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B'resheet/Genesis 37:4 ... and they hated him; and they were not able to speak peace to him.
The verb comes from the root with a single and unambiguous meaning, "to hate", that also generates the adjective "hated", the noun "hatred" and the participle, "one who hates" which becomes "enemy". The root is recognised to becognate with its homonym1 , an unused root which has generated the adjectives "thorny, prickly" and the noun , "a bush, thorn-bush" found in Moshe's first encounter with HaShem: , the burning bush. Hirsch comments that the purpose of of a thorn is "to repel or reject, to keep something or someone as far as possible." The first half of the verse speaks of the love that Ya'akov had for his son, "more than all his brothers", so Hirsch contrasts the love - keep close - with the hate - keep far away - and makes the observation that "the extremes mutually produce each other. The love of the father begot the hate of the brothers." The same principle can be seen at work in Yeshua's ministry: the popularity He had with the people generated the hate and jealousy of the Jewish leadership of His day.
As anyone who has been to Israel or made telephone calls to Israel knows, it is a standard modern Israeli Hebrew greeting to say 'Shalom!' - meaning not so much 'peace' as 'hello'. Richard Elliott Friedman comments that the brothers' relationship with Yosef had deteriorated to such an extent that they couldn't even say 'hello' to him or inquire how he was.Rashi, even mindful of the need to paint the patriarchs in a good light, praises them for being consistent: "Out of this seeming disparagement, we may learn to their praise, that they did not speak one thing with their mouths and another in their heart." That is, Rashi is saying, they were not hypocritical, pretending to feelings that they did not have. Targum Onkelos goes further; it translates the end of the phrase as "they did not want to speak peaceably to him", as if to say that they were not unable to speak peaceably, but decided not to. Onkelos is trying to be closer to what he sees as the physical truth: there was no disablement that prevented physical speech; rather, the brothers chose not to speak peaceably. Bringing us full circle and reflecting the idea of the thorn-bush, Nahum Sarna adds that "they rebuffed every attempt by Yosef to be friendly"; they pushed him away.
A divided family set the scene for the events that were to follow: the assault on Yosef and his sale into slavery in Egypt, the two visits of the brothers to Egypt in search of food, Ya'akov's comment about "a bitter life" to Pharoah and the fear that continued to split the family after Ya'akov's death. Yeshua spoke about the danger of division: "If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom can't survive; and if a household is divided against itself, that household can't survive" (Mark 3:24-25, CJB). His words must be taken to be applicable as much to the Body of Messiah as to the kingdom of Satan, His original target. Many divisions exist within the Body; there are thousands of denominations and many doctrinal groupings. More importantly, the oldest division - running back to the days of the early church - is the still open sore of the Jewish-Gentile divide. The Gentile church all too often insists that when a Jew comes to faith in Messiah he becomes not a Jewish believer in Messiah, but a Christian, with all the separation, cultural tearing and lifestyle changes that implies: "You're a Christian now; have a ham sandwich!" At the same time, the orthodox Jewish world goes into mourning when a Jew becomes a believer, teaching - with some justification, from the standard church position - that they are in effect dead: all their children and future generations have been lost to Judaism.
This division of the household of G-d, between Jews and Gentiles, is entirely artificial and man-made. It stems from ancient anti-Semitism that grew in the first few centuries after Yeshua and culminated in the anti-Jewish rulings at the Council of Nicea and the frightful oaths and imprecations that a Jew who came to faith was obliged to swear. Calling down curses upon himself if he ever keeps any of the Jewish festivals or Shabbat again, if he associates with Jewish people or attends a synagogue, a new believer was required to separate himself entirely from him home, his family, his way of life, his very essence, and become and live like a Gentile: eat unkosher food, work on Shabbat, not keep Pesach or Yom Kippur again, under penalty of excommunication from G-d and, having been cut off from the Jewish people, being cut off from G-d in Messiah as well. Little wonder that so few Jews have found their way to faith in Yeshua in the centuries in between. How could our people feel that a gospel that demanded such behaviour was consistent with the covenant-keeping and faithful G-d that the Hebrew Scriptures describe?
Rav Sha'ul, on the other hand, clearly taught that the body of Messiah had been made one by Yeshua: "For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility" (Ephesians 2:14, ESV). Yeshua called both Jew and Gentile to be one in His body, of fully equal status while retaining their distinctive roles and calling: "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor freeman, neither male nor female; for in union with the Messiah Yeshua, you are all one" (Galatians 3:28, ESV). Those of us who belong to G-d's family are to recognise each other's calling to be a part of the body and at the same time to respect our identities and functions as different parts of the body: "For just as the body is one but has many parts; and all the parts of the body, though many, constitute one body; so it is with the Messiah. For it was by one Spirit that we were all immersed into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free; and we were all given the one Spirit to drink" (1 Corinthians 12:12-13, ESV).
And if this is so between major parts of the body, of which we are but small components, how much more so between a man and his neighbour, between a husband and wife, parents and children, those of the same groupings who nevertheless sometimes seem to hate each other so much that they cannot say "Hello" or ask how the other is. Many people have a veneer, a mask, that they put on when in company with other believers; behind it they hide their true feelings, fears, likes and dislikes. It is easier to pretend that you like people when you see them, than to face the emotional upheaval of settling long-seated hurts or prejudices. Nevertheless, pretended peace is not a real peace and, when placed under pressure, it will not stand. Close and meaningful relationships with our fellow believers are possible; it can be done because the Bible commands it: "If anyone says, 'I love G-d,' and hates his brother, he is a liar. For if a person does not love his brother, whom he has seen, then he cannot love G-d, whom he has not seen. Yes, this is the command we have from him: whoever loves G-d must love his brother too" (1 John 4:20-21, CJB). Even if others will not love us, we still have the responsibility to love them and keep on giving them the opportunity to have relationship with us. Rav Sha'ul said, "If possible, and to the extent that it depends on you, live in peace with all people" (Romans 12:18, CJB), which extends the mandate even to those who are not yet believers.
The rabbis teach that the Second Temple was destroyed because of hatred between Jews. The last days of the Temple were certainly very acrimonious inside the besieged walls of Jerusalem. So too can be the inner circles of some congregations! Many groups of believers have split apart in very ungraceful ways through the years, leaving badly broken and torn relationships and damaged people. This is no witness to the world or to other believers. People have and are entitled to have a diverse and wide range of opinions, but the word is clear: "I, therefore, the prisoner of the L-rd, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:1-3, NASB).
1. - A homonym is a word that sounds exactly the same as another word but with a different spelling. One example in English is the colour 'red' and the past tense of the verb "to read", 'read'.
Further Study: Mark 9:50; Colossians 3:14-17
Application: Are you in the middle of a church/congregation dispute or split? What can you do to bring G-d's love and peace into the situation and - despite the differences - restore G-d's peace and unity to the body of Messiah?
© Jonathan Allen, 2010
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