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Judah: A Perplexing Character?
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Even more, what is the trigger, according to Rashi, once they saw their father's grief over the loss of his son? Or in Rashi's words; Keshera'u betzarat avihem - it was their father's pain that convinced them that they were wrong. That is really astounding and here's why. When you think about their father's pain, was that something which was expected or unexpected? Did that come as a real surprise that Yosef is going to be gone, they're going to come to him with a torn-up coat, that's going to look like a wild beast devoured him, and Yaakov's is going to be like, oh okay, like, whatever, let's go on. I mean they must have expected that their father was going to be upset - a little upset, very upset? So it's no surprise that Yaakov is upset. So if it's no surprise how could that be a catalyst for them all of a sudden concluding that they're wrong? They weren't surprised by that, that had to have been part of the plan to begin with.
In other words, imagine I'm one of the brothers, so say I'm Shimon over here, and let's go back to that moment right where you see Yosef approaching. Okay so here's Yosef over here, Yosef is coming, lah-di-dah-di-dah and Shimon sees him coming and Yosef is on his way, he's on a trajectory to arrive here in about three minutes. So you've got three minutes to plan. Here you are, you're conferring with your other brothers, and over here there's this gaping pit in the desert and you're thinking, hmm, should we put Yosef in the pit when he comes? Then you're talking about it. So you must be thinking, like, well how are we going to deal with it with Dad? So you must have factored in the fact that Yaakov's is going to be angry? It doesn't come as a surprise.
It's like in stock prices, once everyone knows that the company is going to report a loss, so if I know that six weeks before they report a loss, it doesn't affect the stock price anymore. Shimon conferring with his brothers have already factored in Yaakov's response, so to speak, into the stock prices, they're not surprised by this. So how could they regret everything once in fact what they expected happens - that Yaakov mourns and he feels terrible? Of course he was going to feel terrible, how could you be surprised by that? How could you change your mind about whether you thought this was right or wrong just because what you expected in terms of Yaakov's grief actually materialized?
It must be that something unexpected happened, that Yaakov's grief was not expected in quite the way it appeared. So what we have to do to really understand Rashi is figure out that, what is the unexpected part of Yaakov's grief? Or to put it in another way, what was their plan? How did they plan on handling Yaakov's grief and what happened that upset that plan?
Okay so let's go back to the text, let's look at their father's grief and try to isolate the unexpected plan. Vayakumu kol banav v'kol benotav lenachamo - now when you read this, I want you to focus here on 35, and ask yourself what are the extra words? What is the idea which seems trivial here, which I don't really need to hear about? Let's actually go back to verse 34 and continue into 35. Vayikre'ah Yaakov simlotav - Yaakov tears his clothes; Vayasem sak bemosnov - he put sackcloth on; Vayisabel al beno yamim rabim - and he goes and he mourns for many days. Vayakumu kol banav v'kol benotav lenachamo - and all of his children; his daughters and his sons, came up and they tried to offer comfort to him; Vayema'ein lehitnachem - but he would not be comforted, because he said; Ki eired el beni avel she'olah - I will go down to my grave mourning Yosef, and his father cried for him. What is unexpected in this (a), and (b) is there any extra detail which the verse gives me which doesn't really seem to be adding that much? Anything which seems kind of superfluous? What do you think about that?
Okay so I want to suggest two things to you, (a) the unexpected element of the father's grief. The unexpected element of the father's grief is this, it's actually this word over here that Rashi is focused on. Ki eired el beni avel she'olah - I will go down to my grave mourning Joseph. Remember Rashi, as we talked about before, makes this Yeired connection, this going down connection, between these two Vayeireds. But it's actually this which is the unexpected element of the grief. In other words, what happens in verse 34 is actually quite expected. Okay so he tears his clothes, that's expected. He puts sackcloth, he's mourning that's expected. Vayisabel al beno yamim rabim - and he mourns for many days for his son. They would have expected all of that. Let's get to the part that seems superfluous in the verse. What seems superfluous is this piece right over here; Vayakumu kol banav v'kol benotav lenachamo - and then all of his children got up to comfort him. Why am I hearing about that? Just tell me he mourned for a long time, put 34 and 35 together. What difference does it make in the middle of that, all of his children got up to comfort him?
