SALT - Friday, 13 Tevet 5779 - December 21, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
Yesterday, we noted Yaakov’s deathbed blessing to Yosef, in which he recalled the hatred that had been directed towards Yosef by “ba’alei chitzim” – literally, “people of arrows” (49:23).  As we saw, different opinions exist as to whether this refers to Yosef’s brothers, who nearly killed him and then sold him as a slave, or to those who spread false accusations about him in Egypt.
Targum Onkelos translates the expression “ba’alei chitzim” as “guvrin gibarin ba’alei falgutei” – literally, “powerful men, people with whom he was divided.”  Rashi explains this translation as a reference to the fact that Yosef and his brothers were destined to divide the Land of Israel among themselves.  The word “chitzim” in this verse, according to Onkelos, means not “arrows,” but rather “division” (as in the word “mechetza” – “half,” in Bamidbar 31:36, as Rashi cites).  According to Onkelos, then, the expression “ba’alei chitzim” describes not the harm inflicted on Yosef by his brothers, but rather to their sharing Eretz Yisrael in the future.  Intriguingly, in the view of Onkelos, Yaakov here emphasizes the fact that those who despised and conspired against Yosef were those whose descendants would later share the Land of Israel with Yosef’s descendants.
Why, according to Targum Onkelos, would Yaakov specifically emphasize this point in recalling the hostility Yosef suffered at the hands of his brothers?
Possibly, this point is emphasized because it, in a sense, lies at the heart of the tragedy of mekhirat Yosef.  The brothers failed to realize that they were all destined to share Eretz Yisrael, the promise of greatness given to their father, grandfather and great-grandfather.  The conflict that arose in the family led them to view their situation as one of “either/or,” such that Yosef had to be eliminated from the family, or else they could have no part in it.  They did not consider the possibility that they were Yosef’s “ba’alei chitzim,” his partners with whom a workable arrangement could be – and would have to be – made.  Yaakov, in his blessing to Yosef, laments this failure of his other sons to recognize that Yosef was their partner, not their adversary, with whom they could peacefully share the greatness destined for the nation that was in the process of being built.
When disagreement and tensions arise, whether in a family, a community, or the nation at large, we are well-advised to heed Yaakov’s subtle admonition to his sons – “va-yistemuhu ba’alei chitzim.”  They allowed their divisions to devolve into hatred, rather than viewing each other as different parts of a single entity.  When we look at one another as “ba’alei chitzim,” as “pieces” of a single “puzzle” to which we all belong, we are better equipped to handle our differences in a peaceful, amicable manner, without resorting to hostility and strife.