Sign In Forgot Password

FAIRNESS VS JUSTICE

16/12/2020 09:50:41 AM

Dec16

Chaim Strauchler

In most years, Parshat Miketz falls on Chanukah, and we read the Haftorah from Zecharia that we read last Shabbat in place of Miketz’s Haftorah. This Shabbat, we have the once in a decade treat to read of Solomon’s wisdom in the famous story of the two mothers who sue for the one living child.

Why? What does the story of Solomon’s wisdom have to do with the story of Joseph?

1. The Haftorah begins with a reference to Solomon awakening from the dream in which he asked for wisdom to judge his people rather than wealth or power. Miketz likewise speaks of kings and dreams. A mere tangential relationship; there must be more.

2. The Torah portion contains the efforts of both Reuven and Judah to convince Jacob to allow them to bring Binyamin down to Egypt. Reuven’s efforts are rebuffed when he offers to kill his own sons if he does not return Binyamin to Jacob. This reflects a misunderstanding of justice in line with the argument of the bereft mother in the Solomon story. She says, “Both for me and for you, let there be none; split the child.” Rashi quote Midrash Rabba that explains Jacob’s reason for rejecting Reuven’s offer, “Are your sons not my grandsons?”

3. Our sages understand the story of Joseph and his brothers as containing something more than brotherly rivalry. In interpreting the words of Amos 2:6 (the Haftorah for Vayeshev), they see in the exploitation of the poor (by the dishonesty of the rich) a form of selling one’s brother into slavery. Joseph's story becomes a symbol of injustice throughout history. Solomon’s wisdom achieves justice not simply in arriving at the truth within a specific case. He elicits a fear that generates honesty from within his subjects.

Joseph’s brothers, like the bereft mother in the Solomon story, have a claim about the unfairness of their position within Jacob’s family. In attempting to bring Joseph low, they seek a certain equality. Joseph, like Solomon, promotes a different vision of justice - a justice which celebrates life and life’s unfairness. The talented and capable must not be brought low by the jealous and wasteful.

Wealth can lead to injustice as access to power is bought and sold. The prophet Amos and the Rabbinic understanding of the Joseph story require us to stop such abuses. Yet, in recognizing the diversity within life and nature, we must not allow for an imposition of “fairness” that becomes its own injustice. The race to victimhood must not be allowed to squander our common blessing.

Wed, 28 July 2021 19 Av 5781