Very few stories in the Torah are more tragic than the story of Joseph and his brothers.
It begins, seemingly, with an innocent gift, a demonstration of a father’s love for his beloved child. But when Yaakov bestows the magnificent striped coat on his son Joseph, the ten brothers aren’t so filled with love. Favoritism, jealousy, behaviors far from ideal are brewing, resulting in a moment of tragedy 4,000 years ago that the Jewish people are still struggling to undo.
Joseph is looking for his brothers, who are shepherding the flocks in the distant fields of Dothan. Sent by his father to discover their welfare, he arrives, perhaps excited to be ‘with the guys’ out in the field, wearing his colorful coat no less. The brothers, seeing the infamous coat, are filled with anger, and in a moment of rage, conspire to kill their brother, throwing him in a pit while they sit down to eat lunch.
What is going on? What happened to the ethical dream of the grandfather Abraham, to become a light unto the nations? Where did ethical monotheism, which came on to the world scene amidst a sea of pagan idolatry, get lost?
Obviously, if ten brothers can sit down to eat lunch while their brother lies abandoned and forlorn in the pit below, something is dreadfully wrong. The dream of a Jewish people dedicated to being an example of what the world could be, has clearly gone astray. It will take 200 years of bitter exile in Egypt for the Jewish people to rediscover what it means to truly be sensitive to another’s pain, so that the Jewish people can finally be born.
A close examination of the verses seems to suggest that the plot against Joseph was really not a moment of pure passion; the result of a rage which caused them to lose all reason.
The brothers seem to debate what to do, sitting down to eat lunch while Joseph remains trapped in the pit; almost as though they are contemplating the best solution to a problem they need to solve. Perhaps, according to the midrash, the brothers understood that Joseph was really a threat to everything they were trying to create.