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Well, in order to know, you would have to have some other compelling evidence that the story here being told in the Deuteronomy, the legal story really is patterned after genesis. Does that evidence exist?
I would like to suggest to you that it does exist and it comes in the form of three awkward phrases that seem to be out of place in the Deuteronomy narrative.
So, ki tiheyeva le’ish shtei nashim, so there is this man, he has two wives, haachat ahuvah v’haachat snuah, a wife that he loves and a wife that he doesn’t love as much, we have already remarked that snuah seems to suggest Leah. V’yaldu-lo vanim haahuvah v’hasnuah, and these two women, they both have children and it turns out that, v’hayah haben habechor lasniah, the oldest child is born to the wife that the man does not love as much. V’hayah beyom hanchilo et banav et asher yihyeh lo, it shall be on the day that he apportions his inheritance to the sons and he has to figure out who his first born is. Lo yuchal levacher et-ben-haahuvah al pnei ben-hasnuah habechor, he cannot illegitimately promote the child of the loved wife to the position of bechor if in fact he is younger. Ki et-habechor ben-hasnuah yakir, he must recognize that the child of the snuah, of the less loved wife, as the bechor if he in fact is born first. latet lo pi shnayim to give him a double portion, bechol asher-yimatze lo, in everything that is found to him, ki hu reshit ono because to him is the first of his strength. Lo mishpat habechorah, to him is the right of the first born.
Now, I kind of smoothed out in my reading some of the problems but the first problem is the word yakir. When it talks about the father’s obligation to give the double portion to the child of the less loved wife, there is a certain awkward repetition in that phraseology. What it actually says is the first born child of the less loved wife, he must recognize to give him double portion but that is sort of repetitive, you could have just dropped the whole recognize thing. If you wanted to just save words, you could say the less loved child yiten lo pi shnayim you have to give him a double portion. What do you mean you have to recognize him to give him a double portion and plus, bechol asher-yimatze lo, in all that’s found to the father, what’s that supposed to mean? In all that the father has, he has given the double portion of his estate, why talk about this estate is all that has found to the father?
And finally, ki hu reshit ono, because this child, the first born is the first of his strength, I mean that’s very poetic phraseology, that first of his strength. The whole section here is legal pros, what’s the poetry dropping in for and plus, it is superfluous, you just leave it out, you could just say, yeah you have to give him the double portion because lo mishpat habechorah. It turns out that it is not just the snuah piece that brings us back to the story of Yaakov, it’s all of these awkward phrases and once you see that, it turns out that everything that’s happening here in Deuteronomy is actually a commentary on what happened back in Genesis and Genesis is going to help us understand what these laws are doing here.
Let’s start with the end, ki hu reshit ono, Deuteronomy tells us, key is the first of the man’s strength. That poetic phrase was the exact same poetic phrase that Yaakov himself used to describe, guess who – Reuben, his actual child of the snuah. Yes, that’s right, in Parshat Vayechi when Yaakov gives blessings to all of his children, the first words of the blessing that he gives to Reuben is kochi, ‘you are my power’, v’reshit oni, ‘the very first of my strength’ and it’s not just the poetry, let’s go to the middle phrases that we were concerned about. Yakir and yimatze lo, why use those awkward phrases? Replay those words over and over in your mind and ask yourself, what do they remind you of in Yaakov’s life? Yakir, ‘recognize’. Yimatze lo, ‘found to him’. That very combination of words shows up in the most chilling moment in Yaakov’s life. The moment he realizes his beloved child, the child of his beloved wife, the child that he might have hoped to be his first born, Joseph, is gone forever.
When the brothers sell Joseph after throwing him in a pit, they slaughter a goat and put the blood on Joseph’s coat and bring the coat to father and what do they say, zot matzanu, ‘this we found’, haker-na, ‘recognize please’. It is the same words, why is the Torah doing this, is it just being cute with us? Not being cute with us, it is explaining things to us. You want to really understand what the brothers were saying to their father when they presented him with the bloody coat? Deuteronomy is going to teach you what they were saying. Go back to those awkward words in Deuteronomy, yakir and yimatze lo. What did those words signify, in the legal text, what do they mean?
Well, yakir means that the father has to recognize who his true bechor is. Yimatze lo, found to him, were the words that described the fathers estate. Now, take the connotations of those words from Deuteronomy and now plug them back into genesis and you will understand what the brothers were actually telling their father. Zot matzanu, they were saying, ‘Dad, this is your estate’, haker-na, they weren’t just saying do you recognize whether this is Joseph’s coat. They were saying do you recognize whether this ought to be Joseph’s coat? What are the words being in Deuteronomy? The father must recognize the right of the child that was not loved as much. Haketonet binecha, does it belong to Joseph? Or maybe, it doesn’t really belong to him. What was this coat after all? It was the coat of the first born. Whose was the extra coat – listen to the name, Joseph. The name Joseph means added upon, isn’t it a strange name enlighten of these laws? What happens to a first born, he gets an added portion. What did the father, in this case, Yaakov, what did he add for this child who means added upon? He added this coat and you see it by the way, when the brothers strip him of it. When the brothers strip him off his coat, strangely the Torah mentions the coat twice. V’yafshitu et ketanto et-ketonet hapasim asher alav, they strips him off his coat, off his special coat that was upon him, Rashi asks the obvious question, why mention it twice? You know what Rashi’s answer was? Guess what, there were two coats, one coat all the brothers had, everybody had a coat but the other, hosifa lo aviv al shar echav, one was added upon all the other brothers. It’s the double portion, that coat meant, he is my bechor, which is my bechor, the first born child of the loved wife. For ever more the Torah is telling you, look at the pain and suffering that that choice caused. Look what the brothers said to their father without really being able to say it to him. At face value, all Yaakov heard was a forensic question, who does the coat belong to but the brothers longed to say so much more, it was hidden in their words, they couldn’t bear to confront their father directly and the reader just wonders, and what if they had? What if they been able to, how much pain would have been saved if they only could have told their father instead of selling their brother?
In the end, Deuteronomy gives us an insight into the brothers thinking that we would otherwise not have access to and Deuteronomy patterns its law in such a way to make sure that that pain won’t happen again. That brothers in the future will not have to cry out to their father and then another sale of Joseph with its dramatic, painful ramifications for all of Jewish history, will not take place again.
1. Noach: Why Did God Destroy the World?
2. Lech Lecha: Covenant With God
3. Vayeira: Abraham's Struggle With Loyalty
4. Chayei Sarah: What Makes For A Successful Life?
5. Toldot: A Conversation For the Ages
6. Vayeitzei: Consequences of Jacob's Deceit
7. Vayishlach: Becoming a Person of Integrity
8. Vayeishev: Who Really Sold Joseph?
9. Miketz: Why Didn't Joseph Write Home?
10. Vayigash: The Epic Confrontation Between Judah and Joseph
11. Vayechi: Who is Joseph's Real Father?
12. Shmot: If Midrash is Real, Why Isn't It Peshat?
13. Va'era: Did God Take Away Pharaoh's Free Will?
14. Bo: Did God Really Need Ten Plagues?
15. Beshalach: What Does It Mean to Have Faith?
16. Yitro: The Marriage of God and Israel
17. Mishpatim: Female Servitude...Wait, What?
18. Terumah: Is There a Face Hiding in the Tabernacle?
19. Tetzaveh: Where Is God In a Physical World?
20. Ki Tisa: Moshe's Benevolent Chutzpah
21. Ki Tisa: Epilogue
22. Vayakhel-Pekudei: God In Space, God In Time
23. Vayikra: Can Leaders Make Mistakes?
24. Tzav: What Does It Mean To Survive?
25. Shemini: Why Did God Reject Nadav and Avihu?
26. Tazria: The Bizarre Purification of the Metzora
27. Metzora: Living Within the Community
28. Kedoshim: How Can I Achieve True Love?
29. Emor: What Sabbath Is All About
30. Behar: Why Does Land Have To Rest?
31. Bechukotai: Why Would God Curse His People?
32. Bamidbar: Who Cares About Genealogy?
33. Shelach: Is Hope Irrational?
34. Korach: Can We Influence God?
35. Chukat: Was Hitting the Rock So Horrible?
36. Balak: Balaam, Prophet For Hire?
37. Pinchas: What Does It Mean To Be Zealous For God?
38. Matot: Why Is The End of Bamidbar So Anticlimactic?
39. Masei: Why Is The End of Bamidbar So Anticlimactic? II
40. Devarim: What Does It Mean To Have Faith?
41. Va'etchanan: Seeing Layers in the Ten Commandments
42. Eikev: What Does It Mean To Be A Good Person?- Part 1/2
43. Eikev: What Does It Mean To Be A Good Person?- Part 2/2
44. Re'eh: The Strange Laws Of Jewish Slavery
45. Shoftim: The Line Between Murder And Apathy
46. Shoftim: Epilogue 1
47. Shoftim: Epilogue 2
48. Ki Teitzei: The Hated Wife- Part 1/2
49. Ki Teitzei: The Hated Wife- Part 2/2
50. Ki Tavo: The Soliloquy Of The Farmer- Part 1/2
51. Ki Tavo: The Soliloquy Of The Farmer- Part 2/2
52. Nitzavim-Vayeilech: Where's the Happy Ending? - Part 1/3
53. Ha'azinu: A Unique Nation - Part 2/3
54. V'Zot Habracha: Looking Towards the Future - Part 3/3
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