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Rabbi Jonathan Ganger
by Published on December 25, 2020

How did Jesus get off the ground according to the Talmudic tradition (there is some debate as to whether this was the Jesus, but the simple reading is that it is)? The Talmud states that the issue was that the Rabbi didn’t communicate properly to Jesus.  When Jesus erred (he accused his Rabbi of having improper thoughts), he was too harsh in his rebuke and didn’t bake into the rebuke a hint of love that if Jesus were to repent, he’d be welcomed back with open arms.  The Talmud is quite critical of the Rabbi who created the rift with Jesus as it led to Jesus beginning an idolatrous cult of some type that was antithetical to Jewish thought.  Interestingly, this week’s parsha gives an illustration of the correct type of communication needed that would have averted this whole crisis.

 

 

              Correct communication needs to be multifaceted. It has to speak at several levels at once. It needs to have an element that shows strength and an appeal to justice; yet, it also needs to contain love and understanding.  It also needs to appeal to the intellect and to be polished. We know this from this week’s confrontation between Yehuda and Yosef. It doesn’t say in the Torah that Yehuda came to speak to the viceroy (he didn’t know at the time that it was Yosef), but that Yehuda approached the viceroy. What does an approach entail?

              The midrash says that the word approach is used in the context of war, appeasement, and prayer.  A just war occurs when one side feels an injustice has been done. An appeasement speaks to the heart of a person and looks to find the loving side of that person.  Finally, prayer is about realizing that every complicated situation requires divine assistance to get the balance right between these two dimensions. In other words, part of what made Yehuda’s speech successful was that it was multifaceted. He didn’t only threaten and he didn’t only beg, he did both. More than that, the structure of the speech was considered to be beautiful and well-spoken, hinting that leaders also need to express themselves with rhetorical skill.

              In short, two of the most important encounters in human history depended on how well the communication occurred.  When done correctly, it led to the ultimate reconciliation between the brothers. When done poorly, it led to a young student feeling spurned by his teacher and choosing to go his own way with catastrophic consequences for the Jewish people over the course of history.