Vayeishev: Great Source(s)

The birth of Perez and Zerah recalls the birth of Esau and Jacob. The two sets of twins form a chiasmus. The “red hairy mantel” which distinguishes Esau, the oldest, becomes the red thread around the youngest’s wrist. By wearing Esau’s attire, Jacob makes Esau’s distinguishing marking — namely, is “red hairy mantle” — his own. Isaac’s blessing assures Jacob’s superiority over his brother, and the garment becomes the signifier of Jacob’s prominence. Similarly, when Jacob gives Joseph a long robe with sleeves, it symbolizes Joseph’s superiority; and, when the bloodied robe is returned to Jacob, it signals Joseph’s elimination from the line of succession….For Michael Fishbane,* the power of the Jacob cycle is that “it personalizes the tensions and dialects which are also crystallized on a national level at later points: the struggle for blessing; the threat of discontinuity; the conflicts between and within generations; and the wrestling for birth, name and identity.” In the Jacob cycle, garments form the subtext which upholds these concerns. From Jacob to Joseph to Judah to Zerah, the red thread establishes an order of filiation, a metaphorical umbilical cord that relates directly, without he mediation of women, father to son to grandson.Continue Reading

Vayeishev: Something to Notice

Reuben returned to the pit — and behold! — Joseph was not in the pit [ein-yosef ba-bor]! So he rent his garments. Returning to his brothers , he said, “The boy is gone! [ha-yeled einenu] And I — where can I go [va-ani ana ani-ba]?”– Breishit/Genesis 37:28 (Stone translation*)

Alter* notes: “The Hebrew says literally, ‘the boy is not.’ The phrase could be a euphemism for death or could merely indicate disappearance. It is a crucial ambiguity the brothers themselves will exploit much later in the story.”

Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg bases a fascinating and useful commentary on parashat vayeishev, in part, on this phrase. (Beginning of Desire*) She also discusses this verse in “The Pit and the Rope” chapter of The Murmuring Deep.*

In this context, also recall what occurs on the wedding night of Jacob and Rachel, who eventually becomes Joseph’s mother:

Jacob said to Laban, “Deliver my wife for my term is fulfilled, and I will consort with her.” So Laban gathered all the people of the place and made a feast….And it was, in the morning, that behold it was Leah! — Breishit/Genesis 29:21-25

*For complete citations and more details, please see Source Materials.

The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.