Parshas Vayeishev contains one of the hardest events to understand in the entire Torah, the sale of Yosef by his brothers. There are so many details here which have to be explained. Who was right in the argument between the brothers and Yosef? Didn’t Yosef realize how he was damaging his relationship with his brothers by telling over his dreams to them? Didn’t Yaakov realize the tension he was creating by favoring Yosef over his other sons? And how could the brothers sell Yosef like a common stranger? Did he really act that wrongly? Still, we must be very careful in explaining this story as all the people involved were world-class tzaddikim acting only for the sake of Hashem. Each commentator has their own way to explain the different aspects of this very difficult episode. I would like to focus on one such point.
At the beginning of Shlishi, Yosef comes to where his brothers are shepherding and they proceed to throw him into a pit. Before they threw him in, the pasuk says, “…וַיַּפְשִׁיטוּ אֶת יוֹסֵף אֶת כֻּתָּנְתּוֹ אֶת כְּתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים אֲשֶׁר עָלָיו” “…and they stripped Yosef his tunic, the fine woolen tunic that was on him” (Bereishis 37:23). The Meforshim explain that Yosef was wearing two layers, his regular shirt and his special כְּתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים (fine woolen tunic) that Yaakov had given him. They stripped him of both and threw him into the pit. But why did they take off his special coat? Was it really necessary? I believe that this point is what bothers the Meforshim here.
There are basically two reasons that come out from the Meforshim why the brothers would take Yosef’s coat from him, either because of jealousy or because they needed the כְּתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים for later on when they showed the torn, bloody coat to Yaakov to make him believe Yosef had been killed. When Rashi comments on the words “כְּתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים” in this pasuk, he describes it as “הוא שהוסיף לו אביו יותר על אחיו” “This is the one his father added for him over his brothers”. This sounds as if Rashi holds that they took it purely out of jealousy. The Rashbam, who happens to be Rashi’s grandson, says that this assumption is completely wrong and they only took the coat in order to use it to fool Yaakov.
The Kli Yakar gives two answers for why they took both of his layers off. The first answer is that Yosef was afraid that the brothers would steal his כְּתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים, so he sewed it to his shirt underneath, thinking that the brothers wouldn’t let him walk around without a shirt! But the brothers were determined and took off both of his layers. His second answer is that Yosef put his כְּתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים underneath his regular shirt to hide it from his brothers. So in order to take it off, they had to take off his regular shirt as well. The Kli Yakar doesn’t say either one of our two reasons why the brothers needed the כְּתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים straight out, let us see if we can figure out which one he follows.
In pasuk 26, Yehuda convinces the brothers to sell Yosef rather than kill him. His reasoning is, “מַה בֶּצַע כִּי נַהֲרֹג אֶת אָחִינוּ וְכִסִּינוּ אֶת דָּמוֹ” “What gain will there be if we kill our brother and cover his blood?” (37:26). Rashi explains that Yehuda meant what monetary gain would there be in killing Yosef. The Kli Yakar explains this as follows. After Reuven’s rash actions in last week’s parshah (See 35:22), Yaakov took away his firstborn right to a double inheritance and gave it to Yosef. If the brothers would now kill Yosef, that extra portion would be divided amongst all of them at Yaakov’s death, hence the monetary gain. However, since they would never be able to tell Yaakov about Yosef’s death, Yaakov would never give it to them because of the possibility of Yosef still being alive! Even after Yaakov’s death, the land would still be held up in Beis Din till proof could be brought of Yosef’s death. However, if they sold Yosef, there would be a monetary gain. Being a slave, anything Yosef owned would immediately belong to his master. When Yaakov would find out that Yosef’s double portion in Eretz Yisrael would be going to an Egyptian, he would never have allowed that to happen! So he would have taken away the double portion from Yosef and given it to all the brothers, giving them a monetary gain through this sale.
An obvious question arises from this Kli Yakar, what does he mean there was no gain to killing Yosef since they could never tell Yaakov about his death? We see later in Pasuk 32 that they showed to Yaakov the bloody כְּתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים in an effort to convince him that Yosef was in fact dead (though they didn’t say that explicitly)! I think this proves that the Kli Yakar holds like Rashi, that they took the כְּתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים purely out of jealousy and that they were not even thinking of using it to fool Yaakov at the time that they took it.
While I originally came up with this answer on my own, I later found it by reading the very next Kli Yakar where he writes this explicitly. While I’m glad I was able to figure out his opinion by myself, I feel even better that he says it as well!
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