by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – December 21, 2011
In the Torah section of Miketz, we read the continuation of Joseph’s ordeal. As a result of perceived improper behavior with regard to his brothers, Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt, initiated by his brothers, and eventually suffered further tribulations while in Egypt. Fortunately, G-d was watching over him and after some time, Joseph began to be extricated from his precarious position. In the meantime, his brothers were forced to come down to Egypt to procure food and, while there, began to suffer their own ordeal.
As they try to deal with their difficulties, Joseph’s brothers begin to contemplate their actions, past and present, and they begin to regret their actions towards Joseph. Among other statements, we read (Bereshit 42:22): “Reuven spoke to them, saying, ‘Did I not speak to you saying, “Do not sin against the boy,” but you would not listen, and his blood as well – behold – is being avenged.’”
In his commentary on the verse, R. Ovadia Seforno explains Reuven’s claim against his brothers. Reuven was arguing that whatever Joseph did to them, even if improper, was not meant with ill intent, but just a matter of juvenile behavior and should not have been treated with such a severe reaction.
In his brief explanation of Reuven’s argument, the Seforno, as his commentary is referred to, is telling us a major lesson. He is telling us: Do not jump to conclusions. Even if actions are amiss, we should think twice and more before we react. What may be behind the actions are circumstances much more innocent and less sinister than we think and not deserving as caustic a reaction as we may first consider. In fact, our Sages advise us (Mishna Avot 1:6) to “judge every person favorably.”
May we all learn to be more understanding of each other’s actions and less judgmental in how we react. Thereby, we will be able to forge the unity that we ought to have for all of our sakes in order to succeed and prosper as individuals and as a nation.