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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

On maturity

One of the psukim that sets up the whole story of Yosef and his brothers hides more than it reveals (בראשית לז:ב):

אֵלֶּה תֹּלְדוֹת יַעֲקֹב, יוֹסֵף בֶּן-שְׁבַע-עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה הָיָה רֹעֶה אֶת-אֶחָיו בַּצֹּאן, וְהוּא נַעַר אֶת-בְּנֵי בִלְהָה וְאֶת-בְּנֵי זִלְפָּה, נְשֵׁי אָבִיו; וַיָּבֵא יוֹסֵף אֶת-דִּבָּתָם רָעָה, אֶל-אֲבִיהֶם

(Mechon Mamre) These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren, being still a lad even with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives; and Joseph brought evil report of them unto their father.

On the term והוא נער Rashi writes:
שהיה עושה מעשה נערות

That he would behave in a youthful fashion

The Maharal points out in Gur Aryeh that Yosef, being 17 years old, did not have the halachic status of נער and so Rashi is pointing out that someone who behaves like a child has the status of a child even if halachically an adult.

The pasuk also informs us that Yosef would bring evil reports about the brothers to their father. Rashi gives us some insight to the nature of these reports:
כל רעה שהיה רואה באחיו בני לאה היה מגיד לאביו, שהיו אוכלין אבר מן החי

Every evil that he saw in his brothers, the sons of Leah, he would tell his father; That they would eat from the limbs of a living animal...

The Maharal asks why it would be wrong for Yosef to bring reports of his brothers' sins to their father if his intension was to remove them from sin. His response is remarkable. The Maharal points out the Rashi changes the words of the midrash. The midrash does not say that Yosef reported that the brothers ate the limbs of a living animal but rather וחשודין על אבר מן החי that they are suspected of eating the limb of a living animal.

Based on the exact wording of the midrash the Maharal proceeds to analyze Yosef's character:
מפני שהיה יוסף צדיק גמור ... מחמיר היה מאד באיסור אבר מן החי, ולא הניח לו אף עבדיו לבשל לו, כי העבדים חשודין על אבר מן החי, כדאמרינן בפרן מי שאחזו (גיטין סז ע"ב) ... כי הצדיק אשר הוא צדיק גמור העבירה היא חמורה עליו מאד, ומפני זה הוא מרחיק עצמו מן העבירה ואפילו בדבר שאינו אסור, וזה עושה בשביל צדקתו, ודומה אליו מי שאינו נזהר כל כך כמו שהוא נזהר - שהוא נחשד בדבר.

Because [Yosef] was completely righteous ... he would be very stringent regarding the prohibition of limbs from living animals and would not even let his servants cook for him since servants are suspected regarding limbs of living animals ... This is because sin is very serious to a tzaddik who is a complete tzaddik, and because of this he distances himself from sin and even from matters that are not prohibited, and he does this because of his righteousness. And it seems to him that all who are not as careful as him are suspected in these matters.

The Maharal is describing a righteous well meaning person who expects from others the same level of stringency that he expects from himself. This seems to be Yosef's fatal flaw and I believe is related to the first Rashi above. The main difference between a mature person and one who is immature is the ability to see beyond your own perspective. To understand that different people have different needs and different styles. To see things from their point of view. The immature person applies the same standards across the board. Yosef, according to the Maharal, saw everything through the standards he set for himself.

The lesson is tremendous. A righteous person with righteous deeds and a righteous intentions ends up causing jealousy and hatred. The lesson is clear. Being right is not enough! A good message that is communicated in the wrong manner will not only not be helpful but can even damage the recipient it was meant to benefit. A mature person is one who is aware of when and how to communicate their message.