Parashat Vayeishev --Genesis 37:1-40:23
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Questions for Young Children
• Do you ever feel angry with your brother or sister? When? How do you make up with your brother or sister?
• Do you remember any of your dreams? What do you dream about?
• When you fall down, how do you feel when you get up? Does Yosef get back up every time he has a bad experience?

Questions for Older Children
• Yosef’s brothers hate him. Whose fault do you think that is?
• Yosef’s brothers take away his very beautiful coat. He is without possessions or money to bribe his captors. What two characteristics of Yosef save him in Egypt?
• Yosef does a big favor for the chief butler (cupbearer) in the Egyptian prison, but the parasha ends by telling the reader that he forgot Yosef.
Do you think he really forgot about him? Why do you think he didn’t broadcast Yosef’s help and skill around the palace?

Questions for Teens and Adults
• Is all sibling rivalry bad?
• For high school juniors and seniors: if Yosef were to write a college essay for a very competitive institution based on the common application's prompt:  "The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?"  what would his thesis be?
• Do you think dreams have meanings? Can they be interpreted as Yosef interpreted his and other people’s dreams?
• Do you think people are exercising free choice in all the situations presented in the parasha or do you think God is directing the action?

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Invite your family and guests to connect other foods or activities to the parasha...

Sibling rivalry.

We’ve seen it since siblings Cain and Abel were introduced in B’reishit. When Breishit’s focus narrowed from universal history to the history of Avraham and Sarah’s descendants, sibling rivalry remained. And Ya’akov, who strove with both his brother and an angel to earn the name Yisrael, now confronts monumental sibling rivalry amongst the sons of his two wives and two concubines. This is a parasha any family can sink its metaphorical teeth into.

• Capitalize on rivalry and competition with a food contest.
      A dessert contest is always a winner with your children either creating or selecting different dessert items and then allowing the family to select the best.

• Compete with a centerpiece contest.
     There are a lot of possibilities, but let’s hope your children don’t opt for the bloody tunic as the objet d’art. Drawing a striped placemat for the center of the table and surrounding it with some objects from Yosef’s dreams like stars or sheaves of        wheat is an easy art project. Deconstructing the game chutes and ladders ans positioning them as a centerpiece leads into some of the discussion questions.

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The parasha opens with Ya’akov (Jacob) at home in Eretz Yisrael and swiftly moves to the theme of Yosef (Joseph) and his brothers. Ya’akov favors his son Yosef giving him a fashionable k’tonet passim, translated as an ornamented tunic, a coat of many colors, and sometimes a striped tunic. Yosef was a known tattletale amongst his brothers. The stage is set for the jealousy that burns when Yosef recounts dreams of his greatness to his brothers. There is no subtlety here—the brothers do not need a dream interpreter to parse the meaning.
After twice hearing Yosef tell them he will rule over them, the brothers concoct a plan to get rid of Yosef although they stop short of killing him (a step forward from the Cain and Abel tale).
After a brief interlude with the story of Yehudah (Judah) and Tamar, we return to Yosef being thrown into the pit and then taken to Egypt. Yosef’s life is a series of chutes and ladders. He falls and he rises and repeats the process. At the end of the parasha, Yosef is stuck in the Egyptian royal prison and Ya’akov is bereft believing Yosef is dead.

Find the food connection…

.וְיִשְׂרָאֵל, אָהַב אֶת-יוֹסֵף מִכָּל-בָּנָיו-כִּי-בֶן-זְקֻנִים הוּא לוֹ; וְעָשָׂה לוֹ, כְּתֹנֶת פַּסִּים

Now Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age, and he had made him an ornamented (or striped) tunic.
--Genesis 37:3

Striped food!


