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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.


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