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Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Meaning of the Meal... selling Joseph rather than killing him!

25 May 2013
Genesis 37: 25 - 28

  • What is absent from this text?  
    • Brothers’ dialogue in Chapter 42 with an Egyptian official, not knowing that he was Joseph.  Evidently, Joseph cried out for his life from the pit.

    42:21 - And they [the brothers] said to one another, "Indeed, we are guilty for our brother, that we witnessed the distress of his soul when he begged us, and we did not listen. That is why this trouble has come upon us."
    41:22 - And Reuben answered them, saying, "Didn't I tell you, saying, 'Do not sin against the lad,' but you did not listen? Behold, his blood, too, is being demanded!"
    This is an embellishment of Reuben’s plea in 37:22 and recalls the first of the Noachide Laws in Genesis 9:6 - Whoever sheds the blood of man through man shall his blood be shed ... [Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary. Genesis]
    Although there is no logical reason to connect their buying of grain to throwing Joseph into the pit, Reuben and the others still carry guilt feelings over this episode [Etz Hayim on 42:21].
      • From her tome The Mumuring Deep (pages 300 ff), Aviva Zornberg comments on Joseph in the pit, namely the conflicting stories about Rueben’s role in 37:22 and 42:21-22.
        • Ramban’s explanation – Torah never tells of anything that we already know on our own.  Ramban comments on 42:21: Scripture does not tell of Joseph’s pleading [in 37:22] …
          • “Because it is a well-known, natural thing … to beg for mercy;” 
          • Scripture wanted to be brief in describing this incident because it is described in detail elsewhere.  
    In other words the narrative is split between Chapters 37 and 42 [Zornberg, page 301].
        • Narrative is condensed to ameliorate the terror and not condemn the progenitors of the Tribes.
        • Leave to the reader’s imagination, like some horror films that do not show the gory scenes.  This can be more powerful that actually showing the special makeup effects.
        • Zornberg – brothers did not hear it; they had deaf ears.  The episode is reminiscent of Munch’s painting “The Scream” in that Joseph was silently screaming.  Zornberg writes, “Joseph’s anguish by the pit goes unrecorded precisely because the bothers did not hear it. No testimony can be offered to cries that fell on deaf ears.  Only after twenty-two years, and triggered by an almost fortuitous set of circumstances, the brothers suddenly hear for the first time how their brother cried for his life. “Indeed we are guilty’ [42:21] evokes a startled sense of contingency about this perception: a chance concatenation of events – Joseph’s demand that one of their number be imprisoned (42:18-20) – triggers a sudden retrieval of the past. [Italics in original; Zornberg also cites Or HaChaim to Genesis 42:21].
    37:25 - And they sat down to eat a meal, and they lifted their eyes and saw, and behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, and their camels were carrying spices, balm, and lotus, going to take [it] down to Egypt.
    • Genesis 37:25, eating a meal after tossing Joseph into the pit
      • Modern equivalents of eating after doing something horrible.
        • Nazi camp guards during the Holocaust
        • Serial killers enjoying a meal after releasing the tension
      • Why did the brothers sit down and eat?
        • Rashbam – they did not eat breazenly at scene of bloodshed and death and were out of direct view of the pit, thus distracting themselves.
        • Sforno – hearing Joseph’s cries suggests that brothers were acting in self-defense; how could they do wrong?  They had a clear conscience [cited in Artscroll/Stone Edition Chumash].
        • Eventually, punishment will be exacted on the brothers.
          • Midrash Tehilim 10:2 [from Braude, William G.  The Midrash on Psalms. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1959.  Volume 1, Pages 152-153] 
    Psalm 10:2 - With the haughtiness of the wicked man, he pursues the poor man. 
    Rashi – “he pursues,” as in Genesis 31: 36, where Lavan pursues Jacob.
    However, the Midrash states that this part of the verse refers to Lot, “who was taken captive through his being among the people of Sodom.”
    They [the poor] are caught in the plots that they have devised.
    The last part of this verse refers to the sons of Jacob.  “God long withholds His anger, but finally collects His due.  Thus … [He] said to the sons of Jacob: ‘in the midst of eating and drinking, you sold your brother. … Behold in the midst and eating and drinking, your own children will be sold in Shusan … [Esther 3:15, below]’”

    Joseph forgave his brothers after 22 years.  The Midrash then asks how much longer is a person absolved of wickedness remembered compared to one who has not been forgiven?

    Rabbi Moshe Taub at writes about the similarity between the Joseph and Purim stories, especially the relations between Esther and Ahashverosh and between Joseph and the Pharaoh (Genesis 41-43).
