Thursday, December 20, 2012

Where did Reuven go?

I began my explanation of the narrative of Yosef's sale in this previous post. Please read in in full, but as a quick summary, we see in Vayigash that Yosef explicitly says that his brothers sold him. And a simple peshat reading of the pesukim in question in Vayeshev would be that Yehuda suggested that they sell him to the coming Ishmaelites, and then, when the Ishmaelites, who were the same as the Midianite traders arrived, the brothers carried out their plan. Now the midrash / documentary hypothesis / Rashbam as pashtan / 'close reading' which is really neo-midrash but bills itself as peshat  --  declares that the brothers did not sell, but rather that Midianites came, pulled Yosef out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites, all without the brother's knowledge. I do not believe this to be a correct peshat in the pesukim in question, as I explain there.

However, since I was focused in that post only on the pesukim directly related to Yosef's sale, I did not address other issues indirectly related to whether the brothers sold Yosef. For example, Reuven disappears. Where did he go, and what does it mean that he returned?

The midrash asserts that he was returning in the sense of doing teshuva, repenting from sinning with Bilhah.

Also, why was he so shocked? Should we take his shock as evidence that the brothers were also shocked?

I believe that the key to understanding Reuven's place in the narrative lies in parashat Vayeitzei, when Yaakov first arrives in Charan and wonders why the shepherds are all gathered at the well. In Bereisht 29:7-8:
ז  וַיֹּאמֶר, הֵן עוֹד הַיּוֹם גָּדוֹל--לֹא-עֵת, הֵאָסֵף הַמִּקְנֶה; הַשְׁקוּ הַצֹּאן, וּלְכוּ רְעוּ.7 And he said: 'Lo, it is yet high day, neither is it time that the cattle should be gathered together; water ye the sheep, and go and feed them.'
ח  וַיֹּאמְרוּ, לֹא נוּכַל, עַד אֲשֶׁר יֵאָסְפוּ כָּל-הָעֲדָרִים, וְגָלְלוּ אֶת-הָאֶבֶן מֵעַל פִּי הַבְּאֵר; וְהִשְׁקִינוּ, הַצֹּאן.8 And they said: 'We cannot, until all the flocks be gathered together, and they roll the stone from the well's mouth; then we water the sheep.'


Shepherding is a solitary activity. You just need one shepherd per flock of sheep. Thar shepherd entertains himself playing the flute (chalil) and keeps the sheep from wandering off by using his slingshot to frighten a wandering sheep back to the flock.

If so, you do not need 10 brothers all keeping an eye on a flock. Each was in charge of his own flock, and he took them to some location with fresh, uneaten grass. On occassion, they met together in order to make sure that they were safe, to stave off boredom, and to eat together. They were brothers and, with one sole exception, liked each other. (Yosef's role in this was not to always be a shepherd but to see how the sheperding was going and to report back to his father. Thus, in the beginning of Vayeshev, וַיָּבֵא יוֹסֵף אֶת-דִּבָּתָם רָעָה, אֶל-אֲבִיהֶם, Yosef's role was to bring their 'shepherding report', dibatam ra'ah, to their father.)

Yosef found them gathered together, but after their gathering, they should move off to continue to graze their sheep. It was at this point, after casting Yosef into the pit as Reuven's suggestion, that they should move off.

Reuven, at least, should separate from them. His plan was to return, when not in their company, to the pit, and rescue Yosef in order to return Yosef to his father. Bereishit 37:22:
כב  וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם רְאוּבֵן, אַל-תִּשְׁפְּכוּ-דָם--הַשְׁלִיכוּ אֹתוֹ אֶל-הַבּוֹר הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר בַּמִּדְבָּר, וְיָד אַל-תִּשְׁלְחוּ-בוֹ:  לְמַעַן, הַצִּיל אֹתוֹ מִיָּדָם, לַהֲשִׁיבוֹ, אֶל-אָבִיו.22 And Reuben said unto them: 'Shed no blood; cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, but lay no hand upon him'--that he might deliver him out of their hand, to restore him to his father.


