Joseph's Dreams

Having concluded its history of Isaac and Esau, the Torah resumes its history of Jacob and his family.

37:1 As we saw bove,1 in the year 2208 Jacob settled safely in Hebron, the region where his father had lived, in Canaan. But, seeing the rapid expansion of Esau's family, he wondered how God's promise that his descendants would overcome Esau's2 could possibly come true. In response, God assured him, as he himself had already sensed,3 that the spiritual power manifest in his son Joseph would enable his descendants to overcome Esau's.

Jacob understood why Joseph should be his spiritual "extension"—the one whose spiritual characteristics were necessary to complete Jacob's mission. Jacob had worked for Laban only in order to marry Rachel and father children by her, and so his whole essence was focused on this goal. In contrast, his marriages to Leah and the handmaids, and the children produced by these unions, were only a means to this end. Jacob therefore considered Joseph his successor and the next leader of the family.

At the same time, Jacob appreciated the value of his other sons' spiritual characteristics and realized that the son who best epitomized their approach would also play a leadership role in the nascent Jewish people. Although they were all righteous, Jacob felt that Reuben's behavior after Rachel's death and Simeon and Levi's behavior in Shechem indicated that they were not fit for leadership.4 The next oldest after these three was Judah, so Jacob singled him out as the leader of the other brothers, beside Joseph. In recognition of this status, Jacob had Judah wear a special, additional cloak.5

Further evidence that Joseph was Jacob's main spiritual heir was the physical resemblance between them. As Joseph's life progressed, the uncanny resemblance between him and his father was reflected in the similarity between their lives: Both were born circumcised; both were born to mothers who had been barren for a long period of time; both of their mothers had had hard labor when they were born; both of their mothers had only two children; both were hated by their brothers; both their brothers plotted to kill them; both were shepherds; both experienced open confrontations with the power of evil—Jacob with Esau's guardian angel and Joseph with his own evil inclination in the incident with Potiphar's wife;6 both suffered as a result of theft—Jacob by having to restore whatever was stolen from Laban's flocks7 and Joseph by being "stolen" by his brothers;8 both were blessed with ten blessings;9 both emigrated from the Land of Israel to a foreign land, married there, and had children there; both were escorted by angels;10 both were promoted in status by means of a dream;11 both brought blessing to their fathers-in-law's households;12 both emigrated to Egypt; both mitigated the effect of famine;13 both made their families promise to re-locate their remains to the Land of Israel; both were embalmed; and the remains of both were indeed brought to burial in the Land of Israel.14

Thus encouraged, Jacob thought that he would be able to live out the rest of his years peacefully in his homeland. But this yearning for comfort was premature; God reminded him that we must face the challenges that accompany our Divine calling all our lives, and that quiescent tranquility awaits us only in the afterlife.15

In the year 2214, Leah died, at age 43.

2 The following narrative—which continues until the end of the Torah—is the chronicle of the descendants of Jacob,16 how they came to live in Egypt, eventually receive the Torah, and return to settle in the Land of Israel:

It began in the year 2216, when Joseph was 17 years old and was pasturing the flocks with his brothers. On the one hand, although he was already seventeen, he acted like a conceited, immature young boy, fixing up his hair and grooming his eyelashes. On the other hand, he was very sensitive; he noted how Leah's sons shunned Bilhah's and Zilpah's sons because their mothers had been handmaids; for this reason, he spent time with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah to cheer them up and affirm their full status as his father's wives. Because of the deepening enmity between him and the sons of Leah, Joseph brought their father evil reports about any unseemly conduct he found in them. In particular, he incriminated them with transgressing the Torah's prohibition against eating flesh torn from a living animal, unfairly denigrating the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, and conducting their business interactions with women17 without proper, modest restraint.

3 Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he was his most studious son, who absorbed all Israel had learned from Shem and Ever and had in turn taught him. Joseph's studiousness was reminiscent of Israel's own studiousness as a youth, and thus Israel also loved Joseph more than any of his other sons because of this resemblance, which was also reflected in the fact that Joseph resembled him physically. As a sign of this affection, Israel made him a fine woolen robe. This robe aroused the jealously of Joseph's brothers, and was therefore the indirect cause of all his impending misfortunes.

4 His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, so they hated him, and, being honest men who could not act duplicitously, could not speak with him peaceably.

5 Then Joseph had a dream and told it to his brothers, and because of this dream, they hated him even more.

6 He said to them, "Please listen to this dream I had.

7 There we were, binding sheaves in the midst of the field, when my sheaf stood up and remained upright. Then your sheaves formed a circle around my sheaf and prostrated themselves before it."

8 His brothers said to him, "Would you really seek to reign over us? Would you really seek to rule over us?" They now understood that his slandering them to their father was not just idle talk but part of his scheme to gain power over them. Thus, they now hated him even more, because his dreams proved that his talk was insinuating and because his talk proved that he took his dreams seriously.

9 He had another dream and told it to his brothers. He said, "Look, I had another dream, and there were the sun, the moon, and eleven stars prostrating themselves before me." This dream indicated that Joseph saw himself asserting himself not only over his brothers, but over his parents as well.

10 He re-told the dream to his father in his brothers' presence. Israel understood this dream to be a prophecy that his hopes that Joseph would eventually lead his brothers would come true. He understood the details of the sun and moon, symbolizing himself and Rachel, to be unfulfilled18 elements that form part of every dream, since he had no aspiration to himself bow down to Joseph and Rachel was already dead. (In fact, however, only the former detail never came true, for although Israel did later bow down to Joseph,19 he never went so far as to prostrate himself before him. In contrast, Bilhah, who was Joseph's surrogate mother after Rachel died, did eventually prostrate herself before Joseph.20 Israel knew that Bilhah could be considered Joseph's mother—certainly for allegorical purposes—but did not think that she would be symbolized as the moon relative to his sun.) At the same time, Israel saw that the other brothers were not yet ready to accept Joseph's leadership over them. Joseph's father therefore chided him for arousing their hatred against them by telling them the dream. Seeking to allay Joseph's brothers' hatred, Israel said to Joseph in their presence, "What nonsense is this dream that you had! Will I, your mother, and your brothers indeed come and prostrate ourselves on the ground before you?! Your mother has been dead for years! Just as this detail of your dream cannot come true, neither can other details in it." Israel did not specify which details he was referring to, for, as above, he fully expected his other sons to one day prostrate themselves before Joseph; in his mind he was referring to his prostrating himself before Joseph, while intending that his other sons understand his words to refer to the dream in its entirety. Joseph's brothers were not aware that every dream contains elements that do not come true, so that could not dismiss Israel's attempt at pacifying them on these grounds.21

11 However, Israel's attempt to mitigate his other sons' hatred did not succeed; Joseph's brothers remained jealous of him. But his father waited expectantly for the matter to take place as Joseph had dreamed it.

The Sale of Joseph

Second Reading 12 His brothers left, ostensibly to pasture their father's flocks in Shechem, but in reality they sought to be alone in order to privately discuss what course of action to take.

13 Israel sensed that Joseph's brothers had absented themselves in order to scheme how best to vent their jealousy and hatred upon him. However, he also sensed that somehow the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham in the Covenant between the Halves22—that his progeny would be slaves in a foreign land—would unfold through this turn of events. So Israel said to Joseph, "Now your brothers are pasturing in Shechem. Come, I will send you to check up on them."

Joseph also knew that his brothers were probably scheming against him. Nonetheless, in deference to his father's will, he replied to him, "Here I am, ready to do your bidding."

14 Israel then said to him, "Please go and see how your brothers and the flocks are faring, and bring me back a report." He thus sent him to embark on the journey that would fulfill the profound, prophetic vision of Abraham, who was interred in Hebron. Joseph arrived in Shechem, the scene of three historical events that reflected the corrective suffering he was soon to experience for having accused his brothers of improper behavior.23 Specifically, it was in Shechem that his brothers began plotting to kill him, corresponding to how he accused them of eating flesh torn from living animals; it was in Shechem that Dinah had been raped,24 corresponding to how he accused them of immodesty; it would be in Shechem that the majority of the Jewish people would in the future disrespectfully secede from the Davidic monarchy,25 corresponding to how he accused them of showing disrespect to their other brothers.26

15 The angel Gabriel, appearing the guise of a man, found him wandering in the fields. The "man" questioned him, saying, "What are you looking for?"

