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How Can You Eat At a Time Like This?

Joseph’s brothers resented him, and this resentment quickly boiled over into hatred. They saw the favorable treatment that their father, Jacob, gave Joseph, and then Joseph exacerbated the situation by telling his brothers of his dreams – which portended a time in the future when he would be their master. Their hate reached such a degree that when Joseph was sent by Jacob to find out how they were doing, they conspired to kill him.

Reuven, Joseph’s oldest brother, stalled for time and told his brothers not to kill him but, instead, to throw him into a pit. His intention was to later return and rescue Joseph.

When Reuven left the scene the brothers sat down to eat a meal, and it was then that Judah suggested that instead of killing Joseph, they sell him to the Ishmaelites who were passing by. This ultimately led to Joseph’s arriving in Egypt.

The fact that they sat down to eat bread may give us the impression that they were so callous as to indulge themselves while Joseph was most likely pleading for his life. In reality, however, they began to experience self-doubt, and they therefore sat down to reflect on and carefully scrutinize their course of action.

Their hostility to Joseph was based not on mere emotions and feelings of jealousy. They had erroneously   concluded that Joseph was a dangerous rebel, a false prophet. If his power and arrogance were not nipped in the bud, they thought, Joseph could very well destroy all of the pioneering work of the Patriarchs.

Now, the brothers were beginning to have doubts about their motives: Perhaps it was an emotional reaction and their egos that motivated them to be so bent on their brother’s destruction. So Joseph’s brothers sat down to eat bread.  Their intention was to give themselves an opportunity to mull over the situation and digest all of the information that was available to them.

And at precisely that time they saw the caravan of Ishmaelites passing by on their way to Egypt.  To them it was G-d’s signal to “have their cake and eat it too.” They would rid themselves of the pariah without actually taking his life.

And here are the immediate twin lessons:

On the one hand, before we decide to do something drastic in distancing another Jew from us, an action that can have far reaching consequences, we must sit down and “eat bread,” i.e. thoroughly learn and digest all of what the Torah says about the subject.

Conversely, there is another lesson that we must not follow their example, that of our trying to apply Divine Providence to an unwarranted conclusion. Divine Providence is to be used to reinforce the things that we know are consistent with G-d’s will. When we witness an event that reminds us of a Mitzvah it should strengthen our resolve to do the Mitzvah, not the other way around.


All of the events of the past few decades are stark reminders of what we’ve been told by the Rebbe that we are now living on the very threshold of the Redemption. When we see the signs that the Torah (both Written and Oral) have indicated that are signs of Moshiach, including the collapse of the Soviet Empire and the many miracles in Israel, we must take note of these Divine Providential signs in a positive way. They must serve as sources of inspiration to buttress our faith in the imminence of Moshiach’s arrival.

These dramatic signs should arouse us to prepare ourselves for this time by strengthening our commitment to the study of Torah and the observance of Mitzvos and love of our fellow Jew, to usher in the long-awaited Redemption.


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