Read in the Diaspora on 12 December 2020 (26 Kislev 5781).
Parashat Vayeshev is the 9th weekly Torah portion in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading.
Now Jacob was settled in the land where his father had sojourned, the land of Canaan. Jacob had a special relationship with Joseph, the older son of his favorite wife. They would study together while the other ten brothers were out working, pasturing their livestock.
Joseph had the gift of prophecy and had two dreams. in the first there were eleven sheaths of grain. His sheath stood upright while the others bent towards him as if to bow. His second dream had the sun, moon and eleven stars bowing towards him. These dreams incensed the other brothers.
Jacob asked Joseph to go out to where his brothers were pasturing the livestock to see how they were. As the brothers saw him coming, they talked about killing him. Judah and Reuben intervened to have him sold as a slave instead. He was sold to Ishmaelites, who sold him to Medianites, who sold him to Potiphar, the viceroy of Egypt to the Pharaoh.
The portion then digresses to talk about Judah, who left the family business to go into a partnership with Shua, the Adullamite. Judah married Shua’s daughter and they had three sons: Er, Onan and Shelah. Judah arranged for Tamar, a native, to marry Er. Er did what was evil in the eyes of Hashem and he died. Judah then told Onan to marry the widow so she could have a son to carry on Er’s legacy. Onan avoided getting her pregnant and he died as well. Judah told Tamar he would have Shelah marry her when he was older, but Judah avoided that thinking that marriage to Tamar causes death.
Tamar instinctively knew that her offspring would give birth to the line of David and she had to have offspring. She tricked Judah into having relations with her by disguising herself as a prostitute so Judah himself would perform the duty of impregnating her to continue the legacy (levirate). Judah promised her two calves for her services and gave her his signet, wrap and staff as collateral. When Judah returned with the payment, no one knew her and he couldn’t find her.
Three months later, someone told Judah his daughter-in-law was pregnant. Since she was still in mourning, her penalty was death for adultery. When she stood trial, she produced the staff, wrap and signet ring as indicating the father. Judah admitted it was his. Tamar gave birth to two sons, one of whom, Perez, would be the ancestor of the Davidic line.
Meanwhile, in Egypt, Joseph was made head of Potiphar’s household and everything Joseph arranged flourished and thrived. Joseph was very handsome and Potiphar’s wife was attracted to him and wanted to have relations with him. When he refused, she tried to grab him and caught his jacket. She used that as evidence that he tried to molest her and Joseph was put in jail.
The warden of the prison liked him and made him his aide. After nine years, the Chief Baker and Cupbearer were confined there for offenses. They both had dreams and told them to Joseph who told them that Hashem would interpret them. Joseph correctly predicted that the Cupbearer would be restored to his position but the Baker would be executed. The baker, freed, never vouched for Joseph and he remained in prison.