16 He replied, "It is my brothers that I am looking for. Please tell me where they are pasturing."

17 The man answered, "You refer to them as brothers, but they have clearly distanced themselves from such brotherly sentiments, for I heard them say, 'Let us go to Dotan ["legalities"],' and—in consonance with the meaning of this place's name—they were seeking some legal pretext to kill you!" Despite this warning, Joseph remained true to his father's mission,27 followed his brothers, and found them in Dotan (see Figure 44).

18 They saw him from afar, and before he reached them, they conspired against him to put him to death.

19 Simeon said to his brother Levi,28 "Look, here comes that dreamer!

20 So now let us go and kill him and throw him into one of the pits, and we shall say, 'A wild beast devoured him.' " But God said, "You would have done better to confront your father with your grievances rather than to presumptuously take matters into your own hands. We shall see which succeeds: your plans or Joseph's dreams, which accord with My will!"

21 Reuben heard his brothers' plan and realized that if they killed Joseph, he, as the firstborn, would be held responsible. He therefore rescued him from their hands, as follows: He said, "Let us not strike him mortally! Are we so sure he deserves to die? Perhaps we are wrong, or perhaps he has some other merit that outweighs any capital offense he is guilty of. If such is the case and we kill him, we will be guilty of murder!" In deference to his status as the firstborn, Simeon and Levi acceded to him, but they asked what they should do instead about Joseph's arrogance.

22 Reuben then said to them, as a compromise, "Do not shed blood directly. Throw him into this pit here in the desert, so he will surely die, but do not lay a hand on him!" In truth, Reuben suggested this course of action in order to rescue him from their hands and bring him back later, when they were not around, to his father. Reuben hoped that after this attempt on Joseph's life, Jacob would take matters into his own hands and resolve the conflict.

Third Reading 23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his shirt and of the fine woolen robe that he was wearing.

24 They took him, and Simeon29 threw him into the pit. The pit was empty in that there was no water in it, but there were snakes and scorpions in it. Even though this normally spells certain death,30 Reuben reasoned that Joseph's chances were better with the snakes and scorpions, which do not possess free choice and therefore would not be able to kill him if he did not deserve it. And indeed, the snakes and scorpions did not harm Joseph. Still, Joseph pleaded with them to remove him from the pit, but they ignored his pleas.31

25 The brothers then sat down to a meal. Reuben did not join them, for it was his custom to fast periodically as part of his repentance for having meddled in his father's private affairs,32 and it just so happened that he was fasting that day. While they were eating, he left for Hebron, for it was his turn to attend to Jacob and he was confident that Joseph was safe.33

As the brothers were in the midst of their meal, they raised their eyes and saw that there was a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from the direction of Gilead. Their camels were carrying spices, stacte, and lotus, on their way to take them down to Egypt. Even though the Ishmaelites typically traded in kerosene and tar, which have a foul smell, Divine providence arranged that this caravan carry fragrant spices in order to not subject Joseph to unnecessary suffering when he would be in their company.

26 Judah said to his brothers—in particular addressing Simeon and Levi, who had been eager to kill Joseph—"What is to be gained if we kill our brother and then have to conceal our responsibility for his death from our father?

27 Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, but let our hand not strike him, for he is our brother, our own flesh." His brothers heeded him.

28 In the meantime, a caravan of Midianite merchants also passed by. The brothers hauled Joseph up from the pit and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. The Ishmaelites in turn sold Joseph to the Midianites, and they brought Joseph to Egypt.

29 The next day, Reuben returned. When Reuben went back to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he rent his clothes.

30 He returned to his brothers and said, "The boy is gone! And I—where can I go to avoid witnessing our father's grief? He will certainly hold me responsible for his disappearance."

31 They took Joseph's robe, slaughtered a young goat, and dipped the robe in the blood. Since the blood of young goats is similar in color to human blood, in doing so, they hoped to make their father think that Joseph had been killed and devoured by some wild animal.

The brothers realized that in time, one or more of them might come to regret their actions and be moved to tell Jacob the truth, and that this would discredit the others (who had not yet regretted or summoned the courage to act on their regret) in Jacob's estimation. In order to prevent this, they made a pact among themselves not to reveal the truth to their father until they all agreed that it was time to do so. Furthermore, in order to prevent any of them from convincing the others to reveal the truth to Jacob before they all would agree to do so, they further agreed to wait for a sign from God that this time had come.34

32 The brothers were reluctant to show Jacob the coat themselves. They sent off the fine woolen robe via an emissary and it was brought to their father. They said, via their emissary, "We found this; please identify it. Is it your son's robe or not?"

