top of page

Vayeishav: The Problem of Fault-Finding

ויבא יוסף את דבתם רעה אל אביהם, וישראל אהב את יוסף מכל בניו כי בן זקנים הוא לו... ויראו אחיו כי אותו אהב אביהם מכל אחיו וישנאו אותו ולא יכלו דברו לשלום.

“And Yosef brought their inappropriate behavior to the attention of their father, and Yisroel loved Yosef more than all his other sons for he was his child of old age… And his brothers saw that he was loved by their father more than his brothers and they hated him, and they couldn’t speak to him in peace.” (Bereishis 37:2-4)

At first glance, the wording of this verse makes it seem as if Yakov loved Yosef more than his brothers because he tattled on them. How could the Torah imply such a thing when the opposite should be true? Yakov should have reprimanded Yosef for speaking ill of his brothers. Instead, the verse says that Yakov loved Yosef more than his brothers. And why indeed did Yosef speak lashon hara about his brothers to their father?

There is another difficulty here. Why did the brothers hate Yosef after seeing that he was more beloved by their father? If they would have hated him for speaking lashon hara about them, that could be understood – not just for personal reasons but also because one is permitted to dislike someone who commits a wrongdoing, such as speaking lashon hara. But the verse implies that the brothers hated Yosef because Yakov loved him more. This means that their hatred was based on jealousy alone. How could the saintly brothers, the holy Shevatim, harbor hatred for their brother due to jealousy?

We can explain this concept with the following insight, based on the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov:

The Baal Shem Tov taught that if someone notices a fault in his friend, he should be aware that this same fault could also be found in him and he should first correct himself before criticizing his friend.

Whenever the tzaddik Rebbe Zishe saw a person committing a wrongdoing, he would cry out: “Zishe, Zishe, why did you do this or that sin?! Why didn’t you fear Hashem and you transgressed His commandment?” This was his response whenever he noticed that someone else had sinned.

The Baal Shem Tov explains this with the following parable: A certain fellow lived as a hermit for most of his life. He lived deep inside the woods, far away from human civilization, and he never learned the basics of hygiene and social etiquette.

One day, he had reason to come to town. He entered a house and there, across the entrance, stood a mirror. For the very first time in his life, he saw his own reflection. He was appalled by what he saw. The person staring back at him had long, unkempt hair, overgrown nails and a filthy appearance. He began to laugh at the stranger whom he saw in the mirror, but to his shock, the person began laughing at him! He became angry and started to yell at him: “Just look at yourself and then you’ll understand why I’m laughing at you!” The stranger became angry as well and imitated his actions. The hermit was so infuriated that he took his stick and raised it high in the air, warning the fellow who stood across from him that if he wouldn’t stop laughing and shouting at him he would hit him. To his surprise, the stranger also grabbed a stick and threatened him in return! In a rage, the hermit ran over to the stranger and started hitting him. He broke the mirror and the person disappeared from sight. He was happy to have won the fight and be rid of the impudent stranger.

The owner of the house heard strange noises coming from the hall. He came to see what happened and saw a wild-looking man with long hair and nails brandishing a stick. “What are you doing here?” he demanded.

“Oh, I just got rid of someone, a dirty fellow who looked awful. I told him to go wash up and cut his hair, so he began to laugh at me. I couldn’t get him to straighten out so I had to beat him with my stick.”

The owner realized what had happened, and understood that the hermit had no idea that he had seen his own reflection. He took him into another room which had another mirror and asked him: “Is this the same person you saw before?”

“Yes, yes! It’s him!” cried the hermit, raising his stick.

“This is your own reflection,” said the owner. “Wherever you will go, he will come along with you. If you want to get rid of him, there is only one thing you can do: you must wash yourself and cut your own hair and nails, and then you will see a different person accompanying you wherever you go.” He took him to a washroom and showed him how to take a bath. He gave him clean clothes to wear and helped him cut his overgrown hair and nails. After this transformation, he took him back to the mirror and showed him his new reflection.

“The same pertains to all of us,” explains the Baal Shem Tov. “Whatever you see in others is truly something you can find in yourself. If you notice sins in others, it is a reflection of your own deeds. If you would be clean and pure, you would see only beauty and purity in others.”

We can now understand the issue between Yosef and his brothers. When Yosef noticed the wrongdoings that his brothers committed, he had no intention of speaking lashon hara about them to his father. Rather, he came to Yakov for guidance as to how to improve himself in those very aspects where he noticed faults in others. He understood that if he noticed these wrongdoings it is an indication that he too falls short in those same areas, and so he wanted to ask his father how he could improve. This is why Yakov loved Yosef after hearing these reports, because he saw how much Yosef wanted to grow and correct his actions. “And Yisroel loved Yosef more” because he learned “from all of his brothers.”

This is why the brothers despised Yosef. They saw that Yakov’s love for him was due to his fault-finding, in others as in himself. “How come Yosef only sees our shortcomings?” they said. “It must be because he is not fully righteous and therefore he notices so many faults in others. Had he been righteous, he would have seen only the good in us.” And therefore, the brothers despised Yosef because they considered him to be sinful.

The contention between the holy brothers was what ultimately led to our exile in Egypt. If we will wipe out strife and baseless hatred, we will hasten the Geulah Sheleima, Amein.


bottom of page