by Guest Contributer: Asher Breatross
The Development of a Visionary:
The Relationship between Yosef,
His Father, and His Brothers.
The beginning of Parshas Vayeshev contains a number of enigmatic issues that merit further investigation. Particularly, we see Yosef emerging as the visionary, in part because of his relationship with his father. The nature of his dreams also merits further investigation and analysis.
The Pasuk notes that Yisrael loved Yosef of all of his sons because he was his “Ben Zekunim”. Rashi explains that this means that Yosef was born in Ya’acov’s old age. He quotes Onkelos that everything that Ya’acov learnt in the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever he taught to Yosef. A further explanation given by Rashi for this term is that Ya’acov and Yosef looked the same.
The Siftei Chachamim, in explaining Rashi, wonders why Yosef was called “Ben Zekunim”. It was really Binyamin who should have been called this since he was born afterwards. He answers that most of Ya’acov’s sons were very close in age to each other, as they were born in a six-year period. The only exception was Binyamin who was born a long time afterwards. Since everyone thought that Ya’acov would have no more children after Yosef, that is why he was called the “Ben Zekunim”. Once Binyamin was born Yosef was still called the “Ben Zekunim” since people were used to referring to him in that manner.
The Ramban disagrees with Rashi’s explanation for all of Ya’acov’s sons were born in his old age. Also, Zevulun and Yissachar were only one or two years older that Yosef. Rather, the practice of elders was to select one of their sons to serve them and to attend to them. The father would be dependent on this child and they would be inseparable. This son would be called the “Ben Zekunim” since he served the father in his old age. This is why Yosef was not involved in shepherding. This is also why he had this unique relationship with his father and was taught everything that Ya’acov learnt by Shem and Ever, since they were together so much.
The Kli Yakar notes that “Ben Zekunim” is a description of Yosef’s behaviour with respect to Ya’acov. Although Yosef acted a certain way with his brothers, the Bnai Bilha, he acted differently when he was with his father and conducted himself in a manner that was appropriate when in the presence of an older person. This attested to Yosef’s wisdom and adaptability. Ya’acov did not know how Yosef acted with his brothers. The reason that Ya’acov transmitted what he learnt in the Yeshiva only to Yosef was that the other brothers were not interested, as opposed to Yosef who was very interested in these teachings. [This could also explain why Yosef was chosen for this role, besides being the eldest son of the favourite wife – AB.] The Kli Yakar also explains that Ya’acov and Yosef’s countenances were the same for since Yosef was interested in his father’steachings we say that Chochmas Adam Ta’ir Panav. (Namely, the wisdom a person has lightens his face, namely it affects his physical appearance. For a contemporary example of this concept see Akiva Tatz, “Anatomy of a Search” (Artscroll-Mesorah -1987) at pages 37-38).)
Related to the Torah that Ya’acov transmitted to Yosef, of which Yosef was the sole recipient, this could explain why Yosef is referred to as the Toldos of Ya’acov. In fact we find that when the Torah mentions the Toldos of Moshe and Aharon, only the Toldos of Aharon are mentioned. The reason is that since Moshe taught Aharon’s children, it was as if they were his children. Similarly, since Yosef was the recipient of Ya’acov’s Torah, it was if he was the descendent par excellence of Ya’acov.
The Ba’al Haturim observes that “Zekunim” stands for Zeraim (from the Zayin), Kodashim (from the Kuf), Nashim (from the Nun), Yeshuos (or Nezikin, from the Yud) and Moed (from the Mem). This is obviously what Ya’acov transmitted to Yosef. The Imrei Aharon (cited in the Itturei Torah) says that Taharos is not mentioned because Tahara (purity) does not only require learning but it requires practical exposure.
We know from the Parsha that as a sign of his esteem Ya’acov presented Yosef with a special garment, the Ketones Pasim. The Kli Yakar explains that after Reuvain disturbed his father’s bed the Bechora was taken away from him and it was given to Yosef. [This makes the fact that Reuvain tried to save Yosef from his brothers all the more remarkable. It could be that this was part of the Teshuva process that Reuvain was doing for this sin – AB.] To indicate this status Ya’acov made the Ketones for Yosef. The Avoda was done by a first born who served as a Kohain. Therefore, the Ketones was a type of priestly garment. This interpretation of the Ketones could also provide another interpretation for “Ben Zekunim”. Since Yosef received the Bechora it as if he was the eldest of all of the sons. That is why, when the brothers were responding to Yosef’s first dream they used a double form of expression in 36:8. A Bechor received a double portion and could exercise the perogatives of monarchy. The brothers were saying: You in fact are not the Bechor [at least their Bechor since they had different mothers – AB] so do not try to exercise the rights of one.
One explanation of the hatred that the brothers felt for Yosef was that if Ya’acov gave the same treatment to Binyamin they would rationalize it that it was because of their mother. However, since only Yosef was treated in this manner they thought that Ya’acov favoured him because he was bad-mouthing his brothers and at the same time showing his superiority.
