“And Yosef dreamt a dream, which he told to his brothers, and they hated him even more. And he said to them, ‘please hear the dream that I dreamt: ‘Behold, we were binding sheaves in the middle of the field, when, behold, my sheaf arose and also stood; then behold, your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf.”
The beginning of the Parsha relates the sequence of events that led to the sale of Yosef. The Torah tells us that the brothers hated Yosef because they saw that Yaakov loved him more than all of them. When Yosef related the contents of his first dream to his brothers, their hatred of him increased. The Torah states: “And they hated him more, because of his dreams and because of his words.” The commentaries ask that since the Torah already stated that they hated him because of his dreams, what does the clause, “because of his words”, refer to?
Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlita answers this by quoting the Meshech Chachma. The Meshech Chachma writes that three times in Yosef’s account of the dream, he says, ‘Behold!’ ’ He brings a Sifri that when the word’ ’Behold’ is used in the Torah, it is associated with joy. Yosef expressed joy at every stage of the dream, and because of this joy at the events of the dream, the brothers hated him even more. Thus, the clause, “because of his words” does not refer to the actual content of the dream, rather the way in which he told it over to them – with such joy. It still remains unclear why the brothers should hate him for being happy about having success – that would seem to be quite understandable. Rav Sternbuch explains that the brothers perceived that Yosef’s joy was not only because of his own success that was predicted in the dream, rather also the fact that they would not achieve the same success. It was this perceived attitude of joy at their expense that caused them to hate him even more. Rav Sternbuch continues to discuss the Torah approach to this form of joy – joy at the failings of one’s fellow. He writes, “It is a fundamental tenet that when HaKadosh Baruch Hu gives power, wealth, or honor to a person, he should thank HaShem, but if he is only happy because he got it and his fellow did not – this is a forbidden form of joy.”
Whether Yosef really felt this forbidden type of joy is unclear, however, the Netsiv writes that even Yaakov Avinu was susceptible to this challenge: In the episode at the end of Parshas Toldos, Yaakov tricked his father into giving him the blessings. The Netsiv explains that this was a kind of ‘aveiro lishma’- a sin that was done purely for the right reasons, and thus was the correct way to act in these specific circumstances. The Netsiv notes, however, that Yaakov was punished for the pain that his trickery caused Esav; when Esav heard that Yaakov had taken the blessings, he let out a tremendous cry of pain. Chazal say that measure for measure, Yaakov’s descendant, Mordechai, let out a similar kind of cry when Haman, Esav’s descendant, decreed the destruction of the Jewish people. The Netsiv notes that Yitzchak Avinu also endured great pain when he heard that he had been tricked – he trembled greatly when he realized what had happened. Why, then was Yaakov not punished for the pain he caused Yitzchak, whilst he was punished for that which he inflicted on Esav? He answers that Yaakov had absolutely no pleasure at the pain that he caused Yitzchak in deceiving him, therefore he was not punished for the pain that Yitzchak experienced. However, he felt some measure of happiness at Esav’s distress. Accordingly, he was punished for that element of joy he felt at Esav’s loss. Thus, we see, according to the Netsiv, that even Yaakov Avinu, on some slight level, was subject to the feeling of joy at success at the expense of someone else.
Rav Sternbuch’s lesson; that joy at someone else’s expense, lies at the very centre of the Torah attitude to interpersonal relationships. It is well-known that the most fundamental Mitzvo in this realm is that of, “Love your neighbor like yourself”. One of the most basic aspects of this Mitzvo is that one should develop a desire for his fellow man to succeed just as much as he wants that for himself. It seems that an attitude of joy at one’s fellow’s failures represents the antithesis of the essence of the Mitzvo. Indeed, the Rambam seems to express this point in his discussion of this Mitzvo: He ends by saying that a person who feels joy at the failure or degradation of his fellow has no place in the World to Come.
It seems that the secular attitude and the Torah outlook clash greatly in this area. In the secular world, there is a strong emphasis on competition, and the idea of “each man for himself”. Sports, in particular ingrain a desire to “beat” the other person. It is very common for sports fans to be as happy at the defeat of their rival, as they are joyous at their own victory. Moreover, in many areas of life, there is a great stress on succeeding, and this often involves, overcoming or defeating others. The Torah outlook also emphasizes succeeding in life, but the Torah’s definition of success does not include ‘defeating’ other people. In fact, a large aspect of a Torah Jew’s success is his ability to work as a unit with his fellow Jews. This is based on a recognition that all Jews are part of one spiritual entity, and therefore the success of one part of that entity, means success for all the other parts as well. This concept is applied to Jewish law. For example, on joyous occasions, the prayer of Tachanun is omitted. This is not limited to one’s own happy occasions, rather if there is a single person in the Minyan who is celebrating a happy event , then the whole Minyan is exempt from Tachanun – this is because his joy is shared by everyone else present. This is even the case, when the other members of the Minyan do not know the person! This teaches us how we should view such events.
We learn from the explanations of the Meshech Chachma and Rav Sternuch that having joy because of the downfall of one’s fellow, is something worthy of disdain. May we all merit to avoid this attitude, and fulfill the Mitzvo to love our neighbor to the fullest extent.