Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Why Didn't The Brothers Try To Stone Yosef To Death?

So asks Hillel, in a comment on my previous post. In that previous post, I suggested that they had determined that Yosef was a choleim chalomot, and thus a navi, sheker. And so they wished to put him to death as a false prophet.

Hillel asks in a comment:
R' Waxman,
Respectfully, your answer fails to explain why they did not perform sekillah k'din - or any sekillah at all!
This under the assumption that a false prophet is killed with sekilah. This is actually not so clear-cut. Yes, a pasuk in the approximate context in parashat Reeh does state {Devarim 13:10-11}:

י  כִּי הָרֹג תַּהַרְגֶנּוּ, יָדְךָ תִּהְיֶה-בּוֹ בָרִאשׁוֹנָה לַהֲמִיתוֹ; וְיַד כָּל-הָעָם, בָּאַחֲרֹנָה.10 but thou shalt surely kill him; thy hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.
יא  וּסְקַלְתּוֹ בָאֲבָנִים, וָמֵת:  כִּי בִקֵּשׁ, לְהַדִּיחֲךָ מֵעַל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, הַמּוֹצִיאֲךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים.11 And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die; because he hath sought to draw thee away from the LORD thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

However, there the topic is a meisis, one who entices others to sin in idolatry -- including perhaps a navi sheker for idolatry. But what the specific punishment for neviei sheker are, for different offenses, is a matter of dispute. Thus, for example, in Sanhedrin 84a, we read:
A ZAR WHO OFFICIATED IN THE TEMPLE. It has been taught: R. Ishmael said: It is here written, And the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death;13  whilst it is elsewhere said, Whosoever cometh anything near unto the tabernacle of the Lord shall die:14  just as there death was at the hands of Heaven, so here too. R. Akiba said: It is here written, And the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death; whilst it is elsewhere said, And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death:15  just as there, it is by stoning, so here too. R. Johanan b. Nuri said: Just as there, it is by strangling, so here too. Wherein do R. Ishmael and R. Akiba differ? — R. Akiba maintains, 'shall be put to death' must be compared with 'shall be put to death' but not with 'shall die'.16  Whilst R. Ishmael maintains, a layman must be compared to a layman, but not to a prophet. But R. Akiba avers, Since he seduced, no man is more of a layman than he.17 
Let us say it was stoning. How did they try to stone?

Well, I'll remind you that stoning has two parts. The first is throwing the person down from a height. Then, the person is stoned.

By Yosef, in fact, we have precisely that. To remind you, they first cast him into the pit. It depends upon how deep the pit was, but we may conclude that it was the appropriate height.

If so, wouldn't Yosef have been severely injured? I would answer no. The Midrash Rabbah tells us:

והבור רק אין בו מים מים אין בו אבל נחשים ועקרבים יש בו.
שני בורות היו: אחד מלא צרורות.
ואחד מלא שרפים ועקרבים.

אמר רבי אחא:בור רק, נתרוקן בורו של יעקב.
אין בו מים, אין בו דברי תורה, שנמשלו למים, היך מה דאת אמר (ישעיה נה) הוי כל צמא לכו למים. 
כתיב: (דברים כד) כי ימצא איש גונב נפש מאחיו, ואתם מוכרים את אחיכם?!

Thus, there were snakes and scorpions in the pit to cushion his fall! The brothers didn't realize that there were snakes and scorpions there, when they performed this first act of sekilah.

What about the second portion of sekilah? Well, that was why they reserved the second pit. As the above midrash stated,
שני בורות היו: אחד מלא צרורות.
ואחד מלא שרפים ועקרבים
What is the point of a pit entirely filled with rocks and pebbles, if not for the sake of stoning Yosef?!

So, in the end, why didn't they stone Yosef?

I will venture a guess. The dispute between Reuven, Yehuda and the brothers about how to dispose of Yosef is the same as the dispute between Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri.

The brothers said:

20. So now, let us kill him, and we will cast him into one of the pits, and we will say, 'A wild beast devoured him,' and we will see what will become of his dreams."כ. וְעַתָּה לְכוּ וְנַהַרְגֵהוּ וְנַשְׁלִכֵהוּ בְּאַחַד הַבֹּרוֹת וְאָמַרְנוּ חַיָּה רָעָה אֲכָלָתְהוּ וְנִרְאֶה מַה יִּהְיוּ חֲלֹמֹתָיו:

In which case for some reason they thought to kill Yosef directly. Though the word וְנַהַרְגֵהוּ  might imply hereg, with a sayif, perhaps they were inexact in their language and meant chenek. They would then dispose of the body in the pit. Thus, they held like Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri.

Reuven meanwhile held like Rabbi Akiva, and thus stoning was the appropriate course of action:

21. But Reuben heard, and he saved him from their hand[s], and he said, "Let us not deal him a deadly blow."כא. וַיִּשְׁמַע רְאוּבֵן וַיַּצִּלֵהוּ מִיָּדָם וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא נַכֶּנּוּ נָפֶשׁ:
22. And Reuben said to them, "Do not shed blood! Cast him into this pit, which is in the desert, but do not lay a hand upon him," in order to save him from their hand[s], to return him to his father.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:

Perhaps his reason for objecting, on halachic grounds, was to save him from their hands. (Alternatively, from their direct killing. Instead, it would be via their stones, and from the fall.)

Yehuda decided that, in keeping all the commandments, it would be better if they removed themselves from this machlokes between the two Torah greats, just as Yaakov took steps to avoid the safek on the correct bracha for lentils by providing Esav with bread, to make a hamotzi. Therefore, he counseled that they sell him to the Ishmaelites.

Compare with this vort, by krum as a bagel:

Thus, Yehuda said:

26. And Judah said to his brothers, "What is the gain if we slay our brother and cover up his blood?כו. וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוּדָה אֶל אֶחָיו מַה בֶּצַע כִּי נַהֲרֹג אֶת אָחִינוּ וְכִסִּינוּ אֶת דָּמוֹ:

By מַה בֶּצַע, he is referring to betzias hapas, the breaking of bread after hamotzi. He is asking: what is the comparison to Yaakov's giving of bread to Esav so that he could make hamotzi to their present case? For whichever way they kill him, they are acting like one side in the machlokes. Better to avoid the machlokes entirely, just as Yaakov Avinu did. And so he counsels the selling of Yosef to the Yishme'eilim.

Monday, November 29, 2010

How did Reuven save Yosef by casting him into a pit filled with Snakes and Scorpions?

Summary: If there was no water, but instead snakes and scorpions, then how was Reuven saving him by casting him into the pit?

Post: In parashat Vayeshev, in order to save Yosef from being directly murdered by his brothers, Reuven suggests casting Yosef into a pit. Thus, the pesukim with Rashi:

21. But Reuben heard, and he saved him from their hand[s], and he said, "Let us not deal him a deadly blow."כא. וַיִּשְׁמַע רְאוּבֵן וַיַּצִּלֵהוּ מִיָּדָם וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא נַכֶּנּוּ נָפֶשׁ:
“Let us not deal him a deadly blow.”: Heb. לֹא נַכֶּנוּ נָפֶשׁ. Literally, let us not smite him the soul. [This is equivalent to] מַכַּת נֶפֶשׁ, [let us not deal him] a deadly blow, which means death. [From Targum Onkelos]לא נכנו נפש: מכת נפש זו היא מיתה:
22. And Reuben said to them, "Do not shed blood! Cast him into this pit, which is in the desert, but do not lay a hand upon him," in order to save him from their hand[s], to return him to his father.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:
to save him: The Holy Spirit testifies for Reuben that he said this only to save him, so that he would [be able to] come and take him out of there. He said, “I am the firstborn and the eldest of them all. The sin will be attributed only to me.” [from Gen. Rabbah 84:15]למען הציל אותו: רוח הקודש מעידה על ראובן שלא אמר זאת אלא להציל אותו, שיבא הוא ויעלנו משם, אמר אני בכור וגדול שבכולן, לא יתלה הסרחון אלא בי:

Yet, the pit was a dangerous pit! A few pesukim later:

24. And they took him and cast him into the pit; now the pit was empty there was no water in it.כד. וַיִּקָּחֻהוּ וַיַּשְׁלִכוּ אֹתוֹ הַבֹּרָה וְהַבּוֹר רֵק אֵין בּוֹ מָיִם:
now the pit was empty-there was no water in it: Since it says: “now the pit was empty,” do I not know that there was no water in it? For what purpose did the Torah write,“there was no water in it” ? [To inform us that] there was no water in it, but there were snakes and scorpions in it. [From Shab. 22a, Chag. 3a]והבור רק אין בו מים: ממשמע שנאמר והבור רק, איני יודע שאין בו מים, מה תלמוד לומר אין בו מים, מים אין בו אבל נחשים ועקרבים יש בו:

How in the world is this "saving" Yosef?

Chizkuni asks this question:

If his intent was to save him from their hands, and to return Yosef to his father, then why cast him into a pit full of snakes and scorpions? Chizkuni suggests that there were actually two pits. The one Reuven suggested with הַבּוֹר הַזֶּה didn't have snakes and scorpions, but once Reuven left, they cast him into a different pit.

This might seem somewhat farfetched, but on the other hand, I could point to some language in the midrash which might in fact indicate this:
והבור רק אין בו מים מים אין בו אבל נחשים ועקרבים יש בו.
שני בורות היו: אחד מלא צרורות.
ואחד מלא שרפים ועקרבים.

אמר רבי אחא:בור רק, נתרוקן בורו של יעקב.
אין בו מים, אין בו דברי תורה, שנמשלו למים, היך מה דאת אמר (ישעיה נה) הוי כל צמא לכו למים. 
כתיב: (דברים כד) כי ימצא איש גונב נפש מאחיו, ואתם מוכרים את אחיכם?!

Thus, there were two pits, one filled with pebbles and the other filled with snakes and scorpions. While the derasha might be from the extra word bor, as various meforshei midrash suggest. But textual issues aside, I think it might be prompted by the desire to solve the narrative issue of just how Reuven was trying to save Yosef.

I would suggest something simpler. Either that when Reuven suggested this, he did not look into the pit, and by the time they lowered Yosef into the pit, Reuven had already left; or, even the brothers were unaware that there were snakes and scorpions in the pit, and the intent of the midrash is to show even further Divine protection.

