This week’s Torah portion is Vayeshev. But before I get to that, thank you everyone for your prayers and good thoughts. I tested positive about a week and a half ago and now am feeling better and hopefully will be coming out of quarantine soon.
So this portion is about Joseph the sale of Joseph by his brothers. And it is about Joseph and Potifer’s wife and all the dreams that Joseph had. This is an amazing narrative that begins in this portion and goes all the way through to the end of the book of Genesis. I want to look at two things that are the direct result of the sale of Joseph by his brothers.
We know that the original idea was for them to kill Joseph but they were convinced to throw him into a pit and leave him for dead. We are told that the reason for this is that one brother wanted to secretly come back and rescue Joseph. Instead he was sold to some passing Ishmaelites and in turn sold him to Midianites that were going down into Egypt. The sages tell us us that it is interesting that the story contains a description of sweet smelling things that the Midianites were carrying. Usually they were carriers of things like kerosene and turpentine, things that didn’t smell very good. But, they tell us, the Lord had it in mind for them to be carrying this unusual cargo at this time so that the righteous Joseph would not have to have noxious smells as he was being taken down into Egypt.
I think this is a beautiful thought and something very similar is said about Moses later. The story goes that the basket was not coated with tar and pitch inside and out as was Noah’s ark; that it was only coated on the outside so that baby Moses would not suffer an offensive odor as he was in the basket.
So moving on, let’s look at the price that Joseph was sold for. The story goes that he was sold for 20 pieces of silver. If we do the math we realize that he was sold for 5 shekels. Now Joseph is the firstborn son of his mother Rachel and thus we have the “redemption of the firstborn” ritual. This is known as Pidyon ha-ben, where the firstborn male is “redeemed” with 5 shekels because it is the equivalent of the price that Joseph was sold for.
Now the second thing. Each of the ten brothers would have put in 2 coins to come to the total so each gave a 1/2 shekel. Later on the Jewish people are told to give 1/2 shekel as a temple tax, it goes all the way back to the sale of Joseph. There are many things in Jewish history that the sage look back on and say it is because we sold our brother Joseph. History is intertwined with the present and even sometimes with the future. So the redemption of the firstborn and the temple tax both relate back to the price that was paid for Joseph.
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