Yosef and His Brothers: Projection & Objectivity
Vayichi concludes, depicting the relationship between Yosef and his brothers subsequent to Yaakov’s death. Beraishis 50:15 describes the brothers' fear of Yosef’s revenge after their father’s passing. Why did the brothers first fear Yosef’s revenge only after Yaakov died? Why didn’t Yosef take revenge? To answer this, we need to look at the brothers’ psychology vs. Yosef’s philosophical perfection.
The brothers had a hatred for Yosef, and through this hatred they justified throwing him in a pit. They felt this through their own subjective perspective: if they had been thrown into a pit and sold, surely they would hate that person. They thought that since they felt this way, any person should feel this way, and Yosef must have felt this identical feeling towards them. This is called projection: a psychological phenomenon that even the Shivatim partook of. The brothers projected their own feelings onto Yosef. A similar case is found by Pharaoh after the Jews in Egypt multiplied greatly:
And Pharaoh said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us. Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase; otherwise in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us and leave the land.” (Exod. 1:9,10).
Our Rabbis explained that Pharaoh spoke like a person who is pronouncing a curse against himself, but applies the curse to others so that it is as though Scripture wrote, “and we shall have to go up out of the land.”
Here too, Pharaoh projected what would happen to him, onto the Jews. We understand projection through these few examples. But were the brothers right to project onto Yosef? The answer is like Yosef says in 50:19, “Am I in God’s place?” Yosef is not there to punish them for the sins they’ve committed, that is God’s job. But primarily, Yosef looked at the bigger picture: he facilitated food for the family, so he looked at his sale as a good, not an evil. This is a crucial lesson in life, whenever you believe something in your life is an evil, you need to measure it based on objectivity, not your subjective emotions. Yes, Yosef could’ve felt subjectively angry for his personal sale, but objectively, God put him in Egypt for the purpose of saving his family. Yosef valued God’s will over his own circumstances.
One question still remains though, why did the brothers first fear Yosef’s revenge only after Yaakov died? The brothers did not fear Yosef’s revenge earlier, because they knew he had tremendous Kivud Av. They knew Yosef wouldn’t hurt Yaakov through taking revenge on the brothers. However, once Yaakov died, the brothers feared that Yosef would no longer restrain his revenge. But of course they were wrong, because of Yosef's immense objectivity, he remained without feelings of revenge. He remained Yosef HaTzaddik.