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The Sale of Yosef
Week I - The Sale of Yosef
This week we began a new topic - The Sale of Yosef.
We opened the discussion with a re-cap of comments we have made in the past, regarding the "Peshat" and "Derash" approaches to Torah interpretation. Those who are interested in this topic should please visit these two webpages:
We stated one central question to be addressed by our discussion of the different approaches to the sale of Yosef: What made the brothers want to kill or sell Yosef? Of course, this question breaks down to questions about who the brothers were, and who Yosef was, at this point in time.
We also stated two ancillary questions. There were three chief stimuli which led to the sale of Yosef:
A. Yosef's negative speech about his brothers,
B. Yaakov's special treatment of Yosef, and
C. Yosef's dreams.
Our two ancillary questions are:
A. Why did Yaakov treat Yosef in a special manner?
B. Why did HaShem send these troubling dreams to Yosef?
We began our search for answers by turning to the verses which describe the sale of Yosef. These verses are found in Bereishis 37:1-28. We noted several interesting points in the text:
1. 37:2 - "Eileh Toldos Yaakov" "These are the Toldos of Yaakov"
"Toldos" has its root in the verb, "to give birth." It is used, at times, in reference to children - see the beginning of Parshas Noach, as well as the beginning of Parshas Toldos.
On the other hand, there are appearances of this word which cannot be interpreted as references to actual children - see Bereishis 2:4, where we are told, "These are the Toldos of Heaven and Earth." This leads some to translate "Toldos" as events, or chronicles.
The translation here is crucial to our understanding of the entire story. According to the "chronicles" translation, the Torah is saying, "This is a chronicle of Yaakov's life." Why Yaakov? It would seem that this was mainly about Yosef and his brothers! There are many layers here, and this word will be important to unearthing those layers.
2. 37:2 - "veHu Naar" "He [Yosef] was a lad"
The term, "Naar," is more than just a description of chronological age. As Yiddish renders it, in the familiar term, "Naarishkeit," "Naar" suggests immaturity. The root is in the Hebrew term for action, moving about, "LeNa'er." It suggests a youthful restlessness.
3. 37:2 - "Es Benei Bilhah veEs Benei Zilpah"
Yosef was with the children of Bilhah and Zilpah. Why those?
There were three "classes" in Yaakov's family:
A. Rachel-Yosef-Binyamin. Rachel was the favorite, and her kids benefited from that status.
B. Leah and her children. Leah was a wife, albeit second to Rachel.
C. Bilhah and Zilpah, and their children. Bilhah and Zilpah began their association with Yaakov as maids; Leah and Rachel gave them to Yaakov, but the commentators believe that some taint remained from their origins.
Thus, Yosef was left to socialize with the children of the maids. This certainly is associated with the final clause of 37:2, "And Yosef brought bad news of them to his father." The term which the Torah uses for the "bad news" is "Dibasam Raah." "Dibah," as we see in next week's Parshah regarding the spies, is slander.
[The use of "Raah," "bad," as a modifier, is interesting, given the negative connotation inherent in "Dibah" alone. As Marvin Stark pointed out, it would seem a redundant modifier. I have no explanation for it, at this time.]
4. 37:3 - "veYisrael Ahav Es Yosef" "And Yaakov loved Yosef"
Here we run into one of our major questions - didn't Yaakov know what this would do to the relationship of Yosef with his brothers? Are we seeing a mistake made by Yaakov? Is there something deeper going on here?
Couple this with Yaakov's name-change - in 37:2 he was "Yaakov," why does he suddenly metamorphose into "Yisrael?"
5. 37:3 - "Ben Zekunim" "Child of his agedness"
As Ramban points out, all of Yaakov's children were "children of his agedness." Yosef was born when Yaakov was 102 - but Yissaschar and Zevulun were only a year or two older than Yosef! Ramban suggests that this is actually a term referring to Yosef's help for Yaakov around the house. We will see more on this, Gd-willing.
There was more discussed, but this, in a nutshell, is what we covered this week. Gd-willing, we will see another question or two next week, and then we will start on the Ibn Ezra's answers to our questions.
Week II - The "Peshat" Approach - Ibn Ezra's View
We opened our discussion this week with two more questions about the Torah's account of the sale of Yosef.
