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Rashi (Bereshis 37:2 sv את דבתם רעה) says:

כל רעה שהיה רואה באחיו בני לאה היה מגיד לאביו - Any evil he saw in his brothers, the sons of Leah, he would tell his father

However it would seem that the plain meaning is that Yosef told his father about the deeds of the children of Bilah and Zilpah who are referenced earlier in the same pasuk. Furthermore, without Rashi's comment the sequence of events would be easier to understand. First the pasuk tells us Yosef spent time with the children of Bilah and Zilpah who were spurned by the other Shevatim and then it tells us that he spoke about them to his father. This could be perceived by the children of Bilah and Zilpah as an act of repudiation by the one person who was seemingly their friend. Hence when the brothers collectively plotted against Yosef it would make sense for the children of Bilah and Zilpah to be in cahoots.

However, taking Rashi's pshat, it would seem strange for the children of Bilah and Zilpah to suddenly turn on the one brother who was kind to them and join with the brothers who acted poorly toward them initially.

What forced Rashi to say a peshat in the word דבתם that obfuscates the simple meaning of the pasuk?

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I am not satisfied with the answer of the sifsei chachamim (hence my elaborate explanation in the question) and will not mark it as the accepted answer –  not-allowed to change my name Dec 3 '12 at 16:42
    
The Ramban gives a full answer to this question –  Raffy Van der Vaart Dec 3 '12 at 17:13
    
@RaffyVanderVaart true, as does the kli yakar :) –  not-allowed to change my name Dec 3 '12 at 17:26
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(1) Why assume "דבתם" specifically refers to Benei ha-Shefachot ? The Pasuq actually start with telling us that Yosef was shepherding with his [unspecified] brothers( which may or may not include Benei ha-Shefachot), and as "דבתם" is in the second half of the Pasuq , it could refer to the [unspecified] brothers mentioned in the first half of the Pasuq . (2) " [W]ithout Rashi's comment", how would you know that "the children of Bilah and Zilpah ... were spurned by the other Shevatim"? –  Tamir Evan Dec 7 '12 at 9:11
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@ichangedmyid (1) the Te'amim don't group the two together, so the "ויבא יוסף את דבתם רעה אל אביהם" could refer as much to "היה רעה את אחיו בצאן" as to "והוא נער את בני בלהה ואת בני זלפה".I. (2) Why accept Rashi's word, without textual support, in one place, and not the other? (3) Where is the assumption in the Pesuqim ? Where do Chazal make it clear "that all the shevatim ... were involved in the sale of Yosef"? ( Reuven may not have taken part in the sale, but he was part of what led to it.) –  Tamir Evan Dec 14 '12 at 6:19

2 Answers 2

It seems to me that Rashi wants to find the meaning of דבתם in the verse itself. This is what the idea of Pshat is.

So he lists those three things, because they are in the verse.

רעה את אחיו בצאן - he they were shepherds, and shepherds eat sheep, so he said they didn't wait until they were properly dead to eat them.

את בני בלהה ואת בני זלפה נשי אביו - The children of those two mothers were wives - but they called them slaves.

והוא נער - he made himself look good, so he complained about sexual behavior (note that the same thing happens later on, when Potiphar's wife comes after him).

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One important thing to realize about Rashi's commentary is how often he is citing midrash. He may very well believe that these midrashim were historical. And he cites them as אגדה המיישבת דברי המקרא דבר דבור על אופניו, as he states in his commentary to Bereishit 3:8. That is, midrash which works with peshat, and answers to peshat concerns.

In this instance, Mekorei Rashi states that Rashi is getting this from Tanachuma Aleph, ot 6. Tanchuma Aleph is a variant text of Midrash Tanchuma than we have, which Rashi often cites. So it seems quite possible that in the text of the midrash before Rashi, the ones whom Yosef told negative reports were explicitly identified as the sons of Leah.

If so, it may be simple respect for the sanctity of the tradition of the midrash that causes Rashi to repeat the detail. That is, he repeats the midrash because it fills in the content of the dibba raa, and indeed deduces it from cues in the text. (See Yishai's answer.) But he is not about to change the midrash and strip out that detail, even if it would smooth the flow of the narrative according to the potential plot hole you identified.

And recall that not every detail of a midrash needs to be absolute peshat. It is midrash. But it is brought, in its entirety, to address a peshat concern.

As to why specifically the sons of Leah, we can think locally rather than globally. The precise content of the dibba was the subject of a three-way dispute of Tannaim, according to the midrash (as we see here). Rabbi Meir said it was ever min hachai; Rabbi Shimon said it was arayos; and Rabbi Yehuda said they denigrated the sons of the shefachot. Then, Rabbi Yehuda bar Simon combined all three. That is, he assumed all three were simultaneously true, and showed how Yosef was punished for this lashon hara.

Now, the third opinion (designated Rabbi Yehuda) has to be about the sons of Leah, who were denigrating the sons of the concubines. If so, that could be the cause of attributing all three to the sons of Leah.

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