By Rav David Silverberg
In the final verses of Parashat Miketz, we read of Yosef’s brothers embarking on what they mistakenly thought would be their final departure home from Egypt. However, Yosef, the Egyptian vizier, had ordered his servants to hide his royal goblet in Binyamin’s bag, and after they embarked, he dispatched his butler to chase after the brothers and bring them back on charges of theft. After the butler accused the brothers of stealing Yosef’s goblet, they opened their bags and discovered the precious vessel in Binyamin’s bag. Realizing they had been framed and would likely be severely punished, the brothers rent their garments (44:13).
The Midrash, in a fascinating passage (Bereishit Rabba 84:20), views the brothers’ rending of their garments as both a consequence of an earlier instance of rending, and a cause of a future rending. The brothers were compelled to rend their garments, the Midrash comments, as a punishment for their having caused their father to rend his garments in grief after learning of Yosef’s apparent death (37:34). And Yosef’s butler, whom the Midrash identifies as Yosef’s older son, Menashe, was punished for causing Yosef’s brothers to rend their garments in anguish by having his descendants’ territory “torn” into two parts. As we read later in the Torah, half the tribe of Menashe settled together with the tribes of Reuven and Gad east of the Jordan River, resulting in the tribe’s split into two distinct territories. This rupture, the Midrash comments, came as a punishment for the founder of this tribe’s having caused his uncles to rend their garments when he accused them of stealing from his father.
The question arises as to why the Midrash appears to fault Menashe for the plot designed by his father. Menashe was merely Yosef’s messenger dictating to Yosef’s brothers precisely what Yosef instructed him to say to them. Why did Chazal hold him accountable for the brothers’ grief? Why is Menashe criticized for executing his father’s plot against his brothers?
The Tolna Rebbe suggested that Chazal perhaps cast blame on Menashe not for speaking the words he was commanded to speak, but rather for the way he spoke them. Apparently, when Menashe charged Yosef’s brothers with theft as Yosef instructed, he did so with a feeling of vengeance and vindication. To one degree or another, he felt satisfaction in avenging his father’s mistreatment at the hands of his uncles. Rather than simply executing the mission his father assigned him, Menashe experienced a tinge of gratification in inflicting harm on his father’s brothers. And for this he was criticized by Chazal.
The Tolna Rebbe inferred from the Midrash’s comments an educational message regarding criticism and punishment. Even when criticism needs to be expressed or punitive measures need to be taken, this must not be done with any feelings of joy or satisfaction. We should never enjoy feeling superior when we express legitimate criticism, and we should never enjoy the feeling of punishing a child or student, even when the punishment is justified. We must criticize and reprimand with genuine feelings of love, concern and empathy, without any feelings of joy over the emotional pain we justifiably find necessary to inflict.
Originally appears on VBM