    Another reference: Fohrman, David.  The Queen You Thought You Knew.  Unmasking Esther’s Hidden Story.  OU Press, 2011. Pages 131 ff.  Rabbi Fohrman brings Benjamin and Judah into the picture.  For example, in Esther 8:10 Esther cries out against the destruction of the Jews of Persia; and in Genesis 44:34. Judah bemoans his father’s state of mind when told that Benjamin is gone. 
          • In Esther 3:15, Haman convinces Ahashverosh of the need to extermate Jews; after edict is sent out, the two sit down for a drink and meal.
    The couriers went forth in haste by the king's order, and the edict was given in Shushan the capital [to destroy, kill, and cause to perish all the Jews3:13], and the king and Haman sat down to drink, and [the Jewish community in] the city of Shushan was perturbed.
          • According to Midrash Tanchuma 9:2, there were other consequences (also mentioned in Pirke D’Rebbi Eliezer 38).
            • A famine occurred in Canaan, causing the brothers to “descend” to Egypt to buy grain.
            • The sin of selling Joseph was not expiated until the brothers died in accordance with Isaiah 22:14 - …this iniquity shall not be atoned for you until you die, said the Lord God of Hosts.  The “iniquity” was not recognizing God’s role in saving Jerusalem from a siege by Assyrians in 2 Kings 18-20.
            • Ten great Tannaim [Rabbis whose words were recorded in the Mishnah, 2nd century CE] were slain by the Romans at various times.
              (Cited in Weissman, Moshe.  The Midrash Says.  The Book of Beresahis.  Brooklyn: Bnay Yakov Publications, 1999.  Pages 356-357)
    • 37:25, “lifted their eyes” (עֵינֵיהֶם וַיִּשְׂאוּ, root אשנ, bear, raise, endure, suffer, endure, forgive; often connoting in the presence of God; mentioned over 600 times in Bible.)
      • Hirsch – not a casual look around but intentional; the brothers felt uneasy while they looked toward the pit, as though something ominous was about to happened.  Brothers are anxious and nervious.  Hirsch writes, the phrase “never denotes a mere casual glance; it always denotes an intentional, searching glance.  When the brothers sat down to eat, their conscience gave them no peace.  They kept looking in the direction of the pit.”
      • Maybe they were looking up at God, guiltily.
    37:27 - Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, but our hand shall not be upon him, for he is our brother, our flesh." And his brothers hearkened.
    28 - Then Midianite men, merchants, passed by, and they pulled and lifted Joseph from the pit, and they sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty silver [pieces], and they brought Joseph to Egypt.
    • 37:25, 27-28, the caravan and the Ismaelites
      • Rashi - Hebrew אֹרְחַת, as the Targum renders שְׁיָרַת, [אֹרְחַת] because of those who travel on the way (אֹרַח).  Orech Hayim, way of life, is part of the Shulchan Aruch
      • Ishmaelites are in verses 25 and 27; but they are called Midianites in verses 28 and Medanites in verse 36; what gives?
        • Many peoples seem to be involved in selling of Joseph, suggesting different sources of this story.  The redactor was clumsy in combining these stories.
        • Rashi on verse 28 – This is another caravan, and Scripture informs you that he was sold many times. [From Tanchuma Buber, Vayeshev 13]  The sons of Jacob [pulled] Joseph out the pit and sold him to the Ishmaelites, and the Ishmaelites to the Midianites, and the Midianites to Egypt. [From Midrash Asarah Harugei Malchuth]
        • Ibn Ezra – In Judges 8:24, Gideon suggests that Midianites were Ishmaelites because they wore golden earrings, like Ishmaelites.
          • Ishmaelites is a generic term for wandering merchants, not an ethnic branding, while “Midianite” suggests a specific ethnicity.  In any case, “Ishmaelites” descend from Abraham’s oldest son (25:12). Sarna suggests that the two narratives were interwoven.
          • Midian is also Abraham’s son by third wife (Keturah in 25:1-2)
          • Thus, all those involved in Joseph’s story were his kin.  Nahum Sarna (JPS Torah Commentary. Genesis) points out that because of this interwoven narrative, there was probably a close connection between Ishmael and Midian – after all, they were half-brothers – that heightened the tragedy of the sale to slavery.
        • Midrash Rabbah 84:17 – there was an ultimate benefit to whole world by avoiding famine in Egypt.  The Midrash states that the “sin” of the brothers “is remembered as a beneficial decree for the world, a hopeful outcome for the world, for it by allowing Joseph to descend into Egypt and there saved humanity [at least in Egypt and Canaan] from starvation from the world-wide famine. The brothers “sat to eat bread is written only to intimate [suggest] that one day, pursuant to his impending sale to Egypt [Joseph] would feed bread to all humanity.”  Other commentators suggest that the verse should be read, “they sat to feed bread” because the sale of Joseph to the Ishmaelites lead to sustaining humankind while he was viceroy of Egypt.