In Bereishis 37:5-11, Yosef tells his brothers that he has seen visions, dreams, which indicate that he is, or will become, powerful over his family. The brothers are livid.
Yaakov, though, has an odd reaction. At first, it seems that Yaakov does not believe that the dreams have real meaning. Yaakov rebukes Yosef - the Torah's language is "VaYigar," which is a term reserved for strong rebuke (cf. Devarim 28:20, Shemuel II 22:16, Mishlei 13:1, 13:8 and 17:10). Yaakov exclaims, "Will I, your mother and your brothers really come to bow down to the ground before you!?" It would appear that Yaakov does not believe in the power of the dreams - but then look at the next verse, wherein we are told, "veAviv Shamar Es haDavar," that Yaakov guarded the matter, as though he was watching for future developments. Perhaps Yaakov's fireworks were merely a show, disguising his true thoughts?
HaShem had to know what the dreams would cause, in terms of the family relationships. Why did HaShem send these dreams to Yosef?
We then began to discuss the Ibn Ezra's view of the Sale of Yosef.
The Ibn Ezra's account can be broken down into three parts:
A. Yaakov was a player in this story - he was not an innocent bystander. This was very much his story.
B. Yosef emerges from the Ibn Ezra's reading as an almost-innocent victim. The brothers mistreated Yosef as the youngest, and he reacted by going to his father. When Yaakov had pity on him, the brothers reacted to the pity with jealousy and sold him.
C. This was a family-driven event, which HaShem allowed to play out and HaShem also assisted, albeit obliquely.
The key point to remember, in looking at Ibn Ezra's understanding, is that he is driven by Peshat, by a rigid adherence to what the Torah's words say, and the context in which they appear.
We then brought the Ibn Ezra's textual backup for his first point, the importance of Yaakov's role:
1. The story opens, in 37:1, with the statement that Yaakov dwelled in that land. He is set up as the primary character. Then, in 37:2, we are told, "Eileh Toldos Yaakov." As we noted last week, this could mean, "These are the children of Yaakov," or it could mean, "These are the events of Yaakov."
Ibn Ezra reads it as "events." According to his reading, this whole story is part of the larger picture, of Yaakov's lifetime. We are concerned here with Yaakov, and so Yaakov must have had a role in the story.
2. In discussing Yaakov's feelings for Yosef, we are told that Yaakov treated Yosef in a special manner because Yosef was a "Ben Zekunim," which Ibn Ezra translates as "child of his old age."
Yaakov was 91 when Yosef was born. Although Yissachar and Zevulun were only a year or two
older than Yosef, Yosef and Binyamin were the youngest. Binyamin also bore the title, "Ben Zekunim," in Bereishis 44:20.
Thus, Yosef's special treatment did not come from anything he did, personally - it came by dint of his relationship to Yaakov, as one of Yaakov's youngest children.
We then discussed the Ibn Ezra's second point, that Yosef was practically innocent, and that the brothers mistreated him.
The Ibn Ezra draws this from a verse, as well as from general biblical context.
1. We are told, in 37:2, that Yosef was a "Naar Es Benei Bilhah veEs Benei Zilpah." This could be taken to mean that he was friendly with the children of Bilhah and Zilpah, but then the words don't fit the whole sentence - the sentence would then read, "He was a youth, with the children of Bilhah and Zilpah, and he brought bad news about them to his father." How would that fit with a "friendly" interpretation of "Naar/youth?"
Further, we note that Yosef was with the children of Bilhah and Zilpah, and not those of Leah. Yosef was not closer to the Bilhah/Zilpah children in age. The order of birth was:
Leah - 4 children
Bilhah - 2 children
Zilpah - 2 children
Leah - 2 more children
Rachel - 2 children
In other words, Yissachar and Zevulun, Leah's last 2, were closer to Yosef in age than were the children of Bilhah and Zilpah.
Therefore, the Ibn Ezra turns to another possibility - that "Naar" does not mean "youth," but rather, it means, "youthful servant." See, similarly, Bereishis 22:3.
Ibn Ezra concludes that Yosef was made to serve the children of the former servants, Bilhah and Zilpah. This led Yosef to complain to his father, about the way his brothers were making him serve them.