33 He recognized it and said, "It is my son's robe! A wild beast has devoured him! Joseph has been torn to pieces!" With these words, he unwittingly prophesied that Joseph would be attacked by a "wild beast" of a person, as indeed occurred when the wife of the person to whom he was eventually sold attempted to seduce him.35

34 Jacob rent his clothes, put on sackcloth around his waist as a symbol of mourning, and mourned for his son unabatedly for many days, i.e., for the next twenty-two years (2216-2238). In this way, God arranged for Jacob to atone for the twenty-two-years in which he did not honor his own parents by attending to their needs while he was away from them in Laban's household and tarried on his return journey (2185-2207).

35 All his sons and daughters attempted to console him, but he refused to be comforted, saying, "No, I will never be comforted; I will go down to the grave in mourning for my son." And indeed, Jacob's grief did not abate with time, as is usually the case, because God made it part of human nature for people to eventually stop grieving over their dead relatives—but Joseph was not dead." Furthermore," Jacob said, "now that my son has died, I know that when I die, I will descend to Purgatory, for God informed me that if none of my sons die during my lifetime, that will be a sign for me that I have fulfilled my purpose in life by fathering the chosen family, and thus I will not need to undergo any purification in Purgatory. For this I also mourn." Since a sad or troubled person cannot experience Divine inspiration, Jacob had no Divine inspiration during the twenty-two years he mourned for Joseph.36 Inwardly, Jacob suspected Judah of killing Joseph.37

Although the brothers did not tell their grandfather Isaac that they in fact had sold Joseph, he understood prophetically that his grandson was still alive. Seeing that God had not told Jacob that Joseph was still alive, Isaac understood that He did not want him to know, so he did not tell him, either. Nonetheless, witnessing his son's suffering, Jacob's father Isaac wept for him.

36 Meanwhile, the Medanites (i.e., Midianites38) had sold Joseph to the government of Egypt, specifically, to Potiphar, a courtier of Pharaoh and chief of his butchers (see Figure 45).

Judah and Tamar

Fourth Reading 38:1 Seeing their father's inconsolable grief, the brothers turned on Judah. They told him, "We went along with your idea to sell him. Had you suggested that we return him to our father, we would have also listened to you." At their insistence, Judah stepped down from his position of leadership over his brothers at that time.39 He moved away from them and entered into a business partnership with a man from Adulam by the name of Chirah (see Figure 46).

2 Soon thereafter, Judah saw the daughter of a certain renowned40 merchant there named Shua; he married her and cohabited with her.

3 She conceived and gave birth to a son, and Judah named him Er.

4 She again conceived and gave birth to another son, and she named him Onan.

5 Once more she gave birth to a son, and she named him Sheilah. When she gave birth to this child, Judah was in a place that would later be called Keziv ["ceasing"]. From then on, his wife ceased bearing him children; for this reason, the place he was when their last child was born became known as Keziv.

6 In the year 2224, Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. Tamar was the daughter of Shem, who had died 66 years prior to this; thus she was at least 67 years old at this time.

7 Despite her age, Tamar was still very beautiful. Afraid that bearing children would mar her beauty, Er interrupted his marital relations with her, spilling his seed. Since deliberately wasting seed contravenes God's commandment to be fruitful and multiply and is considered tantamount to murder, Er, Judah's firstborn, was evil in God's eyes and liable to the death penalty. He did not regret his act, so God therefore made him die.

8 Like the rest of his family, Judah endeavored to keep the Torah whenever possible, even though it had not yet been formally given.41 The Torah's law of levirate marriage42 obligates a man whose married brother dies childless to marry his widow. Judah therefore said to Onan, "Marry and cohabit with your brother's wife and thus fulfill the duty of the brother of a deceased husband to her." In addition, Judah told Onan, "In this way you will produce offspring for your brother, for you will name your first child after him," even though the Torah does not stipulate doing so as part of the institution of levirate marriage.

9 Onan knew that the offspring would not be considered his, so when he cohabited with his late brother's wife, he, too, let his seed go to waste on the ground, so as not to produce offspring for his brother.

10 Although his motivation was different than his brother's, his act was identical, so what Onan did was likewise evil in the eyes of God. Since he, too, did not regret his act, God made him, too, die.

