Friday, December 10, 2010

In answer to a ponderous parasha point

On Miketz and Vayigash, over at Serandez, asked by G: the Prince of Egypt tells our ten intrepid travelers that they dare not return to the land of the River g-d without their youngest brother firmly in tow. Okay, that's a problem because Father does not let said brother out of his sight. Great tension ensues.

The question is...why? Why such worry? Why all the grand statements by everyone involved? What's the big deal - simply grab some kid, throw a pair of tzitzis and a yarmulka on him and pass him off as the younger brother. How hard could it have been to pull off such a ruse? They don't know that it's Yosef back in Mitzrayim. As far as they know it's a crazy ruler who for some reason is picking on them.

So why not pass off another as Binyomin, it would seem to be a no brainer way to solve all the problems at hand.

---Yes, there is a clear answer---
I'm going to try my hand at it, by asking another question, and one which had been asked before. How did Yosef even know about Binyamin? Well, Yaakov asked this:

ו  וַיֹּאמֶר, יִשְׂרָאֵל, לָמָה הֲרֵעֹתֶם, לִי--לְהַגִּיד לָאִישׁ, הַעוֹד לָכֶם אָח.6 And Israel said: 'Wherefore dealt ye so ill with me, as to tell the man whether ye had yet a brother?'
ז  וַיֹּאמְרוּ שָׁאוֹל שָׁאַל-הָאִישׁ לָנוּ וּלְמוֹלַדְתֵּנוּ לֵאמֹר, הַעוֹד אֲבִיכֶם חַי הֲיֵשׁ לָכֶם אָח, וַנַּגֶּד-לוֹ, עַל-פִּי הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה; הֲיָדוֹעַ נֵדַע--כִּי יֹאמַר, הוֹרִידוּ אֶת-אֲחִיכֶם.7 And they said: 'The man asked straitly concerning ourselves, and concerning our kindred, saying: Is your father yet alive? have ye another brother? and we told him according to the tenor of these words; could we in any wise know that he would say: Bring your brother down?'

In other words, Yosef was grilling them. Indeed, within parashat Vayigash, there are extra details of this which were unmentioned previously. Take it from their perspective. They were accused of being spies, and to prove this not so, produce this brother. Wouldn't Yosef grill Binyamin, to see if the story matches? It is no mere matter of saying "I am Binyamin". He would also need to know details of family history, and these would need to match precisely those put forth by the brothers. It would be dangerous to transform themselves from truth-tellers into liars.

Besides, they kept the entire Torah, which states midevar sheker tirchak.


Hillel said...

R' Waxman,
There may be another aspect here. Since the brothers are essentially Mesopotamian and live in Canaan, it seems likely there were enough distinguishing genetic characteristics that they couldn't just "grab a kid off the street" and have him pass as Binyamin. They also needed someone who knew all about life with Yaakov and the family, again, a stranger would not do. Basically, they would have to use someone looking like them with a similar life experience to them who was around Binyamin's age - the most likely candidate would probably be Reuven's children. Perhaps that's (an additional reason) why Yaakov rebuffs Reuven's offer of "et shnei banai tamit" - ouside the obvious defects of the offer, if Reuven was serious about it, he could have offered to pass off one of his kids as Binyamin. The fact that he chose not to do so showed the emptiness of the promise.

I know there's four kinds of speculation there (about the age of Reuven's sons, their physical appearance, etc.) - but whaddaya think?

Shabbat Shalom,

b said...

It doesn't work about them not lying.Look what yehudah said about yosef being dead.I heard because shimon was a hostage and yosef would confront binyamin with him alone without the brothers.

joshwaxman said...

my sense is that it is indeed too speculative to then extrapolate from there to judge Reuven's sincerity. and it is quite possible even Reuven's children would have caved under the pressure of interrogation,

indeed, that is another good point; an anonymous commenter at Serandez makes the same point. i don't know though that Yehuda was "caught" in terms of Yosef being dead, at least until the point of revelation.


Joe in Australia said...

I think the point b made is the obvious one. The brothers knew that Yosef might have asked Shimon to describe Binyomin, so they couldn't risk bringing an imposter. Furthermore, who says that they might have brought some random child? Surely they'd need to bring one that looked like a relative, who spoke their language, and had been circumcised. So at best they'd be bringing someone else from their household instead of Binyomin. Surely the newly-penitent brothers wouldn't have done such a thing, nor would their father have allowed it.

joshwaxman said...

i agree that they are all clear answers. see also the post i linked to for another answer, in the comment section...


b said...

Could you please clarify?what's the diffrence if yehudah was caught or not?I was adressing your point of m'dar sheker tirchak.

joshwaxman said...

did you really think i meant that last part seriously? the background for that is "yeshiva guy says over a vort".

it never occurred to me that you were responding to that tangential point, said in jest. i guess i have to be more careful to label jokes as jokes...

kol tuv,


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