The Side Dish

This parasha includes lots of potential pathways for Torah talk and taste. I’ve selected Yosef’s coat for a food focus, but you can set your imagination free in this parasha discussion. There are three major themes that we’ve discussed at our table throughout the years depending on the composition of the guests are and their stage of life. This is a good week to invite a psychologist to dinner so she/he can offer professional views about the three themes. (Our family, like many, has a psychologist at the ready).
Theme 1: Favorite child/sibling rivalry. All the patriarchs and matriarchs seem to favor one of their children, but this is certainly the most blatant example. Do you think the theme recurs when God selects the Israelites as his favored people?
Theme 2: Dreams. Earlier in the book of B’reishit, dreams played a role. Here they are almost characters and each dream is a point on which the action turns. This is a subject even very small children enjoy discussing—some will remember their dreams vividly, some not. Does God send us dreams?
Theme 3: The paradox of free choice. Rabbi Akiva said, “hakol tzafu’i v’har’shut n’tunah.”--“Everything is foreseen, but free will is given.” (Pirkei Avot 3:15) That seems like the ultimate paradox and, in the case of the Yosef narrative, it’s a good dilemma to examine. Was it meant to be that Yosef should be taken captive by his brothers so he could be in Egypt to save the region (and his family) from famine? Did his brothers really not have a choice in the matter?

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A Dash of Drash (Interpretation)+ Hebrew
What did Yosef’s coat look like?

That seems simple because we all know the musical—Joseph and his Technicolor Dreamcoat, right? Maybe.

Here are some commentators’ thoughts:
1. Rashi sees the word passim as an acronym for all the troubles Yosef will endure. The peh stands for Potiphar, the samekh for soharim(merchants), the yud for Yishmaelim (Ishmaelites), and the mem for Midyanim(Midianites).
2. Radak(aka David Kimchi 1160-1235) translated passim as striped. The modern Hebrew word for stripes is passim as well.
3. The Septuagint (Greek translation) translated passim as many-colored. This translation passed to the Vulgate(4th century Latin translation) Bible, on to western thought, and then straight onto Broadway.

A Dash of Video
You can check for several versions of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Ask your guests to listen carefully to the lyrics to see
how the lyrics align with the account in B’reishit. Could this play be thought of as midrash?

A Dash of Visual Midrash
Artists have been dazzled and intrigued by the Joseph storied for centuries. To see a sampling of art and how Jo Milgrom translates the art into visual midrash, visit  In addition to the Rembrandt sketch, there's an article by Professor Milgrom. If you click on “Joseph” on the left side of the page, you’ll see the full array of art Professor Milgrom has collated connected to the Joseph story.

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Roasted Vegetable Stripes
Pareve and gluten free--serves 6 to 8        rsz 09 striped vegetables 1 copy


  • 1 lb. green beans
  • 1 lb. carrots
  • 3-4 red onions
  • 2-3 yellow peppers
  • olive oil
  • thyme (fresh or dried)
  • balsamic vinegar(for gluten free, check the label)
  • kosher salt and pepper


  1. Cut the carrots, yellow peppers, and onions into thin strips.
  2. Place all the carrots and onions in 1 plastic bag with olive oil to cover and kosher salt. Mix until all the carrots and onions are covered with oil.
  3. Place the peppers and green beans in another plastic bag with olive oil to cover and kosher salt. Mix until all the peppers and green beans are covered with oil.
  4. Place the carrots and onions on a cookie sheet or grill pan and bake @ 425º for 20 min.
  5. Stir vegetables, add green beans and pepper strips, season with thyme.
  6. Bake an additional 15 min. or until the vegetables are tender.
  7. Season with more salt if needed, pepper, and balsamic vinegar.
  8. Arrange the vegetables in stripes on a serving platter. This is a task kids love to help do.

This method can be used with any vegetables, just vary the cooking times depending on the density of the vegetables. You can also vary the herbs and the type of vinegar.

Short on time? Carrot sticks, celery sticks and yellow pepper strips create very lovely edible stripes. And hummus is the same color as the desert sand.
Vegetable averse? Try fruit stripes like pineapple, kiwi (short stripes), apple with the red peel on, a string of blueberries.

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