Yosef’s Lesson: Combating Indifference Today

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by R. Eliezer Simcha Weisz

When Yosef reveals himself in Egypt, he says, “I am your brother Yosef, whom you sold into Egypt” (Bereshis 45.6). However, as Rashbam comments on (Bereshis 37:28), the brothers did not directly sell Yosef. Instead, while they were eating some distance from the pit, Midianites passed by, extracted Yosef from the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites. Although the brothers may not have known the details of the sale, their actions indirectly contributed to it.

בתוך שהיו יושבים לאכול לחם ורחוקים היו קצת מן הבור לבלתי אכול על הדם וממתינים היו לישמעאלים שראו, וקודם שבאו הישמעאלים עברו אנשים מדיינים אחרים דרך שם וראוהו בבור ומשכוהו ומכרוהו המדיינים לישמעאלים, ויש לומר שהאחים לא ידעו, ואעפ”י אשר כתב אשר מכרתם אותי רשב”ם בראשית פרשת וישב פרק לז (כח) ויעברו אנשים מדיינים  בתוך שהיו יושבים לאכול מצרימה, י”ל שהגרמת מעשיהם סייעה במכירתו

“Midianites passed by while [the brothers] were sitting down to eat a meal some distance from the pit, awaiting the Ishmaelites whom they had seen. Before the Ishmaelites arrived, the other Midianites passed by, saw [Yosef] in the pit, extracted him, and the Midianites sold [Yosef] to the Ishmaelites. And one can say that the brothers did not know… [However], the indirect effect of their actions assisted his sale.”
(Rashbam’s commentary on Bereshis 37:28)

If the brothers did not actually sell Yosef, why does he accuse them of the sale? The answer is that the brothers’ indifference enabled harm. Though not present for his actual sale, the brothers’ indifference still amounted to moral complicity. Their inaction enabled Yosef’s suffering, demonstrating the deeper dangers of passive indifference to injustice rather than active assistance.

Similarly, we cannot stand idly by while conflict persists in Israel. Over time, we may become numb to the war in Israel and grow indifferent to what is happening there. We must continue to assist, as much as we can, those in Israel and actively engage through aid, politics, Tefillot, and Torah study. The brothers’ indifference led to harm to Yosef; ongoing active support can alleviate the suffering for Israelis, families at war, war orphans, and those in need. Allowing ourselves to grow indifferent risks enabling tragedy. We must beware of getting used to the situation and it not affecting us.

This Chanukah, over half a million Israeli soldiers are on the frontlines fighting for the Jewish state’s very survival, as many in Israel live in daily fear of rocket attacks. During this season commemorating past miracles, the miracle of Israel’s continued existence hangs in the balance. We must actively assist through aid, political engagement, passionate prayer, studying Torah, being proud Jews notwithstanding rampant antisemitism, and by ensuring our Chanukah celebrations reflect solidarity with those experiencing Israel’s violent realities.

Our tragic history, from Yosef’s sale to the Holocaust, demonstrates the severe consequences of passive inaction to oppression and violence.

I am writing this on December 7th – the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Much like that date will live in infamy for catapulting America into WWII, the global indifference leading up to and during the Holocaust represents an enduring stain on humanity’s moral record.

Tragically, history provides ample examples of indifference enabling harm to the Jewish people on an unimaginable scale. Despite mounting reports of Nazi atrocities, much of the world responded with apathy and inaction towards Jews, allowing the Nazi war machine to grow stronger. International refusal to intervene or accept Jewish refugees remains an enduring stain of moral failure.

Having endured the world’s uncaring eyes to our plight before, it is incumbent upon us not to perpetuate indifference towards our brethren. We know all too well the costs of the world standing idly by, and to a great extent, the recent statements of the United Nations and the heads of universities in the USA on the conflict allow rampant antisemitism to persist in the world today.

As we reflect on the lessons from this week’s Torah portion regarding the sale of Yosef and consider our collective history, let us steadfastly commit ourselves to continuous active engagement and unwavering support for our brethren. From the tragic events of the Holocaust to the ongoing challenges faced by Israel today, the consequences of indifference are too grave to overlook. Together, let us ensure that our actions embody the imperative of standing united against those who declare their aim to destroy us. We cannot afford to be indifferent bystanders or passive spectators when harm is inflicted upon our brethren. Hanukkah Sameach.

About Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Weisz is a member of The Chief Rabbinate Council of Israel

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