Vayeshev is one of the most sweeping and dramatic of all our portions. It is the beginning of the Joseph cycle, We are introduced immediately in Genesis 37 to the sibling issues of Joseph and his brothers and Jacob’s favoritism. We see the drama played out as Joseph is thrust into the pit and taken to Egypt. We read o the attempted seduction by Potiphar’s wife (39f) and the imprisonment and the eventual rise of Joseph to a position of authority based on his ability to interpret dreams. The dream theme is powerful as it initiates his brothers’ jealousy and is the means of his salvation in Egypt. Curiously, the portion stops the story of Joseph in Genesis 38 to tell the story of Judah and Tamar (a story we rarely include in religious school) and we meet again themes of deception and the importance of children. This is a rich portion filled with drama, emotion and ethical challenges.
For this week, however, I wanted to remind us of 1 passage. Genesis 37:15. This one passage, I think, for us as we get older carries with it a powerful message. We include this text in the discussions we do in Jewish Sacred Aging workshops on positive aging as seen from Torah. Jacob asks Joseph to go find his brothers who have gone off to tend the families flocks. Joseph takes his “many-colored” coat/tunic and sets off. On the way he meets a man, an “ish”. This man asks one question and then is gone. As many commentators suggest, this “man” is a key figure for without this brief encounter, the story of the Jews would have changed. This man tells Joseph where to find his brothers. However, he first asks the question: “mah t’vakesh”: what are you seeking? We may have expected him to ask “who are you seeking?”
Why is this important for us? Let me suggest that this “man” (angel/messenger?) reminds us that we are all “seekers”. He reminds us that no matter what age we may be, Judaism points us to the future. It reminds us that as long as we have breathe we are given the mandate to seek what out own purpose may be. “What are you seeking?” asks this never identified man. What are you seeking? What am I seeking? What do we seek as we get older? What purpose to we desire for us as we set about on this chapter of our life? Do we see our future as expanding and growing, or do we see it as waiting to die? What is it that I wish my life to mean? What of me do I wish to leave behind?
Just as this man’s question sets in motion the future of Judaism, let this question set in motion the rest of our life. What do we seek: for us, for our families, for our community? The answer to that question rests within our soul. We just need to courage to answer it and then live it.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.