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Parshat Vayeshev - Questions for Self Study

Questions for the Shabbat Table
Questions for Shiur Preparation
Questions on Parshanut

Part I - Questions for the 'Shabbat Table'
1. Does God ever speak directly to Yosef (i.e., as He had spoken to Avraham Yitzchak and Yaakov)? Does He ever speak to any of Yaakov's children? If so, where, when, and why?
If not, in your opinion, why doesn't He?
Does God ever speak to them through dreams? Explain.
Does God ever speak to them through events? Explain you answer and its significance!

2. There is a famous Rashbam at the beginning of this week's Parsha (see 37:2 - "ayleh toldot...") in which he discusses his conversation with Rashi (his grandfather) concerning the need to focus more on the study of "pshat" when studying Chumash.
I recommend that you take a few minutes to read this important Rashbam and discuss his main points, for it provides the basis for the approach that we employ in our shiurim.

3. Compare Yosef's two dreams (see 37:5-10) to Yitzchak's blessing of Yaakov (???s/b Esav) in 27:28-29. In what manner are they similar? [In what manner are they different?]
How does this similarity help explain the nature of the brothers' hatred of Yosef? Does it provide a "ruchani" reason as well, i.e. what 'justification' does this provide them for their hatred?
[Compare with the story of Yitzchak & Esav.]
How does this similarity explain Yaakov's reaction to Yosef's dreams? How does it explain the complexity of the entire sugya of Yosef and his brothers?

4. Do the brothers have reason to believe that Yaakov is making a mistake by favoring Yosef? Pretend that you are 'hired' as their lawyer. Attempt to defend their decision to 'remove' Yosef from God's 'chosen family.' Base your 'defense' both on Yosef's behavior and on precedents from earlier generations.
[When you finish, pretend that your are the 'judge' and explain why that 'defense' is wrong.]

5. In the story of "mechirat Yosef," why do the brothers need to lie concerning the 'blood stained coat' to trick their father to believe that Yosef had been devoured by an animal? Why don't they just keep quiet and pretend as though they never saw him, and therefore have no idea what happened to him?
[Why do you think that the "chatat" offering which Bnei Yisrael offer in addition to every Korban Musaf (see Bamidbar chapters 28-29) is always a "seir izim"? Relate this to 37:31!]

6. Read 40:12-15. In your opinion, was Yosef correct in asking the "sar ha'mashkim" to intervene on his behalf to free him from jail, or was Yosef expected to rely only on God?

7. In jail, Yosef meet Pharaoh's "sar ha'mashkim" = butler, and "sar ha'tabachim". In your opinion, what does "sar ha'tabachim" imply, his chief 'butcher' (in the kitchen) or 'executioner'.
In this regard, see Rashi, Rasa"g, Ibn Ezra, Ramban, and Chizkuni. [Note how this question bothered them.]
In your opinion, which translation makes most sense, based on: a. who else was in jail with him b. what his final fate was.

Part II - Questions for Preparation (for weekly shiur)
[Be sure to first answer questions 3, 4, & 5 in Part I above.]

1. Based on Yosef's dreams, his behavior, and the nature of the "bechira" process which we have seen thus far in Sefer Breishit, attempt to explain the 'spiritual reason' for the brothers' hatred of Yosef (and their decision to kill him).

2. Forget any previous knowledge you have of the story of "mechirat Yosef" and then read 37:12-36 carefully, following the various stages of this story. Make sure that you understand:

    A) The brothers' first plan to kill Yosef
    B) Reuven's plan to save Yosef
    C) Yehuda's plan to sell Yosef
Read 37:28 carefully (in its context) and try to determine who sold Yosef to the Yishmaelim. How many possible ways are there to explain this pasuk? [Relate to both 40:15 & 45:4.]
[At this point, first answer all of the questions in the parshanut section below.]

3. In your opinion, when the brothers sit down to eat (37:25), do they sit down nearby (or in sight of) Yosef's pit, or much farther away? Is Reuven sitting down to eat with them, or did he go away? If he did go away, where did he go to and why?
[Relate to "va'yashov" in 37:29 & 37:20!]
How far of a walk is it from Shechem to Hebron?
Does it make sense that Reuven (based on his plan) would leave the area near Yosef's pit?
Can you suggest a reason why Reuven wants to be the one to save Yosef and bring him back to his father? Is there a reason why he would desire to improve his father's impression of him?

