The Adult B’nai Mitzvah Class held its group celebration during a festive service on December 15. This is the fourth installment of the seven drashot.
Shalom. I feel grateful that today’s parsha involves issues important to me. The moral issues it addresses are how to treat brothers, sisters and parents, …not when all goes well. Rather what are our ethical responses to abuse by close family? It is easy to hate when treated badly, even with close friends or relatives.
The is the story of Joseph and his brothers is not pretty. It begins with a frequent problem, a parent’s favoritism for one of their children … in this case Joseph. Can young brothers not blame the favorite son? So if they act out against Joseph, is that simply sibling rivalry? But here in this story, we have brothers that don’t think ahead of consequences. They abandoned Joseph in the desert. They wanted him to die. However, Reuben saves his life. He convinces the leader of them to sell Joseph instead, not out of compassion, but out of their greed for money. They had no humility, forthrightness nor respect for their father. There is not one word of their consideration of their father’s emotional reactions … not even a swift impulse of thought about him and his ensuing sorrow. Honor thy mother and father was not on their minds.
Some adults I spoke to thought that Joseph brought this fate onto himself by his arrogance to his family. After all, he told the many brothers and father that his dream showed they would all be bowing to him one day. I disagree with my Jewish friends. To me, it was not arrogance, but a matter of fact recounting of a dream. Are we expecting too much of a young man of undefined age to hold his fascinating dream back? We must remember that all the brothers had young years. Shouldn’t we realize that inexperience in the world causes many serious mistakes in one’s youth? Even if he was being condescending, isn’t this quality frequent among teenage brothers? Does it merit murder, or even the serious, damaging neglect that Joseph faced?
When Jacob sends his remaining sons out to acquire food for the family during the drought there is a strong transition in the story. At this point Joseph knows who these brothers are, but does not disclose that he is Joseph, their tormented, though important brother. The evolution of Joseph’s shock, and his feelings of revenge, is the most interesting part of the story. Does he try to restore a traumatized relationship on a better footing? Is he transparent with them? At first you see some revenge on Joseph’s part, and a definite lack of transparency regarding his identity. Who among us could forgive someone who tries to kill us? If the perpetrator is your brother, your closest family, that makes forgiveness even harder. Many of us are old enough to have had a problem or two with a relative. I have likewise been very angry. Have you? Have you given into revenge, to your baser side, harming this person who inadvertently or even purposely harms you? The common American expression at times of extreme stress is “count to ten”. This means wait before acting on anger. We all know in real time, especially with family, we should say “count to five thousand”.
When Joseph so called “counted to five thousand” he realized he did not want his family to die of starvation, despite their cruelty to him. At the end he does send them home with adequate food and provisions. However this forgiveness happens after many struggles with his anger, giving many punishments, trickery, and lies to them. He was “finding himself”, meaning taking off the layers of hostility to them, working them through. This evolution of anger into a softening with time is a common God-send. Time helps to bring out our nobler sides. Unexpectedly, Joseph truly softens and contacts some love for his brothers.
I do believe this important story is one we can apply to our own lives. We should forgive ourselves if we can’t immediately excuse others wrong-doings to us. There is a wide range between revenge and forgiveness. Working on that transition should be our goal. We hope in the end all the family feels is rekindling of love. So may it be with my family and with yours.
I would like to thank both Cori Amalia and Jeff Dielle for their patient teaching, and selflessness. I am a rich woman to have such friends. Shabbat sholom.