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The Rejected Prince - Further thoughts on Vayeshev

Israel's Rejected Prince...

Further thoughts about Parashat Vayeshev

by John J. Parsons

From the beginning of this week's Torah portion (Vayeshev) until the end of Sefer Bereshit (the Book of Genesis), the focus shifts from the patriarch Jacob to his twelve sons, and particularly to his beloved son Joseph (יוֹסֵף). Recall that Joseph's jealous brothers had stripped him of his "coat of many colors" and then mercilessly threw him into a pit -- a providential event that eventually led to the deliverance of the Jewish people by the hand of a "disguised savior." Indeed, story of Joseph's ordeal is a story of divine hashgachah (providential supervision) that foretells the glory of Yeshua our Messiah, both as the Suffering Servant and as a national deliverer of Israel.

The Torah reading begins, "Jacob settled (vayeshev Ya'akov) in the land of his father's sojourning, in the land of Canaan" (Gen. 37:1), but then immediately turns to the story of Joseph, who was seventeen years old at the time: "And these were the generations of Jacob: Joseph being seventeen years old..." (Gen. 37:2). Why does the toldot (genealogy) of Jacob begin with Joseph rather than Reuben (the firstborn son of Leah) here? Was the Torah suggesting that Joseph was regarded by Jacob as his (chosen) "firstborn" son?


Jacob and Joseph undoubtedly shared a lot in common, and this surely caused Jacob to prefer his firstborn son (of Rachel) over his other sons. For instance, both men had infertile mothers who had difficulty in childbirth; both mothers bore two sons; and both were hated by their brothers. In addition, the Torah states that Jacob loved Joseph more than all his other sons since he was the son of his old age, and was the firstborn son (bechor) of his beloved wife Rachel. Indeed, Jacob made him an ornamented tunic (ketonet passim) to indicate his special status in the family.

At any rate, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 106a) notes that whenever the word vayeshev (וַיֵּשֶׁב) is mentioned in Torah, it introduces a painful episode.  Immediately following the statement that "Jacob settled (vayeshev Ya'akov) in the land of his father's sojourning," the Torah states that Joseph brought an "evil report" about his brothers to his father. This act ultimately led to the selling of Joseph into slavery and to further heartache for Israel. The Jewish sage Rashi notes that whenever someone called by God wants to "settle down" and live at ease, God orchestrates events to keep him free from complacency. This certainly happened in the case of Jacob, where sibling rivalry and baseless hatred (called sinat chinam: שִׂנְאַת חִנָּם) so disrupted the peace of the family that his children were eventually led into exile and slavery.

But there is redemption and healing, even in the midst of betray and loss... We note that Joseph was sent by his father from the "depth of Hebron" (מֵעֵמֶק חֶבְרוֹן) to seek the welfare of his brothers (Gen. 37:14). Hebron (חֶבְרוֹן) is one of the very first places Abraham lived after he entered the Promised Land (Gen. 13:18). The word itself comes from a root (ח.ב.ר) that means "union," or "friendship," suggesting that from the depth of family union would come struggle but eventual deliverance. The "depths of Hebron" therefore suggests that Joseph's assignment was ultimately redemptive in nature - to restore love to the family by means of God's providential salvation...

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