At this point in the narrative of our holy forefathers’ lives, Yosef was 17. We are taught he brought bad reports about his brothers to his father. He thought his brothers were doing a few things wrong and would tattle on them to his father. Not out of malice, but because he thought he would get them censured and, thereby, get them to improve.
However, there was more going on in the family dynamics. Yaakov loved Yosef very much and he taught him the Torah learned from Shem and Ever and he made him a special coat. He gave him special considerations, creating a scenario that engendered jealousy and mistrust among the brothers.
The brothers hated Yosef and couldn’t speak to him peacefully. Rashi points out this is somewhat a praise –that they were not the type of people who could hate a person but pretend to speak to him with love. You are never supposed to be a person who is “Achas B’Peh V’Achas B’Lev” – a hypocrite who says one thing but feels another thing entirely.
If the jealousy wasn’t bad enough, now Yosef had dreams of prophecy portending he would become leader to them all. Instead of keeping his prophecy to himself, he goes ahead and and shares his dream with his brothers, making them hate him even more.
At this point Yaakov gave him Mussar [rebuke]. Yaakov told him to stop bringing the hatred upon himself. Kina’ah/jealousy brings hatred. Therefore, we should not bring hatred upon ourselves by flaunting what is going right for us. “My child got a straight A report card”, “See my designer handbag” “My family is so close we spend every weekend playing board games together” – things that are great in your life are wonderful for you; but don’t go shoving it in front of other folks, because all that accomplishes is to make others jealous of you and makes them resent you. If you get the finer things in life, enjoy them, don’t flaunt them.
The sons at this point went to take the sheep to further pastures and Yosef stayed home with his father. Yaakov asked Yosef to go see “Shlom Acheecha” the welfare of his brothers. Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pshicha explains Shalom comes from the word Shalaym – wholeness. Yaakov loved all his sons and knew they were all great people. He was trying to make peace here. How? By asking Yosef to learn how to see the “wholeness” the greater part of every person. We can find faults with everyone or we can see their good side. It is a matter of what we are looking for. Yaakov was trying to train Yosef to stop seeing his brothers’ faults and to begin seeing all their good qualities.
Yosef ends up in Shechem where the brothers had gone. Why does the Passuk [verse] repeat for us that the brothers were in Shechem and that Yosef ended up arriving in Shechem? Because we learn how exact Hashem is when He evens out scores. There are no loose ends. The brothers (with Yehuda leading them) sell Yosef in Shechem and tear his coat there. Years later, the kingdom of Yehuda gets “torn” /split – ten of the Shevatim under the guidance of a great-grandson of Yosef rebel against King Rechavam and start their own kingdom. Where does this happen – exactly where it needed to happen – in Shechem where those brothers long ago tore Yosef’s coat.
The brothers decide to kill Yosef. It wasn’t simply, we hate him, let us kill him. We are talking about great people so there must be some reason they really thought they could kill him. There must have been a reasonable rationale they hid behind. There was — the brothers decided Yosef was trying to kill them spiritually by becoming close to their father and saying bad things about them. They decided he was trying to destroy their futures. We know our mandate is if someone tries to kill us, our Mitzva is to kill him first. Their reasoning, was then, that he had “declared war” on them by saying Lashon HaRah about them to their father, and, therefore he was in the category of someone trying to kill them, in which case, they decided, they had every right to kill him.
Reuven doesn’t want to go along with it. He realizes if he says he is against the idea totally, the brothers would turn against him too, so he thinks of what he could do to look like he is going along with the brothers, but in the end, be able to save Yosef. He tells the brothers they should not kill Yosef personally, but rather that they should throw him into a pit and let him die there. Reuven meant to sneak back when the brothers were gone and rescue Yosef.
MIDRASH: “If Reuven would have known the Torah would record that he tried to save Yosef, he would have fought all the brothers, put Yosef on his shoulders and ran home with him to his father. If Aron would have known the Torah would record that he was happy for Moshe when Moshe was appointed leader, he would have hired a band to celebrate Moshe’s arrival to Mitzrayim. If Boaz would have known the Torah would record that he had given Rus some toasted barley as food, he would have run out and shechted an animal and would have given her steak.” Many times we do good deeds, but we have no realization how we are doing something really great in Hashem’s eyes. Reuven was trying to do the right thing here. However, he had no clue that what he was doing was so important in Hashem’s eyes that Reuven would get mention in the Torah for having saved Yosef’s life. And, had he known, he would have put in even more effort. Think of it this way. One day, you are walking along and you see a little child who is crying. Being a nice person, you stop and help the kid. Now, you were nice and loving and sweet to the kid. However, if you realized a camera crew was following you and recording your words and actions so they could then air this on TV “local citizen is hero and rescues boy”, your words would become sweeter yet, you would smile even more to the poor child, you would go the extra step. So, now, let us learn the last sentence in the Midrash that began with “If Reuven would have known…” The last sentence says, ‘and in our times Eliyahu is recording the deeds of people to be included in further books when Moshiach comes.’! Wow. Did you know that something good you did, let’s say you decided to keep kosher, is being recorded by Eliyahu Hanavi. And when Mashiach comes, they are going to read out, “so-and-so did such-and-such.” Will we then regret we did not do more? Reuven will forever regret he did not do more. He did an amazing thing. He saved Yosef’s life. But, if he had known the Torah would write it and we would be learning this Passuk, he would have done it in a more forceful way.
The brothers throw Yosef into a pit that “ayn bo Mayim” had no water in it. We are taught “ayn bo Mayim” refers both to the pit and to the brothers. Mayim = Torah. They made this wrong decision because they were not learning Torah. When you learn Torah the right way, you are “full of Torah” and all your decisions are formed through the Torah view and you don’t make mistakes so tragic. We always should be striving to be a well full of water, a person full of Torah knowledge, rather than an empty pit.
Reuven left at this point, planning to come back later to save Yosef. While Reuven was gone a caravan of camels passes, and the brothers decide to sell Yosef. Reuven comes back and rips Kriyah when he hears what they did.
Now the brothers have to figure out what lie to tell their father. “Avayrah Goreres Avayrah” one sin brings the others. First they harm Yosef. Now they have to sin with lies to cover up. They shecht a goat and dip Yosef’s coat into the blood and tear it so it looks like a wild animal had a go at it. They then bring the coat to Yaakov, asking him if he recognizes it. Yaakov decides that Yosef must have been killed. He rips Kriya and begins to sit Shiva.
His children tried to do Nichum Avaylim, but Yaakov would not be consoled. Rashi says that the way Hashem set up the world is that folks heal somewhat from the death of a loved one – they can accept comforting words about it. However, if someone thinks a relative is dead, but the person is really alive, the mourning person will never accept comfort.
Yosef gets sold in Mitzrayim to Potiphar.
The Parsha then takes a loop from this story and switches to another…to be discussed in the next post…