Kenneth Cohen

How the Exile Began

The story of Yakov’s family going down to Egypt to become a nation, began with the strife created between Yosef and his brothers.

The Torah tells us that Yosef was a נער, generally translated as young lad. The Baal Haturim wrote that the numerical value of this word, equals, שוטה, a fool.

He connects this idea with a verse from Mishlei, that says, מוציא דיבה הוא כסיל, that one who speaks Lashon Hara against another person is a כסיל, another name for a fool.

It is clear that Yosef was clearly out of line in the way he acted towards his brother. Most commentators do not emphasize that all of the problems for the budding Jewish nation, began with foolish idol talk. This is what created the great antagonism between Yosef and his brothers.

They began thinking that every generation that preceded them had undesirable offspring. They were convinced that they had their own “Eisav” that they had to deal with.

The irony of the story is that Yakov was the first individual in the twenty three generations from creation, that had all righteous children. It was for this reason that they were chosen to become an עם קדוש, holy nation.

All of this is a harsh reminder of the power of speech, and how destructive it can be. Things that we take lightly, or that are said in jest, can prove to be very harmful. We must be careful and think before we speak. Yosef, the foolish young lad, caused the beginnings of a long and painful Egyptian exile. That should certainly make an impression on us, not to misuse the power of speech.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at