Gur Aryeh asks a related question. He contrasts Reuven's intent to save Yosef with the gemara in Yevamot 121a which says anyone cast into a pit filled with snakes and scorpions will surely die.

He answers that the gemara in Yevamot is dealing with a pit filled to the brim with snakes and scorpions, while the midrash only speaks of a pit in which snakes and scorpions yesh bo. Meanwhile, the brothers believed that this would kill Yosef indirectly (and thus Yehuda later speaks of not killing Yosef), but Reuven throughout thought that the snakes would likely not kill Yosef immediately, and so he would have time to go back and save him. It works out nicely, but it involves adding a lot of details and motivations which are not clearly spoken out in any midrash, at each stage. This is what often causes me to regard Gur Aryeh's explanations as neo-midrash. In this case, many of these appear as logical consequences of previous assessments, and assertions of Rashi/midrash. So perhaps.

The gemara, in Yevamot 121a, reads:
תניא א"ר עקיבא פעם אחת הייתי מהלך בספינה וראיתי ספינה אחת שמטרפת בים והייתי מצטער על תלמיד חכם שבה ומנו רבי מאיר כשעליתי למדינת קפוטקיא בא וישב ודן לפני בהלכה אמרתי לו בני מי העלך אמר לי גל טרדני לחברו וחברו לחברו עד שהקיאני ליבשה אמרתי באותה שעה כמה גדולים דברי חכמים שאמרו מים שיש להם סוף אשתו מותרת מים שאין להם סוף אשתו אסורה תנו רבנן נפל לגוב אריות אין מעידין עליו לחפורה מלאה נחשים ועקרבים מעידין עליו רבי יהודה בן בתירא אומר אף לחפורה מלאה נחשים ועקרבים אין מעידין עליו חיישינן
שמא חבר הוא ות"ק אגב איצצא מזקי ליה 
It was taught: R. Akiba related, 'l was once travelling on board a ship when I observed a ship in distress,46  and was much grieved on account of a scholar who was on it. (And who was it? — R. Meir.) When I subsequently landed in the province of Cappadocia47  he came to me and sat down and discussed matters of halachah. "My son", I said to him, "who rescued you?" — "One wave" he answered me, "tossed me to another, and the other to yet another until [the sea] cast me48  on the dry land". At that hour I exclaimed: How significant are the words of the Sages who ruled [that if a man fell into] water which has [a visible] end, [his wife] is permitted [to marry again; but if into] water which has no [visible] end, she is forbidden'. Our Rabbis taught: If a man fell into a lion's den, no evidence49  may be legally tendered concerning him;50  but if into a pit full of serpents and scorpions, evidence49  may legally be tendered concerning him.50  R. Judah b. Bathyra ruled: Even [if he fell] into a pit full of serpents and scorpions, no evidence49  may legally be tendered concerning him,50  since the possibility must be taken into consideration
that he might be a charmer.1  But the first Tanna?2  — Owing to the pressure3  they4  injure him.5 
I am not sure whether the diyuk in the word מלאה  is spot on. That word need not mean "filled to the brim", but can merely mean containing. On the other hand, the gemara does explain the position of the Tanna Kamma that אגב איצצא מזקי ליה, and there would certainly be greater pressure if it was entirely filled with snakes and scorpions. Back to the first hand, the point may be that it is a more confined space, such that he would end up touching or pressing against one, not that there are snakes and scorpions over every inch of his body, and then some.

I would add something more than this to the above paragraph. Recall that Gur Aryeh tries to make the distinction between the gemara, where the pit is malei with snakes and scorpions, and the pit mentioned by Rashi, which they are merely yesh bo. However -- and here we see the importance of looking up the sources in the original -- in Midrash Rabba, which precedes Rashi in stating that there were snakes and scorpions, it is stated as:
והבור רק אין בו מים מים אין בו אבל נחשים ועקרבים יש בו.
שני בורות היו: אחד מלא צרורות.
ואחד מלא שרפים ועקרבים.

Note the phrase מלא שרפים ועקרבים. The diyuk doesn't work if both sources declare the pits as malei with snakes and scorpions!
Here is how the Taz deals with it:

That is, the snakes and scorpions were in cracks and crevices, such that Reuven did not see them there. For otherwise, how in the world would he be saving Yosef?!

I would note the alternate derasha by Rabbi Acha in Midrash Rabba, that bor rek means that the pit / descendants of Yaakov were empty, and ain bo mayim means that there was no Torah in it, for Torah is compared to water.

Several years ago, my father suggested a similar peshat based only on the portion which is cited by Rashi. The bor was empty, such that there was nothing in it. Ain bo mayim. And mayim always refers to Torah. One would think that if something is empty of Torah, it is simply empty, in a neutral state. But no. תלמוד לומר אין בו מים, מים אין בו אבל נחשים ועקרבים יש בו. If one is empty of Torah, all sorts of evil influences enter in its place.

Yeshiva University Chanukkah-to-Go, 5771 Edition

I just received this via email.

Click on the image below to download this year's YU Chanuka To-Go.

Also, here is a link to YU's site, where you can download the editions from previous years.

