One of the most depressing, negative and potent words in any language is “hatred.” It represents a superlative of a term that can be so destructive to both the subject and object of the disgust. Chumash.
The first mention of the root for the word “hatred” can be found (Bereshis 24:60) when Lavan and his unnamed mother bestow their blessing upon Rivka, who would imminently be leaving for Canaan with Avraham’s trusted servant. But its context is a generic victory over one’s enemies. But within eight of the first 11 verses of this week’s parshah, the Hebrew root for hate (s.n.h) is featured three times and that of jealousy once. This root only appears in Sefer Bereshis 5 times and 25 other times in the rest of Tanach; only here, and in the context of Amnon, the son of King David, and his relationship with his half-sister Tamar and half-brother Avshalom, is hatred directed from one named person for another.
In (chapter 37) verse 4, the brothers observe that Yaakov favors Yosef, and “they hated him, and could not speak a friendly word to him.” In the next verse, verse 5, Yosef shares with his brothers the fact that he had a dream and the text shares that “they hated him even more.” In verse 8, after sharing the details of the dream, the brothers respond, “Do you mean to reign over us? Do you mean to rule over us? And they hated him even more for his talk about his dreams.” In verse 11 we learn “His brothers were jealous of him, and his father kept the matter in mind.”
My Goodness! What a depressing beginning of a parsha. How did this happen and what are we to learn from it?
What exactly was loathsome to the brothers? K’li Yakar suggests a progression of 3 events. First, and foremost, the predicate was Yosef’s tattling to his father about their behavior, which is mentioned in the verse two of the parsha. This anger is independent of the veracity of Yosef’s reports. Second, due to the anger, the brothers really wanted to avoid Yosef; they did not want to talk to him or acknowledge him, for that matter. When Yosef merely informed the brothers of the existence of his dream, without its details, they hated him more. They were uninterested in his dream, or anything to do with him. This exacerbated the abhorrence. Finally, Kli Yakar renders, when Yosef nonetheless informed his brothers of his grandiose vision which paralleled their feelings of inferiority, they pushed back and the rage grew. After Yosef publicizes his second dream to his brothers and his father, in addition to hatred, the brothers are described as envious of Yosef.
What exactly does the Hebrew root s.n.h. denote? Three approaches are discussed below.
Rabbi Aharon Soloveichik zt’l, in the eulogy he delivered at the funeral of his brother, Rabbi Joseph. B. Soloveitchik, offered an alternative English definition to s.n.h., commonly translated as hatred. He said:
“When his brothers saw that Yaakov, their father, loved Yosef more than any one of them, ‘vayisni’u oso.’ In all the English translations, this phrase is translated to mean ‘they hated him.’ But this is a very inaccurate translation. Even ‘they disliked him’ is incorrect. In my opinion, ‘vayisni’u oso’ means ‘they resented him.’ Chas v’shalom, they did not hate him, God forbid. They did not dislike him, chas veshalom, but they resented him. They loved him and wanted Yosef to be one of them, but they felt that he was superior to them. Not because they didn’t have that potential. They had the same potential as Yosef did, but Yosef tried all the time to galvanize the potential while they didn’t. And so, they were jealous. Jealousy is not grounded in hatred although sometimes it is conducive to hatred. Jealousy is grounded in not being able to do what the other person does. The other person does his utmost to utilize his potential and they don’t. They resented him so much that they couldn’t even talk peacefully with him.”
Some of the commentaries offer levels of hatred, and focus on the words “they could not speak peaceably to him.” Radak here notes that at least the brothers were communicating, although not in the most amicable fashion. Ibn Ezra, however interprets the same words in the opposite manner. “Even peacefully, i.e. issues on which they agreed, they could no longer discuss.”
Rabbi Samson R. Hirsch connects the root “to hate” with the Hebrew word sneh, or thorn bush. He suggests that to be a thorn means to be rejected, to be kept as far away as possible. I saw a meaningful interpretation by Dr. Aviad HaKohen, stressing that when Yosef came to check on his brothers in Dotan, the verse states (verse 18) that his brothers saw him “merachok,” from a distance. The brothers felt detachment between themselves and Yosef. The verse states “And when they saw him from far away, even before he came near to them, they conspired against him to slay him.” You can only cry reading this verse. Later on (Bereshis 45:3-4) when Yosef reveals himself to his brothers, he says “And Yosef said to his brothers, “’Come near me’ I beg you. And they came near…”Rashi explains that the brothers began retreating, and he begged them to come closer. This was the fate of Yosef.
The following analysis is not to indict Yosef, his brothers, or their father. There is much blame to go around in the context of knowing that the destiny of the seed of Avraham was to be cast down to a foreign land and be humiliated and abused. We must always remain aware that the Yosef, Yaakov and the tribes are imperfect tzadikim, whose actions are weighed heavily due to their piety. Nonetheless, the painful spotlight of hatred/resentment must teach us lessons that can bring more love to the world.
Hatred is a very destructive force. The Orchos Tzadikim (sha’ar #6) reminds us that prohibition of hating a fellow in our heart (Vayikra 19:17) leads to so many other violations including lashon hara, revenge, and denying the goodness in another person. The Malbim, seeing the order of the verses in the sad chapter of Yosef and his brothers, points out that the cycle of hatred can be broken with communication and love. But if hatred is based on jealousy, as we see in our verses, every time you open your mouth, things get worse. Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler (Michtav M’Eliyahu, volume 2, pp. 220) seems to agree, by differentiating regular hatred, and baseless hatred (sinas chinam). The latter, Rav Dessler opines, is triggered by envy, while the former, is based upon pain caused. Rav Dessler proclaims that it is easier to overlook personal pain, than jealousy. He cites the Maharal (Gur Aryeh on Chumash) that the brothers’ sin’ah was kindled because of Yosef’s distinguished position in the eyes of their father. This is why Yosef is later described, by Moshe (Dvarim 33:16), as n’zir echav, “who was separated from his brothers.”
In the N’tziv’s famous introduction to Sefer Bereshis, he defines the poison of sinas chinam, baseless hatred, as being different. He notes that during the period of Bayis Sheni, the Second Commonwealth, the Jewish people were studying Torah, were pious and righteous, but were not upright (yashar) when it came to their relationships to one another. “But because of the baseless hatred in their hearts for those who did not conduct their relationship with Hashem in the exact same way as they do.” One can indeed call this resentment, which Merriam Webster describes as “a feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult or injury.”
This second type of hatred is, unfortunately, well known to us. There is so much hatred in the world due to differences. This baseless odium is manifested through all forms of discrimination and racism. So much dysfunction is due to variances in philosophy, theology, or affinity and contact with certain individuals. During the last few years in the U.S. suggestions were offered how families and friends without unanimity on political affiliations can sit down to Thanksgiving meals. This is truly sad and brings to mind the very denotation of sinas chinam.
The evil perpetrators of the tragedy in Jersey City last week left a note in their car, anticipating their own demise. According to WNBC TV, the note from these haters of Jews stated: “I do this because my creator makes me do this, and I hate who he hates.” I will not capitalize “creator” in the latter sentence since my Creator does not compel me to kill innocents.
May the pain of this Torah portion transform this ancient form of hatred into at the very least civil discourse and respect, if not the ultimate goal of ahavas chinam, unconditional love. Recognizing how destructive a force hatred and jealousy are, let us focus intently on avoiding hatred and jealousy, as the Rambam advises us. Our lives will be so much richer without it.
The stress of the Hebrew word "soneh" (hatred) within the first verses of the parsha should tell us something about the nature of the relationship of Yosef and his brothers. What lesson can we learn from this most fatal trait?