11 In further accordance with levirate law, the next in line to marry Tamar would have been Sheilah, Judah's third son. But instead of having her marry Sheilah, Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, "Remain a widow in your father's house for another year, until my son Sheilah grows up." In truth, however, Judah really had no intention of letting Sheilah marry her, for he thought, "If her marries her, he, too, might die like his brothers did." Since Judah did not know why his first two sons had died within a year of marrying Tamar, he presumed that something about Tamar had caused her husbands—and would cause any future husbands of hers—to die prematurely. Although this presumption of mortal danger was legally sufficient to absolve Sheilah of any levirate duty to marry her,43 Judah did not have her released from this pledge. In order to keep her from marrying other men, something that could possibly endanger their lives, he felt it would be preferable to keep her thinking that she was still promised to Sheilah.44

So Tamar went to live in her father's house—i.e., her family's house, for her father had died many years ago45—while she waited for Sheilah to come of age.

12 Many days, i.e., a year or so, passed, and Shua's daughter, Judah's wife, died. (She was still known simply as Shua's daughter—even after marriage—because Shua was such a renowned merchant.46) After Judah was consoled, he went up, together with Chirah, his Adulamite friend, to Timnah, which was situated on the slope of a hill, to supervise his sheepshearers.

13 Tamar was then told as follows, "Your father-in-law is now going up to Timnah to shear his sheep." Since she was told that he was going up to Timnah, she knew which route he would be taking.47

14 So she took off her widow's garb, covered herself with a veil, wrapping it also around her face so he would not recognize her, and sat at the crossroads on the way up to Timnah. Abraham had pitched his tent for a while at this crossroads, and for this reason, the place was frequently visited by travelers wishing to honor his memory; Tamar knew that Judah would do the same. For Tamar strongly desired to bear children descended from Judah, so when she saw that Sheilah had grown up and yet she had not been given to him as a wife, she contrived to conceive children from Judah himself.

15 When Judah saw her sitting at the crossroads, he took her for a prostitute. Because she had covered her face, he did not recognize her. Even though Judah knew that Tamar was anxious to bear his progeny, he did not suspect that this prostitute could be her, because she always covered her face when she had visited his house as his daughter-in-law, thus showing herself to be a paragon of modesty and righteousness.

16 He turned aside to her, going over to the road where she was sitting, and said, "If you consent,48 please prepare yourself, so that I may cohabit with you," for he did not realize that she was his daughter-in-law. Had he known she was Tamar, he would not have asked her to cohabit with him, since having relations with her was presumed to lead to death (because of what happened to Er and Onan49).50

She replied, "What will you give me as payment for cohabiting with you?"

17 He said, "I will send you a kid-goat from the flock," and she replied, "Provided you give me a pledge for security until you send it."

18 He asked, "What pledge shall I give you?" and she answered, "Your signet-ring, your special, additional cloak that is a sign of your special status in your family, and the staff that is in your hand." Tamar specifically requested these three items because she was sure that Judah would try to get them back; she could also later use them to prove his identity.51

He gave them to her and cohabited with her, and she conceived from him.

19 She arose and left, took off her veil, and once again donned her widow's garb.

20 Judah sent the kid-goat with his friend the Adulamite in order to get the security pledge back from the woman, but he could not find her.

21 He questioned the people of her area, saying, "Where is that prostitute who was at the crossroads by the wayside?"

They replied, "There was no prostitute here."

22 He returned to Judah and said, "I did not find her, and even the local people said, 'There was no prostitute here.' "

23 So Judah said, "Let her keep what I gave her as a pledge, lest we become the subject of public scorn. Look, I did send her this kid-goat, but you did not find her. What more can I do to fulfill my word?" Because Judah had deceived his father about Joseph using a kid-goat, Divine providence arranged that he himself be deceived with a kid-goat.

In this year (2228), Isaac died.52

24 Some three months went by, and Judah was informed as follows: "Your daughter-in-law Tamar has not married anyone else since her second husband died, but she has been having relations. She is therefore guilty of licentiousness, the proof being that she is even visibly pregnant from it."

When humanity collectively forswore licentiousness after the flood, it agreed to punish priests' daughters who act licentiously with death by burning, echoing the Torah's decree that a priest's daughter who commits adultery must die by burning.53 Since Tamar was the daughter of Shem,54 who was a priest,55 Judah therefore said, "Bring her forth and have her burned."