And, a run-down of this year's articles:

  1. Rabbi Azarya Berzon - "Understanding the Miracles of Chanukah"
  2. Rabbi Joshua Flug - "Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel: Two Fundamentally Different Approaches to Chanukah"
  3. Rabbi Moshe Lichtman - "Chanukah in Hashkafa and Halachah: Pninei Halacha on Chanukah"
  4. Rabbi Yona Reiss - "My Chanukah"
  5. Rabbi Michael Taubes - "Lighting Chanukah Candles in Shul"
  6. Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner - "Chanukah's Pursuit of Beauty"
  7. Rabbi Elie Weissman - "Chanuka: The Unheralded Sacrifice"
  8. Rabbi Netanel Wiederblank - "The First Hanukah Bush: Entropy, Jewish History and the Meaning of Burning Without Consumption"
  9. Collected Insights into Chanuka
  10. Insights from Members of the Yeshiva University Torah miTzion Chicago Community Kollel
  11. Insights from Members of the Yeshiva University Torah miTzion Beit Midrash Zichron Dov

Why would the shivtei Kah try to kill their brother?

Summary: After all, isn't this a violation of lo tirtzach? And didn't the avos and, by extension, the shevatim, keep all 613 mitzvos?

Post: See this post by Rabbi Yaakov Haber who addresses this question, in another form. If they were great men, why did they do this? Based on the Seforno, because they thought that Yosef would be Yaakov's choice and that they would become the chaff.

This is also addressed in midrash, if we want to adopt a more "maximalist" perspective on the avos keeping the Torah. For example, this pasuk:

17. And the man said, "They have traveled away from here, for I overheard them say, 'Let us go to Dothan.' " So Joseph went after his brothers, and he found them in Dothan.יז. וַיֹּאמֶר הָאִישׁ נָסְעוּ מִזֶּה כִּי שָׁמַעְתִּי אֹמְרִים נֵלְכָה דֹּתָיְנָה וַיֵּלֶךְ יוֹסֵף אַחַר אֶחָיו וַיִּמְצָאֵם בְּדֹתָן:

where Rashi offers the following explanation:

‘Let us go to Dothan.’: Heb. נֵלְכָה דֹתָינָה, to seek regarding you legal pretexts (נִכְלֵי דָתוֹת), by which they could put you to death. According to its simple meaning, however, it is a place-name, and a Biblical verse never loses its simple sense.נלכה דתינה: לבקש לך נכלי דתות שימיתוך בהם. ולפי פשוטו שם מקום הוא, ואין מקרא יוצא מדי פשוטו:

Thus, perhaps their actions were done in an halachic manner.

If I might suggest a justification of the brothers' actions, I would suggest as follows. Obviously, they knew of the pesukim in Devarim 18 which state:

20. But the prophet who intentionally speaks a word in My name, which I did not command him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.כ. אַךְ הַנָּבִיא אֲשֶׁר יָזִיד לְדַבֵּר דָּבָר בִּשְׁמִי אֵת אֲשֶׁר לֹא צִוִּיתִיו לְדַבֵּר וַאֲשֶׁר יְדַבֵּר בְּשֵׁם אֱ־לֹהִים אֲחֵרִים וּמֵת הַנָּבִיא הַהוּא:
21. Now if you say to yourself, "How will we know the word that the Lord did not speak?"כא. וְכִי תֹאמַר בִּלְבָבֶךָ אֵיכָה נֵדַע אֶת הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר לֹא דִבְּרוֹ יְ־הֹוָ־ה:
22. If the prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, and the thing does not occur and does not come about, that is the thing the Lord did not speak. The prophet has spoken it wantonly; you shall not be afraid of him.כב. אֲשֶׁר יְדַבֵּר הַנָּבִיא בְּשֵׁם יְ־הֹוָ־ה וְלֹא יִהְיֶה הַדָּבָר וְלֹא יָבוֹא הוּא הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר לֹא דִבְּרוֹ יְ־הֹוָ־ה בְּזָדוֹן דִּבְּרוֹ הַנָּבִיא לֹא תָגוּר מִמֶּנּוּ:

Elsewhere, a navi is lumped together with a cholem chalomot, of prophetic dreams, in this regard. Now, they knew that Yosef was offering prophetic dreams, and they believed these prophecies to be false. Thus, looking to parashat Vayeishev:

5. And Joseph dreamed a dream and told his brothers, and they continued to hate him.ה. וַיַּחֲלֹם יוֹסֵף חֲלוֹם וַיַּגֵּד לְאֶחָיו וַיּוֹסִפוּ עוֹד שְׂנֹא אֹתוֹ:
6. And he said to them, "Listen now to this dream, which I have dreamed:ו. וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵיהֶם שִׁמְעוּ נָא הַחֲלוֹם הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר חָלָמְתִּי:
7. Behold, we were binding sheaves in the midst of the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright, and behold, your sheaves encircled [it] and prostrated themselves to my sheaf."ז. וְהִנֵּה אֲנַחְנוּ מְאַלְּמִים אֲלֻמִּים בְּתוֹךְ הַשָּׂדֶה וְהִנֵּה קָמָה אֲלֻמָּתִי וְגַם נִצָּבָה וְהִנֵּה תְסֻבֶּינָה אֲלֻמֹּתֵיכֶם וַתִּשְׁתַּחֲוֶיןָ לַאֲלֻמָּתִי:
The brothers' reaction is one of disbelief:

