Vayeshev: True sight

dark eyes“I can see clearly now, the rain has gone. “

This week’s Torah portion is Vayeshev, and “sight” words are all over the place. These are words that relate to seeing, vision, and the opposite – when people can’t see what’s in front of them. We start with Joseph, of course, he of the dreams and visions.

Joseph sees himself in relation to his brothers in a couple of dreams –one in the heavens and one on the ground. In the heavens, the celestial beings (his brothers and father) are all bowing down to him, and on the ground, the biggest sheaf of grain (Joseph) welcomes the adoration of the smaller sheaves (his brothers.) As you can imagine, these visions don’t go down well with the rest of the family. The sons already know their dad Jacob favors young Joseph.

The Torah likes aural puns. When words sound like other words, we call them homophones, and they appear in a few places in this parasha. These are not accidental. Remember, the text was read out loud to the community, and people made connections based on what they were hearing.

For example, in Gen 37:15-16, we are told that a man asked Joseph, “What are you looking for?” He answers, “Do you know where my brothers are pasturing?”  The word for pasturing is “ro-im”, which sounds a lot like the plural word for seeing.

Later in chapter 38 (Gen 38:21) we’re in the side story of Judah and Tamar. Judah is the older brother of Joseph, and he has three sons. One is married to a woman named Tamar. The son dies, and Tamar is supposed to marry the next son, but he dies, too. Judah doesn’t want to lose his last son, so he sends Tamar away and withholds his 3rd son from her. She knows she is being wronged, so she takes off the garments of the widow, puts on the garb of the harlot, hiding her face, and sits by the side of the road. Judah doesn’t recognize this woman as his daughter-in-law, sleeps with her, and he promises to pay her later. Tamar asks for Judah’s staff, cord, and seal. When she becomes pregnant, and Judah wants to impose a death sentence, she produces the identifying objects, and Judah knows he is the father.

There’s a lot here, including another Torah aural pun (see what I did there….Torah ora…the light of Torah…?) Judah’s friend comes back to look for the prostitute to pay her, and says, “Where is the prostitute at Enaim?” “Enaim” is spelled like the word for “eyes.” Tamar was out in plain sight, but Judah couldn’t see that Tamar was the woman he lay with. He may have sight, but he was blind to reality.

Then, when we get back to Joseph’s story, (Gen 39:7) Potiphar’s wife “cast her eyes on Joseph” (eineha). She saw a beautiful man, but couldn’t see that it was wrong to seduce him. Her eyes led her to a place she shouldn’t be going, and she ended up accusing Joseph anyway. That’s how he ended up in jail.

How do we tell the difference between sight like Joseph’s, those dreams that come from a true place, and the sight of Judah and Mrs. Potiphar, taking us places we shouldn’t go. We have to learn to see with our hearts. Judah and Mrs. Potiphar saw things through not just their physical desires, but through their desire to cheat the rules. They were really blinded, not seeing at all.

Wishing you a sweet Shabbat of true sight, true peace and serenity.


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