We read in Parashat Vayechi of Yaakov’s final words to each of his sons as they gathered at his bedside just before his passing. In speaking to Yosef, Yaakov speaks of the hostility that Yosef had suffered at the hands of those who sought to harm him: “Va-yemareruhu va-robu” – “They embittered him and fought [against him]” (49:23).
Rashi comments that the word “va-robu” stems from root “r.v.,” which refers to fighting, but does not actually mean “they fought.” Instead, Rashi explains, this word is the reflexive construction of the root “r.v.,” and should thus be interpreted as, “they became quarrelsome people towards him,” referring to the hostility shown to Yosef by his brothers. In Rashi’s words, “na’asu anshei riv” – “they became people of quarreling.” According to Rashi, Yaakov described Yosef’s brothers not as fighting against him, but rather as becoming people who fought against him.
This description of Yosef’s brothers’ hostility, as understood by Rashi, assumes greater significance when we consider the background to the tensions that existed between Yosef and his brothers. The brothers resented the special, preferential treatment which their father gave Yosef (37:4) – special treatment for which Chazal criticize Yaakov (Shabbat 10b) – and their resentment was fueled by Yosef’s reporting to them his dreams of ruling over them (37:8). Their hostility towards Yosef, seemingly, did not originate with them. It was triggered by the special way Yosef was treated, and by his speaking to them about his plans to rule over the family. And yet, according to Rashi’s interpretation, Yaakov said about his sons, “They became people of quarreling” – they made the decision to be hostile to Yosef. Their feelings of resentment were, indeed, justified, ignited by the circumstances, but nevertheless, they are blamed for deciding to initiate hostility.
Too often, we assume that legitimate feelings of resentment give us license to act with hostility, that when we feel hurt or offended, we are entitled to respond by fighting. Yaakov’s depiction of this sons’ hostility to Yosef, as explained by Rashi, teaches us that we can be considered guilty of instigating a quarrel even if we have legitimate grievances, because not every grievance warrants an angry response or should be a cause for hostility and conflict.