Both this week’s parsha (Torah portion) and the Book of Genesis end on a bittersweet note. The brothers worry that Joseph still holds a grudge against them; and, despite claims to the contrary, that he will take revenge on them for selling him into slavery. This is why they concoct a story for Joseph that their father, Jacob, gave them clear instructions on his deathbed to tell Joseph to forgive his brothers.
Upon receiving this message, Joseph breaks down and cries. Why? Because he realizes that not only do the brothers not trust each other, but that this mistrust will be the Jewish people’s undoing throughout history.
Still, the brothers do have a point. They did sell Joseph into slavery, not something the average Joe could overlook. How do they know Joseph really does not bear a grudge? More importantly, did this not occur to Jacob? Surely, he too wondered whether Joseph was big enough to let it go.
And finally, how exactly did Joseph know that Jacob did not really give that last directive, but rather it was cooked up by the brothers out of fear?
The answer is that because Jacob did wonder about the subject, he checked with Joseph whether he bore ill will toward his brothers. Since they’d already addressed the matter, Joseph knew this “dying wish” his brothers presented was a fake.
When and where did Jacob ask Joseph? Let’s go back a little in the story.
Jacob, before he dies, blesses his grandsons, Ephraim and Menashe (Genesis 48:12-20). In the process, he deliberately gives the younger son the greater honor. This is something that previously was the cause of tremendous sibling battles. This time, however, it ends beautifully well and Jacob gives them and Joseph an even greater blessing.
Now, this has to be the question. If Jacob wants to give Ephraim the greater blessing, and Menashe is the older brother, why does Jacob have to do it in front of Menashe?
Why rub it in his face?
When Jacob’s own father, Isaac, was giving out the blessings, did Isaac do it in front of each brother (Jacob and Eisav)? Certainly not! So why did Jacob?
Because he wanted to see if Joseph still bore a grudge against his brothers. How did this prove it? Because you can’t raise children to get along with their siblings if you resent yours!
When Jacob gave the younger more and saw that his children were cool with this, that they loved each other like brothers, he understood they could only accomplish what no previous generation had before (not Isaac and Ishmael, nor Jacob and Eisav) was if they learned it from their father.
Being great is good, and living to your potential is wonderful — but living together in peace is better. In other words, if you want your children to succeed in life, teach them how to get along. And the way to teach them that, in fact the only way to teach them that, is to show them how it is done.
By Rabbi Stephen Baars
Originally from London, Rabbi Stephen Baars resides in Rockville, Maryland, and serves as executive director of Aish Seminars. An educator and marriage counselor for the past 25 years, Rabbi Baars and his wife, Ruth, are blessed with seven children. Learn more about Rabbi Baars at www.getbliss.com and www.core9.live.