In this week’s parshah, we see the consequences of jealousy. Joseph’s brothers’ could no longer endure the favoritism that their father displayed towards their younger brother, and plotted to get rid of him in some way. Joseph was thrown into a pit, and later sold to merchants as a slave.
Fully aware that they would have some explaining to do to their father Jacob when they returned without Joseph, the brothers “dipped the coat (Joseph’s coat that was a gift from Jacob) in its (a goat’s) blood” (Genesis 37:31). There are a few questions that need to be answered: 1) Why did the brother’s fabricate an elaborate charade about what transpired with Joseph, and 2) What made Jacob think that Joseph had been devoured by a wild beast? And why did Jacob, speaking about the beast, say both has devoured himand has torn him apart? Besides, the order of what happened should have been reversed!
The Alshekh answers these questions and explains as follows: The brothers had debated amongst themselves how to present Joseph’s absence. Had they claimed never to have seen him, their father would organize search parties, questioning all caravans in the region. He would find out about the Ishmaelites who had traveled to Egypt. If they would say that Joseph had been found dead, Jacob would demand to see his grave. If they would say that they had HEARD about an accident that had befallen him, they would be telling an outright lie. For these reasons, they felt it best to let Jacob form his own opinion on the basis of the faked evidence. Had they presented Joseph’s coat in an undamaged condition, Jacob would have reasoned that Joseph had taken it off, and would have searched for him, thinking him still alive. The brothers could now imply that Joseph’s fate was due to his having slandered them.
Jacob knew for certain that it was Joseph’s coat. Being unaware of any character weakness in Joseph except his tale bearing, he persuaded himself that Joseph had been punished in this cruel manner for his weakness. In the Torah, the warning not to listen to false information is preceded by the line throw it to the dogs in the book of Exodus. Shemot Rabba 31 points out that one who spreads false information deserves to be thrown to the dogs. Upon reflection, Jacob did not think that Joseph had been eaten alive; this seeing that he was made in the image of God and this having been reflected in his face even after having informed on his brothers. Therefore he assumed tarof, toraf – he had first been ripped apart by a free agent, i.e. a human being. Afterwards, an animal had devoured his remains. This is why he repeated tarof toraf, i.e. he had been torn twice. He considered it possible that one of his sons had harmed Joseph. Jacob tore his clothing and wore sackcloth because he felt that if his interpretation of what happened was true, he himself was partly to blame. This, due to the fact that he had listened to Joseph’s tale bearing WITHOUT PROTESTING IT, although he had not believed the stories. When the brothers saw the depth of Jacob’s grief, they did not even attempt to offer words of condolence until a long time had elapsed. The Torah states that Jacob “mourned for his son for many years”. This was because of his exceptionally close bond that existed between the soul of Jacob and the soul of Joseph. He refused to accept consolation because of what he thought had been his own part in causing the tragedy. On the contrary, he felt that he himself was eventually going to die because of his complicity in Joseph’s fate. For all these considerations, our sages read v.35, his father wept for him, as referring to Isaac, who was aware that Joseph was still alive but dared not reveal it to his son, seeing that God had not seen fit to reveal it to him (Bereishit Rabba 84).
Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim