Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Vayechi
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

R. Avraham ben-tziyon ben shabtai

Parashat Vayechi

Conflict and Purpose

Conflict and Purpose. Before taking offense, before interpreting the actions of others incorrectly, one must attempt to see things from the point of view of his fellow and to assume that his intentions were completely pure.


Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed

Tevet 5759
1. Cause for Conflict
2. Every Difficulty in Life Has its Purpose

Cause for Conflict
When the sons of Jacob returned from Egypt after burying their father in Hebron's Makhpelah Cave, the Torah tells us that, "Joseph's brothers began to realize [the implications] of their father's death. 'What if Joseph is still holding a grudge against us?' they said. 'He is likely to pay us back for all the evil we did him'" (Genesis 50:15).

The Midrash teaches us in the name of Rabbi Levi that, "He (Joseph) did not invite them to dine with him." That is, when Jacob was still alive, the whole family would dine together at Joseph's table, yet when they returned from the burial of Jacob, he no longer invited the brothers to dine with him. Therefore, the brothers suspected that Joseph was now planning to get even with them. Rabbi Tanchuma adds that, "His intentions were purely for the sake of Heaven, for Joseph said to himself, 'In the past my father used to seat me ahead of Judah, the King, and ahead of Rueben, the first born. Now it is no longer fitting for me to sit before them,' They, though, misinterpreted his actions saying, 'What if Joseph is still holding a grudge against us...'" Rabbi Yitzhak gave a reason different than that given by Rabbi Levi, claiming that Joseph had gone and looked into the pit he had been thrown into by his brothers. Again, Rabbi Tanchuma adds that his intentions in doing so were purely for the sake of Heaven, but they misinterpreted his actions saying, "What if Joseph is still holding a grudge against us..."

We see from this Midrash that, while Joseph actually harbored the best possible intentions, the brothers misread his actions and therefore became worried. His reason for not inviting them was sincere consideration for their honor. His looking into the pit, too, was only done in order to thank God for saving his life, and not, heaven forbid, with any intent of getting even with his brothers. Though his intentions were purely for the sake of Heaven, the brothers misunderstood and panicked.

Most quarrels and disagreements are the result of misunderstanding. A few years ago two individuals who had gotten into a conflict came to me to receive my decision in the matter. In the past, the two had been very good friends. They went into business together, and for a few years everything was fine. Then, suddenly, they became entangled in a vehement argument, until finally one of them threatened the other at gunpoint. They came before me in order to hear the Torah law with regard to their disagreement, one demanding payment for losses that the other caused him.

The one began by accusing his partner of having changed the key to the factory, thus preventing him from entering. That, he claimed, is how it all started. I asked the other why he did such a thing. He said that the lock had broken and he had no choice but to change it along with the keys. His partner, it seems, had assumed that it was done intentionally in order to conspire against him, and retaliated accordingly. And so the whole ordeal grew, each one taking action against the other, until they were finally outright enemies.

It did not take too long for it to become apparent to both of them that their bitter disagreement was no more than the result of a chain of misunderstandings. The entire quarrel, that had dragged on for a number of years, stemmed from the fact that they had misunderstood each other. And while it was no simple task to go from being fierce enemies to good friends, soon enough it become noticeable that their relationship was changing for the better. Indeed, after some time they returned to their former friendship. It is quite common that people misinterpret the actions of others, take offense, store it up inside, and thus prepare the way for a quarrel to develop. And even if it never actually reaches the stage of an open dispute, it is bad enough that anger is stored up in the heart.

Perhaps was the source of the conflict between Joseph and his brothers. He had good intentions but his outer actions were misinterpreted. As a result, the rift in the family deepened.

There is an important lesson to be learned here. Before taking offense, before interpreting the actions of others incorrectly, one must attempt to see things from the point of view of his fellow and to assume that his intentions were completely pure. It might very well be that the offense taken is completely unjustified and that all of the revengeful scheming was is completely unwarranted. Not only is this good practical advice, but the Torah itself forbids us from taking revenge, as it is written: "Do not take revenge nor bear a grudge..." (Leviticus 19:18). By so doing, one saves himself unnecisary discomfort and grief. No doubt, if people would follow this path many conflicts would be prevented.

Every Difficulty in Life has its Purpose
With the closing of the chapter of the forefathers, Jacob wishes to reveal to his sons what will be in the End of Days. "Assemble yourselves and I will tell you what will happen to you in the End of Days" (Genesis 49:1). Jacob had desired to reveal what would come to be, when suddenly Divine Inspiration left him. He became concerned thinking, "Perhaps there is among my offspring an unworthy son , lacking proper faith and not deserving of the revelation of the End of Days. Perhaps for this reason the Divine Inspiration has left me." His sons answered him: "Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one! Just as He is unique in your heart, so is He in ours." At that moment Jacob cried out: "Blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity!"

What is the significance of the "End of Days?"
In life we face difficulties, troubles, and suffering. It is very frustrating to deal with this plight of ours because we do not understand what the ultimate purpose of all these troubles is. Were we capable of understanding that each difficulty, discomfort, and pain serves a profound inner purpose, our lives would be completely different. We, for our part, though, see only the outer shell of existence, and are not aware of the true inner workings of things. While we may be spiritually aware of the existence of inner purpose and direction, we are incapable of actually seeing it.

The implication of the revelation of the End of Days means actually seeing the inner workings of existence in the course of their development. This is what Jacob wished to reveal, and was prevented. The reason that it remained hidden from even Jacob himself is that ours is a world of personal effort and endeavor, and were man aware of the final implications of every act he performed in life, he would no longer need to struggle and exert himself in life - and this would run contrary to the purpose of existence. The understanding that in the future we will be made aware of the purpose of each and every difficulty we faced in life, that we will recognize and know that for the sake of the complete "Geula," redemption, we had no other choice than the precise path taken despite all of the suffering and hardships which it entailed for the Jewish People - this understanding is very important. True, even today we know that each difficulty has a purpose, but if we knew the exact purpose of each particular difficulty, our way of veiwing the world would experience a complete revolution. We would suddenly know what need be done in order to deal with each and every difficulty, and this undermine our entire purpose here in the world.



Midrash - A general term, usually indicating the non-legalistic teachings of the Rabbis of the Talmudic era. In the period following the final editing of the Talmud (around 505 c.e.), much of this material was gathered into collections known as Midrashim .

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