Sedra of the Week: Vayeshev
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Sedra of the Week: Vayeshev

Rabbi Jonny Roodyn looks ahead to this week's portion of the Torah

Rabbi Jonny Roodyn

Betrayed and abandoned, the 17-year-old Joseph finds himself in an environment that is the polar opposite of the home in which he was brought up.

Far away from the atmosphere of intense spirituality and awareness of God that was palpable in Jacob’s home, he is sold into servitude to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s ministers – and also now has to find the moral fortitude to withstand the advances of his master’s wife.

In what is perhaps one of the most dramatic episodes in the Torah, Joseph manages to rebuff her advances.

The rabbis add even more colour to the episode, pointing out that the cantillation note above the word, va yimaen, “and he refrained”, is the rare Shalsheles sound. This is an overextended note that goes up and down in waves and denotes the tension Joseph was experiencing, almost succumbing, but in the end withdrawing from the situation. From where does a 17-year-old get this super human strength?

The Talmud tells us he saw the reflection of an image of his father. This reminded him of home and all the positive associations that came with it. To take things a stage further, his own image is said to have reflected his father’s.

Joseph remembered who he was, where he came from and what his legacy is. The messages he received at home were so strong and positive that he saw himself as an extension of it, despite the distance. This awareness was able to carry him through the greatest challenges and is a lesson for us all.

  •   Rabbi Jonny Roodyn is education director of Jewish Futures Trust
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