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[Dvar Torah] Vayeshev

In this week's parsha we are introduced to the 12 children of Jacob and their relations which will later on determine their fate as a nation. Joseph is treated as favorite, and his father gifts him with a special multicolor coat. Joseph is also a dreamer and his dreams seem too ambitious in the eyes of his brothers. As a result, Joseph faces extreme jealousy from his brothers, which lead them secretly sell him into slavery. Joseph is thought by his father to be dead, but in reality he has ended up in Egypt, working in the house of Potiphar. 

While serving Potiphar, his hard working attitude and loyalty are highly respected. But this all falls apart when Potiphar’s wife frames Joseph, accusing him of taking advantage of her. This leads to Joseph being thrown in jail, where he meets two important servants of Pharaoh. The plot continues in the next parsha where we see how all these circumstances eventually pave the way for Joseph to become the Pharaoh’s right hand man.

While Joseph is enslaved in Egypt, Judah, the leader and strongest of the 11 brothers, is married in Canaan, and has three sons. The eldest is married to a woman named Tamar, but he dies young before they have a child. As per custom, Tamar is given to the next child. He again dies young with no child. Observing a negative pattern, Judah does not allow for his youngest child to be married to Tamar as well. Tamar however, desperate to birth a child for the family of Judah, disguises herself as a prostitute and lures Judah into intercourse. 

When Tamar is confirmed to be pregnant, Judah demands for her to be executed, but Tamar reveals two items of his which he had given her as payment. Judah says, “She was more righteous than I, inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Shelah” (Bereshit 38:26) as he accepts the responsibility for being the father of the child and his mistakes. This was the first recorded incident in the Tanach (Bible) of someone making a mistake, and not trying to deny what they had done. Tamar births twin children. Hundreds of years later, a descendant of one of these twins, faces a problematic and fate-changing affair. This descendant is King David.  

King David desired a woman named Bat-Sheva, who was married to her husband, Uriah. King David made sure that Uriah would be sent to the front lines in a battle against the Ammonites in which he was eventually killed. King David then marries the now widowed Bat-Sheva.  Nathan the prophet then comes to David with a case for him to judge as king, suspiciously similar to what the king has done. The king, not suspecting a thing, sentences the man to be heavily fined and also refers to him as a man worthy of death for his cruelty. Nathan the prophet then accuses King David: “You are the man”.

The king’s immediate, unexpected, response is “I stand guilty before the L-RD!” (Shmuel II 12:13). A man of his status in ancient times could get away with almost anything and definitely did not need to apologize to anyone. So did the former King Saul when he blamed his people for his own mistakes. King David admits his sins, takes responsibility and repents. He is also punished heavily with a rebellion and death within his own family. David accepts this suffering and holds himself responsible. Later, his successor and heir to the throne was King Solomon, son of Bat-Sheva.

From these two events we can learn that powerful leaders, such as Judah who led his brothers, and David, the king of the Israelites, are not prone to making mistakes in their actions. What makes a strong leader is the ability to come clean and take responsibility for faulty decisions and to make a change for the future. 

In our lives, we may make choices which are harmful to us and those around us. And yet, by acknowledging where we went wrong, taking responsibility for our mistakes, and making changes to address these wrongs, we can truly become the best version of ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bradley, Grade 11