Tuesday, January 10, 2006

parshat Vayigash: When Was Yosef Sold?

This post puts together ideas developed in other posts.

1) While the traditional understanding is that Yosef was sold after Rachel's death, I would suggest that in fact he was sold before Rachel's death.

2) If Rachel died before Yosef was sold, then Binyamin would be at least 23 when he the brothers stood before Yosef. Yosef was sold at 17, stood [before Pharaoh when he was 30, and the brothers] stood before him when he was 39 [30 -- edits as per David's comment. It was a typographical error on my part -- Binyamin would still be at least 23, as per my initial calculation]. Rachel died in birthing Binyamin. Thus Binyamin would be at least 23. Yet the brothers describe him several times as extremely young, such that they fear for his death were he to travel to Egypt.

3) How can this be? After all, Rachel died on the way back from Padan Aram on the way home. Yet Vayeishev, which describes the selling of Yosef, begins that Yaakov settled in the land of his father's sojournings. The answer is that this first pasuk is unrelated to the narrative that follows. This first pasuk really belongs to the previous parsha, and is there to match the statement that Esav settled in Seir.

4) If Binyamin is so young, how could he have 10 children (see 46:21) who came down to Egypt (listed among the 70)? It is difficult enough if he is between 22 and 30, but now he is a mere youngster?

Even without making Binyamin younger and redefining the chronology, it is difficult for Binyamin to have had all these children in such a short time span.

The same is true for Yehuda's children and grandchildren. Wer have a relatively short timespan (even if we make Yehuda leave his brothers and marry his first wife Bet Shua before Yosef is sold). In that short timespan, Yehuda needs to marry his first wife, have three children, have them grow up sufficiently for the first two to marry Tamar and die, for Yehuda to sleep with Tamar and have the twins, and also for Peretz, one of the two, to grow up sufficiently to marry and have two children, Chetzron and Chamul (see 46:12), grandchildren of Yehuda who are listed among those coming down to Egpyt.

There is also the difficulty of Reuven's children, who seem to be tribbles, in that they double suddenly. If promising Binyamin's safe return, Reuven tries to put up the lives of his two children. Yet in (46:9) Reuven has four children: Chanoch, Pallu, Chetzron and Karmi.

I'll put forth another question. How could Ephraim and Menashe be among the count of 70 that came down to Egypt, when the same verse states they were born in Egypt (46:27)?

5) My answer to this is that in (46:27), the phrase כָּל-הַנֶּפֶשׁ לְבֵית-יַעֲקֹב הַבָּאָה מִצְרַיְמָה and in the previous verse, the phrase כָּל-הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַבָּאָה לְיַעֲקֹב מִצְרַיְמָה, does not mean that they physically entered the gates of Egypt (Ephraim and Menashe being the best proof of this).

Rather, there was a generation that entered Egypt. As opposed to the generation that left Egypt. But this does not mean they physically passed through Egypt's gates. Rather, this first generation, the founding generation in Egypt, deserves a census at some point. This could have been taken much later, say at the time of Yaakov's death.

If so, Binyamin, Yehuda's sons, and Reuven have plenty of time to have more sons. And so Binyamin can indeed be very young.

6) Because Meir was asking me to read to him Curious George Goes to the Beach once again, I neglected to mention some of the more interesting evidence.

The brothers envy their father's love for Yosef, which is due to Yosef's being a ben zekunim. No mention is made of Binyamin, who is even more of a ben zekunim, and who is referred to by Yehuda later as a yeled zekunim.

The brothers are grazing in Shechem, and we know that the incident involving Dinah in Shechem took place before Rachel's death.

Yaakov says to Yosef's second dream, "shall I, your mother, and your brothers..." The midrash takes off on this, saying that Yaakov is saying that the dream is impossible because Rachel is dead, not knowing that Bilhah was being referred to. On a peshat level, it would seem that Rachel is still alive when Yaakov says this.

That Yosef sees 11 stars - this might be taken to refer to Dinah, at least is unremarked upon in the story, even if it eventually turns out to be Binyamin. Yaakov just says "your brothers," not "your 11 brothers."

Yes, it involves some level of ain muqdam ume`uchar batorah, but this is necessary in the case of stories that extend past a long timespan, and genealogical details such as Rachel's death and Binyamin's birth are exactly where we this stepping out of the bounds of straightforward chronology (see my other posts about this).


David said...

One small correction: you wrote that Yosef was thirty when the brothers stood before him. He was thirty when he came before Pharaoh and became the mishneh le'melech; the brothers came about nine years later, two or so years after the onset of drought.

Otherwise, this is a fascinating post, and lends itself to a lot of discussion. I hope to write a post about your theory on my blog later today/tonight.

joshwaxman said...

I've changed the post as per your correction.
I think it was a typographical error, and that I meant 39, since the rest of the calculations -- Binyamin being at least 23 -- is predicated on 39-17.
Kol Tuv,

Anonymous said...

