The struggle between Yoseph and his brothers, their internal and external conflicts, are not easily or summarily dismissible as classic sibling rivalry. There was much more going on than who gets privileges, who gets the window seat, and whom does Dad favor. Their arguments were fundamental differences in the view of leadership for their family at present and their descendants in the future. And so, when Joseph dreams of stalks and stars bowing down to him, the brothers were naturally upset. Here he is, the second to youngest in the family, fantasizing about leadership over his elder siblings. In addition, when he related the dreams to his brothers in front of his father, the Torah tells us that, “his father scolded him, and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamt? Are we to come — I and your mother and your brothers — to bow down to you to the ground?” (Genesis 37:10) But the Torah tells us that despite the open rebuke, Yaakov knew that there was some method to the marvel. The Torah ends the dialogue with the words, “his brothers were jealous of him, but his father watched the matter ” (ibid v. 11)
Rashi, along with a variety of Midrashim, interpret the word shomar, watched. Rashi says that Yaakov awaited and looked forward to the time when this would come to pass, while others interpret that Yaakov went so far as to write down the time and the place that Yoseph would emerge.
The word shomar that describes Yaakov’s halting silence seems peculiar. If the Torah means to say he waited in anticipation for it to occur, it could have written, “and Jacob anticipated.” The word watched connotes that Yaakov knew a secret truth that he was not to share. What is the point in telling us that? Is there a point in discussing, a awareness, or feeling that was not acted upon? Perhaps the Torah tells us something else in describing Yaakov’s prescience, while withholding his belief, as well.
About thirty years ago, young Mark Honigsfeld accompanied his parents on a trip to Israel. Mark, was excited about the wonders and beauty of the Holy Land, was invigorated and enthused about every site they visited, from Masada to the various museums. But one visit to Yeshivas Har Etzion in the Old City of Jerusalem left an eternal impact on his soul and a gaping hole in his heart.
At Yeshivas Har Etzion there is a Holocaust museum with an exhibit memorializing the six million. Many of the tiniest shtetls have memorial plaque, the only Jewish commemoration of their mortal existence and the declaration that these towns, still with muddy roads and ramshackle huts, were once beacons of spirituality and Torah life. Mark’s father, Paul Honigsfeld found a plaque memorializing his native city Belgitz, a small community in Poland, and asked the curator if he, like many of the survivors who visited the museum, could add the names of family members who had once lived in that city and who were killed by the Nazis With Mark watching in the background, his father sat with the curator and gave names. “Please list my mother Sarah D’vorah. I want you to memorialize my father Ephraim Fishel, and my sisters and brothers.”
Suddenly he beckoned Mark to leave the room. A bit perturbed, Mark sauntered from the dark memorial room, his mind wondering why in the world he was asked to leave. Suddenly, he heard his father begin to cry. Sitting outside the room, he cried too, and then he heard his father say a name a very close relative he had never known existed.
“Add my son, Ephraim Fishel ben Chaim Peretz. Please make a plaque for him too.”
Mark could not imagine who Efraim Fishel was. Mark had two older sisters, and he could not imagine that a child was born between his sisters and himself. When his father left the museum, Mark gently confronted him. “Dad, did I have a brother? Was his name Efraim Fishel? When? Where? Why did you never tell me?”
Reluctantly, his father told him that he was married before the war and had a wife and son who were killed by the Nazis. Then he added, “You know Mark, not everything that happens does a child have to know immediately. Sometimes a father has to watch what he tells his children before he determines the impact it will have on them. Forgive me for never telling you that you had a brother, but there are just some things a father must guard until the right time”
Perhaps, in relating those few words, defining Yaakov’s reaction, or perhaps inaction, the Torah is telling us a lesson in parenting. Yaakov felt that one day in the future it would surely happen. Yoseph’s brothers would bow to him. Yet he never revealed his premonitions. Instead, he watched them. He may have thought that there was true substance to Yoseph’s illusions. But he held back, because outspoken notions can raise sore emotions, while words we withhold can, like silence, be gold.
Dedicated in memory of Yitzchak Chaim Ben Yosef Leslie Zukor ob”m By Zev & Aviva Golombeck and family
Copyright © 2000 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Dean of the Yeshiva of South Shore.