Parsha Vayeshev: Genesis 37:1 - 40:23
Jacob assumed, by the state of the coat, that a beast had eaten his son. He mourned deeply for his favorite son. All the children tried to console him but he could not be comforted. Why could he not be comforted? It is easy to say that it was because Joseph was his favorite but Rashi tells us there is a special blessing G-d gives when someone dies, so that his relatives may find comfort. The pain grows less and less as time passes. Since Joseph was still alive, Jacob never got that bracha (blessing) and couldn't be consoled. Meanwhile, Joseph had been sold to the Midianites who then sold him to a successful merchant in Egypt named Potiphar.
Here we start chapter 38, which is a very odd interlude in this story. It is all about Judah's life. Judah marries a woman names Shua and they have three children names Er, Onan, and Shelah. He finds a wife for Er, named Tamar. But G-d saw that Er was evil so he dies. Now we have a widow with no children and the usual thing at the time was for the brother to marry her and their children would be considered the brother's children. But Onan doesn't want to marry her because he doesn't want his children to be considered Er's. So during intercourse, he ‘wastes his seed upon the ground.' Well, then Onan dies.
Judah is not deterred but rather determined. He tells her to wait until Shelah is old enough to marry. In the mean time, Judah's wife, Shua, dies. Tamar notices that Shelah is old enough to marry but she has not been married to him yet so one night, she dresses up as a prostitute and offers herself to Judah. She demands collateral for payment and he gives her his staff and ring . . . at which point she "disappears." Judah quickly finds out that his daughter-in-law has become pregnant and demands that she be killed. She doesn't turn around and accuse him but she pulls out his items and tells the town that these items belong to the baby's father. Judah relents and accepts that they are his. She eventually gives birth to twins. During birth, one baby sticks his hand out. The midwife ties a red thread around its wrist and then the baby pulls it back into his mother. Then the second child is born first. So the first-born is actually born second. Perez, the child who was born first but is actually the second child, and Zerah, who emerged first but retreated and was born second.
Why do we have this interlude here? It is here to give us some perspective. Judah was very well esteemed by his brothers. He stopped Joseph from being killed but instead he suggested slavery. When the other brothers saw how much grief their actions caused their father, they lost respect for Judah. At the same time, when he is so low, these are our first steps into the messianic dynasty. David is descended from Perez and so, our tradition tells us, with be the messiah (moshiach).
Back to Joseph. If you remember, before our Judah interlude, Joseph has just been sold to Potiphar. Well, Potiphar was very happy with Joseph's work in his household. This definitely had to do with the fact that G-d was protecting him and his work. Not only was Joseph protected and blessed by G-d but he had also been blessed with his mother's internal and external beauty, which leads to his downfall in Potiphar's house. Potiphar's wife, Zuleikha, took a liking to him. She dropped some not-so-subtle hints but he managed to avoid her until one day when he couldn't. She grabs him one day when everyone was out of the house but he slipped out of his shirt and ran. Not wanting to be left holding the shirt, as it were, she created a story blaming him, which landed Joseph in the Pharaoh's jail.
As the daughter, niece, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter of rabbis, Talia Davis has been immersed in Jewish culture and communities throughout her life. She has lived in Israel and served as the Religious and Cultural Vice President of the Southeast Region of North American Federation of Temple Youth. Presently she enjoys attending synagogue at a variety of shuls that range from Chabad Orthodox to her father's post-denominational, Rocky Mountain Hai.