Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Vayeshev Parsha Notes

I should have posted this last week. Apologies.

The story of Tamar's rape in the Book of Samuel is the Joseph story told backwards. It begins with Amonon clearing the room using the same exact words Joseph used before he revealed himself to his brother. When Amnom attacks Tamar, he says "Lie with me" which recalls the language Potiphar's wife employed. Following the crime Tamar tears her ketonet pasim; likewise Joseph - the only other character in the bible to have a ketonet pasim - has his coat torn.

The first Tamar story (Judah's daughter in law) overflows with allusions to the rest of Genesis

 >> Read the rest of my parsha notes 

Famous Argument
Why did Yehuda sentence Tamar to death by burning? Rashi: She was Shem's daughter, Shem was a priest, and we burn the daughter of priests when they sleep around. (that's three unproven assertions by my count) Ramban: Not so fast. We burn a priest daughter if she commits adultery. Tamar was an ordinary harlot.Rashbam: Under the levirate marriage laws what she did was technically adultery. (Hmm. Isn't this same Rashbam on the record here saying people like Judah kept only the "obvious" mitzvot? Solution: Levirate marriage was practiced throughout the ANE. The sentence Judah passed may have been connected to the customs of this own place and time, customs that coincidentally (wink wink) coincide with some Torah law.)

Internal Parallel
No reason is given for Rachel'swhy Rivka loves for Jacob, nor is Jacob's love for Joseph especially well explained. (The reason the Torah gives doesn't tell us much; Benjamin, too, was a ben zekunim.)

Understanding Rashi
Rashi famously says Joseph's pit contained snakes and scorpions. How did he know? Not via ruach hakodesh. His clue was the double language employed by the verse which says Yosef was thrown into a pit that was "empty and had no water in it." Why the double language? If the pit is empty, it has no water in it. (some of these words happen to be Jameel's)

Two way Torah
Why did Joseph share his dream with his brothers. Most everyone says Joseph had pure motives, and wished to teach his brothers something or other. The Sforno alone gives an altogether different answer and says Joseph was simply immature. [Joseph's language supports this: In his telling of the dream, Joseph says הִנֵּה three times; that and the"וְהִנֵּה קָמָה אֲלֻמָּתִי, וְגַם-נִצָּבָה" suggest he's a bit too impressed with himself.]

In the Jacob story every thing is binary; in the Joseph story the theme is doubling: two dreams (on three separate occasions), two trips to jail, and the brothers visit Egypt twice. (Alter)

Accurate depictions
The original suggestion was to kill Joseph and toss his corpse in a pit. The denial of burial in the ANE, as in other cultures, including our own, is seen as a atrocity. To dispose of Joseph's body that way would have been an ultimate insult. (Alter)

An error in disagreement with Alter
After the second dream, Jacob chastises his son: "Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?" Alter is puzzled because by this point Rachel is dead. The answer, as Rashi gives it, is that Jacob was arguing the entire dream was fanciful, and none of it could never be fulfilled: You mother is dead, thus none of what you have foreseen can ever come to pass. (I find it strange that Alter, who often argues against DH conclusions, doesn't use Rashi to defend the text.) (Alter cites Rashi often.)

AnomalyThe text speaks of the "valley of Hebron" (Gen 37:14) but Hebron is at a height.

The text speaks of a band of Ishmalites. Those Ishmalites would have been second cousins to Joseph and his brothers, and the original Ishmael himself was only recently dead.

In the MT, a man (likely Judah) names Judah's first son, and Tamar's twins. Other ancient versions of the text say this task was carried out by a woman, which is in keeping with the practice of Jacob's wives. All of his children were named by their mother.

The younger brother who pushes ahead appears here in the story of Joseph and the story of Judah's twin sons. These are the fifth and sixth times we've seen it.

In Genesis, men meet women at wells. Judah meets Tamar at עֵינַיִם, which plausibly means "two wells."

Did all 12 brothers marry their sisters? Per Rashi, no way. (Rabbi Nechamia disagrees with the Midrash, too, but for other reasons.)

Who took Joseph out of the pit? Who brought him down to Egypt? Midianites or Ishmalites? Maddeningly unclear.

We're told וַיַּרְא אֲדֹנָיו, כִּי יְהוָה אִתּוֹ his master saw God was with him? But how? What did the master see? Rashi says Joseph would frequently invoke the name of God in his ordinary speech, and this is true: Throughout the story whenever Joseph speaks he almost always mentions God. (there is no reason to explain Rashi's comment as too many school teachers do: Yosef didn't say "boruch hashem" or "im yirtza hashem" at every opportunity. What he said, are thinge like this: הֲלוֹא לֵאלֹהִים פִּתְרֹנִים and בִּלְעָדָי: אֱלֹהִים, יַעֲנֶה אֶת-שְׁלוֹם פַּרְעֹה and אֵת אֲשֶׁר הָאֱלֹהִים עֹשֶׂה, הִגִּיד לְפַרְעֹה &c.)

The Ish who told Joseph where to fin his brothers is said to be Gavriel; meanwhile a week ago the Ish who wrested with Yaakov is said to be the Sar she Esav. Why? Yaakov's Ish was concerned with himself, and his own avodah. When the time came for him to sing a song to God nothing else mattered. Joseph's Ish, the one said to be Gavriel, left his seat at God's side to help Joseph. 


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