Yaakov Avinu had strong words for Shimon and Levi (Bereishis 49:5-7). Rashi explains that they were the brothers who discussed killing Yoseif. How do we know this? The others all shared their hatred of Yoseif, but regarding Shimon and Levi — sinason shleima — their hatred was total (Rashi, Bereishis 49:5).
Back in parshas Vayeisheiv, we are told that the brothers hated Yoseif and could not speak peacefully with him. (Ibid, 37:4) Rashi writes, “Through these words of rebuke we see their praise: They did not hide their feelings and speak amicably, but their displeasure with him was apparent.”
What is the ‘praise’ Rashi refers to? Rebbenu Bachya writes that lesser individuals would flatter, but they refused to do so. The Chedvas Yotzer explains that this does not apply to all the brothers. Most of them had nothing to gain by flattering Yoseif and would not be tempted to do so. The ‘praise’ refers to the sons of the sh’fachos — Bilha and Zilpa — who were not full wives. Yoseif had befriended them, and they stood to gain by flattering him; yet they did not stoop to such deceit, but showed their displeasure with him.
We see that hatred between the brothers is worthy of reproach.
As discussed in the last issue, we must treat our ancestors with great respect (See Emes L’Yaakov and Chochma V’da’as in Vayeisheiv). Only then can we derive appropriate lessons: If these were great tzaddikim, and yet they made mistakes — we undoubtedly make such mistakes. There are urgent and invaluable lessons for all of us.
The brothers judged Yoseif formally and found him guilty. From the language he used in speaking about them to their father, and from the content of the dreams he described — they felt he would stop at nothing. Some learn that they actually feared he would kill or subjugate them (Seforno). Others learn that they found him guilty of false testimony (Ohr Hachayim) or slander (Alshich, Kli Yakar, The Chofetz Chaim), false prophesy (Rav M. Sternbuch) rebelling against the monarchy (Brisker Rav), combining monarchy and kehuna (Malbim) or taking them away from Yiddishkeit (Rav Peninim).
The Torah says that one is allowed to hate a rasha (Pesachim 133b). The brothers therefore deemed it permissible — even a mitzva — to hate Yoseif, whom they had judged to be a rasha (Rav Peninim).1
Sina and Kina (Bereishis 31:2-12)
Regarding the brothers’ relationship with Yoseif, the Torah discussed hatred and jealousy. The hatred began with Yoseif reporting negative things about the brothers to Yaakov Avinu, but Yaakov loved Yoseif especially; Yoseif was given a special garment. Yoseif’s dream regarding his domination over them served to increase their hatred. After the second dream, it says that they were jealous of him — “due to his words and his dreams.” In relation to the second dream, there was a simon that it might actually have been real prophecy (Hamaor Hagadol).
The hatred came about because they saw him as guilty. Once there was a question whether or not he was guilty, there would no longer be reason for hatred. In the end it was jealousy that dictated their actions. Jealousy here is indignation: it doesn’t seem fair, others could have attained the same.
There are different kinds of ‘kina’ –jealousy. There is a kina that even tzaddikim may have — a kina regarding means, not the end result. Rochel was jealous of Leah’s good deeds (Rashi, Bereishis, 30:1). Of course she wanted children, but she was jealous of how Leah merited children. Similarly, Chazal say “kinas sofrim tarbeh chochma.” Jealousy of the Talmid Chochom’s wisdom increases Torah knowledge. Such jealousy increases Torah because the student realizes that hard work results in the accumulation of Torah knowledge.
In regard to the brothers, the jealousy only came after the second dream, after they realized that Yoseif might actually have had nevuah; until then, there was only ‘sina’ — hatred (Hamaor Hagadol).
They didn’t understand how much greater Yoseif was than they. If they had realized how great Yoseif was, they would never have been jealous. Quite the contrary — they themselves would have given him honor. (Chasom Sofer, Shabbos 10b).
Now, envy is not the best motivation. It is better to have internal motivation than to be jealous of someone’s wisdom and good deeds; however, we are not talking about simple jealousy of the material kind. Even so, the Gemara says that the brothers’ jealousy brought about galus Mitzraim (Shabbos 10b).
What did the brothers want to do to Yoseif? Due to their doubts, they wanted to test him. If he was truly a tzaddik, he would not come to harm (Chochma V’da’as, based on Ramban). Their hatred and resolve to harm Yoseif faded as their doubts regarding his judgment increased.
But, as we saw, Shimon and Levi had resolved to harm him. They were the brothers who discussed killing Yoseif. This is certainly deserved reproach. The truth is, they wanted to kill Yoseif due to their total hatred!
Tikun of Shimon and Levi
The Zohar (Bereishis 200b), says that it was Shimon who first expressed remorse, saying to Levi, “We are guilty regarding our brother — we saw his pain when he pleaded before us and we didn’t listen; therefore this tzar has come upon us” (Bereishis 42:21). Shimon thus initiated the brothers’ teshuva.
The Levi’im will use their energies for good: They will man the Arei Miklat — providing refuge for those who killed unwittingly (B’midbar 35:1-8). The death of the Kohein Hagadol — a descendant of Levi — atones for these accidental killings (B’midbar 35:25). Birkas Kohanim, through the descendants of Levi, must be said with love (Zohar). If there is machlokus between the Kohein and the people, Birkas Kohanim is not said.
1. Nonetheless, one is obligated to do acts of necessary chesed to the person whom he hates. It goes without saying that he must do acts of kindness to someone whom he unacceptably hates; but even if he has the right to despise him, he is nonetheless responsible to come to his aid. (The Chofetz Chaim, Ahavas Chesed, 1:4:1-2)
(We quoted recently the Margenisa Tava in the back of Ahavas Chesed (par. 17). There it is written that permission to hate the rasha doesn’t apply in our days. One would only be allowed to hate him if he was reproved; since no one knows how to do this properly today, permission to hate is not extended.)