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June 28, 2016 / 22 Sivan, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘Joseph’

Father’s Day

Sunday, June 17th, 2012

For a Jew, every day is Father’s Day, not just once a year. The mitzvah to “Honor thy father and thy mother” is one of the most fundamental commandments of the Torah. Interestingly, the commandment of honoring one’s father and mother is on the side of the Tablets dealing with commandments between man and God. This is because our parents are our gateway to God. It is they who teach us about God and the Torah. Therefore, honoring them is essential to the preservation and continuity of the Torah from father to son, generation after generation.

The full wording of the commandment is: “Honor thy father and mother that thy days may be long in the Land which the Lord thy God gives thee” (Shemot, 20:12).

Not many commandments come with a clearly stated reward. Please look closely at the reward for keeping this fundamental commandment – “that your days may be long in the Land” – that means in the Land of Israel. Isn’t that interesting!

What’s the connection? Well, if you honor your father and mother, you will respect what they teach you. Since Jewish fathers and mothers are obligated to teach their children the Torah, they will naturally teach their kids that a Jew is supposed to live in the Land of Israel, just like it repeats over and over again in the Torah dozens of times. Part of respecting one’s parents is by obeying them when they instruct you in the ways of the Torah. Thus a child who honors his parents will live in the Land of Israel, in line with the Torah’s teachings.

Though my parents were not happy when I told them that I was moving to Israel, I made aliyah anyway. While honoring one’s parents is an essential tenet of Judaism, if parents do not want a child to move to Israel, the child does not have to listen to them, since going on aliyah is a mitzvah, and parents are not allowed to prevent a child from carrying out a commandment of God. To my parents’ great merit, even though they were upset with my decision, they always helped me out when I needed their assistance in fulfilling the commandment of living in Israel, which our Sages tell us is equal in weight to all of the commandments of the Torah.

Later, when my aging parents became ill, I had the good fortune of bringing them to Israel to live adjacent to my family in Shilo, and then Jerusalem. When my aunt phoned me from Florida, informing me that my mother was developing the early-warning signs of Alzheimer’s Disease, and that my dad couldn’t handle her outbursts of anger, I immediately flew to Boca. We visited some retirement communities, but when we learned that my mom wouldn’t be allowed to live with my dad because of her condition, I persuaded my dad to let me take them to Israel where my family could watch over them. My uncle agreed to sell their house and car, so I packed up their bags and some cherished belongings, and we drove off to the Miami airport, telling my mother that she was going to Israel for the bar mitzvah of one of my sons.

Thus, my father, of blessed memory, spent his last nine years in the Holy Land. At the end of his sojourn in this world, he merited to be buried on the Mount of Olives, alongside the Prophets and great Rabbis of Israel. After, my dad passed away, we moved my mom into a nursing home nearby, so that I can visit every day.

I can’t say it was easy running back and forth between my mom and dad, and my own topsy-turvy home, having to take care of sick and anxiety-ridden parents and a house with seven energetic children, but, Baruch Hashem, I am grateful that I merited observing the mitzvah from alef to taf. My trials and tribulations became the basis for my latest novel, a comic and moving tale of a family situation we all go through sooner or later, when the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents takes on its greatest weight and meaning – when they are older and need us the most. It’s a wonderful family adventure, filled with Torah and the love of Jewish values. I set the story in New York, at my daughter’s request, so that people in Israel (her friends) wouldn’t say it was about our family. Since it’s still Book Month in Israel, here’s an excerpt from the novel for your reading pleasure, based on the time I (“Joseph”) took my parents (“Harry and Lizzy Friedman”) for a Pesach vacation at a resort hotel, to give my overtaxed wife (“Rivka”) a break. Also, since Dad’s yahrtzeit is coming up, it’s a chance to thank him again for helping me on my journey back to Torah and to Eretz Yisrael. May his memory be for a blessing.

Tzvi Fishman

Artifact Found in Time for Shavuot Proves Bethlehem Existed During First Temple

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

In a press release issued on Wednesday, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Ir David Foundation announced that a clay seal was discovered bearing the name of the city of Bethlehem, evidence that the city existed during the period of the First Temple in Jerusalem.  The find fortuitously coincides with the upcoming holiday of Shavuot, during which time Jews from around the world focus on the story of the biblical figure Ruth, set in the city of Bethlehem.

