Genesis: 37:2 – These are the generations of Jacob: when Joseph was seventeen years old, being a shepherd, he was with his brothers with the flocks, and he was a lad, [and was] with the sons of Bilhah and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought evil tales about them to their father.
Jerusalem Talmud: Peah Chapter 1, Section 1 – What evil tales did Yosef bring? Rabbi Yosi said that Yosef suspected them of eating the limb that was detached from a living animal. Rabbi Yehudah said that Yosef suspected them of belittling the sons of the secondary wives [by calling them servants] Rabbi Shimon said that Yosef suspected them of casting their eyes (lustfully) on the daughters of the Land. Rabbi Yehudah the son of Pazi observed from the verse in Proverbs (16:11) The balance and scales of justice are the Lord’s, that Yosef was punished in a precise way for each sin that he accused his brothers of committing as follows:
- For accusing them of eating the limb of a living animal (without slaughtering the animal)
- The verse states (Genesis 37:31) “and they slaughtered the goat and they dipped the coat in its blood”.
- For accusing them of belittling the sons of the secondary wives and calling them ‘servants’
- The verse states (Psalms 105: 17) – “Yosef was sold as a slave”
- For accusing them of casting their eyes on the daughters of the Land
- The verse states (Genesis 39:7) “Now it came to pass after these events that his master’s wife lifted up her eyes to Joseph, and she said, ‘Lie with me.’”
Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #9:
In the Midrash Rabba, the phrasing of this midrash is slightly different, but the meaning is the same; namely that Yosef was punished exactly according to what he had said about his brothers. In the Sifri it explains that Yosef had seen his brothers acting in ways that made him suspect them of these sins. [Thus Yosef’s mistake was in not judging his brother’s favorably.] This explains the use of the verb “bring” a report to his father than the verb “bring out” which is more commonly used for “tale-bearing” false, evil speech. The reason for the use of the verb “bring out” for false evil speech is because the person saying the negative things is creating the falsehood and bringing it out from his own heart. On the other hand, to just “bring” an evil report implies that, essentially, there is some truth to the matter. That is why, in our verse, the verb “bring” is used; to indicate that there was some element of truth to the matter. However, Yosef had not investigated the issues fully and he merely suspected that they were acting improperly. Check the Nemukei Ramban where he discusses the use of these two verbs – what I have said above will cast light on his comments.
In general though, this midrash requires further clarification. In what way did the sages detect in the wording of the verse that it was these exact issues that Yosef suspected his brothers of transgressing? Perhaps one can say that the hint lies in the phraseology of verse (37:14) “go please, see to your brothers’ welfare and the welfare of the flocks, and bring me back word”. Also the meaning of the phrase (37:13) “aren’t your brothers pasturing the flocks on Shechem?” is not clear. The lack of clarity is from the phrase “aren’t” which would normally reference a previous verse stating a given fact. Here, however, the phase does not reference any previous mention of the brothers being in Shechem. It should have just said “Behold, your brothers are pasturing their sheep in Shechem, please go and see after their welfare.” Additionally, if it was merely the welfare of the brothers that Jacob wanted to find out, he could have just sent anyone. [Why did he send Yosef for this?] Furthermore, this verse makes no sense according to the midrashim that mention that every day one of the brother would come from the field to be a servant to Jacob. If this is the case, then Jacob already knew the welfare of the brothers.
For all the above reasons, the rabbis deduced that the verse alludes, in effect, to a report that Yosef has already brought to Jacob. Now, at this point, Jacob is saying to Yosef, “you said to me this and that about your brothers, aren’t they at this moment pasturing their sheep in Shechem? Go now to them and report to me. Think about what you said and how they are conducting themselves.” The verb that Jacob uses here of “seeing” is similarly used in Ecclesiastes 1:16 “my heart saw much wisdom and knowledge.”
Thus Jacob is asking Yosef [in the phrase in the verse to see the welfare of his brothers] to understand [on a more than superficial level] the relationship between the brothers amongst themselves. (This would correspond to the accusation of brothers making fun of the sons of the ‘secondary wives’.)
Then, in the phrase to see the welfare of the sheep, Jacob is asking Yosef seek the welfare [literally ‘whole-ness’} of the sheep if they are complete whole in their body or are missing limbs. This would correspond to the accusation of eating a limb that was detached from a living animal.
Lastly in the verse in 37:14, Jacob asks Yosef to bring him back “a word” [דבר]. This alludes to the word “word” often being used as an oblique reference to sexual immorality. This can be seen from the verses Deuteronomy 22:17 “And behold he made libelous charges” as well as the verse in Deuteronomy 23:15: “So that He should not see anything unseemly amongst you.” Thus this last phrase in 37:14 is a request from Jacob to Yosef to inquire as to the truthfulness of his accusation against the brothers regarding sexual immorality.
Translator’s Note: I chose to translate this note because of its reference to the false accusations that Yosef made against his brothers. Further, Yosef is punished in a subtly precise way for each false accusation. God does not like spreading false accusations against people.