A Successful Man

Because of Joseph's steadfast confidence in God, he possessed an undying optimism that transformed even the low estate of slavery into success.

The Glory of Joseph, c. 1896-1902, James Jacques Joseph Tissot, French painter, 1836-1902 (Image: The Jewish Museum, New York. Gift of the heirs of Jacob Schiff)

Vayeshev

Regular Shabbat Readings

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* Note: On Jewish holidays, special readings often interrupt the regular cycle.

  • Vayeshev (וישב | He settled)
  • Torah: Genesis 37:1-40:23
  • Haftarah: Amos 2:6-3:8
  • Gospel: John 2:13-4:42

Portion Outline

  • Torah
    • Genesis 37:1 | Joseph Dreams of Greatness
    • Genesis 37:12 | Joseph Is Sold by His Brothers
    • Genesis 38:1 | Judah and Tamar
    • Genesis 39:1 | Joseph and Potiphar's Wife
    • Genesis 40:1 | The Dreams of Two Prisoners
  • Prophets
    • Amo 2:6 | Judgment on Israel
    • Amo 3:1 | Israel's Guilt and Punishment

Portion Summary

The ninth reading from the book of Genesis is named Vayeshev (וישב), which means "and he dwelt." The title comes from the first verse of the reading, which says, "Now Jacob [dwelt] in the land where his father had sojourned, in the land of Canaan" (Genesis 37:1). Despite the portion's name and first verse, the story is actually about Jacob's son Joseph and how he was removed from the land of Canaan and dwelt in Egypt. The narrative follows Joseph from Canaan to Egypt to prison. In addition, this week's reading contains the story of Judah and Tamar.


The LORD was with Joseph, so he became a successful man. And he was in the house of his master, the Egyptian. (Genesis 39:2)

As a slave in the house of Potiphar, Joseph should have lived in a state of dejection and bitterness. He had been betrayed by his brothers, kidnapped, exiled and sold. He had gone from the position of a favored son to that of a lowly slave. But Joseph did not let his circumstances dictate his life. He refused to succumb to depression. Instead, he diligently set his hands to his work and quickly won the confidence of his new owner.

From where did Joseph find the inner strength to rise above bitterness? Some people cannot seem to let go of past wrongs, real or imagined. They wallow in self-pity and anger, holding on to old resentments. This seems to be a normal human reaction to misfortune and conflict. Someone like Joseph, who could shrug off even the worst of circumstances and make the best of whatever situation in which he finds himself, is exceptional.

The difference was that Joseph had an unshakable confidence in the goodness and faithfulness of God. He knew the stories of his fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He knew the promises that he stood to inherit. He did not suppose that God had forgotten or abandoned him. Instead, he humbly submitted himself to God's higher, mysterious purpose.

Many of us struggle with an artificial sense of entitlement. We assume that we have the right to be happy. We assume that we deserve the good and comfortable circumstances of life. Why? What makes us think we have the right to happiness or that we deserve anything? When things go amiss, we react with shock, bitterness and anger, as if our rights have been violated.

This can be compared to a situation in which a benevolent and anonymous millionaire decided to send one thousand dollars cash every week to a certain person. The recipient never knew where the money was coming from, or why. Of course he was grateful for the influx of cash, but week after week, month after month, year after year, he began to expect that the cash would be coming in the mail next week. He made investments, purchases and life choices based on the regular thousand-dollar installments. One day the cash suddenly stopped. As inexplicably as it had begun, it ended. Would the man be justified in being outraged or bitter? Would he have the right to be angry? Of course not. He did not deserve the money in the first place. It was not a right or an entitlement of his.

Like the man in the parable, we take things like good health, adequate sustenance, food, shelter, relationships and all of life's comforts for granted. Because we experience them day by day, week after week and year after year, we think of them as rights rather than privileges. In reality, they are no more deserved than misfortune or woe. We have no right to be bitter when life's circumstances turn unpleasant.

Because of Joseph's steadfast confidence in God, he possessed an undying optimism that transformed even the low estate of slavery into success. As the Torah says, he became "a successful man."

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