parasha Vayeishev (Genesis 37:1 – 40:23) 5783
“Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a coat of many colours.”
– Genesis 37:3, JPS 1917 Tanach
Jacob, loved his son Joseph more than any other of his children, for Joseph was “the son of his old age” (Genesis 37:3). Joseph was the firstborn to Jacob’s wife, Rachel. Joseph was favored enough by Jacob to make him a coat of many colors (Genesis 37:3); the coat was a symbol, demarcating Jacob’s intention of elevating him to the status of the firstborn. Reuben had lost that status because of a previous transgression (Genesis 35:22). This would explain why Joseph was given the responsibility to check up on his brothers who were “feeding the flocks in Shechem” (Genesis 37:14).
Joseph’s brothers were already jealous of him; when he told them of his dreams that foretold he would rule over them “they hated him even more” (Genesis 37:5). When Joseph was sent to check up on his brothers, they took advantage of the situation. And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stripped Joseph of his coat, the coat of many colors. Then, they threw him into a pit and sold him for “twenty pieces of silver” to a caravan that was passing through Shechem. Joseph’s brothers dipped Joseph’s multi-colored coat into the blood of a goat (Genesis 37:31); then, they took the coat to their father Jacob as evidence of Joseph’s alleged death by way of a wild animal (Genesis 37:20).
When Joseph arrived in Egypt, by way of the caravan of Ishmaelite traders, he was sold as a slave, and became a servant in the house of Potiphar. Even so, in the midst of his nisyanos (challenges), H’Shem was with him; he had been put in charge of the household, and became successful in all of his endeavors. Yet, he was wrongly accused of indiscretion, by his master’s wife; hence, he was sent to prison. Even there, H’Shem was him, strengthened him, and he was placed in charge of the prison ward. After interpreting two of his fellow prisoner’s dreams, word got out to Pharaoh, two years later when he needed a dream interpreter. Thus, Joseph was brought into Pharaoh’s court. Held in high esteem, Pharaoh promoted him to viceroy.
The nisyanos (trials) of Joseph’s life serve to designate the name of the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 as Moshiach ben Yosef, as mentioned in the Talmud (Sukkah 52). “He was despised and forsaken of men” (Isaiah 53:3, JPS 1917 Tanach). Because like Joseph, he was also destined to suffer: “he was wounded because of our transgressions” (Isaiah 53:5, JPS). Even to the end that his soul would serve as an atonement for Israel: “Thou shalt make his nefesh [soul] an asham [guilt] offering for sin” (Isaiah 53:10, OJB). The role of Moshiach ben Yosef points toward the suffering he endures for the sake of Israel.