Well, He Was Just Seventeen: Vayeshev 2022

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: At what point should we think of ourselves as “grown up”? Are the defining milestones of reaching adulthood appropriate for this time in history?

Even if 17-year-olds were considered adults in Joseph’s time, he didn’t necessarily act like one:

The Pitch: “This, then, is the line of Jacob: At seventeen years of age, Joseph tended the flocks with his brothers, as a helper to the sons of his father’s wives Bilhah and Zilpah. And Joseph brought bad reports of them to their father.” – Genesis 37:2

Swing #1: “The text speaks of Joseph being ‘seventeen years old’ at the beginning of this [story] cycle, when he had his fateful clash with his brothers, and ends by telling us that ‘Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years’ (Genesis 47:28). So it is measure for measure: it took Joseph seventeen years to become the damaged person his brothers sent to Egypt, and seventeen years to measure up at last in his father’s eyes and prove that he had changed.” – Avraham Burg, Very Near To You: Human Readings of the Torah

Swing #2: “That Joseph would spend all his time with the sons of the handmaids, Bilhah and Zilpah, and dwell in the same tent as Benjamin, is not at all surprising. After his mother’s death, Bilhah became a surrogate mother to both Benjamin and Joseph, and he grew close to her. Contrastingly, the sons of Leah treated him as an intruder, never having a good word to say to him.” – Norman J. Cohen, Self, Struggle & Change: Family Conflict Stories in Genesis and Their Healing Insights for Our Lives

Swing #3: “Joseph is an egocentric young man. Joseph does not engage in the sort of shadowy subterfuge and deception practiced by the young Jacob, but, if anything, he is more insufferable. … Joseph’s motives for bringing an evil report about his brothers to his father is evidently malicious. He has no reason to want to make his brothers look bad in order to win his father’s affection for himself since he is already his father’s favorite.” – John A. Sanford, The Man Who Wrestled With God

Late-Inning Questions: To what extent do our commentators sympathize with Joseph as he’s presented in the beginning of our Torah portion? Should we see his youthful follies as understandable growing pains or as character flaws that require upheaval? What type of growing pain causes the most hurt?

On-Deck at Temple Beth Tzedek: I’m proud of our Kesher Outstretched Arm program that will once again bring people together on Sunday from 10:30am-12 noon. Thanks also to TBT’s Men’s Club for co-hosting.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of reaching maturity, for the most part, players who receive the largest long-term deals are usually those who begin their Major League careers in their early 20s. So if there’s one lesson from the recent free-agency bonanza, it seems to be to get to the Majors as early as possible.

Shabbat Shalom!