Shabbat Table Topics – Parashat Vayeshev

Unsuccessful Criminal Intent?

Compare the approaches of RashiBereshit 37:28About R. Shelomo Yitzchaki, Rashbam, and R"Y Bekhor ShorAbout R. Yosef Bekhor Shor regarding the culpability of the brothers in the sale of Yosef (see Who Sold Yosef).1 While Rashi claims that all of Yosef's siblings (excepting Reuven and Binyamin) participated in the sale, Rashbam maintains that although the brothers planned to sell Yosef, the Midianites beat them to it. R"Y Bekhor Shor takes a middle position, suggesting that only half of the brothers were involved.

  • What difficulties in the text do each of Rashbam and R"Y Bekhor Shor solve through their reading of the story?  Do you think that they are motivated by textual factors or by a desire to exonerate the brothers? 
  • Is someone who planned on committing a crime, but did not succeed in doing so because of circumstances beyond their control, any better than a person who succeeded in implementing their plan?

Intermarriage and the Patriarchs

According to the simple reading of the verses,2 it would appear that both Yehuda and Shimon married Canaanite women. See Did Yaakov's Sons Marry Canaanites?

  • Considering that Avraham had gone to great lengths to ensure that Yitzchak did not marry a Canaanite,3 how do you understand why Yaakov does not seem to share similar concerns when his children reach marriageable age? Is there a difference between Yaakov's sons' generation and the earlier ones, which made the prospect of marrying a Canaanite less problematic?
  • The text never explicitly condemns the brothers for their marriages. Does that constitute evidence that their actions were irreproachable?  If so, should we conclude that intermarriage with Canaanites was not problematic, or that despite the simple reading of the verses, no such marriages actually took place?
  • What might the different possibilities suggest as far as the question of whether the forefathers observed future commandments before they were given at Sinai?  See Avot and Mitzvot.

Yosef in Torah and Music

Looking at later reworkings of the Biblical story, whether in art, theater, or literature, is often a great way to highlight questions and contrast alternative interpretations of the original text.  Compare how Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber depict the relationship between Yosef and his family in their musical, "Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat" with what emerges from the Biblical text.  See Joseph in Music for many examples:

  • What is the relationship between the Torah's given reason for Yaakov loving Yosef "כִּי בֶן זְקֻנִים הוּא לוֹ", and the more obvious factor that "Rachel was his favorite wife" suggested in the musical?  Was Yosef really a son of Yaakov's old age?  How much younger than his siblings was he?  See The Relative Ages of Yaakov's Children.
  • The musical asserts Yaakov gave Yosef the special cloak "to show the world he loved his son, To make it clear that Joseph was the special one".  Did the brothers interpret the gift as a sign that they were the rejected sons, and only Yosef would continue the line?  How might the assumption that the siblings did not know that they were all to be chosen affect how you read the story as a whole?  See Yosef's Treatment of his Family.

Allusion or Coincidence?

The Yosef narrative contains many parallels to other stories in Tanakh.  Yaakov's life journey follows a pattern that is similar to that of both Avraham Avinu and David HaMelekh, while Yosef's story has much in common with the books of both Esther and Daniel. In all of these cases, linguistic parallels accompany the overlap in content.

  • How do you determine if a later story in Tanakh is deliberately alluding to an earlier one, or if the similarities are simply coincidental?  Make a list of criteria which would help you evaluate such parallels.
  • In each of the above cases, do you think the parallels are significant?  Why or why not?  What messages might the reader learn from the comparisons?
  • See Avraham and Yaakov, Yaakov and David, Yosef and Daniel and Yosef and Megillat Esther for further analysis.
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