Reuben returned to the pit — and behold! — Joseph was not in the pit [ein-yosef ba-bor]! So he rent his garments. Returning to his brothers , he said, “The boy is gone! [ha-yeled einenu] And I — where can I go [va-ani ana ani-ba]?”– Breishit/Genesis 37:28 (Stone translation*)
Alter* notes: “The Hebrew says literally, ‘the boy is not.’ The phrase could be a euphemism for death or could merely indicate disappearance. It is a crucial ambiguity the brothers themselves will exploit much later in the story.”
Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg bases a fascinating and useful commentary on parashat vayeishev, in part, on this phrase. (Beginning of Desire*) She also discusses this verse in “The Pit and the Rope” chapter of The Murmuring Deep.*
In this context, also recall what occurs on the wedding night of Jacob and Rachel, who eventually becomes Joseph’s mother:
Jacob said to Laban, “Deliver my wife for my term is fulfilled, and I will consort with her.” So Laban gathered all the people of the place and made a feast….And it was, in the morning, that behold it was Leah! — Breishit/Genesis 29:21-25
*For complete citations and more details, please see Source Materials.
The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.