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Wednesday, December 12, 2007


The following Midrash appears in Breishit Rabbah 93:

  • " ויגש יהודה עליו And Yehuda approached [Yosef] . . . " R. Yehuda says 'approaching' is for war; R. Nechemya says 'approaching' is for appeasement; the Rabbanan say 'approaching' is for prayer. R. Elazar solved it: [The Biblical Yehuda thought] if for war, then I come for war; if for appeasement, I come for appeasement; if for prayer, I come for prayer.

At first glance, the Midrash's thrust is simple. The word הגשה, or approaching, has several connotations in Tanach, and the Midrash argues over which meaning is meant in this week's Sedrah. However, any good student of the Little Midrash Says may have noticed a striking similarity between this passage and a Hazal that appears in Parshat Vayishlach, when Yaakov prepares to meet Esav:

  • And Yaakov prepared in three ways: gifts, war, and prayer. (TNY 6a, quoted in Rashi 32:9)

Our Midrash attributes to Yehuda's story both the format (three options) and the content (the specific options) that his father used when confronting Esav. It seems that our Midrash's simple discussion of semantics is really doing much more. It attempts to place a thematic link between the Yehuda and Yaakov stories. This becomes all the more apparent when you realize that הגשה has more than just three uses in Tanach. (See the next paragraph in Breishit Rabba for five more!) It seems that our Midrash wants to highlight only these three.

Perhaps Hazal were playing on something much more elaborate than these three options. We can find many literary links between the two Parshiot. We'll begin with the relatively obvious and then move our way up. Due to the three minute rule, a quick summary is presented here. The sources themselves are included afterwards.

1) הגשה- Both Parshiot contain the relatively uncommon term over and over again.

2) NECK, KISS, CRY- In Vayishlach, Esav falls on Yaakov's neck, kisses him, and they cry. In our Sedrah, Yosef falls on Binyamin's neck and all the brothers kiss and cry.

3) SEARCH FOR STOLEN OBJECTS- At the beginning of the journey that will lead him to Esav, Yaakov is tracked down by Lavan, who accuses him of stealing his gods. Lavan searches the entire camp. When the brothers leave Yosef's palace, they are accused of stealing his goblet. They search the entire camp.

4) AN UNINTENDED CURSE- Yaakov curses with death whomever stole Lavan's gods, not knowing Rachel was indeed responsible. The brothers curse with death whomever stole Yosef's goblet, not knowing it would be found in Binyamin's bag.

5) A MAN LEFT ALONE- Binyamin is described as alone with his father in the exact same way Yaakov was described as alone with the man he wrestled. וַיִּוָּתֵר הוּא לְבַדּוֹ

6) WHAT?!- Fed up with Lavan, Yaakov explodes in a series of impassioned rhetorical questions. Desperate to save Binyamin, Yehuda explodes in a series of impassioned rhetorical questions.

7) YOU'RE BETTER THAN YOU THINK- Yaakov sweet-talks Esav by saying his face is exactly like God's. Yehuda sweet-talks Yosef by saying he is exactly like Pharoah.

What does it all mean? Why does Chumash set up such an elaborate parellel between Yaakov's journey to Esav and Yehuda's interaction with Yosef? Why does the Midrash direct us to it? Somethings going on here!

I'm not really sure. I'm trying to locate contrasts between the two stories; I'm seeking nuances in character development; I'm on the lookout for complimentary Midrashim.

So . . . any thoughts?

QuickNotes for the Shabbos Table

-A Midrash claims that Yehuda approached Yosef with three possibilities in mind: prayer, appeasement, and war.
- This formulation parallels a Midrash's description of how Yaakov prepared for meeting Esav.
-In fact, there are many literary connections between the two parshiot. Almost word for word language is used to describe approaching, kissing, crying, falling on the neck, a search for stolen objects, and an unintended curse. Two uncommon sentence structures also link the two parshiot: rhetorical questioning and comparison to the Divine.

1 comment:

Ibn Avraham said...

A suggestion:
-Maybe the Torah is setting it up a contrast. When we think Yaakov and Esav, we think chosen and rejected. They meet, after all, but then immediately separate. For the Shvatim, a new pattern in Jewish history begins: all are chosen. At the end of this confrontation, the family unites and Jewish nationhood begins.
This fit nicely with the quality of emotions displayed at both events. My sense from reading the Yaakov/Esav story was that it was all fairly superficial. Esav is a little too overcome with brotherly love, (its hard to see sincere love in someone who brings a mercenary army to his meeting!) and Yaacov, it seems, is kinda faking it. His excuse to seperate is just that- an excuse. This is more an awkward high school reunion than a meeting of brothers.
With the Shvatim, though, the emotions seem genuine. There is apprehension, shocked silence, uncontrollable tears. While some of the emotions may be negative (see above Midrash), what else can you expect from a family. That's the point: through it all, the Shvatim still view themselves a single family unit, with all the positives and negatives which that implies.