the ten commandments just did not just miraculously appear at the top of mt. sinai. as families grew, family interactions became more complex and controversy arose. the patriarch jacob’s favoring of one child, joseph, over his others led to a cascade of immoral acts. joseph’s story offers many lessons. coveting, lying, murder, honoring one’s parents, and theft are all addressed within a relatively short story.
the torah tells us that:
“…israel [jacob] loved joseph more than all his sons, because he was a son of his old age; and he made him a fine woolen coat. and his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, so they hated him, and they could not speak with him peacefully.” genesis 37: 3-4
the story continues:
“and they saw him[joseph] from afar, and when he had not yet drawn near to them, they plotted against him to put him to death. so they said one to the other, “behold, that dreamer is coming. 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.” but reuben heard, and he saved him from their hand[s], and he said, “let us not deal him a deadly blow.” and 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. now it came to pass when joseph came to his brothers, that they stripped joseph of his shirt, of the fine woolen coat which was upon him. and they took him and cast him into the pit; now the pit was empty there was no water in it. and they sat down to eat a meal, and they lifted their eyes and saw, and behold, a caravan of ishmaelites was coming from gilead, and their camels were carrying spices, balm, and lotus, going to take [it] down to egypt. and judah said to his brothers, “what is the gain if we slay our brother and cover up his blood? come, let us sell him to the ishmaelites, but our hand shall not be upon him, for he is our brother, our flesh.” and his brothers hearkened. then midianite men, merchants, passed by, and they pulled and lifted joseph from the pit, and they sold joseph to the ishmaelites for twenty silver [pieces], and they brought joseph to egypt. and reuben returned to the pit, and behold, joseph was not in the pit; so he rent his garments. and he returned to his brothers and said, “the boy is gone! and i where will i go?” and they took joseph’s coat, and they slaughtered a kid, and they dipped the coat in the blood. and they sent the fine woolen coat, and they brought [it] to their father, and they said, “we have found this; now recognize whether it is your son’s coat or not.” he recognized it, and he said, “[It is] my son’s coat; a wild beast has devoured him; joseph has surely been torn up.” and jacob rent his garments, and he put sackcloth on his loins, and he mourned for his son many days. and all his sons and all his daughters arose to console him, but he refused to be consoled, for he said, “because i will descend on account of my son as a mourner to the grave”; and his father wept for him.” genesis 37: 18-35
this story uniquely addresses how individuals either balance or weigh commandments. the story begins with common theme of coveting. the coveting often spurs emotions such as hatred and jealousy which can lead to thoughts of murder. their intensity was also increased by the content of joseph’s dreams [comment: joseph’s dreams were also a source of upset as he dreamed that he would rule over his brothers.] as noted in the story, this was another piece of fuel for their rage. the story relates how the act of coveting is the rabbit hole upon which further immorality occurs.
the story uniquely touches as to how commandments or morals are weighed and balanced against each other. some brothers weighed the taking of one’s life. there was conflict was they knew they were on their way to commit a bad act. this awareness prevented the murder. further, the decision to not kill may have been out of respect for their father.
in the end, the brothers racked up commandment violations. the brothers conspired and lied to their father. they additionally committed theft as they stole joseph’s freedom by selling him into slavery. they finally dishonored their father in perhaps the worst way imaginable. the emotional harm of a parent losing a child is devastating. their lie gave their father the worst sense of loss. he painfully mourned for the loss of a child who in fact had not died. this sin was made worse as these brothers watched their father’s suffering and still would not reveal the truth.
in this series, i have already compared the two sets of commandments with respect to murder and coveting. please refer to the early posts in this series with respect to a discussion of the commandments. rather, the commandments concerning lying and honoring ones’s parents will be discussed.
the commandments concerning honoring one’s parents in the exodus’ ten commandments is as follows:
“honor your father and your mother, in order that your days be lengthened on the land that the lord, your god, is giving you”
the commandment against stealing is as follows:
“you shall not steal.”
the commandment against lying is as follows
“you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
deuteronomy’s rendition of the ten commandments is slightly different with respect to one commandment.
the commandment of honoring one’s parents is as follows
“honor your father and your mother as the lord your god commanded you, in order that your days be lengthened, and that it may go well with you on the land that the lord, your god, is giving you.”
the commandment against stealing is as follows
“and you shall not steal.”
the commandment against lying is as follows
“and you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
essentially, the commandments are the same between the two interations. the interesting notion is that honoring one’s parents is connected to the the land
in sum, the story first covers the matter of coveting. the brothers could not stand joseph due to jacob’s favoring him. this coveting led to hate and the hate arguably led to the plot to dispose of joseph. the story touches on murder and the ability of the brothers to see that the act was wrong. the brothers, despite their bad acts, had a line that they wouldnot cross. rather, the brothers essentially stole his freedom by selling him to the traders. they furthered their bad act by lying to their father, jacob, concerning joseph’s death. with this lie, they dishonored their father and turned him into a mourner. on the other hand, the decision of not kill joseph also may have been done out of respect for jacob. thus, in a twisted manner, there was the honoring of one’s parent.
in this episode, the children of israel, in an immoral moment were still able to offer a glimmer of hope that humanity was on the right track. the brothers’ awareness of the immorality of murder saved his life. so, this story, unlike that of cain and abel in which cain made no effort to appreciate his circumstances, involved the brothers thinking and partially acting in a moral fashion. with this, a far better result that in the past. this, a sign that humanity was moving in the right direction.
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