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Vayeshev: Clothes Make the (Wo)Man

"We shall see what comes of his dreams." (Bereshit/Genesis 37:20)

This parsha, with a name translating to "and he lived" or "and he settled," covers Joseph and his fraught relationship with his brothers, as well as a strange interlude with Judah and a woman named Tamar. It ends up with Joseph in Egypt, dealing with an amorous Mrs. Potiphar.

Horace Vernet, "Judah and Tamar"
Horace Vernet, "Judah and Tamar"

The common theme running through this parsha is clothes serving as means of deception. Joseph's brothers show a bloodstained coat to Jacob to convince him that Joseph has been killed by a wild animal (he's actually been sold into slavery by his brothers). Tamar veils herself to convince Judah she's a cult prostitute (she's actually his daughter-in-law). And Mrs. Potiphar uses Joseph's garment to convince Potiphar that he attempted to rape her (he actually fled from her advances).

Tamar and Judah's story is fascinating. Tamar gets what she wants--and is entitled to--through trickery, but she does it in a way that doesn't hurt anyone, and serves as a gentle rebuke to Judah for attempting to withhold her promised husband from her. The only sad part about it is that she disappears from the text as soon as she's concluded her project.

Honestly, as matriarchs go, focused, clever, resourceful, and ethical Tamar is a pretty solid heroine.

Join us at 9:00 am this Saturday for coffee, donuts, and what's always a lively discussion.

Other lenses

Want to know what other Jewish thinkers are saying about this parsha?

Wikipedia has an incredible treasure trove of geekery about the weekly portion, laying out everything from the number of Hebrew letters in the parsha to summaries of classical commentaries. Prepare to go down a very deep rabbithole.

Sefaria is an amazing free resource--an ever-growing library of Jewish texts in both Hebrew and English. In addition to the Hebrew text and translation, it provides the text of most of the classical commentaries (not all of which have been translated... yet). The parsha is one of the first links on the main page.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, does a podcast called Ten Minutes of Torah--perfect for when you're time-constrained. The Union for Reform Judaism has a whole page of resources for the parsha, ranging from beginner's guides to pieces on the contemporary relevance of the portion. The Women of Reform Judaism site has a glorious archive of the entire text of The Torah: A Women's Commentary divided up by parsha.

My Jewish Learning has a summary of the portion, the parsha itself and the haftorah, and commentary.

For a Reconstructionist take, visit Reconstructing Judaism's weekly learning page.

T'ruah, the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, has a weekly d'var that looks at the parsha as a starting point for contemporary political issues.

The World Union for Progressive Judaism has a parsha commentary archive.

Keshet's Torah Queeries page provides commentary from an LGBTQ perspective (search on the portion name).

The Jewish Theological Society (the Conservative Branch seminary) provides weekly commentary at JTS Torah Online.

Yeshivat Maharat, the first Orthodox yeshiva to ordain women, has a collection of Divrei Torah written by women and organized by parsha on its site.

Limmud, a 35-year-old grassroots Jewish learning event that started in the UK and has become an international phenomenon, maintains an archive of commentaries.

Liberal Judaism's Thought for the Week provides concise but thoughtful analysis of the portion.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi Emeritus of England, engages in profound commentary on the weekly portion in Covenant & Conversation.

InterfaithFamily puts out an animated Torahlog including contemporary reactions, poetry, folk music, and Jewish scholarship on the parsha.

The Jewish Renewal movement's site maintains an archive of commentary. Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, the Velveteen Rabbi--an author and Jewish Renewal rabbi--does commentary on her site.

The #parshachat hashtag on Twitter marks a constantly-running social media conversation on the parsha.

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