Category Archives: VaYeishev


The Haftarah of VaYeishev is from Amos, one of the smaller books in Trei Asar.

Often, VaYeishev comes out on Chanukah, and the special Chanukah Haftarah is read instead.

Linear Annotated Translation of the Haftarah of VaYeishev

The main connection to the Parsha is based on the first verse of the Haftarah, which Chazal interpret as referring to the sale of Yosef.

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VaYeishev: For Profit

The Midrash in Yalkut Shimoni Vayeishev 142 says:

וימכרו את יוסף לישמעאלים בעשרים כסף כל אחד ואחד מהם נטל שני כספים לקנות מנעלים לרגליהם שנאמר על מכרם בכסף צדיק ואביון בעבור נעלים

“They sold Yosef to the Yishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver”. Each one of them took two pieces, to buy shoes for their feet, as it says (Amos 2), “For selling out the righteous for money, a pauper for a pair of shoes.”

According to this Midrash, Yosef’s brothers sold him for two pieces of silver each, and used the money to buy themselves shoes. The Midrash bases this on a verse in the Haftarah, which talks about the sin of selling a “Tzaddik,” a righteous person, for a pair of shoes. In our tradition, “the Tzaddik” is Yosef’s title; just as we say “Avraham Avinu” and “Moshe Rabbeinu”, Yosef is “Yosef HaTzaddik”. Therefore, “selling a Tzaddik” refers to the sale of Yosef.

However, this is very difficult to explain in the context of the Haftarah itself, which is not actually about Yosef and does not make any other references to his story. It also doesn’t make sense for the prophet Amos, who was addressing the Kingdom of Israel, to blame them, Yosef’s descendants, for the sale of Yosef. Therefore, the Midrash is not suggesting that Amos was actually referring to the sale of Yosef when he delivered his prophecy. Rather, the Midrash wants us to take what the Haftarah says about selling a Tzaddik for money, and use it to better understand the sale of Yosef.

Let us see what the Haftarah can tell us about that very difficult and painful topic.

In the original context of the Haftarah, the Jewish People are accused of having judges that were so corrupt and so easily bribed that they would take the price of a pair of shoes as their payoff. What kind of a person would falsely convict an innocent man for a pair of shoes?

In general, everybody has a price. Any human being can be made to betray his principles if the temptation is high enough, or if the cost is too great. But when a person accepts an inexpensive everyday object as a bribe, then perhaps the betrayal, too, is a minor everyday occurrence. If so, it can no longer even be called betrayal; it is simply a reflection of his actual value system. To such a person, money is far more important than justice.

According to the Midrash, this was also true for Yosef’s brothers. They were obsessed with money, and it was more important to them than anything else. We can see this from their reaction to Yosef’s first dream:

וְהִנֵּה אֲנַחְנו ּמְאַלְּמִים אֲלֻמִּים בְּתוֹךְ הַשָּׂדֶה וְהִנֵּה קָמָה אֲלֻמָּתִי וְגַם נִצָּבָה וְהִנֵּה תְסֻבֶּינָה אֲלֻמֹּתֵיכֶם וַתִּשְׁתַּחֲוֶיןָ לַאֲלֻמָּתִי.
Here we are making sheaves in the field; and my sheaf rose up and stood and your sheaves surrounded it and bowed down to my sheaf. (Bereishit 37:7)

In this dream, Yosef sees sheaves of grain that represent himself and his brothers. However, the family business was not farming; it was herding. As a lifestyle, herding is very different from agriculture. A shepherd is free to go wherever he wants and depends on no man. In contrast, a farmer is land-bound, and dependent on the civilization around him. Shepherds bow to no one; farmers bow to everyone. What infuriated Yosef’s brothers about the dream was not only that they would bow down to their arrogant younger brother. It was the implication that they would abandon their life style, become farmers, and as a result of that be forced to bow down to their arrogant younger brother. The dream implies the destruction of their livelihood, their “parnassa”. It is as much about money as it is about power.

The issue of money is mentioned explicitly when they decide to get rid of Yosef’s threat to their pocketbooks by getting rid of Yosef himself. As they contemplate how best to do so, Yehudah makes the following suggestion:

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוּדָה אֶל אֶחָיו מַה בֶּצַע כִּי נַהֲרֹג אֶת אָחִינוּ וְכִסִּינוּ אֶת דָּמוֹ,לְכוּ וְנִמְכְּרֶנּוּ לַיִּשְׁמְעֵאלִים.
Yehudah said to his brothers, “Where is the profit in killing our brother, and covering his blood? Let us sell him to the Yishmaelites.” (Bereishit 37:26)

When Yehudah says “where is the profit?” he shows very clearly what his priorities are. There must always be a profit; it doesn’t matter how much, as long as there’s a profit. So they sell him into slavery and almost certain death from malnutrition and abuse, for the grand sum of twenty pieces of silver, split ten ways.
As the Midrash points out, by accepting a minimal price for their brother’s life, they show that their obsession with money warped their sense of right and wrong. Ironically, it also blinded them to Yosef’s potential for contributing to the family’s financial well-being.

The brothers were sure that Yosef was ignorant of the power of money. However, the Torah goes out of its way to point out the key role that money played in Yosef’s life. It tells us many times that everything Yosef touched would prosper. He had a talent for managing resources; he could administer any economic system, and create new ones when needed. Ultimately, “Yosef collected all the money that was in Egypt” (Bereishit 47:14). What did he do with it? What was its importance to Yosef? The Torah tells us: “Yosef provided for his father and his brothers, food for the entire family” (Bereishit 47:12).

To Yosef, money was simply an effective tool to ensure that people have what they need. He never gave it power over himself, and never allowed it to cloud his sense of right and wrong. Throughout the many stories that the Torah records of Yosef, we see that he never compromised his principles under any circumstances. That is why he is called Yosef HaTzaddik.
To the brothers, who sold Yosef HaTzaddik for just enough silver to buy a pair of shoes, money had become a compulsion, a value in and of itself, an end that justified any means.

When they asked, “where is the profit”, they showed that they had neither principle nor profit.

Copyright © Kira Sirote 
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

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