by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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Parshas Vayigash(76)Genesis 42:19
"If you are honest, one of your brothers will be locked up in prison where you are under guard, and you go bring food for your famished households.
20. Bring your youngest brother to me so that your words will be verified, and you will not die." They decided to do so.
21. They said one to another "In truth, we are guilty regarding our brother. We saw his anguish of is soul when he pleaded with us and we did not listen.
22. Reuben answered them saying "Did I not say to you, thus 'Do not sin against he lad ' but you did not listen. His blood is now being avenged. "
23. They did not know that Joseph was listening because the interpreter was between them.
24. And he turned aside and cried. And he returned to them and spoke, and then he took Simon from them and he bound him up in front of them."
42:24 Simon: Rashi: He was the one who threw him in the pit, he was the one who said to Levi "Here comes the dreamer…"
Can you see what prompted this comment?
WHAT'S BOTHERING RASHI?
An Answer: It seems clear that Rashi wondered why, of all the brothers, Simon was chosen. This seems to be an arbitrary choice; there were ten brothers to choose from. Why Simon? If anything, Reuben who is the oldest and bears most responsibility for the brothers' behavior, should have been chosen.
Rashi answers the question with information which comes from several Midrashim.
Rashi's comment fills us in on some background information that we were not aware of. On the basis of midrashim (see earlier verse 37:19 - where it says "one man to his bother" which is interpreted as Simon to Levi, because they were referred to as "brothers" when they wiped out the city of Shechem).
On this basis Simon was not just another brother, he was an impulsive, hot-headed individual and an instigator against Joseph. So Rashi tells us, this is why Simon was chosen. But taking the Midrash as given we can still ask a question.
QUESTIONING THE MIDRASH
A Question: The Torah says "one man to his brother" and from this the Midrash concludes that it was Simon who said to Levi because they were called brothers in the destruction of Shechem.
But maybe it was just the opposite, maybe it was Levi who said to Simon. So Levi would have been the instigator and not the follower, and then Rashi could not think this was the reason Joseph chose Simon to lock up.
Can you think of an answer why Rashi assumes Simon was the one who told (and convinced) Levi and not the opposite?
UNDERSTANDING THE MIDRASH
An Answer: Simon was older than Levi so we can assume he was the leader.
A LOOK AT P'SHAT
But there is another explanation why Simon was chosen based not on Midrash but on P'shat. One rule of P'shat interpretation is to look at context. Look at the surrounding verses to our verse (which are printed above) and see if you can give a reasonable explanation for Joseph's choice of Simon, without resorting to Midrash.
Ibn Ezra, Chizkuni, Bechore Shor & P'shat explanations
An Answer: The above Torah commentators , all following the Ibn Ezra (a contemporary of Rashi) to explain Joseph's choice as follows:
Ordinarily, as we said above, the oldest is considered the most responsible for the brothers' actions. That is Reuben. And it is likely that Joseph would have held him responsible for his sale to the Ishmaelites and eventually to Egypt. He had many years while in slavery to think of this trauma and to be angry with Reuben. But now for the first time Joseph hears, (and understands) the conversation the brothers have after they hear Joseph's accusation of them.
But now Joseph hears Reuben speak and say: "Did I not say to you, thus 'Do not sin against he lad but you did not listen. His blood is now being avenged. "
So, in fact, Reuben did try to save Joseph, but his brothers would not heed his advice.
So, if Reuben had acquitted himself, who is next in line? Simon! Had Simon supported Reuben, maybe the brothers would not have sold Joseph.
Therefore "he took Simon from them and he bound him up in front of them."
What is particularly nice about this interpretation is that it also explains the need for verse 23, which comes immediately before our verse. There it says:
"They did not know that Joseph was listening because the interpreter was between them."
This verse appears, at first glance, to be totally unnecessary and not essential to the story. But now we realize that it is integral to the development of the story. It explains that Joseph overheard and understood the brothers' conversation when Reuben acquitted himself. And thus explains his choice of Simon to be the one to sit in jail.
Avigdor Bonchek has published a new book on Rashi called "Rashi: The Magic and the Mystery" published by Gefen. Look for it at Jewish book stores.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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