We know that the brothers will be the eventual leaders of the twelve tribes (trust me, I’ve read the book). Sforno points out that all twelve tribes will ultimately be recognized together as stones on the High Priest’s breastplate. Surely, if they were unworthy, they would not have merited the honor. Sforno makes a fascinating suggestion. The brothers were afraid of Joseph, not jealous of him. They had ventured into dangerous territory to avoid him, fearful that he was conspiring against them, using his influence to discredit or kill them, not the other way around. When they say, “Then we will see what will become of his dreams! (Gen 37:20)”, the brothers are not speaking sarcastically; they’re actually afraid that the dreamswill come true. They try to find ways to eliminate the threat indirectly so as not to be technically guilty of murder. According to various sources, they try to kill him with arrows (so they can claim that they were not physically present) and with wild dogs (“it was them, not us), and when neither of these work, a group of unnamed brothers finally suggest killing him by hand. Reuven and Yehuda, however, are named because they have already started to learn and grow. They realize that it was, indeed, foolish for Joseph to venture out to find them, far away from home and their father’s sight and protection. Reuven, at least, suspects that he must have a different motive. Indeed he does. Joseph wanders around in the fields seeking them out at his own peril, fulfilling his promise to Jacob; thereby honoring their father. According to tradition, it was for that same reason that Reuven hadn’t been present to save Joseph; it was his turn to go home and care for Jacob. The family dynamic is going to get more complicated before it gets better, but it is here that the seeds of healing are planted, and the ones who are starting to show signs of leadership and maturity are aptly rewarded with their names.
Shabbat ShalomRabbi/Hazzan David B. Sislen