Thursday, December 11, 2014

jealousy and sibling rivelry have nothing to do with our parsha

Rashi interprets “v’hu na’ar es bnei Bilha” to mean that Yosef “hung out” with Bilhah and Zilpah's children.  Because he saw that the other brothers rejected them, he befriended them.  The pasuk continues and tells us that Yosef brought “dibasam ra’ah,” bad tidings and gossip about his other brothers to Ya’akov.  Rashi again tells us that it was Leah’s children in particular and their abuse of their siblings (see Ramban) that Yosef reported on.  It seems from Rashi that Ya’akov’s children were divided into two camps: 1)Leah’s children, and 2)the children of the maidservants.  Yosef allied himself with the latter group even though he was the son of Ya’akov’s primary wife.

Ramban asks: if Rashi is correct, then why did none of Bilhah or Zilpah’s children speak up to defend Yosef or try to save Yosef when the other brothers were planning to kill him or sell him?  Not only did they not object, but it seems from the story that ALL the brothers, except for Reuvain, consented to the sale! 
This point would be a davar pashut if not for certain blogs and sites that pretend otherwise.  I’ll put it bluntly: if you read the story of Yosef and his brothers as revolving around petty jealousies, dysfunctional family relationships, or sibling rivalry, you are not learning chumash – you are reading a novel or a work of literature.  An isolated Ramban or a statement by Hirsch or some other comment here or there that is critical of the Avos does not change the fact that the meta- assumption when learning chumash, as opposed to reading the Bible as literature, is that the Avos, the shevatim, etc. were tzadikim that did not share the same gross character imperfections and faults that the average Joe does. 

The question of what to do with Yosef was debated by the shevatim as an issue of devarim ha’omdim b’rumo shel olam, a din Torah that they knew would have repercussions for the future of Klal Yisrael.  Personal interests had nothing to do with it!  To think otherwise is to completely misunderstand the issue and the personalities involved. 
Therefore, whether Yosef was close to the children of the shefachos or not close to them could not help (or hurt) his cause.  All that mattered was getting to the objective truth of what needed to be done.
(So you’ll ask: what’s the Ramban’s question then?  It could be that what bothered Ramban is the fact that things got to that point.  Why didn’t any of the brothers friendly to Yosef step in earlier to defuse the situation?)


  1. How is this post going to convince anyone? You have to read the text like Rashi to make your case.

    1. You are right in that the point needs to be made with examples from other Rishonim, but I have a day job, so baby steps will have to suffice. But I think once you accept that at least according to Rashi the piety of the shevatim, the Avos, etc. is beyond question, it places a significant burden on someone who would take a different approach to explain what compels them to do so.

  2. Thank you so much for this post! So many people just get the avos and Torah wrong. And r hirsh noone understood his message.

    Maybe the rambans question was that someone had to be melamed zechus, Especially in dinei nefashos.

    1. I like what you are saying - if you have a B"D where everyone votes chayav, the halacha is that the defendant goes free. Ironically, it comes out that by Reuvain speaking up on Yosef's behalf and making it not a unanimous vote, it actually worked against Yosef, because otherwise they would have had to let him off!