2. The Ibn Ezra notes an interesting contextual point. The story of Yosef's descent to Egypt is broken up in two segments - the sale, and then the period in Potiphar's house. In between (Bereishis 38), we are told about the episode of Yehudah and Tamar. Why is that story injected in the middle?
Rashi explains that Yehudah was deposed, by his brothers, when they saw their father's grief. Ibn Ezra, though, believed that the story of Yehudah was interposed here to show the contrast between Yosef's behavior with the wife of Potiphar, and Yehudah's behavior.
In other words, Yosef is marked here for his righteousness, within the Ibn Ezra's explanation.
So far, then, we have seen that the Ibn Ezra has built up two arguments, based on Peshat readings:
1. The reading of "Toldos" as "events," coupled with context, indicate that this is a story about Yaakov and his actions, and
2. The careful reading of the verse regarding Yosef's association with his brothers leads us to believe that there was mistreatment of Yosef.
Gd-willing, next week we will look at Ibn Ezra's basis for his third point, regarding HaShem's role in the story. This should take us into a larger discussion, regarding Ibn Ezra's perspective on the significance of dreams.
Have a good week,
Week III - The "Peshat" Approach, Part Two
This week, we addressed the Ibn Ezra's perspective on HaShem's role in the Sale of Yosef.
Specifically, we touched on two points in the story - the mysterious stranger who helped Yosef along toward his destination, and the dreams Yosef received.
A mysterious stranger
We tackled the issue of the stranger first, because the Ibn Ezra addressed this issue directly:
In 37:15, Yosef appears to be unable to find his brothers in the fields, and a mysterious man directs him to their location. Ultimately, this leads to the sale of Yosef.
Who is to say what would have happened, had Yosef failed to find his brothers? It might be assumed that the brothers would have taken advantage of some other occasion to sell Yosef. In that case, the role of this stranger is of questionable significance. Further, it is possible that Yosef would have found his brothers even without this man's aid.
Indeed, Ibn Ezra (37:15) assumes that this man was nothing more than a helpful passerby.
The view that Ibn Ezra rejects, in declaring this man an "ordinary passerby," is the view that this was an angel on a Divine mission to send Yosef to his brothers. Ibn Ezra would seem to be saying that HaShem was not out to further the sale of Yosef, or, at least, was not out to intercede.
It is interesting to note that the Ibn Ezra specifies that this interpretation is "Al Derech haPeshat," "following the approach of Peshat." Why does he need to add this note? Perhaps the Ibn Ezra is bothered by the Torah's insistence on mentioning this stranger. If this helpful person is not relevant to the story, why inject him? Do we mention whether Yosef ate lunch on the way to find his brothers?
Perhaps the point of mentioning Yosef's wandering, and this man's assistance, is that there was something special about this man. Alternatively, perhaps the point is to teach about Yosef's approach to finding his brothers. Ibn Ezra opts not to comment, and not to explain the Torah's inclusion of this man's aid - and he explains the "No Comment" by saying, "This is the Peshat approach."
Yosef's dreams present a knotty problem, and Ibn Ezra does little to clue us in on his perspective. Did HaShem want the brothers to sell Yosef? If not, why send him these troublesome dreams, which would certainly be repeated by Yosef, and would certainly cause jealousy?
Was this a test for Yosef? Was HaShem sending a trial which would, were Yosef to fail, serve to punish Yosef?
Ibn Ezra does not give us any answers, directly, but let us look at the problem of the dreams a bit more. We may break down the question of the dreams' purpose into a few sub-questions:
A. Was Yosef's interpretation of the dreams the only possible interpretation?
B. Was Yosef supposed to act on the dreams, either to cause their fulfillment or to prevent it?
C. Was Yosef supposed to tell his brothers about the dreams?
The first question is not one which Ibn Ezra directly discusses. The verses, though, are interesting in the way they describe Yosef's account. For each of the dreams (37:6 and 37:9), we are told of the way in which Yosef told the dreams to his brothers - but we are not given an objective Torah account of what he saw.
The third question is the one which is most tantalizing, but I cannot find a source for what the Ibn Ezra's approach to it would be.
As to the second question, though:
The Gemara in Berachos (55a-b) discusses the origin and nature of Dreams. Among the Talmudic comments is one specific line which is relevant to our discussion. The Gemara concludes, "Dreams follow the mouth." This means that the fulfillment of a dream, the very nature of a dream's message, is somehow contingent upon the interpretation lent to the dream.
