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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Vayeshev(69)

This week's sedra begins the story of Joseph's dreams and their fulfillment beginning with the sale of Joseph into slavery and his ending up in Egypt.

Genesis 37:2

This is the progeny of Jacob; Joseph was seventeen years old would shepherd the sheep with his brothers, and the lad was with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives. And Joseph brought bad reports about them to their father.


The bad reports about them: Rashi: Whatever he saw wrong in his brothers, the sons of Leah, he reported to his father: that they ate flesh cut off from a live animal; that they treated the sons of the handmaids with contempt, calling them slaves; and that they were suspected of sexual sins. With three similar matters he was punished: They slaughtered a goat after they sold him and did not eat from it while alive; and that he said they called the brothers slaves (he was punished as it says) "Joseph was sold as a slave" (Psalms 105:17); and regarding saying they committed sexual sins, it says "his master's wife cast her eyes upon him".

The commentaries on Rashi ask two questions on this comment.

Can you think of a question?

Your Question:


A Question: One question they ask is: What was Joseph's sin? If, in fact, the brothers did these sins, then Joseph was right in chastising them. But being a younger brother he could not do that directly, so he told his father, Jacob, so he would correct them. Let us assume, for the moment that Joseph didn't make these things up. What was wrong with Joseph's behavior?

Hint: See all that Rashi says in this comment. Is there some evidence that Joseph's behavior wasn't pure as snow?

Your Answer:

WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI? (About Joseph's behavior)

An Answer: Note that Joseph's report was only about the sons of Leah. Is it likely that only they did things that were wrong and not the sons of the handmaids? That doesn't seem likely. So it would appear that Joseph saw what he wanted to see (the misbehavior of Leah's sons) and didn't see what he didn't want to see (the behavior of the handmaiden's sons). This shows some prejudice on Joseph's part. So whether his report was true or not true, it would seem that there was some personal interest in it for Joseph. This made it problematic. And that may be why he was subjected to the events that subsequently overtook him. Poetic justice, one might say.

We said some Rashi commentators ask still another question.

Did you think of another question?

Your Question:


Another Question: Why did Rashi (actually, the midrash, which is Rashi's source) choose these three sins? Is there any indication that the sons may have been suspected of these acts?

Can you find some hint of this in the words of the Torah?

This is difficult.

Hint: See verse 37:14.

Your Answer:


An Answer: The Torah Tamima finds hints of these three suspicions in verse 37:14.

Jacob sends Joseph to see his brothers as they tended the sheep. He said to Joseph: "Please go and see the peace of your brothers; and the peace of the sheep; and bring me back a "word." (In Hebrew 'davar'). So we have "the peace of your brothers" which is to see if they degrade their half brothers, the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah or rather are at peace with them. Then we have "the peace of the sheep" meaning are they taking flesh before the animal is slaughtered, which would not be 'peaceful" for the sheep. And we have "bring me back a "word." (In Hebrew 'davar'). Now the word 'davar' in the Torah often refers to sexual matters. (See for example Deut. 24:1: 'ervas davar'). So the verse hints at all three sins, as Jacob tells Joseph to check out his suspicions if they are true or not.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."

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