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When To Talk, And When To Walk

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02.12.2021

Last Friday afternoon, way too late for a blog entry, I was looking for something new I hadn’t already written about for VaYeshev. It is patently clear that Jacob’s favoritism towards Joseph causes envy, anger and hate. We can talk about how best to deal with our anger when we are discriminated against, but then and now, discrimination and inequality lead to hate and strife. I certainly have written about that before. However, what caught my eye was Genesis 37:4, “they (Joseph’s brothers) hated him so that they could not speak with him in a friendly and peaceable manner.”

Both Rashi and Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch have fascinating commentaries extremely pertinent to the question of how Israelis and Palestinians (or other groups and individuals in conflict) speak to each other, or don’t. Rashi faults the brothers but also gives them credit for not dissembling: “from what is stated to their discredit we may infer something to their credit: they did not speak one thing with their mouth having another thing quite different in their hearts.” (Based on Genesis Rabbah 84:9).

Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch has two alternative takes on the inability of the brothers to speak in a friendly and peaceable manner with Joseph. The first is that they simply did not know how to speak in a way that would bring about peace. They didn’t have the tools to put things on the table and work them out. However, his second interpretation is that they were infuriated because Joseph tried to banter with them as if nothing was wrong:

“They couldn’t stand his friendly talk. Where there is friendship, everything flows. When there are tense relationships people can find fault with everything, and find it particularly objectionable when the second party tries to speak in a friendly manner.”

When I read these commentaries, one of the first things that popped into my mind was today’s “normalization” debate, the objection of many Palestinians against holding events with Israelis that create the illusion that everything is normal, when everything really isn’t. Although I am not going to address the incident he discusses, it also occurred to me later in the evening that these fascinating commentaries of Rashi and Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch were pertinent to the buzz that has been created since Yossi Klein Halevi wrote in his TOI blog about a walkout from a dialogue between him and Muhammad Darawshe. I also thought about words versus deeds.

I am in favor of talking with those with whom I have serious disagreement, and even with those who I think are acting evilly. I don’t hide my opinions and feelings, although I try to be civil, and also understand that I don’t have a monopoly on truth.

More importantly, I believe that people can change. I am therefore obligated to do what I can to facilitate that change. I always remember that a week earlier Jacob/Israel came to terms with himself before reconciling with Esau. At the end of Genesis he will bless Joseph’s children together, having learned from the enmity he created between Joseph and his brothers. Judah, who come up with the idea of selling Joseph into slavery, will offer himself in order to save Benjamin.

I also recall my college days when I was an anti-apartheid activist and we protested a talk by Alan Paton at Harvard because in our eyes his anti-apartheid Liberal Party was not taking the positions that we believed were necessary to........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)


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