Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #9 Vayeshev (He continued living) Genesis 37:1-40:23
Haftarah: ‘Amos (Amos) 2:6-3:8
B’rit Chadashah: Acts 7:9-16
Before we examine this week’s parashah, I want to revisit the subject of the sinew (thigh muscle) we spoke about in last week’s parashah. Recall that I mentioned that the children of Israel do not eat the sinew. Does that mean this is a Biblical command? I want to use the answer to this question as an illustration of how important it is to conduct Biblical research as we seek to grow in our understanding of G-d’s Torah.
The interpretation of this scripture as translated in the Chumash and Orthodox Judaism is a rabbinical law and not one of the Biblically mandated dietary laws or a separate command. In the Chumash which is the Orthodox Jewish commentary on the Tanakh, we read in Genesis 32:33 “Therefore the Children of Israel are not to eat the displaced sinew on the hip-socket to this day, because he struck Jacob’s hip socket on the displaced sinew.” Chabad.org transliterates this verse as “Therefore, the children of Israel may not eat the displaced tendon, which is on the socket of the hip, until this day, for he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip, in the hip sinew.” However, in the original Hebrew this verse reads “Therefore, the Children of Israel do not [eat not] the sinew attached to the socket of the hip…”
לג עַל-כֵּן לֹא-יֹאכְלוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת-גִּיד הַנָּשֶׁה, אֲשֶׁר עַל-כַּף הַיָּרֵךְ, עַד, הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה:
כִּי נָגַע בְּכַף-יֶרֶךְ יַעֲקֹב, בְּגִיד הַנָּשֶׁה.
“Therefore the children of Israel eat not the sinew of the thigh-vein which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day because he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh, even in the sinew of the thigh-vein.”
According to the Masoretic Text, see the transliteration as:
Therefore x5921 x3651 the children 1121 of Yisrä´ël יִשׂרָאֵל 3478 eat 398 z8799 not x3808 [of] x853 the sinew 1517 which shrank, 5384 which x834 [is] upon x5921 the hollow 3709 of the thigh, 3409 unto x5704 this x2088 day: 3117 because x3588 he touched 5060 z8804 the hollow 3709 of Ya`áköv‘s יַעֲקֹב 3290 thigh 3409 in the sinew 1517 that shrank
We can see how easily tradition or interpretation is sometimes translated into law or even doctrine. This also applies to lighting the Shabbat candles. There is no Biblical mandate for this tradition. The command is to make the Shabbat holy and separated from the rest of the week. The tradition if lighting the candles and sharing the challah is beautiful but not Torah mandated. It provides a template or otherwise general direction for separating the Shabbat but this can be done in any number of other ways. Therefore, it is crucial to rightly divide the Word of G-d as closely as we possibly can so as not to place our own agenda into G-d’s intent. Does this make the rabbinic interpretation in contradiction to G-d’s Torah? It is not a command of G-d and should not be taken as one. However, choosing to eat or not eat the sinew does not make a person less of a believer in the scheme of G-d’s Torah. If this were a matter of dietary importance, it would have been placed in the Torah as one of the dietary laws.
The focus for the parashah this week is Genesis 39:20-23 and chapter 40. Joseph was put in prison because Potiphar listened to the lie his wife told him about Joseph when she tried to seduce him. Joseph must have experienced some despair and frustration as Potiphar did not even allow Joseph to tell his side of the story. Joseph must have thought he was abandoned and forgotten. However, G-d did not forget Joseph for a moment. He showed His grace toward Joseph and gave him favor in the sight of the prison warden. Joseph was made supervisor of all the prisoners. Indeed in verse 21 we read: “The prison warden paid no attention to anything Yosef did, because Adonai was with him; and whatever he did, Adonai [made him] prosper.”
