[Avodah] Story details

Akiva Miller akivagmiller at gmail.com
Sun Nov 21 15:07:39 PST 2021

I understand that the Torah is not a history book. The stories have
profound meanings, and our job is to figure out those meanings. And yet,
the stories and events, in general, *did* happen in the physical,
observable world. The pesukim must make sense on a practical level too.

Bereshis 37:12, 14 -

> His [Yosef's] brothers went to pasture their father's flock in
> Shechem. ... He [Yaakov] said to him [Yosef], go and see to the
> welfare of your brothers and the welfare of the flock, and bring
> me back word, so he sent him from the valley of Chevron and he
> arrived at Shechem.

Google Maps shows Chevron and Shechem (Nablus) as being about 48 miles (78
km) apart in a straight line. At Chazal's estimate of a person walking 40
mil per day, that's a two day trip if going in a straight line. And much
slower at the rate I imagine the sheep would mosey along. Is it normal for
shepherds to choose such a far destination? How long would it actually take
a group of shepherds to get from Chevron to Shechem?

Ramban 37:14 says, "haya merchak rav beineihem - there was a great distance
between them." But Seforno 37:13 says, "ayn derech rechoka ad sham - the
road to there is not far." Am I getting the locations mixed up? Are the
endpoints somewhere other than Chevron and Shechem?

Pasuk 17 tells us that after the brothers were in Shechem, they went to
Dosan. I suppose that they might have had other stops as well, on the way
to Shechem, and/or on the return trip back to Chevron. I have to wonder how
long these pasturing trips took, and how frequently they were done. Can
anyone suggest a short, layman-oriented description of how shepherding was
done back then?

Bereshis 37:18 -

> They [the brothers] saw him [Yosef] from afar, and before he got
> close to them, they conspired against him to kill him.

How far away was Yosef when they saw him and recognized him? Exactly *how*
did they recognize him? One possibility is that Yosef was close enough for
them to see the details of this stranger's face, but in that case, how was
there enough time for them to formulate their plan? (It is clear from the
pasuk that the planning was done in the time between seeing him and getting
close.) Was Yosef carrying a large flag with his name on it?

Maybe Yosef had a few servants accompanying him. Upon seeing a group of
shepherds in the distance, perhaps Yosef told the servants to run ahead and
see who that is. "If they are my brothers, tell them I'm here." This would
have given the brothers time to discuss their plans. But wouldn't the
servants have defended Yosef from the brothers' attack? Or did the brothers
kill the servants?

I am not really complaining about these stories. I'm not suggesting that
there are any real contradictions or inconsistencies in the text. But there
are an awful lot of details left out, and I'd like to have a better
understanding of exactly how it all happened. This is actually true of most
of the stories in the Chumash. (Frankly, it's also true of most stories in
today's newspapers and magazines. After all, the written word is limited in
many ways.)

These two stories are just the most recent examples that I came across. If
anyone can offer some background information on them, I'd like to hear it.

Akiva Miller
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