      • The caravan came from Gilad (hilly country east of Jordan River), where the principal industry was balms for healing, perfumes, and spices; it was the pharmacy of the Near East.  Other references to Gilad, attesting to the healing power of the balm:
        • Jeremiah 8:22 – “is there no balm in Gilad?” is a euphemism for crying out about what’s wrong with the world.
        • Jeremiah 46:11 - Go up to Gilead and take balm, O virgin daughter of Egypt; in vain have you increased medicines, you have no cure.
        • Jeremiah 51:8 - Suddenly, Babylon has fallen and has been broken; wail over her, take balm for her pain, perhaps she may be healed.
      • Does this episode represent retribution for Esau’s tears or for Ishmael’s banishment?  Jews will be punished in the long run – slavery in Egypt for hundreds of years.
      • Why, asks Midrash Rabbah 84:17 (and footnotes in the Artscroll/Kleinman edition), does the verse itemize the Ishmaelites’ cargo?  Usually they carried malodorous items such as hides and resin (naphtha and tar, according to Rashi).  This time, they carried better-smelling items to counter the otherwise foul odor.  In this way, God prepared for the presence of a righteous man, Joseph, by arranging for a sweet odor to please the soul. The pleasant odor from the spices – the same ones use for the Havdalah service that ends Shabbat – restores the soul as the holy day departs.  “God was indicating to the Joseph: your body is being enslaved and shackled by suffering, but our spirit can still remain free and soar.  God’s love smiles upon you eve in the darkness.  You may not see it with you eyes, but can see it with your soul.”
    In other words, Joseph was not subject to the usual malodors characteristic of nomadic caravans (Sarna).
    • 37:25 on “camels” גָּמָל, גמַלִים -- Not used in patriarchial narratives because they hadn’t been fully domesticated in mideast.  They were more ornamental and symbolic and used when something is important is about to happen, such as raising Joseph out of the pit.
    • 37:25 - Nahum Sarna [JPS Torah Commentary. Genesis] on gums and resins were used extensively in the Egyptian economy
      • Lotus – goat hair as perfumed beards or wigs.
      • A vital product in those time for body odor, i.e., perfumes and deodorizers before soap
      • In Genesis 43:11ff , the brothers take these products to the Egyptian people, after which Joseph serves them a meal.  The tables are turned.
    37:26 - And Judah said to his brothers, "What is the gain if we slay our brother and cover up his blood?
    • 37:26 - Judah tries something different and asserts leadership.
      • Rashi asks what’s the financial gain [profit] (בֶּצַע מַה) by killing him?  Appealing to the mercenary side of the brothers. This contrasts with the moral agrument by Reuben; however, Reuben wanted Joseph to die of starvation in the pit.
      • Munk citing the Maharsha’s words based on Talmud Sanhedrin 6b – there is no point in killing Joseph; we just want to get rid of him, so let’s send him away.
    Sanhedrin 6a-b [Schottenstein and Soncino online including footnotes] – Once the verdict [of a dispute between two parties] is reached [i.e., to pay or not liable], you [the judge] must not attempt to arbitrate a compromise settlement between the litigants.  Any such judge is a sinner and anyone who praises a compromiser is a blasphemer.
    One explanation of this ruling is from R. Meir, who says: This text refers to none but Judah, for it is written, And Judah said to his brethren, What profit [beza’] is it if we slay our brother? [37:26 above] And whoever praises Judah blasphemes, as it is written, He who praises the man who is greedy of gain [bozea’] has contempt for the Lord.  In other words [according to Rashi], Judah should not be praised for saving Joseph is this manner.  Since the brothers paid attention to his words, Judah should have gone farther and convinced them to return Joseph to his father.  The sages are saying that Judah’s suggestion to sell Joseph was not truly a compromise, but did he sin in his attempt to mediate?
      • Judah contributed along with Reuben to save Joseph’s life.  But Torah does not mention by name those who actually wanted to kill him.  The heroism of these two lives on.  Judah’s argument was somewhat more moral.
    Ramban writes, “Reuben had taught them [the brothers] that they should not shed blood with their hands, but should throw [Joseph] into the pit so that he would die there, for the punishment of one who causes death indirectly is not as sever as the punishment of one who actually sheds blood… And now Judah came and said, ‘even this will be considered murder for us, as thought we had killed him directly… A great punishment and a lesser punishment [Talmud Kiddushin 43a] is the only difference between [direct and indirect killings].”  Nevertheless, both [Reuben and Judah] spoke the truth.” Reuben distinguished between direct and direct murder while Judah added that indirect murder is still a grievous crime.

