Why Can't We Ever Stop Fighting Each Other?
In the past eight weeks, as we have traveled through Sefer Bereishis, the connections between the parsha and our lives have been more than uncanny.
We have witnessed the darkness and desolation of ‘Tohu VaVohu,’ the confusion of a world before Hashem creates light. We have the most extreme moral depravity, echoes of the world before the flood. The Avraham’s of our generation, have once again gone to war to free their captured family. Sarah Imenu has been abducted by a rapist regime. Yitzchak has been placed on the Mizbeach. Dina has been kidnapped and defiled, and her brothers, Shimon and Levi have reenlisted in the IDF to avenge her honor.
It should not surprising that the are countless more connections that we have seen, heard and learned. After all, מעשה אבות סימן לבנים – The actions of our ancestors pave the way for our lives. Or as Rav Moshe Stav explained to me in KBY: “The Torah is a history book. But it doesn’t tell the story of the past, it tells the story of the future.”
For this reason, there are many Rabbanim and teachers who are getting nervous as we approach this Shabbos. This week, the focus changes from the enemies outside to the horrors of our own internal fighting. This Shabbos, Yosef is sold into slavery. This week, the seeds of Sinas Chinam are sowed; seeds that would lead to the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash.
None of this is a secret; we are all well aware of the bitterness of Jew-Against-Jew hatred, and its devastating effects. This has plagued us for two millennia of painful exile.
It is not my place to say it; but there are many in Israel who see the connection between the extreme divisiveness of October 6, and the hell of October 7.
Personally, I am far more cautious about ascribing reasons to the actions of Hashem. But I certainly agree with the sentiment that this war should serve as an opportunity and a calling for greater and sustained Jewish unity.
Of course, in our community and all around the world, we have been inspired by and involved in the amazing unity of the past few weeks. Through the tears and heartbreak, it feels like we’re finally getting the message that we cannot do this alone. We need each other, and we need to value each other.
And yet, the beginnings of political stirrings are reawakening. Like cracks in the foundation of our fragile national heart, Israel is hearing murmurings of old, unresolved tensions, not to mention the fresh wounds that have been torn open in the pain of making life and death decisions.
Beneath all the questions and challenges there is still a deep and desperate hope, a yearning and a tefillah that we never reignite the flames of internal hatred. But in the sleepless, late night hours of worrying and doom scrolling, we wonder if there might ever be time that Jews just get along with each other. Two thousand years of Sinas Chinam seems to be an insurmountable hurdle. In our lowest moments, cynically, we question if perhaps this pain will be enough to shake us into unity. And if not, what will it take? These are thoughts we don’t want to think.
So we try to do our part, small as it might seem, we know what to do. We reach out to friends and family with love and patience. We work on our middos. We judge each other favorably. We beg Hashem to help us. We desperately try to ensure that the hatred between Yosef and his Brothers ends with here and now. Forever. We know what might happen if we continue to perpetuate it.
There’s just one problem: We’re pretty sure that it wont work. We still feel as strongly about the truth and validity of our opinions as we did before; perhaps even more so now. And so do the Jews who disagree with us. We haven’t actually resolved any of the issues between us. We have simply put everything on hold in service of a greater common goal. But what’s to say that we will not erupt into bitter disunity the moment we have a little safety? Is there anything we can practically do to prevent it?
To begin an understanding, we should examine the source of our fighting, the root of the fissure been Yosef and his Brothers. Why did they hate him? The commentaries grapple with the pesukim, mining them for hints and indications that might account for the extremity of this tragic fallout. Was it really all about Lashon Hara and Yaakov’s gift technicolor dream-coat?
The Medrash (בראשית רבה פ״ד ח), however, asks the question from a different angel; challenging neither Yosef nor his Brothers, but instead, questioning the silent orchestrator of all these events: The Master of all Words, Hashem.
Why does Hashem plant quasi-prophetic dreams of rulership in Yosef’s head? Why does Hashem ensure that Yosef is guided by an angelic stranger to his brothers’ location when he cannot find them? And even with all of that, is there anything that can adequately explain such deep rooted animosity between brothers? There is so much of this story cannot be explained by family dynamics, psychology and probability.
To all this, the Medrash answers perplexingly:
לָמָּה וַיִּשְׂנְאוּ אֹתוֹ, בִּשְׁבִיל שֶׁיִּקָרַע הַיָּם לִפְנֵיהֶם Why was it that “they (the brothers) hated him”? It was so that the sea would be split before them.
