To Live in Harmony During Peaceful Times
All is well that ends well is a popular and well known aphorism. Apparently
that should be the case here in this week’s parsha when Yosef and his family
are at last reconciled after over twenty years of pain and estrangement.
Yaakov comes down to Egypt to embrace his long lost beloved son and the
Jewish people begin the long sojourn in Egypt with the first century of that
sojourn being successful and benign.
However, as is the case with many a popular saying or belief, the aphorism
stated above is not exactly accurate. The enmity, discord and bitterness of
the dispute of decades between Yosef and his brothers is not easily
forgotten. We will see in next week’s parsha how the brothers still suspect
Yosef of ill intentions towards them and how Yosef after the death of Yaakov
subtly distances himself from them.
Wounds may heal but they always leave their marks and scars. And the
competition between Yosef and Yehuda, which is the centerpiece of the fist
part of this week’s parsha. This continues for millennia in Jewish history
almost splitting the Jewish people as a whole and not just its kingdom into
two warring factions.
So, even though the affair of Yosef and his brothers appears to end well and
satisfactorily in the narrative of this week’s parsha, the residue of
suspicion, competitiveness and bitter memories remain. This is so very
evident as the story continues and clouds any truly rosy assessment of the
conclusion of this gripping family tale of ours.
Every human event has consequences that are much more long lasting and
important than originally thought. Since we all live in a time range that is
limited, far reaching results of our behavior are naturally hard to discern
and appreciate. If the brothers of Yosef would have realized that their
behavior towards him would, centuries later, lead to the breakup of the
Jewish kingdom in the Land of Israel, perhaps they would have acted
differently. And, perhaps Yosef himself might have acted differently towards
his brothers as well.
It is not for naught that the rabbis taught us that the true wise man is the
person who can realize the future consequences of present policies and
behavior. This idea is also the basic underpinning of the rabbis’ other
comment that even the wise must be very cautious in their statements, to
guard against the unintended consequences that may result.
Many times consequences are exactly the opposite of what is originally
desired. The rabbinic ban on Spinoza immortalized him, and the ban against
Chasidut translated into the most popular Jewish religious movement in
Yosef and his brothers, like all of us, are powerless to undo the past. But,
in realizing the fissure that the events of the past created in Jewish life,
a special attempt at true reconciliation must be attempted. It would take
the slavery of Egyptian exile and the redemption that followed to achieve
this unity that was expressed at the moment of revelation at Sinai. Troubles
unite us. We should learn to live together in harmony even in more
Rabbi Berel Wein