Kenneth Brander
President and Rosh HaYeshiva, Ohr Torah Stone

Many Tribes, One Family

Not one sibling relationship in the Torah had yet been successful. Kayin and Hevel, Yitzhak and Yishmael, Yaakov and Eisav – each pair faced discord and animosity, if not worse. But Parshat Miketz portrays a key turning point in the long arc of Sefer Bereishit towards brotherly love. Recognizing the importance of redeeming Shimon and saving the whole family, Yehuda steps up to the plate, committing to Yaakov that he will bring Binyamin, along with Shimon, safely home. In a clear display of personal responsibility for family, he declares: “I myself will be surety for him; you may hold me responsible: if I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, I shall stand guilty before you forever” (Bereishit 43:9).

This shift, which takes place in our parsha, is reflected in the Torah’s careful choice of words. While they are elsewhere referred to as the children of Jacob or Israel, the namesakes of the tribes are, for the first time, called “the brothers of Joseph” as they begin their descent to Egypt. The Midrash Tanchuma (Miketz #8) notices this shift in terminology, and suggests that it is indicative of the underlying change in heart. “The Torah ought to have called them the children of Israel. However, while earlier they showed him no brotherhood and sold him, in the end they felt regret… and agreed unanimously to attempt to save him.” Evidently, with the threat of famine hanging over their heads, the need for unity overcame the animosities of the past, and energized the brothers of Joseph as they set out on their rescue mission.

Indeed, the transition from last week’s parsha to this week’s parsha is also seen in the character of Yosef. Prior to this week’s parsha Yosef only interpreted dreams that focused on himself and his aspirations – even if the interpretations were to be actualized at someone else’s expense, be that his dreams of overcoming his brothers, or his interpretations for the butler and baker which he uses to hasten his release from prison. But in Parshat Miketz, Yosef starts to interpret dreams on behalf of others, on behalf of the nation of Egypt, helping to save the Egyptian people as well as his whole family from starvation (thank you Yeshiva University President Emeritus Richard Joel and Seth Goldstein for this additional point).

We too are facing a moment of crisis, and we too stand upon an inflection point in how we treat one another. Just months ago, the various sectors of Israeli society were as divided as they ever were, with acrimony and divisiveness running high. Prior to October 7, our dreams only focused on ourselves and what we wanted. Yet when tragedy struck on the seventh of October, it became clear to all of us that we needed to put aside our differences and find common purpose and solidarity in this trying moment, to treat one another like brothers and sisters.

We cannot afford to be divided when everything and everyone we cherish is at stake. But we must consider how to sustain this unity beyond this time of crisis. What will each of us do to maintain this brotherly bond once the battlefield quiets? When we are no longer baking cookies and challot together, or sleeping alongside one another in the same tanks and tents? What will happen when the emergency ebbs and our differences resurface? We must never forget: we are indeed many tribes, but we will always be one family. We must let the existential values binding us now continue to guide us during the inevitable disagreements ahead so that the ubiquitous phrase “Together we will triumph” will not ring hollow after the war drums fade. Our shared morals cannot expire with the threats they rose to meet, and if we commit to nurturing this spirit, our nation will outlast any single victory. Together, we will not only survive but thrive.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander is President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone, an Israel-based network of 32 educational and social action programs transforming Jewish life, living and leadership in Israel and across the world. He is the rabbi emeritus of the Boca Raton Synagogue and founder of the Katz Yeshiva High School. He served as the Vice President for University and Community Life at Yeshiva University and has authored many articles in scholarly journals.
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