By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
IN STUDYING THE TORAH, it is important to pay close attention to the finest nuances of meaning, and even to the briefest observations of our commentaries. An eye-opening example of this is in the beginning of Vayeshev.
YAAKOV SETTLES, after many tumultuous years, in Canaan. he hopes now to live in tranquility and stability with his family. But this is not to be. The tension among his sons leads to family crisis, and by the end of the parshah his beloved Yoseph is gone, presumed dead, but in actuality a slave languishing in an Egyptian prison. Thus begins the fulfillment of the prophecy given to Avraham over 200 years earlier: "Know for a certainty that your children will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they will enslave them and afflict them for four hundred
years" (Bereishit 15:13).
HOW DOES ALL THIS BEGIN? With hatred among Yaakov's children - Yoseph brings his father reports of the brothers' (apparent) misbehavior; he is favored by Yaakov and resented by his brothers.
V'LO YACHLU DABRO L'SHALOM (37:4) - Rashi translates, "And they were not able to speak with him for peace." The brothers could not bring themselves to speak peacefully to Yoseph. Rashi even commends them for their forthrightness, for not putting on a false mask of brotherly love when all they felt was animosity.
ON THE WORD DABRO, Rashi makes a brief and cryptic comment: "L'DABER IMO" - to speak with him.
BUT, ISN'T THIS OBVIOUS? What does Rashi wish to emphasize? And, why does Ibn Ezra likewise point out that DABRO means the same as "speaking to him"? Isn't the phrase understandable without their comments?
AN ANALYSIS OF HEBREW GRAMMAR will help us understand the concerns of Rashi and the Ibn Ezra. First, the Hebrew infinitive is usually preceded by the prefix "L" - but here the Lamed is missing. HOWEVER, THE INFINITIVE IN HEBREW, especially in the Tanach, is rather versatile. In fact, it can be preceded by other prefixes (B'-, K'-, and MI'-), and in each instance we derive a different shade of meaning. B'DABER, for example, would mean "in speaking," with the connotation of "while speaking." Rashi and Ibn Ezra, therefore, simply point out that, even without any of these prefixes, the word still functions as an infinitive: DABER is equivalent to L'DABER, "to speak."
THE SECOND ISSUE IS THE SUFFIX -O. Hebrew verb forms can take any one of a number of suffixes based on the various object pronouns (for example, "me," "my," "you," "your," and so on). The problem with the word (L') DABER is that it is intransitive, meaning that it should not take a direct object: "to speak him" makes no sense, neither in English nor in Hebrew. Therefore, both Rashi and Ibn Ezra are compelled to explain this suffix in an unconventional way, not as a direct object, but as a prepositional phrase: "to speak to him." The brothers were not able to speak in peace to Yoseph.
ONE OF THE COMMENTARIES ON IBN EZRA, Avi Ezer (written by R. Shlomo HaKohen of Lissa, 18th Century), disagrees with this entire approach. He says that there is no precedent in
Tanach for translating this kind of suffix as a prepositional phrase. The suffix has only one of two possible meanings: 1) after a transitive verb, it is a direct object (Y'VARECH'CHA - "May He bless you," for example); 2) after an intransitive verb, it functions as the possessive of a noun.
THIS REQUIRES FURTHER EXPLANATION. Remember the example B'DABER, "in speaking"? Note that the verb part of these words - "speaking" - is treated like a noun (in English, it would be called a gerund). So, as a noun, it could be made possessive: B'DABRI, for example, would mean "in my speaking," with the sense of "while I was speaking."
IT IS THIS APPROACH THAT AVI EZER takes. DABRO, accordingly, means "his speaking," and
the verb YACHLU takes on another of its definitions, namely, to tolerate. Thus, Avi Ezer translates V'LO YACHLU DABRO L'SHALOM as "and they could not bear his speaking for peace."
OUR COMMENTARIES, therefore, provide us with two different perspectives on the tensions between Yoseph and his brothers. For Rashi and Ibn Ezra, the brothers were so distant that they could not bring themselves to go through the motions of peaceable relations. Yoseph is the object of the brothers' hatred, and we get no indication of how he reacted to them. Possibly, he was oblivious to their feelings; after all, he reported not one, but both of his self-centered dreams to them!
AVI EZER, on the other hand, sees Yoseph as trying to communicate peacefully to his brothers. Perhaps Yoseph was aware of how his brothers felt, but their hatred made his overtures intolerable. When there is enmity between brothers, then talk of friendship is unbearable. David HaMelech expresses this pained sentiment when he says "I am for peace; but when I speak they are for war" (Tehillim 120:7).
THE BROTHERS COULD NOT RELATE in a brotherly way toward Yoseph, nor were they open to his offers of fraternity. The result: exile, slavery and oppression for all of the Children of Israel.
SIMILARLY, THE EVENTS LEADING up to Chanukah took place against the background of a war fought on two fronts: the Jews' struggle against the Greeks, as well as the struggle between different factions of Jews - those who pushed for Hellenization and those who fought for tradition. Again, hatred between Jews led to persecution of all Jews.
OFTEN, WHEN THERE IS NO PEACE and unity within the Jewish people, threats from without remind them that they are all brothers. We must take this message to heart and be tolerant of our differences while embracing our similarities. Only then can we live B'SHALOM - in peace and