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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?


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