Monday, January 02, 2012

Torah is not just legal reality

The Midrash (90:5) writes that Yehudah argued to Yosef that the Torah says, "V'im ain lo v'nimkar b'gneivaso," only if someone has no money to pay his debts is he sold into slavery.  Since Binyamin can pay, he should be freed.   

Yosef was posing as the viceroy of Egypt; the issue at at hand was what Binyamin's penalty should be under Egyptian law.   Why did Yehudah think it would make any difference to Yosef/ the viceroy what the din Torah in this case should be?   

Chazal tell us that Hashem looked into the Torah and created the world -- everything in creation functions according to Torah.  I saw in the sefer Bein HaMishpisayim that this idea was so ingrained in the consciousness of the Shevatim that they could not imagine that Binyamin would receive a punishment that was at odds with what the Torah dictated.  Yehudah's was not making a legal argument to Yosef, but was simply stating a metziyus -- no other punishment is conceivable. 


  1. The problem with that answer is one of the original arguments between Yosef and the brothers. Yosef thought the family should live by the standards of Torah while the brothers held they were still B'nei Noach. It's difficult to think that Yehuda would invoke Torah law when he didn't even think it applied to him.
    Different answer I've heard: while the ritual section of the Torah is unique to us for obvious reasons this is not the case with the civil and criminal section. In fact, since the B'nei Noach are supposed to set up Dinim and the Dinim in the Torah are the best form, they should therefore have civil and criminal laws identical to ours. So Yehudah wasn't being unimaginative but the argument was for Yosef to hold by the Dinim of B'nei Noach.

  2. chaim b.5:33 PM

    Yet it is davka the parsha of avadim where there is a clear distinction between halachos that apply only to an eved ivri and the halachos that apply to an eved kena'ani. L'shitascha, the brothers should cite dinim of eved kena'ani.

    My wife also wanted to connect this to the issue of whether the brothers had the din of a yisrael or not. It could be that Yehudah switched tunes here and was in fact arguing from the perspective of dinei yisrael, and that is precisely why Yosef revealed himself -- the game was up, he had won.

  3. great unknown6:10 PM

    Actually, according to the Poroshas Derachim, the argument was the converse: Yosef held they had the din of bnei noach, whereas the other brothers felt they had the din of bnei Yisroel - and not just l'chumra but l'kula.

  4. chaim b.6:28 PM

    I guess I should have looked back at it inside. Oh well.

  5. great unknown7:32 PM

    Actually, you should double-check me on it. As Reb Yaakov reputedly said in his old age, "I no longer pasken because I might forget a relevant tosafos somewhere in Shas." Same with me...

  6. great unknown8:05 PM

    boruch Hashem, I am not ready to be farmed out yet. I think.

  7. Anonymous4:09 AM

    >>> Why did Yehudah think it would
    make any difference...?

    vayisa mas'os mei'eis panav aleihem
    43:34-- seems the Hebrews granted the viceroy some sort of heksher* (or would refusal to eat that which the bossman offered have been to risk death, meaning they'd a heter to accept it?), suggesting that he might in their eyes be amenable to Torah law

    *maybe, off-the-record (at the time of 43:16, for example), the viceroy had shown some interest in the ways of these itinerant Hebrews


    These pedantic exercises about Bnei Noach are for those unconcerned about being the light to the nations.

  9. Anonymous7:30 PM

    granted a "heksher"(comment 7)
    could mean, for ex., that 43:16 speaks first of the brothers entering the house, & then of slaughter, because the viceroy
    commanded his chief-of-staff to first learn (in the house) what Hebrew food laws might be relevant to slaughter (as Yosef knew his brothers' need to shecht the animal themselves, which btw didn't
    rouse their old argument: neither
    bnei Noach nor bnei Torah may
    slaughter with idolatry in mind)

    {how so Eliyahu? maybe the point-
    of-contention between the brothers shows just how intertwined the 2 groups were at inception, such that the same 2 are still interrelated today: light
    from the one, illumines the other;
    not only that, Torah "pedantry"
    can be pretty luminous stuff!}

  10. Tal Benschar5:25 PM

    I saw a peirush last Shabbos that quoted the Dubner Maggid, who was asked to explain this Midrash without using a Moshol.

    His explanation is that what Yehudah said was that although you, the Egyptian, do not hold from the laws of the Torah, still those laws make logical sense. The Torah says that a thief should be sold into slavery. Why would someone want to buy a thief as a slave -- would he not be concerned that the new slave would steal from him? The answer is that the Torah only prescribes slavery when the person us unable to pay. When a person is very poor, the poverty may drive him to steal. The purchaser reasons that now that the slave will have someone to provide for his (and his family's) needs, he will no longer steal.

    That sevara only makes sense, said the Dubner Maggid, when the person stole out of poverty. But if the person is well off and yet steals, then he clearly cannot be trusted, and no one would want to buy him. The fact that the slave is now taken care of would make no difference -- the man was already well off, yet he stole.

    This was Yehudah's taana to Yosef. Acc. to the logic of the Torah, no one should to take a thief as a slave, at least not a rich thief. You, Yosef, are at the same time accusing Binyamin of thievery, yet he is well off and can easily pay, and so a normal person would not want such a person to enter his household as a slave. Thus the accussation of thieving must be contrived.

  11. Anonymous6:33 PM

    & a simpler, strong support for the
    viceroy's amenablility to Torah law
    (without risking his wrath by
    implying/recognizing that he'd contrived a charge of theft)--

    "es-ha'elohim ani yarei"(42:18)

    (Yehudah could thus think the din
    Torah would make a difference)