Yosef and his brothers – whats it all about?

This week’s sedra contains one of the most misunderstood episodes in the Torah. It would appear on face value that 10 of the sons of Yaakov despised their own brother Yosef. They tried to kill him by throwing him into a pit. Eventually, they sold him to a group of merchants travelling to Egypt.

There are numerous questions to be asked on this:

1) How could Jacob show favoritism to one son by giving Yosef a multicolored coat (37:3)? He, having experienced the hatred of his brother, Esov, should have known better.
2) Why was Yosef “fooling around with the children of Bilha and Zilpah” (37:2)?
3) Why did Yosef report all the brothers’ evil plans and actions to Yaakov (ibid)?
4) How could future leaders of the tribes of Israel commit such an act?

The answer I would like to give is based on the sefer “Vayeifk Yossef” written by
Reb Leib Friedman which goes through all the Midrashim and Talmudical sources to deduce the following explanation.

Yosef was a very pious man. We know this from how he managed to spurn the advances of Potifar’s wife when he was a servant at her house in Egypt. . He was able to knock her back even when she clung on to him. Yosef steadfastly kept his Yidiskeit even in lowly Egypt, which was perhaps the most spiritually deprived country at the time steeped in witchcraft and magic. When the Jewish people eventually left on seder night, our Rabbis tell us they were at the 49th and penultimate level of tumah, spiritual impurity.

Yosef is known as “Yosef Hatzadik” Yosef the righteous man. However, he was very humble and tried to hide his good deeds. He did this by goofing around with his brothers and by spending time in the mirror apparently beautifying himself and playing with his hair which gave of the impression he was not spending his time studying Torah. In fact he was studying even as he carried out mundane activities.
However, he was so good at hiding his greatness that even his own family were fooled. They thought he was the”black sheep” of the family. Yaakov thought that just like his father and grandfather had wicked sons, so did he with Yosef. Yosef’s brothers were also concerned with this.

Therefore, they formed a plan. There are two main ways to help children who go off the path and need extra help.
1- Show them extra love, attention and hope this will help turn the child back to the right path.
2- Distance oneself from them, which will shock them into behaving.

Yaakov, being the father, decided to adopt the first approach and show Yosef extra love and attention. He made for him a beautiful multicolored coat made from the finest delicate wool. He gave him extra tuition and taught him all the special parts of Torah he had learned in the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever when he studied there for fourteen years prior to his meeting with Lavan. He hoped he could nurture him into becoming a true tzaddik. This approach works on the premise that one shows how much they care about the other person including his spiritual wellbeing. We show them that we believe the best way of having a good and meaningful life in this world, as well as in the world to come, are by keeping the Torah and being a good Jew. We show them we want them to share in the happiness and reward that awaits us all.

“And the brothers saw that their father loved them more than all his brothers so they hated him and weren’t able to speak nicely to him” (37:4).
Having seen Yaakov adopt the first method and seemingly fail, the brothers adopted the second method of pushing Yosef away. They hoped that by showing him they wanted nothing to do with him, he would change his ways. Perhaps he would be shocked into changing his ways and behaving like a leader of one of the twelve tribes of Israel should.
“And Yosef dreamed a dream and told his brothers” (37: 5). This was like a dagger into the hearts of the brothers. After all Yaakov’s efforts to show Yosef extra love and affection and the brothers efforts to shun and spurn him, Yosef still had visions of grandeur. Their attempts to mould him into a righteous man fitting to be a leader of Israel had seemingly failed.

Therefore, it was time for “plan B”. The brothers now thought that Yosef would turn out like his uncle Esov and great uncle Yishmael both of whom were wicked men until they repented just prior to death. Taking a lead from their grandfather Avrohom who banished Yishmael from his house, the brothers formed a plan to eradicate Yosef.

They voted him liable for the death penalty on account of the licentious gossip he constantly relayed to Yaakov. They reasoned he could cause Yaakov to curse them and ruin their chances of being leaders of Israel. Yosef was therefore a danger to them, and one is allowed to cause harm to another on grounds of self defence.

