SALT - Thursday 21 Kislev 5776 - December 3, 2015

  • Rav David Silverberg

            Yesterday, we noted the possibility that when Yaakov sent Yosef to his brothers in Shekhem, his intention was not simply to inquire about their wellbeing, but rather to mend the rift that had grown between them.  Yaakov’s hope was for Yosef to join his brothers as they tended to the family’s herds, and then, at very least, to have Yosef check on them in the hope of triggering some sort of process of reconciliation.  In the end, this plan failed, as the brothers began conspiring against Yosef the moment they saw him approaching, ultimately throwing him into a pit and then selling him as a slave.

            This incident perhaps brings to mind Chazal’s famous exhortation in Pirkei Avot (4:18), “Do not appease your friend at the time of his anger, and do not console him at the time when his deceased [relative] lies before him.”  Strong emotions such as anger and grief need time to subside, and it is thus futile, at best, and often counterproductive or even harmful, to try to alleviate these hard feelings prematurely.  People experiencing rage or anguish need, more than anything else, time to process the feelings and allow their emotional wounds to heal.  This is true of other feelings, as well, such as envy and enmity, the feelings which Yosef’s brothers harbored towards him.  It seems that Yaakov tried to mend the rift prematurely, when the brothers’ animosity towards Yosef was still at the boiling point, and the consequences of this hasty measure were tragic.

            Earlier, the Torah tells that because of the brothers’ hostility towards Yosef, “they were unable to speak to him peacefully” (37:4), which could be understood to mean that the brothers disengaged from Yosef.  Unable to “speak to him peacefully,” they chose not to speak to him at all.  While such a rift between brothers is distressing and unfortunate, it was the preferred state of affairs under the current circumstances, when peaceful, brotherly interaction was not possible.  Yaakov attempted to break the silence, and the hatred, before it was ready to be broken.  The result was a horrible, violent encounter that thrust the family into a grave crisis.

            One of the lessons of this story, then, is that difficult problems cannot be solved overnight.  Yaakov’s noble and understandable desire to mend the rift between his sons led him to measures that were bound to be futile under the current conditions.  His mistake was intervening too soon, rather than giving the deep emotional wounds a chance to mend.  Not all problems are ready for solutions at the time we want to solve them.  We need to exercise – and pray for – the patience, sound judgment and common sense needed to know when to work to solve problems and when to wait until they are able to be solved.