When Yosef encouraged Pharoah's butler and baker to tell him of their dreams, he said (Bereishis 40:8), "Interpretations are for Gd." Ibn Ezra explains that Yosef was saying, "Dreams are in Divine Hands. The interpretation cannot affect what happen - a dream is HaShem's way of communicating a message about the future to a human being, for His own reasons."
As far as the Talmudic sentiment, Ibn Ezra says, "Those are the words of a minority view." As we have seen in previous Chumash classes, Ibn Ezra has no compunctions about disputing a Talmudic view, as he does here. Indeed, it is R' Elazar's view. Although it does seem to be accepted as truth in Berachos 55b, it is not stated as a universal view.
In that case, we can answer Question B. Ibn Ezra would say that Yosef was not responsible to prevent or fulfill the vision he saw.
Why did HaShem send Yosef the dream? Perhaps to encourage him - remember Yosef's relegation to "servant" status by his brothers. Perhaps to inflame the brothers' rage. Ibn Ezra does not tell us what he thinks.
As far as the overall view of HaShem's role, then, we have two pieces of information:
1. The mysterious stranger is not to be considered a Divine messenger, and
2. The visions in Yosef's dreams were not something for Yosef to create.
Beyond that, it is hard to comment.
Gd-willing, next week we wrap up the Peshat reading, and begin the Derash interpretation.
Have a good week,
This week we began with a quick re-cap of the Ibn Ezra's "Peshat" view of the Sale of Yosef, before beginning a look at Rashi's "Derash" understanding of the same event.
What is it about a Peshat Approach that leads to the Ibn Ezra's interpretation?
A. Grammar and Etymology - Ibn Ezra's understanding of the word, "Toldos," leads him to believe that this event was more about Yaakov than about Yaakov's children. As such, the thrust of the story is more about Yaakov's treatment of his children than about any antagonism between Yosef and his brothers.
B. The "Face Value" perspective - When trying to understand why Yosef was with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, or why the Torah recorded the aid of the mysterious stranger who led Yosef to his brothers in the fields, Ibn Ezra does not adopt explanations which rely on ideas beyond the text. It is not that he does not acknowledge the validity of such explanations - it is simply that they do not fit into the "Peshat" layer of understanding.
Rashi's "Derash" view - Overview
A. Yaakov treated Yosef with special care, because he saw potential in Yosef's future. Yosef stood out, to Yaakov, as the one who would carry the mantle of leadership for the Jewish people. Yaakov understood the brothers' jealousy and attempted to tame it, unsuccessfully.
B. Yosef disliked the children of Leah, and told his father when he thought they were doing something wrong. The brothers then plotted against Yosef. Yosef emerges from this reading as somewhat culpable.
C. HaShem orchestrated the mechanics of the Sale of Yosef.
Derash Part I - The Yaakov-Yosef relationship
We look to the Torah's verses to see how Rashi learns what the Torah says. First, we look at Rashi's understanding of the Yaakov-Yosef relationship. Specifically, we are looking for signs that Yaakov was viewing Yosef as the legacy of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov.
Our first sign is in 37:3. We are told that Yaakov loved his son, Yosef, "Ki Ben Zekunim Hu Lo." Ibn Ezra read this is as "child of his old age." We have already pointed out that there were other brothers who were only a year or two older than Yosef; see past e-mails for more on that.
Rashi adds two Midrashic readings on "Ben Zekunim":
a. Zaken is often more than a term for "old." It implies wisdom (See Kiddushin 32b). As Onkelos comments on "Ben Zekunim," Yosef was "Bar Chakim," a wise child.
b. Zekunim can be broken down into "Ziv Ikunim," an Aramaic term for the radiance, the special nature, of a person's face. The Midrash declares that Yosef's face was identical to Yaakov's face.
Both of these Midrashic readings indicate that Yosef stands out as a person who is going to carry on the chain of Jewish leadership.
The first is self-explanatory - Yosef is exceptionally wise.
The second requires some explanation, but recall the Midrash from the beginning of Parshas Toldos - Yitzchak and Avraham also had identical faces. An identical face is the sign of a true heir.
