Maintaining Strong Family Bonds
As the story of Yosef and his brothers unfolds and reaches its climactic end
in this week’s parsha, we are left with the bewildering sense that there is
no absolute right or wrong in the unfolding tale. Yosef is judged wrong in
his original behavior towards his brothers in bringing inaccurate tales
regarding them to their father. The brothers are judged wrong in casting him
in a pit and thereafter selling him into slavery.
All of the brothers including Yosef are judged to have caused their aged
father pain and suffering in not revealing to him the story and Yosef
himself is criticized for not revealing himself to Yaakov for the first nine
years of his rise to power in Egypt. Yet in spite of all of the negativity
and guilt involved, the Torah portrays the reunion of the family in happy
and complimentary terms.
This is true even though all of them realize that the family will reside in
Egypt for a long time and that the return to the Land of Israel is to be a
long postponed dream yet to be realized Families are not perfect and events
within them do not always proceed smoothly. However the parsha emphasizes
that the family unit must overcome all of the obstacles that lie in its way
and must strive at all costs to preserve the sense of family amongst all of
The story of Yaakov’s family is the story of almost all later Jewish family
life – of quarrels, misunderstandings, misjudgments, and yet somehow of
goodness, kindness, tolerance and reconciliation. Jewish tradition teaches
us that all later disputes within the Jewish world - and there have been
many bitter ones over the millennia - are already foretold in the story of
Yosef and his brothers. And yet in spite of it all, the Jewish people remain
a family with shared ideals and an optimistic vision for its future.
The Torah records for us that Yosef’s revelation of his identity to his
brothers was a simple two word statement – ani Yosef – I am Yosef. Implicit
in that statement is the demand of Yosef to be seen by the brothers as a
unique individual and not as a carbon copy of his father or of any of his
brothers. Yosef is the ultimate nonconformist in the family and the entire
dispute arises due to his brothers’ unwillingness to allow him that
nonconformist role in the family.
Every family has nonconformists in its midst. How the family deals with this
situation is truly the measure of its inherent unity and purpose. Many of
the problematic issues that plague the Jewish world generally stem from the
fraying of family bonds and the loss of an overriding sense of family under
all circumstances. All human failings – greed, jealousy, mean-spirited
behavior, spitefulness and even violence – are evident in family situations.
Recognizing the symptoms of such behavior before they develop – and become
chronic - is one of the keys of maintaining the necessary sense of family
bonds that alone can prove vital and successful under all circumstances.
Rabbi Berel Wein