In this week’s parsha, Yosef’s brothers plan to kill him (we’ve all seen the musical):
Rashi is bothered by the phrase ויתנכלו אתו.
ויתנכלו is reflexive; the object is the subject. It shouldn’t take another object, indicated with את.
But those translations aren’t really right. The reflexive, ויתנכלו and in Rashi’s comment נתמלאו means “they filled themselves with plots”. נכלים are bad things:
It’s worth comparing this pasuk in תהילים with the original:
The Egyptians describe themselves as נתחכמה, ”let us fill ourselves with clever plans“; David describes it as להתנכל, ”fill themselves with evil plans“.
I bring this up because I want to look at Rashi’s comments on the previous pasuk, ויאמר האיש נסעו מזה כי שמעתי אמרים נלכה דתינה:
First he makes a midrashic comment, that נסעו מזה doesn’t mean “they left this place”, but, when you said את אחי אנכי מבקש, ”they left that brotherhood“. And he makes the midrashic pun: read נלכה דתינה as נכלי דתות, the ויתנכלו of the next pasuk.
And then he adds that the פשט is that דותן is the name of a place. That’s an odd comment, because it is obvious. If Rashi wants to tell us to pay attention to the literal meaning of the words in addition to the דרש, he will usually say פשוטו כמשמעו. And Rashi almost never explicitly mentions the principle אין מקרא יוצא מידי פשוטו (I think the only other place is שמות יב:ב, on החודש הזה). Also, the order of commentary is unusual.
Rashi is telling us that the דרש message of the text is the important message, but the פשט has something to tell us as well. Because פשט doesn’t mean “literal”, משמעות. Reading the פשט of the Torah means reading it with the eyes of a sophisticated reader, who understands metaphor, semiotics, and the literary themes that run throughout תנ״ך.
In our perek,
When we hear that Yosef is seeking his brothers in שכם, we hear echoes of other events in שכם:
In other words, ולפי פשוטו שם מקום הוא means דותן was a place in metropolitan שכם, ואין מקרא יוצא מידי פשוטו: as you learn תנ״ך בדרך פשט, keep this theme of שכם and פרענות in mind. We talked about this in פרשת ראה תשע״ט, about the meaning of the ceremony of ונתתה את הברכה על הר גרזים ואת הקללה על הר עיבל.
But Rashi wants us to first read נלכה דתינה as לבקש לך נכלי דתות שימיתוך בהם. We have talked many times that דרש, like פשט, is a matter of hermaneutics. If פשט is reading the Torah with literary eyes, דרש means reading the Torah through the eyes of the מסורה, the תורה שבעל פה. Especially for אגדה, the דרש on the narrative sections of the Torah, this does not mean that חז״ל had a מסורה that this is what the text intends. It means that אגדה is meant to teach a lesson about values that come from the תורה שבעל פה, and values are only taught through stories.
This is how the Maharal understands דרש. Aggadah needs to be taken seriously, not literally.
The problem, though, is that without an explicit statement of the lesson, we can’t be sure we are getting it right, which is why (ירושלמי חגיגה א:ח) אֵין מוֹרִין…מִן הָאֲגָדוֹת.
Rabbi Pinchas Doron-Spalter proposes that Rashi is telling us how great the brothers were:
But I think it is clear that Rashi means the opposite. Turning the brothers נלכה into לבקש לך נכלים, with the negative implications of נכלים, and the emphasis on ויתנכלו as a reflexive verb, tells us that the brothers (at their level) intentionally made themselves full of evil plans. The fact that their plans were נכלי דתות—religiously justified—doesn’t help. It is a lesson in the power of willful blindness, of being נוגע בדבר, to keep us from seeing the truth. ואין מקרא יוצא מידי פשוטו: The פרענות of שכם that would end with the destruction of the united kingdom of Israel, comes from הסיעו עצמן מן האחוה and נתמלאו נכלים וערמומית.