Parashat Vayeitzei – Being your brother’s keeper

Anyone who has spent any meaningful time in Israel will know that there is a dichotomy in the way you can be treated. On one hand, anybody who has sat in a café or engaged in any bureaucratic measures knows that the member of the public is entirely incidental to the running of the establishment. In fact, it would be much easier for all concerned if you could have your coffee at home.

On the other hand, you never know who you are going to sit next to on a bus or a taxi, and after a short round of Jewish Geography, the taxi driver will be calling you “achi!” – brother. This familiarity is jarring to some, but as it happens, it finds itself a small source in this week’s parsha.

Ya’akov has left Eretz Cana’an, slept on Har HaMoriyah, and arrived at the local Charan well where he sees the shepherds of the area gathered around it and engages them in conversation, “My brothers…!” Those who have used the Underground in London will know that no one speaks to anybody else, much less call them ‘brother’.

Rashi explains that Ya’akov was asking why it was they were sitting indolently without actually watering their sheep. If they were working by the hour, then they were wasting the time of their employer, and if the flocks were their own, there was still plenty of time to continue pasturing the sheep.

Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky elaborates on the question as to why Yaakov found it necessary to address the shepherds in the first place, and why do it in such a familiar way. He quotes a Gemara from Masechet Erchin which details a dispute to what extent is an individual obligated to admonish someone who is behaving inappropriately. There is a dispute between the Amoraim, Rav, Shmuel and Rabbi Yochanan whether one has to suffer the threat physical violence, verbal abuse or simply being rebuked in return.

In turn he also quotes the Rambam on the subject of admonition: “One who sees someone commit a sin or who is going off the rails, it is a mitzva to intervene and let that individual know that their behaviour is self-destructive…and he should speak to him calmly and pleasantly, and make it clear that he is only speaking for the other’s benefit and not for his own…unless the individual makes it clear he is not prepared to listen.

All too often when we see misbehaviour, we are quick to criticise and heap scorn on the offending party. We don’t generally know all the facts, but we are quick to feel morally superior over everyone else. Ya’akov’s approach is call to all of us to take care of our surroundings and make sure that all we do is directed by an altruistic and deep love of people. Only then will people be inclined to take note of their own errors and take the appropriate steps to correct their behaviour.

About the Author
David Gross was born in Geneva and grew up in London. He graduated from UCL in 2010 with a B.A. in Hebrew and Jewish Studies. He has previously served as Southern Fieldworker of Bnei Akiva UK. He has studied and taught in Yeshivat HaKotel, and currently teaches in Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi. He will be starting an MBA at Bar Ilan in the coming academic year.
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