You actually contradict 2 midrashim who clearly say she was niftar first.

joshwaxman said...

I'm sure I am. I began the post with the statement that "While the traditional understanding is that Yosef was sold after Rachel's death..." That is what I meant.

But, peshat is not the same as derash. And even if it was understood by the midrashic authors as peshat, that does not mean that someone cannot offer another explanation.

(indeed, this was more or less the substance of my previous comment. i think we simply have a disagreement as to proper methodology.)

kol tuv,

b said...

Please.you use the rule of mukdam and meuchar .Where from ?from rashi and the midrash and meforshim.And then you say against their pshat you can't have it both ways.

b said...

Your whole theory doesn't hold water.For starters, the pasuk very clearly says when binyamin was born yosef dies.And if your going to say it happend after yosef was sold.How did yosef know about him?

b said...

also,your theory makes no sense for other reasons.Why did yaakov only mourn for yosef.Where was rachel?!Why didn't the brothers tell yosef his mother will be finished if you take binyanim?That would have been compelling as she had only 2 sons,while aakov had 10 more.

b said...

The proof from reuven is no proof.It could easily mean his 2 oldest sons,grown up ones,for example.

b said...

I don't inderstand hoe ou go against rashi and the midrash's pshat.But you use the rashi (and i think te midrash)of reuven and his 2 sons .

joshwaxman said...

"Please.you use the rule of mukdam and meuchar .Where from ?from rashi and the midrash and meforshim"

yes. ain mukdam is an exegetical principle, not a midrashic principle. and it appears to be fact, that not all pesukim are written chronologically, even on a peshat level. you can figure this out be seeing where the Torah describes Terach's death and then calculating, based on respective ages with Avraham, that events before Terach's death are listed after the Torah mentions Terach's death.

IIRC, the Ibn Ezra says ain mukdam regarding Hashem's command to leave Ur Kasdim. And in doing so, argues against Rashi and the midrash.

You are clearly perturbed by my methodology. But perhaps a few years of serious study of Rishonim who were pashtanim would be in order, in which case you would likely not be as perturbed.

Your whole theory doesn't hold water...
that you find difficulties does not mean that the theory does not hold water. there are similar difficulties with the traditional peshat. what an exegete does is consider the various possible interpretations, with their various difficulties, and see which ones can be ironed out.

for example, there are "difficulties" with Yaakov speaking of Rachel as if she is alive; with Binyamin being too young to travel , if he is between 22 and 30. And Reuven's speaking of his two sons, rather than four sons. These are surely difficulties just as well. They may be resolvable, but why are you assuming all MY difficulties are resolvable, while all of YOUR difficulties with my theory are so unresolvable that the whole theory doesn't hold water?

And if your going to say it happend after yosef was sold.How did yosef know about him?
ummm, it's a pasuk! Bereishit 42:13:

וַיֹּאמְרוּ, שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר עֲבָדֶיךָ אַחִים אֲנַחְנוּ בְּנֵי אִישׁ-אֶחָד--בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן; וְהִנֵּה הַקָּטֹן אֶת-אָבִינוּ הַיּוֹם, וְהָאֶחָד אֵינֶנּוּ.

and Bereishit 44:20:
וַנֹּאמֶר, אֶל-אֲדֹנִי, יֶשׁ-לָנוּ אָב זָקֵן, וְיֶלֶד זְקֻנִים קָטָן; וְאָחִיו מֵת, וַיִּוָּתֵר הוּא לְבַדּוֹ לְאִמּוֹ וְאָבִיו אֲהֵבוֹ.

If you don't know pesukim, there is not much I can do. ;)

"Why did yaakov only mourn for yosef.Where was rachel?!"
The Torah does not tell us every single detail. Or did nobody ever go to the bathroom? An argument from lack of mention is not very solid, IMHO.

"Why didn't the brothers tell yosef his mother will be finished if you take binyanim?That would have been compelling as she had only 2 sons,while aakov had 10 more."
umm... because the Torah tells us that she died in childbirth, with Binyamin. At this point, his mother was no longer alive! I am not certain you understood my post, if you are suggesting this.

"It could easily mean his 2 oldest sons"
yes, and that would be a teretz, just as saying that the mother Yaakov referred to was Bilhah, or that this is proof that every dream has tiflus. I think it is forced, for various reasons.

good shabbos,

b said...

Sorry,i'm well familar with the rishonim.As for reuven, he could have had 2 more sons with ease during the back and forth with yosef and till he went to eygpt.more to follow.

joshwaxman said...

"Sorry,i'm well familar with the rishonim."
apparently not, if you think that it is impossible to argue with Rashi and midrashim. this did not bother Ramban, Rashbam, or Ibn Ezra, as serious study of them will show.

