The Sale of Joseph

Genesis 37:25-35

While Joseph languishes in his pit, which medieval commentator Rashi explains is filled with snakes and scorpions, the brothers sit a distance away to eat. They notice a caravan of spices heading towards Egypt, and Judah hatches a new plan: rather than kill Joseph, they should sell him into slavery. The brothers agree, and Joseph is retrieved from the pit and sold down to Egypt.


When Reuben returns to rescue Joseph, he discovers that he is gone. To disguise their actions, the brothers dip Joseph’s coat in goat’s blood and show it to their father, who immediately concludes Joseph has been killed by a wild animal. Jacob is inconsolable.


The Israel Bible compares Reuben’s (failed) plan with Judah’s suggestion. While Reuben’s idea included throwing Joseph into a dangerous pit, one which Jewish law normally considers a death sentence, the Torah praises him. Meanwhile Judah, whose suggestion resulted in saving Joseph from the immediate threat of the pit, is not praised. From this we can learn that being in danger in the Land of Israel is better than seeming safety outside the land.


Virtual Classroom Discussion

With the many players mentioned in the text and the ambiguous pronouns, this question has troubled Jewish scholars for centuries: who sells Joseph to whom?

Comments ( 8 )

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  • Herman Arentsen

    In Eastern thinking it is unnessecary to trouble yourself about whom was eventually the selling brother. As brothers we are a collective, Things done by one are done by all. Then things like eldest brother or characters are playing on the foreground. Ruben , the older one, with double responsibility. Judathe thinking and designing one they stand out and are named. But is not all designeed by the Holy One for their good ? Some think as an answer to youer question : Shemon as he had to stay behind later on in Egypt.

  • DannyLee ben Israel

    "From this (Reuben's solution or Ya'acov's) we can learn that being in danger in the Land of Israel is better than seeming safety outside the land."

    I respectfully take issue with the above comment. Certainly, the Land is very special and is symbolic of divine protection. However, it IS NOT any safer in the Land as opposed to anywhere else. The question is NOT whether I'm in Israel. It's whether I'm in the will of Elohim. The Land DOES NOT guarantee my safety. "The Land" is wherever I happen to find myself. If I'm in His will, I'm safe. David writes in 24: 1 of the Psalms, "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof". As long as I'm in His will, I'm just as safe in Alaska as I would be in Israel–although I might be quite a bit warmer, brrr.

    • DannyLee ben Israel

      I think we'll have to wait until we get into the Kingdom to ask Moshe his viewpoint. Even so, I'll take a stab at it. Neither man wanted to kill Yosef. However, Reuben thought to pull a ruse on the brothers so he could come back later, pull Yosef out, and return him to his father. The brothers had been in Dothan long enough to ascertain the danger within the pit. Reuben's ploy was a calculated gamble. That would explain the honor Torah would bestow on Reuben.
      However, Judah is a different story. He had no intention of returning Yosef. He only sought to not shed his blood. His was an act of treachery and deception. With this in mind, it's no wonder he was chosen to present Yosef's blood stained coat to Ya'acov. By ironical coincidence, it is also Judah that tells Ya'acov on their second return from Mitzryim, "your son lives".

    • DannyLee ben Israel

      I wish to add one more description to Judah's action I cited above. His action was betrayal of family loyalty and resulted in the receipt of "blood money". He actually sought to make a profit at Yosef's expense. In the end, his brother's life was only worth 20 pieces of silver divided ten ways–dishonor to the max.

    • DannyLee ben Israel

      There is one final point in this account. The "Aleph/Tav" symbol appears ONLY in conjunction with Yosef and his various articles of clothing. With this placement, it is obvious the treatment Yosef received at the hand of the brothers was also directed toward the Messiah. The absence of the symbol with the his brothers and the traders is synonymous with the absence of Elohim or any of his goodness in their lives.

      • Doreen Poole

        Wow, that makes sense. I do enjoy your comments DannyLee as well as Suejean. I am learning so much from both of you. You always leave me with something to ponder during the day. Baruch HaShem.

  • SueJean Heinz

    In Chapter 37 of Beresheet, the brothers see a caravan of Ishmaelites coming towards them. They sell their brother to Midianite merchants, perhaps who were a part of this caravan, who then sell Yoseph into slavery in Mitzraim, We know that the 20 pieces of silver the brothers received from the sale of their brother is very significant to the story as a price of redemption and will come into play later.
    We also know that the Midianites are the descendants of Avraham and Keturah, while the Ishmaelites are the descendants of Avraham and Sarai's handmaid Hagar. The next time we see the Midianites is when Moshe comes to the household of Yithro, a priest of Midian. We have no reason at this point to see any hostilities that are at the forefront of this transaction other than the anger and jealously of Yoseph's brothers toward him.
    The "plain text" meaning tells us that the Midianites completed the transport and sale of Yoseph to Mitraim. I have to think that this is just the actions of unscrupulous men that are a part of every tongue, tribe and nation in the world. As Yoseph reminds his brother's later, while they meant what they did for evil, Hashem used it for the good of HIS people.
    Baruch Hashem.

    • DannyLee ben Israel

      With the text we have at our disposal, there isn't much to go on. In v. 28, it specifically says the Midianites drew Yosef out of the pit, and the Ishmaelites bought Yosef. We have an additional twist of events in v. 36. Here, it's the Midianites that actually sell him in Egypt.
      Due to limited evidence, here is the only conclusion to which I can come. Both groups of men have been traveling in the same caravan and made a second deal after the initial acquisition.

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