As Jacob neared his death, Parshas Vayechi describes an interesting exchange that took place. Joseph came to his father with his two sons for them to be blessed. Joseph placed his older son Menashe by Jacob’s right side, and Ephraim, the younger son, at Jacob’s left side. Jacob, however, crossed his hands in order to place his right hand on the younger son Ephraim. Upon seeing this, Joseph assumed that Jacob made a mistake and attempted to reverse Jacob’s hands, expressing aloud his reasoning (48:18). “No, my father, this is the older one. Place your right hand on his head.”
Why was it necessary for Joseph to elaborate and ask that Jacob place his right hand on Menashe’s head? If he thought Jacob was mistaken in thinking that Ephraim was older, it would have sufficed for him to just mention that Menashe was the older son.
The Ohr Hachaim explains that Joseph was implying that in case Jacob knew who was older, and intentionally placed his right hand on the younger son, he should not do so. Jacob had already once provoked strife amongst brothers by clothing Joseph with a special garment which caused the other sons of Jacob to be jealous, and he should learn from that experience not to do something again which can provoke such feelings amongst brothers.
Jacob answered him, “I know, my son.” Why was it necessary for Jacob to address Joseph as “my son?” We know that! The Ohr Hachaim explains that Jacob was responding to Joseph’s subtle comment with a hint that Joseph was wrong. Jacob was telling him that he was not the one to blame for the envy Joseph’s brothers experienced, but rather, “my son” is the one at fault. Although Jacob did give special treatment to Joseph, Jacob understood that this alone would not have caused the other sons to hate Joseph. It was because of the way Joseph acted toward his brothers and the way he announced the dreams he had, which implied that he was destined to rule over them which provoked their animosity.
Rabbi Moshe Rabinowitz highlights this as an important lesson in human nature; we never think we are at fault. When something wrong happens,our first reaction is to blame someone else because it seems so obvious to us that it has nothing to do with our own responsibility. Very often, it is obvious to an outsider that we are the ones at fault. But we don’t want to believe that. Our instinctive reaction is always to deflect the blame and shift it upon others. At times, we can come up with the most irrational reasoning just to keep our conscious guilt-free, instead of facing the truth that we have erred.
Rabbi Leizer Silver was known for his wit, and he once expressed this concept in a humorous manner. He was backing up out of a parking spot and crashed into a tree. He threw his hands into the air and exclaimed jokingly, “What crazy person decided to plant a tree right here?!”
Rabbi Silver was bringing out this exact point. No matter what the circumstances are, our natural tendency is to cast the blame upon someone else, no matter how far fetched it may be. While to us it seems obvious that it is not our fault, others will often see how downright ridiculous our reasoning is. If we want to grow in life, we have to grow accustomed to claiming responsibility for our mistakes. In many instances, just as with Joseph and Jacob, it isn’t purely our fault, but a combination of mistakes of others to some degree as well. In these cases, it is very easy to dismiss all responsibility by focusing on the mistake someone else made instead of our own. But what good is this? Glossing over our mistakes will just prevent us from identifying the points we need to improve. When something goes wrong, before we jump to blame others, we should think “perhaps there was something that I also did wrong, that I can improve on or correct in the future.”
Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments, however please bear in mind that I do not check my emails frequently which may cause a delayed response. If you have family or friends who would like to be added to the mailing list, feel free to send me their email address. (Please refrain from doing so on the Sabbath and Yom-Tov.)
firstname.lastname@example.org by Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber