The Peace of Reconciliation
By Rabbi Natan Landman, author of Make It Short, Rabbi: Brief Jewish Lessons from Scripture and Take Words with You: Sermons and Addresses of a Lifetime
“And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; only then were his brothers able to talk to him” (Genesis 45:5)
The climax of the story of Joseph (which comprises the last thirteen chapters of the book of Genesis) occurs in the forty-fifth chapter in which Joseph is reconciled with his brothers. There is much human pathos and drama in the narrative, and it deserves a careful reading. What we learn from it is that there is no higher value in family relationships than the peace of reconciliation. In his youthful haughtiness, Joseph had aroused the jealous wrath of his brothers, and they had wronged him. When the brothers demonstrated devotion and loyalty to their father, he no longer could bear to be isolated from them, and so Joseph acted to make peace with his brothers.
Peace is an active principle, not just the absence of conflict. The sage Hillel admonished, “Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures and drawing them near to the Torah” (Avot 1:12). The Talmud elaborates on how Aaron went out of his way to resolve differences between husband and wife, or a man and his neighbor, in order to pursue peace.
Peace as reconciliation is an ultimate goal that must also be pursued in international affairs. The painfully slow process of securing agreements between the United States and the Soviet Union throughout the last half of the twentieth century indicated how difficult reconciliation is when value systems differ and trust is lacking. But one must not despair. Each agreement helps to create an atmosphere conducive to further talk and mutual understanding. Out of these, the ground for a full measure of trust is prepared. Perhaps what conflicting sides need to do to end an unresolved controversy is to engage in open “weeping,” as in the Joseph story, so that they recognize that so much energy is dissipated in sustaining enmity. Out of such contrition, the first steps toward reconciliation might be born.