Rashi opts not to pick up on this, but it is interesting to note that the Torah refers to Yaakov as "Yisrael" twice in this Parshah - in 37:3, referring to Yaakov's love for Yosef, and in 37:13, when Yaakov sends Yosef to his brothers, eventually to be sold. Yaakov is acting with the Hand of Destiny, and so he is titled, "Yisrael," the name which marks his status as Patriarch of the Jewish people.
In 37:3, we are told that Yaakov made a Kesones Pasim for Yosef. It is clear, from the way the brothers use the Kesones, that this was unique to Yosef. Rashi, though, describes the Kesones in a manner which makes it clear that the Kesones is not merely a special garment - it is meant to be a sign of royalty.
Rashi compares the term, "Pasim," to two verses in the Torah - "Karpas UTcheiles," and "Kesones Pasim" by Amnon and Tamar.
"Karpas Utcheiles" is a reference to the regal splendor of Achashverosh's palace, in Megilas Esther. Further, the Midrash on that Pasuk in Esther, citing the large "Chet" in Chur, says that Achashverosh had a one-of-a-kind splendor there, taken from the Beis haMikdash.
The "Kesones Pasim" of Tamar was a garment which she wore as the daughter of King David. It was a garment of monarchy.
The Kesones Pasim, then, is another sign to Rashi that Yaakov gave Yosef special treatment because of Yosef's potential for the future.
In 37:10-11, we find Yaakov attempting a difficult balancing act. Yosef has told his father and his brothers of his dreams. On the one hand, Yaakov believes in the promise of the dreams. On the other hand, he sees the growing enmity of Yosef's brothers. Remember, Yaakov was no stranger to sibling jealousy. What did Yaakov do?
a. "VaYigar Bo Aviv…" - Yaakov rebuked Yosef. According to Rashi, though, Yaakov trusted the dreams. The rebuke came only because Yosef was creating hatred in the household.
b. "Havo Navo" - Rashi says that Yaakov wanted to stop the brothers from being jealous of him.
c. "Shamar Es haDavar" - Rashi says that Yaakov guarded the matter, to see what would develop. Rashi's language indicates that Yaakov expected the dreams to come true.
We see clear signs in Rashi, then, that Yaakov meant Yosef to be heir to the leadership of the Jewish people. This was what motivated his special treatment of Yosef. Yaakov was aware of the potential jealousy, and he tried to prevent it, but he would not allow it to block the path of Yosef's growth.
This week we dealt with more of Rashi's interpretation of The Sale of Yosef.
Last week, we dealt with one pillar of Rashi's interpretation - Yaakov's expectation that Yosef would grow up to lead the Jewish people.
The Second Pillar
Today, we began with the second pillar of Rashi's approach - Yosef's relationship with his brothers.
Rashi takes a different view from that of the Ibn Ezra. Whereas Ibn Ezra claimed that the brothers mistreated Yosef, enslaving him to the children of Bilhah and Zilpah, Rashi claims that Yosef was somewhat to blame for the poor relationship.
Rashi's point begins in 37:2, with the Torah's description of Yosef - "veHu Naar," "And he was youthful." Whereas Ibn Ezra interpreted "Naar" to mean that Yosef had been turned into a servant, Rashi argued that "Naar" referred to immaturity. Specifically, Rashi said Yosef used to preen, prettying up his hair and his eyes.
Rashi then must explain why 37:2 says that Yosef spent his time with the children of Bilhah and Zilpah. Rashi, like Ibn Ezra, assumes that this stems from "veHu Naar." Ibn Ezra had said that Yosef was made to serve the children of Bilhah and Zilpah, but Rashi says Yosef opted to be with the children of Bilhah and Zilpah, who were, themselves, the "lower class" among Yaakov's children.
37:2 concludes, "And Yosef brought bad stories about them, to their father." Who are "them?"
Ibn Ezra opted to look at the most recent antecedent - Yosef was telling Yaakov bad things about the children of Bilhah and Zilpah, for they had enslaved him.
Rashi, though, says that "them" actually refers to the children of Leah. Yosef was telling Yaakov stories about the children of Leah.
Rashi delineates specific stories which Yosef told his father; I hope that we will get to those stories next week.
Rashi underscores Yosef's immaturity by pointing out an interesting redundancy in 37:9 and 37:10.
