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 getting into this week’s parashah, I will address the question about whether it is a Biblical command not to eat the sinew (thigh muscle) that passes along the hip socket of an animal.
This is a rabbinical law and not one of the Biblically mandated dietary laws. In the Chumash, 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.” However, in the original Hebrew this verse reads “Therefore, the Children of Israel do not eat the sinew attached to the socket of the hip…” We can see how easily tradition becomes law in Orthodox Judaism, sometimes adding to as in this case, and sometimes taking away, both of which we are prohibited from doing (Deut. 4:2; 12:32;Rev.22:18)
This week we are going to focus on 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 Joseph. Joseph must have experienced some despair and frustration as Potiphar did not even allow Joseph to tell his side of the story. 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 is made supervisor of all the prisoners. Verse 21 is interesting as 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.” Stearns translates this verse incorrectly by saying “Adonai was with him; and whatever he did, Adonai prospered.” This is another example just as was the previous in emphasizing the fact that we need to pay attention to the details. Mistranslations, adding and subtracting to G-d’s Torah and other alterations result in faulty doctrines, teachings, and contradictions.
Let’s examine a verse that often gets overlooked yet signals the beginning of a turn of events for Joseph. After the chief cup-bearer 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 takes the time to ask them why they look so sad. The inconsequential 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.
We live in a world that promotes self-gratification, self-absorption, self, self, self. Commercials on television drill slogans into our heads as the TV increases the volume automatically during commercials. The needs of others are seldom mentioned or recognized because caring and giving do not make for effective sales pitches. We live in an “all about me” society where G-d is becoming a distant concept. In complete contradiction to the ways of our world, self-nullification is a requisite to ascending to G-d as Yahshua taught during the Sermon on the Mount. Yahshua’s life was the quintessential example of humility throughout His ministry, culminating with His acceptance of the role as the Sacrificial Lamb. We may not be required to sacrifice our physical lives, but we must sacrifice our selfish desires and our animalistic behaviors if we expect to ascend in our relationship with YHVH/Yahshua.
Another glaring example of self nullification 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 mandate making choices between self-nullification and self-gratification.
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 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 wisely. 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 on our parashah to the sale of Joseph by his brothers. Amos opens with the bad news first; G-d had been patient with them 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 Jewish 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 does not pay close attention, G-d’s love for His nation 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. Remember, He chastises those he loves (Heb 12:6) and His will is perfect (Psalm 18:30) if we will only follow the Leader.
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, for Joseph was a type of Yahshua to his people. G-d gave Joseph favor and wisdom for his appointed mission in life. G-d provided Yahshua 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. He will identify himself to them when He returns the second time and they say “Baruch haba b’Shem Adonai.” Unfortunately, these will be martyred for their faith during the Tribulation. The time is coming soon. Take the examples set by Yahshua and His chosen examples seriously. 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.
Rabbi Tamah Davis
Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue