Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Sin After Sin (Israel Syndrome Pt. III)

(loosely continued from part II
includes refernces to part I)

Yossef sees his very own brothers before his eyes, after an absence of twenty-two years. Instead of jumping in their arms, he starts a seemingly cruel charade of confusion and obscurity. The most dazzling part in this familiar story, in my very humble opinion, is that the scriptures never actually tell us why Yossef had to harass his brothers at such lengths. If admission of the brothers’ guilt was the objective, it was right there after the first accusation was made. But it seems that Yossef wanted more than that.

Rashi points out that the one who found the money pouch in his pack is Levi, based on the word “the one”, referring to his being the single one remaining of a pair. It is not clear whether Rashi himself intended to hint to it, but it seems that this was no mistake; the posuk states: “ויפתח האחד את שקו לתת מספוא לחמרו במלון, וירא את כספו והוא בפי אמתחתו - And the one opened his sack to give fodder to his donkey in the inn, and he saw his money, and lo, it is in his pack’s mouth.” The verse gives a lot of seemingly unnecessary information, namely the location of the occurrence, the reason for opening the pack, and the location of the money in the pack. The last detail repeats itself when the other brothers open their own sacks at home: “והנה איש צרר כספו בשקו - …and each one’s money bag is inside his sack…” Presumably, each had to feed his donkey at one point or another on the road. Yet none found it in the mouth of his pack (אמתחת), rather inside their sacks, while emptying them. Did Yossef intentionally plan for Levi to find his moneybag on the road? Was it intended to signal them to come back to him while still not too far (not more than one donkey's "tankful" away)? And if yes, why?

In his initial encounter with the brothers, Yossef uses the word “Elokim”, in all probability not the most frequent expression in idolatrous Egypt. This sure should have lit a red light, especially after three days of captivity. Upon their second encounter Yossef acts even more weirdly – feasting with them, seating them according to their birth dates, giving them presents, and again mentioning “Elokim”. Even in Yehuda’s final argument, it seems that Yossef didn’t actually plan to ‘out’ himself at that point. Was he begging for them to recognize him? Or to admit and acknowledge something beyond their guilt in selling him?

After Yaakov’s passing, for no apparently valid reason, the brothers, suspect that Yossef still harbors ill-feelings against them, and come with a fabricated plea from their father for Yossef to forgive them. But Yossef never explicitly forgives them: he only states that he is not G-d’s representative, and that his transfer to Egypt was beyond their control.

By his peculiar antics and strange behavior, Yossef was probably trying to get his brothers to admit their initial mistake regarding their original dissent. It is possible that he tried hinting to them that their view of having status of Ovos like their forefathers was ultimately proven wrong. By singling Shimon and Levi out, he may have been trying to hint to them that just as they had judged the citizens of Shchem for their distorted ideology of agreeing to injustice (i.e. accepting Hamor’s behavior and reasoning), - so too they should renounce their own mistaken belief.

It seems that both the brothers and Yossef stuck to their initial beliefs until their deaths, and there was no definite solution to their machlokes. Yossef’s dream of a definitively united and bound nation never materialized, and he possibly held his brothers culpable for it, as it depended mostly on them.


Note another parallel, or at least similarity, between Yaakov and Yitzchok: both blind before their passings, and in somewhat similar ways, exchange the firstborns with their juniors.

In the baker’s dream the birds freely peck at Pharaoh’s pastries, without being chased away. At the bris bein hab’sorim, Avrohom chases the buzzard (or whichever bird of prey it was) away. According to Rashi the bird symbolizes David who tries to defeat Israel’s enemies, but is prevented by Heaven from doing so. In the baker’s dream, the verse uses the word “ והעוף - the bird”; the simple meaning is just a general reference to birds, an oft-occurring expression, (although anywhere else this expression is used without a ‘heh’/”the”) yet can be interpreted as the specific bird. In our case, probably a heavenly intervention to keep Yossef from realizing his dreams the way he saw them.


© Joseph Izrael 2007

No comments: