Bereishit 37:12 – 37:22
Joseph’s Brothers Conspire To Kill Him
Joseph’s brothers went to pasture their flocks in Shechem. Remember Shchem? — where Jacob’s daughter, Dina, was kidnapped, and Jacob’s sons Simon and Levi managed to wreak havoc on the whole town? We might wonder why would Jacob’s sons go back there where people were likely to hate them? Maybe they had faith that God would watch over them.
Jacob wanted Joseph to see his brothers, perhaps to bury hatchets and see them get along. Notice here that he is called “Israel,” indicating this is likely something more than a typical family reunion. Jacobs sons – all twelve of them – were destined to form the nation of Israel. Jacob could not afford to have them at each others’ throats. So he sent Joseph, ostensibly to make peace with his brothers. Jacob told him to see how his brothers were doing, and also report back about the flocks.
Joseph knew his brothers hated him. He not only had reason to fear for his own safety, he believed he was the last person on earth capable of making peace with his brothers. Still he went out, willingly, to please his father.
Joseph went from Hebron to Shechem. When he got to Shechem, he couldn’t find his brothers or the sheep. A man saw Joseph. [When the Torah says “a man” without telling his name, the man tends be a messenger or angel of some kind. They say this man might have been the angel Gabriel.] The man asked Joseph what he was looking for. Joseph asked him if he knew where his brothers were. The man said he heard them talking about going to Dothan.
[Commentators say that by mentioning Dothan, the man was trying to hint at something, that the brothers were looking into justifications to kill Joseph. As righteous men, they were not about to kill a teenager out of jealousy. But they argued that Joseph and his dreams were a danger to the family and its legacy, and so he had to be killed. Anyway, Joseph apparently did not get the hint.]
Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan. This is how it is written. It doesn’t say he went to Dothan and found his brothers there. So maybe, as commentators have suggested, Dothan was not an actual place, but perhaps a situation in which Joseph’s brothers were discussing what they should do.
The brothers saw Joseph approaching from far off. They were still riled about Joseph’s dreams of everybody bowing down to him. To them such an event would run counter to their father’s and grandfather’s and great grandfather’s legacy. So they quickly conspired to kill Joseph, throw him into a pit, and say he was devoured by a wild beast. Then Joseph’s dreams could not come true, could they?
Reuben, the oldest son, balked. As the first-born son, he had the responsibility of looking after all his brothers. He ordered his brothers not to kill Joseph with their own hands. He told them to just put Joseph in a pit, that’s all. No need to literally have blood on their hands. Reuben, of course, intended to come back later and save Joseph from the pit, and return him, safely, to their father.