How would you react if your brothers sold you into slavery?
Would you bear a grudge for the rest of your life?
Or would you somehow be able to get past the hurt, the shame, the embarrassment? Would you be able to forgive? Would you be able to reconcile?
In this week’s Torah reading, Vayechi, we read the concluding chapters of the book of Genesis, and Joseph manages to do just that. After his father Jacob dies, Joseph’s brothers are worried that NOW they are in trouble. That Joseph’s true feelings will come out, and they will be punished in a way that Joseph did not want to do while their father was still alive.
But instead of letting loose a vindictive streak, Joseph’s response is truly remarkable:
And Joseph said to them, Fear not; for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you thought evil against me; but God meant it to good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. Now therefore do not fear; I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spoke kindly to them.
This past Shabbat, I heard an interesting teaching on the progression in how sibling rivalry gets worked out in the book of Genesis at Rabbi Bernie Gerson’s Shabbat tisch at Rodef Shalom in Denver.
- Cain and Abel’s sibling rivalry is “resolved” when Cain kills Abel. Not an auspicious beginning and not a good role model for us.
- Isaac and Ishmael don’t speak to each other after they have both left home, but they at least come together to bury their father. No one gets killed. That’s an improvement.
- Jacob and Esau show further improvement. When they reconcile it’s emotional, there are hugs and kisses, and then everyone goes their own separate way. Better than silent treatment between Isaac and Ishmael, but they are not exactly “family” afterwards
- Joseph and his brothers – what we see in this week’s Torah reading is true reconciliation. They truly come together again as family, and despite the ill treatment – ill treatment far worse than any of the earlier examples of sibling rivalry in the Torah – Joseph rejoins the family, not only in words but in deed, providing for them materially in Egypt.
What we learn from looking at the relationship between siblings in Genesis is that some amount of sibling rivalry appears to be inevitable. And we learn that there are many ways of dealing with sibling rivalry, from murder to ignoring each other to living separately peaceably to true reconciliation. The inspiring story of Joseph that we learn this week is our role model. Think your brother or sister wronged you? Was it worse than selling you into slavery?