by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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"This is the history of Jacob; Joseph at the age of seventeen would tend sheep, with his brothers. And he played around with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives. Joseph brought back bad reports about them to their father."
On this verse Rashi comments:
"Bad reports about them": RASHI: Any wrong that he would see in his brothers, the sons of Leah, he would relate to his father. That they ate limbs of living animals; and that they demeaned the sons of the maidservants by calling them 'slaves' and that they were suspect in illicit relationships. (Rashi goes on to how Joseph eventually suffered, measure for measure, for each of these evil reports.)
Rashi has quoted the midrash here. But midrashim, no matter how far they made seem to be from the simple p'shat, all have some basis in the Torah's words. What can be the basis for these three suspicions of Joseph?
Can you find any hint in the words of the Torah?
Hint: Look closely at Jacob's words to Joseph.
Understanding the Midrash
An Answer: The Torah Temima suggests the following interesting interpretation.
Jacob tells Joseph that he is to visit his brothers who have gone to shepherd their sheep. In verse 37:14 it says:
"Go now and see the peace of your brothers, and the peace of the sheep and return to me a 'word' (in Hebrew 'v'hashivani davar.') etc.
Here the Torah Temima, says we have the basis for our midrashic interpretation. Jacob asked to receive reports regarding three issues.
1) The peace of his brothers. That is, are they relating to each other justly or are they, as you Joseph claim, degrading the sons of the maidservants?
2) "the peace of the sheep." That is, do the animals have 'peace'? The word "shalom" is similar to "shaleim" meaning 'complete'. That is, are the animals complete or are they torn apart to eat a dismembered limb. Jacob says, in effect, check if the brothers are slaughtering the sheep according to Torah law or are they, as you claim, eating the limbs even before the animal was slaughtered?
3) "v'hashivai davr' (and return me a report) The word 'davar' which literally means 'thing' or 'matter' is often used in the Torah as modest way to refer to sexual matters. (as in 'ervas davar' See, for example, Deut. 24:1)). Thus this last request by Jacob was for Joseph to check out his suspicion that the brothers were involved in sexually forbidden behavior.
We see here how each of the midrashic points, mentioned by Rashi, has their base in the Torah's words. We should always search out the deeper meaning and its Toarh base whenever the midrash offers a midrashic interpretation.
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."
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This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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