I would need some help to answer a grammar question in order to understand the exact meaning a critical piece of the selling of Yosef. The Torah says in Bereshit 37:20 (from www.chabad.org): "וְעַתָּ֣ה | לְכ֣וּ וְנַֽהַרְגֵ֗הוּ וְנַשְׁלִכֵ֨הוּ֙ בְּאַחַ֣ד הַבֹּר֔וֹת" So now, let us kill him, and we will cast him into one of the pits.

Then the Torah says in Bereshit 37:22: "הַשְׁלִ֣יכוּ אֹת֗וֹ אֶל־הַבּ֤וֹר הַזֶּה֙"

And in Bereshit 37:24: "וַיַּשְׁלִ֥כוּ אֹת֖וֹ הַבֹּ֑רָה"

Note the little difference in the grammar in these three verses in the case of throwing in the pit: first, it seems to me that their intention was to kill Yosef and then to throw him INTO one the pits in 37:20. Then Reuven seems to say in 37:22 to throw Yosef in direction of the pit (and not INTO the pit). Finally in Bereshit 37:24, it seems that the brothers listened to Reuven and threw Yosef in direction of the pit and NOT INTO the pit. It is clear that Yosef ended up finding himself into the pit because the Mindyanim took him up from the pit as the Torah says in Bereshit 37:28. So my questions are : - how to understand the grammatical differences here? - what did the brothers do exactly according to the text itself? - how did Yosef ended being into the pit?

Any suggestions?

  • 2
    I really think they all mean "into", but your question about the different wordings used to express that is a good one.
    – msh210
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 16:35

2 Answers 2


One writer who makes something of the difference, is R. Betsalel Safran who writes (Shu"t HaRabaz: Notes to 1:57) that אל הבור would mean, into the pit that Reuven suggested that they throw Yosef into, (as Reuven specified אל הבור הזה; a particular pit). Instead, the Torah says וישלכו אתו הברה, which supports those commentators (see here) who suggest that they did not throw him into the pit specified by Reuven, but into a different pit.

However, regarding אל הבור vs. הברה, I don't know that there necessarily has to be a difference in meaning (regarding different ways of saying the same thing in the Torah, see here, here, here, and here.) Some Rishonim seem to suggest that they are equivalent, see e.g. Rashi to Genesis (56:1), to Exodus (15:23), and Radak to Psalms (9:18).


Rashi on Vayeishev 37:24 points out that the pit contained snakes and scorpions though it did not have any water.

Mizrachi points out that if the brothers had known about the snakes and scorpions they would have pulled him out and let him go. The fact that the snakes and scorpions did not attack Yosef made it obvious that it was a nes from Hashem. Had the brothers realized that they would not have left him there.

Reuven would not have suggested throwing him into that pit, since he intended to come back and rescue Yosef.

We see from this that the brothers thought that the pit was completely empty. Radak on 37:24 points out that Yosef did not offer any physical resistance. Thus, וַיַּשְׁלִ֥כוּ אֹת֖וֹ הַבֹּ֑רָה. We can also see that they did not think that it was deep enough to injure him. Reuven because he intended to rescue him and the brothers because they had decided not to kill him immediately and later they would have known that the caravan would not buy an injured slave.

  • You really think they stood several feet away with Shimon holding his arms and Levi his legs and went "1... 2... 3... Throw!!"? That seems so pointless when they could have just brought him over to it and put him in. It's not like they were throwing him into a swimming pool, in which case that would be fun.
    – Heshy
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 13:52
  • I've heard someone argue that the snakes and scorpions midrash is in the Gemara next to the menorah (and sukkah and lechi) having to be less than 20 amos tall because you can't see above 20 amos, and similarly you can't see below 20 amos, and the pit was 20 amos deep so they couldn't see the snakes and scorpions.
    – Heshy
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 14:10
  • You still have no evidence whatsoever that they threw him in without looking. Do you have reason to believe that it was dangerously deep, such that they wouldn't have thrown him in if they looked? How does the depth show they didn't look? Furthermore, even according to the Midrash about the snakes and scorpions, there is no evidence that they threw him in without looking. The snakes could have been under rocks, or dirt (as Ramban suggests). They could have looked in and dropped him carefully. || None of your edits or comments have addressed this.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 2:20

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