Rabbi Dr. Meir Tamari
We have to understand the clarify the nature of the city of Shechem and
this will help us to discover the whole nature of the quarrel between
Yoseph and his brothers.
"Shechem was a place that was destined for suffering. In Shechem Dinah was
abused, there the brothers sold Yoseph and it was there that the Davidic
Kingdom was divided by Yeravam ben Nevat" (Sanhedrin, 102a). However, at
the same time, Shechem was chosen as Yaakov's gift to Yoseph. It was
sanctified as an Ir Miklat that could give sanctuary from the goel hadam
and it was one of the 3 places of which the nations can never question our
ownership; Har Hamoriah, Hevron and Shechem. This contradiction can be
solved by looking at Bereishit 2, verse 1 " Vayechulu hashmayim ve ha'aretz
ve chol zeva'am"- vayechulu, from the word clall. All the 6 days of
creation each of the constituent parts of creation was growing and
expanding to realize their individual potential and purpose. Each one was
an entity by itself, until through the power of the Shabbat they were all
became united together into one comprehensive unit; so the creation became
complete, as it is written, vanifash, it received its nefesh. The same is
true of the human body where each organ develops and moves independently
and yet the power of life and the nefesh unites them into one being. So
too, the sons of Yaakov were each one growing and extending themselves
spiritually, so that they each were considered complete and separate.
However, because of their greatness they were unable to unite, as the Arie
explained that the minds of people are not the same and therefore it is
difficult for them to achieve unity. The Maharal taught that the lack of
unity amongst the Jews is not because of any weakness of theirs, but on the
contrary because of the spiritual and intellectual greatness of each
individual. [This idea of great spiritual and intellectual people being
unable to subjugate themselves to the greatness of another, is an oft
repeated one in the School of Psyscha, as may be seen in the comments of
the Shem Mi Shmuel on Lag Ba Omer] The brothers should have been united
under Yoseph who represents the Shabbat, just as the parts of Creation
were. What prevented this was because "He brought to his father their evil
report" (Ber.36: 2). So was born hatred between them and therefore Yoseph
no longer had the power to unite them. Disunited, discord grew till the
separation of their hearts was total, so they hated him. In this way we can
easily understand the midrash, that after the sale of Yoseph, the brothers
said, "Let us disperse and separate". We know that the greater the
identification of the individual with the group or entity, the greater
will be the power of the group to help and support that individual. So when
the brothers lost the unifying nature of Yoseph, they naturally would want
to separate and each go his own separate way.
When we remember that the word Shechem derives from division or part
(Tehillim, 60:8 and 108:8), then we will see that the nature of the very
place contributed to all the tragedies that occurred there. The divisive
nature of Shechem caused its inhabitants to see themselves as an
independent and special creation; that moved Shechen benHamor to rape
Dinah. The Avnei Nezer explained that the divisive nature of the place
caused him to see himself as a special being and therefore he desired the
daughter of Yaakov; his desire was specifically to join with Yaakov.
Because of its nature of division, the place lent itself to the division of
the brothers, since each one considered himself special and unique so that
they could not subjugate themselves to another and become a united clall.
The nature of Shechem also encouraged the disunity that resulted in the
breakup of the Davidic kingdom, as the tribes seeing their own spiritual
greatness and uniqueness, were unable to humble themselves and subjugate
themselves to the Davidic dynasty.
" Now his brothers went to pasture their father's flock in Shechem"
(Ber.37:12). Rashi noting the dots on the word 'et' comments that they went
there to find themselves. [The Admor Menachem Mendel of Kotsk similarly
teaches that a person should always know what he is looking for, based on "
And he said [to Yoseph], "What are you seeking", verse15]. Troubled by
their hatred of Yoseph, the brothers went to Shechem, a place conducive to
individual worth and special importance, in order to re-discover their own
value. Perhaps that is also why Yaakov sent Yoseph to Shechem.
How was it that Yoseph HaTzaddik sinned with Lashan Hara? He suspected his
brothers and should have spoken to them about his suspicions. The ensing
discussion would have either shown them to be false or enabled him to
reprimand them and cause them to repent. However, Yoseph in the modesty
characteristic of all the descendants of Rachel, could not bring himself to
bring himself to confront and criticize the brothers who were all older
than him. Instead he brought their evil report toYaakov. The Zohar writes
that one who has to rebuke others but not do so, has the defect of speech
visited on him and affliction follows (Part 3, 46b). Yoseph's 19 years in
prison was atonement for the slander of his 10 brothers. Even though his
motives were good, nevertheless, considering Yoseph's elevated stature this
was considered a sin. Therefore, in order to restore him as Tzaddik yesod
olam, the test of Potiphar's wife was necessary.
This is similar to, "Because of the modesty of Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulos
the Second Temple was destroyed and we were exiled from our Land"(Gittin,
56a). So the sale of Yoseph was to the destruction of the 2nd Temple as
explained by Sforno.
Copyright © 2003 by Rabbi Dr. Meir Tamari and Torah.org.
Rabbi Dr. Tamari is a renowned economist, Jewish scholar, and founder of the Center For Business Ethics (www.besr.org) in Jerusalem.