The 1.5cm seal – called a bulla – was discovered during sifting of soil removed from the archeological excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is carrying out in the City of David, just outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City.  The sifting is underwritten by the Ir David Foundation, which treated The Jewish Press to a private tour.

The clay bulla was meant to seal a document or object, used as a way of showing that the private item had not been tampered with.

The new bulla bears the words:   בשבעת   Bishv’at    בת לים    Bat Lechem [למל[ך   [Lemel]ekh

Eli Shukron, director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said “it seems that in the seventh year of the reign of a king (either Hezekiah, Manasseh or Josiah), a shipment was dispatched from Bethlehem to the king in Jerusalem.”

“The bulla we found belongs to the group of “fiscal” bullae – administrative bullae used to seal tax shipments remitted to the taxation system of the Kingdom of Judah in the late eighth and seventh centuries BCE,” Shukron said.  “The tax could have been paid in the form of silver or agricultural produce such as wine or wheat”.

According to Shukron, this is the first time the name Bethlehem has appeared in an inscription from the First Temple period, proving that Bethlehem was a city in the Kingdom of Judah, and possibly in earlier periods.”

The first mention of Bethlehem in the Bible occurs in regard to the matriarch Rachel, wife of Jacob, sister of Leah, and mother of Joseph, who died while giving birth to Benjamin “in Ephrat, which is Bethlehem, and was buried there (Genesis 35:19; 48:7).

In later generations, when the region was settled by the descendants of Jacob and Leah’s son Judah, a man named Boaz made Ruth, a Moabite convert and daughter-in-law of Naomi, his wife (Book of Ruth).  The couple’s great-grandson, David, became the most celebrated king in Jewish history, and made his capital in Jerusalem, on the site of the modern day “Ir David” – City of David.

Malkah Fleisher

The Purim Narrative At The Pardo Palace

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Located about nine miles north of Madrid, the Palacio Real de El Pardo (Pardo Palace) dates back to the early 15th century. Devastated by a March 13, 1604 fire that claimed many works from its priceless art collection, the Pardo Palace and its vast gardens were used as a hunting ground by the Spanish monarchs. The palace was decorated with works of art that represented a variety of mythological and historical scenes, from Bartolomeo Carducho’s Agamemnon and Achilles to Francisco López’s Surrender of Boabdil, Sultan of Granada, to Ferdinand of Aragón and Isabel of Castile, January 3, 1492 (circa 1607-12).

Gallery of the Queen, Pardo Palace. Hall of the Biblical Joseph by Patricio Caxés.

But two series are particularly unusual. If one turns left immediately after passing through the ground floor’s main entrance, one arrives at the queen’s hall, which is decorated with a series on the biblical Esther by Patricio Caxés. And elsewhere on the ground floor, a series on Joseph by Jerónimo Cabrera can be found in the queen’s gallery. What was it about the stories of Esther and Joseph that was deemed so appropriate for Spanish queens? And why were subjects from the Jewish, rather than Christian, scriptures selected for the summer hunting palace?

The queen’s hall also contained individual works that portrayed Judith (with Holofernes’ head), Ruth, Deborah, Rebecca (or Miriam), Sara (or Naomi), Yael, and Rachel, but it’s clear that the program on Esther was given particular prominence. With Purim looming on the horizon, this article focuses on the Esther works and leaves Joseph for a different occasion. The Esther program, which appeared on the ceiling of the queen’s hall, includes the following scenes: Esther’s coronation, Esther reporting the assassination ploy to Ahaseurus; Esther standing with outstretched arms in front of other figures; Esther collapsing before Ahaseurus, Esther and Haman at Ahaseurus’ dinner, the insomniac Ahaseurus with attendants, Mordechai on the king’s horse, Haman pleading at Esther’s feet, and Mordecai counseling Ahaseurus.

Jerónimo Cabrera, Esther faints before Ahasuerus, Queen’s Room, Pardo.

Although a frequent scene depicted in biblical art, the only episode from Cabrera’s program that doesn’t appear in the Book of Esther is the fourth work—Esther falling before Ahaseurus. It’s reasonable to assume that Esther may have bowed before the king, but the biblical tale has Esther standing rather than prostrating herself. It’s worth noting that Mordechai had refused to bow before Haman earlier in the story, but clearly the bowing wasn’t the entire extent of the problem, as Joseph’s brothers bowed before him in Egypt.

