Vayeishev: The Gift of Brotherhood

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Vayeishev, the saga of Yosef and his brothers begins to unfold.  The narrative begins in our sedra, Bereishis Ch.37, and continues until Yosef’s dying day, with the closing verses of Sefer Bereishis (50:24-26).

Born of a different mother, Yosef is different than his brothers, particularly the sons of Leah.  He is the more loved son (37:3), he speaks lashon harah about the brothers to their father (37:2), he behaves in a childish fashion, taking time to fix his hair and make up his eyes (Rashi to 37:2), his father gives him a special tunic, the famous kesones pasim, unique to Yosef and excluding the other sons (37:3), he is the child of Yaakov’s advanced age, as well as the son of wisdom to Yaakov (37:3 w/ Rashi and Onkelos) and he is the firstborn child of the beloved wife, Rachel.   Additionally, Yosef dreams two dreams, both which indicate that he will one day rule over the rest of the family.  He dreams of sheaves in a field bowing down to his sheaf which is standing in the middle of all the others, upright and erect.  And he dreams that the sun, moon and eleven stars are bowing down to him (37:7-9).  The brothers are jealous of him (37:11), hate him (37:4, 5, 8), and cannot speak to him peacefully (37:4).  

The confluence of all these factors does not bode very well for Yosef.  One day, when his brothers are pasturing the flocks, Yaakov sends Yosef to see how the brothers, and the sheep, are faring.  When the brothers see him coming from afar, they first resolve to kill him, then ‘only’ to sell him.  He is stripped of his tunic, thrown into a pit with snakes and scorpions, and sold to a passing caravan.  He is bought by Potiphar, the chief executioner in the land of Egypt, where the next set of troubles – in the persona of Eishes Potiphar – will befall him. 

Aside from the obvious animosity between Yosef and his brothers, which is clearly spelled out in the Torah text, what is the underlying, root cause of the division between Yosef and his brothers?  Ten sons of Yaakov Avinu – the fathers of the shevatim – sold their own brother, tricked their father by bringing home the torn and bloody tunic, and showed remorse, but only when it was ‘too little, too late.’  

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the Rav zt’l, teaches, “In the Almighty, all contradictions are resolved, and there is complete harmony.  The Almighty knows how to exercise unlimited love, pity and mercy, and at the same time to be just.  A human being cannot do that.

“The Kabbalah and Aggadah interpret the conflict between Joseph and his brothers as a collision of values, of moral purposes.  Their very personalities were incongruous; they saw things differently.  The division between them was so sharp that the whole experience of brotherly love vanished.  If such a clash develops among strangers, it may cause tension, which can be reflected in stiff politeness and courtesy, but not hatred.  However, if this kind of conflict involves brothers, it engenders animosity and sometimes hate… That is exactly what happened between Joseph and his brothers.

“The basic mistake of the brothers was not jealousy.  Rather, it was the lack of appreciation of one of the most precious gifts that the Almighty has granted humans: the sense of unity that members of a family feel for each other, which expresses itself in love and devotion.

“Neither Joseph nor his brothers appreciated this great gift.  They showed a lack of understanding of a beautiful experience – the experience which the psalmist described so beautifully: הִנֵּה מַהטּוֹב, וּמַהנָּעִים שֶׁבֶת אַחִים גַּםיָחַד, behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together (Ps.133:1)… It is the joy and experience of being together as a family, parents and siblings… Had Joseph’s brothers understood this, Jewish history would have taken on different dimensions, and our historical experience would be a different one.

“Gratitude is a basic virtue in Judaism, and whoever proves to be an ingrate is punished.  Indeed, the punishment here was that the gift of unity was taken away from those who failed to appreciate it.  The sons of Jacob were very unhappy.  They envied Joseph, for he had a multicolored coat; each one apparently thought that he would have been the happiest person if his father had given him the multicolored coat instead.  They obsessed over this nonsensical thought without appreciating the real happiness of being together as twelve brothers.  So they lost him.  

“They did not appreciate each other; they did not bestow love and devotion upon each other; they were hostile to each other; there was a treasure within their reach, and they did not appreciate the treasure.  Thus, Joseph was taken away from his brothers.  Of course, the very moment his brothers lost him, the very moment they realized the horrible, tragic mistake they had committed, the very moment the Bedouins who took Joseph away disappeared from the horizon, they regretted their deed.  Suddenly they became aware of the exalted brotherly experience” (Vision and Leadership, p.2-3).  

Yes, they hated him, were jealous of him, and were unable to speak to him in peace.  But the root cause of all the problems between Yosef and his brothers was the lack of gratitude for the blessing of brothers, of family, of unity and togetherness.  And because they failed to appreciate this, the greatest of blessings, it was painfully taken away from them.

A number of years ago (one fall pre-COVID), at the YULA Girls HS Shabbaton, I heard the following insight told over by a daughter of R’ Meir Goldwicht, in R’ Goldwicht’s name.  The insight has remained with me ever since.  The pasuk says (as quoted above by the Rav): הִנֵּה מַהטּוֹב, וּמַהנָּעִים שֶׁבֶת אַחִים גַּםיָחַד.  Why does the verse conclude with גַּםיָחַד, also together?  What do these words come to teach us?  

יחד = יש חלוקי דעות (there are differences of opinion); this means that we can explain the verse as follows: הִנֵּה מַהטּוֹב, וּמַהנָּעִים שֶׁבֶת אַחִים גַּםיָחַדhow good and how pleasant it is when brothers can sit together, גַּםיָחַד, even when: יש חלוקי דעותthere are differences between them.  When we can sit together with our fellow Jews in camaraderie, mutual respect, brotherhood and unity – even when we have differences of opinion – this is very good.

And perhaps when we appreciate the gift of brotherhood and our nation Israel, we will merit that the galus that began with the sale of Yosef will be reversed and the geula, the long-awaited redemption, will finally arrive.

בברכת שבת שלום וחנוכה שמח, 


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