Photo Credit:
Rabbi Avi Weiss

After Joseph’s two dreams, his siblings are naturally upset, believing that Joseph has aspirations to control them. The rage turns into jealousy when Jacob seems to give credence to Joseph’s dreams (Genesis 37:11).

In response, Joseph’s brothers set out to Shechem. This is where, just a few years earlier, two of them killed all of the male inhabitants for the rape of Dinah, their sister (Genesis 34). According to the Midrash, the brothers again go to Shechem to decide how to take retribution, this time against Joseph (Rashi, Genesis 37:12).

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This is where Jacob sends Joseph to seek out to his brothers’ welfare (Genesis 37:13). Sforno, the 15th century Italian commentator, explains that while Jacob could have sent a servant to learn if his sons were well, he sent Joseph in the hope he would be able to make peace with them.

This raises the question: With the brothers’ enmity toward Joseph so great, wasn’t Jacob, who knew of the previous incident in Shechem, placing Joseph in danger?

Indeed, it can be suggested that Joseph felt his father had set him up. Note that Joseph doesn’t contact his father even after becoming second to the king of Egypt. Joseph may have felt he was being cast aside, just like those who came before him. (Esau was cast aside by Isaac, and Ishmael by Abraham.)

Yet Joseph may have misread his father. Jacob may have sent Joseph to his brothers because of what occurred to him (Jacob) in his younger years. After Jacob took the blessings from his brother Esau, he is advised by his mother to flee to avoid Esau’s wrath (Genesis 27:43-46). In the end, the advice has devastating results as Jacob does not see his family for twenty-two years.

As he has now grown older, Jacob doesn’t want to make the same mistake. And so, when Jacob’s sons feud, he adopts a plan, one that is the direct opposite of what was suggested to him when he was younger. Rather than have Joseph separate from his brothers, he sends Joseph to his siblings in the hope they will reconcile.

It is often the case that children vow not to make the mistakes of their parents. What is ironic is that even as we try a different path, nothing is a guarantee. Despite Joseph being sent to, rather than from, his brothers, he remains separated from his family for 22 years.

The message: While Jacob should be lauded for trying a new path, it is often the case that no matter what we do or how hard we try, we cannot control everything and at times “the song remains the same” (aval hamanginah tamid nisheret).

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Rabbi Avi Weiss is founding president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. His memoir of the Soviet Jewry movement, “Open Up the Iron Door,” was recently published by Toby Press.
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