Transcending Resentment

Relationships are bound to hit bumps in the road. People may say something that feels hurtful, do something that feels painful, and a repair is in order. Yet if and when the apology does ensue, do the bad feelings truly melt away? Is it just a matter of time until it dissipates, or do the embers of the dispute linger into the future? What can be done to truly move forward from hurt feelings?

In Parshat Vayechi, after our father Yaakov passes on, all the brothers bring their father to Hebron where he will be buried next to his wife Leah, his father Yitzchak, his mother Rebecca, as well as his grandparents Avraham and Sarah.

The Talmud advances that on the way back from the burial, Joseph passes the pit that his brothers threw him into decades earlier. Upon seeing the pit, Joseph recites a blessing thanking G-d for his miraculous survival. When his brothers see this, they become worried and think perhaps Joseph still harbors resentments, and now that their father is gone, he will exact revenge and retribution. 

Genesis 50:15

וַיִּרְא֤וּ אֲחֵֽי־יוֹסֵף֙ כִּי־מֵ֣ת אֲבִיהֶ֔ם וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ ל֥וּ יִשְׂטְמֵ֖נוּ יוֹסֵ֑ף וְהָשֵׁ֤ב יָשִׁיב֙ לָ֔נוּ אֵ֚ת כׇּל־הָ֣רָעָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר גָּמַ֖לְנוּ אֹתֽוֹ׃

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrong that we did him!”

However, this was not the case, because Joseph had made peace with all that occurred years ago and did not maintain residual anger. How did he do it? How did he garner the strength and conviction to truly forgive the grave sin that caused him trauma and pain? 

Gen 50:19-20

וַיֹּ֧אמֶר אֲלֵהֶ֛ם יוֹסֵ֖ף אַל־תִּירָ֑אוּ כִּ֛י הֲתַ֥חַת אֱלֹים אָֽנִי׃ וְאַתֶּ֕ם חֲשַׁבְתֶּ֥ם עָלַ֖י רָעָ֑ה אֱלֹהִים֙ חֲשָׁבָ֣הּ לְטֹבָ֔ה לְמַ֗עַן
עֲשֹׂ֛ה כַּיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּ֖ה לְהַחֲיֹ֥ת עַם־רָֽב׃
But Joseph said to them, “Have no fear! Am I a substitute for God? Besides, although you intended me harm, God intended it for good, so as to bring about the present result—the survival of our people.

Joseph believed and understood that everything that occurred was designed by G-d Himself, and therefore there was no room for resentment against his brothers who carried out the beginning of the divine plan.

As we conclude the book of Genesis and appreciate our illustrious national beginnings, let’s also try to incorporate some of the great examples of personal integrity and achievement we read about our Matriarchs and Patriarchs.


Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Epstein
Community Scholar in Residence