    Wednesday, May 15, 2013

    Joseph's Brothers Plot...

    11 May 2013 Torah Study with Rabbi Marder
    • Rav Joseph Soloveitchik writes about the Joseph story, paying tribute to the Mizrahi (founder of the Israel religious Zionist movement, as opposed to Herzl, who was secular), and comparing Mizrahi to Joseph.  Joseph’s dreams betrayed insecurity; he’s wary that Jacob’s serenity will come to an end.  The dreams foreshadowed new skills other than farming and shepherding, a new economy.  Note the similarity to Zionism – building a new state with different labor skills than just book learning.  Brothers didn’t see this; they were too fixated on the present.  Neither did religious leaders.
    Mizrahi was in conflict with other religious leaders who opposed creation of a state of Israel because only God could do this.  Those leaders – mostly in Eastern Europe – saw that synagogues and study halls were filled and deduced that everything was OK.  They were also fixated on the present and thought, why bother to join the secular Zionists?  Mizrahi foresaw the destruction of East European Jewish institutions, to be replaced by Israel as the center of Torah study. 
    Source: The Rav Speaks: Five Addresses on Israel, History and the Jewish People by Joseph Dov Soloveitchik and Joseph B. Soloveitchik.  Toras HoRav Foundation, 1982.  
    • 37:18
      • “They saw him from afar” – brothers are far away from the moderating influence of Jacob.  Ralbag – they recognized his colorful coat, the mere sight of which enrages them.
      • “They conspired”
        • Rashi writes, “They were filled with plots and cunning.” 
        • Ramban comments “kill him before he gets too close,” i.e., at bow-arrow range or turn loose the dogs on him.  [Midrash Rabbah 84:14]
        • In other words, conduct long-distance killing without implicating themselves.
      • וַיִּתְנַכְּלוּ could be construed as a reflexive verb.  Brothers believed that Joseph was conspiring against them.
        • Sforno and Hirsch – brothers acted in self-defense; it was morally correct and mandated.  Killing someone before other person kills you is permissible: pre-emptive strike.
        • Context for this view of self-defense
          • Exodus 22:1 – killing a night burglar is mandated because there will probably be someone in the house and the burglar will be armed and prepared to kill.  Killing a day burglar is not permissible; expectation is that people are at work.
          • Sanhedrin 72a – can’t kill your son, relative, or friend.  However, killing is OK if a stranger.  Gemara formulates the reasoning behind the law.
          • There are opposite points of view, based on the contention that the burglar, day or night, will not kill and would just drop the goods and run.
          • This verse was used to justify assassination of Yitzak Rabin, but has been disputed.  There was no halakhic basis for this act.  No one can just pick a line of Talmud and interpret it for political purposes; this is disrespect of the texts and of rabbis.
        • Why this interpretation that the brothers were acting in self-defense? Because:
          • The brothers founded the tribes; they were not thugs.
          • The brothers never expressed regret for the act so sages thought there was justification for their actions.  
    • 37:19 –אָחִיו אֶל אִישׁ, literally, a man to his brother
      • Zohar: Shimon and Levi were the culprits; they were very much alike since they killed the Shechemites).  Jacob curses them in Genesis 49; other brothers are ruled out, according to Rashi’s commentary on that verse.
        • “And they said, each man to his brother, 'Behold, here comes the dream master'." (Genesis 37:19) This is Shimon and Levi, who were brothers in every respect
          [Zohar cited in Kabbalah Online at, accessed 13 May 2013; thank you Rabbi Marder for this reference.]
        • Rashi further develops this point in his commentary to Genesis 49:5: Simeon and Levi are brothers [and were] of one [accord in their] plot against Shechem and against Joseph: “So they said one to the other, ‘…So now, let us kill him…’ ” 
          • Who were “they”? If you say [that it was] Reuben or Judah, [that cannot be because] they did not agree to kill him. 
          • If you say [that it was] the sons of the maidservants, [that cannot be because] their hatred [toward him] was not [so] un-mitigated [that they would want to kill him], for it is stated: “and he was a lad [and was] with the sons of Bilhah” (Genesis 37:2). 
          • [It could not have been] Issachar and Zebulun [because they] would not have spoken before their older brothers. 
          • [Thus,] by necessity [we must say that] they were Simeon and Levi, whom their father called “brothers.” - [from Genesis Rabbah, Shitah Chadashah]
      • “This master of dreams as coming.” 
