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In Genesis 31:32 we have Yaakov's response to Lavan's charge that someone in Yaakov's party had stolen something from Lavan.

עִם אֲשֶׁר תִּמְצָא אֶת אֱלֹהֶיךָ לֹא יִחְיֶה נֶגֶד אַחֵינוּ הַכֶּר לְךָ מָה עִמָּדִי וְקַח לָךְ וְלֹא יָדַע יַעֲקֹב כִּי רָחֵל גְּנָבָתַם

With whomsoever thou findest thy gods he shall not live; before our brethren discern thou what is thine with me, and take it to thee. --For Jacob knew not that Rachel had stolen them.-- (Mechon Mamre)

In Genesis 44:9 we have the brothers' response to the charge that someone in their party had stolen something from Yosef.

אֲשֶׁר יִמָּצֵא אִתּוֹ מֵעֲבָדֶיךָ וָמֵת וְגַם אֲנַחְנוּ נִהְיֶה לַאדֹנִי לַעֲבָדִים

With whomsoever of thy servants it be found, let him die, and we also will be my lord's bondmen. (Mechon Mamre)

Rashi cites the Midrashic idea that the declaration of Yaakov ultimately caused the death of Rachel.

ומאותה קללה מתה רחל בדרך

And from that curse Rachel died on the road.

However, there is no indication that Binyamin ever suffered any ill on account of the similar declaration made about him.

What is the difference between Yaakov's declaration about Rachel and the brothers' declaration about Binyamin, such that Yaakov's declaration caused the death of Rachel while the brothers' declaration did not cause any harm to befall Binyamin?

Is there any indication that perhaps Yaakov's declaration was specifically meant as a curse, not a directive to Lavan, while the brothers' declaration was specifically meant as a directive to Yosef, not a curse, and thus Yaakov's curse was fulfilled but Yosef simply opted not to follow the brothers' directive? Perhaps this is implied from the fact that they also sentenced themselves to slavery? And is that something that would mitigate the possible negative effect of the declaration?

And perhaps related: were the brothers aware that Yaakov's curse had caused the death of Rachel, and should they therefore have been more careful with their words? Especially considering that someone had snuck things into their bags on their previous visit and could easily have done the same this time?

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Excellent question. Note that R' Yosef Ibn Caspi makes the connection between these two Pesukim as well (although he doesn't mention the same idea as Rashi, nor does he generally subscribe to similar "Midrashic ideas").

There are a number of indications that these cases are different (Yosef/Brothers is a judgment rather than a curse), here is a point-by-point comparison.

The below is intended to prove the view of Rashi and Chazal.

In the case of Yaakov/Lavan/Rachel:
- The wording used indicates death from a curse (See "Targum Yonasan" who translates this as ימות בלא זמניה, or die early)
- This must be a curse, not a judgment, circumstances of stealing idols would not justify a punishment of death according to some Mefarshim (Rashi, Ibn Ezra), and we can see that it was intended as a curse by contrasting with others (see http://mg.alhatorah.org/Full/Bereshit/31/32#e0n7), who say that Yaakov was saying that the person deserves to die as a judgment, or that he (Yaakov) promises to kill that individual! Those are not curses!

In the case of Yosef/Brothers/Binyamin:
- The wording used indicates death from a judgement (See "Targum Yonasan" who translates this as יהי חייב קטול, or will be worthy of a death sentence)
- This must be a judgment, as all of the major Mefarshim that discuss this say that they are allowing themselves to be killed by Yosef in response to their actions (see http://mg.alhatorah.org/Full/Bereshit/44/9#e0n7)

A lot of other factors will have influenced the above, such as context and specific wording.

Some other answers would include that Rachel was actually guilty of taking the idols, whereas Binyamin was innocent, or that when Yosef's housekeeper suggested that Binyamin be taken as a slave instead, that "replaced" the mention of the death sentence.