"As for reuven, he could have had..."
i thought you believed in midrash?! the pasuk in Miketz (41:50) states:

וּלְיוֹסֵף יֻלַּד שְׁנֵי בָנִים בְּטֶרֶם תָּבוֹא שְׁנַת הָרָעָב אֲשֶׁר יָלְדָה לּוֹ אָסְנַת בַּת פּוֹטִי פֶרַע כֹּהֵן אוֹן:

and Rashi (based on Taanis 11a) writes בטרם תבוא שנת הרעב: מכאן שאסור לאדם לשמש מטתו בשני רעבון:

Reuven was going back and forth because there was famine. Was he less religious than Yosef?!

Meanwhile, as I wrote above, this is a teretz. That you can come up with a teretz which you personally feel is convincing (and others may feel is a kvetch, though that may be beside the point) does not mean that there is not a question in the first place.

please read again my paragraph above, starting with "that you find difficulties..."

kol tuv,

joshwaxman said...

oops! rashi appears not to have come out. i'll give the english translation:

"before the year of the famine set in: From here is derived that a person may not engage in marital relations during years of famine. — [from Ta’anith 11a]"


b said...

After getting confirmation from you that you are suggesting a theory in non accordance with the midrash.My comment makes perfect sense,according to oue logic.And the midrash does say levi had children at that time i.e. yocheved.

b said...

Why can't the brother's be grazing in shechem after they killed the town?they didn't make it a barren land unfit for pasture.

b said...

Sorry for the typing error,it should say your logic.Now,as far as he is a youth, it clearly means in regard to his father.See how the king of judah rechavam is called na'ar at the age of 41.(see ramban).

joshwaxman said...

again, this is irrelevant.

i am sure you can come up with a teretz. so can i. but it will still be a teretz. that i find the teretz highly implausible is beside the point.

"my comment makes perfect sense, according to your logic"
but not according to your own, with is the one you are trying to defend.

as for my own logic, yes, one can answer all sorts of teirutzim. so?

meanwhile, i don't find it so plausible. after all, Yosef reveals himself after two years of famine, with five years left. reuven speaks to his father, mentioning only a set of two sons on the return trip, which was after the famine had already started, and gotten to the extent that they went once. it is possible, but dances at the edge of being neo-midrash.

"they didn't make it a barren land unfit for pasture."
no, but they did make themselves detestable to the surrounding people, such that iirc some meforshim speak of concern yaakov had about their safety.

"Now,as far as he is a youth, it clearly means in regard to his father."
it doesn't 'clearly' mean that. he is called אֲחִיכֶם הַקָּטֹן and וְיֶלֶד זְקֻנִים קָטָן. and many meforshim understand וְעָזַב אֶת-אָבִיו וָמֵת as referring to Binyamin. this indicates, at least to the casual reader, youth. compare וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו, אֲדֹנִי יֹדֵעַ כִּי-הַיְלָדִים רַכִּים, וְהַצֹּאן וְהַבָּקָר, עָלוֹת עָלָי; וּדְפָקוּם יוֹם אֶחָד, וָמֵתוּ כָּל-הַצֹּאן.

This doesn't mean that it IS so. but it also doesn't 'clearly' mean otherwise. rather, you have a *teretz* that convinces you.

kol tuv,

b said...

It's not implausible at all.Yakkov didn't send them to eygpt for hunger reasons,according to simple pshat.See the pesukim.And if you don't go with chazal and semichas hapesukim.It could have take a good log while for yaakov o pack up and move.p.s. i'm arguing about your logic,not my logic.

Anonymous said...

As for shechem.Don't forget your not going accordind to the mefarshim in your whole point about when binyamin was born..

joshwaxman said...

"Yakkov didn't send them to eygpt for hunger reasons,according to simple pshat.See the pesukim."


והנכון, למה תתראו במקום הזה, כי היה לכם ליסע מיד כאשר שמעתם שיש שבר במצרים כי כבר בסכנה היו אם לא ימהרו לדבר. וזה טעם ונחיה ולא נמות:

"Don't forget your not going accordind to the mefarshim in your whole point about when binyamin was born"
both midrashim and meforshim are driven by pesukim.
וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב אֶל-שִׁמְעוֹן וְאֶל-לֵוִי, עֲכַרְתֶּם אֹתִי, לְהַבְאִישֵׁנִי בְּיֹשֵׁב הָאָרֶץ, בַּכְּנַעֲנִי וּבַפְּרִזִּי; וַאֲנִי, מְתֵי מִסְפָּר, וְנֶאֶסְפוּ עָלַי וְהִכּוּנִי, וְנִשְׁמַדְתִּי אֲנִי וּבֵיתִי.

וַיִּסָּעוּ; וַיְהִי חִתַּת אֱלֹהִים, עַל-הֶעָרִים אֲשֶׁר סְבִיבוֹתֵיהֶם, וְלֹא רָדְפוּ, אַחֲרֵי בְּנֵי יַעֲקֹב.

note the word radfu, and ask yourself if it might not be a good idea to hang out alone in such parts, where some local might decide to take revenge.

just because something appears in a midrash or a parshan hamikra does not mean i have to reject it!! do you think i always disagree with rashi and midrash?


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