Vayeshev: The Evil in ‘Hear No Evil’

At seventeen, Joseph would help his brothers tend sheep. After the outings, he would report back to his father, Jacob (Israel). We are told that they were “bad reports” (Genesis 37:2). Does this mean that they were all bad? Or does it merely mean that he included negative or critical comments in his reports? We don’t know. Either is possible.

Joseph was his father’s favourite – and his brothers knew that. They hated him for it.

When Joseph dreamt that his brothers’ sheaves bowed to his, he recounted it to them and they hated him more for it. Then, when he dreamt that the sun, the moon, and eleven stars bowed to him, he recounted it to his brothers as well. Unsurprisingly, they hated him even more.

Why were his brothers upset with Joseph? Did they think he was a braggart? Perhaps. Did they think he was arrogant? Perhaps. Did they think he was a liar? If they did, they would be mistaken.

From what we know at this point and from what we learn later on, Joseph is not a liar. It seems, then, that Joseph’s brothers did not like what they heard. They certainly did not want to hear what Joseph had to say. It upset them. So they eventually lashed out at their father’s favourite son.

The Maccabees’ Vision

As we approach Hanukkah, we are also reminded of the Maccabees and their heroism. They are beacons of light to us not just because they stood up against a fearsome enemy. They should be admired not just for standing up successfully against a more formidable military threat but because they had vision.

They understood that the Temple was threatened with destruction. The Temple itself would remain standing under Hellenic rule but its face would change in such a way that everything the people held dear would eventually erode. The Maccabees understood what the future held if they did not act.

Unlike Joseph’s brothers, the Maccabean brothers were willing to accept difficult truths. Rather than adopt the “Hear no evil, see no evil” maxim, they listened. They saw. They acted.

Who Likes Bad News?

Generally, no one likes to hear things we don’t want to hear. Criticisms. Bad news. No one enjoys hearing these things. However, it is to our advantage to listen. It can be disastrous to cover our ears and close our eyes and instead point a finger at these messengers. We must listen to all points of view and have the clarity of mind to evaluate them fairly and properly. Sometimes we ought to dismiss the negative views. Other times, we would be wise to heed them.

We may not like what someone is telling us but hearing it is in our interest. Our future – our own and whatever we are connected to – may depend on it.

About the Author
Eyal Bitton is a cantor and composer who has penned several musicals and oratorios. His theatrical works have been produced in the US, Canada, Kenya, and China. He has directed choirs in Montreal and Toronto and is the Musical Director of Toronto's Zimriyah, a children's choral festival. As a cantor, he combines Ashkenazi and Sephardi traditions along with his own original pieces at Beth Jacob Synagogue in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
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