Yosef: Man of Peace
BY RABBI ELIEZER KASHTIEL
At the beginning of Parshat Vayeishev, the Torah describes the animosity that Yosef’s brothers harbored toward him: “His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, and they despised him and they were unable to speak with him peacefully… And his brothers said to him, ‘Will you truly be a king over us, and will you truly rule over us?’ And they despised him even more because of his dreams and because of his words” (Bereishit 37:4–8).
Rashi comments, “He spent much time with the sons of Bilhah, for his brothers would disparage them, but he would reach out to them.” Yosef also reported to Ya’akov that his brothers were disdainfully referring to them as servants. All of this points to a major difference between Leah’s sons and Yosef: Leah’s sons felt that it was important to stress the differences in standing between the various members of the family, whereas Yosef sought to cultivate unity among all his brothers.
Yosef’s overarching goal was for the brothers to live together in peace and harmony. He felt it was important to emphasize that they were all the sons of the same father, that they all shared the same roots.
It would seem that the ketonet pasim, the striped tunic that Ya’akov gave to Yosef, was symbolic of Yosef’s role. The stripes of various colors symbolized the differences between the brothers, while the stripes’ coexistence in the garment represented Yosef’s capacity to unify the family.
This insight into Yosef’s designated mission can help us understand the reason for his brothers’ animosity toward him. Rav Kook discusses how enmity can be a constructive force:
“In order for individual elements to come into existence, each element must stand out with a unique identity… The fundamental reason for conflict in life and in society, and the purpose of all constraints on ideas or faiths, is to create a place where every individual value can develop properly and where others – other people, other nations, other attitudes and characters, or other concepts and faiths – will not usurp its place” (Orot HaKodesh 4:498).
When Yosef tried to foster unity within the family, his brothers were infuriated. They saw it as an attempt to erase their individual identities. The conflict between Yosef and his brothers thus represented a fierce battle between two different spiritual forces. As Rav Kook formulates it: “Two majestic voices can be heard in the world with great intensity… [One is] the voice of harmony, the voice that demands complete coordination, equivalence, and homogeneity, the voice of peace… In contrast, there also thunders… the voice that roars for the power of the lone individual, for the conflict of life in which every person seeks to overpower his fellow, and for the accentuation of every unique attribute” (Orot HaKodesh 4:493).
The Maharal teaches that the phenomenon of brotherhood will be cultivated by Mashiach ben Yosef, who will work to find common ground between all the various groups within the Jewish people and will thus bring about the ingathering of exiles (Netzach Yisrael, 37).
Yosef would later teach his brothers the priceless value of harmony, brotherhood, and maintaining their connection to their father. In Parshat Mikeitz, the Torah describes how Yosef subjected his brothers to an exhausting ordeal until they finally acknowledged the idea that he had stressed throughout his life: “We are all the sons of one man” (Bereishit 42:11). In the same encounter, the brothers also discovered their capacity to join forces to save a single member of their family – in this case Binyamin – even if it meant that they would be enslaved.
Peaceful coexistence certainly requires an awareness of every person’s uniqueness and of the vast diversity of the individuals in our nation. At the same time, it is important to identify the common characteristics that make all of us the same and to see to it that all of us, without exception, live together in harmony as parts of a cohesive whole.
Dedicated in memory of the 14 graduates of Mosdot Bnei David – Eli who have died defending Israel in this war.
● Translation: R. Dovid Sussman
● Editing and adaption: R. Yitzchak Twersky, Academic Language Experts
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