Let’s examine a verse that often gets overlooked yet signals another significant chain of events orchestrated by G-d on behalf of Joseph. After the chief cupbearer and baker had their dreams, they were frustrated because they did not understand the significance. Joseph went in to them in the morning and noticed they looked sad. He could have discounted their countenances or attributed them to the fact they were in prison and it wasn’t the best place for a good time. However, Joseph demonstrates a great deal of compassion and sensitivity to the plight of others. He inquires of them about their sad countenances. The seemingly inconsequential observation and question led to the interpretation of the dreams which eventually resulted in the fulfillment of G-d’s plan for Joseph. He was liberated and rose to power just as the dream he shared with his brothers symbolized. Had Joseph never taken the time to inquire of the ministers, or showed compassion in the mundane environment of prison, either G-d would have had to accomplish His will in another way, or Joseph would have lost out on tremendous blessings. His small act of kindness had the most significance. I submit that small acts of kindness can accomplish the most for G-d because we do not place such importance and pride in ourselves as we executing them. Humans typically think nothing of such small acts as holding a door, allowing someone to go ahead of them in line, allowing someone to pull into your lane in front of you, or even smiling and saying “hello” to a stranger. However, these acts can and often do have the most effect on others and release blessings from G-d held for just such action on our part.
Another glaring example of self- nullification such as that demonstrated by Joseph with the men in prison is found earlier in the parashah when Tamar is being taken to be burnt at the stake (Gen. 38:24-5). She had every opportunity to save her life by revealing that the items in her possession belonged to Judah. However, she gave greater emphasis to the embarrassment that Judah would endure if she did so and therefore remained quiet. The Talmud deduces from this that a person must give his life before embarrassing someone else (Bava Metsia, 58b). Keep in mind that this is a rabbinic interpretation and each person called out by the Ruach will encounter experiences that will at times require extreme choices between self-gratification and preservation or self-nullification; perhaps unto death.
Yet another example of performing a mitzvah of selflessness is focusing on the needs of others when we are ill or perhaps preparing to leave this existence. Sometimes people are given their greatest opportunity to glorify G-d through self-nullification during times of trials and testing. This is not a novel concept by any means. Paul reminds us in 2 Cor. 12:9 that “I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from the Adversary to pound away at me, so that I wouldn’t grow conceited. Three times I begged the L-rd to take this thing away from me; but He told me ‘My grace is enough for you, for my power is brought to perfection in weakness.’ Therefore I am very happy to boast about my weaknesses, in order that the Messiah’s power will rest upon me. Yes, I am well pleased with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties endured on behalf of the messiah; for it is when I am weak that I am strong.” The testimony of those who draw their strength from G-d in times of trials and adversity testifies to the power of G-d and His love for us. Not only is the afflicted individual strengthened, but the Ruach may use his or her demonstration of faith and trust to draw another to YHVH/Yahshua. Such is the case of Yosef in the prison. It was a miserable environment; he had no idea of how his simple act of unselfish concern for the ministers would affect his life by releasing blessings from Adonai planned for Yosef’s life. His seemingly insignificant comment had a most significant affect on his spiritual ascent, and the lives of the ministers. Although the cupbearer did not recall Joseph to Pharaoh for another two years, the timing was G-d’s and it was perfect. We now know that we can never be certain of the consequences of one act of kindness… or meanness for that matter. Every act of kindness shown with humility is of immeasurable value, of which we may never comprehend. May we all realize our time on earth is limited and use it to glorify G-d. After all, it may be a seemingly small act of genuine, unpremeditated kindness that inscribes us in the Book of Life and keeps us there!
Haftarah: Amos 2:6-3:8
This week’s haftarah reflects back on our parashah to the sale of Joseph by his brothers. Amos opens with the bad news first; G-d had been patient with Israel notwithstanding their transgression of the three cardinal sins; sexual impropriety, idolatry, and murder. Their fourth sin was the last straw; the mistreatment of the innocent, widows, orphans, and the poor.
G-d reminds the Israelites people how He lovingly took them out of Egypt and led them through the desert for forty years to the Holy Land. Yet the people did not respond appropriately. They gave wine to those who took the Nazarite vow, and told the prophets not to prophecy. Amos then describes G-d’s punishment: “And the stouthearted among the mighty shall flee naked on that day, says the L-rd.”
This passage ends with an admonition from G-d, one that recalls His eternal love for His people: “hearken to this word which the L-rd spoke about you, O children of Israel, concerning the entire nation that I brought up from the land of Egypt. Only you did I love above all the families of the earth; therefore, I will visit upon you all your iniquities…” As opposed to other nations to whom G-d has not singled out to live as an example to the world of how believers are to live for G-d and relate to others, G-d’s love for His treasured people (Ex. 19:5) causes Him to punish them for their misdeeds, to cleanse them and prod them with His rod of justice and staff of grace and love back onto the path of the just, just as He outlined what is necessary for us to become and remain a treasure unto Him in Exodus 19:5. Remember, He chastises those he loves (Heb. 12:6) and His will is perfect (Psalm 18:30). But we are required to obey G-d’s mitzvot, statutes, and rulings.
