This week’s Torah reading of Vayeshev begins the story of Joseph and his brothers, which takes up the remainder of the book of Genesis. At least, this is how the book’s narrative structure is normally understood. Yet seeing the text this way leads the reader to connect Joseph’s prescient dreams of stalks, stars, sun, and moon bowing down to him, with which the parashah begins, with what comes later, but not before. Lazarre Simckes, drawing on the modern psychological understanding of dreams as reflections of previous experiences, seeks to understand this passage with reference to the story that precedes it:
Studying the narrative leading up to the dreams will indicate that Joseph has indeed gone through significant trauma. By analyzing his astonishing dreams as we would those of a trauma survivor, we find that they do indeed have a direct source in his past, particularly the traumatic encounter with Esau and his 500 armed men, in which his terrified family all bow down to Esau, starting with Jacob, seven times to the ground, followed by the concubines and their children, Leah and her children, and finally Joseph and his mother Rachel (Genesis 33:3-7). The Joseph saga, then, begins at age seven, not seventeen, and the critical figure in the saga is Esau.
Joseph and Jacob are both entangled with Esau. Jacob played Esau to gain the birthright, and Joseph played Esau in his dreams, becoming the person the family bows down to instead of Esau to erase Esau’s potential power over the family.