25 Tamar was so acutely aware of the gravity of the crime of shaming someone in public that she was ready to be burnt publicly rather than commit it. She therefore let Judah know indirectly that she was pregnant by him. As she was being brought to be burned, she sent word to her father-in-law as follows: "I am pregnant by a man to whom these belong." And she added, "Please identify these items: whose signet-ring, cloak, and staff are these? Please acknowledge your God: admit that you are the father and do not cause three innocent lives to be ended—mine and that of the twins in my womb."

26 Judah recognized the articles as being his. Even though he had not technically committed any wrongdoing, since prostitution was not forbidden before the Torah was given,56 it was still embarrassing that a member of Jacob's family had indulged in such a purely carnal union. Nonetheless, he chose to suffer public disgrace rather than let Tamar be killed. He said, "She is correct; she is pregnant by me. She was justified in contriving to conceive by me, since I did not give her in marriage to my son Sheilah as I had promised I would, and she felt that I was ignoring my duty to ensure that she bear children from my bloodline.57 Furthermore, now that it is clear that she intended only to have relations with me, she cannot be considered guilty of licentiousness, so she is therefore not liable to the death penalty."58 A voice from heaven then announced, "I, God, am responsible for all this. Because Tamar was so exemplarily modest whenever she visited her father-in-law's house, I ordained that the royal line of Jewish kings be descended from her. I have also ordained that the royal line should be descended from Judah, but when Er and Onan refused to father sons by her, I killed them and arranged for Tamar to conceive by Judah himself."

Once it was clear that Er and Onan had died because of their own sins rather than because of any fault of Tamar's, Judah married her, so he was never again intimate with her in the same questionable way he had been before.

When Reuben heard about Judah's confession of his inappropriate behavior, he was inspired to also confess publicly that he had wrongly meddled in his father's private affairs.59

27 As Tamar was giving birth, the midwife saw that there were twins, who were both destined to be righteous, in her womb. In this merit,60 God shortened the length of her pregnancy and she gave birth prematurely, in her seventh month.61

28 While she was in labor, one of the babies stuck out his hand from the womb. The midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his hand to signify, "This one emerged first." The baby then withdrew his hand.

29 But as soon as he withdrew his hand, his brother emerged, and his mother said, "With what vigor have you pushed yourself ahead!" So Judah named him Peretz ["breaking through"]. Since primogeniture is determined by which baby's head emerges first, Peretz was therefore the firstborn.

30 Then his brother, who had the scarlet thread on his hand, emerged, and Judah named him Zerach ["shining"], after the shining scarlet thread. Zerach failed to emerge first and claim primogeniture because in the future, when the Jewish people would conquer the Land of Israel, his descendant Achan62 would make prohibited use of the spoils of battle and thereby endanger the success of the Jewish people's entry into the Promised Land.63

In the merit of Tamar's righteous intention to bear Judah's children, these sons inherited Judah's strength and righteousness.64

Joseph in the House of Potiphar

Fifth Reading 39:1 As mentioned above, Joseph had been taken down to Egypt, and Potiphar—a courtier of Pharaoh and chief of his butchers, a prominent Egyptian—had bought him from the Midianites,65 who had bought him from the Ishmaelites and brought him down there.66 Potiphar bought him because he was attracted to his good looks, but God made Potiphar impotent so he could not act on this attraction. From then on, he became known as Potiphera,67 phera meaning "mutilated."

2 God was with Joseph and he became a successful man, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. Nonetheless, he was still a slave, and therefore had no means to let his father know that he was alive.68

3 Joseph's master saw that Joseph was deeply aware of God's presence, always articulating his awareness that God was with him and granting him success in all he did.69 Potiphera therefore understood that it was God who had granted Joseph success in everything he did.

4 Joseph thus gained favor with him and became his attendant. His master put him in charge of his household, entrusting all that he owned into his care.

5 As soon as he had put him in charge of his household and all that he owned, God blessed the Egyptian's household in Joseph's merit. God's blessing was evident in everything Potiphera had, both in the house and in the field.

