This week’s Torah portion, Vayeshev, begins the Joseph narratives with all its beautiful complexities. It begins by telling us that Joseph would bring bad reports of his brothers to his father, Jacob. It then says that Jacob loves Joseph, and his brothers hate him. Most of the commentaries depict Joseph as privileged and spoiled —he is the favourite son who tells tales about his brothers. But the Torah may be painting a different picture.
On the fateful day of Joseph’s kidnapping, Jacob sends him to check on his brothers. As we follow him through his day, we see that his brothers are not where they’re supposed to be. In fact, they’re camped by a trade route. It begs the question of what they are doing with their father’s sheep near a trade route. Perhaps these brothers are not as innocent as they seem.
As the story develops, we see the immorality of the brothers, including the cowardly lies that plunge their father into decades of mourning. Given all the details, we might consider that they have been poaching their father’s sheep and selling them on the trade routes. This might be part of the ‘bad reports’ that Joseph was trying to tell his father.
The complex issues of the Joseph story start at home where he is faced with a conflict of morality. His life journey will always centre on moments of moral choice, as do ours. Our days are filled with moral conflicts that are usually small, but still quite meaningful. When to speak up about something and when to let it go; when to confront and when to negotiate. The Torah wastes no time showing us that the challenges Joseph faces appear in our lives all the time.
There are no easy answers and no single solution to these nuanced moments
of choice. At times we have done wrong, and stand in the footsteps of the brothers, at times we have been hurt, and stand where Jacob stood, and at times we have tried to resolve conflict, and only made it worse – we stand in Joseph’s shoes.
The power of these narratives is we see that healing can only start when each person owns the part they played and stops searching for someone to blame.
Just another reason to cherish this beautiful narrative.
I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.