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   by Jacob Solomon

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His brothers saw that their father loved him (Joseph) more than the brothers, and they hated him. They could not speak to him in peace (37:4).

Do not hate your brother in your heart. You should certainly reprove your fellow human being, and not bear sin on his account (Lev. 19:17).

The Torah relates that the brothers disliked Joseph because of his father's special love for him, (the 'coat of many colors'), and that he brought 'an evil report' to about them to his father. The content of that report is not mentioned in the text: the Midrash (Tanhuma 7) brings the tradition that it questioned their standards of observance of the dietary laws, and their fraternal and sexual relationships. Although Joseph was sincere in what the Midrash refers to as a faulty evaluation, the Gur Aryeh argues that he should have given them the benefit of the doubt and reported all the facts to Jacob, without forming his own negative conclusions.

The Midrash (Gen. Rabbah 84:9) interprets the words, 'they could not speak to him in peace' to the credit of the brothers - they were too honest to pretend love and friendship that they did not truly feel. They did not break the prohibition of 'hating their brother in their hearts'.

Why then did the brothers not go further and reprove him, as the Torah later revealed to the Israelites as being the correct thing to do?

It seems that the nature of the antipathy between Joseph and his brothers was something that, unfortunately, may all too often be observed in people today. The following story will illustrate:

A Rav suddenly found himself being studiously avoided by a butcher in his congregation with whom he was previously on very good terms. At first he paid no attention to the matter, but as the months went by, he felt increasingly disturbed by his obvious coldness. So one day he approached him. After a lot of humming and hawing he finally blurted out that he was deeply hurt by the Rav's allegations that the meat he sold was of questionable kashrut. The Rav denied the allegations, and asked him from what source he heard them. It came out that the butcher had offered a candy to the Rav's six-year-old son. The little boy had looked quizzically at him, and asked, "Is it kosher?" Not knowing the boy's nature, he believed that he had overheard something at home, and he was implying that his meat was not kosher. In fact his son always asked that question at that age, whenever he was offered something…

That anecdote is representative of many upsets and quarrels. A person suddenly feels himself cold-shouldered and avoided ('could no longer speak to him in peace') by someone who was previously thought of as a friend. He has no idea what he had done to be treated in this way. The person who suddenly changed his attitude was not guilty of 'hating his brother in his heart' - he made his dislike quite obvious - by having entered the other into his file of, 'people he doesn't talk to'.

People do this for many reasons. One may be the dislike of confrontation: of asking a person straight out something like, "How come we haven't spoken together for the last month as we always used to?" A person feels hurt, but says to himself, "it's less painful for me to keep away from him than make matters worse by talking to him about the matter." He may go further and rationalize, "well - he's not important enough in my life for me to go out of my way and get to the bottom of it" - something very typical of city living where one meets many people in different settings. Or he might excuse himself with the lame, but pathetic "well we are different types of people - everyone to his own".

This very short-term way of handling upsets - by showing general dislike, but keeping real feelings to oneself, does not always work. Such individuals think they can put it all under the surface, but then suddenly - whether at work, shul, a simcha, or a family gathering, something quite unforseen causes tensions to rise to the surface (as did Joseph's relating his dreams to his brothers), and the whole underlying discontent that fermented for months or even years erupts into open, bitter, and even violent personal conflicts, sometimes lasting generations…

That seems to be the anatomy of the dispute between Joseph and his brothers. At the first level (- being the obvious favorite of Jacob and bringing the 'evil report'), the brothers showed their general annoyance at his conduct, but they did not work at getting to the heart of the matter. They thought they could 'let things ride'. After the combination of his relating the dreams, and his falling into their hands at Dothan, their wrath reached a pitch that all the underlying poison erupted into, 'let us go and kill him and throw him in one of the pits and say that a wild beast ate him. Then we will see what becomes of his dreams!' (37:20)

This brings us to the mitzvah of reproving ones fellow person. One does not wait until 'it hurts too much and then reprove', but one should do so gently, as soon as one senses that things are not right. Perhaps that is a reason that Torah expresses this mitzvah using the verb in a double form - hocheach tochiach - do not wait until the matter becomes too unbearably painful to reprove - (i.e. finding out what was wrong and put it right) - but do it straight away, before things get a chance to really fester.

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon: From the Prophets on the Haftara

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