This is the first parshah I read while in the process of conversion. Two years ago, I was at Rabbi Buchwald’s beginner services and he was reading this parshah and inserting his scholarly comments. I can still hear him scraping his throat on the name of the city Shechem.
Early in the parshah, Joseph is having dreams that indicate that he is or will be above the rest of his family. Either their sheaves bows to his sheaf in the field or the sun moon and stars were bowing to him. I would like to stop here for a second. Why is the world did Joseph share this with his brothers? He should have kept his mouth shut!
So Jacob’s brothers stuff him in a well but, change their mind and sell him to the Midianite Arabs, instead.
The next exciting discussion topic in this parshah is the discussion of spilling seed. I remember sitting through a discussion of this part of G-d’s word back when I was high school-aged and I was in church. The pastor there talked about how some people interpret this to mean spilling seeds ever. I wonder if he said it was the Jewish view. I don't remember but, every time I read this, I wonder. The point was that this man was spilling seed to avoid having children in the name of his brother and widow Tamar. These children would not have carried his name at all so, the man didn't see it worth it to have children. Garbage collection: Hashem takes him away.
There is one more brother available to fulfill this obligation to give children to Tamar and this first husband of hers, Shelah. Only Shelah must have been really young. Judah, the father of all these boys told Tamar to wait until he grew up. Really Judah thought that somehow giving Shelah to this woman, as required would cause Shelah to die. So, pretended to be a religious prostitute and got pregnant by the withholding father.
Isn’t the Torah juicy? Can you imagine a “religious prostitute”? We don’t have any of those today. Well, she kept some of his stuff and when he was upset that his daughter-in-law was pregnant, she whips out his stuff… like saying, “Ha, busted!”
Living in this time, we may not get this. So, I will break it down. This father was obligated to have her become pregnant through his family, the family of her first husband. The normal choice was to do so with the youngest brother. He made excuses in order to impede that choice. So she tricked the father and had a child by him. It’s still weird, right? We don’t do stuff like this today. Baruch Hashem. Oh, yeah, and she had twin boys.
So, then we’re back to Joseph. He was Potiphar’s assistant in Egypt. Potiphar’s wife got greedy and wanted some of young and handsome Joseph. I guess Potiphar was too old or busy to keep her happy enough. When she couldn’t get what she wanted, she accused Joseph of trying to rape her. Author comment: she wishes…
So they throw him in prison. Hashem causes him to be able to interpret dreams of the baker and the wine guy. That’s the end of this week’s parshah…