Vayeshev

November 19, 2013 § Leave a comment

Joseph the dreamer tells his brothers all of his dreams. All of the sheaves will bow down to his. All of the stars will bow down to his. He will be the ruler of them all. And his brothers hate him when he tells them these things.

Why do they hate him? Because they know that the dreams are true. He is the kind of kid who can be dropped in the middle of a pit in an open field and end up second in command of all of Egypt. He is beautiful, charismatic, and smart. And they hate him for it.

But there is a harder question to answer here: What about his father? Joseph’s father Jacob clearly bears some of the responsibility for what happens to Joseph at the hands of his brothers. The father buys him an ornamented coat and makes his favoritism clear. And when the brothers complain about Joseph, their father ‘keeps the matter in mind’ but does not intervene. Rather, he sends Joseph out in this elaborate coat in search of his brothers. Why does he send the immature and entitled Joseph to search for his brothers? Perhaps he thought that they might teach him a thing or two? Perhaps he thought that Joseph would return after an unsuccessful search?

Joseph finds them yet does not return. And his father fears the worst: he does not send a search party, but grieves straightaway. It does appear that he believes the story that Joseph is dead — but it seems to me that he does not believe the story of a wild beast. Wouldn’t they want to follow the trail of blood to find him? After all, maybe Joseph survived the attack and is still alive? And shouldn’t they be able to tell him — at minimum — what kind of beast it was? Any question about ‘what kind of animal tracks did you see?’ is met with confusion and deceit.

Rather, it seems likely to me that Jacob suspects that the brothers did it: they return to him carrying a bloodied coat and exhibiting a weird tension among them. Something has happened — and no one is talking about it.

That’s why — later in the narrative — Jacob initially refuses to let them take Benjamin with them when they return to Egypt. He fears their jealousy: he believes that they are jealous of the sons of his favored wife. He has lost one and does not want to lose the other.

Joseph eventually finds a way to forgive them. Joseph is a model of family reconciliation. But their father, in his final speech, makes it clear that he does not.

Yet does he not also bear some of the responsibility as well?

Perhaps that is why he cannot forgive them: he cannot forgive himself.

 

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