Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Vayeshev: Why Mention That Yosef Got Lost?

Yes, it is parshat Tazria-Metzorah, but I was thinking about this, and felt like writing it down.

Bereishit 37:
יד וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ, לֶךְ-נָא רְאֵה אֶת-שְׁלוֹם אַחֶיךָ וְאֶת-שְׁלוֹם הַצֹּאן, וַהֲשִׁבֵנִי, דָּבָר; וַיִּשְׁלָחֵהוּ מֵעֵמֶק חֶבְרוֹן, וַיָּבֹא שְׁכֶמָה. 14 And he said to him: 'Go now, see whether it is well with thy brethren, and well with the flock; and bring me back word.' So he sent him out of the vale of Hebron, and he came to Shechem.
טו וַיִּמְצָאֵהוּ אִישׁ, וְהִנֵּה תֹעֶה בַּשָּׂדֶה; וַיִּשְׁאָלֵהוּ הָאִישׁ לֵאמֹר, מַה-תְּבַקֵּשׁ. 15 And a certain man found him, and, behold, he was wandering in the field. And the man asked him, saying: 'What seekest thou?'
טז וַיֹּאמֶר, אֶת-אַחַי אָנֹכִי מְבַקֵּשׁ; הַגִּידָה-נָּא לִי, אֵיפֹה הֵם רֹעִים. 16 And he said: 'I seek my brethren. Tell me, I pray thee, where they are feeding the flock.'
יז וַיֹּאמֶר הָאִישׁ, נָסְעוּ מִזֶּה--כִּי שָׁמַעְתִּי אֹמְרִים, נֵלְכָה דֹּתָיְנָה; וַיֵּלֶךְ יוֹסֵף אַחַר אֶחָיו, וַיִּמְצָאֵם בְּדֹתָן. 17 And the man said: 'They are departed hence; for I heard them say: Let us go to Dothan.' And Joseph went after his brethren, and found them in Dothan.
Why bother mentioning all this? Why not just say that he found his brothers?

One might say, that the Torah records it because it happened, and it is thus rightly part of the narrative. But unimportant details are often glossed over. Why bother mentioning this portion of the incident.

Obviously, there is the midrash on this, that he met the angel Gavriel, and he was hinting/warning that they had moved to judgment.

Two thoughts occurred to me about this.

1. It increases the dramatic tension. Not so much the first time around, of course, because we don't know what will happen. But the second time around, when we have a sense that Yosef is headed towards his doom, or at least years of servitude, if he is earnestly seeking his brothers, and cannot find them, then perhaps he will return to his father and avoid this fate. Yet he diligently wanders the area, and the fields in Shechem, where they usually graze their sheep. And a man finds him, and directs him elsewhere. And then, rather than giving up, he seeks them where they are, troubling himself to travel to another location. Similarly, perhaps it increases the sense of injustice (even on a first read), as he was innocently seeking them.

2. Another possibility is that Dotan was a more remote place than Shechem, and this accounts for why there were no witnesses to the proceeding. (Though it could have said "and he found them in Dotan).

Or to make the cover story more plausible that in seeking his brothers, he wandered here and there and was attacked by a wild animal on the way, before he was able to reach them.


Beisrunner said...

1) It makes sense that Yosef would look for them in Shechem. It doesn't make sense that he'd magically realize that they were in Dotan not Shechem. Somebody had to tell him this. Skipping right to Dotan would therefore leave a big gap in the story.

2) Yosef's walking around cluelessly makes him more of a "hapless" innocent victim when the brothers pounce on him.

3) Dotan is just a little southwest of modern-day Jenin, and thus relatively far from Shechem.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

A biblical history professor i had claimed that the narratives of the Torah were probably already familiar to our ancestors in the same way that little Jewish kids today know the story of Yoseif before ever reading/learning it 'inside'.

So any dramatic tension or suspense that's being formed would be semi-illusory, since we all know already what's going to happen — we're just waiting for the axe to fall. In other words, there would be suspense, but no surprise.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

I always thought the reason for the getting lost was to demonstrate how the upcoming events were "destined" to happen. Yosef could have turned around and gone home, but he persisted in seeking his brothers, and the right person showed up at precisely the right time and directed him toward them (I believe this is the intent of the Midrash about the angel Gavriel - that Hashem's plan is at work here, even in the trivial details and detours.)


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