Beit Midrash

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Reading Between the Polite Lines


Rabbi Yossef Carmel

One of the topics that we often like to focus on is the connection between the weekly parasha and the haftara. Although this year we will be reading the special haftara for Chanuka (which needs no connection to the parasha), it is worthwhile to see what Chazal saw in common between the set haftara and the parasha.
In this case, there seems to be a clear connection in that both start with an important dream of a king, a young King Shlomo, in the case of the haftara (Melachim I, 3:15). In the past, we also noted the overlap of the wise heart that Hashem promised Shlomo, reminiscent of the wise heart that Paroh discerned in Yosef after Yosef correctly interpreted his dream. This time we want to point out a shared expression in the parasha and the haftara and learn from it about the relationship between Yosef and his brothers.
Shlomo was presented with a judicial challenge – to determine which of the arguing women was the mother of the live baby and who of the dead baby. Was it the woman who presented the whole story in the first place, or the woman who, in short, rejected the former’s story and said that the live baby boy was hers? The Malbim claims that the responder, who mentioned the live boy before the dead one, was the mother of the live baby. The woman who spoke first, who focused on the dead baby, was the one who accepted the idea of splitting the surviving baby, and was not the latter’s mother.
Others say it was the original presenter who had pity on the baby and offered him to her rival. A proof offered is that we find her using the same expression twice, in the early speeches of first speaker and in the clinching plea to spare the life of the baby. The phrase "bi adoni" (please, my master) shows proper etiquette in speaking to the young king. The original presenter is the one who used the phrase a second time in her speech that proved that she was the live baby’s mother.
The dispute between Yosef and his brothers had all the potential to rip the nascent Nation of Israel into shreds. The death verdict the brothers handed down against their divisive brother was like a sword that would cut the nation into pieces. The conflict, which is behind the scenes in Vayeishev and Miketz, comes to its climax in Vayigash when Yehuda approaches Yosef with his strong claims – claims that were introduced with the words "bi adoni" (Berieshit 44:18). Yosef’s hard heart is softened, and he finally reveals his identity to his brothers.
One of the lessons for generations like ours is that even when there are harsh disputes between people, certainly between brothers, it is crucial to speak with respectful language. This advice is true even when matters of life and death are on the line. As Shlomo himself said: "A soft response pushes back fury" (Mishlei 15:1).
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