In this week’s parashah: Vayechi, Joseph and his brothers confront their father’s passing and their conflict from years passed with Joseph.
The brothers, unable to forgive themselves for their past actions, assume Joseph will hold their actions against them and act in retribution. Desperate to avert punishment for their actions, they commit another sin. The brothers send a messenger to Joseph to inform him of his father’s request for him to forgive his brothers despite no request ever being made.
Additionally, in another desperate move, the brothers offer themselves as slaves for Joseph, thus opening the door for Joseph to commit an act of sin himself.
Despite observing seemingly obvious and possibly insincere attempts to avert punishment and having every reason to be angry and seek retribution, Joseph sets aside any grudge or anger he may feel. Instead of continuing the cycle of sin with more sin, Joseph forgives his brothers. When Joseph conveys his decision and comforts the brothers, the Torah states that Joseph “דַבֵּ֖ר עַל־לִבָּֽם” – spoke to their hearts. I interpret this line as Joseph’s methodology of rebuilding his relationship with not only his brothers but also their relationships with Hashem. As the brothers’ hearts are seemingly full of uncertainty and fear, Joseph takes a gamble that love still exists inside the hearts of his brothers and does a loving act.
This section of Vayechi teaches that forgiveness is the only way to end the cascade of sin that conflict truly brings. Whether in an internal conflict with ourselves or others, we should seek forgiveness for our errors and not let fear lead us to commit more sins. Additionally, when friends, family and loved ones have wronged us, we should always assume that those who have wronged us can still love us and speak to their hearts rather than their actions. Only then can we properly move on from conflicts passed.
McMaster University Student