        • Robert Alter – הַחֲלֹמוֹת בַּעַל is not just “the dreamer,” but because of בעל, there is a sarcastic implication.  Alter writes, “The ba’al component suggests someone who has s special proprietary relation to, or mastery of, the noun that follows it.”  So, why is it “sarcastic?”
        • Midrash – all wrapped up in his dreams [Midrash Rabbah 84:14 + footnotes in Kleinman/Artscroll edition]
          • Joseph was a “possessor of dreams” who had come to yet again relate his dreams to the brothers.  They were displeased at the prospect of hearing yet another of Joseph’s dreams.  Otherwise, Joseph could have been described without the בעל.
          • The brothers were unwittingly prophesizing that the descendants of Joseph will worship Baal or idols.  In fact, that’s what those descendants – Jeroboam and Ahab – did.
        • Abravanel – more ways to make Joseph our master?  He fabricated his dreams as self-aggrandizement.
        • Sforno – someone who dreams excessively.
    • 37:20 – kill him now!
      • Pits – cisterns for water storage; if deep, impossible to climb out; often used as prisons.
      • Sarna on וְנַהַרְגֵהוּ (root גרה): the word connotes ruthlessness and violence, the same verb for Cain killing Abel.
      • Kill him and throw into pit is the denial of burial.  Robert Alter comments on the naked brutality of this act; it was an atrocity to leave a body unburied.
      • At the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, where Martin Luther King, Jr was killed, there is a plaque quoting this passage. 
      • Other references to dreamers: song “Beautiful Dreamer” by Stephen Foster; song “Imagine” by John Lennon; MLK’s “I have dream” speech. 
      • Rashi on “let us kill him …  and we will see what will become of his dreams:” The Holy Spirit says thus: They (the brothers) say, “Let us kill him,” but the verse concludes: “and we will see what will become of his dreams.” Let us see whose word will stand up, yours or Mine. It is impossible that they (the brothers) are saying, “and we will see what will become of his dreams,” because, since they will kill him, his dreams will come to naught. [From Tan. Buber, Vayeshev 13]

    Wednesday, May 08, 2013

    Joseph went to find his brothers.... geography and more

    4 May 2013 – Rabbi Sarah Weissman
    37:12 - And his brothers went to pasture their father's flocks in Shechem.
    • 37:12 
      • Hirsch on middle of verse - brothers’ angst is because they find Joseph threatening. Also, את has extra dots on top of letters – like those when Esau “kisses” Jacob; it’s a pretense; Esau was not really happy to meet Jacob.  Here, there may a deception; the brothers are not really tending father’s flocks but to themselves – a pretext to get away from Joseph.  Not doing what they’re supposed to be doing –making plans.
    The source of Hirsch’s commentary on the dots is Midrash Rabbah 84:13. את normally serves as a direct object marker.  In this case, the dots served to negate the direct object, so that “their father’s flocks” cannot be the direct object. The sentence can be read as two clauses: “And his brothers went to pasture” and “their father’s flocks [were] in Shechem.”  “Scripture is thus saying that they went to “pasture,” – to indulge -- themselves.”  [Footnotes to Midrash Rabbah, Artscroll/Kleinman Edition]
    • Zohar - את represents the shechinah, God’s presence, as brothers go to Sh’chem (שְׁכֶם).  The brothers seem evil now, but they are ancestors of the Tribes.  Sages have difficulty with this.  This teaching is parallel to the one that God was with Jacob in the pit and in Egypt.  Munk (citing Zohar) writes, “The brothers were pious and righteous men [and] were accompanied by the Divine Presence.  It hovered above them and was with them when Joseph was sold.  It stayed with them despite the way the treated Joseph, for they constituted the nucleus of the future Jewish nation.”
    • Is Sh’chem an evil place?  Dinah gets raped, but the brothers become united. 
    • So, why did they go to Sh’chem?  
      • Nahum Sarna [JPS Torah Commentary] gives two reasons.
        • Since the brothers were pastoral nomads, they moved to where there was adequate forage.  Sh’chem fit that bill, since it was well watered and had fertile soil.
        • Sh’chem was also a place of family heritage, since Jacob dwelled there in 33:18-20.  Furthermore, in those days, Sh’chem was considered sacred (שְׁכֶם מְקוֹם) because of the plentiful water supply [Sarna’s commentary on 12:6].
      • Others remark that the brothers went there to find brides to counter Joseph’s assertions of flirting.  By marrying, they would remove such suspicions and demonstrate greater piety than Joseph, who had made no such efforts [Me’Am Loez, citing Yafeh Toar, page 464].
