Coated in Deception: Vayeshev 2016

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Have you ever gotten away with bad behavior? How does it feel when you know you’ve escaped punishment? Does the thrill of avoiding negative consequences outweigh the guilt of doing the wrong thing?

In our Torah portion this Shabbat, Vayeshev, Joseph’s brothers find a way to rid themselves of their nemesis without their father knowing the truth – at least for now.

The Pitch: “Then they took Joseph’s tunic, slaughtered a kid, and dipped the tunic in the blood. They had the ornamented tunic taken to their father, and they said, ‘We found this. Please examine it; is it your son’s tunic or not?’” – Genesis 37:31-32

Swing #1: “It seems inconceivable that anyone should ever have suspected Jews of using human blood for their religious rituals. But it may be that these accusations were the punishment due them for the deceitful behavior of their remote ancestors who dipped Joseph’s coat into the blood of a he-goat and then presented it to Jacob to identify as the coat of his favorite son.” – Rabbi Elhanan Wasserman

Swing #2: “Jacob, who had himself deceived his father, was now deceived by his own sons. Like Isaac, he was now too spiritually blind to recognize the truth, even though, as we shall see, he nurtured a subconscious suspicion. The truth would throw too harsh a light on his own parental deficiency.” – Karen Armstrong, In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of Genesis

Swing #3: “The loss of the garment, like the stripping away of insignia from a soldier who is being ‘drummed out’ of the military, transforms Joseph from honorable person to a shamed person.” – Victor H. Matthews, “The Anthropology of Clothing in the Joseph Narrative”, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 65

Late-Inning Questions: Depending on which commentary you find most compelling, this episode reflects badly on someone – either Jacob, Joseph, or Jacob’s other sons. Who looks the worst as a result of this episode? Does it anger you that Joseph’s brothers temporarily evade the consequences of their actions, even for a short time? How does it compare to how you feel when improper behavior goes unpunished today?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Our annual Night of Giving is always the highlight of Hanukkah for me. Please join us Monday, December 26th, at 5:15 PM, at one of the following Publix grocery stores: West Ashley – Ashley Landing Mall-1401 Sam Rittenberg Blvd.; Mt. Pleasant – Queensborough Shopping Center-1000 Johnnie Dodds Blvd.; or Summerville – Paradise Shoppes-1585 Central Ave. We will gather and celebrate the third night of Hanukkah. After lighting the menorah, and then shop for the Kosher Food Pantry. What a wonderful way to show our appreciation for the gifts in our lives.

The Big Inning at the End: Once again, I want to express my appreciation to Mike Mills for being a good sport and helping me celebrate the Cubs’ victory at services this Saturday. If anything, I am reminded that it’s important to appreciate triumphs when we are able, especially since we never know when they will occur again. If anything, the Indians’ signing of standout slugger Edwin Encarnacion means that we may be toasting a Cleveland World Series victory at this time next year.

Shabbat Shalom!