Questions and Concepts for Parsha Va'yeishev
(Genesis 37:1-40:23)

1. In a similar fashion to Parsha Noah, Parsha Va'yeishev mentions the "descendents of Jacob," yet speaks of actions and attributes rather that lineage. However in this case, it is not Jacob's attributes that are discussed, but primarily Joseph's. This is our first indication of the close relationship between Joseph and Jacob. In fact, it is said that "whatever happened to Jacob, also happened to Joseph."

2. Moreover, it is also taught that Jacob cannot overcome Esau without the help of Joseph. Jacob did not "battle" with Esau's angel until after Joseph was born.

Obadiah 1:18 - And the house of Jacob shall be fire, and the house of Joseph flame, and the house of Esau for stubble.

For an in-depth look at the relationship between; Jacob, Israel, Rachel, Leah, Joseph and Esau, see the excellent article at:

3. Joseph however has his own issues to overcome before he is ready to do what God has called him to do. Joseph as a young man would often spy on his brothers and give unfavorable reports to his father and for this they developed a strong hatred toward him. He was also known for considering himself to be handsome and walking in a haughty way. (Hence the ego problems he had to first overcome.) In deeper levels of Hebraic study, Joseph is associated with such things as; the ego, dreams, sexual purity, the tzaddik (righteous person), the connecting of heaven and earth, (i.e., marriage of the divine groom and bride).

4. Joseph was also considered the wisest of Jacob's sons in that the wisdom Jacob had acquired from the line of righteous men before him (Abraham, Shem, etc) was given to Joseph. One tradition associates the garment given to Joseph with the garment given to Adam.

5. Joseph's faced a crisis when he was "cornered" by Potiphor's wife who wanted to have sexual relations. (Some of the sages say he willingly went to her but received a warning/revelation from God and changed his mind.) In either case, Joseph made the correct choice by refusing and the result is his being throne into prison. Have you ever "done the right thing" only to have the "result" be "negative?" We know later in the story that Joseph tells his brothers that everything that happened to him was all part of God's plan.

6. When interpreting the dream of the chief of cupbearers, Joseph asks him to '"put in a good word for him to Pharaoh." The sages teach that this showed a lack of faith on Joesph's part, and he was thus given an additional two years to spend in prison. Why is Joseph's action considered faulty, yet Jacob is not ciriticized for "splitting his camp" in the face of Esau's advance?

7. "Clothing" is often used as a metaphor for a person's soul or spiritual condition (i.e., the "white robes" of the righteous). Examine the many places that clothing is mentioned in this parsha: Genesis 37:3, 23, 29, 31-34; 38:14, 18,19; 39:11,12; 41:14. For an excellent study on this theme, go to;

Consider this:
Joseph had two dreams in the beginning of the parsha. Though similar in theme, there is a critical difference between the two. In the first dream (of the stalks) he sees his brothers bowing to him. In the second dream he sees his brothers, and his father and mother, bowing to him. What might this difference represent? Note that it was not possible for the second dream to be fulfilled in Joseph's lifetime as his mother, Rachel, had already died. The interpretation is difficult and two explanations found in the writings of the sages are; 1) that the "moon" in this case represented Bilhah, the maidservant of Rachel, or 2) that not every part of a dream always comes true. However, it might also be interpreted that the first dream, involving only the brothers, was to be fulfilled in Joseph's lifetime, but the second dream had some future form of fulfillment. When and why might "Jacob and Rachel" bow to "Joseph?"