Non Negotiable Part III
7. (37:12) The brothers, except for Yoseph and Binyamin, went to
to oversee Yakov’s sheep. Rashi points out that the brothers had ulterior
motives for going together to Shechem. Shechem had been the scene of their
battle against Shechem. It was where the brothers had expressed their
collective unity in defense of the family (Dina) and in opposition and
disregard of all the other city-states. It was where they proclaimed to
Yakov, “Should Shechem to treat our sister like a harlot?” They felt that
the situation with Yoseph warranted a “family meeting.” They had to decide
how to deal with what they perceived as a danger to the family from
within. Shechem had been an attack from outside the family. Yoseph was a
danger from within the family.
8. (37:13) Yakov, knowing that the brothers “hated” Yoseph,
Yoseph to go and join his brothers in Shechem. Why would he have done so?
The brothers were older than Yoseph and assumingly more experienced
shepherds than him. What report (37:14) did Yakov need that he would
subject Yoseph to the animosity of his brothers?
9. Yoseph immediately agreed to do so. Rashi references the Medresh
points out Yoseph’s “humility.” Yoseph was willing to do as Yakov
instructed even though he knew that his brothers hated him. Why does the
Medresh classify his acquiescence as “humility?” If anything, it was
courageous and respectful. Courageous because he knew that the brothers
hated him and entering into their midst could not have been a pleasant
prospect; and respectful, because he was listening to his father’s direct
request. Why does the Medresh classify it as humility?
10. (37:15-16) Yoseph went in search of his brothers and
man.” The encounter is couched in enigmatic terms. Yoseph appeared to be
lost. He met a Man who is not named. The Man asked Yoseph what he was
seeking, not whom are you seeking. Yoseph answered, “I am seeking my
brothers.” The Man just happened to have overheard the brothers saying
where they were going. Yoseph continued on toward his own enslavement and
destiny. Why the mystery?
11. Rashi informs us (37:17) that the “Man” told Yoseph that the
went to Dothan “to find a legal reason to kill you.” Clearly, the Torah is
contrasting Yoseph’s “I am seeking my brothers” with “they are seeking a
legal reason to kill you.” What was really going on with this prelude to
Yoseph’s sale into slavery?
Yoseph's destiny was to be the "Interim King." It was his responsibility
to transition the developing Jewish nation from the relative freedom of
their lives in Canaan to the relative slavery in Mitzrayim. Like the Avos
who preceded him, Yoseph was entrusted with the interpretive fulfillment
of the Covenant Between the Halves. The first 190-year part of the
prophecy, (15:13) "You will be strangers in a land that is not (yet)
yours,” was about to end. The 210 years of "And you will be enslaved and
afflicted," was about to begin.
As the Interim King, Yoseph would have to win the trust of his brothers.
Unfortunately, by the critical age of 17 the opposite had occurred. Rather
than learning to trust their younger brother's vision of the future family
and nation the brothers were convinced that Yoseph would cause their
collective demise as Jews. In essence the brothers banded together in
Shechem, more to fight for their own survival than to plan Yoseph's
Why were the brothers convinced that Yoseph would bring about their
A number of years ago we discussed the concept of "shalom" and its
relationship to Yakov Avinu and the critical number 12. When Yakov awoke
from his dream atop the Temple Mount he made a deal with the Almighty.
(28:20-22) "If G-d will watch over me... provide for me... and return
me "B'Shalom" - whole to my father's home... I will build this monument
into the house of G-d."
Yakov asked G-d to bring him back from exile "whole to his father's home."
Yakov prayed to G-d that he would be the last Av - Father (patriarch).
Yakov prayed that where Avraham had a Yishmael and Yitzchak had an Eisav,
he asked that all his children merit being part of the Jewish people.
For whatever reason, the Jewish nation required 12 sons who would become
12 Shevatim (tribes), and Yakov's deal with G-d was that he would be the
Av, he would be the Chosen One, to sire those 12 sons. However, to
successfully survive the machinations of Lavan and the hatred (or kisses)
of Eisav he would need G-d's help.
