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12/10/2021 12:56:42 PM


Wow! That story of Joseph and his brothers is a cliff-hanger! When we left the synagogue last week, we were wondering: what’s going to happen to Benjamin? Why did Joseph plant fake evidence in Benjamin’s bag? Is Benjamin going to be Joseph’s slave for ever?

As this week’s parasha begins, the brother Judah approaches Joseph very meekly: “Please my master, may I please say something to you, and don’t be angry at me. are [as powerful] as Pharaoh.”  And Judah continues talking, always referring to Joseph as his master, and to himself as “your servant.”

Judah’s speech is long (16 verses,) in simple language, and very deferential towards Joseph (whom Judah still thinks is Pharaoh’s viceroy, and does not yet realize is actually Joseph.)

HOWEVER, there is a strange midrash, which seems to completely change the meaning of the speech. Here is my translation and abridgement of an ancient Aramaic translation, known popularly as the “”Jerusalem Targum,” written in the western Aramaic dialect:

Judah said: “you are like Pharaoh. In other words, I will kill you like I will kill Pharaoh. For when I take my sword out of its sheath, I won’t return it until the land of Egypt will be filled with corpses, empty of its inhabitants. I’ll begin with you, and I’ll continue until I eradicate Pharaoh. Maybe you never heard what my two brothers Shimon and Levi did to the entire city of Shechem, and I am even more powerful than they are….”

According to this midrash, Joseph relents, not because he has pity on his brothers, because he is scared of them!!

So, what is going on here?  How can a midrash completely turn the literal meaning of a passage upside down?  I think I have an answer, but first I would love to hear from you, if you have an opinion.  So, please, if you think you have an answer, you can contact me, and we can discuss it next week, since, anyway, the story of Joseph and his brothers does not conclude until next week.

In the meantime, Shabbat shalom

Mon, June 27 2022 28 Sivan 5782