      • The brothers put their trust in God, Who had caused Sh’chem’s population to (1) fear them as in 35:5; or (2) forget the Dinah revenge massacre in 34:25-29 [Artscroll Chumash, citing Radak]
    • Did brothers sin by throwing Joseph into the pit?  This sin was punished later by reading the ten martyrs on Yom Kippur …
    37:13 - And Israel said to Joseph, "Are your brothers not pasturing in Shechem? Come, and I will send you to them." And he said to him, "Here I am.
    37:14 - So he said to him, "Go now and see to your brothers' welfare and the welfare of the flocks, and bring me back word." So he sent him from the valley [depth] of Hebron, and he came to Shechem.
    • 37:13-14
      • Jacob is called “Israel” – why?  
        • He wants brothers to be united; thus “children of Israel.”  Is God behind this scene? Isn’t God always “behind the scenes?”
        • “Israel” is used her to reflect his “higher spiritual nature as the architect of the national destiny.” [Artscroll Chumash, citing R’Bachya]
      • Israel says to Joseph, go see how your brothers and the flocks are doing (welfare, שְׁלוֹם, of the brothers and flocks), and bring back good words.
        • Israel wants Joseph to find the wholeness of his brothers – their good qualities and virtues, not their bad qualities, and see his brothers in a good light in contrast to the  “evil tales (“bad reports” per JPS translation) of 37:2 [Etz Hayim, citing Simchah Bunem].  
    Hirsch writes, “Ya’akov senses that there is a rift between Yosef and his brothers, and he does not want it to deepen.  A the same time, he wants to test Yosef’s feelings toward his brothers.”  Thus, Israel gives Yosef no specific assignment beyond inquiring about his brothers’ “welfare.”
    • In other words, Israel wants family harmony.
    • Israel’s real motive was to determine the status of his flocks. Are the brothers doing their job as shepherds?  Is he using Joseph in his role as a tattler?
    Probably not.  Midrash Rabbah 84:13 states that while it seems natural for Jacob to ask about the welfare of his sons, knowing the status of his flocks is also a legitimate question.  It is incumbent for a person to ask about the state of a resource from which he derives benefit.  After all, an individual is obliged to protect and maintain his wealth, lest he plunge into poverty.
      • On the other hand …
        • Rashi remarks, “Shechem [is] a place destined for misfortune. There the tribes sinned, there Dinah was violated; there the kingdom of the house of David was divided, as it is said: “And Rehoboam went to Shechem” (I Kings 12:1). [From Sanhhedrin 102a 
        • Jacob feared the Hivites (Shechemites) would attack in revenge for the massacre there in 34:25-29 [Me’Am Lo’Ez, citing Sefer HaYashar and Targum Yonathan; also in Munk].  An intelligence mission?
    • “Valley of Hebron?”  Wait!  Hebron is on a hill.  Vey iz mir! Vats goin’ on?
      • It’s metaphorical - Israel is sending Joseph on a profound mission to fulfill a prophecy. God is deeply connected in this process.
      • Rashi - But is not Hebron on a mountain? It is stated: “And they ascended in the south, and he came as far as Hebron” (Numbers 13:22). But [it is to be understood that he sent him] from the deep counsel of the righteous man who is buried in Hebron (i.e., Abraham), to fulfill what was said to Abraham between the parts (Genesis 15:13). [From Genesis Rabbah 84:13]
      • חֶבְרוֹן מֵעֵמֶק can also be translated “depth of Hebron,” suggesting that Joseph was sent to carry out the “profound, deep design” of Abraham (15:13), who was buried there.  Given the dangers of going to Shechem (above), Jacob would be justified in sending servants to inquire about his flocks.  However, that he sent his favorite son shows that the divine presence was acting through Jacob’s actions. The profundity of the design is revealed by the (relatively) short-term bitterness of slavery and the long-term benefit of building a nation [in Exodus and subsequent texts] and bringing the people closer to Torah and God [Artscroll Chumash; Midrash Rabbah 84:13; Talmud Sotah 11a].
    37:15 - Then a man found him, and behold, he was straying in the field, and the man asked him, saying, "What are you looking for?"
    16 - And he said, "I am looking for my brothers. Tell me now, where are they pasturing?"
    17 - And the man said, "They have traveled away from here, for I overheard them say, 'Let us go to Dothan.' " So Joseph went after his brothers, and he found them in Dothan.
    • 37:15-17
      • A man found (met) Jacob.
        • Perhaps by chance?  Or another point of divine intervention?  Actually, three angels appearing as one man according to Midrash Rabbah 84:14, because in these verses, “man” is mentioned three times.
