Parshat Vayeishev Summary

Parshat Vayeishev is the 9th parsha in Sefer Bereshit (also known as Genesis).

This parsha is verses Genesis 37:1 – 40:23, or a total of 112 verses.

Here is a brief summary for each aliyah.

Aliyah 1: Genesis 37:1 – 37:11, 11 verses

Jacob after over 20 years has finally returned to the Land of Canaan and his father’s home. It seems that he thought his major contributions in life were completed.

However, verse 37:2 has the phrase “these are the generations of Jacob” (in Hebrew: eileh toldot). These two words are used throughout Genesis to indicate a change in focus in the text. I would suggest that here these words also indicate that Jacob’s role in founding the Jewish people is not over.

The text immediately focuses on Joseph. He is now 17 years old and working as one of his father’s shepherds.

Jacob loves Joseph more than his other sons. Unfortunately, Jacob’s greater love for Joseph is clear to his other sons.

Jacob makes for Joseph a “ketonet passim.” Here are some of the ways this phrase is translated:

  • coat of many colors
  • coat with long sleeves
  • fine woolen tunic
  • long coat
  • robe of fine wool
  • robe of many colors
  • special tunic
  • vest of many colors

All of the translators agree that this is an outer garment. They disagree about what distinguishes it. Is it colorful, or is it long, or are the sleeves long, or is it made of special wool?

Joseph dreams 2 dreams that he shares with the family.

In his first dream he and his brothers are binding sheaves. The brother’s sheaves bow down to his sheaf.

In his second dream the sun, moon, and 11 stars all bow down to Joseph.

Both of these dreams indicate a time when the family will bow down and accept Joseph as ruling over them. Joseph’s brothers hate him and are jealous of him.

I’ve written an article which looks more closely at when Joseph’s dreams were fulfilled.

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Aliyah 2: Genesis 37:12 – 37:22, 11 verses

Jacob is living in Hebron. However, most of his sons are shepherding their flocks in Shechem. Jacob sends Joseph to find out how his other sons are doing.

Joseph goes to Shechem but can’t find his brothers. A man directs him to Dothan.

As Joseph is approaching his brothers, they see him coming. They decide that he deserving of a death sentence and decide to kill him.

It’s not easy to understand why Joseph’s brothers wanted to kill him.

One suggestion is they thought he was a danger to the entire family because of his suggestions that he would eventually rule over them.

However, if that is the case, then why did they feel the need to hide from Jacob what they were doing?

They decide they will kill Joseph and throw his body into a pit. They will claim that a wild animal had killed him.

Reuben convinces them to “merely” throw Joseph into a pit. He planned to come back and rescue Joseph before anything bad can happen to him.

Aliyah 3: Genesis 37:23 – 37:36, 14 verses

Joseph’s brothers take him and remove the special coat Jacob gave him. Then they toss him into a pit.

Satisfied with their plan, they sit down to eat. While they are eating they see a caravan of Ishmaelites approaching. Judah suggests that they should sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites. The other brothers (except for Reuben) agree.

Joseph is taken out of the pit and is taken to Egypt. He is sold to Potiphar one of Pharaoh’s officers.

Reuben returns to the pit and doesn’t find Joseph. Clearly, he was not present when the decision was made to sell Joseph. He tears his garments as an act of mourning.

The brothers kill a goat and dip Joseph’s coat into the blood. They send the coat to Jacob and ask if he recognizes it.

Jacob assumes that Joseph has been torn to pieces by a wild animal. He tears his garments and mourns for the death of his favorite son.

Aliyah 4: Genesis 38:1 – 38:30, 30 verses

The Torah narrative now leaves Joseph and turns to Judah.

Judah moves away from the rest of the family and lives in an area called Adullam. He gets married to the daughter of a a merchant. Together they have 3 sons:

  • Er
  • Onan
  • Shelah

Judah finds a wife, Tamar, for his son Er. However, Er is an evil man in God’s eyes and he dies.

Judah then instructs his son Onan to marry Tamar. (A brother marrying his deceased brother’s widow is an act known as yibum. A son born from such a union is considered to be a spiritual descendant of the deceased.)

Onan does evil acts and also dies.

At this point Judah is afraid that his sons died because of Tamar. Therefore, he does not want his son Shelah to marry her. Rather, he instructs Tamar to return to her father’s home until Shelah is “old enough to marry.”

Some time passes and Judah’s wife dies. Also, Tamar becomes aware that Judah is not allowing her to marry Shelah.

One day as Judah is traveling to shear his sheep, Tamar disguises herself as a prostitute. Judah sees her but does not realize that she is Tamar. He asks permission to have relations with her in exchange for a young goat.

Tamar convinces Judah to leave a pledge with her until he sends her a goat. He leaves his signet ring, his cloak, and his walking stick.

They have relations and Tamar becomes pregnant. A few months later Tamar is visibly pregnant.

But, she was supposed to marry Shelah via yibum. Hence, her becoming pregnant must have been an act of adultery. As an adulteress she is sentenced to death by Judah.

As she is being taken out to be executed, she sends to Judah the items he left with her as a pledge. He admits that the items are his and that he is the father.

Since it was Judah who had relations with Tamar, the act is not adultery but rather permitted yibum.

Tamar is saved and later gives birth to twin sons: Peretz and Zerah.

Aliyah 5: Genesis 39:1 – 39:6, 6 verses

The Torah’s narrative returns to Joseph.

Potiphar purchased Joseph as a slave.

God makes Joseph successful in everything he does. Potiphar sees that Joseph is successful and reliable and assigns him to run his household.

Aliyah 6: Genesis 39:7 – 39:23, 17 verses

Potiphar’s wife wants to seduce Joseph. She tries day after day to convince him to sleep with her.

Joseph refuses her. He explains to her that the act would be a betrayal of his master and a sin against God.

One day Joseph enters the house when no one else is around. Potiphar’s wife once again entices him. Joseph flees from her, but she grabs his garment and keeps it.

She tells the rest of the household that she had saved herself from Joseph by screaming when he tried to rape her.

Later she tells her husband the same lie.

Potiphar has Joseph placed into Pharaoh’s prison.

God is still with Joseph. Soon the prison warden realizes how successful and reliable Joseph is. He places all of the other prisoners into Joseph’s hands.

bread and wine

Aliyah 7: Genesis 40:1 – 40:23, 23 verses

The chief wine steward and chief baker for Pharaoh sinned against him and were placed into Joseph’s prison.

One night both of them have dreams. The next morning they are troubled by their dreams.

Each man tells Joseph what he dreamed. Joseph interprets the dreams for them.

He tells the chief wine steward that in 3 days he will be restored to his position and again serve Pharaoh. Joseph asks him to remember him and ask Pharaoh to free him from the prison.

Joseph tells the chief baker that in 3 days he will be executed.

Joseph’s interpretation of the dreams is accurate and the chief wine steward again serves Pharaoh. However, he forgets to help Joseph.

Haftarah Summary

Amos 2:6 – 3:8

The prophet lists many sins of the Jewish people which caused the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) and their exile from the land. The sin mentioned in verse 2:6 hints at the sale of Joseph by his brothers.

Further Reading

I’ve written another article which goes into more details about Pharaoh’s wine steward and baker.

A Note on the Translations
The translation of Bible verses is based on the Judaica Press Tanach.
The translation of Gemara is based on the Soncino Talmud.
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