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.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

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

 

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy