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So let's go to them right now. Mystery number 1. Mystery number 1 is why do the brothers seem to pull their punches when they express regret for the sale of Joseph? Let me explain what I mean by that. There is a point where it's kind of explicit in the text later on in the story - not in Chapter 37 which we've been focusing on, but later on in the story - when the brothers seem to - or actually do - express regret for what they've done in selling Joseph. It happens later on in the story when they actually meet up with Joseph in Egypt. Now they don't know that Joseph is Joseph, they think that Joseph is just this Egyptian official who is in charge of all the grain. Joseph recognizes them, and they do not recognize him. At that point Joseph kind of starts tormenting them and suggests that he's going to actually keep one of them in prison, allow the rest to go back home and that they're going to have make good on their claim that they are upright people, and that they are not spies. He accuses them of being spies and says, if you want to prove that you're not spies, that you're upright people, I need you to come back with the brother that you've left at home. You've left a brother at home, you say you left a brother at home - this of course is Benjamin, the brother that Yaakov insisted they leave at home - come back and bring Benjamin to me to prove that you're not spies.
This is Joseph's request and he says, in order to make sure that you're going to come back, I'm going to actually take one of you prisoners. Im kenim atem achichem echad ye'asser b'beit mishmarchem - I'm going to insist on keeping one of you prisoners over here until you guys return to fetch him. Now go, here's some food, go back and bring me the brother that you said you've left behind.
Now when this happens, the brothers are very troubled by this and they start talking amongst themselves. Now remember, they don't know that the person who the narrator identifies here as Yosef is in fact Joseph, they think he's just this Egyptian official, and most Egyptian officials wouldn't be understanding Hebrew, so they begin talking amongst themselves and they're unaware, a later verse suggests, that Joseph can understand. This is what they say to themselves - say among themselves - as they are talking. Vayomru ish el achiv - one brother says to another; Aval asheimim anachnu - we are guilty for what we've done; Al achinu - for our brother; Asher ra'inu tzarat nafsho behitchaneno eleinu v'loh shamanu - we saw his trouble, we saw his pain as he was pleading to us in the pit; V'loh shamanu - we didn't listen to him. Al kein ba'ah eleinu hatzara hazot - and that's why this trouble has to come to us. We saw his pain and we didn't respond, that's why we are in trouble now and that's why G-d is doing this to us and this is sort of a heavenly sign that we have done wrong in the sale of Joseph.
Now the problem here - and this is one of the three legs of the Rashbam's theory - the problem here is that the brothers seem to be pulling their punches. They're sort of not telling the whole truth over here. In other words, if you were the brothers, you're going to say, okay what is your guilt? What is it that you've done over here? Well what they've done is they kidnapped another brother and they sold him into slavery, I mean that's what they've done. Notice that they are not saying that, nowhere over here in verse 21 as they talk among themselves and express their guilt do they actually say that they're guilty of having sold their brother. Why are they pulling their punches? Who are they hiding from?
Remember they're talking amongst themselves - Vayomru ish el achiv, they're not talking to the microphone, they're not talking to posterity, they don't know Joseph is listening, they're not trying to hide anything, so there's no reason for them to rose-color this, to sugarcoat this. They know what they did, so why don't they say, oh we are guilty, we sold our brother, it was such a terrible thing, that's why G-d is getting us back? Why do they pull their punches when they have nothing - there's no reputation they're trying to hold onto, trying to salvage. They're being honest, they're speaking amongst themselves, why do they only say that they're guilty for having seen the trouble of their brother and not listening? As if that's their only guilt. They did something much worse than that, they sold him into slavery for goodness sakes, I mean isn't that worse?
Now you could say possibly that one possible answer is maybe that the brothers thought that they were justified. They thought they were justified in selling Joseph as a slave, and if they were justified in selling Joseph as a slave, some suggest that they felt that the only thing that they were guilty of is seeing him pleading there and begging to be saved and not responding. That the only thing that they were guilty of, therefore, is being sort of insensitive to his pleas, but they were not guilty of actually selling him because they were justified in selling him. That actually is what some suggest. It's not what the Rashbam suggests, it's what some suggest.
I want to ask you actually, before we go further, do you find that theory convincing? What do you say to that? Is that a reasonable explanation for you?
So for my money I think that is actually a very unsatisfactory theory. The reason why I think this theory is unsatisfactory is that if you believe that you were justified in selling Yosef, how could you not believe that you were justified in sort of deafening yourself to his cries? I mean, why are you guilty for deafening yourself to his cries, what do you expect Yosef to do? If he's in the pit obviously he's going to be asking for help. If you really think you're justified in selling him for whatever reason you think you're justified, so what do you do, you expect him not to be screaming for help, not to say please help me? Obviously you're going to have to sell him despite the fact that he says please help me, you're obviously going to have to deafen yourself and say, sorry Joseph, it's just what we have to do. Is Joseph really going to be that much happier if you say, oh poor Joseph, you know we really wish - we feel so sorry that you're screaming and asking for mercy as we're selling you as a slave? I mean, would that have been helpful? I don't think that would have been terribly helpful. So if you do believe that you were justified regarding the sale, how could you not believe that you're justified in not responding to his pleas not to be sold?
So again, this is the first of the Rashbam's questions, why do the brothers seem to pull their punches when they express regret for the sale? They're talking amongst themselves, there's no reason they should be pulling their punches, they have nothing to hide, so why don't they just come out and say it? If they believe they're guilty then why don't they just say we're guilty for selling him? Why do they only say we're guilty for not responding to Joseph's plea?
So that is question number 1, this is the first of these three mysteries, mystery number 1. When we come back, I'll introduce you to the other two.
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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