The Midrash tells us they first tried firing arrows at him from a distance not wanting to harm him with their own hands. When Hashem spared him from the arrows, they set vicious dogs upon him. Finally they elected to kill him with their own bare hands.

Reuven spoke up and saved Yosef’s life by suggesting they give him more time. Maybe a little “alone” time in a pit would do the trick. Hopefully Yosef would be spooked into realizing that he had to wake up and change his ways. This was to be his last warning.

In the end, the brothers sold him to merchants and got rid of him. If he was not going to conform then he had to be driven away as their great-uncle Yishmael was.

The brothers were still fearful of their father, Yaakov, so they made up a story of Yosef being savaged by a beast.

Hopefully, we can now see the brothers in a better light. After all, they all went on to be inscribed on the breast plate worn by the Cohen Gadol.
It also has to be stated that this episode was all the will of Hashem as we see by how the events unfolded. Yosef was to become viceroy of Egypt which would facilitate the Jewish nation ending up in Egypt and their subsequent redemption.

In relation to us here in 5779, there is an important lesson. We must not act hastily when it comes to major chinuch decisions. We have to evaluate each child and see what path works best for him. There is a proverb in Mishlei (22:6) “Educate a child according to HIS own path” No two children are the same. “Just like everyone’s face is different, so are their intellects and character “(Talmud). Sometimes a child needs extra love and affection, but not at the expense of other children.
Children can be scarred for life by their early experiences. Everyone wants to feel loved and appreciated. Every child wants to feel like the most important person in their parents eyes. Let us take the message of this week’s sedra and may Hashem grant us heavenly help in raising and educating our children to be good Jews and upstanding people.

Thanksgiving Jewish Thought

Rabbi Zevi Saunders
Published by Zevi Saunders · 1 hr ·
By the time you read this, the tryptophan from your turkey is probably slowly seeping out of your body. The smell of cooking leftover turkey for Shabbat is slowly wafting through your nose. Perhaps you will be camping out waiting in line for the Black Friday sales, or perhaps sitting on a beach somewhere enjoying your break. Giving thanks is a very Jewish idea. We give thanks every day to hashem for everything we have in our lives. We make a Bracha before we eat or benefit from anything in this world as a way of saying thank you to hashem for providing us with it. We give thanks when we leave the restroom that everything is working well internally. We give thanks when we recover from surgery. In fact every year in the temple times we had to bring the first fruits of the seven species that Israel is praised for, and offer them to the priests in the temple. We would make a declaration thanking hashem going back to the times when Jacob was saved from his father-in-law, Lavan. The RAMBAN( Nachmanides) at the end of parshat BO says the reason we have so many Mitzvot commemorating the exodus from Egypt, is to prompt us to be grateful and thankful for having been saved.
Perhaps we should take this time to think of a few things that we are thankful for in our own lives. We should be thankful for our good health. We should be thankful for our children, grandchildren and all the other things we have in our lives.

I would like to show my thanks to everybody in the Delray community for welcoming me and my wife and family so much and making my family and me feel very special. This is a wonderful community and I’m sure we will grow into the premier location for snowbirds in South Florida.

My response to the Pittsburgh shooting

This weeks events truly put the ‘Mar’
(bitter) into ‘Mar-Cheshvan’
(name of the current Jewish month).
As you’re all aware we are currently
mourning the loss of 11 of our brothers
and sisters in Pittsburgh. This has
shocked the Jewish community to the
core. There is a lot of fear around and
people seem apprehensive about
going to places of worship.
This week we read in the Torah of the
first anti-Semitic attack. When
Abraham’s servant came to find a wife
for Yitzchak he miraculously
found Rebecca. When he met her
parents (according to some sources),
they tried to poison his food and
prevent the Jewish race from
happening. Hashem made a miracle
and an angel came to swap the food
and Rebecca’s father died instead.
From that day on we have faced
serious anti-Semitism from
everywhere. It is nothing new and will
not be totally eradicated until the
arrival of Moshiach. However, leaving
the issues of security for people other
than myself to discuss, we need to
show the haters that we cannot be
beaten. Let’s show that no matter
what, we will still practice our religion.
We will still come to shul. We will still
keep Torah and Mitzvot.
It has just come to light that the nurse
treating the murderer in Pittsburgh was
Jewish and proudly wore a Star of
David. Apparently the perpetrator was
shouting obscenities at her. But this is
what we do as Jews, we are
kind and goodhearted and help
others, and
ultimately righteousness will defeat
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Not everyone can say that ‘ People would like to have ministers like me’