What I want to suggest is, that that's not superfluous, this is actually crucial, because this was their plan. What was their plan? When Shimon was conferring with the brothers back at the pit, what was their plan? Their plan was yes, of course father will mourn, but that's what he has a family for. Thank G-d, Baruch Hashem, he's blessed with 12 sons and okay, so he loses one of them of course, but look, death is part of life, everybody gets over loss, and how do they get over loss, because they have a loving family and we will be the loving family for Yaakov. We will console him for his loss, and with the psychological support of all of his sons and all of his children he will be able to gradually get over this loss. Yes, death is terrible, but the way it works is, is that we all get over loss eventually, and it will be hard, but it's worth it, because Yosef is such a problem for the family that we need to get rid of him and Yaakov will eventually get over it.
If we go back, by the way, to what we started this whole series with, this question of what were they thinking? We talked about that from four perspectives, the brothers, Yosef, Yaakov, G-d, what was everyone thinking in the story? There were two aspects of what were the brothers thinking, one part of it was not such a nice thing to do put your brother in a pit, but the other part of it is that what about their father? Even if they're going to do this to Yosef, how could they have done this to their father who they loved, to destroy him so much? The answer may be that they had a plan. The plan didn't work but they had a plan. As far as it's not such a nice thing to do, well we talked about that; Yosef is illegitimately being treated as the Bechor, he's destroying the whole family, he's usurping Reuven's rightful place, it can't be allowed to stand. But what about their father? How can we do this to him? Well here is the plan; Vayakumu kol banav v'kol benotav lenachamo - the comfort of family. We'll help him get over this.
So they do it; Vayakumu kol banav v'kol benotav lenachamo - they get up to comfort him, they're putting their plan into action. The next thing that is supposed to happen - one of the things you always need to do when you read this text is don't be fooled by the illusion of inevitability, what happens in the Torah is not necessarily inevitable, it could have happened differently. What the brothers expected did not actually take place. They expected Yaakov to be comforted, like anyone would be comforted for loss after many, many days. Time together with love really heals all wounds. But it didn't happen, time did not heal anything. Vayema'ein lehitnachem - he would not be comforted and he said; Ki eired el beni avel she'olah - I'm going down to my grave, I will never be comforted. Years, decades later, I won't be comforted - and it was true, he was never comforted. He never got over the loss of Yosef, even decades later he did continue to mourn. He mourned and cried perpetually for his loss. That's when they knew they were wrong.
In Rashi's words; this unexpected happening; Ki eired el beni - the shocking declaration of Yaakov that he will never get over it, that time will not dim the pain in the least, convinced them that something was missing, they miscalculated. Therefore if Yehuda was the one who engineered this; Vayeired Yehuda mei'eis echov. If father is going down to his grave mourning Yosef, then Yehuda must be made to go down from his position of leadership over us.
The question I want to talk about with you next is why - why didn't the plan work? Weren't they right? Doesn't family always help you comfort loss? Why couldn't Yaakov get over it? It turns out that Rashi has an answer to that too. We'll take a look at it when we come back.
1. Introduction to Yehudah and Tamar
2. Kinds of Questions
3. A Question of Placement
4. A Tale of Two Digressions
5. Does Rashi Answer The Question?
6. Are We Explaining One Sentence or a Whole Story?
7. A Triangle of Descent
8. The Unexpected Element
9. Perpetual Mourning
10. Failure to Persuade
11. Patchwork Quilt
13. Lest it Come to Scandal
14. Recognize, Please..
15. Tales of Goats and Coats
16. Keepsake or Evidence?
18. How Many--and Why?
19. What's At Stake?
20. Yehudah's Name
22. Superfluous Details
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