brother, Judah, have twin boys. The first twin born, Perez, became the ancestor of King David, who in turn will be the ancestor of the Messiah (Moshiach). Moshiach will be the leader of the Jewish people when God brings forth our freedom and peace for all the world.
This is the destiny of two brothers: Joseph starts our journey to Egypt, where the Jewish people will follow him and live in slavery for generations until our first redemption, and Judah starts the line of Moshiach, the leader of our final redemption.
These things were foretold when we began our story of Abraham, when God first promised him that he and Sarah would be the ancestors of countless descendants. At the Covenant of the Parts, in Parshat Lech Lecha, God told Abraham: “Know with certainty that your offspring shall be aliens in a land not their own, they will serve them, and they will oppress them 400 years. … ” This means 400 years of slavery is coming, which is the period from this covenant to the Exodus. God continues, “To your descendants have I given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates River; the Kennite, the Kenizzite, and the Kadmonite … .” These lands will become part of Israel when Moshiach comes, as described in Isaiah 11:14.
But before we begin the story of our slavery, we will go through three weeks filled with family drama and deception, heartbreak and sacrifice. It’s the Torah version of a soap opera. Don’t miss a parasha.