Simon, the Worst Brother

Simon, the Worst Brother
Fairy-talke like image of two angry men fighting with trees torn from the ground, illustrating a post about the terrible Biblical brother Simon.

Simon, brother of Joseph. Why does Joseph, Viceroy of Egypt, single him out for punishment? To answer, I’ll give some context, then read between the lines.

Years ago, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. But, through twists and turns of fate, he becomes Viceroy of Egypt. And, in a time of regional famine, Joseph decides who eats and who starves. Who lives and who dies.

Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt, hoping to buy food. The Viceroy himself agrees to see them. He knows exactly who they are; he recognizes each one. But they believe Joseph is dead. So they are sure the Viceroy is a powerful stranger.

Joseph treats them graciously. He even feeds them before they leave. But he plants some cash in Simon’s bag. Then, sends an officer to arrest him. Joseph charges Simon with theft, and holds him in prison, as a hostage.

Singling out Simon is a small detail, but it tells you a lot. Specifically, that Simon led his brothers in tormenting young Joseph. And that Joseph remembers so clearly.

Clues show up earlier in the Biblical narrative, so this just confirms them. Think about it. Joseph grew up in a family with four mothers. Rachel, Leah,  Bilhah, and Zilpah. Joseph and Benjamin, Rachel’s boys, were the youngest. Teenage Joseph worked as a shepherd with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah. Benjamin was probably too young to work.

One day, Joseph’s dad sends him on an errand. Some distance away, to find his other brothers. Torah doesn’t say which ones, but it doesn’t have to.  Obviously, they are Leah’s sons. Reuben, Simon, Levi, Judah plus the much younger Issachar and Zebulon.

Now we don’t know much about Leah’s youngest two. But we’ve met Simon and Levi. They are impulsive, violent, and cruel. Simon seems to be the instigator. At least, whenever the two speak as unit, Torah names Simon first. Together, they murder their sister’s rapist and all the men in his town. Then, their brothers follow up, kidnapping the widows and orphans.

So when some unnamed brothers propose to kill Joseph, neither Simon nor Levi oppose the plan. But Reuben and Judah do.

“Let‘s not kill him,” Reuben says. “Throw him in this pit instead.” And Reuben plans to sneak back to rescue Joseph. He walks away so that he can circle back.

“He’s our brother,” Judah says. “Let’s not kill him ourselves. Maybe we can sell him instead.” So that’s what some of the brothers do.

Reading between the lines here isn’t hard. Simon and Levi talk murder. Reuben and Judah speak up. But they’re afraid to challenge Simon and Levi directly. Of course. Because these two will kill anyone for a perceived slight. Or just to release some anger; maybe to profit a bit.

But Joseph, the Viceroy of Egypt, is not afraid. He has already survived Simon and Levi’s violence. And he is surrounded by armed guards. Thus, he no doubt thinks, it’s time for Simon to finally experience a consequence. Let him fear for his life, worry in the custody of unpredictable strangers.

Maybe he’ll even learn some empathy. Or maybe not. But he will eventually find out that Joseph remembers everything.

One Comment
  1. Quite fascinating, powerful reading. What are your thoughts on the contract with Miriam and Aaron talking about Moses taking a second wife? She dies not long after, albeit that tza’ra’at clearly isn’t leprosy as many medical historians note (I also wrote a paper on the topic, but not knowing of the connection you’ve given) and Aaron is promoted to high priest. Grateful for this Torah study on a locked down Shabbat alone.

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