by Rabbi Jay Spero
Sins of Fathers
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this week’s portion, Yoseph, the son of Yaakov, is sold by his brothers. The
Torah does not whitewash the lives of our ancestors and tells their stories in
total. But we must also be aware that these were
great people, and that even when these people made mistakes, they thought they
were doing the right thing.
the brothers sold him, they had a problem. How were they going to tell their
father Yaakov? Yoseph was his most beloved son, and this news would devastate
him. They proceeded to slaughter a goat and dip
Yoseph’s garment in its blood. They then brought the garment to Yaakov as
"proof" that his son had been torn apart by animals. Interestingly,
the Zohar tells us that because Yaakov had deceived his own father, Yitzchok,
by use of a garment (when Yaakov had pretended to be Eisav), Yaakov was in turn
tricked by a garment, which in fact was the very same garment! (Although Yaakov
had been in the right when he had worn the garment, nonetheless, he had used
deception, and righteous people are
judged by a higher standard.)
are the ramifications of this act of trickery performed by the brothers? As we
know, the acts of the ancestors are a signpost for their descendants.
Elchanan Wasserman writes that he fears that this is the root cause
of the blood libel phenomenon (the blood libel is the age-old canard that Jews
murder non-Jews because they need their blood for religious
purposes). The reason blood libels happen is because of the improper use of
blood by Yoseph’s brothers. But how could this be true? We know that
children are not punished for sins of their parents (Devarim 24:16).
Ibn Ezra explains using the verse in Shemos (20:5): "A jealous
Hashem, who visits the sins of fathers upon children." The Ibn Ezra asks,
how is this verse to be understood in light of the verse in Devarim? The
answer is, the only time children are punished for the sins of their fathers is
when the go in their fathers' ways and perpetuate the very sin committed by
we are only punished for sins committed previously if we continue to make the
same mistake, and we sin as our fathers did.
was the sin committed by the sons of Yaakov? They thought they were one hundred
per cent correct in their treatment of Yoseph. Their sin was they never listened
to his cries, they never considered that perhaps they
were doing the wrong thing, and had been treating him unfairly. In other words,
they never gave Yoseph the benefit of the doubt.
old canard of the blood libel is once again being resurrected in Arabic
countries. That is no surprise. But the fact that it is not being condemned by
the "enlightened" Western European countries, perhaps is.
Midrash (Tanchuma, Parshas Vayeshev) tells us that Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Chiya
were walking and Rabbi Shimon remarked that the Roman soldiers were remarkable
physical specimens. Rabbi Chiya took him to the
marketplace and showed him a basket filled with grapes and dates, which had
been infested with flies. Rabbi Chiya explained that these flies and
those soldiers are the same - one has no more power than the other. This story
is telling us that when the nations of the world oppress the Jewish
people, it is not because of their physical or diplomatic prowess,
rather, it is because of our weakness. In reality, their power is only
that of a fly.
answers to our problems today are not demonstrations, voting on CNN
polls, or sending nasty letters to the editors of the New York Times (though
the last one is fun). The answer is to not make the same mistakes
our ancestors did, and to try to see our fellow Jew's side of the story,
and not be so quick to judge him.
we are strong in our relationship with Hashem, our enemies have no power over
Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac
Synagogue in Buffalo.