Our brother Joseph stands before us

It is hard to change one's mind when it means changing an entire mindset.

Rabbi Berel Wein,

Judaism מקרבים ליהדות
מקרבים ליהדות

It is obvious from the biblical narrative of this week's Torah reading that the brothers of Joseph were determined not to see his dreams of dominance and greatness fulfilled. Even when they stood before him and faced him directly, they did not recognize him. They were committed not to recognize him as the prince of Egypt.

It is extremely difficult to change the perspective and previous held opinions of people, no matter how great those people may be. Having committed themselves to destroying Joseph's dreams, his brothers were blinded to the reality that it was their brother before whom they were bowing. So often in life our preconceived ideas and beliefs are challenged by the reality of what we see before our eyes.

It is very difficult to admit that one was wrong regarding important issues and ideas, be they of family or nation. Yet, the future of the Jewish people was entirely dependent on the brothers of Joseph repenting of their previous attitude and actions and acknowledging that the dreams of Joseph had validity and actually translated themselves into reality.

I think that as difficult as it is for us ordinary people to give up on ideas and beliefs that we cherished in the past, it is even more difficult when superior people – such as the brothers of Joseph - are called upon to do so. Much thought and soul-searching must have gone into their original decision to attempt to eliminate Joseph, perceiving him as being an existential threat to their survival and mission in life. So, after such a momentous decision was made and acted upon, it became unlikely that they would recognize that they were standing before their condemned brother Joseph.

One of the great problems that I feel is present in our society is the inability to review and rethink past positions in light of present reality and current situations, when these positions were once endorsed by great and holy scholars and leaders. Many opinions of the great people of the past two centuries in Jewish life are quoted in support of positions and attitudes which fly in the face of the reality of the Jewish world in which we currently live.

I know what the great men said regarding certain issues in the Jewish world in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in which they lived. But I am not quite certain as to what their opinions would be today in dealing with the realities of the Jewish world as they now exist. It is difficult to have to change one's mind regarding basic issues in Jewish society when it means reversing a certain traditional way of thinking about those issues.

Nevertheless, without such a rebooting, so to speak, of attitudes towards large sections of the Jewish people, the state of Israel as it now exists and towards the societal challenges that beset Jewish life from all sides, it will prove to be well nigh impossible to guarantee our future success and survival. We should all attempt to see that it is our brother Joseph who stands before us.