Queen’s Room, Pardo Palace. Ceiling Frescoes of Esther by Jerónimo Cabrera.

In the most comprehensive English study on the subject of the Esther and Joseph works, “Old Testament images defined by the Spanish catholic empire: the story of Esther and the story of Joseph in the Pardo palace” (submitted to the faculty of George Washington University in 1996), Abby Krain locates Esther and Joseph within a framework of Christian symbolism. To Krain, Joseph and Esther represent ideal models for kings and queens, particularly for the patrons of the projects: King Philip III and his wife, Margaret of Austria. Esther, who epitomizes humility and obedience, is a stand-in for Mary, while Joseph’s honesty makes him a proxy for the Christian savior, Krain suggests. Although Krain makes a sound argument, it’s worth pondering whether there might have been something more colorful and provocative in the Pardo biblical commissions.

That the king and queen would have believed that figures from the Jewish Bible foretold the characters of Christian scriptures is undoubtedly true. But even if one concedes that point, Joseph and Esther are odd choices as regal role models. Joseph was clearly righteous, but he is also perhaps guilty of vanity, which, according to rabbinic traditions, one of the reasons he deserved to spend time in an Egyptian prison. And although Esther also emerges as a heroine in the Purim narrative, Mordechai rebukes her for seemingly caring too much about her own regal station rather than her people. This is not to incriminate Esther and Joseph, but there might have been more apparent role models that would have made more sense in the Pardo Palace.

According to Krain, the Persian King Ahaseurus selected Esther “for her beauty and, more significantly, for her obedience and loyalty to both her people and her adopted kingdom.” And not only would Phillip III have seen Esther as a role model for Margaret, but Krain also observes that there were political reasons why the arranged marriage between Esther and Ahaseurus was a parallel to the king and queen’s marriage, which “reinforced the exclusive control of the Spanish Empire by the Hapsburg family.” With Protestants questioning whether the divine endorsement of monarchical lines was passed from father to son, Phillip III may have marshaled the story of Esther as a response to the Protestants; just as God had selected Esther for royalty, the argument would have gone, so was Margaret, Esther’s contemporary protégé, selected by God to be queen.

Menachem Wecker

Closeness And Distance

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

What do porcupines do in winter? asked Schopenhauer. If they come too close to one another, they injure each other. If they stay too far apart, they freeze. Life, for porcupines, is a delicate balance between closeness and distance. It is hard to get it right and dangerous to get it wrong. And so it is for us.

That is the force of the word that gives our parshah its name: Vayigash (and he came close).

“Then Judah came close to him and said, ‘Pardon your servant, my lord, let me speak a word to my lord; do not be angry with your servant, though you are equal to Pharaoh himself’ ” (Genesis 44:18).

For perhaps the first time in his life, Judah came close to his brother Joseph. The irony is, of course, that he did not know it was Joseph. But that one act of coming close melted all of Joseph’s reserve, all his defenses, and as if unable to stop himself, he finally disclosed his identity: “Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?’ ” (45:3)

How can we be sure that vayigash is the key word? Because it contrasts with another verse, many chapters and many years earlier. “But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him” (37:18).

Right at the beginning of the story, when Joseph was sent by his father to see how the brothers were doing tending the sheep, they saw him from far away, from a distance. Imagine the scene. They can’t see his face. All they can see is the richly ornamented cloak, the “coat of many colors,” that so upsets them because it constantly reminds them that it is he – and not they – whom their father loves.

From far away we don’t see people as human beings, and when we stop seeing people as human beings and they instead become symbols, objects of envy or hate, people can do bad things to one another. The whole tragedy of Joseph and his brothers was distance. They were too far apart in every way. Which is why it was only when Judah came close to Joseph – vayigash – that the coldness between them thawed, and they became brothers, not strangers to one another.

Too much distance and we freeze. But if we get too close we can injure one another. That was the story of Jacob and Esau. Think about it. Jacob bought Esau’s birthright. He stole his blessing. He wore Esau’s clothes. He borrowed his identity. Even when they were born, Jacob was clutching Esau’s heel.