4. On a map of Israel, locate Hebron, Shechem, Dotan [i.e. Jennin], the Gilad mountains, and the highway that travels via Emek Yizrael from the Gilad to Egypt. Use this 'geographical' information to help understand the details of this story and to help determine the difference between the Midyanim and the Yishmaelim in 37:28..

5. In your opinion, is Yosef aware of the brothers' original plan to kill him? Likewise, are the brothers aware of what really happened to Yosef?

Now that you've prepared, go to the shiur.

Part III - Parshanut
1. Review your answers to the preparation questions above; then, before looking up the following commentators on 37:28, ask yourself the following questions:

    A) Are the Midyanim and Yishmaelim the same people? [Relate to 25:1-4]
    B) Who pulled Yosef out of the pit?
    C) Why isn't Reuven there when all of this transpires?
2. See Rashi 37:28. How does he solve (A)?
See Rashi 37:29 (where he quotes the Midrash that it was Reuven's turn to go home to learn with his father). How far is it from Hebron to Dotan [i.e how many days of travel]?
Does it make any sense that Reuven would leave for such a long time while Yosef was in the pit? In your opinion, does this Midrash explain "pshat" concerning what 'happened' or does it provide us with insight concerning the brothers concern in regard to their father.
[If the latter is true, what the message of this Midrash concerning the nature of "sinat achim"?]
Next, explain the second possibility raised by Rashi.

3. See Ibn Ezra & Radak on 37:28 and Ramban 37:25.
How do they answer (A)?
How (and why) are their respective pirushim different?

4. See Rashbam on 37:28; how does he answer (A), (B), & (C)?
In what manner is his pirush totally different than all of the others?
[Why do you think Rashbam concludes with a 'second opinion?']

5. Finally, see Chizkuni on 37:28. How does he answer (A), (B), & (C)?
In what manner is his pirush different than Rashbam?
[Why do you think that Chizkuni also includes a 'second opinion?'
Is this 'second opinion' the same as Rashbam's 'second opinion?']

6. WHEN DID YEHUDA GET MARRIED? Chapter 38 - the story of Yehuda and his children - interrupts the narrative that describes the story of Yosef in Egypt, that began in chapter 37 and continues in chapter 39.
Review the story in chapter 38, and consider the minimum amount of years that have transpired. Consider as well how many years pass from the time that Yosef is sold (see 37:2) and when he solves Pharaoh's dream (see 41:46), and the fact that the entire family goes down to Egypt less than a decade later.
Based on the above, at what age do you think Yehuda first married Shua's daughter (see 38:1-2)? [i.e. before or after Yosef was sold?]
Then, see Rashi on 38:1. What is his opinion? Does he relate to any of the above questions? If so, how?
See also Radak (until the end of his pirush to 38:1!). In what manner is his pirush similar to Rashi, and how is it different?
Next, see Chizkuni on 38:1. Note how he relates to the above questions. How does he solve them? See also Seforno!
Finally, see Ibn Ezra on 38:1. How does he solve the above questions? How and why is his pirush different than Chizkuni?
In your opinion, which pirush appears to be most logical?

7. Re: WHO Yehuda married, i.e. did he marry a Canaanite? See how Unkelos translates this word. [Note that there are two versions.] What is the problem with translating "c'naani" as a Canaanite?
Then see Rashi on 38:2. See also Rashbam. What does his explanation add to Rashi's 'translation. [See also Radak.] [See also Rasa"g. What does he mean "k'pshuto"?]
See Ibn Ezra.
Finally, see Ramban. It's quite long, but be sure to see at least the final few lines of that Ramban (in relation to David ha'melech). What is the Ramban's primary point, and why does he go to such great lengths to support his interpretation?
How does this topic relate to a primary theme in Sefer Breishit, in regard to Bnei Yisrael's future inheritance of Eretz Canaan based on 9:18-27, 10:15-20, and 17:7-8.