Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Vayeishev #5: A Baaaad Report

The second pasuk in Vayeishev reads:
אֵלֶּה תֹּלְדוֹת יַעֲקֹב, יוֹסֵף בֶּן-שְׁבַע-עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה הָיָה רֹעֶה אֶת-אֶחָיו בַּצֹּאן, וְהוּא נַעַר אֶת-בְּנֵי בִלְהָה וְאֶת-בְּנֵי זִלְפָּה, נְשֵׁי אָבִיו; וַיָּבֵא יוֹסֵף אֶת-דִּבָּתָם רָעָה, אֶל-אֲבִיהֶם.
"These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren, being still a lad even with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives; and Joseph brought evil report of them unto their father."

What was this evil report? The midrash fills in the details, which you can see in a dvar torah below, but this "evil report does not factor into the narrative at all. Or perhaps it does. After all, in pasuk 8, we see:

וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוֹ, אֶחָיו, הֲמָלֹךְ תִּמְלֹךְ עָלֵינוּ, אִם-מָשׁוֹל תִּמְשֹׁל בָּנוּ; וַיּוֹסִפוּ עוֹד שְׂנֹא אֹתוֹ, עַל-חֲלֹמֹתָיו וְעַל-דְּבָרָיו.
And his brethren said to him: 'Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us?' And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words.

What were Yosef's דְּבָרָיו, "his words"? Were they words regarding his dreams, or the fact that he relayed bad news about his brothers to his father?

I would suggest that perhaps אֶת-דִּבָּתָם רָעָה does not mean "evil report," but rather "shepherding report." The purpose of the pasuk would then be to set up the situation so that you understand the subsequent narrative. We are told in a subsequent pasuk that Yaakov father gave Yosef a כְּתֹנֶת פַּסִּים because he loved him most, which engendered hatred in Yosef's brothers. Thus, we understand later the significance of them stripping Yosef of his coat, dipping it in blood, and showing it to Yaakov.

Similarly, we are told up front that Yosef was 17 years old and shepherded with his brothers, but that it was his role to check up periodically with his brothers on how the shepherding was going, and relay word to his father.

Firstly, this makes sense, since it was Yaakov's flocks, and not the brothers. As we see in pasuk 12:

וַיֵּלְכוּ, אֶחָיו, לִרְעוֹת אֶת-צֹאן אֲבִיהֶם, בִּשְׁכֶם.
"And his brethren went to feed their father's flock in Shechem."

As such, Yaakov would have interest in how his possessions (and sons) were doing. We saw earlier how Yaakov was able to cleverly genetically modify his flocks to his liking and have them produce offspring.

We then see Yosef's role of bringing אֶת-דִּבָּתָם רָעָה, אֶל-אֲבִיהֶם explicitly in pasuk 13-14:

וַיֹּאמֶר יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל-יוֹסֵף, הֲלוֹא אַחֶיךָ רֹעִים בִּשְׁכֶם--לְכָה, וְאֶשְׁלָחֲךָ אֲלֵיהֶם; וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ, הִנֵּנִי.
וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ, לֶךְ-נָא רְאֵה אֶת-שְׁלוֹם אַחֶיךָ וְאֶת-שְׁלוֹם הַצֹּאן, וַהֲשִׁבֵנִי, דָּבָר; וַיִּשְׁלָחֵהוּ מֵעֵמֶק חֶבְרוֹן, וַיָּבֹא שְׁכֶמָה.
"And Israel said unto Joseph: 'Do not thy brethren feed the flock in Shechem? come, and I will send thee unto them.' And he said to him: 'Here am I.'

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."

Yaakov presumably knew how to read one of these.

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