and his brothers. When we think of this tragic story we
realize it is just that, namely Yosef against the "brothers".
"Joseph's brothers left to tend their sheep
I'm looking for my brothers... Here comes the dreamer
they said to one another
The brothers sat down and
ate a meal
When Joseph came to his brothers they stripped him...the brothers took Josephs coat (37:12-25)." Don't any of the brothers have names? Of course when evil is being perpetrated and nothing is being done to stop it, rare is the person who will admit
to any involvement with the heinous act. What do you want
from me they will claim, "they" are responsible, I was only one person, what could I do? Yet the Torah does
not absolve one so easily. "I am Joseph your brother. You sold me to Egypt." The Torah considers all the brothers responsible for the sale of Yosef and all must share the blame. Hiding behind the cloak of anonymity does not absolve them of culpability.
It is interesting to note that throughout the entire Yosef story the only brothers whose spoken word is recorded in the Bible are Yehuda and Reuven. Reuven, who as the oldest, felt some responsibility for his young brother actually spoke up in Joseph's defense. "Reuven heard these words and tried to rescue Joseph. Let's not kill him he said (37:21)." Being only one brother he truly could not convince them to save Yosef so he agreed to have him thrown into the pit as an interim solution. "His plan was to rescue Joseph from his brothers and bring him back to his father (37:22)." Undoubtedly he was hoping that at least one more brother would build on his initiative and they would be able to convince the rest of the brothers that they must work peacefully to solve their differences. Unfortunately Reuven was to be disappointed. While Yehuda did speak up he just added fuel to the fire. "What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover his blood. Lets sell him to the Arabs and not harm him with our own hands. After all he's our brother, our own flesh and blood (37:26-27)." While his words superficially appear compassionate, especially considering the situation, our rabbis who praised Reuven were harshly critical of Yehuda. "Whoever blesses Yehuda, he is blaspheming" they exclaim. Let us analyze why. Firstly Yehuda added nothing to Reuven's proposal. Instead of Yehuda saying Reuven is right, not only must we not kill Joseph, we must not even harm him, Yehuda just declares we should not kill him. We already knew that. And even in that modest statement he does not even mention his support of Reuven. Furthermore his reasoning is troublesome to say the least. "What will we gain?" he asks his brothers. We are talking about a person's life and Yehuda is conducting a cost benefit analysis. Whereas Reuven exclaimed that we should not commit murder Yehuda seemed to say we will not commit murder unless
its our best option under the circumstances. Presumably if it had served his purposes to kill Yosef he would not have hesitated to do so.
Pragmatism has its place but not when morality is at stake. There are times when one must take a stand regardless of the practical consequences. Certain things are wrong period and no amount of justification can change that.
The Macabees (and their story always coincides with the reading of the Joseph story) were not very practical people. They were a small band of soldiers who not only faced the wrath of an external enemy but like Reuven faced disagreement from their own brethren. The majority of the Jews felt that it was not worth fighting the Hellenists, surely a more practical approach. In fact many agreed with the Hellenist doctrine. Yet the Macabees understood than when the fundamentals of Judaism are under attack we dare not be so practical. When Torah is threatened, when the temple is defiled, when our holidays are interfered with, and when our covenant with G-d as expressed through brit milah comes under attack we must stand up for what is right. We must be willing to suffer the consequences. This is the obligation of Kiddush Hashem. Doing what is right despite the fallout. As we light the candles on Chanukah let us remember the example of the Maccabees and make sure that when faced with our own difficult moral dilemmas we dare not ask, "What will we gain"? Shabbat Shalom!