8. So his brothers said to him, "Will you reign over us, or will you govern us?" And they continued further to hate him on account of his dreams and on account of his words.ח. וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוֹ אֶחָיו הֲמָלֹךְ תִּמְלֹךְ עָלֵינוּ אִם מָשׁוֹל תִּמְשֹׁל בָּנוּ וַיּוֹסִפוּ עוֹד שְׂנֹא אֹתוֹ עַל חֲלֹמֹתָיו וְעַל דְּבָרָיו:

They didn't think he would ever rule over them. Thus, he was uttering false prophetic dreams. Thus, regarding his dreams and his words relating the false dreams. In terms of the second dream:

9. And he again dreamed another dream, and he related it to his brothers, and he said, "Behold, I have dreamed another dream, and behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were prostrating themselves to me."ט. וַיַּחֲלֹם עוֹד חֲלוֹם אַחֵר וַיְסַפֵּר אֹתוֹ לְאֶחָיו וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּה חָלַמְתִּי חֲלוֹם עוֹד וְהִנֵּה הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ וְהַיָּרֵחַ וְאַחַד עָשָׂר כּוֹכָבִים מִשְׁתַּחֲוִים לִי:
10. And he told [it] to his father and to his brothers, and his father rebuked him and said to him, "What is this dream that you have dreamed? Will we come I, your mother, and your brothers to prostrate ourselves to you to the ground?"י. וַיְסַפֵּר אֶל אָבִיו וְאֶל אֶחָיו וַיִּגְעַר בּוֹ אָבִיו וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ מָה הַחֲלוֹם הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר חָלָמְתָּ הֲבוֹא נָבוֹא אֲנִי וְאִמְּךָ וְאַחֶיךָ לְהִשְׁתַּחֲוֹת לְךָ אָרְצָה:

This prophetic dream couldn't come true, for Yosef's mother, Rachel, had already passed away! Indeed, the best proof is when they decide to kill Yosef:

19. So they said one to the other, "Behold, that dreamer is coming.יט. וַיֹּאמְרוּ אִישׁ אֶל אָחִיו הִנֵּה בַּעַל הַחֲלֹמוֹת הַלָּזֶה בָּא:
20. So now, let us kill him, and we will cast him into one of the pits, and we will say, 'A wild beast devoured him,' and we will see what will become of his dreams."כ. וְעַתָּה לְכוּ וְנַהַרְגֵהוּ וְנַשְׁלִכֵהוּ בְּאַחַד הַבֹּרוֹת וְאָמַרְנוּ חַיָּה רָעָה אֲכָלָתְהוּ וְנִרְאֶה מַה יִּהְיוּ חֲלֹמֹתָיו:

They know that they are going to kill him. Therefore, neither of his dreams could come to fruition.  Therefore, he is a navi sheker who is deserving of death.

(This in contrast to Rashi / midrash that וְנִרְאֶה מַה יִּהְיוּ חֲלֹמֹתָיו is a statement by Hashem, rather than by the brothers.)

Their decision to kill Yosef is thus not an aveira, chas veShalom. It is a mitzvah, and is carrying out the Torah's instructions!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What is the purpose of the Mitzvah of Gid Hanasheh?

Summary: Yes, gezeirat haMelech of course. But the pasuk associates our not eating of the sciatic nerve with the incident in which Yaakov struggles with the angel. How are they related, and what is the message?

Post: Chizkuni addresses the above question, and offers a number of answers:

His answers:
  1. It is a fine and punishment, for Yaakov's sons left him alone. They were, after all, strong men. They should have stayed to help him and, because they did not, Yaakov was injured.
  2. Since Yaakov was able to survive the attack and prevail against the angel, the not eating of the gid hanesheh is to make a remembrance of this glory.
  3. Because he was injured in that specific part of his body, his descendants accepted this upon themselves. This akin to someone who has a specific body part which aches, he might accept not to ever eat from that body part in order that his own body part should get better. (Thus, it seems, some spiritual national impact is being counteracted.)
The Sefer HaChinuch explains in a different manner:

Namely, that this does serve as a reminder, but that the nation of Israel will survive through galus, which will then act as an encouragement to keep within our faith and righteousness. After all, this was a struggle with the sar of Esav, representing the nations of the world. And though the angel did manage to pain Yaakov in the struggle, eventually, Yaakov prevailed, and the sun healed him. So too, the sun of Moshiach will shine for us and heal us from our suffering, and he will redeem us, Amen, speedily in our days. 

I wonder whether this sort of zikaron works so well nowadays. After all, we are far removed from our meat production. Our meat doesn't come from cows -- it comes from the supermarket. Add to this that Ashkenazim typically avoid the entire bottom half of the cow, because of difficulties in removing the sciatic nerve. Thus, even earlier in the production line, nobody is specifically removing it. I wonder if the pasuk serves as an effective reminder as the actual removal of only that part, and the customer being aware that this has been done for his piece of meat...