So Reuven goes off by himself, and thinks the brothers will also go off on their way. [The Biblical text leaves this implicit, though it becomes obvious based on what follows.] What Reuven does not count on is that the brothers decide to tarry there to eat, and while there, the Ishmaelites pass by, prompting Yehuda's suggestion, etc.
כה  וַיֵּשְׁבוּ, לֶאֱכָל-לֶחֶם, וַיִּשְׂאוּ עֵינֵיהֶם וַיִּרְאוּ, וְהִנֵּה אֹרְחַת יִשְׁמְעֵאלִים בָּאָה מִגִּלְעָד; וּגְמַלֵּיהֶם נֹשְׂאִים, נְכֹאת וּצְרִי וָלֹט--הוֹלְכִים, לְהוֹרִיד מִצְרָיְמָה.25 And they sat down to eat bread; and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites came from Gilead, with their camels bearing spicery and balm and ladanum, going to carry it down to Egypt.


This is all in Reuven's absence. Then, after the sale, the brothers either stay or go off on their way. Some time later, Reuven believes that enough time has passed, and to returns to the pit, just as he originally planned:
כט  וַיָּשָׁב רְאוּבֵן אֶל-הַבּוֹר, וְהִנֵּה אֵין-יוֹסֵף בַּבּוֹר; וַיִּקְרַע, אֶת-בְּגָדָיו.29 And Reuben returned unto the pit; and, behold, Joseph was not in the pit; and he rent his clothes.


He is surprised because he was not with his brothers when this happened. Because taking leave of them was a necessary part of his cunning plan. And so, shocked, he seeks out his brothers where they are and tells them about Yosef's absence.
ל  וַיָּשָׁב אֶל-אֶחָיו, וַיֹּאמַר:  הַיֶּלֶד אֵינֶנּוּ, וַאֲנִי אָנָה אֲנִי-בָא.30 And he returned unto his brethren, and said: 'The child is not; and as for me, whither shall I go?'


At this point, they presumably would tell Reuven what they have done. But regardless, Reuven is acquitted of this evil. (Even though from Yehuda's perspective, it was not so evil.)

So, to answer Hillel, a commenter on the previous post:
We're told he 'returned' to the pit, rends his garments on seeing Yosef wasn't there, then 'returned' to the brothers and freaks out. Returned from where? Why is he surprised Yosef is not in the pit? While this works perfectly if the brothers were back in Dotan and merely planning to sell Yosef, there is no p'shat way of dealing with this if the brothers actually sold him. One needs to turn to medrashim about Reuven repenting for ma'aseh Bilha or returning to tend to Yaakov to explain the text.
One does not need to turn to midrashim. Midrashim pick up on teshuva bit, and perhaps are troubled by his leaving. But we can say, on a peshat level, that he left them to tend to his flocks and so as to be able to return, secretly, to the pit, as was his plan; and that he returns to his brothers, some distance from the pit, because he was not there during Yehuda's suggestion.

One orthogonal topic down. What is next?
Additionally, it's fairly charitable to call 37:28 an 'ambiguity.' If I was writing about the Yankees, then wrote "the Mets came to town, they played the Reds, and they won 3-1", technically, "they" COULD mean the Yankees, but that's not an ambiguity, that's a tortured reading. The most 'straightforward' meaning of 37:28 is that it's talking about the Midianites the entire time. Theoretically, you could put a period in front of the word 'socharim', and make the first four words an independent clause, but that's a more difficult readong, and, FWIW, it's not borne out by the trop.
I agree. I was being charitable in calling 37:28, an ambiguity. It clearly means that the brothers pulled Yosef from the pit, and suggesting that the Midianites . The pesukim again, from Bereishis 37:
כה  וַיֵּשְׁבוּ, לֶאֱכָל-לֶחֶם, וַיִּשְׂאוּ עֵינֵיהֶם וַיִּרְאוּ, וְהִנֵּה אֹרְחַת יִשְׁמְעֵאלִים בָּאָה מִגִּלְעָד; וּגְמַלֵּיהֶם נֹשְׂאִים, נְכֹאת וּצְרִי וָלֹט--הוֹלְכִים, לְהוֹרִיד מִצְרָיְמָה.25 And they sat down to eat bread; and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites came from Gilead, with their camels bearing spicery and balm and ladanum, going to carry it down to Egypt.
כו  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוּדָה, אֶל-אֶחָיו:  מַה-בֶּצַע, כִּי נַהֲרֹג אֶת-אָחִינוּ, וְכִסִּינוּ, אֶת-דָּמוֹ.26 And Judah said unto his brethren: 'What profit is it if we slay our brother and conceal his blood?
כז  לְכוּ וְנִמְכְּרֶנּוּ לַיִּשְׁמְעֵאלִים, וְיָדֵנוּ אַל-תְּהִי-בוֹ, כִּי-אָחִינוּ בְשָׂרֵנוּ, הוּא; וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ, אֶחָיו.27 Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother, our flesh.' And his brethren hearkened unto him.
כח  וַיַּעַבְרוּ אֲנָשִׁים מִדְיָנִים סֹחֲרִים, וַיִּמְשְׁכוּ וַיַּעֲלוּ אֶת-יוֹסֵף מִן-הַבּוֹר, וַיִּמְכְּרוּ אֶת-יוֹסֵף לַיִּשְׁמְעֵאלִים, בְּעֶשְׂרִים כָּסֶף; וַיָּבִיאוּ אֶת-יוֹסֵף, מִצְרָיְמָה.28 And there passed by Midianites, merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they brought Joseph into Egypt.


