Vayeishev - Underestimating the Power of Jealosy

The place of Shechem is mentioned repeatedly early in this Parshah.
"Joseph's brothers left to tend their sheep in Shechem."(Breisheit 37:12)
"Yisrael said to Yoseph, 'I believe your brothers are keeping the sheep in Shechem. I would like you to go to them.'" (Breisheit 37:13)
"[Yisrael] thus sent him from the Hebron valley, and [Yoseph] arrived in Shechem." (Breisheit 37:14)

Why mention the place of Shechem specifically and repeatedly over the span of several pasukim?

On Pasuk Breisheit 37:14, Rashi notes on the words "arrived in Shechem" that this is a place that has a reputation for chaos, that is where the honor of tribes was compromised, Dina was attacked, and the kingdom of David was divided - 'And Rehavam went to Shechem.' (Divre Hayyamim II 10:1, Melachim I 12:1). We know further on in TaNaCh that after the Israelites split into two kingdoms, Yeroboam became the first king of the new northern kingdom of Israel at Shechem (Melachim I 12:25).

So it is clear that Shechem has a 'dark cloud' hovering over it. Yaacov/Yisrael is clearly aware of the dreadful history of Shechem, and of the sensitive relationship of his children toward Yoseph. Yet he sends Yoseph specifically to Shechem. How can he do this?

 The Orach Haim HaKadosh brings some clarity to this issue commenting on pasuk 37:14 saying, "now he is declaring Shlichut Mitzvah [a personal representative on a holy mission] and [Yisrael] said 'and bring me a report' (Breisheit 37:14). This made Yoseph into a personal representative for Yisrael. And even according to the position that Personal Representatives Performing Religious Duties (Shluchei Mitzvah) are impervious from harm only on the departure for their mission (Pesachim 8B), but not on their return, actually this order by Yisrael protected Yoseph also on his return journey. And so Yoseph was now absolutely certain he would safely return home to his father [no matter what]."
Rav was asked: Scholars who reside out of town, can they come in the early morning or after nightfall to the academy? He replied: Let them come, [the risk be] upon myself and my neck. What about returning? I do not know, he answered them. It was stated: R. Eleazar said: Those sent [to perform] a religious duty will not suffer hurt, neither in their going nor in their returning.
Pesachim 8B

However the mission to Shechem quickly went off. Yoseph did not find his brothers in Shechem.

The pasuk follows.
"A stranger found him blundering about in the fields, 'What are you looking for?' asked the stranger." 
(IBID 37:15)

A new twist came to Yoseph's mission. Not only had he diverted from his father's explicit directive to go to Shechem, but now he was alone, seemingly lost, and in the middle of a strange place where a mysterious man finds him, seemingly from out of the blue.

Rashi tells us that this mysterious man is the angel Gavriel.

Who is Gavriel?
  • Berachot 4b Power/Speed of Gavriel's flight 
  • Yoma 77a Punishing Jerusalem,and being whipped for not completing the job 
  • Pesachim 118a Gavriel wanting to save Avraham from Nimrod's furnace, and HaShem's insistence on doing it Himself 
  • Bava Metzia 86b Gavriel was the angel sent to carry out the destruction of Sodom and Gemorrah. 
  • Sotah 13b Potiphar acquired Joseph intending to abuse him; the angel Gavriel wounded him in a way which made this impossible
  • Sotah 10b When Tamar was being taken out to be killed, Samael came and tried to remove the items which identified Yehudah as the father; Gavriel came and brought them back  
  • Sotah 12b Batyah's maidservants protested against her rescue of Moshe, because she was violating her father's decree. The angel Gavriel struck them dead 
  • Yoma 21a and Shabbat 118a Gavriel is the angel of fire and he was involved in the work of fire with the Menorah of fire
  • Yoma 76b Gavriel defending the Jews, with Daniel and Michael 
  • Pesachim 118a Gavriel saving Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah from the furnace 
  • Pesachim 118a-b Arguing with Yorkemu over who would save Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah from the furnace 
  • Megillah 12b Gavriel creating a tail for Vashti 
  • Megillah 15b-16a Intervention of Gavriel with Achashverosh's reader of the Chronicles 
  • Sanhedrin 19b, Shabbat 56b Gavriel emerges as an angel concerned with justice. He protects the wrongfully accused from unjust punishment, punishes the truly guilty, and seeks to ensure just reward for those who deserve it.
  • Pesachim 118b Gd having Gavriel punish Rome in the time of the Messiah, because with all of their wealth, they sought to destroy the Jews

