Rashi brings the Midrash that Yosef told Yaakov three sins the brothers did:

  1. אבר מן החי - They ate a limb from a live animal
  2. עריות - They were guilty of illicit relations
  3. שקורין לאחיהם עבדים - They called the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah slaves.

The Shela (Torah Shebiksav Vayeishev Tzon Yosef § 58) (see here, paragraph beginning ויבא יוסף) wants to explain how the brothers could be guilty of such sins. It was all Yosef's misunderstanding. He says that they were using the sefer yetzira, which is only for those of noble lineage. They couldn't share it with the children of Bilhah and Zilpah, as their mothers were maidservants. Yosef took this to mean they were making fun of them, but that wasn't their intention.

The brothers created an animal with sefer yetzira, which by definition doesn't need ritual slaughter. Yosef thought they were eating a limb from a regular animal, and therefore suspected them.

He also says the brothers created a women with sefer yetzira. They were walking around with her, and Yosef thought she was a real women. He therefore told their father they were engaged in illicit relations.

I don't understand this third point. Why would the fact that she's not a real person make it any more appropriate? Why would they make a woman in the first place? How is that appropriate? You're right it may not be גילוי עריות per se, but still seems very suspicious and doesn't seem to help their reputation much.

The original text:

ואפשר שבראו השבטים בצירוף אותיות מס' יצירה בראו נקיבה והיו מטיילין עמה ויוסף לא ידע מזה והיה סובר שהיא נקיבה אשה מהאב ואם ובא והודיע לאביו שהם חשודים בעריות

Note: The original Midrash says תּוֹלִין עֵינֵיהֶם בִּבְנוֹת הָאָרֶץ, they've laid their eyes on the women of the land. According to this, they weren't women of the land. I guess it depends if the issue was that they were Caananite women, or they were engaged in inappropriate relations (as Rashi seems to say).

Edit: I found that the Chasam Sofer shares my concern:

לא אאמין על שבטי י-ה שעסקו בשמות הקדושים על מנת לשעשע עם נקבה חלילה חלילה

  • if one brother had relations with her, that might make them married, and then if another brother did, he was sleeping with his brother's wife which is forbidden.
    – rosends
    Dec 17, 2019 at 11:04
  • 2
    @rosends you're assuming a person can marry a creature from sefer yetzira
    – robev
    Dec 17, 2019 at 13:28
  • 1
    You concede that "it may not be גילוי עריות per se", so if your question is only that it "seems very suspicious", why is your question only on the Arayos piece? All the actions were 'suspicious', which was the cause of all the confusion to begin with. Dec 17, 2019 at 13:52
  • @robev I am assuming a whole lot more than that...
    – rosends
    Dec 17, 2019 at 13:56
  • Wait what exactly is the Sefer yezirah? Aug 18, 2022 at 22:46

1 Answer 1


Based on the way the Shela says it, it doesn't seem like they had any type or relationship with the fake women at all. All Shela says that they did was walk with her. For whatever purpose they made her they had to walk with her somewhere.

Yosef, however, seeing them walk with her thought they were walking with a real woman. Knowing that the woman wasn't his SIL and thinking she was real he accused them of walking with a strange woman for illicit purposes.

Had he known that created the women from Sefer Yetzirah he certainly would not have accused them so.No one who is on the madreiga to create a fake person from Sefer Yetzira is doing so for illicit purposes.

  • As they were walking with a robot
    – kouty
    Dec 19, 2019 at 6:55

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