Rabbi Dr Zvi Aviner






Selling Joseph



Today we follow the text and move from Jacob struggling for JUSTICE to the Selling of Joseph, i.e. from Noah’s Commandment 5 to 6, amely BLASPHEMY.



By this, we’ve exhausted all the Six Commandments of Adam, given in Eden. Hence, the Book of Genesis is built in such a way to take us through Adam’s Commandments, one by one, along a precise order, teaching us ideas about the Commandments that otherwise we would have missed.



The first story in the new chain is the story   of selling Joseph. It came as a surprise. Jacob has just returned home from a long exile, and he hopped to finally settle down in peace.  But as Rashi points out, there is no peace to righteous people in this world, since they are constantly tested.  The greser the person, the greater si the trial.  Therefore, says Rashi, Jacob stumbled over the mishap of selling Joseph.


You know the story.  Jacob’s family deteriorates and divide into fractions claiming superiority along the mothers.  Jacob had two wives and two concubines, each giving birth to sons who compete on superiority.  Each group looking down on the others.


Moreover, they spoke BAD MOTUTH on one another.  Interestingly, the midrash quotes their accusations, each group charging the other for not obeying Noah’s Laws.


Joseph, the son of Rachel, whom Jacob loved the most, is caught in that game of BAD MOUTH.  He speaks badly about his brothers in Jacob’s ears, casing the brother to hate him.   Jacob, in his part, does not stop Joseph or rebuke him, a sin in itself. Moreover, he gives Joseph as a present a precious stripped tunic, which increases his brother’s jealousy and hate.


As if to pour gas on a fire, Joseph informs his brothers of two dreams he has had about them.  In one, their sheaves in the field bowed to his sheave, in the other dream the son and the moon and eleven stars bow to him.  The brothers take this as an expression of his inflated Ego and hate him more than before, so much that they can’t speak to him.  That made things even worst, since Joseph was unaware of the degree of their hatred.



When Jacob sends Joseph with food to his brothers who pasture far away from home, near Shechem, Joseph gets lost.   A man came by and asks him What are you seeking? Joseph answers:


I seek my brothers.  Tell me, where are they pasturing?


The Man shows him the way, on which the Talmud remarks that this man was none but an angel sent from HaSheM, in order to direct Joseph to the brothers, so that the MASTER PLAN of bringing Jacob to Egypt would be fulfilled.


When he reaches his brothers, they plan to kill him.  Reuben saves his life by telling them to throw Joseph into a pit full oof snakes and scorpions. Then a caravan of Ishmaelites passes by and Judah, trying to save Joseph life, proposes that they would   sell him to the caravan, which they did.


The caravan’s people sell Joseph to Midyanites who in turn  sell him in the Egyptian slave market to Pharaoh’s high officer.



To cover their deed, the brother dip the striped tunic in goat’s blood and show that to Jacob, who is now sure that Joseph has been devoured by a beast.    He sinks into a deep depression.







G-d Kingship Behind the Scene



The Rabbis also remark that here we see how the Heavenly Court executes its verdicts behind the scene. They say: Reuben moves in his circle, Judah in his circle, Joseph in his circle, and G-d in His circle.  The human participants are unaware that ELKM is pushing them to Egypt, That capacity of ruling behind the scene is  called G-d’s KINGSHIP.


And Kingship Demands HONOR



What is Blasphemy?




Now let’s analyze the story.


The despicable act of selling Joseph as a slave to Egypt.  Is certainly   a DESCECRATION OF G-D’S HONOR.



The RaMBM explains: When a person known to be righteous and Torah  observant  has committed an ugly sin, the people would

say that his Torah was ineffective to change him, thereby diminishing G-d’s HONOR in their eyes. Hence, he has desecrated G-d’s Name.


The opposite is also true.  When such a person, known to be a righteous Torah observant, has done something exceptionally good, the people would attribute it to the Torah he has learned, thereby increasing the HONOR of G-d’s Name, or SANCTIFY His Name in the eyes oof others.



So when a royal family as Jacob’s family has committed such a despicable sin  of selling their own brother to slavery in Egypt, their action is beyond just  violating the law of THEFT but an action that diminishes  the HONOR of G-d’s Name in the eyes of any observer. It means they have committed an act of DESECRATION OF G-D’S NAME or BLASPHEMY .


Indeed, the story has caused many of the enemies of Israel to charge Israel for the crime of selling Joseph



The JUDGE ELKM takes over



As a result, the Attribute of JUSTICE, ELKM, took over and punished them to go down to Egypt themselves ending with SLAVERY.  Measure for Measure.

In addition, this way ELKM also fulfilled the words he had said to Abraham that his descendants would be enslaved in Egypt.



What about the Shechinah, YHVH? Her Name largely disappears from the text, as if offended by their bad behavior of desecration Her Name. She is sensitive about Her HONOR.

She appears only in regard to Judah and Tamar, Joseph with his mater’s wife.  They brought Her back to the text.


or there is another part of the story

that  Jacob’s family recover and corrects their sin by REPENTANCE, by seeking Joseph to redeem him, and by asking FORGIVENESS both from HaSheM and Joseph.


To erase their act of BLASPHEMY, they SANCTIFY G-d name.  The first to do it is Judah, in the story of Tamar. then Joseph in the story of his master’s wife.  Both are ready to give up their honor and life in the honor of God’s Name.   That is why the name of YHVH reappears in the text associated with those two. The rest of the brothers join soon so that the family honor and God’s honor are resuscitated.


In fact the Shechinah’s HONOR would be restored when the Children of Israel return to the Land of Israel at Joshua’s time.  Whenever Israel returns to the Land, YHVH’s HONOR in the Nation’s eyes increases.










Bad Mouth



Let’s talk about BAD MOUTH that started the downfall.



There are several levels of speaking a BAD MOUTH.

  1. One is spreading lies about someone else,
  2. One is spreading the true bad news about someone,
  3. One is speaking even good news about someone, in the ears oof his opponents.


The common denominator is that by speaking BAD MOUTH about someone, we diminish his HONOR and DIGNITY in the eyes of the listener.


Similarly, by committing BLASPHAMY Man  diminishes the HONOR of G-D in the eyes of the listener.


Since Adam was made in ELKM’s Image, speaking BAD MOUTH about a person is also speaking against his CREATOR.


No wonder that the Torah regards BAD MOUTH as a grave sin, which spreads a stanch in HaSheM’s nostrils,

The Rabbis said that the purpose of the incent offering at the Holy Temple was to overcome that stanch of speaking BAD MOUTH.