SALT - Tuesday 19 Kislev 5776 - December 1, 2015

  • Rav David Silverberg

            The story of Yosef’s sale as a slave, which we read in Parashat Vayeishev, begins when Yaakov sends Yosef to check on his brothers, who were tending to Yaakov’s herds in Shekhem: “Go, please, and see the wellbeing of your brothers and the wellbeing of the sheep, and bring the news back to me” (37:14).  Yosef heeds his father’s command, and he goes to see his brothers, who proceed to throw him into a pit, from where he is later taken (either by the brothers or others) and sold into slavery.

            Yaakov’s request that Yosef bring him information about his brothers’ wellbeing might be viewed as a point of contrast with the Torah’s description earlier, in the second verse of Parashat Vayeishev: “Yosef brought negative information about them to their father.”  Whereas previously Yosef reported to Yaakov about his brothers’ perceived wrongdoing, now he is told to report about their wellbeing.

            The message conveyed by this contrast, perhaps, is that the antidote to gossip and tale-bearing is inquiring into other people’s wellbeing.  Rather than “dig” for unflattering information about people, we should instead be “digging” for information about their condition and whether they need help that we can provide.  The way we overcome the natural tendency to look for the negative side of people is to focus our attention on their needs and try to ensure they are being met. 

            Indeed, commenting on Yaakov’s request that Yosef report on “shelom achikha” (“your brothers’ wellbeing”), Rav Simcha Bunim of Pashischa explained that Yaakov instructed Yosef to search for his brothers’ “sheleimut” – “completion” – meaning, all their admirable qualities and achievements.  In contrast to Yosef’s earlier practice of bringing back news of his brothers’ alleged failings, his father asked him to report on their “sheleimut” – their positive qualities.  It is possible that Rav Simcha Bunim did not actually intend this reading as the actual interpretation of the verse.  Rather, he perhaps meant that by focusing our attention on “shelom achikha,” concerning ourselves with other people’s needs and wellbeing, we can overcome our critical tendencies and look upon them favorably, seeing all their admirable qualities rather than viewing them negatively.