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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Mechilas Yosef

By Rabbi Sender Haber

I had occasion to visit the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth this week. It was not very hard to get in, but there was serious security and I did need to prove to them that I belonged there. As soon as I was cleared by security, I entered and noted a very large billboard with the message “Hand Hygiene Saves Lives”. Indeed, as I walked through the hospital, hand hygiene was clearly the theme of the month. When I reached the room where I was going I was ordered by a very stern nurse in fatigues to make a sharp right upon entering the room and use hand sanitizer.

Here I was, surrounded by some of the toughest people in the world who have met face to face with some of our most dangerous enemies and they were obsessing about these little tiny invisible germs. Sissies!

At the end of our Parsha the brothers approach Yosef with a message from Yaacov: “forgive us”. This is odd because we have no record at all of Yaacov making this request. On the contrary, there are many indications that Yaacov had no idea that there was anything to forgive. Nobody ever told him the story. Rashi tells us that the brothers were bending the truth.

Clearly, the brothers thought that Yaacov knew but that they had not told him. They suspected Yosef of telling him. Yosef on the other hand had kept his silence all these years. When the brothers came to him with their untruth he cried because they clearly did not understand what he was all about. They thought that he was like Eisav, waiting for his father’s death do that he could kill them.

The Medrash Tanchuma writes that when the brothers were on their way back from burying Yaacov, Yosef made a detour at the pit where the brothers had thrown him. He made a blessing thanking Hashem for saving him on that day.

The brothers were petrified; they thought that Yosef was working himself up for revenge. In reality he was just thanking Hashem for everything that had happened.

Rabbeinu Bachaye writes that Yosef never actually did forgive the brothers. We suffered in later generations because of that forgiveness that never took place. We say on Yom Kippur that the ten martyrs were a result of that sale. Reb Elchanan writes that the blood libels may have been residual punishment for the dipping of Yosef’s coat in goat blood. Who knows how much infighting the Jews have gone through as a result of the sale of Yosef and the fact that it was never resolved.

We can’t just ignore things and sweep them under the carpet. We need to recognize that they are germs that can cause terrible disease. We also can’t assume that we understand what the other person is thinking. The brothers thought that Yosef would plot revenge and Yosef thought that the brother’s knew him better than that.

We need to time things right and be careful about bringing up the past, but we also can’t assume that we know what is going on in another person’s heart.

(Based in part on “Teachings” by Rabbi Asher Brander)

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