Let us recap some of the events in this week’s Parsha:
We can only see the entire story through the lens of Rashi and the Medrash.
Yaakov sent Yosef to go check on his brothers who were in the field with the flocks. He went searching for them and was seen by a man who inquired as to his motives. He explained, “I am looking for my brothers. Do you know where they are?”
The man directed him to where they were last headed. As Yosef approached from afar, his brothers were amidst a discussion that the Torah tells us arose from their jealousy of Yosef. He was favored by his father Yaakov, and according to the Sforno, the brothers began a court case to discuss if Yosef was liable to capital punishment for trying to “kill them”. (According to some, they thought that Yosef, being on a higher spiritual level than they were, planned to be the only Jewish Father in their generation. Much the same as Avraham’s other son, Yishmael, and Yitzchak’s other son, Esav, had lost the inheritance of their fathers.) They passed a verdict to kill Yosef and decided to say that he had been eaten by wild animals.
The discussion continued however, and before Yosef arrived, Reuven interceded on his behalf, “Don’t spill any blood. Throw him in this pit in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.”
Reuven intended to later rescue Yosef but alas, Hashem had other plans. They saw a caravan on its way to Egypt and decided instead to sell Yosef into slavery. They then sat to break bread together.
Reuven returned to the pit to rescue Yosef but found that he was gone. Distraught, he rent his garments and returned to the Brothers.
The next scene is well known; they killed a goat and spread the blood on Yosef’s tunic before returning to their father. Yaakov reached the obvious conclusion that his son had been killed.
Meanwhile, Yosef was brought to Egypt and sold to Potiphar, an advisor to the Pharaoh and the Head Butcher of the Royal House.
And so begins the Jewish Exile in Egypt.
These are some of the hardest events in the whole book of Bereishis to understand. We know that the twelve tribes, the fathers of our nation, were far greater than we can imagine. It is therefore impossible for us to fathom how they could be faced with such a jealousy for their brother and how they could falter in this regard, intending to kill him and eventually selling him into slavery. We are in fact told that this jealousy was so slight that the court case they held to judge Yosef was attended by none other than God himself, implying that there reasoning was valid. In fact, one of the punishments they received for this jealousy was that the Torah states it in such explicit terms, while in actuality it was such a slight feeling in the innermost chambers of their hearts. So slight, that they did not invalidate themselves from passing judgement on him.
We find a strange dichotomy regarding all of this:
On the one hand, we are told by the Talmud that they only faltered in this regard in order to teach the Jewish People for all time, the ability for a group of people to do Teshuva, to return to Hashem and to fix our mistakes. Additionally, we are told that this was all part of the divine plan to start the exile early and in a more bearable way so that Yaakov was not led to Egypt in chains, but welcomed by the Pharaoh as an honored guest to live in his country.
But on the other hand, we are told by the Medrash that the Ten Martyrs, later in Jewish history, was in part, an atonement for the brothers sin. Such a punishment could only be for a very grave sin. How can it be that Hashem forced them, so to speak, to sell their brother and then punished them for their mistake?
The Ohr Gedalyahu, a beautiful sefer based on the classes of Rav Gedaliah Shorr, answers that every action we take is broken into three parts: the original drive or desire to do something, the decision in one’s mind to carry it out, and the actual action as it is carried out.
We have control of the first two parts, but the last part, the actual action, we have no control over. A person can decide to do anything, but whether he is successful or not in carrying it out is entirely out of his control.
Accordingly, he explains that Hashem was going to make it happen anyway, but the first two parts, the desire and the decision were the responsibility of the brothers and for that infinitesimally small amount of jealousy and the actions that grew from it, people on such a high spiritual level as the Ten Tribes, are held accountable.
We see from this how careful we all must be to look into the motives we have when making decisions and to do everything in our power to keep our motives pure.
He concludes with the realization that the brothers were responsible not just for the enslavement of Yosef, but for the entire Egyptian exile that grew out of it, AND for the ultimate redemption, 400 years later.
Today, we are facing dark times around us. Dark times in Israel, in France, and now, in America. During these times we wonder why there is so much pain. Why we must watch our brothers suffer. But at these times we have the Chanukah candles, in the darkest days of the year, to remind us that there is still light in dark times. That we will experience the Ultimate Redemption. That, God-willing, Mashiach will come very soon to pull us out. And that even the darkest times are put here by Hashem to help us. Just as the slavery was a necessary part of the Jewish people becoming who we are today, the current exile is a crucial part of our future.
May it end without any more pain and may we merit to see Mashiach ben Yosef speedily in our days.
Good Shabbos and Happy Chanukah.