Rabbi Elie Cohen
Rabbi Yaakov Baal HaTurim, a great halachic decisor and Torah commentator of the 14th century, points out a fascinating word distinction in this week’s Torah portion.
Rabbi Yaakov Baal HaTurim, a great halachic decisor and Torah commentator of the 14th century, points out a fascinating word distinction in this week’s Torah portion. When the brothers decided to kill Joseph, Reuben interceded and negotiated that the brothers should throw Joseph into a pit instead. The Torah describes that when Reuben, who was not present at the sale of Joseph, returned to the pit to save Joseph, he saw that Joseph was no longer there, and in his grief he tore his clothes (Genesis 37:29). Just a few verses later, when their father Jacob was presented with Joseph’s bloody coat and believed that he had been killed by a wild animal, he also tore his clothes (ibid. 37:34).
Rabbi Yaakov Baal HaTurim notes that the Hebrew word which the Torah uses when discussing the clothes of Reuben is different than the word used to describe the clothes of Jacob. The word for the clothes of Reuben is "beged," while for Jacob’s clothes the Torah uses the word "simlah." He explains that the word beged refers to an outer garment whereas the word simlah refers to an inner garment. To prove his point, he cites other verses in the Torah that use these terms accordingly. Reuben tore his outer garment as his sense of grief was limited and external. Jacob tore his inner garment because his sense of grief was deep and internal.
Perhaps using this idea we can understand yet another verse. When the brothers came down to Egypt with their youngest sibling Benjamin in next week’s Torah portion, the Egyptian viceroy (Joseph, whom the brothers had not yet recognized) charged them with stealing his silver goblet. When it was found in Benjamin’s sack, the viceroy demanded that Benjamin remain with him in Egypt as his servant. The Torah then tells us that the brothers felt a sense of remorse for initially selling Joseph, and they believed that it was for that sin that they were now being punished by Hashem. When the goblet was found in Benjamin’s sack, the Torah states that the brothers tore their clothes (ibid. 44:13). The word used for clothes in this instance is simlah, an inner garment. Apparently, the brothers’ grief matched the deep, internal grief that they had caused their father twenty-two years earlier. Through their trying experience, the brothers were able to do a complete teshuvah, repentance for their original sin.
Rabbi Elie Cohen, an alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta, is an educator at the Columbus Torah Academy in Ohio.
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