Is forgiveness a virtue? Should we automatically forgive those who have wronged us? What if they do not necessarily deserve it? And how do we avoid the inevitable feelings of anger and animosity when we feel we, or those we love, have been wronged?
How do Israeli soldiers who patrol daily on the border with the Gaza strip, confronting terrorists who will not hesitate to put a nine month old infant in their sniper’s scope while the baby’s mother looks on, still offer cold water to the same terrorists, once they are captured?
People think the challenge of battle is fear, or even depression often connected to the extreme exhaustion that accompanies battle. But in truth, the most difficult struggle of war is rage. It is very hard not to be engulfed with anger, when you see children sent into battle holding anti-tank missiles, and attend the funerals of mothers shot at point blank range with their children.
How do we as a people succeed in waging war against such a cruel and often barbaric enemy, without becoming consumed with anger? Perhaps this is one of the lessons hidden between the lines of the story of Yosef, and discerned especially in this week’s Torah portion, Vayechi.
As we complete the book of Bereishit, Yaakov, the last of the patriarchs, dies and is buried in Canaan. And when the brothers, along with Yosef, return to Egypt after the funeral, they have a very tenuous conversation: “And the brothers of Yosef saw that their father had died, and they said: ‘Lest Yosef take revenge on or hate us, and return to us all of the evil we dealt him’.” (50:15)
In verse 16, they tell Yosef that their father Yaakov commanded them, before he died, to tell him that he (Yosef) must forgive them their past mistakes.
What is going through Yosef’s mind as the brothers share this request? How do you react to someone — your brother! — who stole 22 years of your life? And yet Yosef displays no anger, and instead breaks down in tears as the brothers voice their anxiety. He wants them to know that he bears them no animosity, and holds no grudge.