After all his travails, Yaakov is ready to settle in the land
promised to him and his children. But his story is not merely that of one
man’s family; it is the beginning of the realization of Hashem’s covenant with
“Know for a certainty that your seed will be a stranger in a land that is not
theirs, and they shall enslave them and afflict them for four hundred years.
Also will I judge the nation that will enslave them, and afterwards they will
emerge with great wealth. . . . And the fourth generation will return here . .
.” (Bereishit 15:13-14, 16).
We will therefore explain the beginning of this chapter in Yaakov’s life (Bereishit
37:1-4) with a view to its foreshadowing of future events, basing ourselves
primarily on the interpretation of Abravanel.
And Yaakov settled in the land of his father’s sojourning (MEGUREI), in the
land of Canaan (37:1).
There are two aspects to this verse:
1. MEGUREI connotes “sojourning,” but also “fear” and “strife.” Yaakov wished to
find stability in the place where Avraham and Yitzchak had experienced
instability. Nevertheless, the “generations of Yaakov” begin when the parallels
between him and Yitzchak are the most pronounced: competition between their
children for their fathers’ love causes strife; both suffer separation from
their favored son for 22 years; the departed son leaves destitute and
persecuted, but rises to wealth and power; before their deaths, both fathers
will see a reconciliation among their children, and will be buried by their
2. After becoming financially secure in exile, Yaakov returns
home to devote himself to spirituality. The place is suitable for this purpose
both because it was where his fathers came close to Hashem and because it was
Canaan, the place of spirituality. He leaves his financial affairs in the care
of his children, and settles down in Chevron.
These are the generations of Yaakov: Yosef, at seventeen years old, was tending
(HAYA RO’EH) his brothers in the flock, and he was a lad (V’HU NA’AR) with the
sons of Bilhah and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Yosef
brought their evil report to their father(37:2).
In Yosef, Yaakov sees the fulfillment of his ideals: he is his truest disciple.
But it is through Yosef that the exile to Egypt occurs. Yosef is so clever in
shepherding that even at age 17 he is the supervisor (HAYA RO’EH) of the others
[this idea is also found in Sforno]. He does his work with youthful alacrity (V’HU
NA’AR). At the same time he is humble, so that he ministers (V’HU NA’AR) to all
his brothers, even those who were sons of Bilhah and Zilpah; He gives them equal
treatment because, although their mothers started as servants, they became his
father’s wives. Yosef wants to help his brothers improve their character, so he
brings Yaakov any bad report that has been circulating about them. He neither
gossips nor lies about them; he does not verify what he had heard, nor tell
anyone else. Rather, he reports directly to their father, leaving it to Yaakov
to correct their behavior. Furthermore, he reports about all the brothers,
showing equal love for all of them, without regard for their status. Yosef
demonstrates a passion for morality and justice that prefigures Moshe. Despite
his well-intentioned motives however, Yosef will be punished, because the rumors
may not have been true.
And Yisrael loved Yosef from among all his children, because he was his
son-of-old-age (BEN ZEKUNIM), and he made him an embroidered tunic (37:3).
Yaakov’s love for Yosef is because he is, as Targum Onkelos
translates BEN ZEKUNIM, a “wise son.” Yaakov further values Yosef’s
adaptability: among the brothers he works with the swiftness of youth (NA’AR),
but with his father he displays the care and moderation of maturity (BEN ZEKUNIM).
[We might add that this quality, while arousing suspicion and impatience in the
young, like Yosef’s brothers, is esteemed by the aged, like Yaakov, as long as
it is sincere. Furthermore, this resilience will later serve Yosef well in his
political career. Might we see in Abravanel’s sympathetic insights into Yosef’s
personality traits and the animosity they provoke a reflection of his own
experiences in the court of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain?]
Yaakov expresses his high regard for Yosef by giving him an embroidered tunic.
This is not a signof favoritism, but a pure appreciation of Yosef’s character.
And his brothers saw that their father loved him from among all his brothers,
and they hated him, and they were not able to speak to him in peace (37:4).
The brothers misinterpret Yaakov’s affinity for Yosef. Abravanel sees two
aspects to their misunderstanding:
1. The brothers think that Yaakov prefers Yosef because of the
reports, and this makes them hate him. Undoubtedly, Yaakov chastised them for
their misbehavior, but since he remained in seclusion they reasoned that he
could not have learned about them unless Yosef revealed their secrets.
2. The brothers think that Yosef is preferred because he is the
firstborn of the favored wife Rachel, and this makes them jealous. Yosef’s
embroidered tunic signifies to them that he has been chosen for the birthright
and future leadership of the family. They think that Yaakov will do to them what
Avraham did to Yishmael and the children of Keturah, and what Yitzchak did to
The brothers’ hatred is so intense that they cannot even
tolerate Yosef’s speaking peaceably.
The discord amongst the brothers will unfortunately be repeated in Jewish
history, as the story of Chanukah, which begins today, demonstrates. Even before
Antiochus’s evil decrees against the practice of Judaism, the Jews themselves
were divided over the question: to what extent shall we allow Hellenistic
civilization to affect our lives? As with Yosef’s brothers, the disunity led to
violence and to persecution by a foreign nation.
For Yosef and his brothers, the stage is set for the descent to Egypt, and the
ultimate fulfillment of the nation’s historic destiny.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
Intentions count. That seems to be one of the themes of
At his father’s behest, Yosef goes looking for his
brothers in Shechem. He knows it’s a dangerous assignment. When he saw
that his brothers weren’t there he could have returned home and told his
father he couldn’t find them. Instead, he persists until he finds “the
man,” an angel, who directs him to Dotan (Rashbam).
Reuven (37:22) beseeches his brothers not to kill
Yosef, proposing that they throw him into a pit instead. The Torah tells
us that his intention was to come back later and rescue him and Rashi says
that his motive was to evade blame (since he was the first-born).
Why doesn’t Rashi give Reuven the benefit of the
doubt? Maybe he really wanted to save his brother? The Maharshal answers
that if Reuven’s intentions had been so lofty he, and not Yehuda, would
have received the most favorable blessing from Yaacov.
When the brothers show their father Yosef’s bloody
cloak, Yaacov concludes that Yosef has been killed and begins a period of
mourning that lasts 22 years. Rashi (37:34) quotes the Gemara in Megillah
(17a), that Yaacov’s 22 years of mourning were a consequence of the 22
years he spent with Lavan, when he did not honor his parents. But hadn’t
Yaacov been fulfilling his parents’ request that he go find a wife?
Rabbenu Bechaye answers: if his motive had been solely to find a wife, he
would have taken Leah and returned home immediately. In staying longer to
acquire Rachel, he showed that his real intention was not meeting his
parents’ demands, but his own needs.
When we set out to perform any mitzvah, be it
respecting our parents or yishuv Eretz Yisrael it is critical that we
examine our motives. We must make sure that our true intentions are not,
in essence, excuses for not doing what the Torah demands of us.
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320