Parshat Vayeshev

Joseph dreams of wheat
Bereishit 37:2-5
And Joseph brought bad reports of them [his brothers] to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph best of all of his sons, for he was the child of his old age; and he had made him an ornamented tunic. And when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of his brothers, they hated him so that they could not speak a friendly word to him. Once Joseph had a dream which he told to his brothers; and they hated him even more.

Sibling rivalry is a major theme in the book of Genesis. Why do you think it plays such a central role in the first book of the Torah? What is your own experience with sibling rivalry both as a child and a parent?

The situation in the verses above seem ripe for sibling rivalry (Leibowitz). A parent shows favoritism to a child, triggering jealousy among siblings.

Thinking about Ishmael and Issac, Esau and Jacob, the brothers and Joseph — what is the pattern? What are the motivations of the parents?

Does the same pattern apply Cain and Abel — in what ways is the situation of Cain and Abel similar or different?

Note that in this first conflict between brothers the “favorite” dies. Is God playing favorites, or is Cain perceiving the situation in that way?

Rabbi Leibowitz points to the ways that Joseph exacerbates the situation. He tattles on his brothers. He shares a narcissistic dream. (Why share it?)

How does Jacob respond to Joseph’s tattling? Does Jacob ameliorate the situation or make it worse? What is the Torah telling us about negative family dynamics?

For Rabbi Dessler, Joseph continues Jacobs journey exploring the nature of truth, cumulating in acting on truth in politics and governance. Interestingly (and somewhat in contrast), Rabbi Leibowitz sees this early episode of Josephs life as reflecting a naive relationship to truth. While Joseph is truthful in this tattling and dream-telling, what he does is damaging.

Looking at Joseph’s dream, how is it different from Jacob’s dream?

In his immaturity, he is unable to understand the consequences of his tattling on his brothers. While his dream is an accurate prophecy, it is upsetting to his brothers and father. Neither is necessary or for the good. Rabbi Leibowitz emphasizes that understanding consequences of actions requires a deeper knowledge. It is not based on intelligence or intellectual learning but on life experience.

In addition to our personal life experience, are there other ways to develop this deeper knowledge? (Rabbi Leibowitz’s answer to this question is not mystical but practical.)

What does the story about Tamar teach us about truth?