Vayeishev – 10 Angry Men– By Ben

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We’re finally on the parshas concerning Yosif. Growing up, the only Bible story I really knew was from the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. So when I started studying Chumash with Rabbi Denbo and we got to Yosif, the insights were like pure candy. And there is SO MUCH of it. This week’s parsha alone, I could do 4 posts on. But I’ve picked what I feel is the most relatable.

Quick Glance

Yaakov’s 11th son Yosif is put front and center. He’s clearly his father’s favorite (insert: dreamcoat here) and his brothers hate him for it. And to top it off he’s having dreams that everyone is going to bow down to him.

The brothers decide the dreams are the final straw and elect to kill him. They take him, throw him in a pit, but instead of going through with it, end up selling him as a slave.

The brothers bloody Yosif’s coat and tell Yaakov that his son was eaten by a lion. Yaakov grieves the death of his son saying “I will go down to the grave mourning for my son.”

Trial by Jury

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From a simple understanding, one might think this story paints the brothers as blood thirsty murders and not the virtuous forefathers of the tribes of the Jewish people. Granted they definitely didn’t like Yosif and they were certainly flawed individuals, but the brothers’ intension was not murder. It was justice. 

Remember what Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov were all trying to do was start the Jewish People. It was their mission. The sons of Yaakov understood that mission, too. The brothers perceived Yosif’s dream as not only arrogance, but as treason. The mission was 12 sons would yield to 12 tribes. To believe that the 11 would bow down to one could only mean disaster. So the 10 older brothers held a trial and found Yosif liable for death.

Leadership Lead Astray

It was Yehudah (4th oldest, but actually the leader of the brothers) that decided not to kill Yosif. Originally he proposed to throw Yosif into a pit and let him die there so the blood would technically not be on their hands. And the brothers followed in agreement. Then a caravan of  Midianite merchants passed, and Yehudah changed his mind again.

Yehudah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come let us sell him to the Yishmaelites, and let our hands not be upon him; for he is our brother, our own flesh.” His brothers listened [to him.]
Bereishis 37:26

The brothers told their father that Yosif had been eaten by a lion. Yaakov’s reaction was beyond mere horror and sadness. It was utter devastation. Yosif was not only Yaakov’s favorite son, but was also a necessary part of his mission. Yaakov’s level of distress was completely unexpected by the brothers. After telling their father, the Torah says of the brothers…

At that time, Yehudah descended from his brothers.
Bereishis 38:1

The moment they saw their father’s reaction the brothers knew that they had made a mistake in placing their trust in Yehudah and immediately dethroned him from leadership.

How Could They be so Oblivious?

The idea that the brothers would be surprised by their father’s grief seems utterly unfathomable. How else did they expect him to react?

For the brothers, they knew their father would be sad, but they believed that ultimately their father knew Yosif was a problem and would eventually respond with “It’s better off this way.” They couldn’t take the time or effort to actually consider how Yaakov would really respond. When they saw the magnitude of his grief, it shook them to their core.

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Here we see that the brothers fell into a trap people often fall victim to. The inability to see the world outside of our own perspective. Many of us see our problems at the forefront and are unable to recognize that other problems need to take precedent. We have our set religious, political, and worldly views. When we hear something sharply the opposite, we’re so much more likely to say “That person’s crazy” rather than “Whoa, does this person see something that I don’t? What am I missing?”

So when you find yourself in a position of judging another person (which you really shouldn’t be doing, but if you’re going to) really take the time to try to see their perspective. Consider what you might not be seeing, their struggles, their situation, and most of all the consequence to the action you might take.  Good Shabbos and have a great Chanukah.

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