In next week’s Torah portion, Jacob is brought the many-colored coat he’d given his favorite son, Joseph. The coat has been dipped in goat’s blood to trick Jacob into believing Joseph was torn by a wild animal, rather than that his own brothers sold him into slavery (Genesis 37:23-36).
“We found this; identify, if you please: Is it your son’s tunic or not?” (verse 32; using Stone/Artscroll translation here and below)
Jacob responds: “My son’s tunic! A savage beast devoured him! Joseph has surely been torn to bits! [tarof toraf yosef]” (verse 33)
Jacob initiates no investigation. Obviously there was no forensic unit in the area to test the blood or ferret out other clues. Still, Jacob doesn’t even ask a question, as far as we know. The sons never even have to lie outright. Jacob simply jumps to a conclusion and then begins to mourn.
Later in the same portion, Joseph’s older brother Judah fails to look carefully at matters pertaining to his daughter-in-law Tamar, and she is nearly put to death by the court before he realizes his mistake(s) (Genesis 38).
Judah, too is asked: “identify, if you please [evidence in the case].” (Gen. 38:25)
In one of her studies of Vayechi, “Jacob’s Testament,” Nechama Leibowitz* discusses Joseph’s reluctance to swear to Jacob’s burial wish:
The Midrash aptly explains the difference between Joseph’s behavior and that of Abraham’s servant [when asked to swear, regarding finding a wife for Isaac]:
Said Rabbi Isaac: The servant acted servilely and the freeman as a free agent. The servant acted servilely, as it is said: “And the servant put his hand…” Whilst the freeman acted as a free agent: “And he said, I will do as thou hast said.” (Bereshit Rabbah* 96)
A servant has to do the behest of others….A free agent however is only bound by his conscience, and chooses his own actions in accordance with his own freely arrived-at decisions.
Malbim** makes a similar distinction…It was better for him to do it out of his own free will, rather than be bound by oath. In the latter instance, he could not take the credit for fulfilling his obligations freely.
This explanation may help us understand Biblical and Rabbinic disapproval of vows. Man should rather conduct himself as a free agent rather than be bound by external bonds…
The topic of vows is a complex one in Judaism and offers an interesting path to follow. Here are two basic articles on vows, vowing and oaths: one from R. Louis Jacobs at My Jewish Learning and one from the Encyclopedia of Judaism.
Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will surely remember [pakod yifkod] you and bring you up out of this land to the land that He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” — Stone* translation
Joseph then said to his kin, “I am dying, but God will surely take care of you [pakod yifkod] and bring you up out of this land to the land that [God] promised to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” — JPS/Stein* translation
Yosef said to his brothers:
I am dying,
but God will take account, yes, account of you, [pakod yifkod]
he will bring you up from this land
to the land about which he swore
to Avraham, to Yitzhak, and to Yaakov. — Fox* translation
And Joseph said to his brothers “I am about to die, and God will surely single you out [pakod yifkod] and take you up from this land to the land He promised to Isaac and to Jacob.” [Abraham inexplicably missing here]
— Alter* translation Continue reading
Two sons were born to Joseph before the years of famine arrived, born to him by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. Joseph named the first-born son Manasseh [mem-nun-shin-heh], “For God has made me forget [ki-nashani] all the troubles I endured in my father’s house.” And he named the second one Ephraim [aleph-peh-reish-yod-mem], “For God has made me fruitful [ki-hifrani] in the land of my affliction.” Continue reading
A man should await the fulfillment of a good dream for as much as twenty-two years. Whence do we know this? From Joseph. For it is written: These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph being seventeen years old, etc., [Daniel 2], and it is further written, And Joseph was thiry years old when he stood before Pharoah [Genesis 41:46]. How many years is it from seventeen to thirty? Thirteen. Add the seven years of plenty and two of famine [after which Joseph saw his brothers], and you have twenty-two….
R. Huna b. Ammi said in the name of R. Pedath who had it from R. Jochanan: If one has a dream which makes him sad he should go and have it interpreted in the presence of three. He should have it interpreted! Has not R. Hisda said: A dream which is not interpreted is like a letter which is not read? Say rather then, he should have a good turn given to in the presence of three. Let him bring three and say to them: I have seen a good dream; and they should say to him, Good it is and good may it be. May the All-Merciful turn it to good; seven times may it be decreed from heave that it should be good and it may be good. They should say three verses…
This text — from Babylonian Talmud, Berakoth 55b — goes on to specify verses to be recited in this circumstance: three including the word “turn,” three including the word “redeem” and three including the word “peace.” This discussion of good and bad dreams, and how to handle them, is quite extensive. To read more in English translation, download Berachot (Benedictions) here.
To follow a path on dreams and their interpretations in Judaism, here are a few sources: Continue reading
BERURIAH THE SCHOLAR EXPLAINS: The story of Joseph is the most elaborate in the Torah, spanning four parshiyot, more than the stories of any of the patriarchs and matriarchs. And yet women are virtually absent from the tale. This is a tale of brothers, of patriarchy, of male power relations….
MIRIAM THE PROPHET PROCLAIMS: Like the ancient Rabbis, we need to imagine lives for the many women who must have been involved in this drama: the brothers’ wives, left ehind to fend for themselves while their husbands go down to Egypt; the many maidservants who prepare for the journeys, tend Pharoah’s court, weave and cook, nurse and wipe bottoms, sing lullabies and keen at funerals. Indeed, a whole world of women contributes, albeit behind the scenes, to this drama. We owe it to them to serve as archaeologists and imaginers of their lives. Continue reading