Parshat Vayeishev • Genesis 37:1-40:23

There is a colloquial saying derived from the word “assume”. When we make an assumption, it states, we make a four-legged member of the horse family (ASSume) out of you (assUme) and me (assuME). It is important piece of advice as we prepare to tackle this week’s Torah portion. In parashat Vayeishev, Genesis 37:1 – 40:23, we begin in earnest the story of Jacob’s favorite son Joseph. Dreamer of fantastic dreams, he soon finds himself in hot water with his brothers. 

Yet not everything is as we know it from the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice “modern midrash”. That cloak Joseph was wearing? We have no reason to assume it was colorful at all. His brothers’ anger? Perhaps the punishment didn’t fit the crime, but Joseph was far from innocent. Popular culture and majority beliefs within a society have a way of coloring our thoughts and our sacred texts. The two examples mentioned above have quite minor effects; the same cannot be said for misreadings which devalue the role of women, LGBTQ individuals, and lead some to think abortion is murder. Our challenge as a Jewish community is to maintain our identities and unique insights into a values-driven life, separating our truth from that around us. It sounds an awful lot like the moral of Chanukah, doesn’t it? A Fraylichen Chanukah!

Rabbi Aaron Meyer