23 Dec 2016

Haftara for Vayesheb 5777 – Terrible Angels 

Download a printer friendly version here.

Haftara for Vayesheb 5777 – Terrible Angels

For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror which we are barely able to endure, and it amazes us so, because it serenely disdains to destroy us. Every angel is terrible.  — Rainer Maria Rilke

Amos 2:6 – 3:8


Our haftara begins at the climax of the first prophecy of the prophet Amos. In it he speaks of the sins of seven different nations and their punishments. The eighth nation is the Kingdom of Israel to which Amos delivered all of his prophecies. Amos chastises the people over their complacency and how they have removed the suffering and downtrodden, as well as God’s presence, from their consciousness. The opening line is an overt reference to our parasha in its condemnation of ‘selling a righteous person for money’, reminiscent of the brothers’ sale of Yosef. The deeper connections involve the role of the young people who stir the conscience of the nation.


The average age of most of the personalities in the book of Genesis hovers around 900 years old. That is why when we are introduced this week to Yosef, a beautiful, charismatic 17 year old boy we are taken by him.
Yosef was seventeen years old…he was a young man…
Yosef was beautiful of form and beautiful to look at. (37:2,39:6)
His presence in our narrative is meant to attract us. His dreams, heartaches, sufferings and successes touch us deeply.  He is an inspired, enthusiastic, truthful young man who, like many young people, reveal to us something of the world’s beauty and divinity that we yearn for.

When we encounter a young person who is excited about life’s possibilities as well as their own potential, and they are disciplined enough to act in order to develop it, it can be invigorating to see. It is as if in their inspiration and enthusiasm they are touched by God.

‘Inspiration’ comes from the Latin inspirare (in + spirare, breathe) literally meaning ‘to breathe into’ recognising that the breath of God has filled the person[1].

‘Enthusiasm’ is from the Greek entheos (en, in + theos God) meaning that the person is filled with the spirit of God.

Yet, if we are not open to the experience of being so affected, the movement of the divine inside of them may threaten us. Their ideas and dreams may be beyond our comforts or comprehension making us feel disempowered or involuntarily pushed towards change. We might tend to discourage and extinguish their fervour in order to silence the inspiration and enthusiasm by which they are driven.

Yosef’s dreams and visions of the future threatened his brothers not only because he was at the centre of it all, but because they were not in control of it. He presented a future that they neither understood, nor were prepared to accept, and his thoughts and feelings were foreign to them. His youthful inspiration petrified them. So they attempted to silence him by selling him down to Egypt hoping never to hear of him or his dreams again.
It is this thread that carries over to our haftara. The prophet Amos chastises the people in God’s name for cutting down the inspiration of their young ones who were cultivated by God to grow themselves and influence others in morality and spirituality.
I raised up prophets from among your sons and nazarites from among your young men. Is that not so, people of Israel?…But you made the nazarites drink wine! And ordered the prophets not to prophesy! (2:11-12)
A young prophet not only holds a mirror up to us so that we might address our iniquities, their very youthfulness speaks to us of what is new, in potential and in the future. To see a young person, perhaps even your own son or daughter, studying to become a prophet could not have been comfortable. Amos criticises the people for not only thwarting the high and truthful aspirations of the young, but also the nazarites in their quest for righteousness.

A young nazarite is a youth with a level of self-awareness and honesty, who not only knows of his or her own strength and potential but of the dangers that lie in their unfettered expression. A young man or woman who self-disciplines for the sake of their own viable growth and in order to build a relationship with God is in itself threatening[2].

While seeing a person with such personal strength may inspire us, it may also remind us of our own weaknesses. Such psychological discomfort often moves us to silence such people, and extinguish their flames towards growth and progress so that there is nothing but embers left.

The people to whom Amos spoke forced their young nazarites to drink, thus yanking them down from their heavenly ascent towards achievement. In the kingdom of Israel everything was kept safely mediocre. The wings of the angels were always clipped, causing God’s presence to wain and dissipate within the people. The divine support that had born them out of Egypt was rejected. God’s voice and spirit was being locked out of Israel and it would no longer keep them afloat in a chaotic and harsh world.


And here I am slowing underneath you, as a wagon slows when it is full of cut grain[3]. (3:13)
Fortunately, the spirit of God in the world cannot be silenced. It can be drowned out, ignored or explained away but it does not disappear. We can sell our righteous ones so that their fiery presence does not cast shadows over us and enjoy the profit for a time, but God stands by them.


Yosef defied the darkness of Egypt and rose to the top. He indeed became, as in his dreams, the cream of the crop.


God was with Yosef and he became a successful man…whatever he did God made succeed in his hands. (39:2-3)
Our youth are our future and the voice of God often rests within their hearts. They see what we cannot and dream of worlds that we do not know, and it is within their wholehearted innocence and dedication that the universe is renewed. When they make strides towards self-discipline, spiritual growth, moral strength and broader wisdom, it is for us to encourage and guide their zeal and celebrate the divine spirit within them.
Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joseph Dweck
[1] And God formed the human, dust from the soil, He blew into his nostrils the breath of life….(Gen., 2:7)

[2] Yosef is called the ‘nazarite’ among his brothers both by his father Yaakob and later by Moshe.

May the blessings of your father…fall upon the head of Yosef on the crown of the nazarite among his brothers. (Gen., 49:26)

From the excellence of the land and its fullness…May it come to the head of Yosef, on the brow of the nazarite among his brothers. (Deut., 33:16)

He is best known for his powerful self-restraint and control of his drives.

His master’s wife fixed her eyes upon Yosef and said; ‘Lie with me!’…She would speak to him daily, but he would not hearken to her to lie beside her, to be with her. (38:7,10)

[3] The analogy to grain runs throughout the parasha as well. The sheaves of grain that Yosef saw in his dreams as the Children of Israel were now cut down and heavily ‘weighing-down’ the aid of God.

Parasha Perspectives

IX   Vayeshev

34                Yosef and his brothers (37:1-36)
Yosef’s dreams (37:1-11);
Brothers scheme against him (37:12-23);
Yosef is sold, Ya’akov thinks dead (37:24-36)
35a              Yehuda and Tamar (38:1-30)
Yehuda’s family (38:1-12)
Tamar tricks Yehuda into children (38:13-30)
35b              Yosef and Potiphar’s wife (39:1-23)
36                Yosef interprets dreams in prison (40:1-23)

Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS