Joseph… Heir Apparent

Eleh toldot Yaakov, Yosef [1]
These are the generations of Jacob, Joseph[2].

josephAs a stand-alone phrase, this makes no sense because Jacob had 12 sons. It should read something similar to the generational list of Esau. The list of Esau’s progeny, this Eleh Toledot Esav [3] which begins in Genesis 36:9, is a list of kings. Juxtaposed to it is Eleh toldot Yaakov, Yosef. Therefore, by juxtaposition, we know Joseph is the heir apparent to the “throne,” which is currently occupied by Isaac[4].

Juxtaposed on the front side of eleh toldot Esav is the unfortunate story of Reuben and Bilhah[5].

While Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine. And Jacob heard of it. Now the sons of Jacob were twelve.

The word used to describe Bilhah is not eshet[6] but pilegesh[7]. In one slick move, Reuben managed a coup to inherit the blessings of Abraham, to establish himself as the premier behor[8] and made it clear he would be king. By sleeping with Bilhah, the concubine of Jacob, he let everyone know he was going to “take over” once his father kicked the bucket. Additionally, by sleeping with a pilegesh[9], he quickly maneuvered four brothers out of the running by making it apparent they were not real brothers, but the sons of a maidservant. Reuben made sure everyone knew they were not political contenders. This national move is similar to Absalom’s, who slept with his father’s pilegeshi[10] in broad daylight and on the roof of David’s house to announce he was the next King of Israel[11]. Both Absalom and Reuben are guilty of nothing more than aggressive posturing for political gain.

This idea is further substantiated by a number of events:

  • Genesis 37:3 says Israel[12] loved him more than his other brothers because he was ven-zekunim, which is most often translated as the son of his old age. The chronology of the birth of Jacob’s sons shows there are many who are born within a short span of time and Yosef is one of them. Also, the son of his old age would actually be Benjamin, of which Genesis 44:20 calls him, the child of his old age. The language in this verse is odd and our translators have chosen to fix the text in the same basic fashion, thus lessening our overall understanding. The verse should not read, He was the son of his old age, but he was the son of old age. This is why Targum Onkelos translates this phrase into Aramaic as he was the wise son to him. This wisdom is seen by his father[13], by Potifar[14], and by Pharaoh[15]; they all were cognizant that the presence of Hashem was with Joseph and they felt the wisdom in his voice, even in the midst of his immaturity as a young man. The only ones who could never see his greatness were his brothers, and they never saw it because of sinat chinam (baseless hatred). Even when they announced to Jacob that Joseph was not dead, they could never bring themselves to call him a leader. They had to use a term of lesser stature.
  • When Israel chose Joseph as his heir, he gave him a coat of varied colors, which in Hebrew is ketonet pasim. While ketonet is first used in reference to the clothing made for Adam and Chavah in Gan Eden, its most notable use is in the bigdei kehuna[16]. That being said, the use of the term ketonet pasim is used in one other location, where it’s used to describe King David’s daughter Tamar’s royal garb[17].

In this week’s tragic story, sinat chinam[18] separates the brothers, and causes rejection; there is intent to murder, violence, kidnapping, deception, and deep pain. The hatred from the sons of Leah kept them blind to the gifts of their brother. Each one of us have special gifts from Heaven. I am not speaking of the fruit of the spirit because we all are to have love, joy, peace, patience (or forbearance, if patience frightens you), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in one measure or another[19]. I am speaking of the manifestation[20] of the Spirit that are given to each of us for the profit of all: word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, healings, working of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, different kinds of languages, and interpretation of languages. But the one and same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one as He wills[21].

No one should ever be jealous of another’s gift because it is how Hashem reveals Himself to the world through that person. Neither should you boast about your gift, otherwise the Spirit will cease to manifest to the world through you. These all gifts work together in harmony to fulfill His word and further His kingdom. Not ours.

[1] Photo credit: Midianites Selling Joseph to Potiphar. Georg Balthasar Probst. Germany, 18th Century.

[2] Genesis 37:2

[3] These are the generations of Esau

[4] Isaac lives to see the apparent death of Joseph but is not alive to see his return, see Genesis 37:35. Isaac dies the year before Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream; see for more information.

[5] Gen. 35:22

[6] wife

[7] concubine

[8] firstborn

[9] as opposed to an eshet

[10] concubines

[11] II Samuel

[12] Throughout the rest of Genesis, it appears that the name Jacob is used for our patriarch when dealing with personal issues, but uses Israel when addressing political or national issues

[13] Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of old age; and he made him a coat of many colors. [Genesis 37:3]

[14] And his master saw that Hashem was with him, and that Hashem made all that he did to prosper in his hand. [Genesis 39:3]

[15] And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of G-d?” [Genesis 41:38]

[16] The clothing of the High Priest; see Exodus 28 and b.Zevachim 88b

[17] II Samuel 13:18

[18] baseless hatred

[19] Galatians 5:22-23

[20] That’s NIV terminology

[21] 1 Corinthians 12:7-11


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