The Rashash comments on this enigmatic Medrash: Hashem arranged that the brothers would hate Yosef, leading to his becoming a slave in Egypt, where Yosef would withstand the temptation of Potifar’s wife. Consequently, he would accrue great merit, and it was as a result of that merit that the sea was split for Klal Yisrael.
This hardly seems like satisfactory answer. Is the Rashash saying that Hashem actually wanted the brothers to hate Yosef? Did He want Yosef to be sold into slavery? Even suggesting it sounds bizarre and cruel. But there is a profound depth to this Medrash, as explained by Rav Moshe Dovid Valle, the great student of the Ramchal:
Hashem did want the brothers to hate Yosef. Without the involuntary and painful training provided by his brothers, Yosef would never have withstood the challenges of Egypt. He tasted defeat in the most painful way once, and grew to ensure it would never happen to him again.
The Torah tells us that וְלֹא יָכְלוּ דַּבְּרוֹ לְשָׁלֹם – the brothers could not speak peacefully with him. On this, the Zohar HaKadosh writes that they could not make peace with Yosef even if they wanted to! Hashem wanted this fight to happen because Hashem wanted Yosef to be prepared.
When we zoom out from our private and communal battles, when we look at history with the privilege of hindsight, we might see a greater story being written. In this story, it is the lion cubs who wrestle and claw at each other, that are eventually equipped to rule the animal kingdom. In the deepest of ways, Chazal are telling us that Jewish disunity is a feature and not a bug. But what does this mean for us here and now?
Our world is far from perfect, and each one of us is here to make a difference that only we can make. Which means, that so long as there is evil in the world, we will be forced to train ourselves and each other to overcome it. Hashem has sent us here, compelled to argue, to bicker and fight. We are simply incapable of sitting back, watching it happen. All of this in service of sharpening our words and our wisdom.
Whether we like it or not, no Jew is capable of evading this urge to make Klal Yisrael better in the way that each of us sees fit. And in these painful exchanges, we are to trim away our insincerities, insecurities and egos. Ultimately, we emerge battle-ready, trained and armed for the wars that each of us must wage, and that Klal Yisrael must wage together.
In a profound way, the Zohar is telling us that our tensions and divisiveness arise from our hardwired collective understanding that greater battles are coming.
Of course, there is a grave danger lurking if Chas V’Shalom, we forget that we are here training each other. God forbid that we should ever feel that another Jew is the real enemy. That has been the failure of our ancestors throughout the generations, and indeed, it is our challenge today.
To put it simply, there is an enormous difference between “Jewish Unity” and “Ahavas Yisrael”. The mistake we have made time and time again is to conflate these points. Loving each and every Jew is a undeniable and consistent requirement, equally true during times of war and peace. Of course, in these times of war, pain and crisis, we must put our differences aside; Jewish Unity is our singular path to victory. But what of the differences? If we cannot simply will them away. What does Hashem want from us?
I think the answer is clear. Hashem wants us to fight.
As Chazal (קידושין ל׳ ב) tell us:
אֲפִילּוּ הָאָב וּבְנוֹ, הָרַב וְתַלְמִידוֹ שֶׁעוֹסְקִין בַּתּוֹרָה בַּשָּׁעַר אֶחָד – נַעֲשִׂים אוֹיְבִים זֶה אֶת זֶה. וְאֵינָם זָזִים מִשָּׁם עַד שֶׁנַּעֲשִׂים אוֹהֲבִים זֶה אֶת זֶה Even a father and his son, or a rabbi and his student, who are engaged in Torah together in one gate become enemies with each other due to the intensity of their studies. But they do not leave there until they love each other.
One doesn’t need to be a prophet to see that greater battles are coming to Eretz Yisrael, and to Klal Yisrael throughout the world. We need to be prepared. We need to be sure that our ideas, our ideologies and our intentions are L’Shem Shamayim. And to that end, Hashem will be pushing us to train ourselves and each other; urging us to fight for truth. This is all part of the process, so long as we never forget that the Jews who look, speak and think so differently from us are not really our enemies, but our sparring partners. If we learn to do this right, we will leave the fight stronger, better and closer to each other.
When we see Jews fighting over massive questions, or if we feel the urge to do so ourselves, we should not despair. This is nothing less than Hashem inviting us to better ourselves; keeping us awake forcing us to discover the truth in ourselves and each other.
We don’t know what the future holds. In the comes days and weeks there might be pits of snakes and scorpions to descend into and survive. There will be dire distractions and we will need to become people who can withstand the seductive temptations of the world around us. And if we are prepared, perhaps soon the time will come that we will each be able to split the sea once more.