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 The narrative in the Torah portion of Vayeshev, of how the Jewish people came down to Egypt and settled there for centuries, is in the form of a personality dispute between Joseph and his brothers.  The Torah never covers up for anyone and is never hagiographic.  It presents for us figures of great people, but it does not demand perfection from them.  In short, they are human with all that this connotes.  

The brothers’ attitude towards Joseph is colored by one negative emotion – jealousy.  Joseph is too handsome, too talented, too beloved by his father and too brash a personality.  They and he are longer able to communicate with each other civilly and rationally.  This jealousy eventually morphs into hatred, and as all human history indicates to us, hatred easily turns into persecution and violence.  The brothers truly feel justified in their behavior and actions.  They feel compassionate towards Joseph in having sold him into slavery instead of murdering him on the spot.  Jealousy and hatred are such strong self-justifying emotions that they can cover up even the most vicious crimes and violent behavior.  
In the original story of murder in the Torah, Cain seems to realize that he has committed an evil act in murdering his brother.  However, as civilization proceeded through the generations, there is little stigma of guilt associated with murdering people who the murderer feels unjustly has more power, wealth and ability than he does.  The concept of justifiable homicide thus becomes one of the tenets of human civilization. And the brothers feel completely at ease in employing this concept regarding their treatment of Joseph and his being sold into slavery.  
The Rabbis have taught us that much if not all Jewish history is simply a replay of the script of the story of Joseph and his brothers.  It explains not only the differences that exist and have always existed in Jewish life, both religious and general, but it also illustrates how these differences oftentimes descend into acts that are unworthy of the chosen people.  And, as with Joseph and his brothers, all differences are magnified and become reasons for the disagreements and for the satisfying self-justification that allows these disputes to perpetuate and recur again and again.  
Eventually, history and events – these are the divine instruments by which G-d guides the world – will reconcile Joseph and his brothers.  But the scars of their decades of contention will always remain, even after reconciliation has been achieved.  So too, Jewish history reflects the repetition of old differences, albeit decked out in new forms and ideologies.  Eventually all of these fall away in the face of the truth of Torah and the survival of the Jewish people. The scars remain and oftentimes the differences are revisited by later generations who willingly or unwillingly ignore the past.  It is for this reason perhaps that the Torah spends so much space and detail on this story of Joseph and his brothers.  It is really the millennia old story of internal Jewish life and society.
Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Berel Wein

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