B’rit Chadashah: Acts 7:9-16
“Now the Patriarchs grew jealous of Yosef and sold him into slavery in Egypt. But Adonai was with him; he rescued him from all his troubles and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who appointed him administrator over Egypt and over all his household. Now there came a famine that caused much suffering throughout Egypt and Kena’an. But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our fathers there the first time. The second time, Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh. Joseph then sent for his father Jacob and all his relatives, 75 people. And Jacob went down to Egypt; there he died, as did our other ancestors. Their bodies were removed to Sh’khem and buried in the tomb Avraham had bought from the family of Hamor in Sh’khem for a certain sum of money.”
Joseph’s life reveals a parallel to Yahshua’s to a degree:
Joseph was a type of Yahshua/ Messiah to his people. G-d gave Joseph favor and wisdom for his appointed mission in life. Similarly G-d in the role of Father provided Yahshua (G-d in the role of Son and Messiah) all he needed for his earthly ministry.
Joseph was appointed the chief administrator over Egypt. Yahshua was appointed King of Israel and L-rd of the entire universe.
Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery and taken to Egypt that characterized the epitome of all that represented sin. Yahshua was a righteous man sold into the hands of the unrighteous for silver.
Joseph had to live in the world of sinful Egypt, but he kept himself separated even in prison and even when Potiphar’s wife attempted to seduce him. He remained close to G-d and consistently exemplified his faith through his behavior. Similarly, Yahshua came to a sinful world to show us how to live G-d’s Torah not only by His teachings, but by example.
Joseph prepared Egypt for the food famine that was about to strike the land. Yahshua shows us how to prepare for the famine to come when the world will no longer have the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) present.
Joseph withheld his identity from his brothers until the second time they went to him and confessed what they had done to him, not knowing they were speaking to him. Similarly, the majority of Jews did not recognize Yahshua for who he is the first time He came to earth.
Joseph finally identified himself after his brothers after they confessed their sin against him. Yahshua will open the eyes of our Jewish brethren and identify Himself when He returns the second time when they will say “Baruch haba b’Shem Adonai.” Unfortunately, these will be martyred for their faith during the Tribulation. The time is coming soon. May we study and internalize the truths of G-d’s Torah that provides us so many examples of how He teaches and leads those who are called and respond. Learn to practice self-nullification diligently with the ultimate goal of ascending to YHVH/Yahshua and serving Him in the world to come even as we live in the present world as did John the Baptist. We too must decrease because Moshiach Yahshua must increase (John 3:30-35).
For additional learning:
Masoretic text, (from Hebrew majority, “tradition”), traditional Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible, meticulously assembled and codified, and supplied with diacritical marks to enable correct pronunciation. This monumental work was begun around the 6th century ad and completed in the 10th by scholars at Talmudic academies in Babylonia and Palestine, in an effort to reproduce, as far as possible, the original text of the Hebrew Old Testament. Their intention was not to interpret the meaning of the Scriptures but to transmit to future generations the authentic Word of God. To this end they gathered manuscripts and whatever oral traditions were available to them. The Masoretic text that resulted from their work shows that every word and every letter was checked with care. In Hebrew or Aramaic, they called attention to strange spellings and unusual grammar and noted discrepancies in various texts. Since texts traditionally omitted vowels in writing, the Masoretes introduced vowel signs to guarantee correct pronunciation. Among the various systems of vocalization that were invented, the one fashioned in the city of Tiberias, Galilee, eventually gained ascendancy. In addition, signs for stress and pause were added to the text to facilitate public reading of the Scriptures in the synagogue.
When the final codification of each section was complete, the Masoretes not only counted and noted down the total number of verses, words, and letters in the text but further indicated which verse, which word, and which letter marked the center of the text. In this way any future emendation could be detected. The rigorous care given the Masoretic text in its preparation is credited for the remarkable consistency found in Old Testament Hebrew texts since that time. The Masoretic work enjoyed an absolute monopoly for 600 years, and experts have been astonished at the fidelity of the earliest printed version (late 15th century) to the earliest surviving codices (late 9th century). The Masoretic text is universally accepted as the authentic Hebrew Bible.
- Tamah Davis