by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"And [Yosef's] brothers saw that their father loved him more than all the
brothers, and they hated him, and they could not speak to him peacefully."
How could this be? These are the sons of Yaakov, the forefathers of our
people, and apparently they were so filled with hate that they couldn't
look him in the face!
This is simply an erroneous reading. They "hated" him because they thought
Yosef was trying to displace them all. He had accused them of misbehavior
to their father, when they thought their behavior was appropriate. Thus it
was he who was offending them, they believed, and they believed their
hatred was appropriate. They were mistaken. But the verse is not claiming
that they were so angry that they could not look him in the eye -- that
would never be acceptable. The word for hate in Hebrew is simply not as
intense as it is in English, much the same as its opposite, "Ahavah", can
be translated like or love depending upon context.
Both Rashi and Rabbeinu Bechayah comment that the fact that they could not
speak to him peacefully was actually evidence of a praiseworthy attribute.
Rashi explains, "from their disgrace we learn their praise, that they would
not say one thing with their mouths and another in their hearts."
They were not liars. They would not pretend to love him as a brother,
maintaining a facade. Such "diplomacy" was foreign to them. To create a
plastic face, to act like you love someone while inwardly disliking him or
her -- is a terrible trait. It is lying on a very personal level, and when
the truth comes out the feelings of betrayal and hatred are justifiably
Such people render themselves untrustworthy. Their expressions of love have
no meaning, since they are given without feeling. To say "one thing in the
mouth and another in the heart" proves to be destructive to no one more
than the actor.
Of course, there is something better -- don't hate. And in the brothers'
behavior, we see the method to overcome it. The verse testifies that "they
could not speak to him" l'shalom, to peace. To create peace.
The Alshich analyzes the verse, "And G-d turned away from the evil which
he had spoken to do to his people." [Exodus 32:14] Given that the Torah
permits us to derive anthropomorphic lessons from G-d's "behavior", we see
that the turning away follows the speech. By way of his words of rebuke and
anger, the anger itself subsided. And this, says the Alshich, is the lesson
here as well: "and they could not speak to him" -- they could not rebuke
him and change his behavior, even with strong words. Had they poured out
their anger with words, it would have left their hearts -- and brought them
Their is a valuable lesson here, not only for potential speakers, but for
potential listeners. Sometimes letting a person chew you out, letting them
spill their anger, is very worthwhile. How often, especially when a person
remains silent, does the accuser come over afterwards to apologize for
being too harsh, or at least express embarrassment by being kind? When
criticism is expressed rather than left to simmer, the result can be peace
-- a greater and truer peace than were everything left unsaid.
Obviously the ideal is to see the good in others and excise bad feelings
entirely. But if something is bothering you too much, it is inappropriate,
even evil, to lie and hide it. Sometimes the truth, once expressed,
dissipates -- and that should be the goal.
May we always speak "l'shalom" -- to bring peace.
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