Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Parshat Vayeshev 2

“Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flocks in Shechem” (Genesis 37; 12). In view of the brothers’ attack against Shechem (ch. 34) it seems strange that they would chose to return there, particularly as immediately after the incident Ya’akov was terrified of the threat from the surrounding cities (“Ya’akov said to Shimon and Levi, ‘You have disgraced me, making me odious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanite and among the Perizzite; I am few in number and should they band together and attack me, I will be annihilated - I and my household” v. 30).
It seems that Shechem was a place set aside for trouble and creating schism within the Jewish nation, as Rashi says, it was a place set aside for tragedies. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 102a) tells us, “In Shechem Dina was raped, in Shechem the brothers sold Yosef and in Shechem the kingdom was divided (in the days of Rechavam and Yeravam)”. Thus it seems ironic Ya’akov promises Yosef this place, as stated in the verse, “As for me, I have given you Shechem - (one portion) more than your brothers...” (48; 22).
The town of Shechem is named for Shechem, whose father, Chamor, built the city. Shechem raped Ya’akov’s daughter Dina, then tried to marry her. Reading between the lines of the Chumash we see Shechem as the classic spoilt child. Everything that he has ever wanted has been given to him, even the town in which he lives was built only for his sake. All his life he has received everything that he has asked for, no matter how unreasonable. This explains how he had the chutzpa to go back to Ya’akov after raping his daughter, and ask to marry her. He has no concern for the feelings of Ya’akov and his family, his only interest is in how much it will cost him in dowry to procure Dina as his wife.
This selfishness and egocentrism became infused in the town of Shechem. The meaning of the word Shechem is ‘portion’, indicating selfishness and schism. Rashi comments that in the Torah scroll there are dots over the word es in verse 12, which teaches us that they went to Shechem not to look after the flocks, but to look after their own interests. If they have gone to Shechem they must be only interested in themselves, rather than the good of their family.
The name Yosef has a dual meaning. When his mother named him she said, “G-d has gathered up (Asaf) my disgrace, so she called his name Yosef, saying, ‘May G-d add on (Yosef) for me another son’” (30; 24). Thus the name means both gathering, and adding. This explains the duality of Yosef’s nature. On the one hand he seems to be ‘adding on’ to the work that his father has done, as an extension of Ya’akov, as our portion states at the beginning, “These are the chronicles of Ya’akov - Yosef...” (37; 2). This is also clear from the verse in Ovadia (1; 18), “The house of Ya’akov will be a fire, and the house of Yosef a flame...”. Yosef has the power to kindle and bring to life the spark of Ya’akov. The Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 84; 6) goes even further: “Ya’akov and Yosef had the same appearance … and similar histories. Both had barren mothers, both were one of two children, both were considered the ‘first born’, both were hated by their brothers, both were victims of attempted fratricide, both left the Land of Israel...”. Not only is Yosef the extension of Ya’akov, but in many respects they lived the same life.
However, it is precisely this part of his nature which led his brothers to try to kill him, as the Talmud (Shabbos 10b) states, “For the sake of two selahs worth of material (paid by Ya’akov for the coat of Yosef) our fathers went down to Egypt”. Ya’akov showed favouritism to Yosef, and saw in him his own future, causing the brothers to became jealous and want to kill Yosef. This is what brought them to the divisiveness of Shechem in the first place.
Yosef also means to gather, and it is he, more than any of the other brothers, who has the ability to unite the entire nation. He orchestrates the eventual reunification of the entire family in the land of Egypt. And in the future the Messiah descended from Yosef will unite the nation and pave the way for the coming of the Davidic Messiah. It is Yosef who has the vision and ability to bring all the other brothers together to a single purpose (“Your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf” Genesis 37; 7). This is why Ya’akov gave Shechem to Yosef, for it is he who is able to take the divisiveness of egocentrism and channel it towards the single purpose (Shechem echad) of service of G-d.

1 comment:

Alex said...

What do you think, please, of Obadiah Shoher's interpretation of the story? (here: samsonblinded.org/blog/genesis-37.htm ) He takes the text literally to prove that the brothers played a practical joke on Yosef rather than intended to murder him or sell him into slavery. His argument seems fairly strong to me, but I'd like to hear other opinions.