In Bereishis 37:29:

And Reuven returned to the pit and look! Yosef wasn't in the pit.

But neither the verse nor Rashi, for that matter, explain if he ever found out what the brothers had done. The narrative simply proceeds with the cover up.

Did Reuven find out what had happened to Yosef?

4 Answers 4


Pirkei D'Rebbi Eliezer (Chapter 38) says that when Reuven returned and found the pit empty he accused the brothers of killing Yosef. They then told him that they sold him instead.


The earliest source of what happened appears to be the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who was familiar with both Jewish oral tradition and Scripture.

In the First Century, he wrote in Book 2, Chapter 3, of his Antiquity of the Jews:

(32) But Judas, being one of Jacob’s sons also, seeing some Arabians, of the posterity of Ismael, carrying spices and Syrian wares out of the land of Gilead to the Egyptians, after Reubel was gone, advised his brethren to draw Joseph out of the pit, and sell him to the Arabians; (33) for if he should die among strangers a great way off, they should be freed from this barbarous action. This, therefore, was resolved on; so they drew Joseph up out of the pit, and sold him to the merchants for twenty pounds. He was now seventeen years old; (34) but Reubel, coming in the nighttime to the pit, resolved to save Joseph, without the privity of his brethren; and when, upon his calling to him, he made no answer, he was afraid that they had destroyed him after he was gone; of which he complained to his brethren; but when they had told him what they had done, Reubel left off his mourning.

Josephus, F., & Whiston, W. (1987). The works of Josephus: complete and unabridged. Peabody: Hendrickson, 55.


Rabbi Etshalom says that the brothers were out of sight of the pit and were waiting for the Yishmaelim. They did not see the Midyanim take him out of the pit. When Reuven came and found him gone, they did not know what happened either.

In fact, some commentaries say that they would have weakened even more and had he been in the pit, (and Reuven pulled him out) they would have given up their plan.

Also from: Shabbat Shalom reply-to: [email protected] date: Thu, Nov 21, 2013 at 6:46 PM subject: Shabbat Shalom from the OU

Parshat Vayeishev: Who Sold Yosef?
Excerpted from Rabbi Shmuel Goldin's Unlocking The Torah Text: An In-Depth Journey Into The Weekly Parsha - Bereishit

An entirely different, revolutionary approach to the sale of Yosef is first suggested by the Rashbam and then echoed by a number of subsequent commentaries including Rabbeinu Bachya, Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch and the Malbim. Remaining true to his pashut pshat approach to text, the Rashbam maintains that Yosef’s brothers were not actually involved in his sale. He literally interprets the passage “and Midianite men passed by, merchants, and they drew Yosef up out of the pit; and they sold Yosef to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver…” as follows: The brothers were eating at a distance from the pit…and waiting for the arrival of the Ishmaelites whom they had observed approaching. Before the Ishmaelites arrived, however, others, Midianites, passed by, saw [Yosef] in the pit, drew him up out of the pit – and the Midianites sold him to the Ishmaelites. It is even possible that the brothers were unaware of these events. This approach, closer to the text, changes our entire conception of the events surrounding Yosef’s sale: Yosef ’s brothers fully intended to sell him but never actually got the chance to carry out their plans.


מב-{כא}וַיֹּאמְר֞וּ אִ֣ישׁ אֶל־אָחִ֗יו אֲבָל֮ אֲשֵׁמִ֣ים ׀ אֲנַחְנוּ֮ עַל־אָחִינוּ֒ אֲשֶׁ֨ר רָאִ֜ינוּ צָרַ֥ת נַפְשׁ֛וֹ בְּהִתְחַֽנְנ֥וֹ אֵלֵ֖ינוּ וְלֹ֣א שָׁמָ֑עְנוּ עַל־כֵּן֙ בָּ֣אָה אֵלֵ֔ינוּ הַצָּרָ֖ה הַזֹּֽאת׃

מב-{כב}וַיַּעַן֩ רְאוּבֵ֨ן אֹתָ֜ם לֵאמֹ֗ר הֲלוֹא֩ אָמַ֨רְתִּי אֲלֵיכֶ֧ם ׀ לֵאמֹ֛ר אַל־תֶּחֶטְא֥וּ בַיֶּ֖לֶד וְלֹ֣א שְׁמַעְתֶּ֑ם וְגַם־דָּמ֖וֹ הִנֵּ֥ה נִדְרָֽשׁ׃

What seems to be happening here is that the brothers are saying this is because of how they ignored Yosef's imploring. Reuven answers, וְגַם־דָּמ֖וֹ הִנֵּ֥ה נִדְרָֽשׁ, it's not about how you should have had Rachmanus and Midas Chassidus; the problem is that you killed him.

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