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In Bereshis 37:33 Rashi cites the midrash that the brothers pronounced an excommunication and curse on anyone who would reveal what they did. This is why God, as well as Yitzhak didn't tell Yaakov. I am having a hard time understanding this midrash for a number of reasons.

  1. What right do the brothers have to do this? I saw one commentary state that they made a court, but AFAIK no court has the right to impose such a thing on God
  2. How did the brothers know that God assented to this plot and wouldn't tell Yaakov?
  3. Was the excommunication and curse just on telling Yaakov? If not why did God tell Yitzhak?
  4. Why didn't Serach bat Asher suffer excommunication and curse when she told Yaakov?

I realize not all midrashim should be taken literally, is there a non-literal reading that would remove these issues, or another approach?

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To answer the final question, the Baal HaTurim to Bereishis 45:26 writes that ויגדו of "ויגדו לו לאמר" when the brothers (or Serach) told Yaakov that Yosef was alive is missing a yud (it should be ויגידו) is because they didn't tell him until they opened (undid) the excommunication. He cites Pirkei D'Rebbi Eliezer 38.

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See Why Didn't Yosef tell Yaakov He was Still Alive?

A non-literal reading of the medrish would be that the family dynamics created a situation where revealing the truth would help no one (and likely hurt).

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  1. They knew that they were destined to become a great nation (Bris Bain Habesarim) and the brochos of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. They felt that Yosef (with his dreams of rulership) was going to destroy this and was to them what Eisav was to Yaakov.

  2. As a court, they felt that Yosef was actually chayav misah and that they had actually shown him mercy by selling him away from the family.

  3. They therefore felt that Hashem would approve of their actions (see their reactions when they finally realized that they were wrong).

Rashi says that "Habor Raik vein bo mayim" means that snake and scorpions were in this. This means that when Reuvein talked them into putting him there, they were leaving it up to Hashem whether or not he actually deserved the death penalty. Rabbi Etshalom says that the brothers themselves did not sell him to the caravan. When Reuven came back to rescue him, and did not find him, the brothers did not know what had happened. He states that they realized that the international caravan that they saw was quite a distance away. They then went out of sight of the pit so to eat and so as not to be aroused to pity. When they found that he was gone, they realized what must have happened (that a local caravan going to meet the international caravan had pulled him out). This meant that Hashem had arranged for it to happen and that they had been correct in their judgement.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin's Unlocking The Torah Text also brings up this point and cites meforshim like the Rashbam and Rav Hirsch.

The Art Scroll Bereishis page 1650 goes into detail on the various arguments of "Who sold Yosef?"

  1. Hashem knew that Yosef's trials and troubles in mitzrayim were necessary for him to grow into the tzadik and powerful leader that was necessary.

  2. Part of what Hashem told Yitzchak was that it was necessary and that this was a private nevua (not to be told to other people). We see from other discussions that a nevua can only be made public when Hashem commands. See the commentaries on why it says "Hashem said to Moshe, Laimor" (that is Moshe was commanded to reveal the nevua). Thus Yitzchak knew that he was not allowed to reveal the truth to anyone, no matter how much it hurt him to do so.

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