2002In this week's Torah portion, we read of Joseph's brothers kidnapping him and selling him into slavery. This week also marks Thanksgiving and the beginning of Chanukah.
Thoughts on Chanukah, Thanksgiving, and the Torah Portion Vayeshev
Genesis chapter 37:12-17
One time, when [Joseph's] brothers had gone to pasture their father's flock at Shechem, Israel said to Joseph, "Your brothers are pasturing at Shechem. Come, I will send you to them." And [Jacob] said to [Joseph], "Go and see how your brothers are and how the flocks are faring, and bring me back word." So he sent him from the valley of Hebron. When [Joseph] reached Shechem, a man came upon him wandering in the fields. The man asked him, "What are you looking for?" He answered, "I am looking for my brothers. Could you tell me where they are pasturing?" The man said, "they have gone from here, for I heard them say: 'Let us go to Dothan.'" So Joseph followed his brothers and found them at Dothan.
Your Genesis Navigator
1. Why does Jacob send Joseph to his brothers?
2. Does Jacob know of the brother's hatred of Joseph? Does he consider the possibility that they might harm him?
3. Does Joseph ever sense that he might be in danger?
4. Why doesn't Joseph head back home to Hebron as he wanders about in the fields near Shechem? He's done his best to carry out his father's assignment and find his brothers!
Joseph has been sent on a mission to maintain lines of communication between his father, himself, and his brothers. Little does he know that his jealous brothers will use the reunion as an opportunity to rid themselves of a younger sibling they view as an unbearable nuisance. A proper reunion will await years of exile and mistreatment in Egypt for Joseph, and the experience of famine for his family back in the land of Canaan.
Rabbi Samuel b. Meir ("Rashbam," 12th c. France and grandson of Rashi)
This teaches the significance of Joseph. He did not want to return to his father after failing to find [his brothers] in Shechem. He kept on seeking them until he found them. Even though he knew that they were jealous of him, he went on looking for them as his father had instructed him..."
Your Rashbam Navigator
1. Why, according to Rashbam does Joseph persist to find his brothers?
2. What is Joseph's most important value?
3. Can you think of instances in which you had to put aside personal concerns for a greater value?
This year, Parashat Vayeshev comes in the wake of Thanksgiving (in the United States) and coincides with the first day of Chanukah. Thanksgiving expresses a communal todah rabbah (expression of thanks) for the bounty of an adoptive land; it is often and ideally marked by families or communities. Chanukah marks a different kind of giving thanks. The festival of lights comes out of the internecine strife among the Jews of 2nd c. BCE Eretz Yisrael. Yet we mark the rededication of the Temple, once again, as families and community: "a lamp for each family," the Talmud teaches.
Sometimes, Jewish community comes about peacefully. Often, however, community is achieved, and maintained, in the presence of strife - conflicting visions, hopes, and worries. This is often true of Jewish community on campus! As we join together in communities and families to celebrate Thanksgiving (for the Americans among us) and Chanukah (for all of us!), may we celebrate, and emulate, the persistence of Joseph, who seeks family and community so that we might do likewise.
Prepared by Rabbi David Rosenberg, Executive Director, The Johanna and Herman H. Newberger Hillel Center at the University of Chicago.