The 'ambiguity' is one of ambiguous antecedent. A pronoun, such as 'he' or 'they', will be used instead of an earlier noun, but sometimes, it is unclear which noun it refers to. For example, in this sentence:

Tim told his brother he was working too hard.
Who was working too hard? Tim, or his brother?
Lizzy told her mother that her sweater had a hole in it.
Whose sweater had a hole in it? Lizzy's sweater, or her mother's sweater?

However, sometimes an antecedent is only ambiguous when we consider the sentence by itself. If we set up expectations earlier in the paragraph, then there is no ambiguity.

Tim's brother Jack came home from a 24 hour shift in the hospital, and staggered in the door. Tim told his brother he was working too hard.
Who was working too hard? Tim, or his brother? Obviously, Tim's brother!

Lizzy reluctantly decided to criticize her mother's wardrobe. Lizzy told her mother that her sweater had a hole in it.


Whose sweater had a hole in it? Lizzy's sweater, or her mother's sweater? Obviously, Lizzy's mother!

Lizzy fell in the park, tearing up her clothing. When she came home, Lizzy told her mother that her sweater had a hole in it.


Whose sweater had a hole in it? Lizzy's sweater, or her mother's sweater? Obviously, Lizzy!

While these antecedents are technically ambiguous, the context makes them entirely unambiguous.

Let us try another one, from parshat Vayeshev. Since we already decided that Midianite == Ishmaelite, in this example, I will say Ishmaelite throughout. I mark my emendation in red bold.
כה  וַיֵּשְׁבוּ, לֶאֱכָל-לֶחֶם, וַיִּשְׂאוּ עֵינֵיהֶם וַיִּרְאוּ, וְהִנֵּה אֹרְחַת יִשְׁמְעֵאלִים בָּאָה מִגִּלְעָד; וּגְמַלֵּיהֶם נֹשְׂאִים, נְכֹאת וּצְרִי וָלֹט--הוֹלְכִים, לְהוֹרִיד מִצְרָיְמָה.25 And they sat down to eat bread; and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites came from Gilead, with their camels bearing spicery and balm and ladanum, going to carry it down to Egypt.
כו  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוּדָה, אֶל-אֶחָיו:  מַה-בֶּצַע, כִּי נַהֲרֹג אֶת-אָחִינוּ, וְכִסִּינוּ, אֶת-דָּמוֹ.26 And Judah said unto his brethren: 'What profit is it if we slay our brother and conceal his blood?
כז  לְכוּ וְנִמְכְּרֶנּוּ לַיִּשְׁמְעֵאלִים, וְיָדֵנוּ אַל-תְּהִי-בוֹ, כִּי-אָחִינוּ בְשָׂרֵנוּ, הוּא; וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ, אֶחָיו.27 Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother, our flesh.' And his brethren hearkened unto him.
כח  וַיַּעַבְרוּ אֲנָשִׁים יִשְׁמְעֵאלִים סֹחֲרִים, וַיִּמְשְׁכוּ וַיַּעֲלוּ אֶת-יוֹסֵף מִן-הַבּוֹר, וַיִּמְכְּרוּ אֶת-יוֹסֵף לַיִּשְׁמְעֵאלִים, בְּעֶשְׂרִים כָּסֶף; וַיָּבִיאוּ אֶת-יוֹסֵף, מִצְרָיְמָה.28 And there passed by Ishmaelites, merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they brought Joseph into Egypt.

In pasuk 25, they see the Ishmaelites.

In pasuk 27, Yehuda suggests that they sell Yosef to the Ishmaelites.

