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Yossef and His Brothers. Who Was Wrong?


In this week’s Parsha we learn about the difficult relationship between Yosef and his brothers. We learn about how Yakov showed more admiration or love towards Yosef and that the brothers were upset by this. We learn about how Yosef told his father negative things his brothers were doing, that Yosef had prophetic dreams about being the leader and king in the future, and his brothers hated him.

אֵלֶּה | תֹּלְדוֹת יַעֲקֹב יוֹסֵף בֶּן שְׁבַע עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה הָיָה רֹעֶה אֶת אֶחָיו בַּצֹּאן וְהוּא נַעַר אֶת בְּנֵי בִלְהָה וְאֶת בְּנֵי זִלְפָּה נְשֵׁי אָבִיו וַיָּבֵא יוֹסֵף אֶת דִּבָּתָם רָעָה אֶל אֲבִיהֶם:

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These are the generations of Jacob: when Joseph was seventeen years old, being a shepherd, he was with his brothers with the flocks, and he was a lad, [and was] with the sons of Bilhah and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought evil tales about them to their father.


את דבתם רעה: כל רעה שהיה רואה באחיו בני לאה היה מגיד לאביו, שהיו אוכלין אבר מן החי, ומזלזלין בבני השפחות לקרותן עבדים, וחשודים על העריות. ובשלשתן לקה. על אבר מן החי (לעיל פסוק לא) וישחטו שעיר עזים במכירתו, ולא אכלוהו חי. ועל דבה שספר עליהם שקורין לאחיהם עבדים, (תהלים קה יז) לעבד נמכר יוסף. ועל העריות שספר עליהם, (להלן לט ז) ותשא אשת אדוניו וגו’:

evil tales about them: Any evil he saw in his brothers, the sons of Leah, he would tell his father: 1) that they ate limbs from living animals, 2) that they demeaned the sons of the handmaids by calling them slaves, and 3) that they were suspected of illicit sexual relationships. For these three [tales] he was punished: For [the report that his brothers ate] limbs from living animals, “they slaughtered a kid” (Gen. 37:31) when they sold him, and did not eat it alive. For the report that he told about them that they called their brothers slaves, “Joseph was sold as a slave” (Ps. 105:17), and concerning the illicit sexual relationships that he told about them, “his master’s wife lifted her eyes, etc.” (Gen. 39:7).

This idea that Yossef would speak ill about his brothers is so very hard to understand. It’s even harder to understand how his holy brothers would be involved in such terrible things!

The holy Rebbe Yitzchak Isaac of Komarna explains this Parsha beautifully.
He says that, as we know from the holy Arizal, Yossef was on a whole deeper and greater level than his brothers. Yossef was a whole universe greater than them spiritually. This was one of their greatest misunderstandings. They underestimated his spiritual level and thought he was on their level. This is why they couldn’t understand and accept the different way Yossef was living and different way their father was treating Yosef.

They also believed that Yosef had major character defects in the exact points for which he was supposed to be the expression of perfection in this world. The holy Baal Shem Tov taught that from the time that Esav sort of fooled his father Yitzchak into not seeing his true evil it became impossible for any Tzadik to see bad in his son. He can have a son like Esav and see no harm in that son. This is why Yosef’s brothers believed that Yakov loved Yossef so much. They believed that Yaakov did not see all those character defects in Yossef, which to them seemed tremendously significant, and that even though Yossef seemed to them to be the “Esav” of the family, Yakov could not see this.

This begins to explain the perspective of the brothers, and we need to clarify it further, but let’s try to understand Yossef a little better. How could Yossef tell his father that his brothers were involved in such terrible sins, if it were not true, and even if it were true!?

If it were true, how can we imagine the holy brothers of Yosef, the forefathers of all the ten tribes of Am Yisrael, involved in such terrible things?

Rebbe Yitzchak Isaac explains this with a story about the great Rebbe Moshe Pshevorsk Ztzl. Rebbe Moshe once taught that when a Jew dresses himself with four articles of white clothing in honor of Shabbat, as the Arizal instructs us, all of his sins all wiped away.

Rebbe Moshe’s son asked his father why, if so, did he witness his father crying when saying “Forgive us, our Father”, “סלח לנו”, in the Mincha prayers before Shabbat if he was already wearing the special white garments in honor of Shabbat?

