Moreover, despite whatever disappointment we might have with Mandela’s views on Israel, to dismiss the greater story of his life would be unfortunate. He achieved true greatness through the spirit of forgiveness, reconciliation, and rapprochement he championed despite his former treatment.
There is a history, particularly in Africa, of long oppressed populations taking savage revenge on their former persecutors. When the apartheid regime in South Africa was replaced by majority rule, it appeared to be time for payback after all the hatred and misery that had been imposed for so long. Many whites, including much of the Jewish community, fled, fearing the worst. But it did not happen, largely due to Nelson Mandela’s message was that it was time to bury the hatchet and let bygones be bygones.
Given that Mandela’s death and the subsequent celebration of his life occurred while we were reading the story of Joseph and his brothers, the connection with the story jumps right out at you. A prominent man, convicted due to an unjust trial by the dominant culture and condemned to long years in a terrible prison, not only retains his integrity and self-worth but becomes an inspiration to all. Suddenly the impossible happens. From the depths of the dungeon, literally overnight, he rises to become the most powerful man in the land, exhibiting a positive attitude that captivates all who meet him.
Even more on point, when Joseph finally reveals his identity to his brothers, they are speechless, frightened of this most powerful man they had subjected to slavery, imprisonment, and possibly worse – and who could now to do with them as he wished.
But Joseph showed himself to be above revenge, pettiness, and anger. He saw himself as an instrument of Hashem who had been brought to Egypt in order to bring incredible good to not only his own family but to the whole world. He was not about to waste his time, emotions, and energy on trying to fix the wrongs of the past, which could never be undone anyway. He focused on the future and bringing peace and harmony back into the family.
Although Mandela’s imperfect version of reconciliation fell far short of the total graciousness of Joseph, it was astounding nonetheless. Let his example guide us in overlooking the pain that too often separates us and prevents us from seeing the greater good even in those who may have hurt us. May we learn to live with our differences without losing our sense of brotherhood. May we go forward to a better tomorrow, not looking back but instead walking together to a happy ending
Rabbi Yehuda L. Oppenheimer
Forest Hills, NY
Reconciliation, Not Revenge
Re Abraham Foxman’s op-ed on Nelson Mandela:
We recently read the biblical portion about Joseph’s decision not to retaliate against his brothers. There was an uncanny similarity between Joseph’s decision to seek reconciliation rather than revenge and the decision by Nelson Mandela to do the same when he came to power over the people who had humiliated and imprisoned him when he was still advocating nonviolence. (It was only after he was imprisoned that he decided nonviolence would not lead to nondiscrimination in his country.)
I doubt many rabbis took the opportunity to make such a comparison, given that Mandela was long considered a terrorist and had been supported by the likes of Arafat and Khaddafi. When Mandela was asked about these associations, he said he had not supported their terrorism but they had supported him in his time of need and he felt obliged to express appreciation. (Appreciation, or hakarat hatov, is a cornerstone of Judaism.) After Mandela’s release from prison, he also expressed appreciation of Jews and Israelis, noting in particular that many Jews in South Africa had supported his cause.