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So basically all three of these Medieval Commentators are struggling with the question of who was it, and exactly how is it that the sale of Joseph has taken place? There's basically three data points that they have to deal with. Data point number 1 is these guys over here, the Midyanim, and we talked about these, who are these people, the Midyanim who then pass by, these traders? Then there are the Yishmaelim over here; Vayimkeru et Yosef laYishmaelim - these are the people to whom Joseph is sold after these Midyanim pass by. Then there's also one last sort of data point here, and that's if we go all the way down and we look at the point in which Joseph is actually sold into Egypt after the Ishmaelites make their way to Egypt, you get this; V'hamedanim machru oto el Mitzrayim - and the Medanim then sold him to Mitzrayim.
Now you'll notice that over here that's translated as Midianites, but in Hebrew you'll notice that it's actually Medanim as opposed to Midyanim which was earlier. So one interesting question is, are the Medanim down here in verse 36, the ones who sell him into Egypt? Are those the same people as we have in verse 28 when it says; Vaya'avru anashim Midyanim socharim - the Midianites? So the question is are we dealing with three different groups of people; Midianites, Ishmaelites and Medanites? Or are we dealing with two groups of people, and Midianites/Medanites and Yishmaelim?
So according to the Rashbam's the Midianites don't seem to be the same people as the Medanites later on, there seems to be three groups of people. There are the Midianites (a); these are the people that the brothers didn't see that are outside of the line of sight of the brothers. These are the people that actually go and, as the Rashbam's says; Vayimshechu vaya'alu et Yosef min habor - these are the ones that pull Joseph out of the pit. They then, the Midianites, sell him to the Ishmaelites. The Ishmaelites seem to be these long-range traders who take him all the way down to Egypt. But then it seems like at some point the Ishmaelites must have sold him to someone else, these Medanim, these short-term traders, out in Egypt and the Medanim are the ones who sell him to Egypt. This seems to be the Rashbam's theory. It's not actually Rashi's theory.
So Rashi says the following about this. So here's Rashi, you'll see it at the bottom of the screen, Rashi over here is going to translate Vayimshechu - remember that is the pronoun over here with unclear antecedent, who is it over here who pulls Joseph out of the pit? Who is it that sells him? So Rashi of course says; Vayimshechu benei Yaakov - the children of Yaakov were the ones who pulled him out, they were the ones who pulled Yosef out of the pit; Vayimkeru'hu laYishmaelim - and they were the ones that sold him to the Yishmaelim. Then the Yishmaelim later on sold him to - what Rashi says is the Midianites or the Medanim, later on, who sell him down to Egypt as that last verse in Chapter 37 suggests. So according to Rashi, it's the brothers of Jacob who pull him out, sell him to the Ishmaelites and then the Ishmaelites sell him to the Midianites.
Finally we have the Ramban who has a different theory altogether. The Ramban argues, strangely enough, that actually the Yishmaelim over here are the same people as the Midianites over here. They're actually the same. The way the Ramban understands it is that from afar they looked like Ishmaelites, however, when they got closer they actually saw that it was actually a Midianites caravan, people who had actually bought or rented camels from Ishmaelites that kind of looked like Ishmaelites from far, but when you got closer they were actually Midianites. So it says; Lechu venimkerenu laYishmaelim - come lets sell him to the Yishmaelim, but then as it got closer; Vaya'avru anashim Midyanim - it turned out that they were Midianites. But the Ramban then has to say - and this is kind of a little bit of what we call a [Dochei 4:46], you have to kind of push at the corners to make this work. Vayimkeru et Yosef laYishmaelim - that the brothers sold Yosef to the Yishmaelim. The problem is of course it wasn't the Yishmaelim, we're just calling them the Yishmaelim because they looked like Yishmaelim. So according to the Ramban, the Midianites and the Yishmaelim are being used interchangeably.
But this the Ramban over here; K'asher kirvu lahem matzu ki hayu ba'alei sechora - as they got closer they saw that; Asher lahem hanechot vehatzri - that the people who actually were carrying all this incense; Anashim Midyanim socharim - they were in fact Midianites; Shesachru hagemalim meiha'Yishmaelim - that had actually rented camels from Yishmaelim. Therefore they're sort of used interchangeably.
So these are the other ways of looking at it; the Ramban and Rashi. But I think the Rashbam's approach - at least seems to me - is particularly elegant and it allows this word over here to modify the logical antecedent, which is over here. The idea is that despite the brothers' expectations that they were going to sell him to the Yishmaelim, actually there's a shell game going on, they never actually sold him to the Yishmaelim, somebody preempted them, it was the Midianites who pulled Joseph out of the pit, and they were the ones who sold him to the Yishmaelim.
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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