It was only when there was a distance between them – the 22 years in which Jacob was away from home, with Lavan – that the relationship healed, so that when they met again, despite Jacob’s fears, Esau embraced and kissed him and treated him like a brother and a friend.

Too close and we hurt one another. Too distant and we freeze.

How then do we make and sustain relationships if the balance is so fine and it is so easy to get it wrong? The Torah’s answer – already there in the first chapter of the Torah – is: first separate, then join. The verb lehavdil, to separate, appears five times in the first chapter of Bereishit: God separates light from darkness, the upper and lower waters, sea and dry land. Separation is at the heart of Jewish law – between holy and profane, pure and impure, permitted and forbidden. In Judaism kadosh, holy, means separation. To sanctify is to separate. Why? Because when we separate, we create order. We defeat chaos. We give everything and everyone their space. I am I and not you. You are you and not I. Once we respect our difference and distance, then we can join without doing damage to one another.

The most beautiful symbol of the problem and its resolution is the ceremony of Havdalah at the end of Shabbat – and especially the Havdalah candle. The wicks are separate but the flame they make is joined. So it is between husband and wife. So it is between parent and child. And so it is, or should be, between brothers. Distance damaged the relationship between Judah and Joseph. Vayigash – Judah’s act of drawing close – restored it.

Adapted from “Covenant & Conversation,” a collection of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s parshiyot hashavua essays, published by Maggid Books, an imprint of Koren Publishers Jerusalem (www.korenpub.com), in conjunction with the Orthodox Union.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth since 1991, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently “The Koren Sacks Rosh HaShana Mahzor” (Koren Publishers Jerusalem).

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Mikeitz: The Greatness Of Joseph

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

“And Joseph went out over the land of Egypt” (41:45). This was one of the greatest tests he underwent in his career. Wearing the king’s ring (41:42), clothed in royal linen with a golden chain around his neck (ibid.), riding in the second royal chariot with runners before him (41:43), having full power over the land (41:44), having an Egyptian name and an Egyptian wife the daughter of a priest, he had every reason to disown his family which had so wronged him, and he could have without any effort become a full Egyptian in heart and soul.

Hashem here is planning a twofold achievement: Joseph was made the all-powerful ruler over Egypt for the benefit of the future nation of Israel that would develop under his exceptional guidance, and therefore Hashem granted Joseph very great authority. But parallel to this purpose was another very important purpose: to develop the greatness of Joseph himself.

Great individuals are also extremely important to Hashem, just as are multitudes of righteous people. Therefore Joseph was tested by opportunities to become arrogant; but he became even more perfect than ever, because he continued to fear Hashem always and to bear humility in his heart. Additional tests of perfection were afforded to him by means of his great power, because he utilized his authority to deal kindly with the people of the land, and all that he did was for justice and mercy to all men.

Elsewhere in the Chumash we also find examples of the principle that the lives of individual righteous men are especially important in the eyes of Hashem; and in order to produce such individuals and to encourage them, Hashem takes extraordinary action similar to that which is done for an entire nation or for all nations.

“And he said, G-d should favor you, my son” (43:29). Why should a blessing be said in the presence of the recipient? Would the blessing not be just as effective if it were said when he was not present? It seems the blessing is more sincere when said without the knowledge of the recipient. Yet we see that Yitzchak blessed his sons to their face (27:27, 27:39), Jacob blessed Menasheh and Efraim to their face (“Take them to me and I shall bless them” – 48:9), and he blessed his sons in their presence (“Gather together…” – 49:1-2).

One purpose of the face-to-face blessing is to encourage the recipient with the love of the one bestowing the blessing and with the knowledge that he was blessed by him. Another purpose is that the personal encounter enhances the love of the bestower for the recipient; and a more heartfelt blessing results, which G-d hears more readily. Further: “He who bestows a gift to someone should let him know – [Shabbos 10b] – to cause him to love the giver” (Rashi, ibid.). By hearing the blessing personally, the recipient comes to love the bestower.

And Yehudah said: what shall we say, and what shall we justify ourselves; G-d has found the sin of your servants (44:16).

Judah is speaking to the Master of the World with these words to Joseph. Hitherto the brothers had spoken much to themselves and to each other to justify their behavior to their younger brother. This process of self-justification had continued for 22 years, during which time the brothers had covered their original feelings and thoughts with heavy layers of sound logic and righteous motivation, so that any wrong that may have been committed should be buried too deeply for Hashem to see.

