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Shabbat Parashat Vayeishev 5779

Parashat Hashavua: Fire on the Fire of Hatred

Harav Yosef Carmel

Yosef’s behavior in relation to his brothers raises many questions. In the first stage, we find that the brothers hated Yosef because of Yaakov’s preferential treatment. However, afterwards, the dreams that Yosef had, which demonstrated his expectation to have full leadership, and especially the fact that he shared these dreams with his brothers, just made things worse. Regarding the dreams, the matter happened in two stages – first, he told them that he had dreams; then, he specified their details (see Bereishit 37:3-8). Why did Yosef, who saw that his brothers already hated him due to the special cloak his father made for him, continue to do things that exacerbated the hatred?

Let us suggest the following answer. Yosef actually intended to appease his brothers, when he saw that the fact that he was favored created resentment. He told them that the fact that he was elevated among them was not his own fault or that of his father, but that actually it was part of a divine plan. He was the one who would be the dreamer of the next generation, like Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. (Realize that throughout Sefer Bereishit, every single dream, even those by non-Jews and non-tzaddikim, such as Paroh, Avimelech, and Lavan, were prophetic.) Since this was already decided from Above, it made sense that they should accept what they viewed as their father’s decision, without anger or hatred.

The brothers did not accept Yosef’s argument. Perhaps the reason is that he spoke to them too harshly, as the Torah uses the word “vayaged” for what he said to them, and this is the term used for the harshest statements (See Rashi, Shemot 19:3). The result was additional hatred. But why did he seem to ignore the likelihood of their not surprising reaction?

One possibility is that he had no choice because a prophet is forbidden to withhold the prophecy he was given to share. The Rosh says that it was divinely communicated to Yosef that he would be guilty before Hashem if he did not share his dreams. Yosef preferred his brothers’ wrath to that of Hashem.

Abarbanel has another explanation. The brothers feared that the future held Yosef being the preferred son, as the firstborn of the wife Yaakov had chosen and loved, and that history would repeat itself. They would be removed from the family and the nation-in-the-making as Yishmael and the children of Avraham’s concubines had, and as Eisav had. That is why Yosef told them his dream in which, true, he was the prominent one, but they at least remained together “in the same field.” His hope to allay their fears was, though, not appreciated.

We will expand on this theme next week. In the meantime, let us pray that the light of Chanuka candles will increase the love and unity between the sons of Yaakov/Yisrael.


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