The Torah/Vayeshev

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Joseph Reveals His Dream to His Brethren (watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

As told in Genesis 37:1–40:23, this is the story of the Torah reading Vayeshev:

Joseph the dreamer

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Jacob lived in the land of Canaan, and this is his family’s story. When Joseph was 17, he fed the flock with his brothers, and he brought Jacob an evil report about his brothers. Because Joseph was the son of Jacob’s old age, Jacob loved him more than his other children, and Jacob made him a coat of many colors, which caused Joseph’s brothers to hate him. And Joseph made his brothers hate him more when he told them that he dreamed that they were binding sheaves in the field, and their sheaves bowed down to his sheaf. He told his brothers another dream, in which the sun, the moon, and eleven stars bowed down to him, and when he told his father, Jacob rebuked him, asking whether he, Joseph’s mother, and his brothers would bow down to Joseph.

Jacob Sees Joseph’s Coat (painting circa 1816–1817 by Friedrich Wilhelm Schadow)

When the brothers went to feed the flock in Shechem, Jacob sent Joseph to see whether all was well with them. A man found Joseph and asked him what he sought, and when he told the man that he sought his brothers, the man told him that they had departed for Dothan. When Joseph’s brothers saw him coming, they conspired to kill him, cast him into a pit, say that a beast had devoured him, and see what would become of his dreams then. But Reuben persuaded them not to kill him but to cast him into a pit, hoping to restore him to Jacob later. So Joseph’s brothers stripped him of his coat of many colors and cast him into an empty pit. They sat down to eat, and when they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites from Gilead bringing spices and balm to Egypt, Judah persuaded the brothers to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites. Passing Midianite merchants drew Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for 20 shekels of silver, and they brought him to Egypt. When Reuben returned to the pit and Joseph was gone, he rent his clothes and asked his brothers where he could go now.

Judah and Tamar (1840 painting by Horace Vernet)

They took Joseph’s coat of many colors, dipped it in goat’s blood, and sent it to Jacob to identify. Jacob concluded that a beast had devoured Joseph, and rent his garments, put on sackcloth, and mourned for his son. All his sons and daughters tried in vain to comfort him. And the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s captain of the guard.

Judah and Tamar

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Judah left his brothers to live near an Adullamite named Hirah. Judah married the daughter of a Canaanite named Shua and had three sons named Er, Onan, and Shelah. Judah arranged for Er to marry a woman named Tamar, but Er was wicked and God killed him. Judah directed Onan to perform a brother’s duty and have children with Tamar in Er’s name. But Onan knew that the children would not be counted as his, so he spilled his seed, and God killed him as well. Then Judah told Tamar to remain a widow in his house until Shelah could grown up, thinking that if Tamar wed Shelah, he might also die.

Judah and Tamar (painting circa 1650–1660 by the school of Rembrandt)

Later, when Judah’s wife died, he went with his friend Hirah to his sheep-shearers at Timnah. When Tamar learned that Judah had gone to Timnah, she took off her widow’s garments and put on a veil and sat on the road to Timnah, for she saw that Shelah had grown up and Judah had not given her to be his wife. Judah took her for a harlot, offered her a young goat for her services, and gave her his signet and staff as a pledge for payment, and they cohabited and she conceived. Judah sent Hirah to deliver the young goat and collect his pledge, but he asked about and did not find her. When Hirah reported to Judah that the men of the place said that there had been no harlot there, Judah put the matter to rest so as not to be put to shame. About three months later, Judah heard that Tamar had played the harlot and become pregnant, and he ordered her to be brought forth and burned. When they seized her, she sent Judah the pledge to identify, saying that she was pregnant by the man whose things they were. Judah acknowledged them and said that she was more righteous than he, inasmuch as he had failed to give her to Shelah.

When Tamar delivered, one twin — whom she would name Zerah — put out a hand and the midwife bound it with a scarlet thread, but then he drew it back and his brother — whom she would name Perez — came out.

Joseph and the Wife of Potiphar (painting circa 1816–1817 by Philipp Veit)

Joseph and Potiphar

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Meanwhile, Pharaoh’s captain of the guard Potiphar bought Joseph from the Ishmaelites. When Potiphar saw that God was with Joseph and prospered all that he did, Potiphar appointed him overseer over his house and gave him charge of all that he had, and God blessed Pharaoh’s house for Joseph’s sake. Joseph was handsome, and Potiphar’s wife repeatedly asked him to lie with her, but he declined, asking how he could sin so against Potiphar and God. One day, when the men of the house were away, she caught him by his garment and asked him to lie with her, but he fled, leaving his garment behind. When Potiphar came home, she accused Joseph of trying to force himself on her, and Potiphar put Joseph in the prison where the king’s prisoners were held.

Joseph Interprets Dreams in Prison (painting circa 1816–1817 by Friedrich Wilhelm Schadow)

But God was with Joseph, and gave him favor in the sight of the warden, who committed all the prisoners to Joseph’s charge. When the Pharaoh’s butler and baker offended him, the Pharaoh put them into the prison as well. One night, the butler and the baker each dreamed a dream. Finding them sad, Joseph asked the cause, and they told him that it was because no one could interpret their dreams. Acknowledging that interpretations belong to God, Joseph asked them to tell him their dreams. The butler told Joseph that he dreamt that he saw a vine with three branches blossom and bring forth grapes, which he took and pressed into Pharaoh’s cup, which he gave to Pharaoh. Joseph interpreted that within three days, Pharaoh would lift up the butler’s head and restore him to his office, where he would give Pharaoh his cup just as he used to do. And Joseph asked the butler to remember him and mention him to Pharaoh, so that he might be brought out of the prison, for he had been stolen away from his land and had done nothing to warrant his imprisonment. When the baker saw that the interpretation of the butler’s dream was good, he told Joseph his dream: He saw three baskets of white bread on his head, and the birds ate them out of the basket. Joseph interpreted that within three days Pharaoh would lift up the baker’s head and hang him on a tree, and the birds would eat his flesh. And on the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, Pharaoh made a feast, restored the chief butler to his butlership, and hanged the baker, just as Joseph had predicted. But the butler forgot about Joseph.


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