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Weekly D'rash Vayeishev

This week we begin a series of Torah portions that will bring us to the end of Genesis. In a real sense it is the end of "the beginning." Genesis is a series of genealogies that ties together the beginning of everything to the story of the exodus from Egypt. In the genealogies of Genesis, there are a series of stories that explain the significance of the key people of promise. We learn how Adam is connected to Noah, how Noah is connected to Abraham, followed by how Abraham is connected to Isaac and Isaac to Jacob.

Now begins the story of the twelve sons of Jacob. The beginning of our portion this week says, “Now Jacob lived in the land where his father had sojourned, in the land of Canaan. These are the records of the generations of Jacob” (Gen 37:1–2a). The rest of the book of Genesis is about the twelve sons of Jacob. Unlike the genealogies of Abraham and Isaac in which there is one chosen son, Jacob has twelve sons—ALL of whom are chosen. While the story focuses on Joseph, it is about how all twelve sons interact with each other and how they came to be in Egypt.

Joseph is the focus because of the way that God uses him in the story, which will be the subject of another Torah portion. Joseph has a difficult life. He is separated from his family, falsely accused of sexual misconduct, and then imprisoned. If we could read the story without knowing anything else that happens, we would call it a tragedy and might even ask why God does not seem to be intervening. However, we read that "the Lord was with Joseph" on four different occasions: (Gen 39:2, 3, 21, & 23)! We do not know exactly how Joseph felt, but as the readers we know for sure that God was with him.

Perhaps you are experiencing this aspect of the Joseph story. Perhaps you are feeling misunderstood or abandoned. Especially at this time of year, the absence of family can be difficult to experience. This part of the Joseph story reminds us that we live in an unredeemed world and culture. Bad things can happen to us just like anyone else. However, it does not mean that God has abandoned us. It means that whatever is happening is part of a larger story. There is meaning in all our experiences. At this point in the Joseph story, he did not know what was going to happen to him. We may not know the future, but there is one thing we know for sure: God is at work! Your experience, like Joseph’s, is part of something larger that makes a difference.

In the Joseph story, we know that Joseph was a faithful man of God. When tempted by the wife of Potiphar, Joseph said that he could not sin against God. This reminds me of Deuteronomy 29:29 “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law”. In other words, we may not understand exactly what God is doing, but we do know how we are to respond! It is by living faithfully to him. This is because we trust him.

You have heard me talk much about the hesed or lovingkindness of God. In the Bible, there are a number of terms that come under the heading of hesed. They include "compassion", "faithfulness", "deliverance", "salvation", and one of the most underrated character traits of God: goodness. When we remember this, we can respond well to whatever happens to us. Responding well does not mean putting on a "happy face" or punctuating every sentence with "praise the Lord." It simply means staying on the right path knowing that you are not alone and that there is hope. In Yeshua, we have a living hope for today and forever. (1 Peter 1:3–9)

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Howard

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