It is the nature of men to attempt to conceal their true motives from G-d: “And the man and his wife concealed themselves from before Hashem.” Now Judah is saying the Viddui confession: “G-d has found the sin” which had been so long and so deeply concealed. This means: Now G-d has caused us to find.

This was said by Judah. Judah now comes to the fore as the spokesman and the leader, as he had previously begun.

Compiled for The Jewish Press by the Rabbi Avigdor Miller Simchas Hachaim Foundation, a project of Yeshiva Gedolah Bais Yisroel, which Rabbi Miller, zt”l, founded and authorized to disseminate his work. Subscribe to the Foundation’s free e-mail
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Rabbi Avigdor Miller

The Real Issue

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

There has long been a massive debate in Anglo Jewry as to whether we should take a unified stance in our support for the State of Israel or openly air our differences. It’s mostly been a noisy and shrill debate, but it’s the wrong debate – as it is deflecting us from the real issue.

And if we seek it, we will find it in this week’s parshah. Listen to the words that are among the most fateful and reverberating in all of Jewish history: “Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.”

The Torah is a deep book. We make a great mistake if we think it can be understood on one superficial level.

On the surface, the story is simple. Envious of him, Joseph’s brothers initially planned to kill him. Eventually they sell him into slavery. He is taken to Egypt. There, through a series of vicissitudes, he rises to become prime minister, second only, in rank and power, to Pharaoh.

It is now many years later. His brothers have come to Egypt to buy food. They come before Joseph, but he no longer looks like the man they knew many years before. Then, he was a 17-year-old called Joseph. Now he is 39, an Egyptian ruler called Tzafnat Paneach, dressed in official robes with a gold chain around his neck, who speaks Egyptian and uses an interpreter to communicate with these visitors from the land of Canaan. No wonder they did not recognize him, though he recognized them.

But that is only the surface meaning. Deep down, the book of Bereishit is exploring the most profound source of conflict in history. Freud thought the great symbol of conflict was Laius and Oedipus, the tension between fathers and sons. Bereishit thinks otherwise. The root of human conflict is sibling rivalry: Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, and now Joseph and his brothers.

Joseph has the misfortune of being the youngest of those present. He symbolizes the Jewish condition. His brothers are older and stronger than him. They resent his presence. They see him as a troublemaker. The fact that their father loves him more only makes them angrier and more resentful. They want to kill him. In the end they get rid of him in a way that allows them to feel a little less guilty. They concoct a story that they tell their father, and they settle down to life again. They can relax. There is no Joseph to disturb their peace anymore.

And now they are facing a stranger in a strange land, and it simply does not occur to them that this man may be Joseph. As far as they are concerned, there is no Joseph. They don’t recognize him now. They never did. They never recognized him as one of them, as their father’s child, as their brother with an identity of his own and a right to be himself.

Joseph is the Jewish people throughout history. “Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.” Judaism was the world’s first monotheism but not the last. Two others emerged claiming descent, literal or metaphorical, from Abraham: Christianity and Islam. It would be fair to call the relationship between the three Abrahamic monotheisms one of sibling rivalry. Far from being of mere antiquarian interest, the theme of Bereishit has been the leitmotiv of the better part of the last 2,000 years, with the Jewish people cast in the role of Joseph.

There were times – early medieval Spain was one – when Joseph and his brothers lived together in relative harmony, La Convivencia as they called it. But there were also times – the blood libels, the accusations of poisoning wells or spreading the plague – when they sought to kill him. And others – the expulsions that took place throughout Europe between the English in 1290 and the Spanish in 1492 – when they simply wanted to get rid of him. Let him go and be a slave somewhere else, far from here.

Then came the Holocaust. Then came the State of Israel, the destination of the Jewish journey since the days of Abraham, the homeland of the Jewish people since the days of Joshua. No nation on earth, with the possible exception of the Chinese, has had such a long association with a land.

