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Hatred and Peace

Vayeshev (Genesis 37-40 )


In this week's parashah, we read the story of Joseph's betrayal by his brothers. This is one of those vexing, painful incidents that are difficult to comprehend. How can brothers be so callous? How can they be so cruel? By closely examining this passage from the Torah, we can gain some insight.

The Torah states, "They saw him [Joseph]) from afar, and when he had not yet approached them they conspired against him to kill him."[1] The words "from afar" and "he had not yet approached" seem to be redundant. It would apparently have sufficed to say, "... they conspired against him." Why stress that he had not yet approached?

Hatred can only prevail in hearts where there is no communication. The brothers saw him from a distance because they did not allow him to approach them: it's easier to condemn, resent, and hate from afar. This distancing was the tragedy that led to the betrayal of Joseph by his brethren.

To prevent such deterioration in relationships, the Torah commands us, "You shall not hate your brother in your heart,"[2] calling upon us to resolve our differences and not allow animosity and hatred to fester within us. Let's try to apply this teaching to our personal lives; let us communicate in an amicable and civilized manner with those against whom we harbor resentment. We must do this, not only for the sake of others, but more - for our own sake. When jealousy and hatred are permitted to overtake us, they can literally consume us and render us bitter, angry people who not only destroy others, but more significantly, destroy ourselves.

If we wish to eliminate the rivalries and controversies (as subtle as they may be) in our own families, we have to learn to communicate with respect, "judge each person favorably"[3] and give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, isn't that what we wish others to do for us? Focus on their redeeming qualities rather than on their character flaws, and you will find that life will be more pleasant and relationships more rewarding.


In this week's parashah, the word shalom is mentioned several times, and, we detect different dimensions of the word. Shalom means greeting, shalom means peace, shalom means welfare or wellbeing, and its Hebrew letters also connote complete, as in the word shalem, whole.

In this parashah,[4] we find that the brothers of Joseph hated him and could not speak to him "l'shalom," peaceably, which literally translates, "to peace." Moreover, in this passage, we note the elision of the word shalom, which is spelled here without the letter vav. There are many lessons that we can derive from this. If we want to attain peace in our relationships, we have to take steps toward peace, hence "to peace," and each little step becomes part of the mosaic until completion - shalem - total peace is attained. Because the brothers hated Joseph, they could not even take the first small step: they could not even greet him.

Without the vav, the gematria of the word l'shalom - to peace - is 400, which is equal to the value of ayin ra - an evil eye. The brothers looked upon Joseph with an evil eye, unable to see the good in him or to interpret his actions favorably. On the other hand, when the Patriarch Jacob/Israel said that he intended to send Joseph to his brothers in Shechem, Joseph responded, "Hineni - here I am." Jacob charges Joseph with looking into the welfare of his brethren; once again the word shalom is used, but this time, the word is spelled fully,[5] teaching us that Jacob instructed Joseph to seek completeness in his brethren and disregard their flaws - and Joseph was ready to do his bidding. It's all in our hands: Will we look at one another with an "evil eye" or will we see "wholeness"? Obviously, it's much easier to see another's faults, but the challenge is to search for the goodness, for the positive attributes in each person. How we judge others speaks volumes about our own character. Let us kindle the lights of love and compassion in our hearts.


Through this parashah we can understand the terrible consequences of jealousy and animosity, which, if allowed to go unchecked, can lead to such intense hatred that even simple communication becomes impossible. Our Sages tell us that when Joseph greeted his brothers, saying "Shalom," they mocked his greeting, but when he remained silent, they jeered, saying, "He does not even say 'Shalom.'" This teaches us that, in face of jealousy and hatred, nothing that one does is right. On the other hand, when love is present, there is always a willingness to look away and forgive.

A further manifestation of jealousy and hatred is evidenced when the elderly Jacob is told, "Identify, if you please: Is it your son's tunic or not?"[6] The brothers' hatred was so intense that they couldn't bear to pronounce Joseph's name. To prevent such destructive deterioration in our relationships, let us be careful to refer to others by their names and see them as real people rather than as impersonal objects: "he" or "she."

Our mother, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, has often related that very often, in troubled families who come to her for consultation, hostile children simply cannot pronounce the words, "my mother" and "my father," but insist on referring to their parents as "she" or "he." There is a world of difference between the two. When you say, "my mother" or "my father," you are acknowledging that no matter what, whether you see eye to eye or not, you are connected ... you know that they care for you and are concerned for your welfare. But when parents become she's or he's, they are transformed into objects that have no bearing upon your life.

Monitor yourself: How do you refer to the members of your family? Enhance your relationships through the simple exercise of referring to them by name. It is not by coincidence that when Hashem expresses his love for the Patriarch Abraham and for Moses our teacher, He repeats their names.

  1. Genesis 37:18.
  2. Leviticus 19:17.
  3. Ethics of the Fathers 1:6.
  4. Genesis 37:4.
  5. Ibid. 37:13-14.
  6. Ibid. 37:32.

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