Thursday, December 20, 2007

Shim'on, here. Remember me?

Okay, so some people call me Shimon and others call me Simeon or Simon. Whatever.

Look, I'm just a regular guy who was hanging out with his brothers, trying to figure out how we were supposed to keep our families fed during a famine. Then we heard that there was food for sale in Egypt. Needless to say, we got our asses, not to mention our camels, to Egypt as quickly as we could. How were we to know that the Pharaoh's second-in-command would get all paranoid and insist that we were spies? He gave us this whole song and dance about how he would neither believe us nor sell us any more food unless we showed up with Binyamin, our youngest brother, in tow. And, to boot, he sent the eldest, Reuven (Reuben, whatever) home to report the news to Dad and tossed me into prison as a hostage!

I'm sure my family wrote me off as dead. I could practically hear my father all the way from Canaan: "Yosef is not, and Shim'on is not . . ." Seriously, folks, Par'oh's head henchman could have done anything he'd darn well pleased with me--I woke every morning wondering whether I'd be the star of a hanging party that day--and what could my family have done to stop him? I mean, really, were my brothers in any position to take on the entire Egyptian army?! Believe me, I had more than enough time in prison, wondering whether every day would be my last, to see my life pass before my eyes. And that part about letting our brother Yosef be sold into slavery. . . I mean, sure, he was a preening pain in the rear, but still . . .

Well, finally, my brothers came back for more food, with Binyamin (Benjamin, whatever) in tow this time. So Par'oh's viceroy had me released from prison. Do you know those bum brothers of mine didn't say so much as "Are you okay?" Under the circumstances, maybe they were embarrassed, what with us having allowed Yosef to be sold to merchants headed toward Egypt and all. But even so . . .

And to top it all off, it turns out that Par'oh's chief henchman was none other than Yosef! Talk about getting the last laugh . . .

My other brothers can do all the atoning they want. I already did mine in prison, thank you very much.

(See Parshat Miketz, Breishit/Genesis 41:1-44-17, and the following week's reading, Parshat Vayigash, Breishit/Genesis 44:18-47:27. This story starts with 42:1 and continues, after what I've frequently described as the Tanach's/Bible's greatest cliffhanger at the end of Miketz (chapter 44, verse 17), through at least the resolution of the cliffhanger in Vayigash (chapter 45, verse 16).


Blogger Elie said...

Good summary of events from a rather Biblically silent point of view. I guess one could ask why Yoseph picked on Shimon as his hostage, and there are a couple of reasons that make sense to me.

1) Just simply, as the eldest Reuven had to report to Yaakov (see 42:37) and Simeon as the next oldest was the logical choice.

2) In parshas Vayeishev, it can be assumed that the older four brothers would have been the leaders and the ones to take the active role in deciding what to do with Yosef. There seem to be three factions/proposals:
1) The initial plan to murder him outright, attributed to two anonymous brothers (37:19-20).
2) Reuven's counter-proposal to throw him in the pit, actually a pretext to save him (v 21-22, 31).
3) Yehudah's final proposal to sell him to the caravan of merchants (v 26-27).

Since Reuven and Yehudah are accounted for, it seems clear, as chazal state, that it was Shimon and Levi who were responsible for proposal #1, the must vicious of the three. Shimon as the elder of those two was thus rightfully singled out to be taught a more drastic lesson than the others. To use your wording, he had a bit more "atoning" to do than the rest of them!

Fri Dec 21, 11:21:00 AM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Thanks for the info. I never thought of that! Shim'on & Levi don't exactly come out smelling like roses in Breishit, do they? Aren't they the ones who killed off all the men of Shechem as punishment for the rape of Dinah?

Fri Dec 21, 12:54:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Elie said...

Yes! It is for both those reasons that Yaakov never seemed to forgive Shimon and Levi, and rebuked them on his very deathbed.

Interestingly, later in the chumash we see the tribe of Levi redeeming itself and being elevated to a special role, while Reuven and Shimon never do so, and in fact continue to supply leaders for religiously rebellious factions (see Num 16:1-35, 25:24).

Mon Dec 24, 10:43:00 AM 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In fact, the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Deut. 955) describes explicitly the contrast between Shimon and Levi that Elie mentions (though it doesn't refer to Reuven):

"It's like two people who borrowed money from the king. One later paid back his debt; the other not only failed to pay, but had to borrow again. Similarly, Shimon and Levi 'borrowed' at Shechem; Levi paid his debt in the desert (at the sin of the Golden Calf, when all of them remained loyal to G-d), and even 'lent' to G-d at Shittim (where Pinchas, of the tribe of Levi, defended G-d's honor); while Shimon 'borrowed' again at Shittim (since they were the ringleaders there)."

Reuven is a bit more ambiguous, maybe. True that some of them were involved with Korach's rebellion, but after all, Korach himself was from the tribe of Levi! Conversely, one of the Reubenites mentioned there (On ben Pelet) ended up leaving their company and escaping destruction.

Mon Dec 24, 03:47:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Anon., to be honest, I'm not entirely comfortable with the bloody nature of Levi's support. Pinchas's murderous response to public sexual impropriety--and the fact that it earned him the priesthood--has always been an issue for me.

Tue Dec 25, 11:33:00 AM 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shira, by the time Pinchas had acted, 24000 Jews had died in a plague. His "murderous response" amounts to defending the lives of the entire nation by killing two miscreants - not essentially different, say, than killing a couple of terrorists in order to spare the lives of thousands of innocents.

Same with the Levites' response to the sin of the Golden Calf, where again all of the Jews were under the threat of destruction for the actions of the few.

Put differently, they are, as the famous expression goes, they are the "rough men who stand ready to do violence on our behalf" so that we "can sleep peaceably in our beds at night."

Sat Dec 29, 06:39:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Anon., I'll have to think about that.

Sun Dec 30, 03:20:00 PM 2007  

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