In 37:9, we are told that Yosef told his brothers of his second dream. In 37:10, we are told that Yosef told his father and his brothers of his second dream. Rashi explains that after telling his brothers of the dream, Yosef told it to his father, in front of his brothers.
This surely was reckless, and begging for trouble.
The Third Pillar
We then turned to the third of Rashi's three pillars - the active role HaShem played in this story.
We began by noting two interesting places listed in this story - Shechem and Chevron.
The brothers went to Shechem, where they sold Yosef. Rashi comments that Shechem was the place where the brothers sinned here, but it was also the place where Dinah would be captured and raped, and it would eventually become the place where the Jews would become divided, by Rechavam, into Yehudah and Yisrael. There is a sense of mystical destiny here.
The verse says that Yosef went looking for his brothers in "Eimek Chevron," which translates to "The Valley of Chevron."
Chevron is not in a valley at all, though! What valley is this??
Rashi to the rescue - "Eimek" refers to a deep place, and Rashi said that "Eimek Chevron" refers to the deep prophecy which Avraham had received in Chevron, so many years earlier. Avraham had been told, "Your descendants will be strangers in a land not their own…"
This sale of Yosef would be a step toward fulfilling that prophecy, and as we shall see next week, Rashi believed that HaShem took an active role in Chevron to make sure that this sale would go forward.
Have a good week,
This week we began by focusing on Rashi's interpretation of HaShem's role in the Sale of Yosef.
Last week, we began this discussion be pointing out the prophetic aspect of the names of locations in this story. Today, we pointed out two more points:
1. The mysterious stranger
In 37:15, we are told that Yosef was wandering about in the fields to which he had been sent to seek his brothers. He was found by a man, who asked him what he was seeking. Yosef responded that he was seeking his brothers, and the man directed Yosef to the brothers.
There are a number of oddities in this interlude:
a. Why does the Torah need to tell us that Yosef got directions?
b. Note that Yosef did not approach the stranger; the stranger asked Yosef what he was looking for.
c. We are told that the man "Found Yosef." This suggests that the man was on a mission, in search of Yosef.
Ibn Ezra also noted this difficulty. He said that this man was a simple passerby, but he qualified his statement with the words, "Al Derech haPeshat," "This is the Peshat reading." He knew that there was room for analysis here, but Peshat does not take advantage of such anomalies as occurred in this event.
Rashi said, citing the Midrash, "Zeh Gavriel," "This is [the angel] Gabriel." In other words, this was not some stranger; it was an angel, sent by Gd, to make sure that Yosef would reach his brothers.
Rashi identifies the angel as Gavriel on the strength of the term, "Ish," employed to describe the angel here. "Ish" is used in Daniel in reference to Gavriel, too.
We see, then, that HaShem is intervening to ensure that Yosef gets to his brothers.
2. The cargo
When Yosef is sold to the merchants who take him to Egypt, the Torah goes into detail as to the cargo on board the caravan. We are told that the merchants carried "Nechos, UTzri vaLot," which were pleasant spices.
Rashi notes the text's specific mention of the cargo, and he interprets this to mean that the cargo was sent specifically for Yosef, so that his trip would be pleasant. Again, the sale is affected directly by HaShem's Hand.
We then covered some old business, from last week: The news which Yosef told his father about his brothers.
According to Rashi, Yosef told his father that the brothers were involved in three sinful acts:
1. Eating from a live animal,
2. Calling the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah "slaves," and
3. Involving themselves in adulterous behavior.
How does Rashi know that this was what Yosef said to Yaakov?
The Midrash here uses a bit of "reverse engineering." We know that HaShem punishes and rewards people in a manner which is line with their sins or merits. Rashi looks at the way Yosef suffered, and projects that backward to what his sin was:
The brothers slaughtered a goat, and dipped Yosef's cloak in the blood. The Torah goes out of its way to tell us that the brothers slaughtered the goat properly - "VaYishchatu Se'ir Izim." Yosef said they didn't slaughter the animals properly, and they slaughtered an animal to aid in his sale.
Yosef was sold as a slave. This was because Yosef accused the brothers of enslaving the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah.
Yosef was accused of adultery, in Egypt. This was because Yosef accused the brothers of adultery.
