Yosef was taken by his brothers and thrown into habor [הַבּוֹר] (Bereishit 37:22), the pit:

22And Reuben said to them, "Do not shed blood! Cast him into this pit, which is in the desert, but do not lay a hand upon him," in order to save him from their hand[s], to return him to his father.

The same word is then used in 25, 28, and 30. Later, when Yosef gets in trouble because of the accusations of Potifar's wife, he is put into the Beit hasohar [בֵּית הַסֹּהַר ] 39:20, the jail. This term for jail repeats in 21, 22, and 23.

In perek 40, beit hasohar is used in pasuk 3, and 5. Then, when Yosef is explaining his plight and asking for help from the cupbearer, he asks to be taken out of "habayit hazeh" this house [הַבַּיִת הַזֶּה] (40:14).

But remember me when things go well with you, and please do me a favor and mention me to Pharaoh, and you will get me out of this house.

He explains that he was stolen from the land of the Ivrim, and he insists that also here (Egypt) he did nothing wrong

"כִּי שָׂמוּ אֹתִי בַּבּוֹר"

this is translated as "for them to have put me in the dungeon" (Artscroll), "for which they have put me into the dungeon." (Judaica Press, on the Chabad site).

Both of these translations follow Onkelos and T"Y and translate "habor" as "the dungeon" but if Yosef knows the term beit hasohar and that is the term the text consistently uses, and he is relating that everything happened because he was stolen from his original land, wouldn't it make as much sense to explain it as "all because they [the brothers] put me in the pit" or something to that effect? Textually, Yosef was never placed in a dungeon! Just a jail.

In 41:14, in order to get Yosef to interpret Paroh's dreams, he is taken "min habor" which is translated as "from the dungeon" even though he was never in a dungeon and this moment is a symbolic rising from the pit (physically or emotionally) which leads to his reuniting with his family.

Why would the translations choose to have "bor" suddenly refer to the prison/dungeon and not the pit, the way it had been used?

Do any meforshim explain "bor" as referring to the pit and not the prison/dungeon?

A thought -- going to Far'oh was the ultimate reversal of what had happened via his brothers. Bor always means "pit" not dungeon (apologies to Rashi) and refers to the state created by the initial action. They threw him into a pit, now he is taken out of THAT pit. They removed his cloak, now he is given new clothing. They caused mourning, now he is shaved. So the text is not speaking literally of his being taken from jail but of his rise to power.

  • 4
    +1 for your careful analysis. But, technically, why can't the same word be used for multiple meanings?
    – DanF
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 3:23
  • @DanF sure, but when it is translated differently (and seemingly arbitrarily) why MUST it be another meaning?
    – rosends
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 11:15
  • (re your comment) Because 41:14 makes that pretty clear.
    – msh210
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 14:05
  • @41:14 if 41:14 is taken to refer to his current physical location only, it then drives interpretation to translate the word that way in only that verse. Why then, when Yosef reports his past is the word translated that way? Even 41:14 doesn't make it clear -- it just makes it confusing and demands a way out. Strangely, the Even-Shoshan (bottom of P. 299 in the 3 volume set) does NOT have 41:14 (instance 30) as "beit kele".
    – rosends
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 15:03
  • Words in Hebrew almost always have several English meanings.
    – ezra
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 18:25

2 Answers 2


In Peshat, two Rishonim deal with why this term is used to refer to jail here, although neither interprets it as the "original pit" that Yosef was thrown into by his brothers.

Ibn Ezra (to Shemos 11:5) notes that at night, Egyptian prisoners were thrown into pits to sleep in. Therefore (my conclusion), these two times when Yosef is speaking in regards to dreams that just occurred, and it is likely early in the morning, he is in the "pit" of the jail, as opposed to the general or "day" jail.

Rav Avraham ben Harambam (to Bereishis 40:15) suggests that being thrown into the pit was some form of extra punishment:

או (בור) ממש כמו שאנחנו רואים המלכים בימינו חובשים בדות החפור בתוך ההר למי שרוצים להכביד (עליו) במשמרו

Therefore, it could have been that he had recently been transferred to the "maximum security" pit, and was explaining that this level of jail was especially unfair for him.

Additionally, Gur Aryeh (to Rashi Bereishis 41:14) suggests that Yosef had been placed in the "bor" as a punishment before being sent to jail.

Now that I've done a quick search, it looks like the Tzeror Hamor says that it refers to the original pit (although I'm not quite sure what he's actually saying):

ואיני שואל ממך דבר גדול אלא והוצאתני מן הבית הזה ולא מן הבור. כי אתה רואה בעיניך שאיני אסור בבית האסורין אלא פקיד וממונה עליהם. והטעם כי גנוב גנבתי מארץ העברים וגם פה לא עשיתי מאומה בפועל ממה שדברו עלי כי שמו אותי מתחלה בבור.

Also, Keli Yakar (42:7) and Alshich (42:6) make the connection between the two stories, as you suggest.

Some alternate notes: Firstly, even if it refers to the dungeon, it is very likely that Yosef could have said it with the "pit" in mind.

Secondly, "thrown in a pit" could be used simply as a figure of speech by Yosef in order to elicit more pity, etc.


The Peshitta translates 41:14 as 'pit'.

  • But I think the OP was asking if it is taken as reference to the pit hos brothers threw him into.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Dec 17, 2017 at 18:39
  • @mevaqesh I hear, though I didn't understand the q that way. The q as a whole is somewhat vague.
    – Oliver
    Commented Dec 17, 2017 at 19:22

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