In this week’s parsha we learn about the tragic split that took place between the shivtei Kah. We have to wonder how tzaddikim of such greatness could have had a machloket that led to the sale of Yosef?
The Torah gives us three explanations for the brothers’ hatred of Yosef. First, in perek 37, pasuk 2, it says that Yosef told his father about presumed mistakes his brothers had made. Second, in pesukim 3 and 4, it says that Yaakov loved Yosef more than all his other sons. Finally, in pasuk 5, it says that Yosef’s dream increased the shevatim‘s hatred of him. Each one of these explanations presents difficulties and must be examined more closely.
Let’s begin with the middle reason. What does it mean that Yaakov loved Yosef because he was a ben zikunim? Rashi explains that Yosef was born at the time of Yaakov’s old age. This is difficult to understand for several reasons. Why should Yosef’s being born when Yaakov was older increase his love. Are we to believe Yaakov was affected by such a trivial consideration? In addition, Yosef’s birth was only about a year or so later then some of the other brothers. In fact, there were less than seven years between Reuven’s and Yosef’s births. Also, Binyamin was the youngest; it should have been he who Yaakov loved for being a ben zikunim. Thus, we need to redefine our understanding of shenolad lo l’et zekunato (that Yosef was born during Yaakov’s old age).
Rashi’s second pshat on the words ben zikunim is that Yaakov taught Yosef all the Torah he had learned from Shem v’Ever. Why Yosef more than any of the brothers? Chazal say that Yaakov is aish, fire; Yosef is lehava, spark and Eisav is kesh, straw. Yosef took Yaakov’s ability to fight Eisav and applied it to the outside world. That’s why it was Yosef who went down to Mitzrayim and established a place for the Jewish people in galut. This also explains why Yosef was taught the Torah of Shem v’Ever as it was this Torah Yaakov learned before going out into the world.
Originally, Yaakov was an ish tam yoshev ohalim, a man completely focused on learning Torah and serving Hashem. However, when Eisav failed in his mission to elevate the physical, Yaakov took on responsibility for making olam hazeh holy. This avodah was eit ziknoto, a responsibility taken on later in life. Yaakov’s love for Yosef was because they shared the same avodah of dealing with and elevating the outside world.
We can use this understanding to explain the other two sources of friction between Yosef and his brothers as well. Yosef saw the shevatim doing things that seemed to be against the Torah. They seemed to be eating ever min hachai, treating the sons of the shefachot poorly, and acting inappropriately with local women. In each case they weren’t sinning; the animal they were eating didn’t need slaughtering, the bnei shefachot had their place in klal Yisrael and the brothers were just doing business with the locals. Yosef who had the avodah of going out and improving his surroundings saw things through a certain prism and reported back to his father. The brothers, who didn’t share Yosef’s avodah to the same extent, weren’t overly concerned with appearances. For Yosef, the way things looked was a focus of his responsibility to elevate the world, but that was not true for the brothers.
Using this very same idea we can understand the fighting caused by Yosef’s dreams. These dreams reflected his status as the one who will follow Yaakov’s path. Yosef would be a leader in galut and continue the Torah of Shem v’Ever as taught to him by his father. The brothers didn’t comprehend this because they served Hashem by focusing on bettering themselves, not necessarily the outside world. Once again Yosef’s perspective was different.
The foundation of all the arguments was always the different paths Yosef and his brothers would walk and their unique ways of serving Hashem. On their elevated levels they failed to fully see that there could be differences in a person’s avodat Hashem.
If such great tzaddikim can make this mistake (slight though it was for them), how much more are we capable of making it. Imagine two people who are planning a trip together. Each has his own navigation system that he is confident in. The problem is that each system’s directions are different. A fight ensues between the two trip takers, each arguing the correctness of their path and the mistake of the other. Both systems are correct and would even get to the location at the same time. In other words, both ways will get the person where he needs to go even if the roads taken won’t be the same. Each Jew is on a journey and we each have our own rav, yeshiva, and mesorah showing us the way. As a parent and as a rebbe, I have seen, time and again, that what is the right way for one, may not be the way another needs to go. We must appreciate these differences and respect the different Torah paths chosen.
May we be zoche to find our own path and respect our fellow’s path as well. Let us hope that this achdut will bring about the joining of klal Yisrael.