Friday, November 26, 2010

Posts so far for parshat Vayeshev


  1. Was Sarah buried in the Valley of ChevronA variant text in the beginning of parashat Chayei Sarah, present in the Septuagint and Samaritan Pentateuch. And why I believe the masoretic text to be better. This relates strongly to parashat Vayeishev as well.
  2. Vayeshev sources -- expanded. For example, a lot more meforshei Rashi.
  3. Is Vayikirah malei or chaserAn instance in which our Masoretic text is malei while the Samaritan text ischaserThis goes against the grain. Should we therefore lend credence to the Samaritan text?


  1. Vayeshev sources -- links to an online Mikraos Gedolos, plus more than 100 meforshim on the parsha and haftorah. Thus, updated from last year.
  2. Is tzadeka mimeni one statement or two? Pashtanim arguing on midrashOnce again, midrashim vs. many pashtanim about how to explain a specific pasuk. In this instance, it is something that seems midrashic in the first place, whether tzadeka mimeni is one statement, or two separate statements. Onkelos, Targum Pseudo-Yontan, the gemara, Bereishit Rabba, and Rashi all treat it as two separate statements, either both by Yehuda, or the latter by Hashem. But many of the other meforshim explain it otherwise, as a single statement, that she is more righteous than I. And more interesting that pashtanim arguing on midrash is Ibn Caspi's point, that the derash is at odds with the trup, and that since trup is from Anshei Knesset HaGedolah and reflects Hashem's intent, we cannot argue on it..
    And further thoughts on tzadeka mimeni -- As discussed in a previous post, saying that tzadeka mimeni are two separate statements ("she is righteous; the pregnancy is from me"; or else "the situation is from Me") is at odds with the trup, which has no pause between them. Yet Rashi endorses this as bothpeshat and midrash. And it appears that so does Ibn Ezra. Here, I give further thought to what could influence this explanation -- the word yakir and the otherwise absence of an admission by Yehuda.
  3. The Aramaic translation of the bad word -- Shadal on the correct girsa in Onkelos; I think perhaps a good example of lectio difficilior. The proper Aramaic translation of dibatam -- is it dibbehon or tibbehon. But nothing exceptionally innovative here.
  4. Moral lessons from parashat Vayeishev -- Some straightforward lessons about interpersonal relationships, from Ralbag. Some of which are fairly obvious when you just stop and consider the story carefully. Some of it, of course, it a matter of how one parses the Biblical narrative and associated midrashim.

  1. Vayeshev sources -- online, by aliyah and perek in Mikraos Gedolos, and by meforshim, at JNUL. And in the comment section, a discussion of Zuleika, wife of Potifar, which will soon be its own post.
  2. Two noteworthy comments about the nature of peshat, and the one of Vayeshev is the famous comment of the Rashbam.
  3. Parallels between the incident of Tamar and Amnon, and parshat Vayeshev. I note a few of them, and there is a more developed discussion in the comment section.
  4. What in the world is kesonnes passim? And how only Yosef and Tamar were tznius. Or not tznius. And then it develops from there. What does it mean that it reached pas yadav?
  5. What sort of Petil did Yehuda give Tamar as surety? And how, after Ramban rejects the idea it was tzitzis, as sacrilegious, Baal HaTurim suggests it was his tefillin. And much more.
  6. Zuleika, the wife of Potiphar, in the Koran and in Sefer HaYashar. And how I think that this particular midrash might be no more than a borrowing from the Koran.
  7. Who was in the pit? A 4-year old take on parshat Vayeshev.
  1. The appropriately named Er and Onan, and Hevel, and Machlon and Kilyan. What a choice for names!
  2. Bar Kochva as the gilgul of Shela -- from Rav Chaim Vital.
  3. Which Daughters comforted Yaakov? Did he have more than one?
  4. What did the wife of Potifar ask Yosef to do? And the danger of euphemisms in obscuring the actual intent.
  5. Why Mention that Yosef Got Lost? Dramatic tension, no witnesses, plausibility of the story that he was attacked by wild animals.
  6. The Shevatim Keeping The Torah
    and expressing willingness to perform kisui hadam. humor.
  7. Midianites as a Generic Term
    and as it relates to the sale of Yosef.
        • Reuven's Return
          • As repentance. I analyze various aspects and textual cues of this midrash, and how Rashi reinterprets or correctly understands the midrash.
        • The Chronology of Yehuda's Marriage
          • Was Yehuda's marriage subsequent to, or co-occurring with the general timespan of Yosef's sale. This is predicated on the meaning of baEt hahi.
        1. Yaakov/Yosef Parallels While in a previous post I mentioned parallels between Yosef and Esav, a midrash highlights many parallels between the lives of Yaakov and Yosef.
        2. Shortsighted Foresight People who see the future via prophecy or astrology, but misapprehend what they see.
        3. Clothes "Make" The Man Twice, Yosef's clothing serves as a mark of identity
        4. Mistaken Identities -- How many times does the theme of mistaken identity come up in Tanach?
        5. Choice Garments and Goat Bits -- Parallels between two sibling rivalries.
          1. In Chutzpah! I note that the brothers are shepherding in Shechem, which they had destroyed in the previous parsha. Although Yaakov initially feared a reaction from the neighboring towns, the pasuk (Bereishit 35:5:) tells us that the fear of God was put into the inhabitants of the towns and the hostile reaction did not surface. Here they are, initially shepherding in Shechem, perhaps even the flocks taken as spoils from Shechem, and Yosef has no fear to go to Shechem alone to see how things fare. Also, Tg Yonatan has two points about the sale of Yosef: it being preordained, and being linked to the destruction of Shechem.
          2. In Dibatam Ra'ah I discuss the word נַעַר as a verb in the second pasuk of Vayeishev, in Bereishit 37:2. The midrash gives three bad things the brothers did, or appeared to do, that Yosef reported - eating 'ever min hachai, treating the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah as servants, and secual improprieties. I show how these might be derived from the pasuk. Finally, Tg Yonatan gives on sin - that he saw them eat the ears and tails separated from the live animals. I give Perush Yonatan's explanation for this, as well as a possible derivation from the text.
          3. In Where Does the First Pasuk BelongI note the relationship between the first pasuk which says that Yaakov settled in the land of his forefathers, with a similar statement about Esav in the previous parsha. I suggest it logically belongs to the previous parsha. This may relate to the order of the narrative, such that the story of Yosef actually precedes the birth of Binyamin and thus Rachel's death. Some proofs that Binyamin is not yet born - Binyamin is not mentioned; Yosef is called the ben zekunim - son of old age; and Yaakov asks "will I and your mother bow down before you?" implying that Rachel, Yosef's mother, is still alive.
          4. In Brand Name Recognition? Or Lack Thereof? מהר"א אשכנזי, based on Islamic practice, explains Yehuda's command that Tamar be burnt is a command to brand her forhead to label her a harlot. The presence of the mark is the reason harlots would typically cover their faces, and the pasuk says that Tamar did this when pretending to be one.
          5. In A Baaaad Report I suggest that on a peshat level, rather than דִּבָּתָם רָעָה meaning an evil report, it actually means a report as to how the shepherding is going. Proofs to this effect - nowhere do we see explicitly what the bad things he reported were, nor that the brothers hated him for it. Further, it seems to set up the story such that we understand why Yaakov sends Yosef after his brothers to find out how the shepherding is going - this is his role.
            To be continued...

