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Parashat Vayesheb: “Don’t Bother Me With the Facts”

Differences of opinion are part of life. No two people think exactly alike, and thus in any relationship there will be times when the two parties will disagree. A verse in Parashat Vayesheb provides us with a simple and important lesson how to ensure that valid differences of opinion remain respectable and civil and do not deteriorate into hostility.

Parashat Vayesheb tells of the tension between Yosef and his brothers. Our Sages explained that this was not a childish fight among siblings. Far from it. These were great men, and the issue involved serious halachic matters. Yosef suspected his brothers of grave violations, which he reported to his father, and the brothers, knowing the allegations were not true, determined that Yosef posed a threat. This is what led them to the drastic measure of selling him as a slave.

We read in the Torah that on that fateful day when Yosef came to check on his brothers at his father’s behest, "They say him from afar, and before he drew near them they conspired against him to kill him" (37:18). The decision to eliminate Yosef was made specifically "before he drew near them," when the brothers "saw him from afar." This is a phenomenon with which we are all familiar – people stick to their decisions and say, "Don’t bother me with the facts." Quite often, once we’ve made up our minds, we stick to our decisions and block out any information which might convince us we’re wrong. We don’t have the patience to be "bothered with the facts." We want to enjoy the comfort of knowing our minds our made up, and thus stay away from any counterarguments. Yosef’s brothers made up their minds about him without waiting for him to approach and give his side of the story. And thus the tensions resulted in tragedy. If they had been a bit more patient and open-minded, they would not have reached their verdict "before he drew near." They would have waited to hear all the facts.

Usually, when people are not interested in hearing the facts, this is the clearest indication that their arguments are weak. If we are confident in our decision, the facts would not "bother" us. If we fear they will be a "bother," then it must be that our decisions were made prematurely. And if this is the case, then we can only benefit from hearing the other side of the argument, as it will help us arrive at the truth, which must always be our ultimate goal.

This is one of the invaluable everyday-life lessons that we can and should learn from the tragic story of Mechirat Yosef. Disagreements within families and communities are inevitable, but the complete breakdown of relationships is not. When we do find ourselves in disagreement, it is crucial to wait until the other party "draws near," to hear the other side of the argument and consider all sides of the issue before arriving at a final decision.

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