Jacob couldn’t be blamed. His father had favored one son over the other; as had Grandfather Abraham before him. Joseph couldn’t be blamed; he was ostracized by Leah’s sons and was trying to connect. The brothers couldn’t be blamed. They knew the story as well as Jacob and they saw how he favored Joseph.
So no one was at fault. And yet, Joseph, condemned to death, is sold into slavery. Jacob is inconsolably mourning for 21 years. And Judah falls from grace. Centuries later, an evil king would exact retribution for the sale of Joseph by murdering, horrifically, ten great scholars and leaders of the Jewish people.
And yet, good comes from it. Joseph rises to viceroy. He marries Osnat. Egypt becomes the firewall to global famine. Judah and Tamar are the ancestors of King David.
There are two political lessons here.
One is that sometimes, good can come from bad. A bad decision can turn out good. A bad consequence can yield something positive later on. (Of course, the converse is equally, unfortunately, true too.)
The second lesson is that while no one is to blame for acting as they did it is undeniable that a lot of negative consequences occurred. Imagine if Jacob hadn’t so openly favored Joseph? Or if he had done so more covertly; perhaps by making Joseph do more? Imagine if Joseph hadn’t bragged to the brothers? Imagine if the brothers hadn’t shunned him?
When a segment of society feels left out – even if no one is to blame, they can end up doing terrible things. And when one segment of society shuns another, that other may act in ways they shouldn’t.
It is up to leadership, and to each of us in our own lives to see that we make the best decisions we can (knowing we can’t always predict consequences) and to see that we do what we can to make our homes, neighborhoods, institutions and beyond into places everyone feels equally welcome.
Words to consider. Ideas to ponder. Politics & the parsha.