Parshas Mikeitz continues the story of Yosef and the brothers, but this time, the shoe is on the other foot. Yosef is raised from slavery to second-in-command of the entire country of Egypt by interpreting Paroh’s dreams. The dreams informed him that there would soon be seven years of plentiful food, followed by seven years of even worse hunger. Armed with this knowledge, Yosef prepared Egypt for these years, and eventually Egypt became the wealthiest country in the civilized world.
During the famine, the entire world came to Egypt to buy food, including Yaakov’s family. When the brothers arrive, Yosef summons them to the palace, accuses them of being spies, and throws Shimon in jail until the brothers return with Binyamin. His purpose was to get them to do teshuvah for selling him, and he succeeded. The first step in this process is found in Perek 42 pasuk 21. “וַיֹּֽאמְר֞וּ אִ֣ישׁ אֶל־אָחִ֗יו אֲבָל֘ אֲשֵׁמִ֣ים | אֲנַ֘חְנוּ֘ עַל־אָחִ֒ינוּ֒ אֲשֶׁ֨ר רָאִ֜ינוּ צָרַ֥ת נַפְשׁ֛וֹ בְּהִתְחַֽנְנ֥וֹ אֵלֵ֖ינוּ וְלֹ֣א שָׁמָ֑עְנוּ עַל־כֵּן֙ בָּ֣אָה אֵלֵ֔ינוּ הַצָּרָ֖ה הַזֹּֽאת” “They then said one to another, ‘Indeed we are guilty concerning our brother inasmuch as we saw his heartfelt anguish when he pleaded with us and we paid no heed; that is why this anguish has come upon us.” The brothers finally recognized that they had wronged Yosef. However, one brother was quick to remove himself from the rest.
Last week, we discussed how Reuven attempted to save Yosef by convincing the brothers not to kill him and how the pasuk goes out if its way to mention this fact. With the brothers finally admitting they were wrong, Reuven is quick to point out his role. “וַיַּ֩עַן֩ רְאוּבֵ֨ן אֹתָ֜ם לֵאמֹ֗ר הֲלוֹא֩ אָמַ֨רְתִּי אֲלֵיכֶ֧ם | לֵאמֹ֛ר אַל־תֶּֽחֶטְא֥וּ בַיֶּ֖לֶד וְלֹ֣א שְׁמַעְתֶּ֑ם וְגַם־דָּמ֖וֹ הִנֵּ֥ה נִדְרָֽשׁ” “Reuven spoke up to them, saying, ‘Did I not speak to you saying, ‘Do not sin against the boy,’ but you would not listen! And his blood as well--behold!-- is being avenged.” (42:22). But if we look back in Parshas Vayeishev, this isn’t what Reuven said at all! (See 37:22.) What is Reuven’s accusation here?
The Ohr HaChaim points out that the word “לֵאמֹר” is brought twice in the pasuk, quoting Reuven’s current statement, and when Reuven bringing up his previous statement from Vayeishev (which we asked isn’t what he actually said); this is not the typical style of the Torah. Based on this and our question, he explains the story like this.
The brothers said that they were being punished because they ignored Yosef’s pleas for help. Reuven answered them that he had not sinned against Yosef; he had heard Yosef’s pleas and had done what he could to save him. And even though he wasn’t explicit in telling the brothers they should bring Yosef back home, all he said was they shouldn’t kill him, the intent behind his words was that they shouldn’t do anything at all towards Yosef. So the first ‘לֵאמֹר’ is to show that Reuven was separating himself and speaking towards the brothers, and the second is a quote of sorts, of what he meant to say in Vayeishev.
How could Reuven assume the brothers would take his hint? Actually, if you take his statement at face value, he suggested they throw Yosef in a pit full of poisonous animals while the brothers decided to sell him. If anything, the brothers did more to save Yosef’s life than Reuven did! What right does Reuven have now to blame the brothers?
The Ohr HaChaim says an important idea here. When Reuven said to throw Yosef in the pit, he said, “וְיָד אַל תִּשְׁלְחוּ בוֹ” “Let us not send a hand against him” (Bereishis 37:22). The main purpose behind Reuven’s idea to throw Yosef in the pit was to get him out of the hands of the brothers and into the hands of Hashem. Humans are given the great gift of choice; we can choose our own path in life. This power is so great that we can even kill someone who is not supposed to be killed! Even if Hashem has not decreed that this person should die, a person’s free-will gives him the ability to do so anyway.
By keeping Yosef in the hands of man, even by selling him, the brothers were still placing Yosef in peril. However, Reuven had the idea to throw him in the pit with dangerous animals; animals have no free-will, they must do exactly what Hashem wants. If Hashem had not decreed that Yosef should die, then the animals would not be able to kill him. By saying “וְיָד אַל תִּשְׁלְחוּ בוֹ”, Reuven hoped to remind the brothers of this idea, and when they agreed to throw Yosef in the pit, he thought they had gotten the message. When he came back later and discovered that they had sold him, he realized that it hadn’t gotten through at all. Therefore, at this time, he can with total confidence tell the brothers how they had messed up without including himself.
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