Parshat Vayeshev

Parshat Vayesehev turns to the drama of Yosef and shows us how the best made plans can get out of hand and lead to unexpected consequences, even though that in the background we are aware that this part of Hashem’s overall plan to bring the family down to Egypt. This week and last week we get some insight into the character of some of the brothers, last week with the anger of Shimon and Levi and this week we find two more of Leah’s sons, Reuven and Yehuda playing a significant role. At the opening of the Parsha we are told that Yosef spent his time with the sons of the concubines as possibly the other brothers were not to keen on him, particularly after his dreams and this leads their plot to kill him which ends in him being sold to Egypt.

The description of the drama of Yosef finding his brothers and being thrown into a pit and sold seems at first sight quite straight forward but the description leaves some details unclear which leads to differences in interpretation of the event. The brothers see Yosef from a distance and propose to kill him but Reuven stops them and says let’s throw him into a pit with the intention of later coming to get him out and bring him back home, so they throw him into the pit and then sit down for lunch. Meanwhile some Ishmaelites appear and Yehuda suggests they sell Yosef to them, but then strangely we are told that the Midianites not the Ishmaelites drew him out of the pit and sold him to Ishmaelites who brought him to Egypt. Reuven returns to the pit and finds he has gone and the brothers then dip his coat in blood and return with their alibi to their father.

Rashi’s version of the events that the brothers sold him does not fit with the text and also where was Reuven all the time. The Rashbam who likes to study the text, and earlier in the Parsha notes that his grandfather Rashi told him that he did not always find time to bring the most logical explanation, sees it differently. In the Rashbam’s view the brothers sat down to eat but probably at some distance from the pit so as not to hear his pleading. The bothers saw the Ishmaelites passing and planned to sell him but meanwhile, as they were not near the pit, some Midianites came past and as the text says they drew him from the pit and sold him for a quick profit to Ishmaelites. When the bothers, and in particular Reuven, find he has gone they assume that he really was eaten up by some wild animal and then cover his coat in blood to bring back to their father. Rashbam’s view of the events possibly fits better with text but much later on when Yosef reveals himself to his brothers he says “I am Yosef your brother that you sold to Egypt,” which does not fit. However, it could be that either he was actually blindfolded or he was just saying that you caused me to be sold.

Perhaps of greater interesting is that we see in the background that both Reuven and Yehuda, despite their dislike of Yosef, wish to show mercy. Both of them appear to have troubled souls, Reuven in that he puzzlingly sleeps with his father’s concubine and Yehuda who after the event separates from the family and gets involved in his own family problems with the story of Tamar. Whichever way we look at it the lesson for us that you can try to plan but things do not always work out as you intend.

Still on our travels we are now in Miami and due to flight delays we missed our holocaust survivor cousin Leo Winn’s 95th birthday party but we spent a whole day with the family. Interestingly, his daughter Debbie lives in Pittsburgh and is responsible for all the care for the needy and elderly and was of course greatly affected by the terrible tragedy several weeks ago. However, she told us that this has brought the different faiths much closer and the Muslim community have raised large sums of money in the support of the Jewish community.

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