Chavarah- Jewish Community Learning

A blog of Jewish study and traditions. Notes from classes: Torah Study with Rabbi Marder, Toledot and Shabbaton as well as other details found of interest.

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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]


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