This week’s Torah portion is about repairing relationships and achieving harmony at home (shalom bayit).
Sadly, many people experience discord in their family. Relatives are estranged; holiday meals turn into grand debates; and family members refuse to attend each other’s simchahs.
In some cases, warring factions don’t even remember the reason for the initial strife. Often, it begins with sibling rivalry, a main theme in this first book of the Torah.
The first two brothers were Cain and Abel, who didn’t get along very well — their relationship ended in fratricide.
The first Hebrew brothers were Abraham’s sons, Ishmael and Isaac, who never saw eye to eye. Isaac’s twin sons, Esau and Jacob, began their rivalry with a fight in the womb. Before they finally reconciled as adults, Jacob was scared a vengeful Esau would kill him for stealing the birthright.
Sibling rivalry in the Torah isn’t reserved only for men.Jacob married two sisters, Leah and Rachel, who also did not get along. Their hostility continued to the next generation as their sons were jealous of each other and allowed their emotions to damage their sibling relationships.
Joseph’s older brothers, the Torah tells us, hated him and treated him badly. They threw him in a pit and sold him to slave traders. The abuse Joseph suffered from his brothers had long-term negative effects on him, even though he emerged as a successful leader in Egypt.
As fate would have it, Joseph’s brothers, who tormented him in his youth, now must face him and beg him for grain to take back home during the famine. Near the end of last week’s portion, Joseph tests his brothers to see if they have learned their lesson. He tells them to abandon youngest brother Benjamin to see if they will put a sibling in potential harm again.
Joseph’s brother Judah seems to have redeemed himself. Years earlier, he played a key role in selling Joseph into slavery. Now, Judah steps forward and offers himself instead of Benjamin. When Joseph sees Judah’s action, he is overcome by emotion. Only then does he reveal himself and the brothers cry together.
Judah is a model for anyone in an estranged family relationship. He shows that from repentance comes redemption and reconciliation. Disharmony is like a sickness, with healing only occurring when one side is willing to move toward redemption.
Bringing peace and healing to fractured families should be a goal. When we achieve harmony at home (shalom bayit) and end the divisiveness in our families, we will then be empowered to go out and bring harmony to the world at large, ensuring Jewish survival for generations to come.
Rabbi Jason Miller is an educator and technology entrepreneur. He is president of Access Technology, the founder and director of Kosher Michigan and he officiates private bar and bat mitzvahs through mitzvahrabbi.com.