"'I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?'"
When brother does not recognize brother tragedy ensues. The story of Yosef and his brothers drives home this point emphatically. Yes, there was a happy ending of sorts, which we read about in this week's parasha, Vayigash, where Yosef first reveals his identity to his dumbstruck brothers, and is then reunited with his father Yisrael. But even this joyful conclusion to a painful and prolonged estrangement is clouded by the exile and enslavement which will soon engulf the children of Israel.
If there is a long-term silver lining to this gloomy episode, it is the emergence of true leadership, as exhibited by Yosef and Yehuda, who nearly come to blows as Vayigash opens. Torah is teaching us is that true leadership is characterized by recognition and love for one's brother, and, indeed, love for one's brother is a prerequisite of true leadership. Any individual seeking to impose his will upon others, whether it be a social occasion, the local school board, business, or national politics, who does not acknowledge and accept the uniqueness of others, and cherish their welfare, will be, at best, a failed leader, a false leader, and at worst, a tyrant who inflicts endless misery upon his brothers.
Torah makes it clear that conflict between brothers has afflicted man from the moment that two siblings walked the same earth. From Cain and Abel, to Yitzchak and Yishmael, and Yaakov and Esav, brotherly strife has plagued mankind. Torah makes it equally clear that only reconciliation between brothers can bring about the longed-for redemption of mankind, and this is alluded to in the story of Yosef and his brothers. True, two hundred years of servitude were about to commence, but the unity which now bound the brothers together, and their shared trust in G-d's providence, would see them through the years of bondage, and be the source of the strength of vision which ultimately break their bonds as they left Egypt forever, and set off for the promised land.
It was, in fact, the issues of trust and vision which first tore the brothers apart. Yosef was given a coat by his father which roused the jealousy of his brothers. Was it the beauty of the coat or its outrageous price tag which so incensed the brothers, or was it simply that it was a coat that, at Midrash teaches, had been handed down from generation to generation since the time of Adam, the first man. Was it the coat that they later drenched with blood that they coveted, or were they keenly aware that Yosef possessed something far more valuable: the generations-old tradition of G-d's word and G-d's protection, as embodied by the coat.
But Yosef possessed in his heart something even more precious than the coat, and this is what really drove the brothers to entertain the thought of murdering Yosef, of abandoning him to perish, and eventually to sell him to a passing caravan of merchants heading south to Egypt: Yosef possessed a dream. Yosef's dream existed for the good of the entire nation: "for it was to preserve life that G-d sent me before you." (Genesis 45:5) Yosef knew this, and this knowledge gave him the strength to persevere in the face of his brothers' hatred for him, and in the face of all the hardships he was to encounter. But his brothers, who did not possess the ketonet passim - the many-colored coat - the mantle of knowledge and closeness to G-d, understood Yosef's dreams in another light altogether. They sensed imperiousness on Yosef's part, and feared subjugation to him in the fulfillment of his dreams. Their lack of vision, their isolation, perhaps, from G-d, blinded them and drove them to violence against their brother.
We are intended to learn from the triumphs and tragedies that beset our forefathers, and not to repeat mistakes made in the past. But we can hardly expect from those who have turned their backs to our history, who have torn the beautiful coat of Yosef, as it were, to learn from what they have already forgotten. And so today, in the land of Israel, there is a younger brother with a dream and with a vision. His dream is of a vibrant Jewish nation in all the land of Israel, and at its center, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, from which will shine forth G-d's light and the Divine truth of Torah to all the world. But today's dreamer also has brothers who are frightened and wary of his dream, and while he knows his dreams to be for the preservation of life and the good of all, the brothers fear for their own roles in the visionary landscape.
The modern nation of Israel has arrived at its own "vayigash" moment, its own existential crisis demanding the only resolution possible: the preservation of the nation, the preservation of the dream and the preservation of life on earth. In spite of all the "bad blood" between Yosef and his brothers, it was the mutual love by all of the brothers for Binyamin that both precipitated the crisis and resolved the crisis.
There are those in Israel today who seek to shy away from our responsibility to G-d and to one another, who try to flee from the destiny that Torah has spelled out for us, and to hide from the prophetic promise of the rebuilt Temple, of the Divine light which will spread forth from Zion, and of a world imbued with the knowledge of Torah. But at the same time there is a growing community dedicated to the land of Israel, the Torah of Israel, the G-d of Israel and the destiny of Israel. The time has come for us all to draw near, to reconnect as brothers, and unite as the children of Israel. Only thusly can we realize the dream.
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss the month of Tevet, one that is centered around the theme of the Holy Temple, which begins with the bright light of Chanukah, but days later turns to anguish, and examine three days in Tevet - the 8th, the 9th and the 10th, and the cataclysmic events that transpired on these days, leaving an indelible imprint on the Jewish people and the whole world: the translation of the holy Torah into Greek, the passing of Ezra and Nehemiah, and the siege against Jerusalem by Babylonian king Nevuchadnezzer.