Tuesday, January 03, 2006

parshat Mikeitz: The Goblet and the Terafim

The story of Binyamin and the silver goblet seems of a kind thematically with the story of Rachel and the terafim.

In both stories, something goes missing and an accusation is made that they have been stolen. In the case of the terafim, Rachel actually took them (31:19), while in the case of the goblet, it was planted (44:2).

In both instances, a defense is mounted on the basis of past honesty. Yaakov mounts this defense after proving himself innocent, speaking about how honestly he toiled for Lavan: {31:36-42}

לו וַיִּחַר לְיַעֲקֹב, וַיָּרֶב בְּלָבָן; וַיַּעַן יַעֲקֹב, וַיֹּאמֶר לְלָבָן, מַה-פִּשְׁעִי מַה חַטָּאתִי, כִּי דָלַקְתָּ אַחֲרָי. 36 And Jacob was wroth, and strove with Laban. And Jacob answered and said to Laban: 'What is my trespass? what is my sin, that thou hast hotly pursued after me?
לז כִּי-מִשַּׁשְׁתָּ אֶת-כָּל-כֵּלַי, מַה-מָּצָאתָ מִכֹּל כְּלֵי-בֵיתֶךָ--שִׂים כֹּה, נֶגֶד אַחַי וְאַחֶיךָ; וְיוֹכִיחוּ, בֵּין שְׁנֵינוּ. 37 Whereas thou hast felt about all my stuff, what hast thou found of all thy household stuff? Set it here before my brethren and thy brethren, that they may judge betwixt us two.
לח זֶה עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה אָנֹכִי עִמָּךְ, רְחֵלֶיךָ וְעִזֶּיךָ לֹא שִׁכֵּלוּ; וְאֵילֵי צֹאנְךָ, לֹא אָכָלְתִּי 38 These twenty years have I been with thee; thy ewes and thy she-goats have not cast their young, and the rams of thy flocks have I not eaten.
לט טְרֵפָה, לֹא-הֵבֵאתִי אֵלֶיךָ--אָנֹכִי אֲחַטֶּנָּה, מִיָּדִי תְּבַקְשֶׁנָּה; גְּנֻבְתִי יוֹם, וּגְנֻבְתִי לָיְלָה. 39 That which was torn of beasts I brought not unto thee; I bore the loss of it; of my hand didst thou require it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night.
מ הָיִיתִי בַיּוֹם אֲכָלַנִי חֹרֶב, וְקֶרַח בַּלָּיְלָה; וַתִּדַּד שְׁנָתִי, מֵעֵינָי. 40 Thus I was: in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep fled from mine eyes.
מא זֶה-לִּי עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה, בְּבֵיתֶךָ, עֲבַדְתִּיךָ אַרְבַּע-עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה בִּשְׁתֵּי בְנֹתֶיךָ, וְשֵׁשׁ שָׁנִים בְּצֹאנֶךָ; וַתַּחֲלֵף אֶת-מַשְׂכֻּרְתִּי, עֲשֶׂרֶת מֹנִים. 41 These twenty years have I been in thy house: I served thee fourteen years for thy two daughters, and six years for thy flock; and thou hast changed my wages ten times.
מב לוּלֵי אֱלֹהֵי אָבִי אֱלֹהֵי אַבְרָהָם וּפַחַד יִצְחָק, הָיָה לִי--כִּי עַתָּה, רֵיקָם שִׁלַּחְתָּנִי; אֶת-עָנְיִי וְאֶת-יְגִיעַ כַּפַּי, רָאָה אֱלֹהִים--וַיּוֹכַח אָמֶשׁ. 42 Except the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the Fear of Isaac, had been on my side, surely now hadst thou sent me away empty. God hath seen mine affliction and the labour of my hands, and gave judgment yesternight.'

while the brothers mount this defense before being proven innocent or guilty, on the basis of their having returned money in the past, that had somehow made it into their sacks. (44:7-8)
ז וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו--לָמָּה יְדַבֵּר אֲדֹנִי, כַּדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה; חָלִילָה, לַעֲבָדֶיךָ, מֵעֲשׂוֹת, כַּדָּבָר הַזֶּה. 7 And they said unto him: 'Wherefore speaketh my lord such words as these? Far be it from thy servants that they should do such a thing.
ח הֵן כֶּסֶף, אֲשֶׁר מָצָאנוּ בְּפִי אַמְתְּחֹתֵינוּ--הֱשִׁיבֹנוּ אֵלֶיךָ, מֵאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן; וְאֵיךְ, נִגְנֹב מִבֵּית אֲדֹנֶיךָ, כֶּסֶף, אוֹ זָהָב. 8 Behold, the money, which we found in our sacks' mouths, we brought back unto thee out of the land of Canaan; how then should we steal out of thy lord's house silver or gold?
In both instances, those protesting innocence are unaware of the fact that they are indeed in possession of the item. Yaakov does not know that Rachel took the terafim (31:32)
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.--
and the brothers also spoke with confidence, knowing that they had not taken the goblet.

