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Many have noticed that the parshiot about Yosef and his brothers read very much like a serial novel. In fact, the Rabbis seemed to have followed a common feature of this genre and end both Vayeshev and Miketz on cliffhangers.

Reflecting on how and when the Torah’s stories were broken up may not only help us understand the Torah better, it can also help us better understand our own lives. For starters, the tension created by taking a pause in what seems to be the middle of the story helps to remember that no story is ‘an island entire of itself.’ It automatically comes with some sort of prequel and sequel, not to mention all the parallel stories happening at the same time around it.


Moreover, pauses in the middle of a story provide us with an opportunity to note the difference between how we actually live our lives and how we organize life information around distinct stories. In actuality, our lives are lived almost exclusively in the middle of the story. Indeed, the entirety of our individual lives are ultimately nothing more than chapters in stories that began before us and will continue after us.

Of course, a cliffhanger is more than just a standard pause. Cliffhangers are when a pause placed in the middle of a large challenge that must be overcome for the story to continue. In a sense, it is a dismal ending that threatens to impose itself if the protagonist doesn’t find the courage and creativity to find an alternative.

Both Yosef and Yehudah are challenged by the threat of such endings. At the end of Vayeshev, Yosef seems to be stuck in a prison in which he is likely to live out the rest of his days. At the end of Miketz, Yehudah is faced with a viceroy who is unexplainably trying to ruin his family’s lives at every opportunity.

Before the respective parshiot end, both heroes attempt to forge a way forward, only to be stymied: Yosef tells the wine steward whose dream he interpreted not to forget him when he is liberated. Yet the Torah tells us that he completely forgot him. In Yehudah’s case, Miketz ends with him seemingly conceding defeat with his offer that he and all of his brothers should be slaves to the viceroy in Egypt, only to be thrown even further off-balance when the viceroy answers that he will suffice with only Binyamin, something both knew to be potentially even worse.

But when we read further into the next parsha, we see that neither story ends there. Continuing Yosef’s saga, God intervenes by sending seemingly impenetrable dreams to Pharoah, thereby prompting the

wine steward to finally remember Yosef and his abilities. In contrast, Yehudah’s story moves forward when he is able to gather resources from within and decides that in spite of his lack of power before the viceroy, the only way he can move things forward is by finally going on the offensive.

As in many of the chapters in their lives, here too, things happen to Yosef, whereas Yehudah makes things happen. But here my point is not what made them different, but rather what they had in common, and that is the need for faith. Faith is not the knowledge that the small story will have a “happy ending.” Rather it is the knowledge that the larger story will, even while our own actions will nevertheless determine how happily that ending will arrive. In other words, it is because they were imbued with faith that neither Yosef or Yehudah panicked. They did not know how the next parsha would begin, but they did know that the larger story had to have a happy ending.

Not only are we reassured by the knowledge that no matter how mistaken our choices may end up being, the damage they may cause will never be truly final; it also allows us to make better choices. As taking the burden of a type of responsibility that is beyond any human being off of our shoulders actually allows us to use all of the resources we do have and take the risks that all good decisions require.

No matter how small, we all control something that affects how we will move forward from the current cliffhanger of Jewish history to the next chapter. As we all try to use our best efforts, there is perhaps no more important ingredient to our success than faith in God’s ultimately happy story.


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Rabbi Francis Nataf ( is a veteran Tanach educator who has written an acclaimed contemporary commentary on the Torah entitled “Redeeming Relevance.” He teaches Tanach at Midreshet Rachel v'Chaya and is Associate Editor of the Jewish Bible Quarterly. He is also Translations and Research Specialist at Sefaria, where he has authored most of Sefaria's in-house translations, including such classics as Sefer HaChinuch, Shaarei Teshuva, Derech Hashem, Chovat HaTalmidim and many others. He is a prolific writer and his articles on parsha, current events and Jewish thought appear regularly in many Jewish publications such as The Jewish Press, Tradition, Hakira, the Times of Israel, the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Action and Haaretz.