Rabbi Yakov Haber
Rabbi Yakov Haber

A Nation Divided, a Nation United

One cannot help but be moved and inspired by the dramatic reunification of Yosef and his brothers.  Much has been written about the causes of the initial hatred between the other brothers and Yosef, the lashon hara, the misunderstandings, and the miscalculations leading to Yosef’s being sold into slavery.  Hashem Yisborach, Rav Ha’Aliliya, through the very process of Yosef’s descent to Mitzrayim already had planted the seeds for the situation that would lead to the reconciliation[1] of the brothers.

Yosef’s behavior toward his brothers serves as a model of reconciliation for other situations of hatred or separation between people.  His opening remarks to his brothers, “’Ani Yosef ha’od avi chai” (VaYigash 45:3), are interpreted by Midrash Rabba (93:10) to be words of rebuke.

Abba Kahana Bardla stated:  Woe onto us from the Day of Judgment, woe unto us from the Day of Rebuke!  [If even] Yosef, youngest of the tribes, [rebuked his brothers and] “they were unable to answer him,” how much more so when the Almighty comes and rebukes each individual according to who he is, all the more so [will we not be able to answer].

Beis HaLeivi elaborates that since Yosef, before revealing his identity to the brothers, had already inquired about Ya’akov Avinu’s welfare, his question now was superfluous.  Therefore, the Midrash interprets his words as words of rebuke.  Yosef was in effect saying to Yehuda – who had just pleaded for Binyamin’s release based on mercy for their aged father – “Where were you when you sold me?!  Why were you not concerned then of the effects of selling me into slavery on our father?!”

Only after Yosef rebuked his brothers, and, by their silence, they accepted the rebuke, did he show signs of friendship and reconciliation even to the extent of telling them that they should not worry about their actions since it was not they but G‑d who orchestrated the entire sale into slavery (ibid. 45:4-8).

By following this course of action, Yosef was fulfilling what would later be commanded by the Torah.   “Lo tisna es achicha bilvavecha, hocheiach tochiach es ‘amisecha v’lo tisa ‘alav cheit” – “You should not hate your brother in your heart; rebuke your friend and do not bear a sin [regarding him]” (K’doshim 19:17).   These phrases are translated by Chazal as two separate mitzvos: the negative commandment forbidding hatred and the positive commandment of rebuke to correct sin in others (see Seifer HaMitzvos: Mitzvas ‘Asei 205 and Mitzvas Lo Ta’aseh 302, Hilchos Dei’os 6:7)).  However, Chazal also interpret both parts of the passage as related comprising two interrelated mitzvos.   In the words of Rambam[2] (Hilchos Dei’os 6:6,9):

When a person wrongs another, he should not hate him and be silent … rather there is an obligatory commandment to inform him and to tell him: “Why did you do such-and-such?  Why did you harm me in this matter?” as it says: “You should rebuke your friend.”   If he subsequently asks him to forgive him, he must forgive, and he should not be cruel [not to forgive].
One whom his friend has wronged and he does not want to rebuke him and not to speak with him at all because the sinner is extremely simple minded (hedyot b’yosier) or mentally ill (da’to m’shubeshes) and he forgives him in his heart and does not hate him but does not rebuke him – this is an act of piety.  The Torah is only concerned about the hatred.

This ruling of the Rambam, outlining two distinct approaches to preventing and eliminating hatred, serves as a crucial method of mending rifts between family members, friends, or segments of the Jewish people.   Often, the first approach of rebuke is the appropriate one.  However hard it is for someone to approach another and state that the latter’s actions hurt him, it is considerably worse to harbor resentment in one’s heart.  The Torah demands of us that we overcome our natural tendency to be silent and allow hatred to fester, in order to remove such naturally occurring hatred against someone who harmed us.  Most situations do not allow us to rise to the level of the Rambam’s midas chasidus approach of forgiving without first rebuking.  However, other times, only the second approach is possible.  As the Rambam writes, not all are capable of receiving rebuke.  Then we must strive to overcome our natural feelings of enmity anyway.

K’lal Yisrael is one entity.  As Midrashim and Kabbala sources elaborate, all Jewish souls are part of one root soul of K’nesses  Yisrael.  Hating each other is the equivalent of one part the body hating another.  To some extent even loving abject sinners is required of us.[3]   All the more so are we required to love fellow Jews who basically keep the mitzvos haTorah but follow a different lifestyle from us.

This message is as relevant today as it was during the time of the second Beis HaMikdash which was destroyed due to sinas chinam.  It is incumbent upon all of us to take significant, practical steps to foster Ahavas Yisrael in ourselves, our children, and in our communities. The haftara from Yechezkel, describes the unification of the kingdoms of Yosef (the kingdom of Israel) and the kingdom of Yehuda into one nation under one king, symbolized by Yechezkel’s binding two pieces of wood together.  Only in such an environment of brotherly love and unity will the final redemption unfold.[4]


[1] See Rabbeinu B’Chaye’s (VaYechi 50:17) frightening comment that this reconciliation was not complete.  This led to future disastrous consequences.

[2] See Rambam, Frankel Edition, M’koros V’Tziyunim, and the wonderful work, Lo Tisna, from Machon Toras Ha’Adam La’Adam for he source of the Rambam’s understanding of this passage.  Ramban (‘al HaTorah) and Chizkuni interpret the verse similarly.

[3] See Tanya (32) and see there for exceptions; also see the seifer Lo Tisna referenced in footnote 2.

[4]See also mori v’Rabi Rav Yonasan Sack’s article, Aschalta Degeula: Harmony and Reconciliation and mori v’Rabi Rav Willig’s article, Ahava and Tochacha.

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