The day the state was born, May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, its prime minister, sought peace with its neighbors, and Israel has not ceased seeking peace from then until now. But this is no ordinary conflict. Israel’s opponents – Hamas in Gaza, Hizbullah in Lebanon, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, are not engaged in a border dispute – these boundaries or those. They deny, as a matter of non-negotiable religious – not just political – principle, Israel’s right to exist within any boundaries whatsoever. There are today 56 Islamic states. But for Israel’s neighbors, a single Jewish state the size of Wales is one too many.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Conversation Is The Key To Understanding

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

From Parshat Vayeishev to the end of Sefer Bereishit, we read the story of Joseph and his brothers. From the very beginning we are plunged into a drama of sibling rivalry that seems destined to end in tragedy. All the elements are there. There is favoritism. Jacob loved Joseph more than his other sons. The Torah says this was because “he had been born to him in his old age.” But we also know that it was because Joseph was the son, the first son, of his beloved Rachel who had been infertile for many years.

Jacob gave this favoritism a visible symbol, the richly ornamented robe or coat of many colors that he had made for him. The sight of this acted as a constant provocation to the brothers. In addition there were the bad reports Joseph brought to his father about his half-brothers, the children of the handmaids. And by the fourth verse of the parshah, we read the following: “When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him, velo yachlu dabro l’shalom” (Genesis 37:4).

What is the meaning of this last phrase? Here are some of the standard translations: they could not speak a kind word to him; they could not speak peacefully to him; and they could not speak to him on friendly terms.

Rabbi Yonatan Eybeschutz, however, recognized that the Hebrew construction is strange. Literally it means, “they could not speak him to peace.” What might this mean? Rabbi Eybeschutz refers us to the command in Vayikra 19:17: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely reprimand your neighbor and not bear sin because of him.”

This is how Maimonides interprets this command as it relates to interpersonal relations:

When a person sins against another, the injured party should not hate the offender and keep silent … it is his duty to inform the offender and say to him, “why did you do this to me? Why did you sin against me in this matter?” … If the offender repents and pleads for forgiveness, he should be forgiven (Hilchot De’ot 6:6).

Rabbi Eybeschutz’s point is simple. Had the brothers been able to speak to Joseph they might have told him of their anger at his talebearing, and of their distress at seeing the many-colored coat. They might have spoken frankly about their sense of humiliation at the way their father favored Rachel over their mother Leah, a favoritism that was now being carried through into a second generation. Joseph might have come to understand their feelings. It might have made him more modest or at least more thoughtful. But lo yachlu dabro l’shalom. They simply couldn’t bring themselves to speak. As Nachmanides writes regarding the commandment of “You shall not hate your brother in your heart”: “Those who hate tend to hide their hate in their heart.”

We have here an instance of one of the Torah’s great insights: conversation is a form of conflict resolution, whereas the breakdown of speech is often a prelude to violent revenge.

The classic case is that of Absalom and Amnon, two half brothers who were sons of king David. In a shocking episode, Amnon rapes Absolom’s sister Tamar:

Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornate robe she was wearing. She put her hands on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went.

Her brother Absalom said to her, “Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you? Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother. Don’t take this thing to heart.” And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman.

When King David heard all this, he was furious. And Absalom never said a word to Amnon, either good or bad; he hated Amnon because he had disgraced his sister Tamar (II Samuel 13:19-22).

Absalom maintained his silence for two years. Then he invited all of David’s sons for a feast at the time of sheep shearing, and ordered his servants to wait until Amnon was drunk, and then kill him – which they did. Hate grows in silence. It did with Absalom. It did with Joseph’s brothers. Before the chapter ends, we see them plot to kill Joseph, throw him into a pit, and then sell him into slavery. It is a terrible story, and led directly to the Israelites’ exile and slavery in Egypt.

The Talmud (Berachot 26a) uses the phrase, “Ein sichah ela tefillah,” which literally means, “Conversation is a form of prayer,” because in opening ourselves up to the human other, we prepare ourselves for the act of opening ourselves up with the Divine Other, which is what prayer is: a conversation with G-d.

Conversation does not, in and of itself, resolve conflict. Two people who are open with one another may still have clashing desires or competing claims. They may simply not like one another. There is no law of predetermined harmony in the human domain. But conversation means that we recognize one another’s humanity. At its best it allows us to engage in role reversal, seeing the world from the other’s point of view. Think of how many real and intractable conflicts, whether in the personal or political domain, might be transformed if we could do that.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

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