Photo Credit: Asher Schwartz

Two weeks ago, in the Torah portion of Vayeitzei, we read about Yaakov’s dream of the ladder. Sefer Meir Panim, quoting the Yalkut Shimoni, says that the ladder Yaakov saw was the Shulchan Lechem Hapanim, which resembles a ladder with the loaves of Lechem Hapanim stacked on the “rungs.” Meir Panim goes on to explain that the focus of Yaakov’s dream was the Twelve Tribes and the idyllic model of unity, harmony and symbiosis between them.

In this week’s Torah reading, however, we read how removed the reality was from that vision.


Before any of the Patriarch’s children were born, the stage was set for family dysfunction. Yaakov had two wives, one whom he loved dearly (Rachel) and the other whom he “hated” (Leah). Hashem saw that Leah was hated, so He gave her many children, while Rachel initially remained childless. In addition, there were two maidservants, Zilpah and Bilhah, and their children.

Yaakov expressed overt favoritism for Yosef, the firstborn of his beloved wife Rachel, considering Yosef his firstborn son. This was compounded further when the true firstborn, Reuven, sinned by moving his father’s bed from the tent of Bilhah to his mother Leah’s tent (Bereshit 35:21), and Yaakov formally took the right of the firstborn from Reuven and gave it to Yosef.

From the outset, there was seething sibling rivalry that eventually erupted explosively. The sons of Leah regarded the sons of the maidservants Zilpah and Bilhah with disdain, and they hated Yosef.

Rashi (37:2) gives different reasons for why the brothers hated Yosef. Rashi says that Leah’s sons saw Yosef behaving immaturely; for example, playing with his hair and eyes and being overly preoccupied with his physical appearance. They hated him because he spoke lashon hara against them to their father Yaakov, saying that they were eating ever min hachai, tearing a limb off an animal while it was still alive, that they were mistreating the sons of the maidservants, and committing adultery.

The Malbim (to 37:4) says the brothers hated Yosef because Yaakov seemingly appointed him as Kohen Gadol and king by giving him the Ketonet Pasim, which resembled priestly clothes and a king’s robe (Kli Yakar). The Malbim says that the brothers said to themselves, “Avraham had two sons, Yitzchak and Yishmael, and he chose Yitzchak to be his spiritual heir and sent Yishmael away. Yitzchak had two sons, Yaakov and Eisav, and chose Yaakov to be his spiritual heir. Now Yaakov is choosing Yosef to be his spiritual heir and discarding us.” But the brothers knew by prophecy that the priesthood was to emanate from Levi and the monarchy from Yehuda.

When Yosef began relating his dreams of dominion over his brothers and his father and mother – that they would all bow down to him – and speaking lashon hara against them, the brothers ruled halachically that Yosef fit the category of a rodef (someone who is pursuing you to kill you) and that he was a mored b’malchut in working to disinherit Yehuda from his rightful birthright of the monarchy. On both counts, such a person is liable the death penalty. The brothers threw Yosef into a pit and then sat down to eat bread (37:25).

It is one thing to have righteous indignation, sentence your brother to death and summarily execute the sentence. However, immediately after doing so, to sit down and eat a meal with bread? Even if they felt halachically justified, it seems callous to behave so after killing your own brother.

Indeed R’ Bachye says that they were wrong, and because of their callousness their descendants in Shushan would similarly receive the death penalty. Megillat Esther (3:15) says that after Haman sealed the fate of Mordechai and the Jews, he and Achashveirosh sat down to feast.

In Noam Elimelech (Vayeishev 8), R’ Elimelech of Lizhensk gives a different interpretation, judging the brothers favorably for eating bread. Noam Elimelech says that even though the brothers felt halachically justified in doing what they did, they did not want to act rashly. So, they temporarily threw Yosef into a pit while they decided what to do with him. Sitting down to a meal with bread would calm them down and allow them to think more rationally. Indeed, after they had eaten, their decision was less severe than their initial reaction: they would sell Yosef to the Yishmaelim rather than kill him.

What about the snakes/scorpions in the pit? Didn’t they fear that throwing Yosef into the pit would kill him? The Gemara (Shabbat 22a) says the pit was more than 20 amot deep, and they couldn’t see that far down.

There is a connection to Chanukah here: The reason you may not place a Chanukiya above 20 amot is that this is beyond the line of sight. The Zohar HaKadosh (Vayeishev 95) says that Reuven knew Yosef had merits as well as shortcomings, and he knew that Hashem would protect Yosef from the creepy crawlies in the pit.

Either way, this act of selling Yosef and eating bread doomed Am Yisrael to 210 years of exile and slavery in Egypt. This is why, when Yosef later reconciled with his brothers, it was necessary to atone for this sin by sitting and eating bread with them (Bereshit 43:25). Sefer Meir Panim brings numerous hints in the episode of Yosef’s meal of reconciliation to the Lechem Hapanim. To atone for the sin of disunity, Yosef took his brothers back to Yaakov’s dream of the ladder, the Shulchan Lechem Hapanim, to reiterate the vision of unity.


Parshat HaShavua Trivia Question: The Yishmaeli merchants who took Yosef to Egypt were carrying perfume, but this was not their normal cargo. What was?

Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question: What were the ramifications of Yaakov bowing down seven times to Eisav? Bereshit Rabba (parsha 75) says that as a result of this, seven kings that descended from Eisav ruled before the first king ruled in Am Yisrael.


Previous articleWhere’s Shimeon (not Peres), Where’s Levy (not Rami) – The Jewish Truth Bomb
Next articleFestival of Olives
Eliezer Meir Saidel ([email protected]) is Managing Director of research institute Machon Lechem Hapanim and owner of the Jewish Baking Center which researches and bakes traditional Jewish historical and contemporary bread. His sefer “Meir Panim” is the first book dedicated entirely to the subject of the Lechem Hapanim.