Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Parshat VaYeshev

Who sold Yoseph?

A silly question. Everyone knows that his brothers sold him. However, it is not at all clear from the text and a number of commentators argue that while the brothers discussed selling him, they were pre-empted by Midianite traders:

“'Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, so that our hand shall not be upon him, for he is our brother, our flesh.' His brothers listened. Then Midianite men, merchants, passed by, and they pulled and lifted Yoseph from the pit, and they sold Yoseph to the Yishmaelites for twenty silver [pieces], and they brought Yoseph to Egypt” (Bereshit 37:27-28).

Who were the “they” that pulled Yoseph out of the pit and sold him to the Yishmaelites? Were they the brothers or the Midianites?

Evidence that the brothers sold Yoseph:

1. The brothers determine to sell him (ibid).
2. When Yoseph reveals himself to his brothers he says: “I am Yoseph whom you sold to Egypt” (ibid 45:4).

Evidence that the brothers did not sell Yoseph:

1. Who were the Midianites? How did they suddenly become Yishamelites?
2. Why are the brothers spurred into action, appearing surprised, when Re’ueven tells them that Yoseph is missing? (ibid 37:30-31)
3. Yoseph himself says that he “was stolen from the land of the Hebrews” (ibid 40:15).
4. When the brothers later face accusations from Yoseph, when he is incognito, Reuven says that their fate is doomed because “his blood is being demanded” (ibid 42:22) implying that they believe that Yoseph to be dead (possibly that a wild animal did actually savage him).

5. While standing upto Yoseph in defence of Benyamin, Yehuda actually declares that Yoseph is dead (ibid 44:20).

Both opinions respond to the challenges raised by the other, however wouldn’t it be nice to believe that even though the brothers talked tough, i.e. “let’s kill him”, “let’s sell him” they would have actually been satisfied with just leaving him in the pit for a few hours? Maybe that would have enough to teach their spoilt brat of a brother a lesson?

Perhaps this scenario can act as a lesson. Even a small amount of cruelty can lurch out of control and lead to the most evil of crimes.

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat VaYeshev entitled: "Yoseph: The Fourth Patriarch", appears at


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