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PARASHAT VAYESHEV 5758
Yosef brought news of [his brothers'] wrongdoings to his father (Bereishit 37:2)
Whenever Yosef would see his brothers do something wrong, he would tell his father about it. [He told his father] that they used to eat meat which was severed from an animal while it was still alive.... (Rashi ibid., from Midrash Raba 84:7)
According to the Midrash, Yosef caught his brothers eating from the meat of a live animal. Hashem specifically prohibited Noach and his offspring from eating the meat of a live animal (Bereishit 9:4 and Rashi). It is indeed baffling to find that our tribal ancestors could have transgressed such a basic commandment.
We often find in Midrashic literature that our forefathers and their children not only diligently observed the 7 Noachide laws, but even practiced the entire 613 Mitzvot of the Torah that Hashem would eventually give to the Jewish People at Mount Sinai. How is it that we suddenly find their actions to be so seemingly flawed?
In his commentary on Rashi, the early commentator, Rav Eliyahu Mizrachi, suggests that Yosef's brothers did not actually eat the meat of a live animal. They ate meat that *Yosef* considered to be the meat of a live animal. How is that?
If a Jew slaughters an animal according to the Torah's specifications, he may eat from it immediately. Even if the animal is still twitching, since Shechitah (ritual slaughter) has been performed on it, it is permitted to be eaten. Perhaps Yosef indeed saw his brothers sever meat from an animal that was still writhing, which is why he told his father that they ate the meat of a live animal. However, the animal had already been slaughtered properly, and was just twitching after the slaughter. That is why the brothers had no qualms about eating it!
Does that mean that Yosef simply misread his brothers' actions? Did he not investigate the situation properly before reporting it to his father? Not necessarily, explains Rav Mizrachi. The Rambam (Hilchot Melachim 9:13) rules that there are some foods which are prohibited to a non-Jew, yet permitted to a Jew. It is true that if a Jew slaughters an animal according to the Torah's specifications (i.e., he performs Shechitah, or ritual slaughter of the animal), he may eat from it immediately. Nevertheless, a non-Jew may not eat from a slaughtered animal until after it stops twitching. That is, since there is no concept of Shechitah for non-Jews, Shechitah *alone* cannot permit an animal to be eaten. They may only eat from an animal that is fully dead. As long as the animal is still twitching it is considered to be alive and any meat that is severed from it is classified as the meat of a live animal.
Yosef felt that since the Torah (and with it the laws of Shechitah) had not been given to the sons of Yakov, they had to abide by all the laws that apply to non-Jews. They certainly could accept upon themselves to observe *more* than the 7 Noachide Laws, out of their love for Hashem. But they could not keep *less* Mitzvot than the other non-Jews and permit a twitching animal for themselves. As non-Jews, their Shechitah had no Halachic significance and the animal that was slaughtered may as well have been struck by a rock. It would not be considered dead until it stopped twitching.
Yosef's brothers apparently saw things differently. Their opinion was, R. Mizrachi explains, that ever since Avraham had circumcised himself (Bereishit 17:24), he and his descendants were full-fledged Jews. Clearly, they were not *commanded* to perform the 613 Mitzvot of the Torah until much later in history. Nevertheless, if they did slaughter an animal, since the Shechitah was performed by a *Jew* the Shechitah was deemed Halachically valid. They therefore permitted themselves to eat from an animal that was still twitching after Shechitah!
In short, Yosef conferred upon himself and his brothers the status of Torah-observant non-Jews, while his brothers considered themselves to be full-fledged Jews.
The Mishneh Lamelech in a famous essay in his "Perashat Derachim" (ch. 1), demonstrates that through R. Mizrachi's understanding of the controversy between Yosef and his brothers we can gain new insight into a handful of other Midrashim. Many of the later commentators follow the Mishneh Lamelech's lead. I, too, would like to suggest a new application of this theme.
Rashi tells us that Yosef separated from his wife during the years of famine in Egypt (Rashi Bereishit 41:50). It is not considered appropriate behavior to act frivolously during such distressing times. Yet we find (Rashi Bereishit 46:26) that Yosef's brother, Levi, apparently did have relations with his wife during those very years of famine. Levi's daughter Yocheved was born to him just before the end of the two-year famine!
This question is dealt with by many of the early commentators. One answer they propose is the following. The extreme measure of separating from one's wife during a famine is only required if one's fellow Jews are in trouble. Because they are fiercely united by their common cause, one Jew sees another Jew as a part of his own body. When other Jews are in distress, he too must demonstrate distress in so drastic a manner. Levi saw that all of his fellow Jews (i.e., the rest of Yakov's family) had been blessed with sufficient supplies despite the famine that was raging in the land (Rashi Bereishit 42:1). He therefore saw no need to separate from his wife (Chizkuni; Pane'ach Raza; Or Hachaim).