In pasuk 27 also, the brothers hearken unto him, which means that they intend to carry out this plan.

In pasuk 28, when the Ishmaelites pass by, they [the brothers] draw and lift Yosef from the pit. And they sell Yosef to these Ishmaelites. And these Ishmaelites then bring Yosef to Egypt, and sell him there to Potifar.

Indeed, the very last pasuk of the perek relates that the Midianites sell Yosef to Egypt:
לו  וְהַמְּדָנִים--מָכְרוּ אֹתוֹ, אֶל-מִצְרָיִם:  לְפוֹטִיפַר סְרִיס פַּרְעֹה, שַׂר הַטַּבָּחִים.  {פ}36 And the Midianites sold him into Egypt unto Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh's, the captain of the guard. {P}


This is not a problem if the Ishmaelites == the Midianites. But if they are a different people, then it is awkward to say that the Midianites rather than Ishmaelites did this.

By the way, another example of ambiguous antecedent make non-ambiguous by context is in that same pasuk, 28:
כח  וַיַּעַבְרוּ אֲנָשִׁים מִדְיָנִים סֹחֲרִים, וַיִּמְשְׁכוּ וַיַּעֲלוּ אֶת-יוֹסֵף מִן-הַבּוֹר, וַיִּמְכְּרוּ אֶת-יוֹסֵף לַיִּשְׁמְעֵאלִים, בְּעֶשְׂרִים כָּסֶף; וַיָּבִיאוּ אֶת-יוֹסֵף, מִצְרָיְמָה.28 And there passed by Midianites, merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they brought Joseph into Egypt.


In וַיָּבִיאוּ אֶת-יוֹסֵף, מִצְרָיְמָה, who brought Yosef to Egypt? If you insist on staying with the same actor, the Midianites, then did they bring Yosef to Egypt? Surely there is a shift in actor!

This is response to
The most 'straightforward' meaning of 37:28 is that it's talking about the Midianites the entire time. 
It is not talking about Midianites the entire time. At some point (according to you), it is talking about Ishmaelites as the actor.

To take the baseball example Hillel offered:
 If I was writing about the Yankees, then wrote "the Mets came to town, they played the Reds, and they won 3-1", technically, "they" COULD mean the Yankees, but that's not an ambiguity, that's a tortured reading.
I think the example is messed up, and he meant:

What if I wrote the following paragraph? Keep in mind that the Bronx Bombers is a prominently used nickname for the New York Yankees:
The coach for the Bronx Bombers suggested a strategy in which they could win 3-1 against the Reds. The Bronx Bombers agreed with this plan. [When] the New York Yankees came to town, they played the Reds, and they won 3-1.
Now pretend that this is read 1000 years from now when people do not know of this nickname. Except someone finds some other random sports article which happens to equate Bronx Bombers with the New York Yankees. (This is the equivalent of the pasuk in Shofetim, which gives us insight into Biblical patterns of speech.) (I think my case above is not a precise parallel to the Biblical text, but it gives the flavor of matching synonyms and disambiguating 'ambiguous' antecedents.)

This seems to be, more or less, what the pesukim state. I place my guidelines in square brackets:
Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother, our flesh.' And his brethren hearkened unto him.

And [so, when] there passed by Midianites, merchantmen; they [the brothers] drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they [the merchants] brought Joseph into Egypt.

9 comments:

yaak said...

So, in other words, the Yankees are Yishmaelim. That explains a lot - thanks. :-)

Seriously, though, an interesting post.

matthew said...

Your translation of "dibatam ra'ah" as 'shepherding report' is very fascinating. Do any of the commentators render it thusly?

joshwaxman said...

thanks. not that I've seen. I expand on that idea here.

kol tuv,
josh

Hillel said...

