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So; Vayomer Yehuda el echov - so Yehuda has this idea - remember the original idea is let's just kill Joseph, put his corpse in the pit, then Reuven decides he wants to save him, doesn't tell his brothers he wants to save him, but wants Joseph in the pit alive, so he says, let's just put Joseph in the pit alive. Reuven's idea which he doesn't tell his brothers, he's going to circle back later and pick up Joseph. So this is sort of Plan 2. Now Plan 3 is Yehuda's plan. Yehuda is not aware that Reuven plans on saving him, Yehuda thinks the plan is to leave Yosef in the pit to die, so Yehuda says let's not do that; Mah betza ki naharog et achinu vechisinu et damo - what do we gain, what profit do we gain, out of killing our brother and letting him die in this pit and covering up his blood? I have a better idea, here are these Ishmaelites, I see these Ishmaelite caravan coming; Lechu venimkerenu laYishmaelim - let's go sell him to these Ishmaelites; Veyadeinu al tehi bo - that way our hand won't be upon him. Ki achinu besareinu hu - after all he really is our brother. Vayishme'u echov - and his brothers listened to him, how could we do this to our brother, let's not kill him, we'll just sort of sell him into slavery and be better off - better for Joseph.
Okay, so now here is the mystery. Vaya'avru anashim Midyanim socharim - so then these Midianites merchants come and then; Vayimshechu vaya'alu et Yosef min habor - the brothers come, they pull up Joseph from the pit; Vayimkeru et Yosef laYishmaelim - and they sell Joseph to the Yishmaelim, to the Ishmaelites; V'esrim kasef - for 20 pieces of silver. Vayavi'u et Yosef Mitzrayma - and then the Ishmaelites bring Yosef to Egypt.
I have read the verse actually according to Rashi, not according to the Rashbam. But the problem the Rashbam notes with this reading is that, what are these guys doing here? I mean who cares? Why do I care that Midianite merchant men were passing by? What are they doing? The brothers see the Ishmaelites, they're going to sell him to the Ishmaelites, they in fact do sell him to the Ishmaelites; Vayimkeru et Yosef laYishmaelim - they sell him to the Ishmaelites. So if they sell him to the Ishmaelites, who cares that there were these Midianites passing nearby at the same time? Why mention this? This is like the most dreaded moment, the [nadir 2:36] of brotherly relations in Sefer Bereishit, and you're bothering me with irrelevant trivia about Midianites traders, why do I care? The brothers came and they thought they were going to sell him to the Ishmaelites, and they did sell him to the Ishmaelites, why am I hearing about these guys? Who cares about the Midianites? That is mystery number 2.
Okay, and finally now, let's get to the last mystery. The last mystery I'm going to call is, Where is Reuven? It's the Where is Reuven mystery during all of this. Okay, so let's look at the Reuven mystery together. Okay so here we are, we're actually just going to read through some of the sale of Joseph together, and we're going to ask one very simple question as we read this through. The question is where is Reuven? We're going to keep our eye on Reuven, Reuven of course is the oldest of the brothers involved in the sale of Joseph.
Okay so here are the brothers. Vayomru ish el achiv - we're up here in verse 19 - so one brother says to another brother; Hinei ba'al hachalomot halazeh bah - here comes the dreamer, come, we're going to kill him, we're going to put his body in one of the pits, we're going to say that a terrible beast devoured him; Venireh mah yiheyu chalomotav - and let's see what's going to be with his dreams. Now, where is Reuven? Well we see, Reuven is right here, take a look at verse 21. Vayishma Reuven vayatzileihu miyadam - so Reuven hears this and he saves them from their hands. Vayomer loh nakenu nafesh - and he tells the other brothers we're not going to kill any soul here, we're not going to kill him. So very clearly Reuven is right here with the brothers.
So now we're going to keep on asking where is Reuven? So; Vayomer aleihem Reuven - so Reuven is talking to them, he says; Al tishpechu dam - let's not kill him; Hashlichu oto el habor hazeh asher bamidbar v'yad al tishlechu bo - let's just put him in this pit in the desert, we're not going to actually stretch out our hand to kill him. Lema'an hatzil oto miyadam - he wanted to save him; Lehashivo el aviv - to bring him back to his father. Okay? So Reuven at this point up until verse 22 very clearly with the brothers.
