Parashat VaYishlah: Words of Peace

“And his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, so they hated him, and they could not speak peacefully with him”. (Genesis, 37, 4)

How is hatred born? What is the human mechanism that creates such a harsh feeling? Is it jealousy that causes hatred? Perhaps it is the difference or specialness of the other, that I lack, that arouses the hatred. Is it the absence or neglect of a significant person who arouses love that causes hatred? Perhaps the past difficulties and memories of the father are reflected in the relationships of his children. We are referring to hatred amongst brothers.

No doubt Joseph is an annoying younger brother. His brothers don’t understand him. They can’t stand his behaviour. In their eyes he appears haughty and proud. He lacks social sensitivity. He is apparently quite beautiful, and, most of all, he is the one Jacob loves, more than all his brothers. Love worn as a coat of many colours. And add to this the way he slanders them. Also his dreams, that present him, compared to his brothers, as the preferred, successful, important one.

“and they could not speak peacefully with him”.

Midrash Genesis Rabah (82,3-4) reads this as praising the brothers: “what is in the heart is in the mouth”. Joseph’s brothers’ reaction is honest, they do not lie. There is a clue here to the way hatred develops. At first they couldn’t stand his talk, or perhaps couldn’t respond to him or ,simply said, they couldn’t talk to him. Later they couldn’t talk peace to him, i.e. couldn’t wish him well. If there was conversation between them it was not whole, words that were incomplete, superficial speech without real feeling, talk in which there was no goodwill (literally “no peace”). And what is this if not the description of the growth of hatred.
Is this indeed the case that the growth of hatred is unavoidable? But if it can can be prevented, how?

In his article, “True Conversation and the Possibility of Peace” (Olelot, pp. 24-29), Martin Buber bases the possibility of peace on speech: “Listening to a person’s voice… and responding to that voice – that is indeed the first commandment that is required of us today.” (p.24). War has always had an a foe combating it, one who is never seen openly in this role but who carries out it’s craft in secret: and that is language, the real, honest speech, the speech of real conversation, within which people understand each other and are responsive to each other.(p.25)

What emerges is that this inability to speak at all, and in particular to speak peacefully, leads to the brothers wanting to kill Joseph, to bring his blood-soaked tunic to their father. When they part from him, guilt feelings rise that will accompany them and this story from here on, forever. Beyond that, Buber leads us from the personal family realm to the international arena. The distance between these two realms isn’t as great as we might have thought. The Torah also teaches us the same, as does our reality. A place in which there is hatred does not remain isolated, if peace is not spoken, hatred increases and spreads.

The prayer established by the rabbinic sages, and with it the recitation of the Shma, created a mechanism of “faith in love”. We Jews remind ourselves twice every day “you have loved us greatly, Lord our God” after which we recite to ourselves “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, And You shalt Love…” A Jew educates him/herself with words. S/he pronounces them in prayer and they are great treasure for the individual’s consciousness. The prayer reminds the praying Jew, arouses awareness, that our existence must flow from love.

The prayer places love at the centre of the religion (and not fear). This is surprising and wonderous. This prayer is a mechanism of gentleness and love, and nevertheless there are Jews who hate. This verbal rehearsal of love does not prevent the phenomenon of Jews who hate. There are Jews who are violent and vengeful. And brothers hate brothers, not to speak of hating their cousins.

And then we have the decisive insight in Buber’s teaching that reflects on ourselves. The possibility of peace is linked to the practice of love and with it the ability to communicate personally and interpersonally. And such conversation is not possible where there is no trust or no faith. Faith is not “in heaven”, and apparently prayer alone is not enough. There must be trust between brothers, between neighbours, between people. “Living speech between one person and another,…live speech of human dialogue,…it now seems that this has been extinguished in these days of war.” (p.26). In order to create trust it is not enough to be concerned with human rights. In order to create a dialogue of peace, a dialogue of trust, we must continue to nurture real, living, honest, human conversation, interaction between brothers who overcome difference and past difficulties in the here and now, and who succeed in speaking to each other in peace.

The coming, welcome, festival of Hannukah is a festival of miracles. The miracle of the oil cannister teaches us that with a small quantity of oil one can light candles for eight days, if we have faith. Every pair of human eyes are candles, and a little oil of love may be enough to light them. Any light in the eyes, any loving human look, is a small light that might light whole worlds. And any such light adds trust and faith in our conflicted world.
It is our duty to pursue this, and not give up on simple human interaction, dialogue that is not refined, polished or fearful, but simple dialogue that brings love closer – words of peace! Let us succeed in speaking peace!

Rabbi Orit Rozenblit was born in Kibbutz Dovrat. She is a graduate of Oranim College and is certified to teach Jewish studies and literature. Her MA is in Jewish History from Haifa University. Orit specializes in building, mentoring and teaching Beit Midrash groups for any age. She is the founder and key educator of “Poteach Shearim” a non-profit Yeshiva for both Secular and Orthodox Young Adults. Her passion is exploring Jewish texts and finding their relevance for our lives today, which is what set her on her Rabbinic journey. Orit was ordained in 2020 at HUC and is currently writing her PhD in Mishna commentary.

Translated by Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann

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