R’ Waxman,
While I appreciate the creativity in your understanding of the p’sukim, you make many assumptions that are not borne out by the verses.
First, you assume shepherding is solitary, and each brother took his own flock. But the text says this nowhere and you bring no proof from a case where we know a single entity with many flocks has several shepherds. Any time we see multiple shepherds from the same family we see them together, and NEVER apart! (here and Shemot 2:16).
Second, you assume 10 people are not needed to keep an eye on the flocks, but what was the size of the flocks? Also, they were (unlike Rachel) far from home; indeed, when grazing by Shechem they were in the company of people who despised them. In the event of an attack, from thieves, wolves or angry villagers, ten men is better than one!
Third, you assume Reuven left the group, even though the text never tells us this vital point. You say this “becomes obvious” in hindsight, but that is assuming your own conclusion!
Fourth, you assume, as you must, that Reuven left the group, and, instead of going back to the pit to rescue his trapped brother, decides to wait a while (to throw them off track?) before returning to the pit, by which time he is gone. Again, a lot assumed with no textual support.
Fifth, you assume Ishmaelite = Midianite. This is very difficult. There is one place in tananch (none in the Torah) where two are equated. There are dozens of places where Midiniate and Ishmaelite do not mean the same thing. To take the exception and apply it when the common explanation works is not p’shat. It is further complicated since you must then deal with the Medanites who appear later. Are they also interchangeable? Why does the Torah toss around these nationalities without regard for specificity?
I’ll do a second comment when I get a chance re the latter portion of your post.
KT,
Hillel

Hillel said...

R’ Waxman,
Regarding the second part of your post, I think the red-bolded portion of your post itself is a perfect proof of why there is a problem here. If the Torah says “Ishamelites” throughout, it is far, far more difficult to suggest the brothers did not sell Yosef. The Torah could have prevented the entire issue by saying ‘Ishmaelite.’ But it does not do so. It opens this ambiguity by referring the Ishmaelites as Midianites – something happens nowhere else in the Torah or in Tanach!
In the single case you cite re Gidon , Midianites are called Ishmaelites. It makes sense that all Avraham’s ‘other’ children, regardless of nationality, had cultural similarities, such that as an ethnicity they were all called “Ishmaelites.” (The fact that Ishmael had significant cultural impact on his brothers is attested to in 16:12 and 25:18. The reverse is not true. Midianites are never called Ishmaelites, and there’s no reason they would be. All New Yorkers are Americans, not all Americans are New Yorkers.
Indeed, if Midianite and Ishmaelite meant the dame thing, the pasuk in Shoftim would make no sense! It would read, in essence, “The Midinaites had golden ear-rings, because they were Midinaites.”
KT and Shabbat Shalom,
Hillel

Hillel said...

Sorry, the sentence above should read "The reverse is not true. Ishmaelites re never called Midianites, and there’s no reason they would be."
KT,
Hillel

joshwaxman said...

bli neder, a follow up post.

this isn't "creative", though. it is the simple meaning of the text. it is the other explanations which get creative.

you are raising a number of points, some of which i've seen in the past in the context of bolstering the creative midrashic / close-reading approach. i disagree with them all, though i can't cover every single objection in a single blogpost. that would be too unwieldy. perhaps in a follow-up.

good shabbos,
josh

joshwaxman said...

what i mean by the above is that once one says Midianites == Ishmaelites, the other explanations are not "creative". they are the obvious explanations which come from a straightforward reading of the pesukim.

as for your assertion that Midianite == Ishmaelite, but one cannot say that Ishmaelite == Midianite... what is your basis for saying that these people are Ishmaelites and not Midianites? Maybe they are true Midianites throughout, and the Torah referred to them as Ishmaelites on occasion! That was certainly my assumption

Why do the Medanites appear later? It is called a variant spelling. We are not learning midrash here, that we make sure a big deal of a missing Yud. (Even though indeed there are Medan and Midyan in Bereshit 25:2.) See the Samaritan Torah which spells it malei yud. See Onkelos as well who translates Medanim there as Midyanim.

By the way, Ibn Ezra says precisely what I was saying here:
ויעברו-
וכאשר עברו עליהם הישמעאלים הסוחרים, כי המדינים יקראו ישמעאלים.
וכן אמר על מלכי מדין כי ישמעאלים הם.

Hillel said...

R' Waxman,
To be clear, when I say your take on Reuven leaving to tend his flock is creative, I mean only that it is a novel approach which no one else has asserted before. (I assume if you had seen a source you would have quoted.)

However, you still have not answered the main question. Why would the Torah use two terms interchangeably when they are almost never so used, and the one case where they are makes clear that the two are the same? If you are assuming the Torah means a very rare meaning for a word when a common one makes sense, that is not p'shat. (e.g., if I said the Egyptians raped all the Jewish men b/c of the repeated use of the term I-N-H, that would be a drash, not p'shat.)

Plus, a variant spelling is a very weak answer under these circumstances, since there is one nation called Midian and a different one called Medan. To say the Torah meant Midian but called it Medan again means the Torah did something very confusing for no discernible reason!


KT,
Hillel

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