[See the Sifsei Chachamim in 37:2 for another reading of how the Midrash knows that these three reports were what Yosef told his father. He connects "Dibasam Raah (a bad report about them)" with other iterations of "Raah" in the Torah.]
Lastly, we re-visited another point from last week's class - the question of who was Yosef's target in telling slander to his father.
We have pointed out that Ibn Ezra interprets the slander as being targeted at the children of Bilhah and Zilpah, because Ibn Ezra says that those brothers enslaved him. This traces itself back to Ibn Ezra's interpretation of "veHu Naar" to mean that Yosef had been made into a servant.
Rashi, though, said that the slander was aimed at the children of Leah, for what they were doing to Yosef, as well as to the children of Bilhah and Zilpah.
In interpreting thus, Rashi directly contradicts the verse's simple grammatic reading. The verse reads: "Yosef was 17 years old, he was herding the sheep with his brothers, and he was a Naar with the children of Bilhah and Zilpah, the wives of his father, and Yosef brought a bad report about them to his father."
According to simple grammar, "them" should refer to the immediate antecedent, the children of Bilhah and Zilpah. Why does Rashi interpret it, instead, as referring back to "his brothers" from earlier in the verse?
This is another key point in the area of Derash: As important as grammar is, logical flow is equally important. In the world of Peshat, grammar will determine the logical flow. If that leads us to ignore a textual anomaly, so be it - Peshat is concerned only with the straightforward reading. In the world of Derash, though, the logic must deal with all of the extra letters and odd phrases the Torah employs. Once those anomalies are explained, we have our logical flow - and the grammar must be interpreted to follow suit.
One note, which is important to our study of the Sale of Yosef, as well as to our previous topic, "Aaron's role in the Golden Calf," and to our next (Gd-willing) topic, "Moshe, Aaron and the Rock," as well:
In dealing with the actions of our greatest ancestors, we frequently fall into a dilemma in attempting to understand their apparent weaknesses:
On the one hand, the Gemara tells us that these people were the greatest of human beings, and that HaShem was judging these people harshly for relatively minor acts.
On the other hand, Rashi and other commentators clearly describe our ancestors' actions as sinful, in certain cases. For example, Rashi states explicitly that Yosef acted immaturely, playing with his hair and his eyes in an attempt to beautify himself.
In the course of these Chumash classes, I am trying to walk the thin line of citing ancient sources whenever I present a negative interpretation. If Rashi can say that Yosef acted immaturely, I can cite Rashi as saying that. That is different from me looking at the verse, myself, and coming up with my own view which reads negative behavior into the acts of our ancestors. Standing on my own low plateau, I don't have the right to criticize them - I can only cite authorities who have presented criticism, from which we can learn.
Have a good week,
The Sale of Yosef: The Conclusion
This week, we concluded our study of the Sale of Yosef (for now).
We began with some old business. We had been discussing the issue of Yosef's slander against his brothers, and the Midrash's explanation. The Midrash said that Yosef accused his brothers of three things:
1. Eating from a living animal;
2. Enslaving the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah;
Last week, we brought one possible explanation of the roots of this Midrash. This week, we provide an additional explanation, put forth by Sifsei Chachamim, who comments on Rashi.
Sifsei Chachamim builds his approach on a common Derash method - the linking of an apparently superfluous word, with appearances of that word in the Torah. Here, the extra word is "Raah."
Those who have been following since Week I of this topic may remember that the Torah described Yosef's slander of his brothers as "Dibasam Raah." As we explained back in Week I, "Dibah" is a general term for slander, while "Raah" means "bad." In that case, "Raah" is redundant! Why does the Torah add "Raah" here? Marvin Stark asked this question back then, and I did not have an answer. Now, though, we see an answer in the comment of Sifsei Chachamim. The word "Raah" is not simply included to say that Yosef gave his father a bad report - "Raah" is meant to tell us what was in the report. Look for other odd uses of "Raah" in the Torah, and you will find the accusations Yosef leveled against his brothers:
1. Adultery - When the wife of Potiphar attempts to seduce Yosef, Yosef responds, "veEich Eesah haRaah haGedolah haZos," "How could I do this great, evil act." Linking the word "Raah" by Yosef's report, and the word "Raah" there, we see that Yosef accused his brothers of involvement in adultery.
