Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Telling the Truth about Vayeshev

I, like so many others, love parashat Vayeshev. Joseph's striped coat is great for countless projects (You can read about our project and sibling rivalry from last year here) , and the storyline is exciting enough to be on Broadway.  My girls all wore stripes to show that Abba loves them equally and are listening to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat on the way to school. But none of that gets to the crux of the parasha or enhances their understanding of the world. 
A look at the scope of this entire parasha reveals a surprising theme: Liars!

Yosef's brothers plan to kill him, leave him in a pit, decide to sell him, and then find he is missing. The brothers cover their tracks of Yosef's disappearance by dipping his tunic in blood and asking Yaakov if he recognizes it. Yaakov is heartbroken by their horrible lie and the brothers watch their father mourn indefinitely.

The tale of Tamar and Yehuda immediately follows. (If you are unfamiliar with this subplot, you can read a lot more about it here.) Two of Yehuda's sons die while married to Tamar. Yehuda tells her to go home and promises to bring her Selah, the third son, when he was older. According to Rashi this was a lie. He feared his last son would die while married to Tamar. She eventually realizes that Yehuda is not going to make good on his commitment and takes matters into her own hands. Yehuda is forced into being honest and confesses his crime. Tamar gives birth to Yehuda's twins.

Next the Torah recounts that Yosef is working in Potifar's house when his wife tries to seduce him. Yosef rebuffs her advances advances. Potifar's wife lies and accuses Yosef of rape. Her lie puts Yosef in jail for twelve years.

What good comes from a lie? Nothing! Yehuda's confession of his guilt and lie are extremely praiseworthy. His offspring, Perez, the older twin, is an ancestor of King David, thus of the messianic line. Mashiach, the ultimate redemption, comes from telling the truth after a transgression.

What about Potifar's wife? I have no commentary to back me up, but I think she confessed. I think she finally worked up the courage to say, "I lied. Husband, I am sorry. Please forgive me." Her honesty does not magically free Yosef from jail, but she is rewarded for doing the right thing. In next week's parasha, Miketz, her daughter marries Yosef! Her honesty merited her daughter to marry extremely well, a happily ever after worthy of a Disney princess. [Again all of this idea is midrash Sharona].

Now let's return to the brothers and the bloody tunic. We know they did not willingly confess their heinous crime, as Yosef spends the next two parshiot making them sweat it out. But what if they had? What would have happened if the brothers went home and said, "Abba, we made a big mistake!"?

With 21st century technology, tracking down a missing person is probably easier than in ancient times, but Yaakov would have been able to find Yosef before he went to prison. When Yosef was searching for his brothers before they put him in the pit, a man appeared (the angel Gavriel, according to Targum Yonatan) and directing him to them. Something similar could have happened to locate Yosef. But the brothers stick to their lie, in spite of Yaakov's great suffering.

What if? What if they did teshuva, confessed, and found Yosef? Would we have been slaves in Egypt? Or could the whole family be together in Israel? Did the lie of these ten men severely postpone redemption? In parashat Shelach there is an uncanny parallel; ten men (the spies) speak badly about Israel, changing the course of Jewish history and causing 40 years of wandering in the desert.

I cannot be sure that Potifar's wife decided to admit she lied. I cannot be certain that slavery in Egypt and enormous suffering would have been avoided if yosef's brothers confessed. But the Torah recounts Yehuda's confession as the seeds to the Mashaich. The truth makes all the difference in the world.

Now, how did I make this message of confessing to a lie relevant to my girls? I did not share the aforementioned ideas because I am not ready to teach them about Potifar's wife, and even if I tell it in broad strokes, there is no way to do that with the story of Tamar. But obviously, the lesson must be taught. My girls are good, but they sometmes lie needlessly (Just say, "Oh, I forgot to brush my teeth." Not "Yes" when the answer is 'no').

Both girls are learning about sequencing. Cohava is summarizing her reading with 'first, next, after that, then, and finally'. Gabi's class is reading the wonderful sequential book, 'If You Give a Mouse a Cookie'.

Therefore the girls are sequencing Yosef in the parasha. They reviewed the story together and took turns writing events on note cards. They like to shuffle the cards and then place them back in order. When they have the story further, I will ask them 'what happens if the brothers were to tell the truth now?'. I am curious how they will recreate the story.

Explaining it to the girls was exciting. They were able to work out that although putting Yosef in the pit was horrible, lying made everything much worse and the truth could have made it better.

"What should we tell the truth?" I asked.
"Cuz, its the right the to do."
"Yes, but why?"
"I dunno." 

So I pitched my story about how things could have been different if the brothers ran home and confessed to Yaakov. 

"If the brothers told the truth, then Yaakov would have found Yosef, right?" Cohava asked.
"Yah, because the angel Gavriel is definitely better than Tomtom  at finding things," Gabi explained.

"And if Yaakov didn't stay in Egypt what would have been different?" I asked.
"The Jewish people would never have ended up there as slaves," Cohava said.
"Being slaves in Egypt was really bad. Like way worse than 'two thumbs down'. Like really really bad," Gabi elucidated.
"And we could have gone straight to Israel!" Cohava added.
"And Moshiach would have come. But ummm, who exactly is Moshiach?" Gabi asked. We explored that topic for a while and then returned to the topic of not lying.

"Do you know the word for truth in Hebrew?" I asked. They didn't, so I taught them the word אֶמֶת. Emet. I explained how the first letter,  א is the first letter of the alef bet, the מ  is the middle of the word and the alphabet, and ת ends both. The light bulb over Cohava's head was suddenly even brighter.
"I get it!" she exclaimed. "אֶמֶת is everything. All of it is inside! Without it, it doesn't work!" 

"And if you lie, you don't know what bad might happen. Like giving a mouse a cookie..." Gabi added.

Shabbat Shalom! 

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