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

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

Spain’s Anti-Israel Agenda

What interest does Madrid have in the creation of a Palestinian state? Elliott Abrams raised this question a few days ago, when discussing ongoing Spanish efforts to block the transfer of arms to Israel. He points to multiple opinion surveys suggesting that Spain is among Europe’s most anti-Semitic countries:

The point of including that information here is to explain the obvious: Spain’s anti-Israel extremism is not based in fancy international political analyses, but instead reflects both the extreme views of hard-left parties in the governing coalition and a very traditional Spanish anti-Semitism. Spain’s government lacks the moral standing to lecture the state of Israel on how to defend itself against terrorist murderers. Its effort to deprive Israel of the means of defense is deeply immoral. Every effort should be made to prevent these views from further infecting the politics and foreign policy of the European Union and its member states.

Read more at Pressure Points

More about: Anti-Semitism, Europe and Israel, Palestinian statehood, Spain