Parshat Vayeshev

FRIDAY, December 8th

This week we read of how Yosef has dreams that foretell a future day when his brothers and even his father will bow down to him. Yosef tells his brothers about his dreams, not surprisingly increasing his brothers’ hatred and resentment. The fact that the dreams are in fact true prophecy does nothing to mitigate the ill-will that was caused when he shared them with his brothers. The dreams are on the brothers’ minds when they conspire to kill Yosef, for the Torah tells us that they said “here comes that dreamer…” when they hatched their plan. Without detracting from the fact that the brothers did wrong by conspiring against Yosef and selling him into slavery, clearly also Yosef did his part to stoke their hatred to the point where they were ready to do that.

I saw a picture on Facebook of a child holding a sign bearing an acronym, “THINK: Is it True? Is it Helpful? Is it Inspiring? Is it Necessary? Is it Kind?” Leaving aside whether some of the items on this list might be redundant, I think this is a great little rule of thumb to ask ourselves before we speak. If we can’t answer “yes” to at least two or three, if not all five of those questions, maybe we had better keep what we were going to say to ourselves.

If Yosef has paused to think before speaking to his brothers, and said, “Is what I am about to say true, helpful, inspiring, necessary or kind?” he might have found that in fact the only thing on that list that can be said for telling his brothers about the dreams is that what he said was true. It wasn’t helpful, inspiring, necessary or kind. I imagine Yosef consoled himself when his brothers reacted to his dreams with hostility by saying to himself “I only told them what was true.” Many of us justify saying things that are destructive or even malicious on the grounds that, after all, they are true. But honesty is no excuse for insensitivity or cruelty. Had Yosef been able to exercise a little more care in his speech with his brothers, they might never have sold him into slavery, and much suffering might have been averted.

I invite us each to apply the THINK rule to our speech this week, and to avoid saying anything that does not meet at least three out of those five criteria. If we do this, we can reduce the conflict and suffering in our own personal relationships and in our community.

Rabbi Garth Silberstein