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So at that point the brothers are sitting off and they're eating bread; Vayisu eineihem vayiru - and they pick up their eyes and that's when they see the Ishmaelite caravan coming from afar. These are long-range traders and they're bringing stuff; Lehorid Mitzrayma - to go take down to Egypt to trade. Now at that point Yehuda says to his brothers - he hatches this plan; Mah betza ki naharog et achinu vechisinu et damo - what do we really gain out of killing our brother in the pit, by leaving him in the pit to die? Why don't we just sell him to these Yishmaelim? Veyadeinu al tehi bo - and that way our hand won't be upon him; Ki achinu besareinu hu, - because he is, after all, our brother. Vayishme'u echov - and the brothers listened to him and they thought this was a good idea.
Okay, now here's where we get the shell game. I talked to you before about Three-card Monte, so watch carefully and make sure that you have your eye on the correct card. Okay? Look carefully at verse 28, actually read verse 28 and ask yourself who was it that sold Joseph? Vaya'avru anashim Midyanim socharim - and then Midianite traders came and what happens next? Vayimshechu vaya'alu et Yosef min habor - and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit. Now who is the they? Notice that Vayimshechu is a verb that's constructed so that this letter over here, the Yud, means they. But like any pronoun, the question is, who is the they?
Well who were we talking about right before the they? We were talking about Midianite traders. If you just read the verse carefully the Rashbam says, it doesn't seem like the brothers sold him at all. It seems like these guys sold him, these Midianite traders. Listen carefully to the verse. Vaya'avru anashim Midyanim socharim - Midianites traders came; Vayimshechu and THEY, the Midianite traders, lifted Joseph out; Vaya'alu - and THEY, the Midianite traders, lifted Joseph up out of the pit. Vayimkeru - and THEY, the Midianite traders, they sold him to the Ishmaelites.
In other words, the brothers saw the Ishmaelites from their vantage point, but what the brothers never saw was the Midianite short-term traders who were much, much closer. They didn't see them because they were blocked by the next hill.
Let me switch to a three-dimensional model here to try to dramatize what the Rashbam is really saying here. Okay, so let's orient ourselves with a bird's eye view over here. Here are some topography taken from Google Earth, this is the area more or less where Joseph was sold, off near Dotan in Midbar Yehuda. You'll be able to see the Dead Sea in the background in a minute. I've created four little spots here which are going to mark what we're going to be looking at. We've got Joseph's pit over here in red, we've got the place where the brothers are eating, with a knife and a fork to symbolize that, we've got our local Midianite traders over here in green, and we've got the approaching Ishmaelite caravan over there. Don't mind the horse, those are really supposed to be camels, but you got the idea. Now over here just looks like four little kind of random places over here; 1, 2, 3, 4, that we've got, but that's only because we're looking at a bird's eye view. If we actually zoom down and begin to look at the three-dimensional topography, you'll begin to see what it is the Rashbam is saying come alive. So let's do that.
So here we see the scene in three dimensions. Over here in the background you'll see the Dead Sea, and this is kind of the hilly area around the Dead Sea, and if you look over here, this red spot over here, here's our Joseph's pit. Now over the next ridge, right over here, is where the brothers are dining. So that's where they're eating bread and they have no way of seeing back over here what's going on in Joseph's pit. So here are the brothers and they're eating bread, and they pick up their eyes and they see, and they look out in the distance, and what do they see? Way out over here they see this approaching Ishmaelite caravan. Now these guys are going to Egypt, they're long-term traders, they've got their stuff, they've got their goods. Since these folks are so far away and they're going by camelback, the brothers who are eating their bread right over here, thinking they've got plenty of time until these guys way out over here in the Ishmaelite caravan finally get to them.
However, there's something the brothers don't see. The brothers don't see what's happening right over the next ridge. Here's Joseph's pit and right over here are these local Midianite traders that are completely out of the line of sight of Joseph's brothers and they're much closer. Now the Midianite traders actually have the same idea that the brothers have, they figure there's this guy struggling in a pit, they'll go pick him up and they've got themselves a slave, and it turns out that the Midianites pull him out of the pit and do what the brothers had themselves thought to do, and they preempt the brothers.
Meanwhile, the brothers right over here are unaware of what happened back at the pit and the fact that the Midianites have gotten to Joseph first. They think they've got days - these people are still three days off in the distance by the time they make it over here. So they're leisurely eating while meanwhile Joseph is actually being pulled out of the pit by the Midianites and the brothers have absolutely no idea that that's been happening.
So if you go back to the text here, we'll just see this inside in the text. Vaya'avru anashim Midyanim socharim - so here these short-term, much closer traders, that the brothers can't see, the Midianites, they're the ones who go; Vayimshechu vaya'alu - remember the Yud over here just means they, it's just a pronoun, it could be anybody. Seemingly, the Rashbam argues, the most likely antecedent to the pronoun is right over here, it's the Midianites. The Midianites are the ones who pull Joseph out of the pit, they're unseen by the brothers, that the brothers are eating this whole time; Vayimkeru - and meanwhile, right under the brothers' noses these Midianites they have sold Joseph to who? To the same Ishmaelites - they go and they travel out, they preempt the brothers, they eventually meet the Ishmaelites. Before the Ishmaelites themselves ever make it to the pit, Joseph has already been sold to them for 20 pieces of silver and the Ishmaelites bring Joseph down to Egypt.
Pretty neat theory, huh? It's a really fascinating, different kind of way of looking at the text, but really a very compelling way, I think, as well. But actually the Rashbam's theory is not over yet, there's one other crucial piece here which we have to come back and talk about and that is, getting back to our question, where was Reuven during all of this? Where was Reuven during all of this? That's the next crucial piece of the Rashbam's theory, so let's come back and take a look.
1. The First of Three Mysteries
2. Where is Reuven?
3. Three Card Monte
4. Keep Your Eye on the Midianites
5. Rashi and Ramban on 'Who Sold Joseph'
6. Where is Reuven - Redux
7. The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men
8. What Does God Think of All This?
9. Is Apathy the Ultimate Evil?
10. Seven Brothers
12. Still Responsible?
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