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Goats and Coats
Video 14 of 14
So the question is what does it all mean? So I have a theory and I want to share it with you and I kind of think that the simplest explanation here is what kind of story is the expulsion of Yishmael? What was happening over here? You get a hint of it right over here - if we go back to this Rashi that we talked about before, this issue of how many coats was Yosef stripped of? Remember that seemingly strange comment of Rashi on this point over here the repetition in the verse; Vayafshitu et Yosef et kutanto - on the one hand they stripped Joseph of his coat and then it says after that; Et ketonet hapasim asher alav - they stripped him of his special coat that he had. We have this idea mentioned twice, first they stripped him of his coat and then they stripped him of his special coat. Rashi makes the point, which we talked about before, that there were two coats that Yosef was stripped of.
We said why is Rashi bothered with these trivialities? We suggested it wasn't really trivialities, that Rashi kind of with a wink and a nod - or the Medrash over here, Bereishit Rabah, with a wink and a nod, is alluding to something. It's alluding, as we argued, to the double portion. Et Kutanto: Zeh chaluk - all of the brothers had a coat, but; Et ketonet hapasim asher alav - when it says a second time he was stripped of his special coat; Hu she'hosif lo aviv - this was his special coat that he had added upon the other coats that; Yoter al echov - that the other brothers had. So all the brothers had one coat, Joseph had two coats, we said, what does that remind us of? It reminds us, as we argued, of the double portion. Of course the double portion is the double portion of the Bechor - the firstborn child. What Rashi is suggesting is that Yaakov is treating Yosef as a Bechor in giving him this coat.
But if we go back to this point we'll find, I believe, that that's not the only thing Rashi is suggesting. Rashi is suggesting something else too. Not just that Yaakov in giving Yosef the special coat was a Bechor, but now, go to this question, again, how many coats was Yosef stripped of? He was stripped of two coats, this coat and that coat. Well what does that suggest that the brothers were doing? In other words, symbolically if you suggest that the special coat is the coat which intimates that Yosef is the Bechor, so now let me ask you, what's the not special coat, what's the regular coat? The regular coat is the coat that all brothers had. The regular coat is something that you have if you're just a brother. Well, how many coats was Yosef stripped of? Yosef was stripped of two coats. That means not only did the brothers take him of this coat, they also took off this, coat, they took off both coats.
We might argue that the symbolic significance of the brothers taking off not just the coat of the Bechor but every coat - the coat that all the brothers had - is what they were really saying to him is not only are you not the Bechor, you're not even a brother. What they're doing is they're actually expelling Yosef from the family. The expulsion of Yishmael. From their perspective this story is an expulsion story. That's really what the story of the expulsion of Yishmael is about, it's about a child no longer being seen as the heir of the father. Ishmael is no longer the heir of Abraham; he's the biological child but he's no longer part of the family in some larger social sense, and from the brothers' perspective perhaps, that's exactly what they're doing. They're taking both coats. They're saying, not only are you not the Bechor, you're not even part of the family from our perspective.
You can see it also from another interesting comment that Rashi says, really a very poignant comment that also comes from the Medrash. Remember that part where Yosef on his way down to Shechem so he meets that guy, that fellow, that mystery man, and that mystery man ends up - in the words of the Sages - being an angel. That's this fellow over here. So let's just read this again. Vayimtza'eihu ish - so a man finds him; V'hinei to'eh basadeh - he's wandering in the field; Vayishaleihu ha'ish - so the man asks him; Mah tevakesh - what is it that you're seeking? What seekest thou - if we take the 1917 archaic translation from JPS. So Yosef says; Vayomer et achai onochi mevakesh - I'm seeking my brothers; Hagidah nah li eifo heim ro'im - where are they shepherding? If we see it in this kind of light, this is actually a kind of - a specially poignant thing. You know, I'm looking for my brothers. I'm looking for my brothers. Of course this is the theme, brothers. Are they his brothers?
Now listen to what the man says - this man/angel according to the Sages. Vayomer ha'ish - so the man says; Nasu mizeh - they're not here anymore; Shamati omrim nelchah Dotana - I heard them saying let's go to Dotan. Now there's something grammatically a little bit strange about this. What's strange about it is this word over here; Mizeh. You see if you want to say they already left here, the word in Hebrew for here is Poh. So if it said they left here already, if that's what they were going to say, it should have said; Nasu mipoh. It doesn't say that, it says; Nasu mizeh. Mizeh literally means from this. But you wouldn't say that about a place, they left from this, you would say they left from here, [you wouldn't say 5:51] they left from this. Notice by the way that even the usually good 1917 JPS translation fudges it over here; And the man said they are departed hence - they have departed hence. Hence is kind of like a fudge, I don't even know what that means in this context. But hence really means sort of from here, doesn't mean from this, it would have been very, very awkward to say that they left from this. So this is the grammatical issue over here.
Now the Sages pick up on that and make a Medrashic comment and suggest that there's sort of a double meaning to Mizeh. In the simple words it means what it has implied over here, which is it's as if he said Mipoh, which is just that the man said, well they left here already. But in another sense it means they left this - i.e. in other words they left a certain state of being. They left this. What did they leave? Well what did Yosef ask? Well if you go back to the angel's question, the angel said, what is it that you're seeking? Yosef had said I'm seeing my brothers. The man says they left that already, i.e. they are no longer your brothers.
