My notes on Vayeshev

Parashat Vayeshev (Genesis 37-40)

Genesis 37

37:9          And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.

Comment: What does the moon represent in Joseph’s dream? 

In the next verse, his dad interpreted the sun and the moon as the dad and mom of Joseph. Joseph’s mom (Rachel) died already. Therefore, it is questionable if this part of the dream related to “the moon” is prophetic. See, e.g.,

If even Joseph’s dream was not totally prophetic, let alone the dream of ordinary people! Talmud seems to suggest that ordinary dreams only carry 1/60 of prophetic value.

I personally wonder if it is possible that the sun and the moon might refer to the incident related to Joshua, who is a descendant of Joseph, who stopped the sun and the moon when conquering the promised land In some sense, Joshua’s life is a completion of Joseph’s life. 

  • They both lived for 110 years. 
  • Joseph mobilized the Israelite to leave the promised land (due to famine), and Joshua led the Israelites to return to the promised land. 
  • Here, the eleven tribal fathers were jealous of Joseph, but there in the Book of Joshua, those eleven tribes followed the leadership of Joshua willingly. 
  • So maybe this dream was not about Joseph himself, but about his future descendant Joshua? The New Testament approves this concept that an ancestor can represent his future descendant, as Hebrews 7:9-10 says: “And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham. For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him.”


38:1          And it came to pass at that time, that Judah went down from his brethren, and turned in to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah.

Comment: In the middle of Joseph’s story, why does the Bible suddenly use a whole chapter to talk about Judah? 

I think the Bible intends to use Joseph to describe the future Messiah. Joseph’s life, with his early sufferings and later glories, is similar to Jesus’s life. 

See also,  e.g.,

However, Joseph still lacks the bloodline of the future Messiah, who needs to descend from Judah, since kingship comes from Judah. As Jacob later predicted   (v.49:10)  “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah …”. Therefore, to make the description of the future Messiah more complete, this chapter Genesis 38 is inserted in the middle of Joseph’s story, and it ends with the continuation of the bloodline of Judah (with the birth of his twin sons).


39:23          The keeper of the prison looked not to any thing that was under his hand; because the LORD was with him, and that which he did, the LORD made it to prosper.

Comment: When one has to work on something that is seemingly below his dignity or expectation, what would be his best strategy? Saving energy for a better opportunity in the future?

What I admire about Joseph is: however low his status became, he tried to do the best in that position. He succeeded as a servant after being sold as a slave (v.1-6). Now that he became falsely accused and became a prisoner, he succeeded again as a leader of the prisoners. The Torah reveals the reason for all his successes: because “the LRD was with him” (v.3 and here).  In the future, he would succeed again as the ruler of Egypt, and to hold that position for 80 years (Genesis 41:43,46;50:26)!

          And it came to pass the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast unto all his servants: and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants.

Comment: Both the butler (i.e., cupbearer) and the baker had offended the pharaoh (v.1), both had similar dreams three days ago (v.5), yet their outcomes were totally opposite. This shows that it is difficult for ordinary people to interpret a dream, since they could have easily made an opposite conclusion, even if the dream were prophetic. Let alone that most parts of a dream may not be prophetic at all. Joseph correctly interpreted the opposite meanings of the two similar dreams (v.13, v.19), but this was due to Gd’s help. (See v.8: “And Joseph said unto them, Do not interpretations belong to Gd?”)

What was the fault of the baker and what was the fault of the baker?

According to a Jewish tradition [1], the fault of the butler was that a fly was found in the drink that he prepared for the Pharaoh, while the fault of the baker was that a pebble was found in the bread that he made for the Pharaoh. The following website has an explanation why the baker’s fault is more serious:

“…  the pebble in the bread could have actually harmed Pharaoh (he could have choked to death), whereas the fly was merely an annoyance and disrespectful to the king.” 

Another explanation can be found here:

which basically says that it should have been easier for the baker to sift the pebbles out of the flour than the butler to keep track of an elusive and mobile fly.

This story and this week’s Torah portion reminded me of a sweet memory.

I told this story to my daughter when she was about 5 years old. It was on an evening of Sabbath reading this portion “Vayeshev”, before Chanukah. We were in a hotel in China. My wife as away, and my daughter was having a stomach flu and had some fever. In order to calm her, I thought about reading from this week’s portion, and told her about the story of the pebble and the fly. In some sense, it was the first time that she “studied Torah”. Baruch HaShem, my daughter is now a teenager and still studies Torah on Sabbaths. May Gd’s Word accompany her all her life, as the Pirkei Avot teaches:

‘“When you walk it will lead you. When you lie down it will watch over you; and when you are awake it will talk with you” (Proverbs 6:22). “When you walk it will lead you” in this world. “When you lie down it will watch over you” in the grave; “And when you are awake it will talk with you” in the world to come.’ [2] 


[1] Bereisheet Rabbah 88, Sefariah Community Translation

[2] Mishnah Yomit by Dr. Joshua Kulp