It depends upon the context

By Rabbi Howard Wolk
Parashat Vayehi
Shabbat Chazak

This Shabbat we conclude reading the Book of Genesis/Berei-sheet.

The Rabbinic rule that the Haftarah parallels the Torah reading seems to be violated this week. In the Torah portion of Vayehi, Joseph relieves the fears of his brothers. They are concerned that he will seek revenge against them. He tells them: It is all ancient history. It all worked out for good anyway. “Atem chashav-tem alay ra’ah — You thought to do evil against me; Elokim hashavuah le-tovah — G-d intended it for good.” Joseph tells his 10 brothers — it all worked out for the best.

In contrast to this, we see in the Haftarah that King David, on his deathbed, takes a very different approach. David commands the punishment of Yoav ben Tzeruya, who killed two of David’s generals. Why didn’t David say — it’s history, forget it. Let bygones be bygones. Why does David seem vengeful while Joseph is amicable?

Joseph and David are operating in different contexts. Joseph is operating in a family setting. Therefore, the right thing to do is to seek a peaceful solution. Sibling rivalry had to be put to rest. This was critical for the future of the family in Egypt and beyond.

David was functioning in a totally different type of circumstances. He was concerned with law and order in Israel. If Yoav gets away with murder it makes a statement to society — that life is cheap. David’s inaction would send the message that murder is countenanced. Therefore, David’s approach is to correct the wrong that was done against his two generals. Societal concerns are different than private or familial ones. David understood his responsibility — to be then imparted to his son, Solomon, as king of the nation.

Joseph was keenly aware of his role — especially with Jacob dead, the brothers getting older and all of them surrounded by a foreign culture.

Joseph realized the importance of family ties to ensure survival of this family of but 70 in the land of Egypt.

So, there is no violation of the Torah/Haftarah balance. Joseph and David both acted properly in their respective circumstances.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Howard Wolk is community chaplain with Jewish Family Service and rabbi emeritus of Congregation Shaare Tefilla.

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