This in fact is exactly how the Medrash understand this. Medrash again is the most ancient form of [unclear 7:06] commentary, Rashi here quotes it. Nasu mizeh - they left from here. What do you mean they left from this? Heisi'u atzman min ha'achva - they travelled away from brotherhood, they are no longer your brothers, you are seeking your brothers, they left that already.
So in other words, it's almost as if the angel Gabriel as on the one hand he's sending him off into this fearsome Akeidah test, into what's going to be this disastrous situation, he's going to get put into the pit. On the other hand in the sort of double entendre meaning is, that there's a warning, there's a veiled warning that he's giving him, which is you're looking for your brothers, they've left that behind already, they don't see themselves that way. They don't see themselves as your brothers.
Interestingly by the way, I'm just going to quote the Ramban. I just have it here in Hebrew, in Rashi script, so I'm just going to read it through with you. The Ramban notes that Rashi afterwards says; V'ein mikrah yotzeh midei peshuto - that the Rabbis in the Medrash said that it means that they left this and that means they left behind brotherhood. But the simple meaning, the simple meaning of the Pshat is that they left here already. The Ramban says but you have to really understand carefully what's happening with Medrash - and this goes back to a point which I actually made in another course about ways to understand Medrash. That Medrash should not be confused with the Pshat - the simple meaning, of the text, Medrash is offering sort of an almost sub-conscious of the text. Meaning the same way that your total consciousness is a merger of your conscious and subconscious minds, it's almost as if the real meaning of text is this sort of simple meaning but the Sages are occasionally pointing you to things that are happening deeper, just underneath the surface of the text. That's how the Ramban kind of understands this. You have to understand this Medrashic comment as alluding to a secondary meaning in the verse.
Listen just - I'm just going to read through the Ramban with you, it's kind of fascinating how he puts it. Ein hakavonah l'raboteinu - you shouldn't understand that when the Sages say that the man was saying they left from this that they left from brotherhood. Sheyifaresh lo ha'ish - that means that the man actually said; Nasu mizeh min ha'achva - that they have left brotherhood behind. They're not explaining the Pshat. They're not explaining the simple meaning of the text. The simple meaning is that they left from here. He said they left from this. She'im kein - because if that had been the simple meaning of the text, if he really said that - in other words, what did he really say? He didn't say they left brotherhood behind, he said they left this behind and that in the simple meaning sort of just means they left this area behind. Because if - the Ramban continues - the man had actually gone and said they left brotherhood behind; Hayah nimnah lalechet - well of course Joseph wouldn't have gone. V'loh hayah mesaken b'atzmoh - he wasn't going to willingly put himself in the lion's den.
Aval hakavonah - what it means, what the Sages are saying, is; Ki ha'ish Gavriel - that this man who they say is an angel; Asher higgid lo - that told him they left here - that even though he was sort of pointing him towards the situation which was a doom-like situation; Higgid emet - he actually told the truth; V'amar lashon meshamesh l'shenei panim - he actually said something which had a double entendre. This of course is what much of Medrash is about, the sort of double entendre, the second meaning. There was a secondary meaning in his words. He said something which could be understood in more than one way. U'sheneihem emet - and both are true. On the one hand they're in Dotan, the plain meaning of the text, on the other hand they've left behind - there's a way, there's an implication in they've left this behind, the non-grammatical nature of it suggests this other, secondary meaning, a sort of sub-conscious meaning, they've left behind brotherhood. He was alluding to that even as he was giving Joseph directions and he was saying they went that a way.
The bottom line then as we put this together, we've seen two sets of parallels working at the same time. We've seen these Akeidah parallels - the Binding of Isaac - and we've seen these expulsion of Ishmael parallels. What's the meaning of both them? I want to argue that it's really a matter of perspective. From Yaakov's perspective what is this story? This story is an Akeidah story, I'm testing my Bechor. This is my firstborn is he a worthy firstborn? Is he responsible for these problems? Can he solve these problems? Can he really carry on my legacy? This is an Akeidah story. It's a story of a test. Much like the heavenly father, G-d, tests Avraham, can he carry My legacy forward in the world, so too Jacob the earthly father is testing Joseph, can you carry my legacy forward? But that is the meaning of the story from Yaakov's perspective.
What is the meaning of the story from the brothers' perspective? From their perspective the whole story of Chapter 37 is an expulsion story. If Yaakov is viewing Yosef as his Bechor, the brothers are saying, you're not even our brother; Heisi'u atzman min ha'achva - they've left - in the words of Medrash - brotherhood behind, they're expelling Yosef from the family. Not only is he not a firstborn in their views, they're treating him as if he's not a brother at all.
When we come back in our next video, I want to explore with you something which I've been alluding to a little bit, the Rashbam's view of the story of the sale of Yosef. The Rashbam is a Medieval Commentator, actually the grandson of Rashi himself. The Rashbam has a fascinating way of understanding the whole entire story of the sale of Joseph, which jives with these two perspectives in a very, very fascinating way. I think gives a new understanding to what it means to say that this is an Akeidah story on the one hand and an expulsion of Ishmael story on the other. When we come back I want to introduce the Rashbam to you, and the puzzle which he's seeking to solve. I'll see you in our next video.
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