The Text:
This week’s parsha deals with overall themes of being an outsider, seduction, power struggles, envy, being powerless, and taking actions to be noticed. The parsha focuses on Joseph and Tamar’s stories this week of both dreams, and controlling your own destiny. Joseph is not afraid to be himself and shares the dreams he has with his family, resulting in his brothers’ jealousy as the favored child of Israel, and selling him to the Ishmalites, causing him to be outcast. He winds up in Egypt where he must devise his own plan and regain his power.

Additionally Tamar, Judah’s (one of Joseph’s brothers) daughter-in-law becomes a young widow when Judah’s son Er and then Onan die for being wicked in the sight of Adonai. Judah refusing to lose another son, forces Tamar to go to her father’s house and remain a widow. Tamar becomes outcast for her status as a widow. Determined to have a child, and refusing to be outcast, Tamar takes matters into her own hands by dressing as a prostitute and sleeping with her father-in-law Judah. In order to prove that this act occurred she asked for Judah’s unique material positions signifying his identity. (Genesis 38:18) “He asked, ‘What sort of pledge should I give you?’ She then said, ‘Your signet seal, your cord, and the staff in your hand.’ So he gave [them] to her and coupled with her – and she became pregnant by him.”

The Implication:
What do we do to both understand and control power? Where the power is, and what are the tools at our disposal to shape our own situations/ destiny in relation to power? Both Joseph and Tamar were stripped of their power and status and had to find their own means of regaining their dreams/ destiny again. Tamar proves to Judah through evidence that he has impregnated her, and that he had placed her in a compromising position that forced her to seduce him in order to create offspring. Joseph, imprisoned in Egypt, interprets two dreams of pharaoh’s guards, beginning to regain his status and hope towards freedom by encouraging the guards to speak kindly of Joseph to the Pharaoh.

What are the situations in your life where you feel powerless? What are the actions you can take towards completing your own dreams, and subtly challenging those that hold the power? Similarly to Joseph and Tamar, we too are often challenged or thrown off course in our lives. Reaching a dream is attainable but does not necessarily come easy. We can apply the examples set by Joseph and Tamar as we figure out how to navigate the challenges set before us. Our dreams fulfilled are that much more rewarding when we have fought to attain them.

What are the dreams you have, and who are those in power in your own life? Just as Tamar and Joseph did, we must map out who the key players are in our lives and who stands in our way of obtaining our dreams/ destiny. Once we know who, we must engage in creating a plan towards our goals. This may involve convincing those in power, or proving something of ourselves through our actions, and with evidence, as Tamar did. Do you act in a way that is admirable? Do you barely get a job done, or do you constantly go above and beyond? Once you have achieved your own power, do you keep it for yourself or help those in need to improve their own situations?

While we may be able to map out who, and how ideally to further ourselves in achieving our dreams, the hardest part may be taking the step and acting on our plans. Often the hardest challenge we may face in accomplishing our own dreams may be self-imposed fear. It may not be the external factors at all. Both Joseph and Tamar acted with bravery in shaping their own futures.

The Application:
Once we’ve mapped out where the power is in the situations we find ourselves in, how do we figure out the actions we will take to create plans to fulfill our dreams or regain power we may have lost or are looking to have. Basically, what do we do about it?

Feeling like an outsider or powerless in your own situation can be extremely difficult. How do we figure out where to turn? Often we must reflect on where we are, and where we are looking to go. Then we must work up the courage to challenge that which makes us feel powerless, or the hiccup that has set us back on the course towards our dreams.

Figure out a strategy to take on the people who have made you feel powerless, chart a course towards your goals, use your actions to build your own status. Tamar became respected for her brave actions that challenged her situation, and she changed her own destiny. Joseph shifted the minds of those in a position of power towards him, regaining control of power in his own life.

Each person’s dreams and the challenges that interfere are different making it hard to pinpoint where to turn. You may be at a turning point in your life, you may feel powerless, or you may feel in control of your destiny, regardless of your current position there are always ongoing dreams we create for ourselves and challenges that we are overcoming. Realizing our own power and ways in which we can control and plan our futures makes us the creators of our own destiny. Make a plan, overcome the fear and take on the challenge head on of regaining your own power.

While you work to create your own plan and shape your destiny, there are organizations that can help the truly powerless among us, those that may be affected by homelessness, experiencing a loss, unemployment, or the current economic downturn. Here are some Jewish organizations doing the work of helping people find the resources they need, if you know someone in your life that is in need of help please share:

Trying to figure out what your dream is? PBS explores this question:

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