by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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After the brothers of Joseph are accused of being spies, they speak among themselves and recall their guilt when they mercilessly threw their brother Joseph into the pit, many years previously. Then the Torah adds:
"And they didn't know that Joseph comprehended [their conversation] because the interpreter was between them."
"Because the interpreter was between them; Rashi: For when they had spoken to him there was an interpreter between them who knew the Hebrew language and the Egyptian language. He interpreted their words to Joseph and Joseph's words to them. Consequently they were under the impression that Joseph was not familiar with Hebrew."
Of course an interpreter knows the two languages of the participants. What is bothering Rashi here that caused him to make this seemingly obvious comment on this seemingly simple verse?
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
An Answer: Taken simply, the verse really makes no sense! It says BECAUSE the interpreter was between them, they thought that Joseph didn't understand! Precisely because the interpreter was present they should have realized that Joseph certainly understood their conversation.
How does Rashi get around this difficulty?
Your Answer: UNDERSTANDING RASHI
An Answer: Rashi is pointing out that the interpreter had been there during past conversations between Joseph and his brothers. But now when the brothers were speaking amongst themselves, the interpreter was not present. The interpreter was not present, because as Rashi goes on to say, he was there only to assist in conversations between Joseph and the brothers. This was a conversation amongst themselves so the interpreter was not needed.
Joseph probably carried on this pretense (of not knowing his native language) so that people would forget his "lowly" origins. But Joseph never forgot his naive language.
We can ask: What difference does it make whether Joseph understood this conversation or not? The Torah would not have mentioned it, were it an inconsequential piece of information.
What do you think?
A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING
An Answer: Immediately after this we see that Joseph takes Shimon captive. Of all the brothers, why does he take Shimon?
An answer given is that all these years since being sold into slavery, Joseph may have harbored ill feelings toward Reuven the firstborn brother. He may have thought that had Reuven stood up for Joseph the other younger brothers would have desisted from selling him. Now, however, after hearing their private conversation and discovering for the first time, that Reuven did, in fact, try to save Joseph, then he though that had the next oldest son, Shimon, stood up together with Reuven, then he certainly wouldn't have been sold. So now he held Shimon responsible andů
"He took from them, Shimon.." (Genesis 42:24) Can you think of an Answer?
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."
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