This of course leaves us wondering about Yosef, though. Why did Yosef separate from his wife, if his family had enough food to eat? The above-mentioned commentaries explain that Yosef did not know that his family had sufficient food supplies; he thought that they were starving. The obvious problem with this solution is that neither did Levi, or his brothers, know whether or not Yosef had sufficient food supplies. Why didn't they separate from their wives out of empathy for Yosef's distress? And if they assumed that Hashem was taking care of Yosef just as he was taking care of them, then why didn't Yosef make a similar calculation? Rav Mizrachi's hypothesis may offer us an easy solution to this question.
Rashi tells us (Bereishit 6:18; 8:16) tells us that Noach and his family were required to separate from their wives throughout the time that they remained in the Ark. While the entire world was being destroyed, how could they act frivolously!?
According to the Chizkuni we quoted above, why should this be so? Noach and his family, the only G-d-fearing people on earth, were safely riding in the Ark, out of danger. Apparently, they were bidden to separate from their wives because the rest of the world was in distress. Why, then, should Levi act differently, and look entirely at the state of his own family, and not at the state of the rest of the world?
The answer to this question is probably that although Noach set himself apart from the rest of the world in that he feared G-d, nevertheless, he was not part of a *separate nation*, set apart from others by their mission of serving Hashem. The Jewish nation did not come into existence until much later, when our forefather Avraham was circumcised. Levi, though, who was part of the young Jewish nation, was justified in concentrating on the concerns of his own family.
If this supposition is correct, it is immediately obvious why Yosef did not act in the same way as Levi and separated from his wife. Yosef, as Rav Mizrachi explained, disagreed with his brothers and did not consider himself to be part of a Jewish nation. The birth of a Jewish nation would have to wait until the Torah would be given on Mt. Sinai. If so, Yosef was no different than Noach. He too would have to separate from his wife as long as the rest of the world was in distress!
We must conclude that Yosef's brothers were correct in their reasoning. It is unthinkable to suggest that they were wrong, and they actually ate, inadvertently, meat that was severed from a live animal. As the Gemara tells us, "Hashem protects even the *animals* of the righteous from eating prohibited foods; even more so, the righteous themselves" (Chulin 5b). Avraham was indeed the first Jew. If so, how did such a major difference of opinion come about between Yosef and his brothers?
Our question is compounded by the observation that *Yakov* apparently sided with Yosef. This is evidenced by the fact that when Yosef shared with his father all of his brothers' "wrong-doings," from all indications, Yakov appears to have accepted Yosef's news. How did Yakov and Yosef make such a mistake? Perhaps the answer lies in some of Rashi's other comments on the Torah.
Avraham was careful to teach his son, Yitzchak, all of his ways (Bereishit 18:19). Among them, he undoubtedly taught Yitzchak of his status as a member of the new Jewish nation. However, we do not find that Yitzchak taught his son, Yakov, his teachings. To the contrary, Yakov is always referred to as studying in the house of study of Shem and Ever (Rashi Bereishit 25:27; 28:9; 37:3). Yitzchak was apparently planning on raising Esav, his "eldest" and beloved son (Bereishit 25:28), to continue in his ways. He placed all of his efforts into inculcating Esav with what he learned from Avraham. We indeed find that Esav is described as learning with his father (Rashi 25:27). By the time Yitzchak finally learned that Yakov would be his successor, he was no longer able to learn with Yakov, for Yakov immediately left for Charan (Bereishit 27:43). When Yakov returned to his father, he was no longer in the learning stage but in the teaching stage, busy raising his own children in the ways of Hashem.
Shem and Ever, who long preceded Avraham, clearly would not have known about the new status that had been bestowed upon Avraham (to their own exclusion). If Yakov's tradition stemmed from Shem and Ever, it is no wonder that he did not know of the birth of the Jewish nation, of which he was part. Yakov, in turn, sank all of his efforts into his son Yosef (Bereishit 37:3). He taught Yosef "all that he learned in the houses of Shem and Ever" (Rashi, ibid.). Yosef, too, was brought up without being taught of his status as a Jew.
On the other hand, with whom did Yosef's brothers study? Yakov was busy with Yosef; Shem and Ever were no longer; the brothers obviously learned Torah from the mouth of their grandfather Yitzchak! Yitzchak, whose tradition included the status of the young Jewish nation, taught Yosef's brothers what he had learned from Avraham. They grew up with the realization that they were a nation unto themselves!
The truth is, mistaken or not, it was clearly Divine Providence that arranged for Yosef to grow up as he did. Had he realized that his family had already been set apart, as it were, from the rest of the world, he probably would not have been as fit as he was to spend the greater part of his life as viceroy over a foreign, pagan nation!
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