Vayeshev – Seeing the Bright Side
Joseph’s brothers were hostile toward him, feeling resentful of their father’s favoring of Joseph. The Midrash describes in detail how Joseph’s actions were interpreted by his brothers as condescension, which certainly didn’t help to curb the resentment. The verse does not mince words in regards to their relationship. “And his brothers saw that it was he whom their father loved from all his brothers so they hated him, and they could not speak to him in peace.” (Gen 37:4)
Rashi points out that although the verse presents negativity there is something good reflected in this verse as well. They did not mask their hatred with fake smiles and platitudes. There was no two-faced or hypocritical behavior. However, they also did not speak openly about their hatred. False friendship is counterproductive but their silence was also problematic. Rabbi Yonatan Eibeshitz, in his commentary Tiferet Yonatan, writes that if one does not express displeasure about the other’s offense he commits the transgression stated in Leviticus 19, “you shall not hate your brother in your heart…” Rabbi Eibeshitz explains that when one harbors hatred in his heart and does not allow it to express itself the hatred is compounded. A person grows more resentful if he does not speak his heart to the other. Instead, he writes, one should express to the other his hurt or upset immediately. The opportunity to relieve himself of the burden will reduce the resentment, or at least prevent it from growing toxic.
Jacob sent his son Joseph to find how his brothers were faring. “And he said to him, ‘go please and look into the welfare of your brothers and the welfare of the sheep, and bring me back word.'” (Gen 37:14)
Rabbi Yisrael Lipschitz, in his commentary to the Mishna Tiferet Yisrael, writes that Jacob’s message to Joseph was very particular. He sent Joseph to look at the “shalom” of his brothers. Joseph was to look for the good. He was sent to find the peace, the strengths and good qualities of his brothers. He was not to pay attention to any of their failings of weaknesses but see where they were doing well, see their successes. Similarly, writes Rabbi Lipschitz, when we look at others we must see their strengths, their beauty and good qualities. We must not let failings and weaknesses of others penetrate the filter of our perception.
The use of oil on Chanukah carries many significant meanings. One idea highlighted by our sages is that oil has certain qualities that set it apart from other fluids. While liquids tend to blend together when they mix oil remains a separate entity. It does not mix with water and does not become diluted. The Chanukah story shows the determination of a core contingent of Jews not to become assimilated, not to blend in with the majority culture and lose their unique identity. They were the oil which stubbornly refused to blend with other fluids.
But oil has yet another quality. It rises to the surface, claiming the high ground of the container it occupies. It sits above the water level, not only apart but elevated over the ordinary.
When oil and water are placed together in an opaque container the viewer will see only the oil. The rich and higher quality liquid will cover other liquids which may share the space of container. Thus, another lesson of Chanukah comes to support Jacob’s words to Joseph. Go see the “shalom” of your brothers. Look at them and be sure to recognize the goodness, the qualities that rise to the surface. Do not stir the waters in search of weaknesses and dregs which naturally sink to the bottom.