6 He left everything he had in Joseph's care, and did not concern himself with any of his own affairs other than "the bread he ate"—a euphemism for his wife. After being in charge of Potiphera's house for a year, Joseph became overly impressed with his own success, started to pay attention to the fact that he was well-built and of fine appearance, and began indulging in gourmet food and curling his hair, primping himself even more than he used to when he was a youth.70 Joseph's regressive narcissism evinced gross insensitivity to the fact that his father was in mourning over having lost him. God therefore set about to correct this flaw by showing Joseph that undue attention to one's looks can invite undesirable attention from others.

Sixth Reading 7 So, immediately after Joseph began primping himself and God articulated His intention to correct this insensitivity,71 Joseph's master's wife cast her eyes on Joseph. She saw through astrological means that she was destined to be an ancestress of Joseph's progeny. Although she was correct, for Joseph later married her daughter and the children born to them were thus her progeny, she mistakenly assumed that she herself was to be the mother of this progeny, and was anxious to bear the children of such a righteous individual. With these noble intentions,72 she approached Joseph and said, "Sleep with me."

8 He refused to submit to her overtures and said to his master's wife, "Look, my master does not concern himself with what I do in the house, and all that he owns he has entrusted to my care.

9 There is no one in this house having more authority than I, and he has withheld nothing from me excepting yourself, since you are his wife—so how could I commit such a great wrong as betraying his trust, and at the same time also sin before God? Certainly you know that humanity forswore adultery in the wake of the Flood!"73

10 Potiphera's wife, however, persisted in trying to seduce Joseph. But although she spoke to Joseph day after day, he did not listen to her, not even agreeing to lie next to her without having relations, for he knew that this might lead to having relations with her. This, in turn, would mean that he would have to be with her in the afterlife, that is, to be cleansed in Purgatory74 for having defiled himself by having had relations with her.

11 It happened on a certain idolatrous holiday, when the Egyptians congregated at their temple, that Potiphera's wife realized that there would be no time more auspicious than a day like this to achieve her goal. She excused herself from attending the ceremonies by feigning illness. Joseph, as usual, came into the house to do his work, but he was also entertaining thoughts of giving in to her pressure. None of the members of the household were present in the house except for her.

12 She caught hold of him by his garment and said, "Sleep with me!" He began to do so, but at the last minute, a vision of his father's face appeared to him. The vision spoke and said, "Joseph, you and your brothers' names are destined to be inscribed on the stones of the high priest's garments!75 Do you wish to have your name removed from theirs, instead becoming known as the associate of a prostitute?" Hearing this, he stuck his fingers into the ground in order to arrest his passion, and his seed issued miraculously through his fingernails.76 When he started to flee, she grabbed his garment, and since Egyptian garments were not securely fastened to the body, it slid off him. He left his garment in her hand and fled, and went outside.

13 When she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled outside, she realized she could use it to take revenge on him for having rejected her.

14 She called her household servants, who, not being Egyptians, had also not gone to the holiday ceremonies, and said to them as follows, "See! My husband brought us a Hebrew man—a foreigner, from far away and of a different race. No wonder he has no respect for us; he tried to mock us! He came to me to lie with me, but I cried out loudly!

15 So when he heard how I raised my voice and screamed, he left his garment with me and fled, and went outside!"

16 She kept his garment with her until her husband, Joseph's master, came home,

17 and spoke to him along these lines, saying, "The Hebrew servant that you brought us came to me to mock me by trying to seduce me!

18 Then, when I screamed at the top of my voice, he left his garment with me and fled outside!"

19 At first, Joseph's master found it hard to believe that he could have done this, and in any case was loath to punish him because he had managed his household so ably and impressively. But later, when his master was engaging in marital relations with his wife and he heard the words that his wife then spoke to him, saying, "Your servant did these kinds of things—that we are doing now—to me," he was furious.

20 Joseph's master, who, in addition to being the chief butcher, was also in charge of the royal prison,77 took hold of him and placed him in the prison where the king's prisoners were incarcerated, and he remained in that prison. This scandal became the subject of everyone's gossip.78

21 God was with Joseph and made him well-liked among the inmates.79 He also made the warden of the prison favor him.

22 The warden of the prison placed all the prisoners who were in the prison in Joseph's charge, and whatever was done there was done under Joseph's direction.

23 The warden of the prison could not find fault in anything that was under Joseph's charge, for God was with him, and God granted him success in whatever he did.

