I'm having trouble understanding Rashi on Genesis 37:20

When Joseph came towards his brothers, they plotted to kill him. They said, (Gen. 37:20):

וְעַתָּה | לְכוּ וְנַהַרְגֵהוּ וְנַשְׁלִכֵהוּ בְּאַחַד הַבֹּרוֹת וְאָמַרְנוּ חַיָּה רָעָה אֲכָלָתְהוּ וְנִרְאֶה מַה יִּהְיוּ חֲלֹמֹתָיו:‏

So now, let us kill him, and we will cast him into one of the pits, and we will say, 'A wild beast devoured him,' and we will see what will become of his dreams."

Rashi comments:

ונראה מה יהיו חלומותיו: אמר ר' יצחק מקרא זה אומר דרשני, רוח הקודש אומרת כן. הם אומרים נהרגהו, והכתוב מסיים ונראה מה יהיו חלומותיו, נראה דבר מי יקום או שלכם או שלי. ואי אפשר שיאמרו הם ונראה מה יהיו חלומותיו מכיון שיהרגוהו בטלו חלומותיו:‏

and we will see what will become of his dreams: Rabbi Isaac said, This verse says: “Expound on me.” [I.e., this verse demands a midrashic interpretation.] The Holy Spirit says thus: They (the brothers) say, “Let us kill him,” but the verse concludes: “and we will see what will become of his dreams.” Let us see whose word will stand up, yours or Mine. It is impossible that they (the brothers) are saying,“and we will see what will become of his dreams,” because, since they will kill him, his dreams will come to nought. [From Tan. Buber, Vayeshev 13]

Text and translations from Chabad.org

I have trouble with Rav Yitzhak's general assumption, here. Why couldn't the brothers have been the one's making that statement? It would just be stating the result of their actions. It's as if the brothers said, "Joseph dreamt that he would rule over us. So, if we kill him, we'll see what happens to all those dreams he had. Nothing will become of them, because he won't rule over us."


3 Answers 3


The rhetorical usage of "Oh yeah, we'll see what will be with that" is modern, but the proper usage of ונראה is the future tense, waiting to see what will happen as a result of their actions.

  • 2
    I see no one has "officially" welcomed you to Mi Yodeya. Welcome! Thanks for your answers thus far; I hope you continue to use and enjoy the site.
    – msh210
    Dec 1, 2015 at 15:29
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    The Ramban says DanF's understanding, so not exactly so modern.
    – Yishai
    Dec 1, 2015 at 15:29
  • Especially in light of @Yishai's comment, can you edit in support for your claim that the sarcastic/rhetorical use of this turn of phrase did not exist then?
    – msh210
    Dec 2, 2015 at 14:34

What is odd about this pasuk is the sequence of tenses. Normally, once we start with a consecutive vav construction (ואמרנו), and the subject stays the same (ie. the sentence is unmarked: there's no contrast involved, or there's not quotation), we continue using consecutive vav. The major exception is when a word intervenes in the clause before the verb, whereupon we switch to imperfect. See Gesenius 112 for more details.

For example, in Gen 34:16, there are four verbs, three of which use consecutive vav (ונתנו, וישבנו, והיינו), and the only reason the fourth (נקח) is in imperfect is that there are words in its clause that precede it (ואת בנתיכם).

However, in Gen 37:30, it seems that we have the same subject for both ואמרנו and נראה, but נראה is imperfect seemingly without reason. Thus, Rabbi Isaac sees something unusual in this pasuk that calls out to be expounded.

  • I seem to recall – but don't have it before me now – that the Malbim or maybe N'tziv says somewhere that when this type of sequence of tenses occurs, it's because the perfect verb is main point of the sentence. That would work well here. But that's just BTW; obviously, Rashi doesn't have the say the same. But do you have any evidence that Rashi is bothered by such a sequence in general?
    – msh210
    Dec 2, 2015 at 14:32
  • @msh210 Did you mean the imperfect verb or the consective-vav perfect verb? I'd love to see that inside, if you can find it. Your question is more on the Tanchuma that Rashi is quoting and not on Rashi himself, but you're right, I don't have any evidence (although I believe I heard it from a Tanakh teacher a few years ago).
    – magicker72
    Dec 2, 2015 at 15:13
  • Sorry, I meant the last, imperfect one. Unless the situation was reversed there (a bunch of vav-consecutive imperfect verbs followed by a past-tense perfect one); I forget which way it was. Anyway, I mean the last one.
    – msh210
    Dec 2, 2015 at 16:48

What you are suggesting is actually the peshuto shel mikrah (the literal level) whereas Rabbi Yitzchak cited by Rashi is saying a derash (double-meaning; as he says explicitly "דרשני"), akin to e.g. where in Esther "the king" on the pshat level, simultaneously refers to "the King" (i.e. G-d) on the drash level. Perhaps the medrash is suggesting that the Author is drawing attention to the idea that "א מאן טראכט און גאט לאכט" (lit: A man thinks and G-d laughs). They were trying to sabotage his dreams from ever being fulfilled, denying his divine mission. They expressed it in a (mocking) way that said literally "we will see" which, if they were right, would be meaningless in the literal sense. Thus, on a Rabbinic hermeneutic level, he simultaneously darshans it literally as indeed they will see.

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    Yeah, but Rashi seems to say the Peshuto Shel Mikra is unsatisfying here. He doesn't even bring it as an option.
    – Yishai
    Dec 1, 2015 at 15:53
  • @Yishai, and he explicitly rejects what would seem to be the simple peshat, giving a reason that seems unintuitive. The question is asking specifically about that reason, and this answer does not address it, so I don't see how it addresses the question.
    – Isaac Moses
    Dec 1, 2015 at 15:59
  • @Yishai Does Rashi always present pshat as well, when he presents medrash Chazal?
    – Loewian
    Dec 1, 2015 at 16:09
  • @Loewian, See for example, Rashi on Shemos 2:12. Even if Rashi here is kind of leaving the Peshat as obvious, from the fact that he brings the Tanchuma with the wording "מקרא זה אומר דרשני" and not Bereishis Rabba, or just skipping that part of the quote, seems to indicate that he at least has a big problem with the plain reading, but it is not obvious (to me anyway) what that problem is.
    – Yishai
    Dec 1, 2015 at 16:15
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    Regarding Rabbi Yitzchak vs. Yitzchaki. It isn't really a question on Rabbi Yitzchak because he can say a Medrash even if the plain meaning is otherwise. It is Rashi's addition that says "ואי אפשר שיאמרו הם ונראה מה יהיו חלומותיו מכיון שיהרגוהו בטלו חלומותיו" - and that is the crux of the question here. Bereishis Rabba 84:14 at the end.
    – Yishai
    Dec 1, 2015 at 16:36

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