I’m no Rashi, that’s for sure. So it is with some trepidation that I invoke the “what’s bothering Rashi?” metaphor when I pose the question, “What’s bothering Adrian?”
I wanted to gloss over it, simply toss it off to literary stylings. Yet I kept coming back to it each time I read through the parasha. Each time I read the parasha, I would try to just read right through, but it kept haunting me, niggling at me.
I checked to see if it bothered Rashi, but it didn’t. So here’s what is bothering Adrian.
43:15 So the men took that gift, and they took with them double the money, as well as Benjamin. They made their way down to Egypt where they presented themselves to Joseph.
Why does this verse, and seemingly this verse along, refer to Joseph’s brothers as “the men,” in Hebrew “ha-anashim.” The verse could just have easily been written “So the brothers took that gift…”
Elsewhere in this part of the story they are are referred to as sons, brothers, and assorted pronouns. Only in this one verse are they called “the men.” (While in v. 42:19 Joseph says “If you are honest men..” but the Hebrew does not say this directly, and does not contain the word anashim.
What is the Torah telling us here? Is there something about what has just transpired? When the brothers first returned home and told Jacob that Simeon was being held, and that they were to bring Benjamin with them to secure his release (and more food,) Jacob resisted. Reuben was unable to persuade him even though he offered the lives of his own sons to insure Benjamin’s safety.
No, Jacob decided to be pouty. Only after they had exhausted the rations brought from Egypt did Jacob finally relent. He only relented after once more being pressured by his sons, and in particular, Judah, who offers his own life a surety for Benjamin’s safety.
Ever the “play it safe” type, Jacob insists they return bearing many gifts, plus double the money that was mysteriously returned to them. He resigns himself to the potential loss of Benjamin. (I notice, btw, that no mention is made of poor Simeon, whom Jacob seems to be assuming is lost. Even the brothers make no argument about returning for Simeon’s sake.
It is after this that the Torah refers to Jacob’s sons/Joseph’s brothers as “the men.”
I don’t particularly see that the brothers have done anything particularly positive enough to be now thought of as “men.” They haven’t shown any concern for Simeon. They didn’t keep badgering their father the whole time for them to go back to Egypt.
In fact, I wouldn’t say that anyone here really “manned up.” Yeah, credit is due both Reuben and Judah for attempting to assure Jacob that Benjamin would be safe if he went with them back to Egypt.
So perhaps there’s another reason the brothers are now referred to as “the men.” Perhaps it is because they are now simply doing what any man would do when faced with starvation. There was nothing noble about it. No great heroics to rescue their brother Simeon. They were carrying bribes and their younger brother.-concessions to reality. Perhaps they became just “the men” at this point because these progenitors of the tribes of Israel were nobody special-doing nothing to illustrate their distinct heritage and their families covenant with the Divine. They were just hungry men.
When they return to Egypt, Simeon is returned to them-yet there’s no mention in the text about a teary reunion. Just the simple fact: “and he brought out Simeon to them.” (43:23)
Maybe they were just “the men” because it never even occurred to them that G”d was showing them favor by restoring their money to their bags. It’s at least likely that, in similar circumstances, their brother Joseph might have attributed that circumstance to G”d rather than seeing it as some problematic incident done to make trouble for them. Yes, the brothers see (the unknown to them) Joseph’s treatment of them-his suspicion of them as spies, his insistence they bring Benjamin, that they leave Simeon as a hostage – as payback for what they did do Joseph lo those many years ago. But remember this is before they realize they are dealing with Joseph.
Joseph seems to have kept (to some degree) his faith in G”d. His brothers don’t seem to think of G”d much at all. The best we get is Jacob asking El Shaddai to dispose the Egyptian vizier (i.e. Joseph) to treat his sons favorably. The brothers don’t offer any prayers – of thanks or petition or praise!
All of these are perhaps reasons they are just referred to here as “the men.” Yet I find this all somewhat unsatisfying, incomplete. This is a problem I suspect I am going to be wrestling with for some time. I’d welcome your thoughts on the matter. Together, perhaps we can add up to at least part of a Rashi, and discover “what’s troubling us.”
Shabbat Shalom and Hag Urim Sameakh,
©2010 by Adrian A. Durlester