…Joseph at the age of seventeen years was a shepherd with his brothers…and Joseph brought back evil reports about them to their father (Jacob). (37:2)
This week’s Parsha tells the story of one of the early events that led to the Jewish people’s bondage in Egypt. Joseph spoke lashon hara (slander; evil reports) to his father about his brothers. This led to a hatred, which culminated into his being brought to Egypt and sold as a slave. Joseph’s story will be at the core of the Torah portion we will read for the next three weeks, which indicates its significance.
Joseph’s lashon hara (slander) about his brothers wasn’t told to anyone beside his (their) father. His motivation was not to besmirch his brothers and therefore did not publicize his evil reports. He felt he had valid concern after seeing his brothers engaged in (what he perceived as) malevolent behavior; his intentions were constructive, not malicious. If so, why is he censured for speaking badly about his brothers?
Joseph’s report was improper because he should have gone to his brothers to admonish them and try to correct their errors before speaking to his/their father. Had he done so, they would have had the opportunity to set him straight and show him where he had was mistaken. Even if they had been wrong, they would have had the opportunity to correct themselves; the issue would have been resolved. Joseph was punished so severely because he failed to go directly to them.
One of life’s challenges is confronting people with whom we are at odds. Many people take the path of least resistance by choosing to not confront the situation. By doing so, they let negative thoughts and emotions build up. Many times, lashon hara (slander, gossip) is the result of not having the inner strength to approach a person directly and giving them the opportunity to explain themselves. This non-confrontational approach doesn’t resolve anything, and commonly leads to resentment. Externally the person might not show it, but internally they begin to harbor hatred.
Joseph should have approached his brothers. The tragic consequences of his failure to do so, almost led to his death. Even thought he was saved, this failure ultimately caused him to be sold into slavery.Jewish wisdom teaches that each of us has a soul with an inner Divine spark giving us the ability live our lives in a way that will bring us maximum pleasure. Having the strength to confront the unpleasant people and situations is something expected of every Jew. For us, confronting our insecurity and other inner demons isn’t a luxury, it’s our life’s purpose. (Shmiras HaLashon, Shaaar HaTorah, Vayeshaiv )