Monday, December 21, 2015

On the Trail of Blessings: Crocodile Tears & Unfounded Fears

This is the 7 3/4 installment in the "Trail" series. Begin the trail with part-one here.

As we have learned, the brother's hatred of Yosef was born of the suspicion that he was a second Eisav and the fear that he would steal the blessings of materialism originally intended for their evil uncle. When the brothers discovered that Yosef had become the viceroy of Egypt, their fears are affirmed. Yitzchok's failed experiment has morphed and materialized into the ultimate nightmare: absolute power, devoid of God. Yosef is Eisav reborn and unbridled!

Yosef reveals his identity and the brothers are dumbfounded. "The brothers could not respond for they were shocked by him" (45:3). From their perspective, they are at the mercy of a monster hungry for revenge. When do they recover from the shock? "He kissed all his brothers and he cried on them. After that, his brothers spoke to him" (45:15).

Why do Yosef's tears and kisses allay their fears? Because there is nothing new under the sun. Their father Yaakov also had an encounter with a vengeful brother after a twenty-two year absence. And like them, Yaakov was vulnerable and at the mercy of his brother's superior strength. But what did Eisav do? "Eisav ran to greet him and he hugged him. He fell on his neck and he kissed him and they cried" (33:4). Kisses and tears! Eisav greets Yaakov warmly and does him no harm. Apparently, Eisav was disarmed by the combination of Yaakov's prayers (32:10-13) and appeasement (32:14-21). The brothers now appreciated the wisdom of Yaakov's more recent prayers (43:14) and gifts (43:11) for the evil Egyptian, for it turned out that they have another Eisav on their hands. Yosef's kisses and tears fit in perfectly with their assumptions about him and it made them feel safe. For the time being, at least.


When Yaakov passes away at the very end of Sefer Bereishis, the brother's fears are reawakened.
Yosef's brothers saw that their father died and they said, "Maybe Yosef bears a grudge ישטמנו and he will repay us for all the evil that we did to him." (50:15) 
The word שטם is rare. This is its second appearance; the first is in this verse:
Eisav bore a grudge against Yaakov - וישטם עשו את יעקב - for the Beracha that his father had blessed him. Eisav said to himself, "Soon the days of mourning for my father will arrive, then I will kill my brother Yaakov." (27:41)
The brothers expect Yosef to behave like Eisav! He bears a grudge and will kill us now that our father has died, just as Eisav planned to do to Yaakov. So much for kisses and tears.

The tragedy is that the brothers were themselves guilty of the very character flaw they charged Yosef with. The word שטם appears only one other time in all of Chumash. On his deathbed, Yaakov spoke about each of his sons. "Yosef is a charismatic son... They made his life bitter, they attacked him, וישטמהו בעלי חצים, archers bore a grudge against him" (49:22-23). According to Rashi, Yaakov is referring to Yosef's brothers, "those who had a claim to the family inheritance." It was the brothers who bore a grudge against Yosef, not the other way around.

[Continue the Trail here.]

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