        • Rashi writes that this is [the angel] Gabriel, as it is said: “And the man Gabriel” (Daniel 9:21). [From Tanchuma Vayeshev 2]
        • Ramban – the man was a regular person, but used by God for Divine will; however, this diminishes God’s workings.  Ramban writes, “This story is … written to inform us that ‘the decree of God is truth, and the effort is falsehood.’ That is, man cannot escape his Divinely ordained fate.  For the Holy One, Blessed is He, arranged a guide for [Joseph], without his knowledge to bring into [the brothers’] hands.  It was this that our sages had in mind when they said (Bereshis Rabbah 84:14 – see below) that these three ‘men’ mentioned in [these three verses] were angels – that this whole story did not occur for naught, but to teach us that ‘it is Hashem’s counsel that prevails’.” [Artscroll, citing Ibn Gabriol Mivchar Ha Peninim, 43:48 and Proverbs 19:21]
        • Midrash Rabbah 84:14 explains: it is written that “a man found Joseph, asked him, and said to him;” not the other way around, suggesting that this “man” was actively pursuing Joseph.  Who but an angel would be looking for Joseph in a vacant field?  Furthermore, only an angel could tell Joseph where his brothers are located.
        • Rambam agrees that this man is an angel, sent so that Joseph would continue his mission if he was unable to locate his brothers [Etz Hayim].
      • דֹתָן, “Dotan,” is related to דת, “dat,” religion or law/decree.
        • Are the brothers looking for a law or loophole to find a reason/justification to kill Joseph?
    Rashi on דֹתָינָה  נֵלְכָה , let us go to Dothan - to seek regarding you legal pretexts (דָתוֹת נִכְלֵי), by which they could put you to death. According to its simple meaning, however, it is a place-name, and a Biblical verse never loses its simple sense.
      • מִזֶּה נָסְעוּ, literally, “they traveled from this” – brothers are on the wrong path, yet they are fulfilling to fulfill God’s decree.
        • Rashi on “They have traveled away from here:” They removed themselves from brotherhood.
        • Dothan was a city, not a pasture area, suggesting that the brothers were in the city sampling its pleasures [singles bars?] and neglecting the flocks (the “wrong path” above)
    • Clues to Joseph’s character: his answer to the man’s question, what are you looking for, in 37:15 is in 37:16, “I am looking for my brothers.”  Not power, fame, wealth, envy hatred, or approval; only my brethren. [Tauber, page 298]. Furthermore, Joseph readily agreed to his father’s request to go to his brothers in 37:13, despite the potential danger of his brothers’ hatred, envy, and jealousy.  His reply included the word הִנֵּנִי, here I am, thus honoring Jacob and suggesting humility and enthusiasm [Midrash Rabbah 84:13].
    • General discussion: free will vs fulfilling God’s will – may seem to be opposite.  How should these events be judged?

    Wednesday, May 01, 2013

    Two Dreams...Reactions and who were they about Really????

    27 April 2013, Rabbi Adam Rosenwasser
    37:9 - And he again dreamed another dream, and he related it to his brothers, and he said, "Behold, I have dreamed another dream, and behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were prostrating themselves to me."
    37:10 - And he told [it] to his father and to his brothers, and his father rebuked him and said to him, "What is this dream that you have dreamed? Will we come I, your mother, and your brothers to prostrate ourselves to you to the ground?"
    • 37:9-10, Joseph’s second dream
      • Why two dreams?
        • Robert Alter [Five Books of Moses] – sign of what will happen in Joseph’s life – a series of doublets.  Alter writes, “Doublets are a recurrent principle of organization in the Joseph story, just as binary divisions [see below] are an organizing principle in the Jacob story.  Joseph and Pharaoh have double dreams; the chief butler and chief baker dream their pair of seemingly parallel, actually antithetical dreams.  Joseph is flung into a pit and later into the prison-house.  The brothers make two trips down to Egypt, with one of their number seemingly on each occasion.  And their descent to Egypt with goods … mirrors the descent of the merchant caravan, bearing the same items, that at first brought Joseph down to Egypt.” [Underlining added]
    “Binary divisions” in Jacob’s life refer to his lack of completeness, although he supposedly arrived “complete” or “whole” (שָׁלֵם) in Sh’chem in 33:18. In fact, his entire life had been a series of divisions such as splitting his clan into two groups upon learning of Esau’s impending arrival (33:1); struggling with his twin brother for their father’s blessing (27:34ff); two sisters battling for his love; and two flocks, one uncolored and the other colored (30:32ff). [From “Completion,” a sermon by Shmuel Herzfeld. Thanksgiving 2004.  Accessed 29 April 2013 at, “ Vayishlach 2”]
      • Double verb in Hebrew suggests importance and emphasis, often translated as “verily.”  Does Rabbi Adam mean וַיַּחֲלֹם עוֹד חֲלוֹם, “he dreamed another dream” and   חָלַמְתִּי חֲלוֹם, “I dreamed a dream?”  In other words the same root, םלה, is used for the verb “dream” and the noun “dream.”