The Kli Yakar elucidates further on the connection between the angel Gavriel and Yoseph, saying that the angel was on a mission to protect Yoseph and wanted to warn him about his brother's dangerous intentions. Yet as the Orach Haim HaKadosh adds 'How can an angel come to cancel the very machinations of Hashem to take Yoseph to Egypt by known and amazing ways? Rather he knows that his words do not cancel anything but add to the merit of Yoseph [that despite the danger and the warning, Yoseph still pursues brotherhood].

The following discussion takes place between Yoseph and the mystery man, considered to be the angel Gavriel. (Breisheit 37:16-17)
"I'm looking for my brothers," replied Yoseph, "Perhaps you can tell me where they are tending sheep?"
"They already left this area," said the man, "I heard them planning to go to Dotan."

Yoseph knows that his brothers are not in Shechem by now, for he did not find them in Shechem. Why does the mystery man add the seemingly extra statement 'They already left this area,' instead of just saying ,'They are in Dotan.'

Rashi explains the words 'left this area' as meaning that the brothers had removed themselves from the brotherhood. And the Siftei Chachamim elaborates on Rashi's statement, saying.

"What is the meaning of Rashi's answer to this issue, all Yoseph asked is where his brother's are [and not where they are not] and the angel answered Yoseph with 'left this area'. Yoseph knew on his own that they had left this area since he did not find them on his own. And so Rashi answered 'removed themselves from the brotherhood,' - meaning that the brothers want to kill you [Yoseph] and you shouldn't go there. How do we explain Rashi's answer?  The word 'this' (זה) in Gematria is 12, so the coded meaning of the expression is 'left the 12' in other words they don't want there to be 12, they want to kill Yoseph and be left with 11 - essentially 'left this area' [where this serves two meanings] which supports Rashi's explanation. So the pasuk can be read as 'I'm looking for my brothers,' and 'They already left the brotherhood.'

Going Forward
Yoseph, filled with the conviction that he is protected and is serving as a personal representative of his father (Shaliach Mitzvah) continues the search for his brothers. This despite the earlier pasuk, preceding his departure, (Breisheit 37:11) "His brother's became very jealous of him [Yoseph] but his father suspended judgment."

So what drove Yoseph forward, despite the noted jealousy of his brothers, the coded warning by an angel, and even the divergence he took from his father's directive to look for his brothers in Shechem.

The Kli Yakar brings a Midrash to clarify this matter.
"Regarding the issue of 'blundering about in the fields' Yoseph considered the field related to Cain and Abel.
Cain brought some of his crops as an offering to G-d. Abel also offered some of the firstborn of his flock, from the fattest ones. G-d paid heed to Abel and his offering, but to Cain He paid no heed. (Breisheit 4: 3-4)
Cain said [something] to his brother Abel. Then they happened to be in a field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. (Breisheit 4:8)

The Midrash continues:
Yoseph was concerned about the matter of Abel and Cain where out of jealousy one brother could rise up and kill the other. And Yoseph was of the opinion that it made sense that Cain could kill Abel because the pasuk says 'they happened to be in a field,' meaning they were arguing about a field [matters of property]. So there was a reason [a motivation] for this action. [Yoseph said to himself:] But with my brothers why would they kill me for no reason?   Jealousy for a colorful coat does not resemble jealousy for property!
This is what Yoseph was thinking and so he was seen as 'blundering about in the field' since it was a field that was mentioned in the case of Cain and Abel.

This was Yoseph's mistake. He didn't realize that the essential nature of jealousy overwhelms, for even a minor matter of jealousy can drive a man to rise up and kill his fellow man.

This power of jealousy is further substantiated in Pirkei Avot :
Jealousy, lust, and honor remove a man from this world. (Ch 4 Mishna 27)

Yoseph's unbending belief in the essential goodness of his brothers propelled him forward, hurtling him  towards mortal danger and his ultimate destiny. But at the heart, he underestimated the true power of jealousy and what actions it can bring a man to carry out.

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