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Two Minutes of Torah: Vayeshev - Concern for Others

Pastor Martin Niemoller, who was a German Protestant pastor and a critic of Nazi Germany, is perhaps best known for his poem:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

He reminds us through these words that we must be concerned for others even if we are not affected by their actions; because it is our concern for others, our concern for humanity as a whole that is so important in challenging evil and the problems in our society. 

In this week's Torah portion had Jacob maybe been a little bit more concerned with others perhaps things would have worked out differently.  This week is the week of Joseph dreams and while we know that he had two dreams there is an important distinction between them.  In the first dream he shares: “we were binding sheaves in the field, when suddenly my sheaf stood up and remained upright; then your sheaves gathered around and bowed low to my sheaf” (Gen. 37:7).  That was the dream, and unsurprisingly his brothers were upset by it.  They said to him: “‘Do you mean to reign over us? Do you mean to rule over us?’ And they hated him even more for his talk about his dreams (Gen. 37:8). 

And their father Jacob does nothing, he does not intervene, and through his absence he appears unconcerned by a dream in which he is not included.  As the father perhaps he should have said something to Joseph or his other sons about how they should be interacting and relating to one another.

With the second dream something changes.  This time we read that Joseph said: “‘Look, I have had another dream: And this time, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing, down to me.’  And when he told it to his father and brothers, his father berated him. ‘What,’ he said to him, ‘is this dream you have dreamed? Are we to come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow low to you to the ground?’ So his brothers were wrought up at him, and his father kept the matter in mind” (Gen. 37:9-10).  

Only when Jacob was a part of the dream did he see the need to say something to Joseph, but by then it was too late.  And while he kept the matter in mind the brothers had reached the point of no return, and when they had the opportunity, as we know, they took advantage of it, selling Joseph into slavery. 

How different things might have been if Jacob had intervened earlier, after the first dream that only involved the brothers.  Even if he would not bow down to Joseph he should have been concerned on behalf of his other sons; but the opportunity was missed and the rest of the story played out.  As we know Joseph was sold into slavery and Jacob mourned for theson he thought was dead.  The lesson is evident that when we show concern for others it is not just of benefit to them, but ultimately it is also of benefit to us in terms of the type of community, society, and world we want to be involved in creating.

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