Mistakenly Ascribing Motives – Vayehi 5782

D'var Torah | Genesis

After Jacob’s death, the brothers noticed something that made them suspect Joseph would take his revenge on them for selling him as a slave to Egypt (Genesis 50:15). What, exactly, they saw that made them worry is not mentioned in the text. Along comes the midrash to fill in the blank. According to Midrash Tanhuma, as Joseph and his brothers were returning to Egypt from the Cave of Pairs in which Jacob was buried, Joseph stopped along the way to visit the site of the pit into which he was cast by his brothers. The brothers inferred that Joseph still has hatred in his heart and now that father Jacob is dead, there is no one and nothing to prevent Joseph from settling the score.


But, the midrash goes on say, they were mistaken. Revenge was the last thing on Joseph’s mind. He stopped to see the pit in order to visit the site of his redemption and give thanks to God for miraculously rescuing him from death. The brothers’ worry was completely unfounded.


No doubt the midrash was intended to glorify the character of Joseph who harbored no ill will even against those who had wronged him. Yet simultaneously the midrash denigrates the brothers who ascribe to Joseph their own ill will. In their jealousy the brothers wanted to do Joseph harm and, likewise, they believed that in his hurt Joseph would want to do them harm.


Sadly, when people suffer a falling out it is often because of the ascription of false motives. But what we believe other people are thinking is often wrong. So much heartache can be avoided if people would stop judging someone else’s motives and ascribe the best intentions instead.




Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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