Vayeshev: Moved Away

Copyright 2012 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Vayeshev

“The man said, ‘They have gone from here, for I heard them say: Let us go to Dothan.’ So Yosef followed his brothers and found them at Dothan.. . . “ (Bereshit/ Genesis 37:17)

Good morning!

The focus of Bereshit turns from Yaakov to his son Yosef, a vain young man, especially beloved by his father as the son of his most-loved wife Rachel. This in turn causes resentment between Yosef and his older brothers, who conspire to throw him in a pit and sell him into slavery. The short narrative describing how Yosef went from his father’s house to being at his brother’s mercy involves meeting a mysterious man who directs him to Dotan, where the brothers had gone after pasturing their flocks at Shechem.

Most commentators assume that this mysterious man is a specially-appointed angel, but they disagree as to what he was trying to communicate to Yosef. Many scholars note the wording of “they have gone from here,” which in Hebrew is not “here” so much as “this”- zeh. Some say “this” means “they have gone from brotherhood”- that is, they aren’t brotherly towards you anymore- while some say “this” means “they have gone from the Holy One,” meaning, the Godly attributes of mercy and compassion.

In either case, one might point out: if it was necessary to send Yosef to Egypt so that he could eventually save his family, what difference does it make if he knows that his brothers hate him? Perhaps the mysterious man knows that Yosef will go anyway, failing to heed the deeper meaning of his words, but he wants Yosef to know that what will happen is not entirely his fault. Yosef was arrogant and annoying, but the brothers also made a choice to “go out from brotherhood,” as it were.

Perhaps our mystery man wants Yosef to choose to go to his brothers even if they aren’t acting very brotherly towards each other; after all, every relationship involves risk and the possibility of pain. Seen this way, it is to Yosef’s credit that he chooses to go to Dotan even after being warned of what he might find- in doing so not only was he honoring his father’s wishes but also seeking relationship in his own clumsy way. Of course, the real miracle is not the angel who warned Yosef that the brothers had removed themselves from brotherhood and mercy, but that after many years, they found their way back.

Shabbat Shalom,


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