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What's In a Name?
Video 3 of 8
So let's leave aside this wordplay involving Yosef's names for a moment, we're going to come back to that, but we're not going to deal with this now. For now, let's focus instead on the meaning of this possible wordplay, the playoff of Reuven's name with Ra'avon and Reuven, what could be going on over there? Or to be a little bit more precise about it, what might be the connection between these two events over here? Yosef's speech that if you were spies I'm going to imprison one of you to come back and bring back this hunger relief for your family - between that and then what Reuven says over here when it says; Vaya'an Reuven - and Reuven replied.
Let's clean up the screen for a minute. In order to see this, let's come back to verse 22 over here and ask what is it that Reuven said? So here's what happens. The brothers have now heard over here in verse 21, they've heard Yosef's pronouncement that one of them is going to be jailed until the others come back with this missing brother that they're supposed to bring to Yosef. So at that point; Vayomru ish el achiv - and I'm just reviewing this quickly because we talked about this a little bit before. One man says to the other among the brothers; Aval asheimim anachnu - we are guilty; Al achinu asher ra'inu tzarat nafsho behitchaneno eleinu v'loh shamanu - we're guilty because we saw the pain that was afflicting Yosef's soul as he was crying out to the ground. Behitchaneno eleinu - as he was pleading to us; V'loh shamanu and we didn't listen. Al kein ba'ah eleinu hatzara hazos - and that's why this terrible thing is happening to us.
At that point one of the brothers then speaks up, and it's Reuven. Vaya'an Reuven otam leimor - and Reuven then says; Haloh amarti aleichem - didn't I tell you back then when he was in the pit; Leimor al techetu bayeled - I told you not to sin against the child; V'loh shamatem - and you didn't listen. V'gam damo hinei nidrash - and now his voice is calling out to be avenged.
Meanwhile; Hem lo yadu ki shomei'ah Yosef ki hameilitz benotam - they didn't realize that Yosef was listening because there was an interpreter between them. In other words, they weren't aware that Yosef directly understood Hebrew, they thought he was only understanding through the interpreter. So they thought they could be confident in speaking in Hebrew without Yosef, this Egyptian, understanding. But of course Yosef did understand. Vayisov mei'aleihem vayevk - Yosef understanding what's happening, hearing the brothers refer to this event and their perception of their guilt in putting him in the pit. So he cries; Vayashav aleihem - and returns to them; Vayedaber aleihem vayikach mei'itam et Shimon - and then he takes Shimon; Vaye'esor oto l'eineihem - and then he imprisons him before their eyes.
So here's the beginning of a theory that I want to suggest to you. You know when Yosef over here; Vaye'esof - when Yosef comes and he is gathering them all and putting them into prison, what's really happening? Well there was a time that all of these brothers gathered together to put him in a pit, right? Now Yosef is gathering all these brothers together to put them in jail, as it were, it's almost like a tit for tat. They all came together to jail the one, as it were, and now Yosef is putting them all together and essentially putting them into a pit. Putting them into jail. But then Yosef says, you know what, I'm not going to do that, I'm not going to put you all in jail, even though seemingly by rights I could, because I'm arguing that you're all spies. Et haElokim ani yarei - I fear G-d and therefore I'm going to be nice to you, I'm only going to pick one of you.
Now the question is, who is he going to pick? Perhaps the answer is at this point the text is suggesting to us - the answer just might be Reuven. Who is Reuven? If you're Yosef and you're only going to pick one, who should you pick? Well if you're putting them all into a pit because really they put you into a pit, and now you're only going to put one in this pit, you're only going to put one in jail, who should you pick? You should pick the one who is most responsible. Well there was a whole bunch of brothers, who is most responsible? Maybe the answer is Reuven? This brother is going to be most responsible, you're going to put him in the pit. Remember at this point in verse 19, Yosef has not yet picked the person, he's just picked one nameless person and perhaps he's thinking it's going to be Reuven. Reuven is the oldest, he's the Bechor, perhaps he's leading the charge.
Ironically by the way, the brothers themselves see this truth. The brothers themselves see that the reason why - or suggest that the reason why they're being put into a pit right now is because they put their brother into a pit. Little do they know how right they really are. They think that this is just coming to them from the hand of heaven, and perhaps it is sort of coming to them from the hand of heaven. What they don't realize is that it's directly coming to them tit for tat, from the very brother that they put in the pit. So the brothers thinking to themselves it's some sort of vague manifestation of Divine retribution, this is happening because G-d is getting back at us for what we did in leaving our brother in the pit. Little do they realize that the same brother who they put in the pit is now putting them in the pit. It's not just G-d indirectly making this happen to them, it's the very victim who they acted upon, is making this happen to them.
So in any case if you're Yosef, perhaps you're thinking I'll imprison Reuven. But he doesn't end up imprisoning Reuven, why? Because Reuven speaks up. In other words, it's almost like the text might be suggesting to us that in verse 19 Yosef is thinking, I'll go get Reuven; Shever ra'avon bateichem - he's thinking as he's going to imprison the one; Achichem echad ye'asser [b'beit mishmarchem 5:51]. But then by verse 22; Vaya'an Reuven - and remember Yosef is listening, they don't realize that Yosef is listening but Yosef can understand all of this. Therefore when does he find out what was the real scoop in the sale of Yosef? When does he find out that Reuven was in fact on his side the whole time? He finds that out here.
In other words, Reuven, he might have thought would be the one to lead the charge, he was the one most offended by Yosef being treated [as 6:17] the Bechor, he was the one who stood to lose the most because it was his position as firstborn that was being usurped by Yosef. Little does Yosef know that it was Reuven who was leading the charge to actually save Yosef. When does Yosef find that out? Yosef finds that out right over here, when Reuven speaks up among all the brothers. At this point all the brothers are just speaking among themselves, but then Reuven says; Haloh amarti aleichem al techetu bayeled - wasn't I the one telling you; Al techetu bayeled - not to do this? Ah. Well when Yosef hears that; Heim lo yadu ki shomei'ah Yosef - they didn't realize that Yosef was listening. So at that point; Vayikach mei'itam et Shimon - at that point it's not going to be Reuven anymore, it's the next oldest brother that Yosef holds responsible. The next oldest brother is Shimon.
That, I want to argue, is level one. A kind of level one understanding of this text. But I think there are at least two other layers in what's actually going on here, and in order to be able to discern those layers we have to come back to the wordplay. We've only seen the very beginning of the wordplay. Go back, read this text again, and besides these connections, what other wordplay is taking place in these eight verses? I'll see you in our next video and let's talk about it.
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