This Torah portion is known for its story of the Golden Calf, built when Moshe failed to return from the mountain on exactly the 40th day as expected. The people panicked, thought Moshe was dead, and that God had abandoned them. Aaron, ever the peace-lover, reasoned that the people needed a visible symbolic representation of God to reassure them. The People were not denying the God of the first commandment, but rather broke the second commandment prohibiting the building of idols. When Moshe returned with the tablets, he was indignant and smashed the tablets to show that the covenant between God and the Children of Israel had been shattered.
It is reasonable to assume that no one reading our weekly Torah portion, Vayeshev, will consider these innocuous lines of Torah to be of any particular importance. Coming as they do inside the dramatic first part of the Joseph story, the narrative which will continue until the end of the Book of Genesis, there seems no reason to take special note of this rather curious mention of “a man” meeting Joseph on his way to find his brothers and giving Joseph directions. Rather, the camera is fixed on Joseph, the major protagonist of the narrative, whose tragic life story begins to unfold in our Parasha. Tension mounts as we read about Joseph’s narcissistic dreams, his visions of grandeur, his preferential status in his father’s eyes and his antagonistic relationship with his brothers ending in his being sold into slavery and his eventual imprisonment in Egypt. With all these action scenes to cover in the Parasha, who would possibly pay attention to the few lines describing “the man” giving directions to Joseph.
After the days of Awe – the days of judgment and blot, forgiveness and repentance – come the days of celebration, the days of joy and of praise. After fasting, we rejoice in Sukkot as the Torah instructs us in Deuteronomy 16:15:
Seven days shall you keep a feast to the Lord your God in the place which the Lord shall choose; because the Lord your God shall bless you in all you increase, and in all the work of your hands, and you shall be altogether joyful…
The feast of Sukkot, of all our holidays, is the one is characterized by the idea of universalism.
Death and Life Are In the Power of The Tongue (Proverbs 18:20)
“These are the words that Moses spoke to all of Israel(1:1)….”
Thus opens the fifth book of Torah, with Moses exhorting the people: where they have been, where they are now and ….towards where are they going. For a moment let us return to the outset of Moses’ mission: God’s summons him, empowering him to redeem the People of Israel.
“Let this land be given to your servants as a heritage; do not take us across the Jordan.”(Bamidbar 32,5b). This is what two and a half tribes ask of Moses as the people of Israel are getting ready to cross over the Jordan River and conquer the promised land. Why would they ask to stay on the eastern side of the Jordan valley? They have the explanation in the first phrases of the portion Matot: