Right and Wrong
There is no fight as bitter as a family fight. The bitterness and scars
remain long after the incident that may have originally sparked it is long
since gone and sometimes even forgotten. Many times the bitterness and
hard feelings remain even in generations of descendants of the original
antagonists, as though somehow genetically transmitted.
Yosef and his brothers reconcile in this week’s parsha. But the divisions
within the Jewish people then and now are apparently never really healed
and forgotten. The commentators point out that the rebellions against
Moshe in the desert, that of Korach of the tribe of Levi and Zimri of the
tribe of Shimon and Datan and Aviram of the tribe of Reuven, are all part
of the residue - of the fallout of the tragedy of the disagreement of
Yosef and his brothers.
So too is the tragedy of the splitting of the Jewish people living in the
Land of Israel into two disparate and even warring kingdoms after the
death of King Shlomo. In fact, the later commentators opine that all later
controversies in Jewish life are but an echo of this original controversy
between Yosef and his brothers.
The fact that Yaakov in his final words to Shimon and Levi recalls this
dispute and its consequences to them only serves to continue the pain and
bad feelings that were papered over when Yaakov came down to Egypt. But
now that he is gone, the brothers and Yosef remain wary of each other,
with the memories of their dispute irrevocably burned into their psyches.
Such is unfortunately the way in family disputes. That is why one must go
to all lengths to prevent such disputes, no matter what or how large the
seeming cause may be.
Part of the problem, in my opinion, is that in the dispute with Yosef and
the brothers, one side –Yosef - was eventually right and the other side –
the brothers – seemingly wrong and guilty. This feeling of guilt and being
proven wrong only provokes a greater defensive attitude and a
determination not to abandon the blind self-justification that led
originally to the divisive incident itself.
Contrast this with the disagreements of Beit Shamai and Beit Hillel,
numerous and contentious (312 of them) as they were, that never led to any
sort of breakup within the society of Israel. There both sides were right,
even though as a practical matter, the opinions of Beit Hillel were in the
main followed in halachic practice. The Talmud proclaimed that the
opinions of both groups were “the words of the living God.” By avoiding
unnecessary condemnation of Beit Shamai, even though its opinions were not
to be adopted and practically implemented, the Talmud guaranteed the
harmony of the rabbis and of Jewish society.
Within the framework of halacha and tradition there are many varying
opinions. Not all of them can be given equal weight and followed but none
of them should be the basis of personal dispute and vilification. The
lessons of Yosef and his brothers and their controversy should remain for
us as a guide in our times and difficulties as well.
Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com