Parashat Vayeishev (And He Dwelt)
Beresheet (Genesis) 37:1–40:23
Haftarah: Amos 2:6–3:8
In both our parasha and haftarah portions this week, we read of the importance of treating one another in righteousness. The key question is by what standards of righteousness do we measure our treatment of others? When one looks at the famous story of Joseph and his brothers, one can interpret Joseph’s reality of being the youngest, the one most loved by his father, having received the woolen coat — a gesture that inidicates a person's elevated status — and the way he approached his brothers with his dreams as him being arrogant and spoiled. Reading the story of Joseph this way, one could easily justify his brothers’ actions as righteous acts since they were “mistreated”.
The reality is, however, that the brothers’ actions were utterly unjust and unrighteous. Not only did they take the situaiton into their own hands, but they also gathered against their youngest brother, selling him to the Ishmaelites for 20 silver pieces. To add insult to injury, they lied to their father, Jacob about what happened to Joseph, causing him great anguish as he grieved a son he thought was dead!
There are a few key parallels between the parasha and the haftarah that I'd like to bring attention to. The haftarah portion speaks of the judgment that, I believe, directly connects to the sins of the sons of Jacob. In Amos 2:6 we read:
This is what the LORD says: “For three offenses of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke its punishment, because they sell the righteous for money, and the needy for a pair of sandals.”
Here, it is clear that we will be judged for the way we treat others. Furthermore, the reference to “sell[ing] the righteous for money” directly connects to Joseph being sold by his brothers, as well as the consequences of taking advantage of the needy for personal gain.
Another interesting parallel to the parasha in our haftarah portion is found in Amos 3:3, “Do two people walk together unless they have agreed to meet?” This verse speaks of two or more people committing evil together as they walk the same destructive, sinful path. With the exception of Reuben, this is exactly what the brothers did when they plotted and eventually sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites.
After the selling of Joseph, we read in Genesis 38 of Judah treating his daughter-in-law, Tamar, unjustly as he forced her to be in a hopeless situation by keeping her from marrying Shiloh, his youngest son, according to the custom of the time. The story goes on to show how Tamar “deceived” Judah into having intimate relations with her so that she could bring forth an heir. This was an act that some would see as unrighteous, but let us remember that Judah promised Tamar he would give her to Shiloh so that she would not be destitute after her husband, Er, died. In those days, a woman without children had no future and no hope. We know Tamar's actions were justified by Judah’s response when he discovers what she had done:
And Judah recognized them, and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shiloh.” And he did not have relations with her again.
In our haftarah, we find reference to this story when we read,
These who trample the head of the helpless to the dust of the earth also divert the way of the humble; and a man and his father resort to the same girl so as to profane My holy name.
Clearly, Judah’s unrighteous treatment of Tamar led him to sin not only against her, but also against himself, and against God.
The fourth parallel between the parasha and haftarah is found in two additional accounts of the way Joseph was unjustly treated. Potiphar’s wife unsuccessfully tried to seduce him, and after he refused and ran away, she unjustly accused him of trying to assault her. As a result, he was thrown into jail where he was forgotten by the chief cupbearer for whom Joseph interpreted his dream. It is amazing that even these two accounts are referenced in our haftarah when we read Amos 2:8:
And on garments seized as pledges they stretch out beside every altar, and in the house of their God they drink the wine of those who have been fined.
I believe that these parallels between the parasha and the haftarah offer a clear warning to us today with regard to the way we treat one another. Scripture is very clear about the judgment that will come to those who refuse righteousness and justice! And let us be very careful about whose standards of righteousness we measure our actions against — God’s or the world’s? God's righteousness is not the same as the world’s. By His standards alone are we to measure our lives!
Let us take this weekend for some well-needed self-reflection and repentance before the only righteous Judge.
Did you know? — Lone Soldier
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