A Kind of Cruel

Parshas Miketz

Yosef told his brothers they can prove that they are not spying on Egypt. To do so he expected them, firstly to leave one of their number with him while they transported the food they bought home. Secondly on their return they must bring their younger brother Binyamin with them. When the Brothers heard this, they were distressed. The Brothers knew this would be a painful message for their father Yaakov, who was loathe to part with Binyamin. It must be, they postulated, a direct result of their cruelty to their brother Yosef in not answering his cries and turning a deaf ear to his pleadings.
Note: They did not regret the sale, they regretted acting in a cold-hearted manner.

Question
What inspired the Brothers now to attribute their suffering to their earlier treatment of Yosef? The verse seems to point to the fact they had to bring Binyamin down to Egypt. but how did this precipitate a realization that they had been too cruel to Yosef?

Answer
Every single characteristic must be used in its proper measure. In fact in Hebrew, the word for “trait” and the word for “measure” are the same: Middah. A trait is never absolute but needs to be applied in moderation. There is a time and place to be cruel just as there is a time and place to be kind. Normally one would expect to be cruel towards the wicked and kind towards the righteous. In this instance, the Brothers were cognizant that they would have to perpetrate a cruelty toward Yaakov in order to be kind to his entire family. They must take from him his son Binyamin, the only son he still has from his marriage to Rochel, to ensure a continued supply of food for their whole family. The Brothers realized from the fact that they now had to use the Middah of cruelty towards Yaakov, they must have misused this trait in the past. The only misuse of cruelty that they could find was in the circumstance of Yosef’s sale.

Lesson

What do you need to calibrate? Cruelty or Kindness

Story

Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi (C.E. 135 – 219) fondly known to all as “Rebbi” – My Teacher – was once studying Torah outside the Babylonian Synagogue in Sepphoris. A man passed by, leading a calf to slaughter. The calf came over to Rebbi and hid in his robes, as if to plead for its life. “Go” protested Rebbi. “It is for this that you were created!” and he returned the calf to its owner. The Heavenly Court proclaimed “Since he has no pity, let us bring suffering upon him.” Heavenly retribution for his hard-hearted response came in the form of a severe kidney stones followed by scurvy. For thirteen years Rebbi suffered.

One day his maid was sweeping the floors of the his house, and she came a across some young weasels, Rebbi noticed she was about to sweep them away, “Leave them be” he commanded. “For it is written ‘His mercies are on all His works’.” At that time, the Heavenly Court proclaimed “Since he is compassionate, let us be compassionate to him”. Rebbi’s pain disappeared, for he had fostered kindness where once he had reacted with thoughtlessness.

Weekly Halachah

One may not write or draw in snow or mud on Shabbos.

Questions and Comments

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