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Friday - Shabbat January 1 - 2 

Torah Reading: VaYechi (Genesis 47:28 - 50:26)
Candle Lighting Time 4:20 PM
Shabbat ends 5:26 PM

Divided We Stand 

Near the end of this week's Parsha, Vayechi, the Torah recounts that after Jacob's passing, Joseph's brothers were concerned that Joseph would now try to take revenge for having sold him as a slave. They therefore came to Joseph and told him: "Your father commanded us before his death, saying, so shall you say to Joseph, ‘forgive, I pray you, the trespass of your brothers, and their sin; for evil have they done to you.’” The brothers then continued to ask Joseph to forgive them for their sin of selling him as a slave.       

When Joseph heard how his brothers suspected him of harboring a grudge against them he cried and told them in no uncertain terms that he did not blame them for his suffering.

The obvious question is: Seventeen years had passed since Joseph revealed himself to brothers and they realized that after they had sole him into slavery he had ascended to become the Viceroy of Egyp. During those years, Joseph did everything to show his love and affection for them. He supported them and sustained them. Joseph, indeed, demonstrated that he did not even harbor a tinge of animosity towards them. Why suddenly after Jacob’s passing did the brother’s worry that Joseph might try to exact revenge against them?

Rashi addresses this question and answers that as long as Jacob was alive, Joseph would dine with his brothers. After they returned from the burial of Jacob, Joseph ceased to invite his brothers to his table. This, they took as a signal that Joseph's attitude towards them would now change. As long as Jacob was alive, they surmised, Joseph showed them tolerance and feigned love for them to make Jacob feel good about the unity in his family. But now that their father was gone, they feared, Joseph would not hesitate to pay them back for their dastardly deeds of the past.

But Rashi's answer raises a follow up question: Why did Joseph change his custom of inviting them to his table? If indeed Joseph had true love and respect for them, and the brothers’ worry about Joseph merely feigning good will towards them while Jacob was alive were baseless, why indeed did he distance them by not having them at his dinner table as was his previous custom?

The Midrash, that is presumably the source of Rashi's comment here, provides a simple answer to this question:

When Jacob was alive he made sure that when they dined together, Joseph—as king—would sit at the head of the table. Joseph was extremely uncomfortable at the thought that he was sitting above his older brothers. And even though Joseph predicted that his brothers would someday bow down to him, his humility—and perhaps the fear that it would rekindle the old animosity of his brothers towards him—made him feel uncomfortable about that setup. But he had no choice. That was his father's wish. And out of respect for his father he sat at the head of the table.

But now that his father was no longer there he could not get himself to demonstrate that he was superior to his brothers. To avoid the rather embarrassing and uncomfortable situation, as to who should sit at the head of the table, Joseph stopped inviting them to his table altogether.

One could also suggest that Joseph's decision to cease inviting his brothers could be attributed to another very practical factor. Joseph's primary responsibility was to sustain Egypt and the neighboring countries that were ravished by the famine. He had no time for dining and for a social life. From the time Jacob came to Egypt until his passing the famine miraculously ceased only to return in its full fury with his passing.

We could now understand why Joseph no longer invited his brothers to join him in his meals as he had done when Jacob was alive. As long as Jacob was alive Joseph did not have to devote himself exclusively to the job of saving Egypt from a devastating famine. He had time for social niceties and would frequently have his family over for a royal dinner. Now that the famine had returned, Joseph could not afford the luxury of spending time with his family.

There might be a third and deeper reason for Joseph's change of attitude towards his brothers.

Joseph appreciated that his brothers possessed diverse temperaments and therefore represented different approaches to life. Joseph knew that he and his 11 brothers would form the nucleus of a Jewish nation, made up of 12 tribes, that would be given the Torah along with the charge to transform the world into a dwelling place for G‑d. Joseph also knew that in order to fulfill that mission there was a need for twelve different approaches, represented by each of the 12 brothers/tribes. To erase the differences between people in the name of unity is not good for the people nor the world and ultimately it is not good for the cause of unity itself. G‑d wants our individual talents to be cultivated to their fullest.

On the other hand, it is crucial that our diverse talents and competing approaches do not lead to disharmony. It is imperative that there is a sense that all of these twelve roads must lead to one goal: making the world a place where G‑d's presence is revealed, which is Judaism's view of the Messianic Age. To facilitate this unity we must always remember and invoke our common background; we are all descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Thus, as long as Jacob was with them, it was important that all of the brothers dined together to foster the understanding that they are truly one people. But Joseph knew that if they would always be together under the very powerful and domineering aura of Joseph it would inhibit the development of their individual talents. He feared that his overarching presence in their lives would smother their individuality and cause them to suffocate or to blend into Joseph's identity and become mere extensions of him.

Joseph therefore decided to let each of his brothers lead his own individual life and to cultivate their individuality. He hoped that the time they spent together with their father Jacob would suffice in inculcating the sense that their differences notwithstanding, they were twelve sons of one father, Jacob—that they had one common soul and goal.

We are living in momentous times. We are a multifaceted people because each of us possesses a unique way of expressing G‑d's infinite light. But it is crucial that we realize two things:

First: Our differences must not lead us to feeling that we are a fragmented and divisive people. We must always realize that we have one origin, one history and one destiny. Unfortunately, crises are often the catalysts that help alert us to the fact that we are one. We must utilize this opportunity to reinforce that oneness.

Second, it is simultaneously important for us to realize that both our differences and our unity must be based on our common objective: to bring Moshiach. This means that our different talents have to be harnessed to the goal of making the world a G‑dly world by thinking, speaking and acting in a G‑dly way—the path set forth for us in our Torah.

Especially in these times of crises, all of us must resolve to strengthen our observance of Judaism, in a spirit of oneness and unity.  

Moshiach Matters  

All of our actions should be permeated with the subject of Moshiach. In addition to the Mitzvos we do which should be done with the intent of hastening the redemption, even our eating and drinking should be filled with that spirit, for when we eat, we should be reminded of the great meal we will have when Moshiach comes, which will include the Livyson and the Yayin HaMeshumar (special fish and wine set aside from the beginning of creation to be eaten when Moshiach arrives). The Rebbe, Parshas VaYeira, 1991   

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