Va-Yeshev: The value of communication

R’ Jonathon Sacks focussed on the hatred between Yosef and his brothers which prevented them from talking to him. R’ Sacks referred to the sentence “His brothers saw that it was he who their father loved most of all so they hated him and could not speak to him peaceably”.  R’ Sacks quoted from R’ Yonatan Eybeschutz who pointed out that the phrase literally means that “they could not speak him to peace”. He referred to the command in Vayikra which said “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely reprimand your neighbour and not bear sin because of him”.


R’ Sacks quoted Rambam’s interpretation of this command which was “when a person sins against another, the injured person should not hate the offender and be silent: it is his duty to ask him why he has done this. If the offender repents and pleads for forgiveness, he should be forgiven.”


R’ Eybeschutz made the point that if the brothers had been able to speak to Yosef, and tell him of their anger at his tale-bearing and their distress at his many coloured coat and the favouritism his father bestowed on him at their expense, he may have understood their feelings and been more thoughtful and modest in his behaviour. They could not bring themselves to speak, and as Nachmanides wrote “those who hate tend to hide their hate in their heart”.


R’ Sacks held this as a great insight of the Torah that “conversation can be a form of conflict resolution, but the breakdown in communication could be a prelude to violent revenge”.


He wrote that conversation does not necessarily lead to resolution because two people may still have competing claims, but at least they can acknowledge one another’s humanity.  Seeing the world from the other’s point of view might help resolve an otherwise intractable conflict.  Joseph and his brothers might have been reconciled much earlier in their lives, sparing themselves, their father and their descendants much grief.


R’ Sacks wrote that language can overcome solitude, and mend broken relationships. Yosef’s brothers might have “spoken him to peace” had they been able to communicate, but speech broke down when it was most needed.


R’ Jonathon Sacks

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