Parashat Vayeshev: The Clash Between Yosef and His Brothers

[Tal Chermon]

There was continual and mutual antagonism between Yosef and his brothers. Yosef brought "bad reports" about them (Bereshit 37:2). His dream revealed his criticism of his brothers. "We were binding sheaves in the field when my sheaf suddenly stood up and remained erect. Your sheaves formed a circle around my sheaf and bowed down to it" (ibid. v. 7). My sheaf stood upright ready for action while yours stooped sluggishly. H accused them of inaction and ignorance of the practical world. They also have complaints against him. Yehudah charged him: "You are just like Pharoah" (ibid. 44:8), i.e. "you are just another Pharoah and are only involved in the material side of life!" They suspected that his only concern was the physical arrangement of the world, which is the task of the non-Jews, not of the Jews; while he was neglecting our special Jewish mission of building the inner spirituality of the world.
The brothers sensed that Yosef was starting something new. He had the coat of many colors, showing that he incorporated all the different talents and he therefore outstripped them. This man slandered them to their father and was causing a rift in the Jewish Nation. He was dangerous and destructive to the unity of the "House of Israel." They remembered full well the refining process that the family had undergone in which Yishmael was rejected while Yitzchak remained and Esav was rejected while Yitzchak remained. They reflected: "Is this processing continuing? Will someone be weeded out now? Yosef called them and said: "Listen to the dream that I had (ibid. 37:6), I want you to know who I am." They knew exactly who he was but wanted to clarify the point. "Do you want to be our king? Do you intend to rule over us?" (ibid. v. 8). "Do you mean to consult with us or is your plan to dominate us as a dictator?" "If you intend to consult with us okay, but if you intend to lord over us – it's a no go!" The issue was through whom the Jewish People would continue. They were at loggerheads; it was either the brothers or Yosef. It could not be both.
Sibling rivalry and clashes did not commence with this dispute. It had been preceded by strife between Kayin and Hevel, Yitzchak and Yishmael and Esav and Yaakov. It is true that there are numerous explanations of these interpersonal clashes and of national conflicts. Some are based on economic considerations, others on class tensions, and still others on psycho-sexual problems, etc… Our Sages were fully aware of all these interpretations, and in fact the Midrash brings a dispute concerning the cause of Kayin and Hevel's quarrel. One view is that both of them claimed the right to have the second female twin that was born with Hevel (a psycho-sexual interpretation). Another view is that the dispute was over the division of the earth's resources between them (an economic interpretation - These views and others are brought in Bereshit Rabbah 22:7). However, the deep-rooted reason that caused the quarrel over these issues was their fundamental difference in nature, a clash at the deepest point of their inner essence. Their diverse qualities suited them for entirely different tasks in the world. The visible reasons for the quarrel were only superficial manifestations of a far deeper dispute. This is also true of the jealousy over the coat of many colors. The brothers were not kindergarten children who wanted a beautiful piece of colored silk. Yosef's talent made him competent to arrange and order the world but this clashed with the character of his brothers who were better suited to correct and improve the inner forces of the world. Yaakov, by giving Yosef the coat of many colors, had indicated that of all the brothers, Yosef had been chosen to lead the clan.