The Conclusion of the Joseph Story Helps Explain Rabbinic Teachings about Repentance

Dec. 21 2018

In this week’s Torah reading of Vay’ḥi, the Joseph story comes to a conclusion in his assurance to his brothers, who had sold him into slavery years before, that “You intended to harm me but God intended it for good.” In other words, the sale of Joseph unleashed a chain of events that resulted in his being made Pharaoh’s chief adviser, devising a plan that saved Egypt from a devastating regional famine, and being placed in a position to rescue the entire house of Jacob. Jonathan Sacks, following many commentators in arguing that Joseph did not reconcile with his brothers until it was clear to him that they had repented fully, applies to this tale an oft-cited rabbinic statement about repentance itself:

[T]he 3rd-century-CE sage known as Reish Lakish, originally a highway robber, was persuaded by Rabbi Yoḥanan to give up his lawless ways and join him in the house of study. . . . Perhaps speaking from his own experience, he said: “Great is repentance, because through it deliberate sins are accounted as though they were merits.” . . .  This statement is almost unintelligible. How can we change the past? How can deliberate sins be transformed into their opposite—into merits, good deeds? . . .

Reish Lakish’s statement is intelligible only in the light of Joseph’s words to his brothers. . . . The brothers had committed a deliberate sin by selling Joseph into slavery. They had then performed t’shuvah (repentance). The result, says Joseph, is that—through divine providence (“God intended it”)—their action is now reckoned “for good.” . . .

Any act we perform has multiple consequences, some good, some bad. When we intend evil, the bad consequences are attributed to us because they are what we sought to achieve. The good consequences are not: they are mere unintended outcomes. [O]nce the brothers had undergone complete repentance, their original intent was canceled out. It was now possible to see the good, as well as the bad, consequences of their act—and to attribute the former to them. Paraphrasing Shakespeare’s Mark Antony, the good they did would live after them; the bad was interred with the past.

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More about: Genesis, Hebrew Bible, Jonathan Sacks, Joseph, Religion & Holidays, Repentance, William Shakespeare

Yasir Arafat’s Decades-Long Alliance with Iran and Its Consequences for Both Palestinians and Iranians

Jan. 18 2019

In 2002—at the height of the second intifada—the Israeli navy intercepted the Karina A, a Lebanese vessel carrying 50 tons of Iranian arms to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). But Yasir Arafat’s relationship with the Islamic Republic goes much farther back, to before its founding in 1979. The terrorist leader had forged ties with followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that grew especially strong in the years when Lebanon became a base of operations both for Iranian opponents of the shah and for the PLO itself. Tony Badran writes:

The relationship between the Iranian revolutionary factions and the Palestinians began in the late 1960s, in parallel with Arafat’s own rise in preeminence within the PLO. . . . [D]uring the 1970s, Lebanon became the site where the major part of the Iranian revolutionaries’ encounter with the Palestinians played out. . . .

The number of guerrillas that trained in Lebanon with the Palestinians was not particularly large. But the Iranian cadres in Lebanon learned useful skills and procured weapons and equipment, which they smuggled back into Iran. . . . The PLO established close working ties with the Khomeinist faction. . . . [W]orking [especially] closely with the PLO [was] Mohammad Montazeri, son of the senior cleric Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri and a militant who had a leading role in developing the idea of establishing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) once the revolution was won.

The Lebanese terrorist and PLO operative Anis Naccache, who coordinated with [the] Iranian revolutionaries, . . . takes personal credit for the idea. Naccache claims that Jalaleddin Farsi, [a leading Iranian revolutionary], approached him specifically and asked him directly to draft the plan to form the main pillar of the Khomeinist regime. The formation of the IRGC may well be the greatest single contribution that the PLO made to the Iranian revolution. . . .

Arafat’s fantasy of pulling the strings and balancing the Iranians and the Arabs in a grand anti-Israel camp of regional states never stood much of a chance. However, his wish to see Iran back the Palestinian armed struggle is now a fact, as Tehran has effectively become the principal, if not the only, sponsor of the Palestinian military option though its direct sponsorship of Islamic Jihad and its sustaining strategic and organizational ties with Hamas. By forging ties with the Khomeinists, Arafat unwittingly helped to achieve the very opposite of his dream. Iran has turned [two] Palestinian factions into its proxies, and the PLO has been relegated to the regional sidelines.

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More about: Hamas, History & Ideas, Iran, Lebanon, PLO, Yasir Arafat