In both instances, because of this confidence, a promise is made that should not be made. In Yaakov's case, in the aforementioned verse, he states that the one in possession of the terafim -- or rather, the one whom Lavan finds with the terafim, shall not live. Similarly, the borthers state that the one with the goblet will die, and they will be slaves. (44:9)
ט אֲשֶׁר יִמָּצֵא אִתּוֹ מֵעֲבָדֶיךָ, וָמֵת; וְגַם-אֲנַחְנוּ, נִהְיֶה לַאדֹנִי לַעֲבָדִים. 9 With whomsoever of thy servants it be found, let him die, and we also will be my lord's bondmen.'
In the case of the terafim, no one is caught, even though someone is guilty. In the case of the goblet, someone is caught, even though no one is guilty.

According to one midrash, Yaakov's curse was fulfilled, in Rachel's dying in labor with Binyamin. In the case of the brothers, even though the condition was fulfilled, there is only the threat of death (mitigated quickly by Yosef to servitude for Binyamin and freedom for the rest), which is not carried out.

One additional possible link. Binyamin could be said to be involved in each "theft." In the case of the goblet, it is found with him. In the case of the terafim, Rachel states that she cannot get up off the camel for she has her period. Thus Lavan does not find the terafim:
לד וְרָחֵל לָקְחָה אֶת-הַתְּרָפִים, וַתְּשִׂמֵם בְּכַר הַגָּמָל--וַתֵּשֶׁב עֲלֵיהֶם; וַיְמַשֵּׁשׁ לָבָן אֶת-כָּל-הָאֹהֶל, וְלֹא מָצָא. 34 Now Rachel had taken the teraphim, and put them in the saddle of the camel, and sat upon them. And Laban felt about all the tent, but found them not.
לה וַתֹּאמֶר אֶל-אָבִיהָ, אַל-יִחַר בְּעֵינֵי אֲדֹנִי, כִּי לוֹא אוּכַל לָקוּם מִפָּנֶיךָ, כִּי-דֶרֶךְ נָשִׁים לִי; וַיְחַפֵּשׂ, וְלֹא מָצָא אֶת-הַתְּרָפִים. 35 And she said to her father: 'Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise up before thee; for the manner of women is upon me.' And he searched, but found not the teraphim.
Depending on how one calculates the chronology of Binyamin's birth, it would seem that her claim is false, not only because she was merely saying this to avoid her father searching the saddle, but because it would be impossible - she was likely pregnant at the time, if she gave birth to Binyamin on the road to Canaan.


YS said...

If you take a look at Yalkut Meam Loaz, he learns that the curse of death by the brothers was not going on Benyamin but rather on the servants of Yosef. The brothers were saying that if the thief was a Ben Noach - one of Yosef's servants, then he would deserve death. However, since the brothers considered themselves Jews (unlike Yosef); they said that if one of us stole it, he would be a slave just like the halachah by a Jew who steals and cannot repay.

joshwaxman said...

Excellent! Thanks!

I love midrashim such as this, so much that I'll expand upon it.

First, this is part of an approach which cleverly applies Talmudic law to the avot. It is of one with, for example, the Meshech Chochma, who explains why the women and children were spared in Shechem - if the sin of the Shechemites was that they did not judge Shechem for the rape of Dinah, a violation of the 7 Noachide laws, well, women and children are not valid witnesses and thus are not valid judges (see the Mishna in Niddah 49b, which I referred to in this post on Devorah the "judge.")

to be continued in next comment.

joshwaxman said...

This midrash parses the pasuk:
אֲשֶׁר יִמָּצֵא אִתּוֹ מֵעֲבָדֶיךָ, וָמֵת - if it is found from among your servants - that is, Yosef's actual servants, who are Egyptians - they shall die
וְגַם-אֲנַחְנוּ, נִהְיֶה לַאדֹנִי לַעֲבָדִים - and as for us - if it is found among us - we shall be to you for servants.