Joseph and Pharaoh's Courtiers

Seventh Reading 40:1 In addition to causing Joseph to be well-liked among the prison staff and inmates, God also arranged for Egyptian society to be distracted from his defaming involvement with Potiphera's wife by giving them something else to gossip about. Furthermore, this new incident eventually led to Joseph's release from prison and his subsequent rise to greatness. Thus, soon after Joseph became the subject of everyone's conversations,80 the Egyptian king's cupbearer and baker offended their master, the king of Egypt. Pharaoh found a fly in his cup and a stone in his bread.

2 Pharaoh was incensed with his two courtiers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker,

3 and he had them imprisoned in the prison adjoining the house of the chief butcher, which was the same prison in which Joseph was incarcerated.

4 The chief butcher assigned Joseph to be in charge of them and he attended them, and they were in prison for a year.

5 One night, the two of them—the Egyptian king's cupbearer and baker who were confined in the prison—each had a dream that accorded with its true interpretation regarding what would happen to them in the future. Unbeknownst to each other, they each also dreamed the other's dream. But while neither of them understood what their own dreams meant, they did understand the meaning of each other's dreams.

6 When Joseph came to them in the morning, it was clear that they were in a melancholy mood.

7 He asked Pharaoh's courtiers who were with him in custody in his master's house, in these words, "Why are your faces so downcast today?"

8 They answered him, "We each had a dream, but there is no one to interpret it."

So Joseph said to them, "Surely interpretations belong to God! Please tell me your dreams."

9 The cupbearer related his dream to Joseph. He said to him, "In my dream there was a vine before me.

10 And on the vine there were three branches. It seemed to be budding, then it blossomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes.

11 Pharaoh's cup was in my hand. I took the grapes and squeezed their juice into Pharaoh's cup; then I placed the cup in Pharaoh's hand."

12 Joseph understood that God had arranged for the cupbearer to be imprisoned so that through his release he could petition Pharaoh to release Joseph, as well. Since the cupbearer's dream clearly indicated that it was time for this to happen, Joseph concluded that the three branches symbolized the shortest possible units of time, i.e., days.81 Thus, Joseph said to him, "This is its interpretation: The three branches symbolize three days.

13 In three days' time, Pharaoh will take due account of you when he summons all his servants to serve him during his meal and restore you to your position. You will place Pharaoh's cup in his hand, just as you used to do before you were imprisoned when you served him his drinks.

14 You will then wield some influence at court. I know that since some time may elapse before the opportunity to help me presents itself to you, and your release from prison will be a great upheaval in your life, you might forget about me. So despite this, keep me in mind, since things will be going well for you, as I have predicted,82 and please do me the kindness of mentioning me to Pharaoh, and thus you will get me out of this prison-building.

15 For in fact I was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, and here, too, I did nothing to warrant them putting me in the dungeon."

16 When the chief baker saw that Joseph had interpreted well—for, as stated above,83 he had dreamed the chief cupbearer's dream together with its correct interpretation—he said to Joseph, "In my dream, likewise, there were three wicker baskets on my head.

17 In the top basket there were all kinds of baked goods that Pharaoh eats, and birds were eating them from the basket above my head."

18 Joseph replied as follows, "This is its interpretation: The three baskets symbolize three days.

19 In three days' time, Pharaoh will decapitate you and hang your corpse on a gallows, and the birds will eat your flesh."

Maftir* 20 On the third day, which was Pharaoh's birthday, he held a feast for all his servants, and counted the chief cupbearer and the chief baker among his servants available to serve him at the feast.

21 He restored the chief cupbearer to his position of serving drinks, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh's hand.

22 The chief baker, however, he hanged, just as Joseph had interpreted for them.

23 The chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph on that day, and he intentionally forgot about him thereafter.

Joseph was correct in trying to extricate himself from prison, but he erred in thinking that once God had chosen to help him by means of the cupbearer, he was now dependent upon the cupbearer's advocacy rather than upon God's mercy. This error in judgment demonstrated that he was not yet ready to ascend to the higher social status for which he was destined. In order to correct this character flaw, God postponed Joseph's release from prison from three days after the dream to three years after it. Nonetheless, in order to minimize this correctional period, God counted the three days Joseph would have spent in prison in any case as the first additional year. Beyond this, he had to spend two more full years in prison.84