            Thursday, November 25, 2010

            Why Chomsky went off the derech

            Based on a recent interview in Tablet Magazine:
            At the age of 10 I came to the conclusion that the God I learned about in school didn’t exist.
            I remember how I did that. I remember it very well. My father’s family was super Orthodox. They came from a little shtetl somewhere in Russia. My father told me that they had regressed even beyond a medieval level. You couldn’t study Hebrew, you couldn’t study Russian. Mathematics was out of the question. We went to see them for the holidays. My grandfather had a long beard, I don’t think he knew he was in the United States. He spoke Yiddish and lived in a couple of blocks of his friends. We were there on Pesach, and I noticed that he was smoking.
            So I asked my father, how could he smoke? There’s a line in the Talmud that says, ayn bein shabbat v’yom tov ela b’inyan achilah. I said, “How come he’s smoking?” He said, “Well, he decided that smoking is eating.” And a sudden flash came to me: Religion is based on the idea that God is an imbecile. He can’t figure these things out. If that’s what it is, I don’t want anything to do with it.
            Perhaps he could have asked his grandfather -- unless he did not speak Yiddish -- rather than his father. Or asked his local Orthodox rabbi.

            I don't think that his grandfather simply "decided that smoking is eating". Rather, we are not Karaites. One looks to pesukim as well as to Rabbinic interpretations of those pesukim. It is true that Shemot 12:16 states:

            טז  וּבַיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן, מִקְרָא-קֹדֶשׁ, וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי, מִקְרָא-קֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם:  כָּל-מְלָאכָה, לֹא-יֵעָשֶׂה בָהֶם--אַךְ אֲשֶׁר יֵאָכֵל לְכָל-נֶפֶשׁ, הוּא לְבַדּוֹ יֵעָשֶׂה לָכֶם.16 And in the first day there shall be to you a holy convocation, and in the seventh day a holy convocation; no manner of work shall be done in them, save that which every man must eat, that only may be done by you.

            which gives us the exemption of ochel nefesh for Yom Tov. As Chomsky cited the Talmud, "ayn bein shabbat v’yom tov ela b’inyan achilah". However, in Ketubot 7a, we read the following:
            Rav Pappi responded to Rav Pappa: Are you of the opinion that since wounding is permitted in a case of need [a case of ochel nefesh] it is also permitted even if there is no need [for food]? Are you then of the opinion that it is permitted to burn spices [this surely should be prohibited], because burning is permitted in a case of need and should therefore be permitted even if there is no need? 
            Rav Pappa responded: Regarding this, the verse states: "Except for what is ye' achal lechol nefesh [literally: edible by all people] that alone may be done for you;" only something which is of benefit to all [shaveh lechol nefesh] may be done. 
            Rav Acha the son of Rav asked Rav Ashi: Are you of the opinion that one who finds a deer on Yom Tov may not slaughter it because it is not shaveh lechol nefesh? 
            Rav Ashi responded: What I mean to say is that the object to which the work is done must be shaveh lechol nefesh and a deer is shaveh lechol nefesh.
            Thus, we do not restrict it (melechet ochel nefesh) only to things performed for the purpose of eating, but to other activities which are shava lechol nefesh.