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  • Do you have a source that guilt/intent makes a difference? Perhaps it does not (and perhaps that is what the Gemara in Makkos 11a means when it says קללת חכם אפילו בחנם היא באה)? – Alex Dec 25 '17 at 4:23
  • I don't have a source for this, but as I pointed out in my recent edit, I don't even see this as a Kelala. A source you might find interesting (which I don't consider to be a question on my answer, but you might, is Or Hachaim 42:37.) – רבות מחשבות Dec 25 '17 at 13:58
  • I'm still not sure how this answers the question, even with the edit. I already suggested this distinction in the question. To my mind an answer would have to either demonstrate such a distinction from the textual evidence, or cite a source that makes such a distinction. As it stands now you reasserted something I already said in the question, and did not provide a source that even if the distinction is true it is valid. – Alex Dec 25 '17 at 14:37
  • @Alex I had forgotten that you suggested the distinction, sorry. I was basing it off of basically all Mefarshim here implying that it is intended as a punishment from the Egyptians (Targum Yonasan, Ralbag, Or Hachaim, Netziv). It would also be implicit from the response of the housekeeper. – רבות מחשבות Dec 25 '17 at 15:19
  • Contrast those Mefarshim to the story of Yaakov - Targum Yonasan and Ralbag imply it is a curse, not a ruling, whereas Or Hachaim and Netziv say that it is a judgment for Avodah Zarah. If it is a judgement, we cannot call it a curse. Now I'll rewrite this as an answer based off of Targum Yonasan, sorry for the confusion. – רבות מחשבות Dec 25 '17 at 15:23
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However, afterwards, when the goblet had been discovered in the travel bag of Binyamin, they no longer mentioned the death penalty but offered themselves collectively as slaves to Joseph [Tur HaAroch, Genesis 44:9 - I believe this is in reference to Genesis 44:16]

https://www.sefaria.org/Tur_HaAroch%2C_Genesis.44.9?lang=bi

ויאמר יהודה מה־נאמר לאדני מה־נדבר ומה־נצטדק האלהים מצא את־עון עבדיך הננו עבדים לאדני גם־אנחנו גם אשר־נמצא הגביע בידו
Judah replied, “What can we say to my lord? How can we plead, how can we prove our innocence? God has uncovered the crime of your servants. Here we are, then, slaves of my lord, the rest of us as much as he in whose possession the goblet was found.” [Genesis 44:16]

https://www.sefaria.org/Genesis.44.16?lang=bi&aliyot=0

As we see in Genesis 44:16 it seems as if the brothers tried to annul their own words about the death penalty by taking it out here and hence establishing the new conditions (without a death penalty)

In regards to Jacob's curse however there was never any mention of anullment or change of conditions of the curse after the fact because there is never a mention of him finding out that Rachel was really the one who stole it; Therefore the curse would still remain more active without an anullment or an establishing of new conditions.


Shabbat 55b https://www.sefaria.org/Shabbat.55b?lang=bi

An alternative reasoning I thought of could be based off of the fact that Benjamin is one of the four who never sinned ever in Shabbat 55b and could only die from the sin of the serpent. That would mean a curse could never have affected him anyway as per the extent of the power of cursing.

see: Or Chaim https://www.sefaria.org/Or_HaChaim_on_Numbers.23.8.1-3?lang=bi

If the accursed had been guilty he will obviously suffer harm for his guilt even if he had not been cursed at all. If, on the other hand, the person who was subjected to a curse was innocent, and had not done anything which would make him subject to punishment at the hands of G'd, the curse would boomerang on the one who uttered it.

Also see: Proverbs 26:2 https://www.sefaria.org/Proverbs.26.2?lang=bi https://www.sefaria.org/Rashi_on_Proverbs.26.2?lang=bi

As a sparrow must flit and a swallow fly, So a gratuitous curse must backfire (rashi: to the one who it went out with his mouth).

The brothers changing the curse conditions per above would also mitigate the death penalty curse boomerang effect on themselves.

Something to ponder further is the Jewish people really did become slaves in Egypt to Pharoah not long after these events occured so maybe their conditional words had some direct effect here. All male children were also decreed to die later on by Pharoah so connecting the dots maybe the original curse just took on a different form that affected future generations.

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  1. Yaakov used the word עם, the brothers used את. That might make a difference, where one means "in whatever way (s)he has it" versus "only if he deliberately took it."

  2. Yehuda afterwards (in verse 16) says that they'll all be slaves, so he's canceled the previous statement. Yaakov never did so.

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  • just realized your second answer is simliar/same as my first one above but I'll leave it with an additional source from Tur HaAroch. – code613 Jan 9 at 2:30

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