How often do we find ourselves in a situation where some wrong has been committed against another person, and we know that we should speak up, but we don’t?
Such a situation occurs in this week’s Torah portion which speaks of the relationship between Joseph and his brothers. Because of their resentment for Joseph, his brothers had sold him into slavery in Egypt many years earlier. But Joseph arises to great power in Egypt, and after many years his brothers stand before him, not recognizing him in royal attire.
Joseph has arranged a scheme whereby he seeks to learn if his brothers have changed over the years. Would they again abandon a brother, or would they have the courage and strength to stand up to secure Benjamin’s well-being? Judah, the oldest brother does dare to challenge Joseph, offering that he will give himself over to Joseph and become a slave in Egypt, only “let our younger brother go!”
Life repeatedly challenges all of us regarding standing up for what we believe to be right. Yes, so often we feel strongly about a situation, think about it a little bit, and then go on with our lives. We do not speak out. We rationalize that our world is so filled with problems and conflicts, and we are so busy, that we remain silent and forget the matter.
Jesse Arm is a student at the University of Michigan. His dear friend, Ezra Schwartz, was gunned down last month in a terrorist attack while in Israel. Most of us soon forgot about the incident, but not Jesse. As an anti-Israel group on campus held an anti-Israel demonstration, Jesse dared to speak up and to accuse the students of remaining silent while an innocent fellow-student was murdered by those who “justify” such actions in the name of their anti-Israel cause.
Yes, we all need to ask ourselves: “How often do I speak up in the face of injustice? How often do I act to ease the pain or suffering of a fellow human-being?”
Therein lay an important measure of our humanity. Just as Judah (in the Torah) and Jesse stood up and spoke out for what they believed to be right, so may we be courageous and bold in our own lives-for each of our voices and our actions can and do make a difference.
Rabbi David Greenberg