SALT - Friday, 22 Kislev 5779 - November 30, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
            We read in Parashat Vayeishev of how Yosef’s brothers schemed to deceive their father, Yaakov, into thinking that Yosef had been killed by a beast.  After violently throwing Yosef into a pit, from where he was later sold as a slave, the brothers took his garment and dipped it in the blood of a goat, to make it appear as though an animal devoured him.
            A number of commentators noted the difficulty in the Torah’s account of the brothers’ presentation of the bloodstained garment to Yaakov.  The Torah writes, “They sent the striped tunic, and they brought it to their father, and they said, ‘We found this’” (37:32).  Oddly, the Torah first tells that they “sent” (“va-yeshalechu”) the garment, implying that they had it brought to Yaakov by somebody else, and it then immediately tells, “they brought it to their father” (“va-yavi’u el avihem”), indicating that they brought the garment themselves.
            Several commentators, including the Rashbam, the Ramban and Chizkuni, explain that the brothers sent the garment to Yaakov, and did not bring it to him.  When the Torah says, “va-yavi’u” (“they brought”), these commentators write, it means that the messengers brought the garment.  The Ramban also suggests that this word might refer to the instruction given by the brothers to the messengers.  This was done, as Chizkuni explains, to avoid the possibility of Yaakov suspecting the brothers of killing Yosef.  If they had brought the garment to him, he might have perhaps entertained the possibility that they, who despised Yosef, had killed him and now tried to cover up their crime. 
            The Ramban also suggests interpreting the verse to mean that the brothers sent the garment to one of their homes in Chevron, and then, when they arrived, they came together to Yaakov to show him the garment.
            A much different approach is taken by Seforno (and by anonymous commentators cited by the Ramban), who interprets the word “va-yeshalechu” not as “they sent,” but as “they tore.”  According to Seforno, the brothers made holes in Yosef’s garment to make it appear as though he was attacked by an animal.
            More recently, a creative explanation was offered based on another difficulty in the text of this story.  (This approach is presented by Rav Yisrael Meir Astrik in Aspaklaria, Parashat Vayeishev, 5778, pp. 60-61.)  In the previous verse (37:31), the Torah writes that the brothers took “ketonet Yosef” – “Yosef’s tunic” – and dipped it in a goat’s blood.  It then tells that they sent the “ketonet passim” – the striped tunic, referring to the special garment which Yaakov made for Yosef (37:3).  Quite possibly, this refers to two different garments.  Indeed, Rashi, commenting on an earlier verse (37:23), writes (based on the Midrash) that Yosef was wearing two garments when he came to his brothers – an ordinary tunic, and the special striped garment made by his father.  And so the Torah writes that before throwing Yosef into the pit, the brothers removed from him both “kutanto” (“his tunic”) and the “ketonet passim.”  If so, then it could be suggested that the brothers’ actions after Yosef was sold involved both these garments.  First, they dipped Yosef’s regular garment in blood, and brought it with them to show Yaakov.  But before that, they sent ahead Yosef’s special ketonet passim, which was not dipped in blood.  Their intent, apparently, was to first arouse Yaakov’s concern by having somebody bring him Yosef’s garment which he claimed to have found, which would appear to indicate that something happened to Yosef.  Once Yaakov was already worried about Yosef’s whereabouts, the brothers brought him Yosef’s bloodstained garment, which confirmed his greatest fears.
            According to this interpretation, the Torah in this verse speaks of two different garments worn by Yosef – one which the brothers sent ahead to Yaakov, and another which they personally brought to their father.