Banning God

Moshe Ben-Chaim

In Genesis 37:33, when the sons of Jacob presented to him the bloodied coat of many colors to cover-up of their sale of their brother Joseph, Rashi quotes an astonishing Medrash (allegory):


“Why didn’t God tell Jacob the truth?” (That Joseph was indeed alive). The Medrash continues, “The reason God didn’t disclose the truth about Joseph, was that when the brothers banished and cursed all who would reveal to Jacob their sale of Joseph, they included God in their banishment and curse.” But Isaac - Jacob’s father - knew the truth that Joseph was alive, but Isaac said to himself, “How can I reveal that which God does not reveal?”

The obvious problem is the brother’s inclusion of God into their ban and curse. How do we understand such a statement? It is blasphemous to think that man possesses any control over the Master of the Universe. Such a notion is completely against all foundations of Judaism. Our first step must be to know that this cannot be taken on face value, and the Rabbis authoring this Medrash have something else in mind.


I believe this statement teaches the same idea derived from another Rabbinical saying, “the righteous decree and God fulfills.” This means to say that those who are completely righteous, i.e., those whose actions never veer from God’s ways, live in a manner completely endorsed by God. A person who is so in tune with God’s ways can be described as one who “decrees and God fulfills”. Thereby indicating his complete adherence to God.


Similarly, the brothers are termed to have “included God in their ban and curse”, should God divulge their cover up to Jacob’s sale. This means that the brothers’ wish that Jacob not find out about Joseph’s sale was actually in line with God’s will. It is completely impossible that man have any control over God. All similar statements must be understood in a manner, which maintains an uncorrupted view of God.


We can speculate why God wished that Jacob not discover truth: It seems God wished that the Jews enter Egypt, only to emerge from servitude to freedom via God’s salvation. A Rabbi once explained that God desired that the Jewish nation emerge in a state of salvation, thereby indelibly branding the identity of the Jewish nation as one “redeemed by God”. God is thereby inextricably bound up in this nation’s identity as its Redeemer. We see that the Jewish law also incorporates this central concept, as we align our prayers with the concept of God’s redemption.


We now come to the question of how Isaac knew of the cover up. If all who were present at Joseph’s sale were the nine brothers alone, and they all swore each other to secrecy, there is no possible means for any communication to reach Isaac about this event. The only other possibility for Isaac’s awareness of the sale is what Isaac himself perceived upon the brother’s return.


What were the facts? Isaac saw the brothers presenting the bloodied coat to Jacob, asking Jacob to recognize if it was Joseph’s. To this, Jacob concluded that a wild beast devoured Joseph. I would speculate that what might have transpired is as follows: Isaac saw that only the coat was returned. Perhaps thinking, “Why should they find only the coat and no remains of Joseph? This isn’t normal, that an animal will separate the food, (Joseph) dragging him to a place without his coat. Additionally, perhaps Isaac said, “Why am I - Isaac - the only one who sees this question? After all, why should not at the least one brother have the same question as I have?” Perhaps Isaac concluded from this that the only way all the brothers would be satisfied that a garment alone was proof of Joseph’s death, was if they were all trying to force that conclusion as a lie. A true investigator will wonder about two things, as did Isaac: 1) why the coat was no where near any remains, and most powerfully, 2) why the brothers were unanimous in their acceptance if Joseph’s death by an animal, with no need for an alternative explanation, although no remains were found. Isaac concluded the brothers were conspiring a lie. However, Isaac felt that something so grave as Joseph’s sale, must not be revealed by himself, as silence in this matter must be in line with God’s will. Isaac had a keen understanding of God’s providence, and realized this is a matter certainly being addressed by God. Isaac’s hands were tied.


We can also ask why Jacob didn’t see through the smoke screen: Perhaps he was so distraught at the possibility of Joseph’s death, and then seeing the precious garment he gave to Joseph, that he was overcome by emotion and could not see clearly as Isaac did. Perhaps even the brothers knew how Jacob would react to this sight of a bloodied coat, and planned it that way.


Through this explanation, we arrive at an intelligent understanding of the brothers “banning God.” It refers to God’s compliance with the brothers’ sale, and although corrupt, it paved the way for the Egyptian enslavement deemed necessary by God.