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But he deserves mussar!

Yosef had become a high-ranking official in the Egyptian government and had the power to punish his brothers for selling him into slavery.

However, instead of seeking revenge, Yosef chose to forgive his brothers and offer them a gesture of goodwill, even inviting them to come live with him (I guess the Jewish concept of someone who falls into money must buy houses for all of his family is a thousands-of-years-old Jewish tradition). When he revealed himself to them, he tells them that Hashem had used their actions to bring about a greater good, and that he had been sent ahead of them to Egypt to prepare a place for them during the times of famine.

Taking a deeper look at the interaction between Yosef and his brothers, I wonder why Yosef didn’t take this opportunity to teach his brothers a lesson; maybe a Mussar (read: rebuke) speech not to sentence someone to death or to sell them as a slave, just because you are jealous of them. Or maybe something like “what goes around comes around” or, at least, condemn them for the effect that their actions had on their father’s well-being. Yet, we don’t see anything of the sort, as immediately after he reveals himself to them, he goes on a comfort speech about how it’s all ok and that everything that occurred happened for a necessary and purposeful reason. This was the perfect opportunity for Yosef to dig into his brother’s behavior, but he doesn’t. Why not?

I think the answer may lie in the question itself and is applicable to our everyday lives; it is not our job to teach people, rebuke people or to change people. Our job is to be a positive influence on ourselves and to change ourselves for the better, and once others see the positivity that you exude, they will want to emulate your positive attributes, thereby changing themselves in the process.

Yosef didn’t need to change his brother’s perception. They knew very well what their actions and inactions had caused. There was nothing more that Yosef needed to say in order to change the reality on the ground. So, rather than being “Mr. Mussar”, Yosef took the opportunity to comfort his brothers. Instead of trying to change his brother’s perspective and the perception of the Egyptians who he interacted daily with, Yosef led with positive example by removing the Egyptians from the room before he revealed himself and acted with ultra-sensitivity and care to his brothers in his conversation with them.

Rabbi Shmuel Salanter, a 19th century rabbi, and, according to many, the founder of the modern Mussar movement, once said: “When I was young, I wanted to change the world. But I found it difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my country. When I found I couldn’t change my country, I focused on my community. However, I discovered that I couldn’t change the community. As I grew older, I tried to change my family. Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself. But I’ve come to understand that if I had started with myself long ago, I could have had an impact on my family. And my family and I could have made a difference on our community. That, in turn, could have changed the country, and we could all have changed the world.” Per the understanding of Rabbi Salanter; “the only way to fix the world is to change one’s self.”

The lesson I am taking out of the interaction that Yosef had with his brothers, is that to effect impactful change, you do not need to be the “courageous person who says it as it is.”

The world does not need:

  • Your Mussar
  • Your Biased Opinions
  • Your Single-Handed Fixing
  • Your Messiah Complex “I’m the greatest invention since sliced bread” attitude

What the world does need, is for us to be a shining beacon of positive energy for the good. And that’s it! Effective people live by example. Ineffective people tell others how to live. Shabbat Shalom!

About the Author
StevenZvi grew up in Brooklyn and in his professional life worked in the healthcare industry in New York City. Wishing to create additional meaning and purpose in his life, he moved to Jerusalem in November 2020, where he lives with his wife, works in the Medical Technology space and volunteers for Hatzalah. He uses his writing capabilities as a healthy outlet not to receive money, recognition or fame. It’s his hope that his articles will have some positive impact on the Jewish nation and humanity worldwide. He may not live forever, but his contributions to society might.
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