In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeshev, (Gen. 37:1 - 40:23) we meet Joseph. At age seventeen, Joseph is the cherished son of his aging father Jacob, and a trial to his brothers. He gives his father bad reports of his brothers, with whom he herds the sheep, and he parades around in his special coat of many colors, a token of his father’s favoritism. Moreover, he shares his special dreams with his family, seemingly heedless of the effect they will have. He recounts a dream that he and his brothers were binding sheaves in the fields, and all of their sheaves bowed down before his. Then he tells of another dream in which the sun, the moon and eleven stars (representing his eleven brothers) bowed down to him.
Joseph’s brothers go off to tend the sheep in Shechem, and Jacob sends Joseph after them to see how they are faring. He cannot find them but a man comes upon him and redirects him to Dothan. There, Joseph’s brothers see him coming and plot to kill him, and tell their father that he was killed by a wild beast. Instead, they drop him in a pit and a band of Ishmaelites, or Midianites, or both, take him to Egypt to be sold. In Egypt, Joseph’s troubles really begin. He becomes a part of the household of Potiphar and rises to prominence there, but Potiphar’s wife tries to bed him and when he refuses, accuses him of rape. Potiphar has Joseph thrown into jail. In the jail he meets Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker, who have fallen out of Pharaoh’s favor. One night, both men have disturbing dreams. Joseph sees them in the morning, and asks them what is wrong, as they seem distraught. They tell him that each of them has had a disturbing dream. Joseph hears the dreams and interprets them, telling the cupbearer that his dream means that he will be restored to his post, and the baker that he would be put to death. Both of his predictions come true. What is really remarkable about this incident, though, is how Joseph has matured as a result of his troubles. As a vain teenager, he did not care enough about his own brothers to measure the effect that telling his dreams would have on them. Now, his troubles have matured him to the extent that he can look at the faces of others, and see that something is bothering them, and ask what it is. Joseph will rise to great heights, but it is this trait of empathy, along with his growing reliance on God, which will get him there.