2. Enslavement - When the Torah describes certain issues in slavery, specifically by redemption of a woman from slavery, the Torah uses the term, "Raah," saying, "Im Raah be'Einei Adoneha."
3. Eating from a live animal - When the brothers report back to their father that Yosef is dead, they claim that an animal had killed Yosef. To persuade their father that this is so, they kill an animal, and dip Yosef's coat in the blood. They kill this animal with the method of "Shechitah," Kosher slaughter, and they report back to their father, "Chayah Raah Achalas'hu," "A wicked wild animal has consumed him." This refers to the blood of the animal they slaughtered.
Admittedly, the link between the "Raah" by Yosef's report and some of the three citations mentioned above seems somewhat tenuous. Nonetheless, the linking of an apparently superfluous word with other appearances of that word is a tried-and-true method within the Derash approach.
According to Rashi, Yosef was friends with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, and his problems were with the sons of Leah. In this case (here's your question, Ben), why didn't the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah stand up for Yosef?
Ibn Ezra is not bothered by this - he understood that Yosef was enslaved even by the children of Bilhah and Zilpah, and that Yosef's "bad report" was about all of the brothers.
Ramban was bothered by this, and this question led him to argue that Yosef's "bad report" was about the children of Bilhah and Zilpah, and that Yosef antagonized the children of Leah when he reported his dreams.
Perhaps Rashi could answer that there was an issue of intimidation here. Rashi (Bereishis 42:24) says that Shimon and Levi were the architects of Yosef's demise.
When the Torah says, "One brother said to another, 'Here comes the dreamer, Let us kill him, etc. (Bereishis 37:19-20)," that is a reference to Shimon and Levi. Rashi learns this from the Torah's wording, "One brother said to another."
Shimon and Levi are the two who are always described as brothers - witness Yaakov's blessing to his children, in which he says, "Shimon veLevi Achim," "Shimon and Levi are brothers (Bereishis 49:5)." Further, when Dinah is kidnapped and Shimon and Levi decide to take revenge for her capture, they are described as "Shimon veLevi Achei Dinah," "Shimon and Levi, the brothers of Dinah (Bereishis 34:25)."
Shimon and Levi were rather intimidating.
Note that Reuven, who wanted to save Yosef, was afraid to attempt this in direct fashion. Instead, he said, "Let's throw him in the pit rather than kill him with our bare hands," so that he could come around later to rescue Yosef from the pit.
Note also that Shimon and Levi were the ones to destroy the city of Shechem, themselves, in retaliation for the rape of Dinah and apparently against the wishes of Yaakov, their father.
This is why Yosef felt a need to split them up, taking Shimon hostage, when the brothers came down to Egypt for food.
This is also why HaShem split them up in their shares of the land of Israel. Shimon had a sub-space within Yehudah's share, and Levi had scattered cities.
In defense of Rashi's view, then, it is possible to argue that the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah were not part of the group who disliked Yosef enough to sell him - but they did not feel strong enough to stand against Shimon and Levi.
To sum up, then, Rashi came to his approach because of the Derash method of analyzing extra words, clauses and segments. Specifically, Rashi built his approach on such clauses as "veHu Naar," and the inclusion of the story of the man who gave Yosef directions to his brothers.
There are four major differences between Ibn Ezra's view and Rashi's view:
1. According to Ibn Ezra, Yaakov is the core of the story, while Rashi felt that the story was more about the brothers. (Stems from reading of the word, "Toldos")
2. According to Ibn Ezra, Yosef was fundamentally innocent. Rashi wrote that Yosef was part of the problem. (Stems from reading of the phrase, "VeHu Naar")
3. According to Ibn Ezra, the brothers were initially hostile to Yosef, without provocation. Rashi understood that the brothers were reacting to provocation by Yosef. (Stems from reading of "veHu Naar" and "Dibasam Raah")
4. Ibn Ezra does not mention the issue of destiny at all, whereas Rashi sees this as the fulfillment of HaShem's prophecy to Avraham, that his children would be strangers in the land of another.
(Stems from an understanding of the "VaYimtza'ehu Ish" storyline, as well as other references to prophetic notes, such as Yosef's dreams and the invocation of Chevron and Shechem in the story)
Gd-willing, we begin next week with an analysis of "Moshe, Aharon and the Rock".
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