Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Parshat Va-yeshev: Dotted Letters Alef and Tav


Be-reshit/Genesis 37:12 reads:

וַיֵּלְכוּ, אֶחָיו, לִרְעוֹת אֶת-צֹאן אֲבִיהֶם, בִּשְׁכֶם

And once, his brothers went to pasture their father's flock in Shekhem.

Va-yeilekhu, echaiv, lire'ot et-tson avihem, bi-Shekhem

The word את et has two dots, one over each letter, teaching that Joseph's brothers did not go to pasture the flocks in Shekhem but to "pasture" themselves: to eat, drink, and indulge in all pleasures, the "Alef-to-Tav" suggesting they tried everything! From A to Z! (AR"N 30b)

Shekhem is a 4,000 year old city. It was the first Israeli capital and the largest, most central city to our ancestors at that time and place in history, not a pastoral place. The dots appearing over the word for the direct article indicate the boys didn't go to feed and water their sheep, they went to feed and water themselves. They didn't graze their flocks in the big city, they partied.

Shekhem (known as Neopolis later by our Greek invaders and now called Nablus in Arabic) also had another name: Tel Balatah.
The root בִּלָּה means to have a good time, to enjoy life; to spend time hanging out.

So what this verse is really telling us is that Joseph's brothers parked their father's flock outside Shekhem, went inside and had a good time! "Wasting away again in Margaritaville..."

The narrative tells us that Jacob is sending Joseph to check up on his older brothers and report back, and it is on this trip that Joseph's brothers turn on him and he ends up enslaved in Egypt. So what had Jacob heard, and what did Joseph catch them doing in Dotan (דָּת means justice/sentence) that they had to dispose of him?

In the end, Joseph's brothers were sick and tired of the favouritism their dad showed him, and snapped. The Torah refers to Joseph here as a נַעַר na'ar, or youth, and Rashi tells us that his childish behaviour was de rigeur.

Jacob was concerned his elder sons were not properly looking after his sheep (vital investment property he had worked hard for many years over), and Joseph's repeated spying on them finally ended in his catching them at doing something really bad (the dotted letters Alef and Tav), being sold to foreigners and taken away to Egypt.

Rashi tells us that Shekhem is a place of misfortune for the Jewish People: Joseph was sold into slavery there, Dinah was raped there, and the kingdom of the House of David was divided there. STAY AWAY FROM THIS PLACE.

Shekhem history:
Dothan Project:

Copyright A. Barclay, all rights reserved.

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