The Alon Shevut community joins in mourning
the murder of Erez Orbach HY"D,
son of Karen and Uri, grandson of Miriam and Moshe,
in the barbaric terrorist attack today in Armon HaNatziv. Yehi zikhro barukh.
Towards the end of Parashat Vayechi, we read of Yosef’s brothers’ plea after their father’s death that Yosef forgive them for what they had done to him. The brothers feared that Yosef had treated them kindly since their arrival in Egypt only out of respect to their father, and now that Yaakov had died, Yosef might seek to avenge their cruelty towards him. The Torah tells that Yosef wept upon hearing his brothers’ plea, and he reassured them that he would continue caring for them and their families (50:17-21).
An intriguing Chassidic reading of this account is proposed by Rav Moshe Ha-levi Sofer of Peshvarsk, in his Or Penei Moshe. He suggests that Yosef wept in response to his brothers’ entreaty because they were begging him for forgiveness, instead of begging the Almighty for forgiveness. The Torah writes, “Yosef cried when they spoke to him,” which the Rebbe of Peshvarsk interprets to mean that he wept because the brother spoke to him, rather than speaking to God. Yosef sensed that the brothers’ concern revolved around him, and not around the Almighty, whose forgiveness was no less vitally important than his. The Rebbe of Pevarsk goes so far as to say that if the brothers had appealed to God for forgiveness the way they appealed to Yosef for forgiveness, their sin would have been completely erased. The Jewish Nation would have then been spared the future calamities which Chazal attribute to the residual effects of the brothers’ crime against Yosef, such as the execution of the asara harugei malkhut (ten martyrs) at the hands of the Romans. Yosef cried in lamenting the fact that his brothers focused too strongly on seeking his mercy and forgiveness, and did not sufficiently petition God for His mercy and forgiveness.
The message conveyed by this classic Chassidic insight is that we must perceive interpersonal offenses as spiritual failures. Securing the victim’s forgiveness is necessary for atonement, but insufficient. Wrongs committed against other people express flaws in our characters that taint our souls no less than the mistakes we make in the realms of mitzvot bein adam la-Makom (our obligations towards God). Therefore, being forgiven does not suffice to erase the sin and its effects. Our account after harming somebody is not only with that person, but also with the Almighty. The Rebbe of Peshvarsk reminds us that offenses against people are also offenses against God, and require us to not only make amends with those whom we have hurt, but also undergo a complete and comprehensive process of personal teshuva.