Thursday, December 16, 2004

Vayigash #3: Yehuda's Threat

As mentioned above, a theme in the midrash on this parasha is Jewish might, even though it looks as if the brothers are powerless before Yosef the vizier. Here is another drasha in midrash rabba parasha 93 siman 6:

The drasha is on the first pasuk in parshat Vayigash:

יח וַיִּגַּשׁ אֵלָיו יְהוּדָה, וַיֹּאמֶר בִּי אֲדֹנִי, יְדַבֶּר-נָא עַבְדְּךָ דָבָר בְּאָזְנֵי אֲדֹנִי, וְאַל-יִחַר אַפְּךָ בְּעַבְדֶּךָ: כִּי כָמוֹךָ, כְּפַרְעֹה. 18 Then Judah came near unto him, and said: 'Oh my lord, let thy servant, I pray thee, speak a word in my lord's ears, and let not thine anger burn against thy servant; for thou art even as Pharaoh.

יְדַבֶּר-נָא עַבְדְּךָ...
יכנסו דברי באזנך
זקינתו של זה ע"י שמשכה פרעה לילה אחת
לקה בנגעים הוא וכל ביתו
דכתיב (בראשית יב) וינגע ה' את פרעה
הזהר שלא ילקה אותו האיש בצרעת
אמו של זה לא מתה אלא מקללתו של אבא ומן תמן מיתת לה
(שם לא) עם אשר תמצא את אלהיך לא יחיה
הזהר שלא יחול בך קללה אחת ואותו האיש מת
שנים ממנו נכנסו לכרך אחד שלם והחריבוה
להלן בשביל נקבה כאן בשביל זכר
על חיבת העין בא על אכסניא של הקב"ה שנאמר בו
(דברים לג) חופף עליו כל היום
על אחת כמה וכמה
"let thy servant speak {[a word in my lord's ears... for thou art even as Pharaoh.]}":
My words should enter into your ears
The grandmother of this one (Binyamin) because Pharoah kept her one night,
he was smitten with leprosy, him and his entire household
As it states in Bereishit 12:17:

יז וַיְנַגַּע ה אֶת-פַּרְעֹה נְגָעִים גְּדֹלִים, וְאֶת-בֵּיתוֹ, עַל-דְּבַר שָׂרַי, אֵשֶׁת אַבְרָם. 17 And the LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai Abram's wife.
Beware lest that man {= the vizier, Yosef} is stricken with leprosy.
The mother of this one {Rachel = mother of Binyamin} only died from the curse of father, and from there she died -
{Bereishit 31:32 - to Lavan, regarding the missing trafim:}
לב עִם אֲשֶׁר תִּמְצָא אֶת-אֱלֹהֶיךָ, לֹא יִחְיֶה--נֶגֶד אַחֵינוּ הַכֶּר-לְךָ מָה עִמָּדִי, וְקַח-לָךְ; וְלֹא-יָדַע יַעֲקֹב, כִּי רָחֵל גְּנָבָתַם. 32 With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, he shall not live; before our brethren discern thou what is thine with me, and take it to thee.'--For Jacob knew not that Rachel had stolen them.--
Beware lest one curse befall you and that man {=you, the vizier} die.
Two of us entered one town {Shechem} complete and destroyed it
In that instance for a female, here for a male
Upon the Beloved of the eye he approaches upon the Abode of Hashem, that is said regarding him
(Devarim 33:12:)
יב לְבִנְיָמִן אָמַר--יְדִיד ה, יִשְׁכֹּן לָבֶטַח עָלָיו; חֹפֵף עָלָיו כָּל-הַיּוֹם, וּבֵין כְּתֵפָיו שָׁכֵן.
12 Of Benjamin he said: The beloved of the LORD shall dwell in safety by Him; He covereth him all the day, and He dwelleth between his shoulders.
Certainly {will they take action}.

Clearly one of the motivating factors for this midrash is the question why they did not take action. Compare their violent reaction on behalf on Dinah to their subdued reaction on behalf of Shimon and Binyamin. Further, if we say that Egpyt is mightier, we saw Avraham overcome the might of Egypt in the past with the help of Hashem, and the midrash has Yaakov's unintentional curse carry lethal force. If so, why should they act so subservient?

There are also prompts in the text that allow for the specific midrash, as it appears. Explicitly, we see that the request to "speak a word in my lord's ear" is taken to mean that there is some hidden message, either spoken privately and alluded to in the reported speech, or that he is alluding to something and this hidden message in the public words should enter Yosef's ears.

The first threat - of leprosy, is derived from the end of the verse. You should not get angry at your servant and refuse to release Binyamin. For you are as Pharaoh. Not the current Pharoah, but the one from Avraham's time. Both you and he restrained members of my family. You may well be as Pharoah, and become a leper. Thus, what looks like flattering speech is actually a coded threat.

The remaining two cases - Yaakov's curse and Shimon and Levi's conquering of Shechem - may just be spelling out the motivation for the midrash and noting the contrast in attitudes. Alternatively, perhaps the next pasuk is taken to be an encoded message as well:

יט אֲדֹנִי שָׁאַל, אֶת-עֲבָדָיו לֵאמֹר: הֲיֵשׁ-לָכֶם אָב, אוֹ-אָח. 19 My lord asked his servants, saying: Have ye a father, or a brother?
The reference to his father would be the source of referring to the power of his father's curse. The reference to his brother would be the source of referring to his brothers Shimon and Levi who destroyed Shechem.

Indeed, to bolster the idea that this in fact forms the textual base for these three cases, I would note that the order of the midrash - Sarah, Yaakov's curse, Shimon and Levi destroying Shechem, follows the order of what I posit are the source text for the drash in the beginning of Vayigash. (They also may be in chronological order if we take Yaakov's curse as the even rather than Rachel's death).

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