On a peshat level, of course, the brothers often refer to themselves and their father as Yosef's servants as a way of conveying their respect, and the word מֵעֲבָדֶיךָ is another such example. There is a definite semantic difference between the first occurrence in the pasuk - מֵעֲבָדֶיךָ - where it conveys respect and their general subservience to the vizier of Egypt - and the second occurrence - לַעֲבָדִים - where it means they will *literally* become his servants.

What this midrash does is take the first occurrence and also make it literal, such that מֵעֲבָדֶיךָ means those who are literally actually his servants now. It then uses this reinterpretation to divide the pasuk such that it talks of two different classes.

to be continued...

joshwaxman said...

then there is the consideration of how the peshat and the derash each work in context.

The brothers said אֲשֶׁר יִמָּצֵא אִתּוֹ מֵעֲבָדֶיךָ, וָמֵת; וְגַם-אֲנַחְנוּ, נִהְיֶה לַאדֹנִי לַעֲבָדִים.

In reply to this, the steward says: (44:10)
וַיֹּאמֶר, גַּם-עַתָּה כְדִבְרֵיכֶם כֶּן-הוּא: אֲשֶׁר יִמָּצֵא אִתּוֹ יִהְיֶה-לִּי עָבֶד, וְאַתֶּם תִּהְיוּ נְקִיִּם.
"And he said: 'Now also let it be according unto your words: he with whom it is found shall be my bondman; and ye shall be blameless.'"

Yet according to peshat, this is NOT what the brothers said. Meanwhile, according the this derash, this is indeed what the brothers said - that he with whom it would be found would be a bondman.

On the peshat level, we may say this is deliberate modification by the steward. He agrees to the bondman part, but restricts it to the one upon whom the goblet is found.

(On the derash level, we might also reinterpret וַיֹּאמֶר, גַּם-עַתָּה כְדִבְרֵיכֶם כֶּן-הוּא: אֲשֶׁר יִמָּצֵא אִתּוֹ יִהְיֶה-לִּי עָבֶד, וְאַתֶּם תִּהְיוּ נְקִיִּם as:
"Now it should be as your words that the one upon whom it is found is my slave (and not one of you) such that all you are blameless.")

Later, in pasuk 16, Yehuda says:
וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוּדָה, מַה-נֹּאמַר לַאדֹנִי, מַה-נְּדַבֵּר, וּמַה-נִּצְטַדָּק; הָאֱלֹהִים, מָצָא אֶת-עֲו‍ֹן עֲבָדֶיךָ--הִנֶּנּוּ עֲבָדִים לַאדֹנִי, גַּם-אֲנַחְנוּ גַּם אֲשֶׁר-נִמְצָא הַגָּבִיעַ בְּיָדוֹ.
"And Judah said: 'What shall we say unto my lord? what shall we speak? or how shall we clear ourselves? God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants; behold, we are my lord's bondmen, both we, and he also in whose hand the cup is found.'"

which seems stronger than what the steward said. Yet it is not exactly what was said by the brothers before - death is not mentioned for Binyamin.
It works well with the derash offered, where death was never a consideration for them, since they have been found with the article, they will be sold into slavery.

On the peshat level, perhaps now that they have been caught, Yehuda is reframing it, and not mentioning death, for he would not want Binyamin killed.

And there is Yosef, who reduces the punishment to only single out Binyamin. In pasuk 18:

וַיֹּאמֶר--חָלִילָה לִּי, מֵעֲשׂוֹת זֹאת; הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר נִמְצָא הַגָּבִיעַ בְּיָדוֹ, הוּא יִהְיֶה-לִּי עָבֶד, וְאַתֶּם, עֲלוּ לְשָׁלוֹם אֶל-אֲבִיכֶם.
And he said: 'Far be it from me that I should do so; the man in whose hand the goblet is found, he shall be my bondman; but as for you, get you up in peace unto your father.'

to be continued...

joshwaxman said...

still, while extremely amusing and clever, there *is* one flaw.

They are still in possession of the goblet. While in Jewish law one might be sold into temporary slavery for non-payment of a theft, this only applies to the principal, but not for any fine on top of that such as keifel. Since they could (and did) return the principal, it makes no sense that they would be sold for the theft under any halacha.

Anonymous said...

According to R' Amnon Bazak, the purpose of terafim was for predicting the future (http://www.vbm-torah.org/parsha.59/08vayish.htm) which would make the goblet story even more like the terafim story.


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