Now; Vayehi k'asher bah Yosef el echov vayafshitu et Yosef et kutanto, et ketonet hapasim asher alav - so now Joseph came to his brothers, and they stripped him of his coat and; Vayikachuhu vayashlichu oto haborah - and they took him and they threw him in the pit, and the pit was empty and there was no water in it. Okay, so now I ask you, where is Reuven? Well Reuven is probably still with the brothers, we don't hear Reuven left, right? He's with the brothers. Last thing Reuven said is let's not kill him, let's put him in this pit, and then Joseph came and they did what Reuven said, they put him in the pit. So Reuven is with the brothers.
Vayeishvu le'echol lechem - they then sit down to eat bread, and they pick up their eyes and they see the Yishmaelim come - now I ask you again, where is Reuven? Reuven is presumably with the brothers, having this picnic, watching, they see the Ishmaelites coming. At that point Yehuda speaks up; Vayomer Yehuda - this is verse 26 over here and this is the verse which we just finished reading - let's not kill our brother and cover up his blood, let's sell him to the Ishmaelites, let our hand not be upon him. The other brothers - presumably including Reuven, they're all together, is listening to him. Again, where is Reuven? Well we never heard that he left, he's with them all, he's sitting down, he's eating bread with Yehuda, Yehuda is talking.
Then, they go and they pull Joseph out of the pit and they sell him to the Ishmaelites, again, where is Reuven? He's with the brothers, right? This is what Reuven said, let's not kill him, let's put in the pit, and then Yehuda is there and Reuven is seeing all this, right?
So now verse 29, the next verse, comes as a real shocker. Vayoshov Reuven el habor - and then Reuven returned to the pit; V'hinei ein Yosef ba'bor - and Yosef isn't in the pit. Vayikra et begadav - and he tears his clothes and he comes back; Vayoshov el echov - and he goes back to his brothers and he says; Hayeled einenu - the child isn't here, what are we going to do? What's going on? Why is Reuven so surprised? He was there with them the whole time. I mean he saw them, he saw what happened, he said let's put him in the pit, and he saw we're going to sell him, he was there, he heard Yehuda, he never left, so what does it mean and Reuven returned to the pit? Did Reuven ever leave? Why did Reuven to the pit? And if he was there the whole time, which presumably he was, he saw all this going on, how come he's so surprised? And; Vayoshov el echov - and how come he's returning to his brothers? He never left his brothers. So the whereabouts of Reuven are very, very strange.
Now other commentators picked up on this. Rashi for example, says, well it must be that Reuven left to his father and went to do Kibud Av V'Eim - to honor his father, and left in the middle. But of course the problem is that the text never says that Reuven left in the middle. So if was important enough to say that Reuven returned to the pit, you know and all of that, why are you leaving out an important point in the story? Which is, why don't you take a couple of words and just say, tell me at some point, that Reuven left? The story just doesn't seem to hang together, it's like this non sequitur. I'm reading and I'm reading and I'm reading, and I'm assuming that Reuven is with the brothers, Reuven is with the brothers, he always was with them, all of a sudden I get this idea that Reuven is not clued in, he doesn't know what happened, what, he left at some point?
So this is mystery number 3, where is Reuven during all of this?
Okay so here are our three mysteries. Why do the brothers seem to pull their punches when they express regret for the sale of Joseph? What are the Midyanim doing in the story? They seem to be completely irrelevant, they sold him to the Ishmaelites, who cares about these other people, the Midianites, who were completely irrelevant? And of course, the where is Reuven? This kind of shell game, where did he go, he never left? These seemingly innocuous questions lead up to a fascinating theory that the Rashbam articulates, that seems to change everything when it comes to the story of the sale of Joseph.
You actually have enough information now amongst yourself - if you just ponder these mysteries - to try to piece together the theory. Look at the verses carefully, read the verses very, very carefully, don't listen to any red herrings of how I may have tricked you in reading the verses, just read them very carefully, pay attention to their words and see if the Rashbam theory emerges to you.
When we come back next time, I will discuss it with you, see you then.
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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