            From the same article by Rabbi Broyde I cited above is the following discussion of why smoking is permitted on Yom Tov:
            Much debate among halachic decisors has focused on the permissibility or prohibition of smoking on Yom Tov.31 Magen Avraham writes that smoking tobacco is prohibited on Yom Tov as "it is not shaveh lechol nefesh".32He equates it with incense (mugmar)33 which was prohibited as not shaveh lechol nefesh - just as a majority of the people did not use the incense (mugmar) discussed in the Talmud and thus it was prohibited to burn it on Yom Tov, so, too, cigarettes should be prohibited inasmuch as the majority of people (in his day) did not smoke, although cigarettes were ready available.
            Rabbi Jacob Falk, writing in Pnei Yehoshua,34 advances an argument which permits smoking on Yom Tov; he states that because so many people smoke, and smoking is viewed as of benefit to food digestion, and smoking contributes to one's overall health, it is therefore permissible as shaveh lechol nefesh.35 Rabbi Jacob Emden agrees with this reasoning and adds an even weightier concern: he notes that many people are nauseous at the sight of food if they do not first smoke - therefore, if halacha were to prohibit smoking on Yom Tov, it would severely dampen such people's simchat Yom Tav.36 Similarly Teshuvat Darchei Naam 37writes the following:
            It is obvious that those who smoke enjoy it. The majority of people smoke, only an insignificant minority does not, and as with all Torah law a majority is treated like a unanimous consensus... Furthermore smoking is nearly in the category of ochel nefesh. This assertion holds true not only for the Rambam38 who is of the opinion that bathing is included in the same category as eating, but even those who exclude bathing from the category of ochel nefesh would include smoking because it stimulates the palate in a manner similar to eating.39
            Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (Mishnah Berurah) in his Biur Halacha40 ponders the permissibility smoking on Yom Tov based on an observation that in his time, most or many41 people smoked. Aruch Hashulchan also permits smoking, and he does so after a lengthy discussion of why most people do not mind cigarette smoke and enjoy smoking.42 So too, Rabbi Neuwirth in Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchata43 quotes both lenient and stringent opinions with regard to smoking on Yom Tov for one who is accustomed to it.44 Rabbi Ovadia Yosef concludes that in practice one who does not usually smoke should abstain from smoking; however, "we are lenient so as to allow smoking for those whose Yom Tov would be darkened were they not permitted to smoke. For someone who does not normally smoke, it is best not to smoke on Yom Tov."45
            See also this article by Rabbi Chaim Jachter.

            So, contra Chomsky, religion is not based on the idea that God is an imbecile. If religious believes anyone to be an imbecile, it is Chomsky.

            It is rather sad that he decided to dismiss his religion because he misunderstood it. He was not educated enough to realize that he was misunderstanding it, and he didn't respect it enough to do due diligence to get to the bottom of the matter.

            Indeed, I would guess that it was not this one point which drove him from religion. Look at what he cites his father as saying. First, as “Well, he decided that smoking is eating.” Later in the followup question:
            And what did your father say?
            I was just thinking about that. He just quoted the line to me and then explained, “He thinks he is eating.”
            My sense is that Chomsky's father didn't think much of the grandfather's actions either. Two pesukim come to mind. One is from parashat Haazinu:

            ז  זְכֹר יְמוֹת עוֹלָם, בִּינוּ שְׁנוֹת דֹּר-וָדֹר;  {ס}  שְׁאַל אָבִיךָ וְיַגֵּדְךָ, זְקֵנֶיךָ וְיֹאמְרוּ לָךְ.  {ר}7 Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations; ask thy father, and he will declare unto thee, thine elders, and they will tell thee.

            He fulfilled the first part of the pasuk, of שְׁאַל אָבִיךָ וְיַגֵּדְךָ, though his father did not know enough about the topic to inform him correctly. (Deep knowledge of Hebrew is different from deep knowledge of the relevant sugyot and the derivation of a halacha.) He should have followed up with זְקֵנֶיךָ וְיֹאמְרוּ לָךְ, by asking his grandfather.

            The other is from later in the same parasha:

            מז  כִּי לֹא-דָבָר רֵק הוּא, מִכֶּם--כִּי-הוּא, חַיֵּיכֶם; וּבַדָּבָר הַזֶּה, תַּאֲרִיכוּ יָמִים עַל-הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם עֹבְרִים אֶת-הַיַּרְדֵּן שָׁמָּה, לְרִשְׁתָּהּ.  {פ}47 For it is no vain thing for you; because it is your life, and through this thing ye shall prolong your days upon the land, whither ye go over the Jordan to possess it.' {P}

            where Chazal darshen the phrase כִּי לֹא-דָבָר רֵק הוּא מִכֶּם as that the Torah is not a vain thing, כִּי לֹא-דָבָר רֵק הוּא; and if you perceive it to be so, it is your own darn fault -- מִכֶּם!


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