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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Does Love Cause Hate?

Posted by rabbiart on December 15, 2008

Our parshah has hardly started and we have conflict between brothers that we know will escalate into violence, perhaps caused by yet another Breshit case of parental favoritism. What is the first thing we learn about Yosef?  He tattles on his brothers!*
וַיָּבֵא יוֹסֵף אֶת-דִּבָּתָם רָעָה, אֶל-אֲבִיהֶם “Yosef brought a bad report to their father”   Why?  We quickly find out. Daddy likes him best. Why?  One stated reason and one we can infer.  The text states that Israel loved Yosef the most because Yosef was the child of his old age.  And we know that Yosef is the first-born of Israel’s true love – Rachel. What does Daddy do?  He gives Yosef a visible sign of his preferred standing; a coat of many colors. (There is some  historical/cultural data indicating that his was a mechanism for designating the chosen successor, which would provide a tangible reason for resentment).

Where does hatred come from?

וַיִּרְאוּ אֶחָיו, כִּי-אֹתוֹ אָהַב אֲבִיהֶם מִכָּל-אֶחָיו–וַיִּשְׂנְאוּ, אֹתוֹ; וְלֹא יָכְלוּ, דַּבְּרוֹ לְשָׁלֹם

His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, so they hated him; they couldn’t even speak to him peaceably!

Is Yosef book smart and street stupid?  He dreams of power and domination, and tells the first dream to his brothers.  Big surprise; they hate him even more.  Finally he goes too far even for his father, and gets a rebuke for saying he will rule over even his parents. Shifts in the family take place.  Brotherly jealousy is added to brotherly hate, and dad keeps the whole thing in mind.  Perhaps Dad also remembers (see Breshit 30:1) that wife Rachel envied wife Leah for her ability to have children, and when she begged him for help, he got angry at her.  Yes, the plot (like Yosef’s father’s soup a generation earlier) has thickened and the rest will soon become history.

Why these stories of dreams and conflict? Of course dreams were (and are) powerful indicators of what is top of mind.  And of course the dreams in this parshah set the stage for the dreams – and their interpretations – that will come later.  And without the conflict that starts here, we would not have Yosef in Mitzrayim for the temporary reprieve that leads the budding family of Israel into the slavery of Mitzrayim.  But as one of my law school professors used to say from time to time after listening to a student explanation that wasn’t quite on point; so what?  Is there something new that we can learn from this year’s reading of the story?

It is – I propose – easy for us to read the story in context and identify all the dysfunctional family behaviors that could have been avoided or resolved. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea for Yakov to give Yosef the coat of many colors.  Maybe not such a good idea for Yosef to tell his dreams to the family.  Maybe the brothers could have figured out that it wasn’t Yosef’s fault that he was his father’s favorite.  And most of all (reinterpretation of verse two coming), probably not a good idea for Yosef to make up a false report of his brothers’ activities and tell it to his father.

Now let’s layer our story on top of the historical experience of the Jewish people and see what we have.  Let’s start by recalling various midrashim which have HaShem offering the Torah to all of the seventy nations of the world before finally giving it to Israel. In these midrashim we (the Jewish people) are not the first-born but rather the child of HaShem’s “old age.” We (Jewish people) are Yosef.  The rest of humanity are the brothers.  HaShem is Yakov. The Torah – with her promises  of greatness and blessing to our founding ancestors – is the coat of many-colors.

As my friend Todd Aaronson likes to say, let’s begin with the end in mind. We (Jewish people) have historically been on the receiving end of hatred and jealousy. We’ve been dumped into the pit, sold into slavery, and carried off to a foreign land. Unfortunately, not much question there; the “Joseph story” resonates with our historical experience.  Who is responsible?   Have we told our dreams too many times and built up hatred of us through our own actions.  Mordecai Kaplan thought so, and chose to rewrite one part of our historical beliefs.  Could our brothers have cut us a little slack? Undoubtedly. Has “our father” loved us too much but not too well? That’s a tough one.

Where does this drosh go from here? Darned if I know, you (dear reader) figure it out. The Breshit brothers eventually reconciled, maybe we can too, speedily and in our day.

*Yosef is born in Breshit 30:23 and assigned his name in verse 24.  Why this name? Because as soon as he is born, his long-barren mother wants another child. (The hebrew word also means “to add to”)

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