back Back

When to Call a Spade a Spade

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

And Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was a son of his old age; and he made him a fine woolen coat. And his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, so they hated him, and they could not speak with him peacefully (Genesis 37,3-4.)

The important lesson that emerges from the above verses is pointed out in Tractate Shabbat (a book dedicated to the laws of Shabbat) of the Talmud. A person should never treat one child differently from his/her other children. The small amount of fine wool that Jacob gave to Joseph and not to his other sons caused his other sons to hate Joseph and, ultimately, led to the bondage in Egypt. Another powerful takeaway message is that not everything that is felt should be expressed.

Joseph’s brothers hated him so much that they could not even greet him and speak to him in a nice way. On the surface of this, one might assume that the Torah is expressing how bad the brothers were. Not only did they hate him in their hearts, but they also expressed this hatred towards him. Rashi, however, quoting our sages, says that the Torah is in fact speaking positively about Joseph’s brothers. They were not false people – they were not one way in their hearts and a different way in their mouths. They called “a spade a spade” and were truthful, honest people.

It is clear from the above that we are to act with integrity and ensure there is a consistency between the way we feel about people and the way we treat them. However, not every feeling and emotion needs to or should be expressed, especially when withholding such expression will not compromise our integrity. In such instances, we must be careful not to express our feelings and emotions in ways that will hurt others and create unnecessary discord.