The Yosef Saga spans the sedras of Vayeishev, Mikeitz, Vayigash, and Vaychi. That’s the last 14 of 50 p’rakim in the book of B’reishit. That’s almost 30% of the p’sukim in the Book of B’reishit.
That’s a lot.
The story starts with the Brothers being jealous of Yosef, because of the K’tonet Pasim and Yaakov’s favoritism towards Yosef. The jealously escalated to hatred because of Yosef’s reports of the Brother’s actions (accurate or inaccurate as the reports might have been – Commentaries disagree). And because of the dreams that Yosef told them about.
When the Brothers were tending the sheep in the Sh’chem area, Yaakov sent Yosef to find out how his brothers and the sheep were doing.
He found them in Dotan, to where they had moved from Sh’chem, and when the Brothers saw Yosef, they decided to kill him and see what his dreams would amount to.
Reuven saved Yosef’s life (so testifies the Torah) by dissuading the Brothers from killing him and suggested that they throw him into a pit – in order to save him later and return him to his father.
So far, there is general agreement about what happened. The Yosef comes to the brothers, they seize him, take off the k’tonet pasim, and toss him into the pit.
They sit down to eat.
Now the confusing part. M’forshim argue about what exactly happened next. Reuven was not around, and Yehuda suggested that they sell Yosef to a passing caravan.
Exactly how many caravans were involved is in dispute. What is for sure is that Yosef was taken out of the pit and subsequently was sold as a slave in Egypt.
Who took him out of the pit, who sold him to whom – different opinions. The brothers at Yehuda’s suggestion definitely intended to sell him. Did that actually happen or did the first caravan take Yosef out of the pit and abscond with him, with or without the brothers’ complicity. Machloket.
Yosef ends up in Mitzrayim, as a slave to Potiphar. Potifar is happy with his work and his wife attempts to seduce Yosef on a day-to-day basis. When Yosef refuses her advances, she grabs his coat and screams attempted rape. Yosef is imprisoned as a result, and ends up finding favor with the wardens and prisoners in the high-class prison to which he is sent.
Sar HaMashkim and Sar HaOfim have disturbing dreams, Yosef interprets them, his interpretations come to be, and the Sar HaMashkim forgets to put in the good word for Yosef to Par’o. Two years later, Par’o has his two disturbing dreams, the Sar HaMashkim tells Par’o of the young Hebrew, slave to the Sar HaTabachim, Yosef is summoned by Par’o … and all the rest happens. Years of plenty, beginning of the years of famine, Yaakov sends the brothers to buy food, Yosef recognizes them; they do not recognize him, and they story continues. The brothers must bring Binyamin with them when they return to Egypt. They do. Yehuda makes a passionate plea before the Viceroy of Egypt, who reveals himself as their brother … and so on. And Yaakov and his family go down to Egypt and there grow into a large pre-nation multitude.
My apology for including the known elements of the story. But you will see where I’m going in a moment.
As Yosef explains to his brothers that what happened was G-d’s Plan – which is true, except for one part of the story.
G-d had told Avraham Avinu about his descendants being strangers in a strange land, where they will be oppressed and enslaved and afterwards would they would emerge with great wealth.
What is that one part of the story that was not necessary for G-d’s Plan? The jealousy, hatred, plan to kill Yosef and deciding to sell him to a passing caravan.
Let’s take that part out of the story. This is what’s left. Yaakov and family are back in the Land. Forget (for the moment,) the k’tonet pasim and the jealousy and the hatred and the plan to get rid of Yosef.
Let’s say that Yaakov sends Yosef to check on his brothers who are tending the sheep (which happened). But let’s also say that on his way to Sh’chem, Yosef was kidnapped by a passing caravan of Yishm’eilim, Midyanim, and / or M’danim and was sold into slavery in Egypt. Everything from that point on happens the way we read it in the Torah. Yaakov and family still end up in Egypt and Vaychi ends with Yaakov dying, Yosef dying, and everyone else in Egypt.
Same story, which is G-d’s Plan – but without the terrible split between Yosef and his brothers.
Whatever actually happened in the first part of Vayeishev, was not necessarily an essential part of the Plan.
What Yosef did and what the brothers did was a result of human beings behaving like human beings. Exercising their Free Will – acting and re-acting – and being totally accountable for their actions – and intentions.
People can not use ‘this was G-d’s intention’ as an excuse for what they do.
Header: Franz Anton Maulbertsch – Joseph and his Brothers
Source: Phil Chernofsky – Arutz Sheva