There were no guarantees. Just as Yishmael and Eisav were lost to the
Jewish people so too one or more of the twelve could also be lost. It was
Yakov's promise to G-d that he would do everything humanly possible to
raise his children to be true servants of G-d so that they would merit
being part of the Jewish nation.
(With this approach we can better understand the Medresh of the stones
fighting with each other, miraculously becoming a single stone, and Yakov
anointing that stone as the "corner stone" of the Bais Hamikdash. Keep in
mind that the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed because of unwarranted hatred
and will be rebuilt when the hatred is no more.)
It appears that ever since the inception of the Jewish people there has
been a level of Sinas Chinum - unwarranted strife and conflict. (Contrast
that with the Medresh on the two brothers, partners in the field atop the
Temple mount.) The origin of Yakov’s family was certainly beset by
challenges testing the levels of the family’s resolve toward building a
unified and intra-supportive nation. First Yakov had to protect his family
from Eisav and Lavan. After returning to Canaan he fought a number of
decisive battles against the local city-states to secure a place for his
family. Finally, after a moment of reprieve, the conflict between Yoseph
and his brothers erupted.
All the brothers knew that they were intended to be the progenitors of the
12 tribes; however, Yoseph's royal posturing made him suspect and they
concluded that he wanted more than to be one on the twelve. He wanted to
be the "fourth" Patriarch who would sire the 12 essential sons / tribes.
If that were the case, what would become of the other brother's? The
brother's concluded that if Yoseph was to be the fourth Av and the
progenitor of 12 other sons who would become the basis of the Jewish
nation they would be relegated to the status of "one of the other
nations." Neither the Torah nor the land of Canaan would ever be theirs.
That is why they feared Yoseph and his dreams. That is why they believed
they had to eliminate him.
On the other hand, Yoseph had no such dreams of Fathership. He knew that
he would be the Interim King while the family transitioned into slavery
and nationhood. He knew he was different than his brothers and embraced
the responsibility and the loneliness. Unfortunately, believing that his
dreams were prophetic he pushed his brothers to confirm his position as
Interim King. As the second to youngest brother, and believing him to be
dangerous to them, they would not do so.
(As an aside, Yoseph believed his dreams were prophetic and inv rest of
the family; therefore, he felt obligated to share them with his brothers.
However, the dreams may have been prophetic but they were not necessarily
prophecy. The difference being that the dreams were intended for Yoseph
and Yoseph alone to help him prepare for his personal destiny as the
Interim King. Had he first shared the dreams with his father, Yakov would
have underscored their importance and been able to advise him not to yet
share them with his brothers.)
Following Yoseph's second dream, Yakov realized Yoseph's mistake. Instead
of being critical and demanding, Yoseph needed to be conciliatory,
encouraging, humble, and embracing. He first needed to win their trust as
a brother before they would trust him to be their leader.
In 37:13-14 Yakov dispatched Yoseph to seek "the peace of his brothers",
or in other words, "the wholeness of his brothers." Yakov did not need
Yoseph to bring back an accounting of his flocks. He wanted to hear from
Yoseph that he had made up with his brothers and that he was "one of
them." Yakov wanted Yoseph to apologize to his brothers for his critical
and demanding nature and to win a place of trust among them. Visions and
multicolored coats were not enough - only the future would tell the real
meaning and timing of his prophetic dreams. Yakov sent Yoseph in search of
his brothers because he wanted to know that his deal with G-d, "and I will
return Shalaim - whole to my father's home" was secure, alive, and well.
Rashi classified Yoseph's immediate acquiescence as humility because it
asked Yoseph to rethink his entire approach to his brothers. More so than
that, Yakov placed the burden of apology and making the first move upon
Yoseph. He seemingly did not demand that the other brothers take equal
responsibility for their animosity toward Yoseph. Yoseph could have felt
that his father was not being fair. Yoseph could have argued his position
in hope of swaying Yakov that he was not the one at fault. Yoseph could
have argued his position in hope of avoiding the unpleasantness of what
Yakov was demanding of him. However, Yoseph did not do so; instead, Yoseph
accepted Yakov's criticism, full blame, and the obligation to do whatever
he could to make amends. For Yoseph the issue was not to place or avoid
blame; the issue was to find a solution. Yoseph acted with humility.