      • First dream is earthy, agricultural; second is in the sky, more spiritual.
      • First dream – Jacob doesn’t get involved; second dream, Joseph tells his father, too.
      • First dream is childish – “my sheaf is bigger than yours.”
    • In the second dream, Joseph doesn't ask for his brother’s attention as in the first dream.  They are inured to him, resigned to hear a dream.
    • Symbols of sun, moon, eleven stars
      • About his family?
      • About nations?  Alter [citing other sources] writes that the “eleven stars” refer to eleven ancient constellations; but is this blasphemy?  In ancient cultures, rulers were associated with celestial hosts, e.g., Pharaoh is the sun.
    • Tells dream to father and brothers.  Jacob reacts by rebuking/admonishing him, asking essentially, “Who are you, you dreaming dreamer?”  Jacob may have been settled but is not unsettled.  Brothers see that Jacob is upset and perhaps this was incentive for them to toss Joseph in the pit.  Perhaps Jacob saw what he had done in raising Joseph – spoiling him and making him the favorite son.
    • Recall that Joseph just tells the dream and does not interpret it.
    • Jacob, too, had dreams (wrestling, ladder); was he afraid?  He knows what’s happening but the brothers are clueless.
    • Rabbi Jack Tauber (Yalkut Ya’akov.  Lessons from Bereshit.  Chapel Hill, NC: Professional Press, 2000.  Pages 294-295) on the differences between the two dreams:
    The first dream was about a larger sheave of wheat, suggesting that Joseph would be wealthier than his brothers, who then might need Joseph’s financial help in the future.  This engenders the strong dislike for Joseph, although the brothers could acknowledge that Joseph could indeed become wealthier by just a stroke of luck.  However, the second dream involving stars, sun, moon -- and by extension the brothers -- bowing before Joseph was too much for them to bear.  Joseph was in effect saying to his brothers, not only will I be wealthier but better than you.  It should be no surprise that hatred from the first dream turned into envy and jealousy [37:11] in the second dream, setting the scene for the eventual casting into the pit and selling to slavery.
    • Another reading from R’ Bachya (cited in Artscroll/Stone Edition of the Chumash): after the first dream, the emotion was hatred but not jealousy because the brothers saw Joseph as a child and no threat to them.  After the second dream, however, when the brothers, in their wisdom, realized that the source of Joseph’s dreams was Providential and that he would become their master, the hatred turned to jealousy [37:11].
    37:11 - So his brothers envied him, but his father awaited the matter.
    • 37:11 
      • New verb וַיְקַנְאוּ, envied him or were jealous of him (JPS: wrought up).  
        • Old verb was שְׂנֹא, “hated” (37:5).
        • Other uses of קנא root:
          • 1 Kings 19:10 – jealousy for God, longing for God.  And he [Elijah] said: "I have been zealous [קִנֵּאתִי] for the Lord, the God of Hosts, for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant. They have torn down Your altars and they have killed Your prophets by the sword, and I have remained alone, and they seek my life to take it.
          • Numbers 25:11 – zealousness of Phineas.  Phinehas the son of Eleazar the son of Aaron the kohen has turned My anger away from the children of Israel by his zealously avenging Me [קִנְאָתִי  אֶת בְּקַנְאוֹ] among them, so that I did not destroy the children of Israel because of My zeal. 
          • Numbers 5:14 – man filled with rage and jealousy over his wife not playing by the rules.  … a spirit of jealousy had come upon him and he became jealous of his wife, and she was defiled, or, a spirit of jealousy had come upon him and he was jealous of his wife, and she was not defiled.
          • A few other places according to various concordances.
      • Brothers’ reaction is different.  Hasidic story [from Greenberg, Aharon Yaakov. Torah Gems. Chemed Books & Co., Inc.: Brooklyn, 1998]  on who should succeed a recently deceased Yeshiva head.  In every Parsha, there is a good and evil, except Vayeshev, where everyone was righteous.  Every candidate for the new yeshiva head was good candidate.  Yet Joseph was a brat …
      • Unlike previous behavior, Jacob doesn’t support Joseph on hearing this dream.  Then he “took note” i.e., changed his mind.  Hassidic story [source: Torah Gems as above] - Jacob saw the envy in the brothers and realized that there may be some truth in this dream as a prophecy.
      • Jacob was manipulative as a youth; does he see the same behavior in Joseph?  If so, that’s worrisome.