Parashat Vayeshev : Was it God’s plan?

  Ellen Frankel (Author of “The Five Books of Miriam”) askes the following, thought-provoking question: “Why doesn’t Joseph tell his dreams to the women of the family? Why does he tell his two dreams – of his brothers’ sheaves bowing down to his sheaf and of the sun, moon and 11 stars bowing to him – only to the men, as it is written: ‘And when he told it to his father and brothers’ (Gen 37:10).”
Ellen Frankel interprets this as “a foolish act of Joseph”, because women would have “recognised in these fantasies nothing more but the intemperate arrogance of youth,” while “his brothers, interpreted his dreams as an expression of his ambition to lord it over them.” She concludes that the Joseph story, and by that the story of the Jewish people would have been different, if he would have told the women too.

Using the same narrative, Rabbis have been discussing to which degree God is guiding our fate and the fate of the Jewish people. For most of them the Joseph narrative is “the” example of how God is governing history. No matter what the conclusion of the family members would have been, at the end of Genesis, Joseph and his family would have lived in Egypt, because it was God’s plan. Without this prelude to the Exodus, so the rabbis, couldn’t have been the liberation of the Israelites by God, the normative event of our people.

I am not sure I can agree with either one of those interpretations, as the whole narrative is for me neither an example of prevision (thought by the rabbis), nor about gender related perspectives. I view it as a parable about acts and consequences, trust and mistrust, failures and growth. All members of the nuclear Jewish family are deeply human beings, trying to find their place in history, full of emotions, and the ability to make big mistakes. For me, Joseph’s life is like a re-run of Genesis. He is facing great highs, but also downs. His dreams resemble the story of Babylon, and his acknowledgment of God reflects the closeness of Abraham to God. Once again, the Torah provides us with a role model to find our own way in life.

Shabbat Shalom – Rabbi Adrian M Schell

Torah Reading for Shabbat Vayeshev

Genesis 37:1-40:23 (Reading 37:1-28; Plaut p.246; Hertz p.141) – M’varchim Chodesh Tevet (Sa/Su)
Haftarah: Amos 2:6-3:8 (Plaut p.263; Hertz p.152)

The Torah Study with Rabbi Schell continues on Shabbat, 12 December at 08h45 (Rondavel).
“The Prayers of our Siddur”– class with Rabbi Schell every Thursday from 18h00 to 19h30 (Foyer).
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