Rebbe Moshe answered that indeed, when he enclothed himself in the special white garments for Shabbat all and any sins were wiped away, however, when he ascended the higher worlds in preparation for ascending the transcendent world of Shabbat there were many sins which appeared upon him. He explained that even though many times in a lower spiritual dimension a person may be clean and pure from any sins, if that person were elevated to higher level of spirituality and closeness to Hashem, even the smallest lack of light could be magnified to be counted as an actual stain. Next to the tremendous light on that higher level even a lack of light will become a stain which must be removed.

This is the reason why our Rabbis teach us that in heaven they are extremely stringent with the righteous, “כחוט השערה”, a hairs breadth. Tzadikim are judged with more scrutiny the higher they ascend. As great as the potential for infinite pleasure of connection to the divine bliss is increased exponentially with every level they ascend, so comes the greater scrutiny and need for cleanliness and purity.

This, explains Rebbe Yitzchak Isaac, was what happened here with Yossef and the brothers. The brothers, as great as they were, and we could never imagine their lofty level of holiness and greatness, were not on the same level as Yosef.
This is why, even though they may have had a small imperfection here and there in certain instances, and those imperfections were not even a problem on their level, however, to Yossef, on his level, they were seen as stains that looked like actual sins.

One example he gives is that Yossef said they ate from an animals limb without first slaughtering the animal. This is an actual sin in the Torah called אבר מן החי, and it is one of the seven commandments that were given too the descendants of Noach as well. How could we imagine the holy brothers actually sinning in this way?

He explains that according to Kabbalah, our whole reason and intention for eating is to raise up the sparks of holy energy hidden in the food. This is the reason why Hashem created us in a way that we must eat in order to live. We are only permitted to eat foods that we able to raise the sparks from. Non Kosher food has a level of concealment on the holiness within which is so great that if we were to eat it, even with all the deepest Kabbalistic intentions, it would not only be impossible to raise those sparks but that impurity would pull that person down into a ‘jail’, so to speak, of impurity.

The reason why were are prohibited to eat the limbs of animal which was not yet slaughtered, according to Kabbalah, is because if the animal was not slaughtered and the limb was removed from it when it was still alive, the sparks of holiness within that limb would leave it and return to connect to the rest of the animal’s body, the part that was still alive. Therefore, anyone eating that limb would be affected in the same way as eating any non kosher food. He would not only not be rectifying those sparks, but the lowly impurities mixed into the food(comparable to what is excreted by the body) would pull him down into animalistic lowliness, fragmentation, and disconnection.

Rebbe Yitzchak Isaac explains that Yossef’s brothers, at one time, did not have the highest and deepest kabbalistic intentions with the right depth of holy consciousness to sufficiently rectify the sparks in their eating. This is definitely not a sin, however, on the level that Yossef was on in was seen as a stain-an actual sin.

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Furthermore, Yossef only told Yaakov about these stains he saw in his brothers in order that his father teach his brothers to elevate and rectify themselves from this deficiency in their spiritual level. According to the Halachot of Lashon Hara this is called speaking negatively about someone in a place and in a way which it will only help that person, לתועלת. According to the laws of Lashon Hara this is permitted. However, on the lofty level of Yossef, there was somewhat a lack of judging his brothers favorably, and this lack was considered a sin.

How come Yossef’s brothers though he had lost his level of holiness? Why did they think he was the ‘Esav’ of the family?

The brother’s did not realize Yossef was on such a great level and that because of this he saw their minor imperfections as actual sins. This is why when they saw him speaking ill about them for no apparent reason they thought it was Lashon Hara. They thought he was instigating division and arguments among them. These are all traits which are the complete opposite of what Yossef was supposed to stand for. Yossef’s trait “Yesod” is also called in the Zohar “Shalom”, the trait of divine peace. This is the trait which only does good, sees good, and brings out the good in people and things. It is the trait of harmony and unity.

Yossef was only telling Yaakov about his brothers imperfections in order that he teach them to elevate themselves to a level through which they will be blessed with a worlds and worlds more of greater love, divine bliss, and ultimately unity among them.

Their underestimating Yossef caused the misunderstanding which resulted in excommunicating him, selling him, and eventually all of Bnei Yisrael ending up in the exile of Mitzrayim.

However, all of this exile also had its purpose.

May we learn to properly judge ourselves and our friends favorably, and may we properly rectify and elevate ourselves and our friends from level to level so that we have ultimate peace and unity and so that we purified and made holy even according to the highest levels levels closeness to Hashem’s transcendent bliss. may we merit the unity, peace, and purity that will bring us the ultimate redemption speedily in our days Amen!

Shabbat Shalom!




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