Tuesday, 5 July 2011
Wonderful Methodist fringe event at Southport synagogue

Congratulations and thanks are in order to the Jewish British Board of Deputies and our own Methodist external relations department who came up with the idea of a Jewish cultural evening and seder meal as a fringe event to our own Methodist Conference.

The local synagogue in Southport pulled out all the stops and made us feel very welcome. I was, incidentally, very touched by the personal invitation from members of the Jewish community despite not being a conference delegate.

There were about 120 delegates present making it one of the biggest fringe events ever held at a Methodist Conference in living memory. Rabbi Saunders – please G-d let us have Ministers like him – introduced us to the fabric and layout of the synagogue. Much of what he said resonated with members of a denomination which started worshiping in fields and barns.

The Rabbi then led us into the community hall where there was an exhibition on the Jewish Way of Life (by the way this will be open again this evening for delegates who didn’t make it last night). We then sat down for a splendid meal as the Rabbi explained each element of the meal, and described how they mixed worship and education with food, much like a good Alpha course!

We then had short speeches from the local chair of district, the vice president of the BOD and the head of our external affairs department. They described the painful journey from last year’s awful conference (my word, not theirs) when relations between the two communities had broken down following the disgraceful (again my word not theirs) acceptance by conference of the “report” on Palestine and Israel.

Since then there has been a series of meetings which have now enabled a dialogue to get underway. Last night’s meal would have been impossible during last year’s conference and we must hope and pray for better understanding between the tow communities.

Parshas Beha’alotcha


In this week’s sedra the Jews complained about their lack of good food. They recalled all the delicacies of Egypt and asked specifically for meat. Hashem eventually gave meat to them but killed them all after a month.

Question 1

How could the Jews be so ungrateful as to complain and ask for meat? After all, they had everything they needed handed to them on a plate.

Question 2

Why does the Torah use the expression (ch 11 v 1) ‘The people were LIKE COMPLIANERS’? Surely they were complainers!!!!


I think these questions can be answered as follows:

The Rabbis tell us that there are 13 expressions of prayer (midrash shimonei beginning of parshat vo etchanan). Each expression denotes a different aspect to prayer and all of them can be used. The midrash recounts all the instances where they were used in the bible. Here are there English equivalents;-














(explanations of these expressions is beyond the scope of this work at the moment)

Moshe used many of these expressions to intercede to Hashem on behalf of the Jews. After the Jews made the golden calf He reasoned with Hashem not to destroy the Jews on account that the nations would think G-d was too weak to bring the Jews to the land of Israel.

This is what I believe the Jews were doing in this instance. They tried to reason with Hashem that if in the slavery of Egypt they had meat then how much more so in the utopic situation of the desert they should enjoy the same delicacies.

This is why the Torah uses the expression ‘like complainers’ because they were not really complaining. However, they still sinned on their exulted level because they should have been contented with their lot.

This is how we can understand all the other instances that the Jews complained. On many occasions when faced with either no water or with on rushing enemies they reasoned

What was the point of leaving Egypt to die in the desert, we might as well return’

This was not a statement of ungrateful people but rather a plea of reasoning and persuading Hashem to answer their requests.

The Rabbis in their great wisdom have advised that people should not reason with Hashem nowadays. This is because the line is so thin and it is easy to cross over to the realms of sin.