"These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren…" (Gen. 37:2)

The Zohar explains that anyone who looked at the face of Joseph remarked on his uncanny resemblance to Jacob. The Torah purposely did not describe Reuben or any other brother as the "toldot", descendants, of Jacob.

The missing letter vav in the name of Jacob, was added to the name Joseph, on occasions such as in Ex. (1:5) (or altogether, since that name too could have been spelled defectively).

The "small" vav in the word shalom, meaning "peace", in the verse, "Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace" (Num. 25:12) alludes to another verse: "…and the truth and the peace they loved" (Zachariah 8:19). The attribute which distinguishes Jacob is "emet/truth", whereas the attribute "habrit hashalom/the covenant of peace", is the one that distinguishes Joseph.

We name something or somebody because we desire the name to reveal their nature. Joseph was the revelation of the mystical dimension of Jacob, the secret of how the covenant between G‑d and man influences the ability of determining the nature of him who is about to be born. Jacob contains an allusion to the letter vav in the four-lettered ineffable Name…

Bereishit Rabba goes as far as to say that G‑d told Jacob: "Just as I am G‑d in the Heavenly Regions, so you are 'god' in the 'lower' world. The meaning of this statement is that because Jacob's "bed" was pure, his descendants could serve as the chariot, or carrier of G‑d's Presence in this world. Just as "G‑d is One and His name is One" reflects His Essential qualities, so Jacob and Joseph are one, i.e. their essential qualities are the same.

How does this work in practice? Jacob fathered twelve tribes, and he is the only one "above" them. They are considered like branches of Jacob. Eight of these tribes were from his regular wives Leah and Rachel, the other four from his concubines Zilpah and Bilhah. When you look at the letters in the word "echad" (meaning "one"), Jacob corresponds to the letter alef, the sons of Leah and Rachel correspond to the letter chet, and the sons of Zilpah and Bilhah correspond to the letter dalet in that word.

Something similar is true of Joseph. Although Joseph himself is a branch of Jacob, he did father two of the regular tribes, i.e. Ephraim and Menasseh, whom Jacob compared in status to Reuben and Simon. (Gen. 48:5) When we look once more at the word "echad/one", we will find that Joseph was unique in having a close connection with both the letter chet, i.e. the brothers of Jacob's major wives, seeing he himself was one of those, as well as being closely attached to the sons of Jacob's concubines [i.e. the letter dalet of "echad"], since the Torah describes Joseph as being raised primarily among the sons of Zilpah and Bilhah. (Gen. 37:2)

In the expression, "and he was a lad", also stressed in that verse, we find in it an allusion to something I have previously mentioned, namely that Jacob contains an allusion to the letter vav in the four-lettered ineffable Name. The name "Joseph" must then be viewed as a miniature edition of that same letter in G‑d's name. The scriptural allusion to this concept is found in the phrase, "and a lad will write them down". (Isaiah 11:6) The significance of the throne is the mystery of Beriya

The Torah reports Joseph as being 17 years old. This number was not reported without good reason. We have explained how Jacob in his capacity of representing the sefira of tiferet, which is the "home" of the four-lettered Ineffable Name, embodies that name, and how in particular the letter vav in that four-lettered-Name alludes to Jacob. We have also described Joseph as a miniature dimension of that letter vav, and how Joseph too serves as a kind of vehicle for G‑d's Name in a "miniature" way. That "miniature" is the mystical dimension of what we call "mispar katan", the numerical values arrived at by omission all digits "0". The mispar katan of the name Havayah amounts to 17 (yud=1;+hei=5;+vav=6;+hei=5; total 17). A way of remembering this is that in the verse "Praise G‑d for He is good [in Hebrew, 'hodu l'Hashem ki tov']"; the numerical value of "good" ["tov"] is 17. This is why the Torah reports Joseph's age when he was 17.

The Torah adds that he was still a "lad" [in Hebrew "na'ar"]. The Pardes Rimonim mentions that the "miniature" number is a reference Chanoch (otherwise known as the angel Metatron) who is also called "na'ar", and whose function is alluded to in Solomon's Proverbs: "Educate the lad in the manner appropriate for him". (22:6)

When the souls of Jacob and Joseph respectively expanded from the world of Atzilut, their origin, the features of Jacob remained engraved on the throne of G‑d. This throne is immediately below the region we have called Atzilut. Joseph is immediately below his father in the domain of Metatron whose activities emanate from beneath that "throne". The significance of the throne is the mystery of Beriya, whereas the significance of Metatron in the same scheme is the mystery surrounding Yetzira [a more advanced state of the creation of matter. Ed].

Concerning this latter aspect of Metatron's activities, the Torah describes Joseph here as 17 years old, i.e. a "junior". Kabbalists also refer to Metatron as "eved" [meaning "servant"]. The Zohar points that out on Gen. 24:2, where Abraham instructs "his servant the senior member of his household", to get a wife for Isaac. I have explained this at length in my commentary on Chayei Sarah. Our Sages identified that angel with Metatron…

The expression "eved" ["servant"] also occurs in Joseph's life when the latter is sold by his brothers. G‑d sent His angel along to protect Joseph on his various journeys. This guidance was of a similar nature as that described in the verse, "Here I am sending an angel ahead of you to protect you on the journey". (Ex. 23:20) Our Sages identified that angel with Metatron, as mentioned by Rashi on that verse. [The fact that Rashi mentions that the numerical value of Metatron is Sha-dai = 314, clearly establishes that Metatron is active in matters of Yetzira, an activity requiring the attribute of Sha-dai - Ed.]

Let us return to the statement, "G‑d is One and His Name is One". The mystery of G‑d's unity, and the oneness of His name, is compared in the Sefer Yetzira and all other Kabbalistic texts to the relationship between a flame and a glowing ember. The same relationship exists between Jacob and Joseph; Jacob is the glowing ember, the fire attached to the coal, whereas Joseph is the [disembodied] flame. Scriptural proof for this idea is found in the verse where the prophet describes "the house of Jacob as fire and the house of Joseph as flame". (Obadiah 1:18) The letters of the word "aish", [meaning "fire"] are also the respective first letters of "emet" [meaning "truth"] and "shalom" [meaning "peace"], which are the attributes of Jacob and Joseph respectively.

Esau was the exact opposite. He represented "kina" [meaning "jealousy"] and "sina" [meaning "hatred"]. Jealousy is the exact opposite of truth. The attribute of truth is defined as a preparedness to admit that something is objectively so, without one denying it or misrepresenting it (even if one puts oneself in a bad light thereby). When the prophet Obadiah in the verse quoted describes the house of Esau as becoming straw [in Hebrew "kash"], the letters in that word are the respective first letters of "kina" and "sina" [kuf and shin].

[Selected with permission from the five-volume English edition of "Ohr HaChaim: the Torah Commentary of Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar" by Eliyahu Munk.]