United we Stand; Divided we Fall by Efraim Helfgot


Finally, in this week’s Sidrah, Yosef and his brothers are reunited (BeReishit 45:3). After twenty-two years of separation, preceded by a period of strained relations, all twelve brothers are finally on the same page.

In looking back on the saga of Ya’akov Avinu, it is apparent that only those in his family could do him damage. After the destruction of Shechem by Shimon and Levi, Ya’akov fears retribution from other inhabitants of the land; however, God protects him. Yet, when his sons are the assailants, as is the case in Mechirat Yosef, then he is susceptible.

This idea of weakness in the face of related assailants holds true for Ya’akov's sons as well. Yosef is the prime example in the Peshat, but the Midrash Tanchuma fleshes out the theme of family vs. outside world to greater detail.

The Tanchuma (VaYigash 4) records that, previously in Egypt, when the brothers agreed to hand over Shimon as collateral until their return, Shimon acquiesced; however, he exclaimed, “Let’s see who can bring me into prison!”

Yosef requested and received seventy warriors from Pharaoh, who together tried to subdue Shimon; however, he let out a powerful scream, and all of them were knocked to the ground, with their teeth broken.

Yosef then turned to his son Menasheh and asked him to place Shimon in jail. Menasheh hit him once, brought him into the jail, and chained him. Shimon’s power, so potent against seventy Egyptian warriors, was useless against Menasheh.

The Pardes Yosef explains the symbolism of the Midrash. When we are pitted against other nations plotting our destruction, our powerful voice of prayer can overpower them. “HaKol Kol Ya’akov VeHayadayim Yedei Eisav” – the Midrash Rabbah (BeReishit 65:20) explains that as long as Ya’akov’s voice is heard (through prayer), Eisav’s hands are weak.

But when it is another Jew who is the assailant – when the Jewish people are fighting one against the other – then we are susceptible to those who seek our harm. Without Jewish unity, there is no survival.

Chazal explain the Torah prohibition of Lo Titgodedu (literally, “do not cut yourself”) as “Lo Ta’asu Agudot Agudot” (do not divide yourselves into different factions). While the 14 million Jews worldwide may have varied beliefs and practices, we are all one people: Am Yisrael.

In a world so polarized and divided as our own, it is well that we all strive to join together for a greater mission rather than divide ourselves based on the small differences between various communities. In the words of a certain George Washington: “The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.”

May we all be Zocheh to see the ultimate Jewish unity with the arrival of the Mashi’ach, he should come swiftly and in our days, Amen.

Finding Meaning in the Birchot HaShevatim by Rabbi Ezra Wiener

The Yosef-Ya’akov Encounter and the Transmission of Mesorah by Rabbi Daniel Fridman