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His brothers saw that their father loved [Joseph] more than the brothers, and they hated him… Joseph had a dream, and told it to his brothers… "Behold, we were binding sheaves in the middle of the field… my sheaf arose and remained standing…" He told his next dream to his brothers: "… Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars are bowing down to me"… His father rebuked him… his brothers were jealous of him. (37:4-11)
The Torah emphasizes that the brothers resented Joseph for being the favored son, and that their dislike greatly intensified as he related his first dream followed up by his second dream. The Meshech Chochma draws attention to Joseph's using the word "hinei" - (Behold!) three times in communicating the dreams to his brothers. The word hinei exudes happiness; great satisfaction with his dreams and the messages that they communicated. That is what incensed the brothers.
Indeed, the Sforno comments that the real shortcoming of Joseph was his age and inexperience. The Torah states that he was 17 years old, and also that he was a "naar", a youngster, meaning that he was not mature enough to bear in mind the effect of what he said on other people. Especially where there was sibling rivalry.
Underlying the Sforno's explanation is the following notion. An outstanding young person may already possess knowledge, understanding, and even high spiritual levels very early in life. But they seldom come with the necessary qualities of maturity, judgment, and sense of proportion. Those develop through experience, much later on in life.
In short, Joseph didn't quite get it.
Indeed, the success of one person can sting for someone else. Reuven's stellar examination success with little effort stings Shimon who failed after months of honest, intense study. Rachel's ecstasy in announcing her engagement to a terrific young man may inflame her friend Leah who is single and depressed that she's getting no younger. Levi's fortune in business irks Yehuda who tried the same thing and went bankrupt. And, Sarah's confiding that her third child is "on the way" may distress Rebecca who got married at the same time and is still childless.
Thus the teaching from Yosef is that a successful person has to frame his or her achievements in such a way as not to arouse negative emotions in others. The issue is not whether negative emotions are justified or not, but the understanding that they do exist, and that they are easily aroused.
A lesson for bearing in mind that "there is a time to speak and a time to remain quiet" (Eccl. 3:7).
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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