Vayeshev: The Dangers of Cutting the Cord

How often have you heard the phrase, “We had a falling out, we are no longer in touch?” I’m not referring to losing touch or growing apart. Rather, I am writing about family members or friends who have a difference of opinion and instead of talking it out and confronting the matters that divided them, they simply shut down and turn off. They cut the cord. This can be a recipe for long term upset and unresolved distress.

In this week’s Parshah, Vayashev, Jacob invests great parental energy in his son Joseph, much to the chagrin of his other sons, by showering him with attention and a beautiful, colorful cloak. There are many reasons for this: Joseph was the son of Jacob’s beloved and favorite wife Rachel, Joseph was born to Jacob at a more advanced age, and Joseph showed great promise in his studies and character. Nevertheless, the extra attention greatly disturbed Joseph’s brothers, which is understandable.  Then, when Joseph shares his ambitious and seemingly self-centered dreams, this adds fuel to the fire and his brothers decide to cut the cord. 

As it states in Genesis 37:4:

וַיִּרְא֣וּ אֶחָ֗יו כִּֽי־אֹת֞וֹ אָהַ֤ב אֲבִיהֶם֙ מִכׇּל־אֶחָ֔יו וַֽיִּשְׂנְא֖וּ אֹת֑וֹ וְלֹ֥א יָכְל֖וּ דַּבְּר֥וֹ לְשָׁלֹֽם׃

And when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of his brothers, they hated him so that they could not speak a friendly word to him.

This was the beginning of family chaos that led to Joseph’s kidnapping, selling him as a slave down to Egypt, and 22 years of mourning and misery for their father Jacob until they are reunited in Egypt.

We know that G-d always has a plan, and this one worked out for the good, as Joseph eventually rose to power and helped support his family during the famine years and beyond. This outcome, however, does not diminish the decades of depression and suffering Jacob and his family members endured during this time. It seems it all could have been prevented if they did not cut the cord. 

We currently live in a “cancel culture” or “cut the cord” world and when people do not fit into our preferred mindset, they get cancelled or cut. There are certainly times e.g., an abusive relationship, that cutting ties may be necessary and the best option. Generally, cutting the cord is wrong and we should strive to do better. 

The next time we differ with family members, colleagues, or friends; we should consider cooling down and engaging them with an eye towards repair and improvement. A little empathy and skilled listening will go a long way to healing hurt feelings and repairing the rupture in the relationship. Relationships are a gift we must treasure and nurture throughout our lives. 

Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi Ephraim Epstein
Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey Community Scholar in Residence