Yoseph acted the leader. Yoseph acted the king. (See Darash Moshe, Shemos
The enigmatic episode with the unnamed "Man" by Shechem now begins to make
sense. Yoseph, as we all know, was on a collision course with destiny. Not
Yakov, Yoseph, nor the brothers knew that they were unwittingly conspiring
to begin the stage of "and they will be enslaved." However, as the story
will unfold, historians, scholars, critics, and students will question
Yoseph's eventual motives. Were his manipulations in Parshas Miketz an act
of revenge against his brothers or true leadership? Was he attempting
to "teach them a lesson" or test the strength of their familial resolve
and commitment to protect each other and survive - regardless? The Medresh
tells us that the "Man" even informed him, or at least hinted, that his
brothers were determined to kill him! It did not make a difference to
Yoseph. It only proved Yakov's criticism while strengthening Yoseph’s
resolve to make amends before it was too late. Yoseph's encounter with
the "Man" established the nobility of Yoseph's declaration, "It is my
brother's that I seek." Yoseph's intent was humble and noble. Yoseph's
intent was to apologize to them and ask forgiveness.
Yoseph's intent would remain noble and humble for the next 22 years as he
grew to be the Interim King.
Twenty-two years later Yoseph had become the most powerful leader in the
civilized world. Not knowing exactly how or when it would happen, he knew
that world events were converging to advance the development of his family
and the Jewish nation.
Upon seeing his brothers Yoseph suspected that the time had come. When his
brothers bowed to him he knew the time had come. Yakov was right! The
dreams were never intended for his brothers, (see Rabbi’s Notebook
Vayeshev) they had been intended only for him. It was his sign that the
time had come for him to become the Interim King.
Imagine the moment. Yoseph has not seen his brothers for 21 years. In that
time the understanding and acceptance of his personal destiny had become
complete. Regarding his brothers, Yoseph's greatest desire was to reveal
his identity and embrace them; however, he could not do so. First, he had
to know “the strength of their familial resolve and commitment to protect
each other and survive regardless.” It wasn't enough that he ha his place
in the destiny of the Jewish people and was prepared to do anything to
serve and protect his family. He had to find out if his brother’s were
equally determined. Had they learned the fundamental lesson that brothers
do not sell their brother into slavery, regardless of reason or rational!
Therefore, Yoseph immediately wove a web of accusation and innuendo around
them with the sole purpose of testing their commitment to the whole and
part of the family. Basically, he pitted individual safety against the
safety and survival of the family. “One of you returns while the rest stay
in prison.” Three days later, “One of you will stay and the rest will
return; however, you must bring back the youngest or suffer hunger and
When Moshe fled Egypt because a fellow Jew had told Pharaoh that Moshe had
killed the Egyptian overseer he proclaimed, “Now I know Moshe meant that
he finally understood why the Jews were enslaved, persecuted and in exile.
What sin had they done to deserve the debasement and pain? Their sin was
the obvious disunity, selfishness, jealousy, and disregard that allowed
one Jew to turn in another! “Now I know why!”
Yoseph understood that the survival of the family and the development of
the nation were predicated on their unyielding support and commitment to
each other, regardless! Trust in G-d and each other was the only tools
they had to battle the seductive assimilation of Egypt, and trust in each
other demanded a belief that each of them was as important to each other
as they were to themselves. (The power of sincerity, passion, and
unqualified love.) So long as the brothers could still rationalize the
survival of the nation against the worth of the individual they would not
survive exile. The strength of the Jewish nation is that every one is
considered an entire world onto himself. No one can decide that another’s
blood is less red or valuable. Self-sacrifice can only be volunteered but
How important was Shimon? How important was Binyamin? How important was
Yakov’s pain? How important was Yoseph? Weren’t they all as valuable as
Dina’s?“ Should we have allowed Shechem treat sister Yoseph knew that his
brothers lived the principle that family was a non-negotiable they could
not be brought to Mitzrayim.
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Torah.org
The author is the Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley
Village, CA, and Assistant Principal of YULA.