Related to this the Abarbanel provides an explanation that ties in with the Torah that Yosef learnt from his father. The brothers were not on Yosef’s level, as indicated by the fact that only he had the desire to be taught his father’s Torah. It was because that Yosef displayed this intense interest that Ya’acov preferred him. Rather, they thought that Yosef was saying bad things about them and made them look bad. It was likely that they hated him because Ya’acov used to admonish his sons for their behaviour, without mentioning his source of information. The brothers surmised that Yosef, who was somewhat of an outsider, was providing the information to their father. The brothers also hated him for, since he was the firstborn of the favoured wife, he would receive more preferential treatment and they would be relegated to secondary status.
The Abarbanel gives another explanation of the hatred. The brothers saw, regarding the children of Avraham and Yitzchak, that one son was favoured over the other and was designated as the heir, with all the accompanying privileges. The other son had secondary status and was eventually sent away. Due to the treatment that was accorded to Yosef, they feared that they would be accorded the same treatment given to Yishmael, the B’nai Ketura and Esav. When Yosef told his brothers his dreams it reinforced these fears since the subject matter of the dreams dealt with Yosef’s superiority over them.
In connection with the first dream everyone was harvesting grain. It seems strange that Yosef would dream about this type of activity when his brothers were shepherds and not farmers. Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik explains that this subject matter was the nature of the conflict between Yosef and his brothers. Yosef raised the possibility that there would be great upheavals in their lives that would change their economic activities and would cause them to change their occupations. The family of Ya’acov knew what Avraham had been told at the Bris Bein Hebesarim (in Parshas Lech Lecha), that they would be strangers in a land that was not theirs. Yosef felt that preparations had to be made for this new period, of which no one could foresee its dangers. His brothers did not think so. They felt they could always be shepherds and therefore they ridiculed his vision.
The Me’am Loez sees the first dream as an allusion to the brothers’ visits to Egypt. He notes that the Pasuk in 37:6-7 says “Veheenay” three times. This corresponds to the three times that the brothers were in Egypt in connection with the grain that Yosef was dreaming about (and for which they were bowing down to him).
In dealing with the second dream Rav Meshulam Igra notes that it also refers to the moon, which is an allusion to Rachel Imeinu. From here Rashi learns that there is no dream that does not have useless items in it. Two questions can be raised:
- Just because Yosef’s dream had useless items in it, why does it have to mean that this applies to all dreams?
- Why did Yosef have to mention the moon and thereby cause his father to question the validity of his dream?
The answer is that Yosef told the dream as he saw it for he knew that there was no dream that did not have useless items in it. If he left out the reference to the moon his brothers would have looked for othere useless items in the dream. Therefore he told it all and because he left nothing out that is why Chazal say their rule that there is no dream that does not have useless items in it.
Considering the relationship between both dreams the Bais Halevi notes that the first dream showed Yosef’s superiority in monetary matters while the second dream dealt with his superiority in spiritual matters, since it was the heavenly bodies that were bowing to him. In the first dream it was only his bundle of wheat that was being bowed down to while in the second dream he was the object of respect. The difference is that it shows that wealth is not a characteristic that is intrinsic in a person but wisdom is. Another difference has to do with the brothers’ reaction. In the first dream there was no jealousy because individuals as righteous as the brothers would not envy wealth or material success in this world. They just hated Yosef when he said he would rule over them. In the second dream there was no hate but there was jealousy due to Yosef’s attainment of his spiritual level.
The Abarbanel explains the two dreams as follows. As mentioned above the dreams showed Yosef’s superiority over his brothers. However, this is presented in two different dimensions. The first dream dealt with the relationship between Yosef and his brothers in Egypt before he revealed himself. The second dream dealt with the situation after the brothers discovered that Yosef was the second in command in Egypt.
Thus, in the first dream Yosef’s greatness did not stem from being elevated to that status by his brothers. Rather, he himself rose to power. This is why his bundle of wheat rose up unassisted. The nature of the worship in the first dream was that the brother’s bundles did not bow to Yosef but rather to his bundle. This alluded to the fact that they did not know who they were bowing to. The significance of Yosef and his brothers being represented by a bundle of wheat was that the reason they bowed to Yosef was that these trips were made for the sake of wheat.
In the second dream, Yosef was bowed down to directly because the brothers knew of his position and accorded him the appropriate respect.
As we saw above, Yosef was a very smart person. He knew his brothers detested him. Nevertheless, despite this relationship, Yosef told his brothers his dreams for even though they hated him the feeling was not mutual. The Abarbanel says that people who are in a close relationship tell each other their dreams for the recipient to interpret them. It is a a form of trust for one is revealing his subconscious, his innermost and most intimate thoughts. Yosef loved his brothers and craved their acceptance. This is why he opened up to them, because he wanted them to feel for them the way he felt above them. This is also why Yosef told his father about his brothers for due to the Torah that was imparted to him it motivated him to see himself as having an obligation to better them. Unfortunately, in his desire to achieve these aims, it blinded him from the implications of revealing these dreams, which had an enormous impact on the future development of Klal Yisrael.
Good Shabbos! This Dvar Torah is in memory of my Bobie, Leah Flatt (Leah Bas Reb Meir Dov Hakein ZL) whose Yarhzeit is 22 Kislev. A native of Vilkomir, Lithuania, she grew up surrounded by a close and loving family. Although she was able to emigrate to Canada before the Holocaust she was severely traumatized by the loss of her family in the Shoah. Nevertheless, the manner in which she conducted herself in her daily life served as a source of strength and as an inspiration to her children and grandchildren until the very end of her life.