by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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Parashas Vayeshev(66)This week's sedra begins the tri-part series (Vayeshev, Mikaitz, Vayigash) of the episodes of Joseph's struggles with his brothers. This is the background, which sets the stage for Israel's eventual exile in Egypt. The parashah begins by telling us that Joseph befriended the maidservant's children and would report to his father, Jacob, evil reports about his other brothers (the sons of Leah).
These are the progeny of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; and he was a lad together with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives; and Joseph brought their evil report to their father.
Their evil report: Rashi: Any evil that he would see among his brothers, the sons of Leah, he would tell his father. 1) That they would eat flesh of a "live" animal (one not slaughtered), 2) that they would degrade the children of the maidservants by calling them slaves and 3) they were suspect regarding illicit sexual relations. And with three similar matters, he was punished -(Regarding #1) "And they slaughtered a goat" (37:31) when they sold him but they did not eat it "alive"; and regarding (#2) that his report that they had called their brothers "slaves" (it say) "And Joseph was sold as a slave." (Psalms 105:17) ; and regarding (#3) illicit relations which he said of them, (it says) "his master's wife cast her eyes upon him" (39:7).
Rashi (based on a midrash) specifies the three evil reports and finds that for each of them, Joseph was punished, in a sense "measure for measure."
Can you see how Rashi derived these particular evil actions?
A very difficult question.
HOW DOES RASHI KNOW WHICH WERE THE EVIL REPORTS ?
Actually this question can be asked of the midrash which is Rashi's source.
We should be aware that when the midrash gives interpretations and adds information to what the Torah itself tells us, it always some basis in the text. It is not always possible to detect the basis, but it is there - somewhere.
A hint: Look at verse 37:14.
A POSSIBLE SOURCE FOR THE MIDRASH (and RASHI)
The following is the Torah Temima's interpretation.
Verse 37:14 quotes Jacob's instructions to Joseph when he sent him to his brothers.
"And he (Jacob) said to him (Joseph) 'Go now and see the peace of your brothers, and the peace of the sheep and return me regarding a "matter" (Hebrew: "davar") and he sent him from the valley of Hebron." The Torah Temima makes a brilliant analysis of this verse and thereby finds the textual source of our Rashi.
Jacob said to Joseph, to see, i.e. to investigate:
1) "the peace of your brothers" - are they fighting and/or belittling their brothers, the son of the maidservants? 2) "the peace of the sheep" - are they being cruel to the sheep and eating from the animals even while still alive, before slaughtering them?
3) "Return me regarding a "davar", says the T.T. the word "davar" in the Torah often refers to a sexual matter, as in Deutero. 24:1 "for he found in her a matter ("davar") of immorality" ( referring to illicit sexual relations). So here is the hint about Joseph's report of the brother's alleged illicit sexual behaviors.
There you have it! The Torah Temima lays bare the midrash and Rashi's source for the unusual comment on Joseph's evil report.
Never take a midrash for granted. Just as we do wisely to analyze Rashi's every word, so too is it wise to try to discover the textual source for the midrash's interpretation. It is there, if only we can find it.
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is produced by the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. The five volume set of "What's Bothering Rashi?" is available at Judaica bookstores.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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